How artist Indu Harikumar addressed her insecurities through an art project


How artist Indu Harikumar addressed her insecurities through an art project

"Everybody must own their bodies, and the easiest way to do it is to simply dance with abandon"

By Indu Harikumar  October 15th, 2019

I was a scrawny child. ‘Miss Somalia’, ‘kaadi’, ‘skeleton’, ‘carrom board’ and ‘football ground’ were some of the many things I was called while growing up. In the little sex education that was available to me, I knew that with puberty, boys became leaner and girls developed bosoms, round butts and small waists. I only had that waist—no hips or breasts. I felt inadequate. As an adult I believed a plump bosom was the key to a better life; that if I had this one thing I would be deemed worthy of someone’s attention. But a chance conversation on Instagram opened my eyes to the other side of the spectrum. Our experiences, even though so varied, were steeped in shame. She said, “Till 26, I felt like men will not look beyond my boobs. It feels horrible, as if it’s the only redeeming quality in me.” That’s how I started the #Identitty project to document every hair, stretchmark, sag, shame, joy, agony and abuse, breasts have been subjected to on my Instagram page. As I spent six months collecting stories, looking at pictures and illustrating breasts in all shapes, shades and sizes, it set me off on the path to self-acceptance.

 

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Size was the biggest talking point – while most small-chested women talked about feeling inadequate, top-heavy women felt their breasts brought them unwanted attention. One woman wrote to me: “The pain when I’ve tried running, the embarrassment of going to the gym, breasts getting in the way of various yoga poses… And now that I’m breastfeeding, they’re EVEN bigger. And what happens when I’m done? The sag will be another challenging body image saga.”

A follower told me the first memory of her breasts was shaped by abuse: “[I remember] the pain from being groped by my abusive relatives and being extremely ashamed of it. I looked at it as the reason for being abused.” But then, there were also stories of lovers who helped their partners see their bodies in a new light.

 

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Some spoke about finding non-cancerous lumps in their breasts, and others talked about accepting their body after having a second mastectomy. “I’m so much happier living flat after the mastectomy, I don’t miss my breasts at all. But I still feel like a woman and feel feminine. It was a positive choice,” wrote one woman. One contributor threw light on what gender dysphoria and body dysphoria looks like when they said, “For me, it’s just a mass of fat attached to me. Literally, a burden on my chest that I carry around—these chesticles! Give me a gender that’s not mine.”

Not everyone had a happy relationship with their bodies, but I couldn’t find a template that allowed others to love their breasts either. Some said their colourful collection of lightly padded bras helped, and others retold experiences of taking control when they sent a nude picture to a guy, or the joys of boudoir photography. A photographer explained, “The play of light and shadow on the skin, the curves, the bones, looking at myself with all the banal pleasures of voyeurism is quite uplifting.”

 

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But it was a middle-aged Odissi dancer who finally helped me get through my journey. She said, “Look at the beautiful sculptures in the temples of Odissa, women were totally okay with their breasts. Hell, they were in love with them! They had no qualms about drawing attention to them—either by swaying their chests with abandon, gracefully placing slightly cupped palms under their breasts or draping their pallus across torsos without trying to hide anything. So much for the typical ideas of Indian heritage, thankfully, I ended up shattering them for myself. Everybody must own their bodies, and the easiest way to do it is simply to dance with abandon.” ›

Indu Harikumar is a writer-artist who has crowdsourced several social media projects on gender and sexuality, including #Identitty

-As told to Mamta Mody