Photo blog Her Soul spreads the message that 'real beauty is fearless, not flawless'
I am not a fashion blogger, which meant I would never be commercially viable. I am 30-ish, on the cusp of oblivion as far as social media likability is concerned. I am not young, only restless. These factors were enough to hold me back, but I was committed to redefining beauty. I want more women alive, and alive within. This inspired me to combine art and activism through my photo blogs and talk about stories that needed a voice. Every ordinary woman has an extraordinary conviction, and these narratives are real and completely raw.
Digital media gives us immense reach and power. My blog, 30ish, has been curating ‘Her Soul’, a photo series from across India, for almost two years now. Each woman is unique, not for the way she looks, but for the way she challenges, influences, nurtures, loves and stands strong. Getting access to these stories is not easy; you cannot stop someone in the middle of the street and know their most vulnerable moment. There are a lot of trust issues and sensitivities that need empathy and attention. Feminism has always existed, and women have been pushing boundaries of mind and body for centuries; it just seems much more urgent now. We live in a society that benefits from self doubt. ‘Her Soul’ is my attempt to share their powerful energy.
Baljit Kaur - Fearless
Location - Punjab
There are thousands of women fighting the battle of gang rape in rural India, and the walk back home is dark and painful. Baljit Kaur was gang raped in 2002. She was 17 and belonged to a lower caste. Every time she appeared in the court, she screamed, “I was raped by these men and you have to punish them.” After years of courtroom fights and personal sacrifices, Baljit’s rapists were punished. Today, Baljit is the voice of the women in her village, and deals with injustice as an individual, not waiting for anyone to help her. She has decided to cover her vulnerability and tears with strength, and she says, “I fight like a man with the heart of a woman.” Women like Baljit give me hope, and she also made me conscious of my privileges as a modern independent woman.
Nagma - Jailed for love
Location - Mumbai
I asked her the reason for her punishment and she replied in a very poetic yet tragic tone, “Pyaar ke liye.” Nagma spent almost five years in prison, of which two were under trial. Her daughter was with her throughout as she was completely dependent on her. Life in prison is tough, but after talking to Nagma, I realised that the true struggle starts when you are out on your own. The society never stops judging you, and in most cases, the family also abandons you. She struggled for six months to find a rented room, and with no job and a very young child, her life seems uncertain.
Nagma’s story is a reflection of what most of these women go through once they are released from prison. I really believe in letting people recover emotionally; just because you did something bad, it doesn’t mean you are a bad person. We judge people too soon. Nagma wants to be a better person for the love of her child. If they are willing to make a positive change, then give them a chance, because no one is perfect.
Rekha - Hope
Location: Khajjiar, Himachal Pradesh
Rekha works in one of the lodges in Khajjiar. She was married at the age of 13, and had a daughter when she was 15. Her daughter is expecting her first child this monsoon, and Rekha cannot hold in her excitement. I asked her if she was unhappy about being married so early, and she replied, “In our community, parents make sure that you are sent to your ‘real house’ once you are 12. I lost my husband when I was 20, and since then, it has been me and my two daughters. We are like pahadi sisters, always laughing and loving each other. Life is not always perfect, there were times when I could feed only one of my children, but the fact that I work and support my family makes me feel very strong.” Women like Rekha are inspiring others in her community to never give up.
Shiksha – Bhag Shiksha Bhag
Location: Uttar Pradesh
Shiksha’s only motivation is to live up to her name. She wants to study even if the school is 4km away. She runs to her school, never on time but always excited to study. Shiksha is the youngest of six siblings, and every day after getting back home, she gathers all the girls from her chowk (locality) and shares everything she learnt that day. If every woman took responsibility to lift one more, we can create a strong army for our tribe. Girls like Shiksha realise the potential of sisterhood, and her bright smile only justifies her vision.
Kaku - Never alone
Location - Himalayas
Kaku’s Cottage is the name of her homestay in the foothills of the Himalayas. She provides tourists with food, basic accommodation, and a bucket of steaming hot water every day. Kaku lost her son, who was in the Gorkha Regiment in the Indian Army, when he was just 28. She had no means of earning after his death, and so, started this homestay for her survival. Kaku borrows happiness from the tourists who stay with her, but winters are lonely and scary. At 65, she doesn’t fear death; her true fight is against loneliness. While staying with Kaku, I realised that she has two options - either give up yearning for love or get out and share more love so that it returns back to her. I am so glad she picked the latter and continues living her life through the tourists who visit her.
Be Ageless - Urban imperfections
Location - Mumbai
When a woman refuses to act her age, she is sending out the right signal – Be Ageless. We don’t want to be judged for our age. A lot of women freak out about their midlife crisis; its more of a robotic reaction to how others react to our age. 30ish is a feeling of being young and old at the same time. You seem overwhelmed by responsibility and have a strong desire to stop pretending. This insecurity is robbing us of who we really are, it is kind of cheating us of the real contribution we can make to the world. My message to all the women my age is to embrace your true shakti, and the rest will fall into place.
Aee’ - Waiting for monsoon
Location - Warli Village, Maharashtra
Aee’ (mother) is the only earning member of the family; her husband was a skilled Warli artist, but lack of work and alcohol ruined his life. He died, leaving behind five children, a bullock, and a barren land. She stands strong to raise her children and provide them with two basic meals a day. “I don’t want to give up like my husband. I have nothing except Durga," she says, touching her copper locket. This image portrays her stark reality and strength of character; good monsoons are her only hope.
Ria - Brave
Location - PhotoblogHER (body positive workshop), Mumbai
I asked the girls to write a word that defined them best, and Ria scribbled ‘brave’ on her palm. These girls are completely fearless; they haven’t developed any inhibitions yet. They look at possibilities as compared to adults who focus on limitations. I find it extremely difficult to convince schools about the importance of body positivity workshops, but girls like Ria inspire me to keep going. They are not going to turn 18 and suddenly become confident. We have to assure them at every vulnerable stage that real beauty is fearless, not flawless.