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Body Shaming Is Real: An Interview With Author, Shuchi Singh Kalra

Shuchi Singh Kalra is a gifted author, and has written a number of articles for Naaree.com. In this freewheeling chat with Pallavi Bhattacharya, she discusses her new book ‘I am Big, So What?!’ which deals with the topic of body shaming – or shaming a person for their appearance.

In an age when publications are cluttered with weight loss articles, glossy magazines are splashed with size zero figures, every nook and corner of a neighbourhood has clinics to sculpt the body into an hour glass figure, this lovely fictional book titledI am Big, So What?!’, works towards cultivating a positive body image.

The protagonist Roli who is on the larger side is happy-go-lucky and lives life to the fullest instead of lamenting her extra pounds. The book is available on Amazon, Flipkart, Infibeam .

What inspired you to write the book ‘I Am Big, So What?!’?

I got so ticked off with people calling me fat that instead of rolling my eyes, I decided to write a book about it. Jokes apart, body shaming is real, it exists and is not acknowledged enough.

It is a subject close to my heart because I have been at the receiving end of it, as have many of my friends and people I know. And it comes in so many forms – jibes on complexion, height, body type, cup size, penis size, and the list goes on. Regardless of what it is about, it’s nasty, demeaning and I wish it would stop.

Is it, by chance, partly autobiographical?

Well, every piece of fiction an author writes is autobiographical in some way. While the idea for the central theme came from within, Roli’s story is not my story. But it is a story most women (and even men) will be able to relate to for various reasons because the core emotions are universal.

None of us are born perfect, and we all go through moments of self-doubt and insecurity before we eventually learn to accept and embrace ourselves for who we are.

Did you interview large women as to how they were fat shamed to write this book?

Being a large woman myself that wasn’t really necessary, but I did read up on the subject a lot. I have seen people – both men and women – go through the trauma of being ridiculed for their appearance, and even discriminated against socially and professionally. I didn’t formally interview anyone but I did build upon some experiences of my friends.

This book elaborately discusses ‘fat acceptance’ (having a positive body image irrespective of size) very well. Feminists around the world are joining in to the movement in great numbers. What are your views on the movement?

It is heartening that there are finally voices speaking up against this kind of abuse, although I don’t really see it as a feminist movement because it affects men, women and children, albeit to varying degrees.

Though people of both genders face social discrimination, I feel that women are the greater victims because of misogynistic attitudes that prevail. For instance I have seen that female models are chosen for weight loss commercials and a male model is chosen for weight gain commercials. Do you agree that women are targeted more as far as fat shaming is concerned? Why do you think that such an attitude prevails?

Women are definitely under more pressure to look a certain way, and the world is more forgiving towards men in general, appearances or otherwise. Any woman who falls outside of the fair, tall and thin bracket is seen as an anomaly.

Patriarchal mindsets are partly to blame for this, as are media-propagated stereotypes. The word ‘beauty’ is so grand in itself, and it is a pity that we have come to define it in such narrow terms.

You’ve captured very beautifully how in India people chip in undesirable comments on body size and how to lose weight. Why do you think that Indians have this peculiarity?

I believe it happens across the world, or why else would the Body Positive Movement be such a big thing in the West? The way it is dished out may be different due to social and cultural reasons.

We Indians are still new to the concept of personal boundaries, especially the elder generation. Well-meaning as it might be at times, it can get annoying very quickly. If I had a penny for everyone someone told me “You’re pretty but you’d look prettier if…,” I’d have been a fat billionaire diva by now!

It’s unfortunate that most people subscribe to the sweeping generalization that all fat people are slothful and gluttons.  The same has been beautifully addressed in your book as well. Newspapers and magazines through their articles encourage this generalization to prevail as they mainly talk about exercising hard and controlling diet. Whereas it’s a good idea to have an exercise regime and eat healthy there aren’t too many articles which discuss thyroid, illnesses and other metabolic disorders which cause weight gain despite monitoring calories and exercising. Do you think that there should be awareness programmes not to slot all fat people as lazy and gluttons?

Absolutely! I don’t advocate unhealthy lifestyles at all but at the same time, there are thin slothful gluttons just as there are fat slothful gluttons. A person’s weight or body type is not the only indicator of health and fitness.

People can be overweight for a variety of reasons and I’ve known plus-sized women who are national level swimming champions, salsa dancers and marathon runners. So that generalization definitely needs to go.

Awareness about medical and hereditary issues might help, but before that people just need to learn to accept and respect anyone that looks different or doesn’t fit into their idea of beauty. We are humans, not mannequins, and we come in different shapes, sizes and colours.

Roli is bullied in school for being fat. What measures should be taken to prevent the bullying of fat children? How should these bullies be dealt with? In some schools, teachers and the principal bully fat kids as well.

Parents and teachers have a huge role to play in fostering a healthy environment in school, not only for overweight children, but for any child who is susceptible to bullying, which includes differently-abled children too. Teachers need to be sensitized towards the psychological scars that can result from these experiences.

Kindness, empathy and sensitivity aren’t things that can be taught in the classroom or through corporal punishment – adults need to lead by example. Being observant of children’s’ behaviours, intervening appropriately when required and imparting the right values from an early age may help in bringing about a shift in mindsets.

Large women always have a trying time in finding nice clothes for their wardrobe. It’s not that they are a minority. In fact according to a recent newspaper article, one-third of women in Indian cities are overweight or obese. So, there must be a huge demand for clothes for plus sized women. Then why is the supply of the same so less?

The clothes! Oh man, don’t even get me started on the clothes! Just because thin is aspirational, brands don’t see overweight people as a target market. High street fashion is mostly designed for models who fit into a certain set of statistics, and the general (and outrageously wrong) perception that plus-sized women cannot, or should not have the confidence to carry off something stylish.

The few brands that do cater to larger body types, usually have clothes so sad looking that you wouldn’t even wear them to a funeral. Also, plus-sized friendly brands usually use regular models in their marketing campaigns and plus-sized models are severely under-represented everywhere.  Dear clothing brands, more spunk in your plus-sized collections, please!

Your book covers fake, fad and harmful diets briefly as well. The feminist movement encourages law suits to be filed against these diets. What is your view on this?

I can’t comment on lawsuits because until the society and media continue to propagate a cookie-cutter definition of what is beautiful, it will breed insecurity in young minds and they will continue to find newer and more harmful ways to squeeze themselves into that ideal. We need to evolve as a society and be more accepting and respectful towards bodies of all shapes, sizes and colours.

Rejection can be done courteously. However, it’s often done very cruelly, especially when a guy rejects a girl. The same is dealt with in your book. Do you see misogyny behind this?

The pain of rejection isn’t gender specific. Men get rejected on physical grounds equally, if not more. It entirely depends upon an individual how he/she chooses to end a relationship.

A mature, self-assured person will always try to close it amicably and respectfully, while an insecure one is more likely to resort to cruelty and insults. Most often, the way you treat others is in direct relation to how you treat yourself.

Apart from the size issue; your book also covers issues like women getting no respite from household chores as husbands refuse to share domestic responsibilities, stigmatizing an unmarried girl who has crossed society’s determined cut off age for marriage and compromising one’s life and career because of the rules and regulations laid down by one’s matrimonial household. Please share more about your views on these issues.

I didn’t realize I covered that until you mentioned it! I guess that reflection just came from observing things and people around me. Isn’t it the reality of our society and aren’t we all expected to carry out our pre-sketched roles to stereotypical perfection?

Come to think of it, Roli is not even that rebellious, and yet, she is always questioned for her choices and decisions. Imagine what challenges the real unconventional ones have to face!

Are you planning to write another book? Will it be chick lit or of another genre? 

Yes, I’m planning to write many more books. My next is not a chick lit but it is still woman-centric, with a slightly darker, more complex theme of emotional abuse. I hope to experiment with other genres too in the future.

‘I am big. So what?’ is published by Fingerprint Lite and available on Amazon.inFlipkart, Infibeam and UReads.

How To Start An NGO In India

Are you one of those people who are sick of the corporate life and want to give back to the society now, full time? Every year, increasing numbers of people want to set up an organisation – a non-profit one. Most of them don’t know how.

While we’d like to help you by telling the basics, we’d also want you to know that it isn’t very easy. However, if you heart is at it, you will definitely do a brilliant job. So, get to it!

Here are a few pre-requisites to starting your own NGO:

  • Be sure about what you want

First, sit down and assess your goals. There are a million causes to work on, in the country and in the world. What is it that you wish to work on?

Make sure you select the cause you have full conviction about, and something you have worked on before. This is serious business, once you get into it, there is no backing out. Your cause also needs to be something feasible for you to work with, so check all your resources.

Also, remember that there will be more people against your cause than for it. You’ll need to be emotionally strong to bear it all. You will be subjected to the darker side of human nature and see a lot of poverty, sickness and cruelty. Be strong: your strength can help many.

  • Register your NGO

Once decided, you need to register the organisation. But even before that, you will need to create a governing body. This body will be responsible for all the decisions, planning, management, networking and activities of the organisation.

A few years ago, a leading newspaper had published an article on how to register an NGO. Most of the details should be the same, so you can check the article for more detailed information. However, it is wise to cross-check this information with someone who knows more, like a lawyer, or someone who already has a functional NGO.

  • Get the MOU

In India, if you are starting a NGO, you will need to document a trust deed/MOU which will include the address of the organisation, objectives, mission, rules & regulations, and details about the governing body and staff. Form the governing body of your organisation and then, the byelaws and the MOU on the basis of which the NGO will function.

  • Categories of NGOs

NGOs in India can be formed and registered under three categories – a trust, society and section-8 company. The laws for these are different so it is advised to first decide under which category you want your NGO registered and then find out everything about it.

Whichever you chose, your income tax liability will be the same under given circumstances. An NGO can be registered under any of the following acts in India –

  • Companies Act: Under this, all profits should be used for further needs of the organisation.
  • Indian Trusts Act: As per this, a trust which is charitable doesn’t have to get registered except when it wants to claim tax exemptions.
  • Societies Registration Act: A few people can come together and form a society. This way they get more flexibility when making regulations.

In all the categories, the mode of succession on board of management is election by appointment. In a trust, the statute followed is Bombay Public Trusts Act, 1950, while in a society it is the Societies Registration Act, 1860 and in a section-8 company, it is the Indian Companies Act, 2013. More details can be found on the NGOs India website.

  • Essential registrations

To register your NGO, the first thing you’ll need is the form which is available at the district registrar’s office. Also required are the rules and regulations of the company and a memorandum of associations along with consent letters from all the members of the managing committee.

This committee should have at least seven members in it. All these members need to sign the authority letter, too. The members also need to get together than sign on a declaration that all funds earned or secured by the company will be used only for the society.

  • Fees

The registration fees for all NGOs, except mahila mandals is Rs 50. This needs to be submitted with the form and copies of the documents. Mahila Mandals need to pay only Rs 10 as registration fees.

  • Taxes

The income of a trust is exempt from income tax. However, to be able to avoid this option, it is important to get certificate u/s12A from the income tax department soon after the registration as a trust.

  • Raise funds

Once registered, you will need to raise funds from internal sources. This can be from donations, sales, membership fees, subscriptions. Since the incoming funds are monitored, make sure you know if you are exempt from tax of not.

You can arrange activities, charity events, publish and sell works by the organization and its members, and even ask for online donations.

According to Entrepreneur magazine, crowdfunding is the process of raising money to fund what is typically a project or business venture through many donors using an online platform, such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Crowdfunder.

A lot of NGOs are also use Network for Good, an online fundraising platform for charities and non-profit organizations. It makes made online donations easy so that NGOs can raise funds online using their software. This is one way you can start an NGO without money.

  • Network

For the NGO to work and grow, you will need to work on your network – in your professional, personal and social circuits. Of late, there being a digital boom, it is the perfect time to use social media as a tool to promote your NGO.

  • Get listed in directories

Another thing you need to do is to register your NGO with Karmayog. This website is the database of all NGOs, and has details for resources, donations, volunteering etc.

The website takes you through a step by step guide of how to set up an NGO. You can also advertise on their website to promote your NGO. Also search for more directories online where you can list your NGO.

Did you find these tips on starting an NGO useful? Let us know in the comments below.

The Indian Woman’s Guide To Buying A Home

By Kishor Pate, CMD – Amit Enterprises Housing Ltd.

A decade ago, an Indian woman independent and capable enough to buy her own home was a rare case. However, things have changed today.

woman buying house

The contemporary Indian woman tends to be very well educated, has a good job with excellent career growth prospects, and even holds important government or corporate leadership posts.

In any case, today’s Indian women certainly have the ability and confidence to craft their own lives, and are very much able to fulfill their dream of owning a home regardless of whether they are married or not.

In fact, buying a home is fast beginning to figure as a bigger priority for many Indian women than marriage. This is not surprising, since a self-owned home is correctly seen as the #1 security anchor in India – and the best foundation from which to make long-term life decisions.

In fact, even married Indian women today are more often than not active financial partners in their families. Apart from being earning members, they also have a complete grasp of the family’s current and future financial abilities.

Developers are very aware that the woman plays a leading role in a family’s home purchase decisions. Also, homes are made by women, not men. Every man knows this, and will defer to the judgment of the woman in his life in matters of buying a home.

Women have a genetically encoded gift for homemaking, and much better perspective about what should be included or excluded. A man depends on the woman to make his home comfortable and suitable for family life.

Still, buying a home is not just a matter of instincts and good taste, but also one for adequate planning and foresight. For Indian women thinking of buying a home, either for themselves or for their family, here are some points to consider.

  1. Prepare For The Initial Costs:

First-time home buyers tend to save a considerable while to get a sizable down payment together. However, keep in mind that property purchase involves several other initial expenses such as stamp duty and registration costs, utilities connection charges and insurance and taxes.

Apart from your down payment on a home (or your contribution towards a home loan) you need to have an additional fund of at least 6 to 7% of the base cost of the property available. If a broker’s services are used, even a negotatiated fee will amount to a significant sum.

Not having the required capital to cover all of the initial costs can prove to be a dampener on home purchase plans. It is not necessary to have the entire corpus in one’s savings account, since personal loans are always an option.

However, women who are just starting out in their careers should not allow themselves to fall too deep into a credit trap. If they avail of a personal loan to cover the initial costs of home purchase, it should be to the minimum possible extent so that repayment does not become an issue on top of servicing the home loan. It is always best to use free and clear capital as far as possible.

  1. Be Confident About Monthly Outgoings:

Anyone eyeing a property purchase should first figure out the monthly mortgage and whether they will be able to afford it. Online mortgage calculators can be helpful, but they will only tell you the value of the principal and associated interests.

There are other monthly expenses involved in home ownership, and these include insurances, taxes, maintenance charges, utilities charges, etc. For working single women, it is important that all these amounts put together do not exceed 35 to 40% of their net income.

Do not neglect to figure out your overall cost of living before deciding on how big a home loan you can safely service, and keep in mind that property is not the only investment you should make towards your ongoing financial security. You should also put at least 10% of your monthly income into a retirement plan.

Often, the full implications of having over-committed on a home loan do not dawn on the borrower until the home loan has been serviced for a few months. By then, it is too late to modify the financial plan. When it comes to home purchase, every financial angle must be examined well in advance.

It is very advisable to use the services of an experienced financial planner, or rely on the informed advice of a family member, friend or colleague who is experienced in such matters. The process of buying a dream home should not turn into an unexpected nightmare at any point.

  1. Be Realistic And Maintain Forward Focus:

Home ownership is a great step ahead in a woman’s life, and towards independence in your retirement age. But your first home is not necessarily the only home you will ever buy.

Remember that you can always upgrade in the future if required or desired, so there is absolutely no need to buy the biggest-possible flat now. Never compromise your current financial viability by buying a needlessly expensive home.

The home you live in today does by no means have to be the one you will be living in when you retire. When it comes to real estate, it is always a good thing to upgrade as financial ability improves, but this process can and should be planned out over the entire course of one’s working life. For a woman who is at the outset of her career, nothing is more important than financial stability on every front.

To plan for upgrading to a bigger and better home further down the line, it is very advisable to invest (and stay invested) in good mutual funds which deliver more returns than savings accounts.

Direct stock market speculation into single company stocks and bonds as a potential source of real estate funding should be avoided, as such investments are not sufficiently diversified to offer a safety net in case a company experiences a downturn.

  1. Shop Around Extensively For Home Loans:

When it comes to choosing the right lender, do not go by the recommendations of friends or relatives alone. Do extensive research on the several different lending institutions available to you.

Ideally, you should get pre-approved for a home loan and the interest rate should be the most competitive. Remember that as an Indian woman, you are entitled to ask for a lower rate of interest on a home loan – be sure to insist on this benefit.

The home loan market in India is currently very competitive, and banks are falling over themselves to attract customers. This is a fact that can and must be taken advantage of.

A woman who is shopping around for a home loan should make specific inquiries about special interest rates and other incentives that a bank is offering to women borrowers. Asking the right kinds of questions will also establish you as an informed borrower and encourage the bank to offer you the best possible structuring.

Never take the first thing that is offered to you – most banks have a considerable margin of flexibility to accommodate borrowers who know what they want and are determined to get it. If you are married, the ideal scenario is to take a joint loan with your spouse. This is also the arrangement that banks prefer most, since it reduces their risk.

  1. Be Sure Of The Developer’s Credibility:

Every day brings new stories about buyers who have been hoodwinked by unreliable developers. Either the project has been unreasonably delayed, has never even taken off or the delivered property (or amenities and facilities) are grossly different from what was initially promised.

Do not fall into such a trap – no woman looking for the security of home ownership should have to deal with such a setback. Make sure the developer has a strong reputation on the market by doing multiple checks with reliable agents, the home loan company and also on the Internet.

It is highly advisable to patronize only established developers with a readily verifiable track record for timely completions and 100% adherence to the agreements they make with their customers.

About The Author

Kishor Pate, Chairman & Managing Director of Amit Enterprises Housing Ltd. is the driving force behind one of the most successful real estate development firms in Pune and beyond. Apart from its signature luxury homes towers and premium gated townships, AEHL has also launched highly successful affordable housing projects in Pune.

Rolling Out The Red Carpet: Giving Your Home That Ultrachic Look

For ages now, carpets have been a prominent part of the décor of most homes. Adding character to the room, it is necessary that the carpet compliment the walls and decor of the room, as well as being easy to maintain.

Carpets

While originally carpets were either made of wool or cotton; today with the many choices available between natural and synthetic fibers; there are countless carpets in the market to choose from.

In addition, there is a plethora of colors and designs also available which can confuse any ordinary buyer. Monetary value and maintenance are primary factors while purchasing that new carpet.

Our modern day lives have left us with very busy schedules, and hence it is essential to find that right carpet, which is neither very heavy on our pockets nor difficult to maintain.

With changing daily lifestyles even the products we use have changed so why not our carpets. Modern day carpets are not only easy to use but also provide that ultra chic look to our homes.

Buyers have multiple choices which focus around the materials and carpet making techniques. All of them also require different cleaning methods and so the task lies in choosing the best combination that suits your needs most effectively.

Here’s what some experts would suggest looking into, while buying that perfect carpet for your room.

Choosing the material

  • Wool Rugs:

They’re not only attractive to look at but also soft and durable. The material in itself is resistant to stains and spills because it contains its own natural oils. They are also very durable, so can be placed underneath furniture along in areas which are used very often; besides being more fire resistant compared to other fabrics. On the downside they shed, and it is important not to pull on loose strands but to clip them to keep the rug intact.

  • Cotton Rugs:

They’re useful as all-purpose rugs, being both soft and durable and less hefty on the pocket as compared to woolen rugs. They can be utilized anywhere in the house and are machine washable.

  • Natural Fibers:

These are again a cheaper option as compared to woolen rugs, and the material used in them differs, but usually contain a mixture of plants and grasses like seagrass and jute.

Though they’re not very durable they bring an organic look to the room. It is advisable not to place them in highly used areas or under very heavy furniture.

Similar to wool rugs; spills on the carpet need to be cleaned quickly, moreover these rugs can absorb moisture faster than other materials, hence it would be preferable not to use them in areas of the house which are exposed to changing humidity conditions.

  • Synthetic Rugs:

The materials used include polypropylene, polyester, nylon, and acrylic. Acrylic fibers are mostly used in bath mats and rugs, as they are highly resistant to stains and mildew; while polypropylene is also a highly stain resistant fiber.

Being durable they can be used under heavy furniture and are also inexpensive. As they are normally machine-made, they can be created in a large variety of attractive patterns and designs and can be cleaned with a wide range of substances.

On the downside they are not as soft as natural fiber rugs and do not possess the same intricate details.

Choosing the design

Getting a modernized rug also means getting a sleek uncluttered look with abstract shapes and clean designs. There are varied methods of manufacture and mostly the higher priced rug is the one which takes longer to make.

The aesthetic appeal of a buyer may differ as per their personal taste, so here are few production techniques to know about before buying your rug.

  • Hand-Knotted:

This process is time consuming, and mostly requires high quality materials, such as wool. Due to each strand of material being wrapped and knotted by hand they are highly priced; but can also last for a long period of time.

  • Hand-Tuft:

These are produced on a piece of fabric stretched over a frame. Similar to the hand knotted rugs, this process is time consuming, and hence results in high-quality expensive rugs.

  • Hand-Loomed:

Unlike handmade rugs these are faster to make but provide greater variety in design. The speedy process makes them less expensive, though loom-crafted rugs come in intricate designs as well.

  • Power-Loomed:

Lacking intricate designs they make up in the large variety of attractive styles available, being machine-made. Mostly made with natural or synthetic fibers they are a good option in the lower price range.

Choosing the vendor

Carpets have been traditionally purchased from well known and familiar furniture stores and carpet retailers, but now many online sites also provide the option to buy carpets online from varied or direct sellers who otherwise would have been difficult to reach or even be known to the buyer.

This has increased the options available for buyers and in fact sites like World Art Community and other online sites provide a large variety of listings for rugs in all designs and materials from varied artisans across India to compare and choose from.

This task would be difficult for an individual to do by themselves. It is easy to search for products online and choose the one providing the best craftsmanship and price.

If one decides to buy carpets online it would be advisable to examine the product specification in detail along with the seller profile rather than choosing just on the basis of the pictures provided.

Online purchases also offer the option to get real reviews of previous buyers. Someone with a highly positive feedback is of course a safe bet while purchasing the carpet, which will eventually help in lending that ultra modern look to your home.