Author Archives: IdeaSmith
There is a sense that the Saree Wearers’ Club is an exclusive one, limited to women who are married or of a certain age, have a certain body shape and even they wear it in certain ways & on occasions only. Any variation from this invites attack.
I’ve been exploring drapes & styling methods for the saree, YouTube, Instagram, my own creativity as guides. I love the saree for how versatile it is. It is after all, just a length of cloth, modified to body type, region & occasion. The saree is my newest palette, my body an eternal canvas.
I’ve received mixed reactions.
The saree blurs social boundaries as security guards & autorickshaw drivers (who don’t usually target women in my class) jeer & whistle. It confuses middle-class men who make way for me on public transport but stare resentfully.
Many feel my English-speaking, short hair flaunting, liberal self doesn’t fit the saree wearer mold. There are those who ask why I ‘need’ to wear a saree when I’m slim, as if the garment is an apology for a body that doesn’t fit western standards. The takedowns build, listing how my look doesn’t adhere-pallu wrong, shape weird, look funny. “I can’t understand this!” I’m told as if my apparel is a request and as if they get to decide if I get entry to the exclusive club. And I don’t.
I was slut-shamed for wearing a saree to a condolence visit (as reaction to my calling out a sleazy man). The shamer, herself a woman, was saree-draped. Her reaction showed she values only one kind of woman (that I’m not). In her eyes I didn’t merit entry into the Saree-Wearers’Club.
People box women into limited roles. How we dress is one of the labels of the boxes we’ve accepted. My experiments break boxes just by existing. If the very act of dressing is political, this single length of cloth has become my flag. It’s versatile, it’s practical, it has a history but it adapts and it stands for something. Me.
In the picture, I’m wearing a colour-blocked kanjeevaram with a corduroy jacket and boots. I call this the fish-tail drape, pallu doubling up as neck scarf. Like it? Join the club. Everyone’s welcome in mine.
Don’t I look like all the sins you’re going to commit tonight? I felt it too. Because feeling flows through me the way water runs through the planet, within it, over it, above it and into every creature that lives on it. It feels good to dissolve. It feels peaceful to let go and drown in cool darkness. Words like ’empath’ and ‘boundaries’and ‘toxic patterns’ just flow into sound & light and are swallowed up in the darkness that we are.
Who ever told you that the quest for love would be easy? I knew it wasn’t easy, you say, I just didn’t expect it to be so unpredictable. But how could you think it to be otherwise? Love is the subject of most songs and stories and poems told across the human race and since when did we ever entertain each other by being predictable? It’s an act of rebellion to care. Love is an assertion of life.
But I’ll also say, let go when it feels like self-loathing. “It’s not supposed to be so hard” people say when they mean you’re not worth putting in the effort, you are not worth enduring the agony of confusion for. That is not the time to persist, to prove your commitment. All that is, is pouring your precious self into an endless session of validation. Let go of anyone who can’t make time or space or effort for you because the truth is they won’t.
You are married to a tale. You fell in love with stories because they were bigger than you and you liked to find your place inside them. Why try to shrink that story to fit your hands and your imagination? Don’t hold your breath. Don’t hoard your breaths. Don’t get stuck on the ideas you pinned on the pages of your mind, fearing that your self will be lost if you look away. Feel. Feel. Feel. Your story is being created as you live it, not as you imagine it.
Love is a part of it. It always has been and will always be, even if it doesn’t look the way fairytales and romcoms narrate it. It’s not a sin to look. But it is a sin to breathe and not live.
Some time ago, I watched a woman walk into a coffeeshop. She was dressed in a neon yellow jacket, neon yellow sneakers & microshorts and sported a ponytail on either side of the head, held back with – you guessed it, neon yellow ties. She looked like she was in her early 30s. I was consumed by uncharitable thought after judgemental idea – about her overcoordination, skin exposure, colour choice. The vehemence of my feelings shocked me.
Earlier in the year, an old friend attacked my saree styling, called me names, threatened to walk away if I ever ‘dared’ wear one in his presence. He refused to apologise when I called him out for his misbehaviour. The next day, he trolled my blogs.
I used to wear a bright red fascinator to work. I was catcalled at the station, followed home and worst of all, found nasty notes left on my office table. It was upsetting because I was not breaking any rules or harming anybody.
What it is it about apparel that incites such violent responses in other people? When I discovered it in myself, I realised I couldn’t write it off as other people’s issues. It doesn’t matter if I didn’t act on it. I thought it. I too, felt a powerful negative reaction to a stranger’s dressing. Why?
Our bodies are policed by families, by male partners, by female companions, by the fashion industry, by media standards, by gender definitions. I enjoy people’s confusion when I wear a saree (sanskari) with sneakers (tomboy). Or green lipstick (wild) with a kurta (traditional). I tell a story with every look. And my stories force people to reconsider their assumptions.
Each time we see someone presenting differently from what we expect, we experience shock. Alongside come our memories at having been policed for similar behaviour. Maybe we resent the person’s courage. Maybe we hate their naivete. Maybe we miss the security that a prison offers us because all imposed rules are prisons.
I dress to assert my identity and that itself is a protest. I guess that’s true for the girl in the coffeeshop too. The very act of dressing is a political statement.
How many things shall I grieve?
I was watching THAPPAD. I thought about the people who have hit me. In plural. I had experienced enough of it before I touched adulthood. Yet, at 23, when a man I loved hit me, I knew something was wrong.
Was it the force of his blow, right across my face so my ears rung for six minutes straight, giving me a full stop in time to register the wrongness of it? Or was it the public nature of it – a movie theatre, yes in the darkness but surrounded by hundreds of people? Trying to reconcile all these thoughts with the ringing in my head, the stinging on the side of my cheek and jaw. Or was it the desperate humiliation of it because a second before I had been kissing him? It was all of it.
Yet, almost a decade later, older, carrying the confidence of having lived through that experience, I didn’t register the wrongness of being hit when it happened again with a different man. Not even when he threw me across the room. Not even when I hit the wall, my head a mere two inches from the corner of the glass shelf I’d cleaned that morning. Not even when I slid to the floor, registering dimly that this doesn’t happen in slow motion like in the movies but in an ungraceful bounce, even with my low-fat boniness. Not even as I sat, breath knocked out of me, thinking the bones in my butt were broken and remembering it’s only one bone – the pelvis.
I didn’t. Because I was too preoccupied with him punching the wall, having to worry about how I’d carry him down three flights of stairs to a hospital if he broke something? Finding a way to get up and pull him back, push him onto the sofa, sniffing in irritation, hating that my nose runs when I’m upset, only realising I was bleeding when I saw the drops on the floor.
I still didn’t see it. There was never time. I went from caring for him to cleaning up the mess, readymade ran-into-door excuse in place, Google search for ‘self emergency procedure’, dig out emergency money stash in case it was needed for medical expenses. And then there was reassuring him, reassuring my family, explaining why we were having difficulties, begging him to let me come home because I’d been standing in the sun for 6 hours on my period and I was afraid I’d faint, crying as he began screaming about the garbage smelling the minute I walked in to the house. I don’t evem remember coming to where I live now. Only the screaming voices, demanding to know what happened, judging me for not making it work, calling me names for a failed engagement, saying I would destroy other people’s marriages, calling me jealous when I said don’t joke about bad relationships. There was no time to hear the voice in me saying, it hurts, this is wrong.
I didn’t register the wrongness. I can register how wrong it feels to be shamed for it, to be blamed for it, to be villified for it. But I am still in shock about not registering the wrong of it when it happened. Was he just that good, better than the ones before him, better even than a small child who could hold the idea of dignity despite numerous attempts to punch it out of her? Am I just getting weaker as the world convinces me that I am wrong? This is what fear looks like.
This is a very different kind of pain from sexual violence, another grief I know too well from 11 and from 22 and from 38, secondhand as I held dozens of MeToo stories.
This is also different from the wounds of speech, from mouths that have carried poison that lingers. It blurs into the body of the man that threw me across the room. It sounds like the man who violated me, then called me dark, ugly and that the only reason a guy would want me was because I looked desperate. It swells into the words of all the people screaming at me since then, telling me to be dignified, to shut up, to not be a man-hater, not be a feminist. It’s a world of screaming pain and I’m disgusted by it all. This disgust is the only thing that lets me distinguish that this is a different grief. I am not disgusted by the people who hit me. I am frightened of them.
I don’t know if rage, fear and disgust are all forms of grief but they feel like it. I can only carry one at a time. And tonight I play chariot to the one that punches, kicks, shakes and throws. All I am is blood.
In a conversation with new cup users, I went looking for the chronicle I knew I’d written and realised I’d never published it. So here goes for my menstruating peeps, hope it helps!
This is a recap and my learnings on my cup journey. I am very happy, now that I’ve figured out how to use the cup for my needs and I’ve found not one but two that suit my requirements. So here’s me sharing what I’ve learnt.
My journey with menstrual cups
- July 2015: I started with a firm, medium sized, stemmed SilkyCup bought online. It took me awhile to learn insertion and get comfortable with the cup. But leaks were still happening.
- June 2016: I decided to switch to a soft, medium sized, non-stemmed SheCup bought online. I thought the leaks may be happening because the previous cup wasn’t unfurling properly. This cup was easier to put in. But it turned inside me a couple of times and once, fell into the toilet bowl when I was trying to get it out. It also leaked.
- March 2017: I decided to go back to stemmed cups and go up one size to see if a snugger fit would prevent the leaks. I moved to WOW Freedom and ALX Care, both firm, large sized, stemmed cups. I’ve been using these alternately and have had good experiences with both. No more leaks, no difficulty putting in or removing and the cramps have reduced too.
What is a menstrual cup?
A menstrual cup is a cup made of silicon, which you insert into your vaginal passage during your period. It captures the period discharge. Typically you can leave it in for at least 8 hours before needing to take it out and empty it. The cup is reusable and is said to last for up to ten years, which makes it very cost-effective (think of the taxation on feminine hygiene products). It can be inserted, removed and cleaned by the user herself, in a bathroom, which takes away the problem of disposing sanitary napkins or pads. It’s made of silicon so does not absorb any of the period discharge, only contains it (unlike tampons which have been known to cause Toxic Shock Syndrome). It has no bleach or other skin-irritating products, unlike sanitary napkins (how else do you think they’re that white?). And finally, if you care about the environment, the menstrual cup protects you from having to add to landfill with disposables.
It’s still a very low visibility product since women’s health is not a big priority for the world. I’ve never seen a chemist stock this. But menstrual cups are very easily available online, on all major ecommerce sites. There are several brands and types and they come in a variety of price ranges.
Myths/Fears/Taboos about menstrual cups
- A menstrual cup will not get stuck or lost inside you. It cannot enter your uterus. It might go fairly deep into your vaginal passage but it can be removed easily. In the absolute worst case, your gynacologist will be able to get it out of you without any complex surgical procedures. It just requires putting two fingers in and pulling the cup out.
- Menstrual cups are not and should not be painful. Most women are not familiar with their own bodies. We are also given a lot of negative messaging, especially about our vaginas. This means most of us will worry and even panic when asked to go down there. This could cause the muscles to tighten which makes insertion a little harder. The trick is to just take a deep breath, relax, wait a few minutes if need be and try again without worry.
- Menstrual cups are not for certain women only. Any woman who is menstruating should be able to use the cup, regardless of her age or sexual history. To be absolutely sure, check with a good gynaecologist. Mine had not had a lot of experience with cups but she didn’t see any major worries about it. I’ve been keeping her posted about my progress and her subsequent checkups have shown no adverse effects of two years of use.
- Menstrual cups do not need any other support products. If you have the right cup for you, there will be no leakage. By this I mean, literally ZERO leakage. So you will not need a sanitary napkin or panty liner. Your vaginal passage is plugged up with a well-fitting cup that captures all the discharge.
- Menstrual cups don’t fill up and overflow uncontrollably. Until I started using the menstrual cup, I never realised how slowly and how little the period discharge really is. Yes, it is bloody and yes, we have heavy flow days. But even at its peak, a period is not like a tap on full, spraying blood. The average cup and user can go upto at least 8 hours without a problem. I always empty my cup every 3-4 hours during the day anyway and I sleep the 8-9hour night without getting up. I have also gone for upto 12 hours without a change and there were no issues. This has never happened to me, but apparently if the cup gets full, it will only move downwards, presumably weighed down and it might leak a bit because of the shift in position.
Keep these in mind while looking for a cup
- Size is a very important aspect of how the cup works for you. This has nothing to do with your body weight, age or sexual history. Human bodies come in many beautiful forms and yours is unique. Don’t body shame yourself for whatever size cup you need. The cup needs to fit you, not the other way round. A cup that is too loose will allow leaks and you’ll need pads, which defeats the purpose.
- The stem is another important aspect of the cup. Even cups without stems will not get lost inside you. But you will need to insert your fingers a little deeper to get a hold of the cup during removal. Cups with stems will not hurt you because they’re really soft. If the cup fits well, it will get pulled into your vaginal passage completely and the stem won’t even stick out. Either way, the cup works. It’s a matter of personal preference. Figure yours out.
- Cleaning the cup seems to be a big deal for a lot of women (based on what I read online). Maybe this is more in the western world where they’re used to bathrooms being dry and using toilet paper rather than water. As an Indian, wet doesn’t equal dirty to me. And I’ve been cleaning myself during my periods for over 20 years now. All you do is sit on the toilet, pull out the cup gently, empty it into the bowl, rinse it with clean water and put it back in. I also wash it with VWash if I’m at home. Sterilising can be done at the start and at the end of the period before you put your cup away. If you can’t do this in the kitchen, use a face steamer like I do or even a sterilising cup.
- Take your time with finding the right cup and gaining comfort with whatever you buy. This is really important. This product is to help you live easier and better.
All the very best on your journey with menstrual cups! I would love to hear your experiences with the cup too. If you’d like to share, please leave a comment here or tweet to me or drop me a note at ideasmithy [at] gmail [dot] com.