is well known (under the name @BrownGirlGazin) to document women in their most authentic nature, embracing their insecurities and ‘imperfections’ in all their glory.
What started as a way to kill time in college has now become a full blown body positivity movement where she is now trying to normalise these so called imperfections that we as women have been taught to be ashamed of. Anushka Kelkar is trying to get these women to celebrate whatever they thought they needed to hide, be it scars, acne, cellulite, wrinkles, stretch marks and so on. Her lens not only captures this journey of her subject who goes on to become a braver version of herself, but also shows the faith they have in her and her perspective. What she does is fairly simple, and yet very complex and even niche in India.
In this exclusive interview with BeBadass we put the girl who is usually behind the lens, in the spotlight while she shares her own journey and process.
Explain the name – Brown Girl Gazin
Browngirlgazin has two meanings for me—on the one hand I wanted to allude to the stereotypes and pressures that often come with being seen as a ‘brown girl’ or being an Indian woman today, and on the other hand I wanted to imply that I was the brown girl who was gazing at all the women around me, trying to re-construct my own gaze and understand what it means to be a brown girl.
Why did you start this project with just women?
I started this project based on the personal experiences I had as a woman, along with all the stories I heard from the women around me. I wanted to ensure that I was able to be empathetic while making portraits, and understand the context of those I was documenting.
I definitely believe that men have body image insecurities and pressures too, but when I began I wanted to focus on the experiences of women because I already had so much background information and was able to reach more women who were open to share their experiences.
What is your participant demographic like?
So far it’s mostly been young women between the ages of 17-25, but that is probably going to change very soon!
How have the men received this project?
Most men have actually been quite receptive! Of course, there are the occasional trolls but most men tell me that this project has helped them be more sensitive to the women in their lives, which is always an incredible thing to hear.
What is your process like?
I like keeping the shoots pretty casual so the process usually involves lots of conversation about general things about them to know them better. Most of the participants are kind of anxious about the process, and so I explain what my vision is and what my ideas for the shoot are so I can get their inputs on how they feel about it. For me, collaborating with my subjects is a really important part of the experience and I think it really helps to make them feel like they are equals in the shoot. While I’m shooting, I keep taking breaks to check in with the people I’m shooting and often, I really rely on instinct. I can feel when a participant is not feeling comfortable, even if they can’t articulate it and I have come to trust this feeling and work with it. I also let the participants know before the shoot that they will get access to the photographs before they are put up anywhere, and if there are any pictures which they really don’t feel comfortable enough to share with the world yet, I understand that and will save it until they are.
How do you deal with your own insecurities?
For me, my mind and body are intrinsically connected and being kind to both of them is a challenge that can be daunting, but also really helps me to feel good in my own body. Lots of meditation, journaling, and connecting authentically with the people around me is always helpful in reminding myself that beauty isn’t an objective set of standards.
Beauty is warm, wild, and fleeting and embracing that idea really helps me embrace myself.
What has been the most challenging aspect of this project?
I want there to be less shame associated with women’s bodies—so many women who have responded to my work positively have spoken about how this is the first time they have seen things like acne, or stretch marks on the bodies of other women who are not trying to hide them. Through this project, I want to normalise the complex relationships that women have with their bodies and create a space where women feel free to talk about the ways in which this relationship is constantly changing and evolving. I didn’t just want it to be a space where people are documenting their insecurities, I wanted it to be more of a community where women can freely talk to each other about these things. This is a goal that can definitely seem overwhelming some days, and constantly taking in and holding other people’s trauma can also be exhausting sometimes.
Do you think it’s long before mainstream media and masses accept the real notion of beauty instead of the stereotypical western shapely fair standards they are used to now?
I think it’s already happening, just very slowly. I believe with time and with more women being honest and unlearning all the beliefs that we have held on to for years, it’s definitely possible.
Define a Badass Woman
To me a badass woman is someone who is asking herself questions that might have uncomfortable answers. Someone who is constantly learning and unlearning, and laughing at themselves in the process. Someone who is creating despite their fear, and because of their fear.
Name a few Badass women who inspire you
This question always stumps me because there are just so many incredible women in my life. From my mother and my grandmothers, to my incredible girlfriends, to the incredible writers and thinkers who have left parts of themselves behind for me to sit with.
Naomi Wolf, Zadie Smith, Brene Brown, Trisha Shetty, Heather Havrilesky, Audre Lorde, Ismat Chugtai, Chimamanda Adichie, and so many more.
What would you say to women who find it hard to accept their bodies as they are?
You are not alone!
Don’t blame yourself for hating your body, our society makes it pretty difficult for young girls to feel good in their bodies. The beauty industry makes it almost impossible for young girls to ever feel good enough. I would say begin by sitting with yourself and figuring out what your triggers are. It’s not going to be a quick one step process to loving yourself. It’s long, and winded and I don’t think there’s ever going to be a place where all your doubts about your body are gone. I feel it’s important to remember that you are so much more than your body, and to do the internal work and start enjoying the process of nurturing and loving your body.