I have to be authentic in order to receive authenticity from other people
a conversation with the Stri Project by Suha and Elli
art by Yannis
trigger warning: this article discusses eating disorders
The Stri Project is an online initiative striving to create a community to help BAME women create better relationships with themselves, with an emphasis on body image disorders.
A couple of weeks ago, we had the pleasure of interviewing Nashita and Salma, the creators of the Stri Project, where we were able to discuss the purpose of their project, and their opinions on the roles media and culture play in shaping the way women see themselves and each other.
Why the word ‘stri’?
The word ‘stri’ is basically an old formal Hindi word for female or woman and is usually used to address women in a very respectful way. We wanted to incorporate that into our name to address women, to address ethnic women, and we wanted them to feel respected. It was really an all-encompassing word.
What started this project?
The project is inspired by my personal struggles with both eating disorders and body dysmorphia. And a lot of the time, what a lot of people will recommend to you when you have these issues is a support system or a support network. However, I found that in this region, amongst my friends, especially us women of colour, it was very difficult to create a support system. This was because people had a very objective idea of what body dysmorphia is and what eating disorders are and thought they were very surface level things. So that’s basically what inspired the project.
How did you guys start working on this together?
I knew immediately when I had the idea that Salma was really the only person I could go to. I think I've known her for like two years now and we got very close in a very short span of time. And she was one of the very few people that knew about my struggles in the first place. So I went to her directly as soon as I got the idea hoping that she would be willing to work on it with me. Thankfully she was.
What was it like to share your story?
I've always been a very transparent person and I've always valued transparency in other people. But if there's one thing that I've always kept hidden from people, it was my eating disorder. And I think the reason i kept it hidden for so long is that for the longest time, I thought i wasn't skinny enough to qualify as someone who has an eating disorder. And that's something that's related to the mentality around that here. People always assume you have to be excessively skinny and have all your bones showing for you to qualify as someone with an eating disorder.
But over time I realized that my story is so real. It's very authentic to me and has affected me. And us being a platform for other creators of whatever kind to express their personal struggles and relationships with their bodies, it's only fair that we put out something from our side.
Especially on Instagram, I don't want to name names, there are so many platforms that post other people’s stories but there's really never anything from the creators themselves and I think that's kind of unfair and I didn’t want to do that. So, keeping all of these things in mind, I just had to tell myself that I have to be authentic in order to receive authenticity from other people and for it to be fair.
Are you hoping for people to share their experiences with you? How does the Stri Project work?
So eventually what we want to do is we just want it to be a platform for creation. For women who struggle with their relationship with themselves. Of course, we want people to share their stories on the page but they don't have to just be written. We have a lot of writing projects in mind that we want to do but you know these stories can be translated to various kinds of art forms or anything that people feel resonates with their stories.
Why do you think this pressure on appearance exists in our region?
I think when we’re talking about our region, one trend that I’ve noticed so far in the responses our project has gotten, is that in a lot of our communities we’re raised to see each other as competitors. I think for females, that’s definitely the most overarching causative agent as to why we have so many issues to ourselves; we see each other as competition and what adds fuel to the fire is that we seem to compete for male interest. So, especially in this region, a lot of our attitudes towards things like marriage, for example, perpetuate this idea of competition. Which, in my mind, is completely unnecessary and puts strain on women in ways that they may not even realize.
How does our region perpetuate these issues?
One thing in Indian culture that I've noticed is there's a lot of skinny worship. When I first heard that term, I was a bit taken aback. I was like ‘what is that? that’s just exaggerated’ and then I had to really look into my culture to see that it is something that’s so heavily exercised within my community. Women are expected to not eat at family gatherings and there are always aunties who are looking to see how much a girl is putting on her plate. There’s a saying that basically translates to ‘the person who eats the least gets the most’. So, in my culture, I do think these things are quite prominent.
Is the main focus of the Stri Project body image in terms of weight?
Not at all. That’s why we include ‘body dysmorphia’ in our bio and everywhere where we essentially advertise ourselves because that is a very important term. I think oftentimes when we talk about body image disorders, we forget about body dysmorphia. Even if you don't have body dysmorphia a lot of times if you have an eating disorder, you have body dysmorphic tendencies. One of the aspects of body dysmorphia is sometimes, because you're so trained and so hyper fixated on yourselves, what you see in the mirror isn't even real. So, there is an element of delusion in how you view yourself and what you see doesn’t even exist. You could think that you weigh more, for example, when you may not have a difference. This kind of issue can be applied to really any kind of insecurities and all kinds of issues. That’s why we often use the phrase ‘women struggling with themselves’.
Are things getting better? Is promoting body diversity improving?
I think it's only improving when it comes to diversity. Because - and this is something that I've always felt with inclusivity - people want to include different types of women but it's always through a particular lens. For example, brown models. Sure, they are ethnically brown, but they usually have very European and white-passing features; none of them have the quintessential Asian features because that would just be too much, that would be too ethnic. And the same thing applies with body diversity. I feel like we only see a certain type of plus sized models that we’ll see. We really don’t see all the different types.
I think the only kind of brand or platform that's made a difference in that regard has probably been Rihanna's lingerie line ‘Fenty X Savage’. I think that's the only time I've seen such a different array of bodies but otherwise we're still, in my opinion, very far from representing and radically representing every kind of woman.
How can people get involved and submit with the Stri Project?
Hit us up on Instagram! You can contact the page, but both of our personal accounts are also linked in our bio if you feel more comfortable contacting us individually. Our DMs are always open. We would love to hear from you!