Growing up is a natural process everybody goes through, and puberty is a phase that everyone encounters. We all are aware of the bodily changes that take place. Initially, it can be mind-boggling to understand it all, but it becomes easier once we get the hang of it.
However, puberty is a tricky subject in an Indian household. As teenagers, girls and boys are extremely curious about everything, including some 'taboo' topics. This includes Menstruation, Sexual Health and other similar aspects. For the average millennial, such conversations were considered 'uncomfortable' with our parents.
Fortunately, recent times have been kinder to the younger generations. Slowly and steadily, India is bridging the information gap where puberty is concerned. Many people are coming up with innovative ideas to spread awareness about subjects, from which masses would shy away. An excellent example of this is an organisation called 'Menstrupedia'. With their social media platforms and engaging comic books, they are busting myths about puberty and encouraging parents to introduce the necessary topics interactively.
Joint Endeavour For A Cause
The idea was the brainchild of Aditi Gupta and her husband and business partner, Tuhin Paul. They both heard several myths about puberty from their families that they have happily debunked with their exciting venture. In many families, periods are considered 'impure'. With no open discussion, it is difficult for girls to understand that this is nothing but normal.
Not just Menstruation, talking about masturbation and other sexual health subjects was not encouraged between boys during puberty. Speaking to The Logical Indian, Tuhin Paul explains what was missing from his childhood, "There are myths about masturbation, but it was more about who to have an open conversation. With us boys opening up about any vulnerability, you will become the butt of all jokes. This was something I found missing while growing up."
Further, Paul talks about the self-esteem issue any teenager would go through. "While growing up, most kids suffer from low esteem and body issues. For me, the ideal body type was what the actors had in the movies, bulging muscles and beard, whereas I was nowhere close. I was lean and thin with long legs. My confidence was low at this point," he adds.
Both graduates of the National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad started a crowdfunding campaign for a comic book that will act as an educational guide. The first book was 'Menstrupedia Comic', a period guide in a storytelling format that was released in 2012.
All About Menstruation
The story follows three nine-year-old girls named Pinki, Jiya and Mira, who celebrate Pinki's birthday in her house. Her sister, Priya, is a doctor who becomes the source of all information in the comic strip.
The book is divided into four parts: 'Growing up', 'What are Periods?', 'When is my next period?' and 'Taking care during periods.' Each aspect is covered with utmost attention to detail and is culturally sensitive.
When it comes to periods, media has played a terrible role in destigmatising them. Sanitary napkin advertisements reinforce a stereotypical representation of period blood as shown 'blue'. However, the Menstrupedia comic does not hesitate to dwell into the nitty-gritty of it all. The comic book has answered all the necessary questions about Menstruation, which is interactive and relatable for many who read the period guide. Not only that, but the comic also talks about hygienic measures to follow before, during and after menstruation and explains every detail.
Boys' Puberty Guide
Puberty is a challenging phase, not just for girls but also for boys. After the period guide, Menstrupedia decided to address the boys' puberty issue. "Once we made the period guide for girls, we were approached by parents who also have sons, and they wanted to know if there is a book on teaching boys about puberty. That was the reason why we made the growing up guide for boys," Tuhin Paul continues his conversation.
The comic named 'Gulu' came about using Paul's own experience and other meaningful inferences. Like the girls' guide, the storyline was very similar. A boy named Gulu visited his grandparents and his brother, Aman, a doctor. As the plot gains momentum, the little boy's curiosity only grows as they navigate different topics.
These topics are covered extensively from bodily changes to personal hygiene and a healthy diet. Not only that, subjects like sexual attraction, consent, substance abuse and addiction are presented easily and engagingly, without any uncomfortable stereotypes.
While the puberty guide caters to topics specifically for boys, it has a segment where Gulu's mother explains to him what periods is. For young boys, sensitisation about such issues is necessary as they can adapt well to various situations.
Making A Difference Around Gendered Notions
Before publishing the comics, the Menstrupedia team gets the necessary feedback incorporated into the content. "Since the book contains taboo topics, we conduct a thorough user study before releasing the comics. We show it to parents and educators who go through it and give their opinions. We see if they find anything objectionable or extremely comfortable with what is being presented. We take this feedback very seriously," Tuhin Paul adds.
The comic book uses inclusive language. Paul gives an example, "When we are talking about emotional changes. The guide talks about boys and girls being romantically attracted towards the opposite gender. Then somebody says that it is not always the opposite gender, and someone can be attracted to a person of the same gender. Then we changed it to 'being romantically attracted to other'. It's these small changes that make the comic inclusive that will appeal to all kinds of users."
As shared by the founders, around 30,000 to 40,000 comics are published in a year. Over 2,50,000 copies are in circulation till date and 11,000 schools around the country are using it as books. They have also been invited to different events around the world. Menstrupedia's work is getting international recognition and has impacted millions of young girls, not just in India but also globally.
Challenging Stereotypical Notions
The puberty guides were made for educational purposes and encouraging necessary conversation about such topics. However, Aditi Gupta and Tuhin Paul want to change the stereotypical mentality about boys and girls. "By making these puberty guides for girls and boys, our goal is to reduce the gender gap. Before puberty hits, they are considered equal. They play together and are not affected by societal stereotypes, and they do not try to behave differently. As puberty kicks in, girls start looking for their identity, and boys do the same. Popular culture like influencers, movies, etc., have an impact as well," Paul explains while speaking with The Logical Indian.
In terms of boys, Tuhin Paul touches upon toxic masculinity, which directly affects how Indian cinema depicts romance. He elucidates, "Many boys think that objectifying girls is ok, teasing them is alright. Therefore, they grow up to become insensitive. In turn, the girls feel ashamed about themselves and their bodies. They are brought up in a certain way where they are told to sit properly and behave like a girl. Nobody will question the boys' behaviour."
Apart from the comic book, they also want to create a digital app that will reach thousands of people with just a click of a button shortly. For Menstrupedia, the focus remains on the health ambit as they want to raise awareness about reproductive health and other puberty issues.