In the TikTok world of redundant dances and #Nosejobchecks, Megha Thakur offers something different. Sometimes it’s advice on how to take a chance on yourself. Other times, it’s a video on how to twerk as a skinny person. The message behind it all is body positivity, no matter your shape or size.
“Behind everything I create, the message is ‘be you, be confident.’ If you can’t be you, you can’t be confident,” Thakur emphasizes. “Every time I make a video I try to be myself, because even if people don’t like it, at least I was true to myself.”
Thakur’s message has resonated with millions of people worldwide. At 20 years old, she is a blogger, model, TikToker and Youtuber. Through her TikToks, which have collectively amassed over 25 million likes, she explores themes like body empowerment, sexuality and self-acceptance through her love for dance and fashion.
Thakur’s TikTok creative journey began in the summer of 2020 at her parent’s house in a Toronto suburb. In quarantine, Megha made the conscious choice to drown out everything going on in the world and exclusively focus on herself, which led to days in bed reflecting. She asked herself questions like “Why am I insecure?” and “What do I actually want in life?” Often accompanied by a notepad or the Notes app of her phone, she broke down everything she had been through in life. She wrote reflections to study all the forces that made her the way she is, starting with her upbringing.
Originally from Madhya Pradesh, India, Thakur migrated to Canada with her parents when she was one year old. At a young age, she faced an identity crisis while deciphering how to adjust to both cultures. This adjustment “wasn’t so much about geographically adjusting, but about doing Indian practices at home and then stepping out to a world with completely different practices.”
Although Thakur was admitted to a prestigious international high school program, she convinced her parents to let her attend an arts high school so she could continue to practice dance.
However, she only saw dance as a creative outlet: “It was a passion of mine, not something I wanted to put my heart and soul into professionally,” she says.
She ultimately decided to study computer science in university because it was a field that would satisfy her father.
“I felt like it was the least I owed him because he let me attend an arts school,” she explains.
Despite diversity at her arts high school, she felt like an outsider. It didn’t help that whenever her culture was represented, it felt superficial. She noticed that her non-Brown peers were always delighted to partake in Bollywood dance classes, but didn’t care to learn about South Asian culture.
Rarely approached by the boys in her predominantly white school, she grew up blaming her race and body type. Additionally, when her friends in high school started exploring sex, drugs and alcohol, she shyly watched from the sidelines.
“I was really uncomfortable with my body, and when everyone started hooking up, my insecurities surfaced,” she laments.
Thakur finally encountered more South Asians in college. She noticed that they identified more strongly with their specific cultural and religious sects. These experiences made her question the role race played in her life. Although she always considered herself as a non-specific South Asian, when she saw how deeply connected others were to their specific identities and how nuanced it was just to be from the subcontinent, she felt lost.
“Self-acceptance is not as simple as loving who you are. Self-acceptance is breaking down the forces that make you think those things about yourself,” Thakur says. “Whether those forces are unrealistic beauty standards perpetuated by the media or aunties who comment on my weight, the realization that all the stigmas I’ve been fed have nothing to do with me set me free.”
These quarantine reflections led to a routine of positive affirmations to center Thakur and remind her of her purpose, some of which can be heard in the background audio of her TikToks. One such important affirmation to Thakur is “confidence doesn’t come from looks; looks come from confidence.” Whenever Thakur repeats this to others, they retort that she is obviously confident because of the way she looks. “Nah, I look healthy and happy BECAUSE I’m confident,” she answers.
Starting out on TikTok
An avid dancer, Thakur first downloaded TikTok to seek inspiration from dancers all over the world. Over time, she realized the creative freedom the app encouraged beyond dancing. She used trending audio and recorded a TikTok.
The next day, she awoke to four million views.
TikTok became a safe haven from the stress of school. Thakur regularly made TikToks that reflected her thoughts during her summer in quarantine.
“I had the privilege of making the glass half full instead of empty,” she says.
Thakur frequently highlights skinny shaming, which is the act of deriding or mocking a person’s thinness.
The comment sections of her TikToks urge her to “eat something” and some refer to her as an “ironing board.” Growing up, her friends’ mothers frequently berated her to eat more and joked about her weight. Although she often laughed it off, it led to identity confusion and self-confidence issues.
Thakur is determined to empower people targeted by skinny shaming, she is always careful not to put down another body type to uplift her own. “Being proud of my flat ass has nothing to do with your body,” she declares. In a TiktTok, she shares: “Being skinny is hard. I get body-shamed every day. I get hate for loving my body, and I get hate for hating my body. Standards suck — love yourself for the way you are.”
Thakur insists she has no target audience in mind for her affirmations. She hopes to reach anyone who wants to make a positive change in their life. She does however keep one audience member in mind when making her videos: her younger self.
“When I make content, I think about what she would want to see at that age. When you make a message you don’t relate to, you have to guess how the audience will react. But when the audience is you, you don’t have to worry,” she adds, smiling.
Because she felt so passionate about the creativity TikTok allows her, Thakur decided to leave university where she studied computer science and business. Putting school on hold gave her the opportunity to reassess her priorities in life.
“The passion I felt for my creative ventures was unlike anything I’ve ever done,” Thakur says.
It’s Thakur’s belief that “it’s not about what you love in a job, it’s about what you hate and what you’re willing to endure.”
When she discussed leaving school with her parents, they dissuaded her, citing financial reasons. However, Thakur persisted and ultimately convinced them, reasoning, “I know you have my best interest at heart, but I have my best interest at heart.”
Thakur will continue sharing her struggles because she believes that somewhere, someone else may be struggling with them too. She is determined to seek them out through storytelling. Her promise to her viewers is she will always be unapologetically herself: “At the end of the day, it’s about being confident in who you are, and this is who I am.”
In July 2022, Sania Khan’s life was ruthlessly taken from her by her ex-husband. Sania was a young, vibrant South Asian woman – a creator and photographer who had the courage to step out of an abusive marriage, even in the face of community norms that discourage women from speaking out. While this tragedy seemed to stir a consciousness in the South Asian diaspora that we can no longer justify the status quo, it is far from the only such incident. Just months later in December of 2022, Harpreet Kaur Gill was stabbed to death by her husband in Vancouver. While the most extreme cases like those of Sania Khan and Harpreet Kaur Gill are highlighted by mainstream media, a small body of research provides evidence that intimate partner violence experiences are equally, if not more, prevalent in South Asian communities than the general population in the US or Canada. That’s why we need to do more as a community and throw light South Asians and intimate partner violence.
Despite the identification and investigation of these norms in South Asia, there’s so much we still don’t know about diaspora communities, especially in relation to South Asians and intimate partner violence. In the US, South Asians have become one of the fastest-growing populations, but we remain unaware of how the stresses of raising a family in a different culture, and the weight of growing up between two worlds, affect these norms, expectations, and experiences among South Asian immigrants, the second generation and beyond.
In this article, we’ll take a deeper look at how these norms are enacted to influence intimate relationship dynamics, discuss the recent rise in intimate partner violence, and explore the work that researchers, policymakers, and program implementers can do to address violence in South Asian diaspora communities.
Social Norms and Violence in South Asian Diaspora Communities
Why does it take catastrophic events to serve as a call to action? For one, the “model minority myth” continues to portray South Asians in America (who originate from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) as a healthy and wealthy group. As a child of Indian immigrants, I always thought this was just a frustrating trope that lived rent-free in my head next to the eternal question, “Log kya kahenge?” (What will people say?) However, I have realized that this constant worry is not just an innocent preoccupation. It’s the result of a dangerous spiral beginning with the portrayal of South Asians as a model minority and the need to maintain that well-to-do image. This only reinforces the traditional gender norms that overlook men’s perpetration of violence and encourage women’s silence, crippling any efforts to understand the scope of the problem and draw attention and resources to address it.
The Impacts of COVID-19 on Intimate Partner Violence
Prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the frequently-uttered phrase among researchers, practitioners, and advocates alike was “one in three” — one in three women ages 15-49 experiences physical and/or sexual violence inflicted by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Under the cover of the COVID-19 pandemic however, rates of violence against women rose dramatically, prompting UN Women to call for recognition of this “Shadow Pandemic.” During the height of the pandemic, the social isolation that came with lockdowns and quarantine procedures to curb the spread of disease made home a more dangerous place for an increasing number of women. As communities seek to rebuild, the inequities in access to and use of potentially lifesaving services have deepened. Now more than ever, it is critical that we shine a light on the many intersections of our society to prevent South Asian women’s experiences of intimate partner violence from being pushed even further into the shadows.
First and foremost, to better understand South Asians and intimate partner violence, we need better data disaggregated by racial/ethnic group. Since the 1980 Census, only those of Indian origin have had a fill-in bubble.All other South Asian groups have to write something in, decreasing their participation. South Asian communities in the US are not a monolith and they are certainly not all of Indian origin. This perception, fed by our lack of data, likely privileges the Indian community in America and limits the visibility of other South Asian communities.
More accurate information will help us better understand where the need is greatest. We can make a stronger case for more equitable resource allocation, improve South Asian language materials for survivors, and enhance provider training programs, accounting for the specific cultural implications of disclosing and seeking treatment for violence in South Asian communities. Public health researchers should increase efforts to understand the prevalence of experiences of violence, the environmental factors that make South Asian women in America vulnerable to experiences of intimate partner violence, and how it impacts their health.
While outstanding organizations such as Narika in California and Sakhi in New York are leading the charge in raising awareness, running active helplines, and providing support, they cannot be the sole safe space for survivors. While the system’s failure to protect Sania is not an isolated incident, it has served as a wake-up call.
All South Asian women in America should be able to be healthy and safe and lead lives free from violence, coercion, or abandonment. To achieve this, we need better data, more research, culturally-tailored resources, and appropriate legislative action that will allow for prevention, screening, and treatment efforts to finally take root.
Ten to 28% of the world’s population of women experience painful sex. Keep in mind, that this is just what is reported. As embarrassing and as vulnerable as you may feel, you are absolutely not alone. The good news is that in addition to your traditional medical care to treat painful sex (also known as dyspareunia) such as medication, injections and surgery — a conservative approach is effective and long-lasting. Conservative care ranges from pelvic floor physical therapy, chiropractic care and acupuncture which are beneficial in treating the root cause of painful sex, as well as symptoms, for long-term healing.
Some of the signs to look out for if you experience pain are:
Treatment options for painful sex such as pelvic floor physical therapy, chiropractic care and acupuncture provide a long-lasting and profound effect on the pelvic floor and address your entire physical well-being.
The pelvic floor is a layer of muscles that range from the pubic bone to the tailbone. The purpose of these muscles is to assist in bowel and bladder control, support a baby during pregnancy and contribute to sexual sensations. Just like any other muscle in your body, these pelvic floor muscles can become tight or weak which can be a contributing factor to pain.
Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy
Pelvic floor therapy can assist by strengthening and relaxing the muscles which is necessary to relieve pain during sex.
Chiropractors can be extremely beneficial with assisting in helping relieve pain. Associated pain and discomfort can originate from the lower back and buttock muscles. Chiropractors are trained in taking a history and performing a neurological, orthopedic and soft tissue examination to identify treatment options. Deep tissue massage, skin rolling, Active Release Technique, muscle energy technique, ice, heat and electrical stimulation are just to name a few.
Acupuncture can activate the human dopamine system which helps regulate hormone levels and can assist in psychological factors. Acupuncture can improve mood, decrease pain and can be vastly beneficial in managing pain and mental health symptoms.
Ask for help
“Everyone is having pelvic pain and no one is talking about it”
Start with seeing your gynecologist who you trust for a history and examination of current symptoms to rule out any other medical conditions that could be a contributing factor to symptoms.
How to talk to your partner about this in a safe/healthy way
Being open with your partner about your symptoms and painful sex may seem like a difficult conversation. Intercourse should never be painful and learning when to stay ‘stop’ is important in communication. Talking about pain before, during and after sex is important also in your own health diagnosis to see if pain symptoms are improving or becoming worse. Having open communication does not only benefit your relationship but most importantly, your own health.
To experience these symptoms may seem taboo or unheard of but quite frankly, they are common in many women. Women deserve to be directed to proper healthcare.
Disclaimer: These are based on recommendations from a board-certified chiropractic physician and licensed acupuncturist. If symptoms become new or worse, consult with a primary care physician and or OBGYN to co-manage symptoms.
Mental health in the South Asian community has long been stigmatized, and South Asian individuals who experience psychological issues might feel hesitant to express their concerns due to the shame they may encounter. Nevertheless, while there has been progress made in studying and openly discussing South Asian mental health, several topics remain in need of further examination; these include studying the relationship between mental health and gender, specifically the role of masculinity on mental health outcomes.
What is South Asian masculinity?
Masculinity and mental health have come under greater scrutiny by researchers, particularly as traditional masculinity is often cited as the reason why men are less willing to reach out for support regarding psychological issues. However, the influence of masculine norms on well-being has been insufficiently viewed through an intersectional lens and is understudied within South Asian mental health. From a South Asian context, traditional masculinity can include focusing on material success while displaying suppressed emotionality, which can be manifested through anger or practicing other harmful behaviors.
In order to understand its influence, it is critical to examine the impact of traditional paradigms of masculinity across the diaspora. For instance, some traits associated with traditional masculinity among South Asian men include displaying control over others. A Sri-Lanka-based study found that most male participants “associated manhood with dominance…” A Forbes India article asserted how boys in India are “taught to … apply themselves to the task of growing up to be a strong, unwavering support system for their families,” which in turn forces them to be silent about topics that may make them seem weak. This pattern of behavior becomes manifested in a particularly harmful way because boys grow up with the inability to handle their emotions or formulate healthy coping strategies during challenging circumstances.
These norms can have drastic implications and harm other community members. For instance, a focus group conducted among Nepali men found that failure to deliver for their household economically as breadwinners eventually resulted in heated disputes, which escalated and led them to engage in domestic violence. The presence of domestic violence can also be observed through media stories on the pervasiveness of gender-based harm within South Asian communities, as seen in the murder of Sania Khan.
Traditional masculinity also hides the wounds that South Asian men may be battling within themselves. One paper asserts that for a sizable number of Indian men, “…sadness and despair find a distorted manifestation in destructive behaviors that deny their emotional pain to themselves and to others.” Thus, performing conventionally masculine behaviors can mask deeper mental health issues.
Repercussions of South Asian masculinity on mental health
Because of the pressure to adhere to such strict standards of conduct, traditional masculinity has significant, greater repercussions for mental health and well-being. For instance, because of the narrow ability of men to compartmentalize their feelings, this restrictive emotionality can result in an inability for others to recognize their mental health issues, thus failing to target the deeper causes of men’s behavior. Furthermore, men themselves might engage in fewer help-seeking behaviors. This is also further complicated due to gaps in culturally competent services that can serve South Asian men when they do utilize support systems.
Additional social forces experienced by South Asian men might explain mental health outcomes, particularly when considering the role of immigration. Among South Asian American men in the United States, one study noted that “a lower social position” within their community was linked to higher distress, indicating how critical it was for first-generation men to be leaders and actively participate in their ethnic community’s organizations. Thus, social expectations of men within South Asian communities influenced their well-being, as did their social status and relative power.
What we can do to change the status quo on South Asian masculinity and mental health
In order to ensure that men in South Asian cultures can embrace their mental health, it is important to formulate a prudent, welcoming paradigm that encourages greater help-seeking behaviors. Greater attention to this topic can also contribute to theories on feminist and sociocultural therapeutic frameworks, which both offer the following includes suggested remedies:
Challenging gender stereotypes and encouraging mental health care as a means to discuss issues about well-being
It is imperative to encourage South Asian men to show more emotion, thus changing the existing narrative and social pressure they face to limit the expression of their feelings. Fortunately, there is a platform, known as @BrownManTherapy, that posts content about the struggles South Asian men experience. Furthermore, therapy ought to be recommended as a means to deal with mental health concerns, which should be combined with support from the community.
More South Asian male clinicians
In addition to instituting changes in community norms, there needs to be more diverse representation in the mental health field. In doing so, there will be greater platforms to have conversations about the negative repercussions of traditional masculinity that are unique to South Asian men. Furthermore, it is critical to challenge the social stigma that mental health is a female-dominated profession or that seeking therapy is emasculating.
More research studies examining cross-cultural differences in masculinity across South Asian cultures
The connection between masculinity and mental health ought to be investigated much further. Studies should particularly assess masculinity within non-white contexts in order to examine the standards of manhood across several communities and truly understand the unique stressors men face across different cultural backgrounds.
While the connection between South Asian masculinity and mental health is not discussed among psychology professionals, it is critical to study the association since it plays a role in South Asian gender inequities and in mental health behaviors among South Asian men. More broadly, given the prevalence of intimate partner violence within the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and the role of patriarchal norms in inflicting this harm, it is now more important than ever to reimagine expectations surrounding men’s behavior.
By further examining the problems caused by adherence to traditionally masculine norms and implementing certain solutions, these ideas can be challenged and dismantled to create a progressive and more inclusive model of manhood. Above all, identifying and eradicating toxic ideas rooted in traditional South Asian masculinity will lead to liberation for all people.