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Monday, January 24, 2022

‘Acceptance doesn’t just happen in hashtags or online spaces’: Poetess Harnidh Kaur on body positivity

"I fully admit I come from privilege and hence I can raise my voice against these issues", she said.

Written by Indrakshi Dutta | New Delhi |
December 10, 2021 12:00:35 pm
Poetess Harnidh Kaur. (Source: Harnidh Kaur/Instagram)

Harnidh Kaur, poetess, social media navigator and ‘body-neutrality’ endorser, has a distinct voice. Realistic, albeit hopeful, the young professional has had an early tryst with social media fame and all the trials and tribulations that come with it. She has had a remarkably-unique trajectory: from gaining thousands of followers on her platforms, regularly speaking on social issues, battling mental health all while creating insightful pieces of prose and poetry. caught up with Harnidh, a panelist at the recently-concluded Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai Litfest 2021, to know more about her stance on writing, social media fame, cancel culture, and how ‘body-positivity’ is not as positive a movement as it is hyped to be. Excerpts:

How did you handle the popularity and responsibility that came with being a social media figure? 

I genuinely feel social media is a distinctly-different experience for people of all age groups. We build our lives around social media, we take part in the structures willingly. But, I feel that a lot of younger folks today have been exposed to a certain degree of negativity from an early age. As did we, a small example: my parents had no idea what I was doing when I was on social media because all they could see was that I was on my phone or laptop. They didn’t know the kinds of things I was exposed to. The glorification of eating disorders, intrusive personal questions, unkind comments, there’s only so much a 19-year-old can take. Don’t get me wrong, I did make lifelong friends on these platforms but I’m delighted with the fact that after the microcosm of everything that was wrong on the internet during that time, youngsters of this generation are not accepting that kind of behaviour anymore. How they use social media today, is distinctly more honest, and more refreshing than how we use it.

Your professional life is distinctly different from your creative pursuits. How do you keep up and maintain a healthy balance?

I grew up in a house where literature and culture are a part of life. My mom was an English teacher and I understood early one that writing, literature and poetry are going to be a part of my life irrespective of what I do. I wanted to participate in direct change and hence I joined the social impact sector. That burnt me out really soon and I began to introspect about the kind of work that could truly make me happy. I also think that many believe start-ups to be uncreative environments that stifle you but I am happy to inform you that they are absolutely wrong. My managers at my current workplace very actively support my shenanigans on social media and it couldn’t be more great. As for me, I have to find a balance between what I do for myself and what I do for work. It’s great for people who are pursuing writing full time, but I believe, when you have the security and safety of knowing that you’re doing professionally well, you’re making money, you’re building a backup plan for your life, it becomes easier to write because you are not worrying about other things.

Your opinions on body positivity and cancel culture.

To understand body positivity, we must understand that acceptance doesn’t just happen in hashtags or online spaces, it is to understand that there are structural limitations to how fat people perceive the world around them. I fully admit that I come from privilege and hence I can raise my voice against these issues. Fat women across the world face infantilization, sexual fetishism or treated as a funny best friend. Same as me, there is never a point where I can exist as a human being with some decree of emotions present. But body positivity’s problem is the neo-liberal focus of “loving and celebrating” your body at all times. How can I reinforce this notion when I am structurally not supposed to love my body? That there is a fair chance, if I visit the doctor for a medical concern, there is a fair chance they might blame it on me regardless of the diagnosis? Body neutrality is a concept that I’m at peace with. I am at peace with my body, I don’t love it, I don’t hate it, I don’t feel much about it but I’m focusing on getting healthier. I don’t like to direct too much emotional energy towards it, because I wouldn’t want to stand near a mirror and obsess over myself. The political birth of the fat acceptance movement is far forgotten by people, nobody reads about it anymore. Nobody realises that it wasn’t an individualized movement, but a community who came together to demand political change. I also feel that people forget that desirability is political as well. Did you know that research shows that 80% of porn searches in the USA are that of fat women?


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Cancel culture, in particular, was a long time coming in terms of accountability and holding people responsible for their actions. I also think it’s incredibly destructive, punitive and goes against any politics of reformation. The men who got called out during the #MeToo movement? They are all chilling with a comfortable job, but the emotional brunt of the entire time was borne by the women who spoke out. Online cancel culture is quite direct in nature, there’s no doubt about it, but what real changes is it bringing?

I do think that the numerous ‘cancellations’ over the past few years have fundamentally shaped how we approach social media, how we interact with people and what to expect. Now, the conversation has shifted to a larger reckoning of the cost of cancel culture and its affiliates.

Do I think that cancel culture is healthy? Absolutely not. I feel like when you are focused on ‘cancelling’ someone, you have no reformation in mind. I’ll tell you, that even though I may have participated in this culture when I was younger, I would say that I’ll refrain from it now. Would I disengage from someone who did something devious? Yes. Will I expect to have a moral duty and call them out and expect them to change? Not anymore.

Your thoughts on financial independence for women. 

It’s my favorite topic. I grew up in a house with two sisters and no brother. We had to understand finances early on, there was no other option. I started investing from when I was 21, when most people don’t even consider doing that till they are 25. And suddenly they find themselves at sea, with no savings and without overall financial plans. This is one of the main reasons why I speak so much about financial independence from an early age, especially for women. In today’s context, I also feel that we don’t prepare men to engage with women who are financially independent, that’s a different conversation altogether. In a relationship, it’s important to discuss money early on, what kind of investments you will make, retirement options, how much you’ll save every month, etc. It’s important to be on the right page. In India, we should look at financial independence as a way of life rather than a cursory chore, you know? I would encourage people to start with the smallest amount, even 500 INR, if they have that to spare.

How would you describe your writing style?

When I was younger, I used to think the writer must disassociate from the world and talk about society. Over the years, I’ve learnt humility and observed stark changes in the way I perceive life. It has affected my writing substantially. My tryst with poetry, the engagement and banter with the community of folks who seem to understand and like what I write about is incredibly reassuring. I organise a month long, collaborative, poetry writing rendezvous on Instagram in August and I’ve been doing it for years now. There’s a community of over 1600 writers participating in over 80,000 posts. I believe that it gave a lot of people space and courage to experiment with their writing and I’m more than happy to have provided that space.

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