Women’s issues were fascinating, frightening and never meant to be discussed in public in my childhood years. Menstruation was my first foray into it. I remember clearly that I learned about it sketchily from other girls and had my own apprehensions but did not approach anyone with questions due to the taboo factor around it. Luckily, my father had a huge Medical Digest that was left around for us to refer to at home. That book had graphic pictures and explanations related to all things anatomy. I must have read portions from the book repeatedly when in doubt.


Having white uniforms and fixed loo times made life bigger hells for school girl students “in those days.” Then, there were the excruciating biology lessons of male and female reproductive systems. Damn, I could not even say the word penis aloud let alone ask questions. Our teacher had already warned us against sniggering or giggling. Being in a co-ed school, those lessons were tense and amusing as well. There was this huge sword of “embarrassment” that hung over our heads. I really had no knowledge about sex till much later. Yeah, those were the days of innocence devoid of in-your-face wobbly boobs in item songs and porn stars in reality TV. Brought up on movies that showed flowers entangling for the coupling act, we used to get all excited seeing full-fledged smooches on foreign serials like “The Bold and the Beautiful.” And, I remember going for the all women’s screening of the censored version of Kamasutra with female friends during my MBA days. It felt so big! There was a huge dirty aura around all such topics, and good girls were not supposed to show their curiosity about these things. So, any excitement over such issues was clearly masked publicly and only indulged to in private.


Needless to say, topics like masturbation, pre-marital sex, and contraception were not even breathed about. If you had any problems related to female anatomy, you would browse through the stupid columns in female magazines trying to catch hold of the names of some general fungicidal medicine that you could go and buy surreptitiously from a medical store. Buying sanitary napkins used to be another ordeal. The best time to do so in a kirana store (no supermarkets and malls in those days) was when the shop was the least crowded, and you could point out the product with your finger without mouthing the word. The shopkeeper would give you a knowing look and quickly wrap one packet in a newspaper and hand it over in a black plastic cover; such was the mystery around buying sanitary napkins. Yeah, this happened in Mumbai and not some far-flung village. And, when those damned ads with graphic fluid spills appeared on home television, we wanted to crawl into woodwork, averting our eyes and holding our breath till the obscene commercial went away.


In those days of no google and internet, information was scarce and had to be culled from books and magazines. Practical information was sorely missed. I had friends who had got some terribly wrong information from old-fashioned relatives about menstruation being a dirty period, about bleeding to expel toxins and some such crazy things. There were these rather idiotic and unscientific beliefs that have been passed on for generation like pickles, tulsi plants and food spoiling when prepared by a menstruating women. Women to this day avoid sitting in pujas and going to temples on those “impure” days. And guess who keeps these traditions and stereotypes alive — women themselves! All this misinformation often led to serious health and emotional hazards, but izzat and culture kept us tongue tied.


In that sense, I am grateful to the widespread nature of internet, blogs and social media. We have information at our fingertips though the veracity of the sources must always be checked. We can reach out to others and read their experiences; we can become members of interactive forums; and the ease and anonymity that the electronic medium offers us actually helps us talk about issues and share experiences that would not be possible publicly and face to face and that were till now consigned to closets. And with changing times and tunes, some of us are slowly shedding the cobwebs from our minds and speaking out. These days I can go and shop for a condom without batting an eyelid ;-).


Indeed, we need to discuss all issues – male and female more openly. Openness helps us seek information, medical intervention and develop a healthy mindset towards things that are natural and are meant to be this way. I wonder how much hue and cry would have been around our bodies had we not progressed to clothes unlike other animal species. Somewhere, this urge to cover up and conceal does us much more harm. Having said that, it is also necessary to do the speaking in a decent and sensitive manner. Balance is so crucial here.


And, promoting concepts like virginity and whitening creams for private parts is not creating awareness but enhancing and inculcating stereotypes. I think there is a fine line between doing something that can influence mindsets and addressing a need. We have been doing this for years with fairness creams whose ads link skin color to successes ranging from jobs to marriages. Whole generations of dark skinned girls and boys had to suffer due to these terribly negative images and low self-esteem issues! Then came in the super-sexy models, heroines and yummy mummies. They sent a whole generation of women into depression with the expectations of a slim body over everything else. There is an insane urge to get thin sometimes at the cost of both emotional and physical health. And these days we have the mother of all expectations – those of having tighter vaginas and whiter privates! Is this the beginning of another depressing trend for women?


Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance. – George Bernard Shaw

Let there be light of sensibility, of dignity, of healthy discussions and information away from stereotypes and miscommunication!



Image: Freedigitalphotos.net



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72 Thoughts on “Let There be Light!

  1. Right on the spot Rachna, a very Rachna-ish post. 😀 When I was in Mysore for my B.Com and when I finished my stock of pads, I searched high and low for a medical store manned by a female. I was that shy. Today its much better even kids know what kotex or stayfree or whisper is used for 😀

  2. I my opinion,children must be told of certain facts by the parents at the right age.

  3. Information at the right time is the key! Rachna, very mature handling of this subject:)

  4. What a wonderfully refreshing post – I would expect that from you Rachna – well said.
    When I was at school periods were the big excuse for not being able to take part in the PE lessons! As if somehow you were an invalid because you were menstruating, our wombs weeping for the child they yearned to hold (!)
    I believe the vagina tightening became fashionable in Japan, were the men prized a virgin bride (don’t they all?) and has spread like wildfire. As for ‘whitening’ areas … what is that all about?
    Whilst I applaud the change in attitude and openness I am saddened that we all still have an image of perfection that is impossible for the majority of us to obtain – rather we should be celebrating our different shapes, sizes and colours. Wearing our womanhood with pride and not forever seeking to look like a pubescent teenager.

    • Thank you Jane! So happy that you liked the post. It is definitely very bold. About PE classes, our teacher was so strict that no one dared asked him to be excused. You used the apt word invalid. We had some decaying traditions that made women feel unclean in those days. And, I am totally for breaking the stereotypes of perfection that is applicable to physical beauty and forces so many women to lose their minds. Wear your womanhood with pride. I could not have put it better.

    • about whitening, we began with whitening creams for face, then progressed to body, moved on to armpits and now we have a whitening cream for privates! It is horrifying, this obsession with fair skin.

    • When I was in my teens and twenties we worshipped the sun – in our skimpiest bikinis, lying in it until our skin became golden honey-coloured.

      Our teacher kept a register and marked if a girl made an excuae up – suggesting a visit to the doctor if the same excuse was used repeatedly.

      My great grandmother held some superstition that you shouldn’t wash during that time of the month – so not your hair or your body!

    • I love the tanned look and frankly I love my skin color. But, there are many who constantly obsess over their fair complexions, and the products and their ads just continue the disgusting trend. I know these superstitions, some of them are so bizarre. Thanks for sharing the experiences.

  5. Today you must have seen a full page advertisement for a cream that is supposed to not only to tighten the vagina, but do a lot of other things like accidental spilling of urine etc. First whitening cream for the face, then comes whitening lotion for the body, the whitening cream for the private parts like the armpits and so on, and in between we have fair people like SRK advertising for men’s whitening cream, so that men should not feel left out of all the fun.
    Simple logic how can you be fair just on your face and everywhere else you are a different color (ok for that they took so long to come with fairness body lotion).
    Anyway, that was not enough, you had so many dubious products from the master of the game UniLever,one fairness cream coming in different bottles and tubes, spinning a different tale for different segment of people, with obviously different prices.
    Our good old Haldi and malai would be enough to give us the ever elusive radiant skin, and be our age defying cream if only we used them regularly.
    And we all love watching and admiring the ever dark and dusky, Rekha and Bipasa, however do we ever learn anything from them?
    How many times we have heard:” ladki acchi hai, par thodhi sawanlli hai”.
    I wonder whether there will ever be any light, for till we have companies dishing out such fairness creams, I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.
    Maybe we should have more people writing like you to bring about awareness among women.
    And I agree with you, that answers for anything can be googled today.

    • Yes Rama,I did see that ad. And you have traced the disgusting history of such products brilliantly. I have personally heard and experienced similar comments many times over. Even children are not left alone. My son has heard the kaala and saanwla comments umpteen times over! The whole culture that we gloat about has warts galore. It is time for us to speak up against the discrimination and stereotypes that is being subjected upon us.

  6. Congratulations, Rachna. You have truly turned poison into medicine. I saw the announcement for this contest and was, for want of a better word in a discussion thread, disturbed. You have really made optimum use of this opportunity. While superficially, these developments might look like an objectification of women and promoting gender stereotypes, at a deeper level, it is discounting of our essential nature as human beings. It is a way of saying you are what your physical appearance is like. As entities of the universal will to know and express itself, this is the greatest insult to our evolution as intelligent and sensitive beings. Great post.

    • Thank you Subhorup! I can’t tell you what a motivation your comment has been for me. I was also seriously repulsed when I read about the contest. And, I absolutely agree with your prognosis. This is a great insult to our evolution as intelligent and sensitive human beings, as you have brilliantly pointed out.

  7. Wonderfully said. All these products only serve in enhancing the insecurities of women more than anything else.

  8. What a post! Nothing short of ‘Let there be Light!’ The television followed by the Internet and mobile telephony have transformed the world indeed. It is as if to think of the times before Internet and mobiles is to think of the dark ages. However, with the advent of creams that claim to whiten the private body parts and processes that restore the virginity we seem to be lapsing back into the dark ages.

  9. Have you seen how the West is reacting to all such things? Anyways, I am rather open when it comes to any topic which effects our health and the fancy products you mentioned is a personal choice.

    • I am okay about talking about these topics as well. And, products must be sold for what they are and not create new stereotypes in the bargain. Who are they fooling anyway?

  10. Rachna,

    The quote of GB Shaw sums up very well. We surely need openness and it must begin at home. Parents should be guides instead of being dreaded. There has to be some limit to advertisements too for promotion of some products.

    Take care

  11. Thoughtful post Rachna but in those days the women got relief from their enormous load of household work during their periods under the pretext of ‘impure’ . May be otherwise it was imosdible to get them to give themselves some rest during that time ! That’s how I have always thought . As for things like tulsi plant etc some believe that the body emanates negative vibrations which is harmful for plants . That’s y these women did not do the cooking at home either . I am not supporting it here but there are some things for which there is no scientific explanations but people still believe . Having said that in today’s life style most of these customs are impossible to follow and I agree – openness is needed . Do u know there r parts in india where love(romance) is taught as a bad word to the kids ha ha

    • I know Jaish! There were things done in the good old days with hidden motives. But, somewhere the logic of impurity and dirty percolates young minds and carries forward irrespective of logic or scientific reason. At least our generation should make an effort to move forward. And, I can quite imagine love being an anathema because God forbid if the girl elopes with the boy then naak kat jaayegi!

  12. This post is the fitting answer to the sponsors of the contest — who in the name of empowerment are perpetuating stereotypes and pushing women a step backwards. While we are busy being open about sexuality and sensuality, we forget the more important aspects of hygiene and health. Even today, girls from the poorer sections have to go through untold privation because of lack of sanitation and hygiene in their slums. Hugs to you for the wham-bangs delivered to all the perpetrators of retrograde stereotypes in this no-holds barred post!

    • Absolutely true, Zephyr! We lack the basic health and sanitation facilities for most of the population read women. It is holding girl children from attending school and going and working. Thank you for connecting with the post and for your appreciation. As always, they mean a lot to me. The post is my boldest till date!

  13. Will you smack me on my head if I say I LOL? I couldn’t relate to anything better. The post took me back to good olden ‘those days’. How things were felt and treated. The TV ads..haha. Now I am laughing but then,I know how it felt. And how uneasy it was for us teen girls to watch Tv with the other boys of the family or the neighbors. And the last lines..hmmm…there are many things I want to share…however, not bold enough to talk them loud..so, I appreciate and admire your boldness with high respect. You rock girl!!

    • I was smiling too when I recollected those moments faced back then. I understand what you are saying. It took me a lot of courage to write this. Contrary to what people may think, I’ve never written such an in-your-face post before, but the topic did this to me. Thanks for your support, Latha!

  14. Bang On Rachna !
    I have a strong feeling that the wrong things are being promoted and given importance these days – In the name of spreading education we keep talking about tighter vaginas and fairer underarms while we forget more basic issues of sanitation and spreading awareness about women”s issues !

    • Absolutely true, Ruchira! Why not disseminate good and pertinent information. Promote a product if you want to but don’t try to empower power. Thanks for your comment.

  15. Certainly. Let there be light of knowledge and dignity. Well done for coming out in the open and talk about it.

  16. I remember those days when things were all so hush hush. It used to be weird. I remember some of my friends were even ashamed to but their own undergarments. Their mothers did all the work.

    I got most of my info from books and from novels like Lady Chatterley’s lover which I stole from Dad’s book collection.

    Good luck for the Competition Rachna 🙂

    • Yeah, I remember that shopping for the undergarments embarrassment as well :). Haven’t we come a long way since then. Thanks Vinita for your comment.

  17. I believe that Education does not change perception although it is supposed to.Moreover,education is making us more dependent upon the society we live in so that rather than being Individuals we are becoming mere followers. Hence, such Observant trends that has rightly being mentioned here.

    • Thank you Amit for visiting my space and for your comment. Yes, education changes perceptions but sometimes very slowly for some. If we question certain things instead of accepting what is doled out, that will be a good beginning, don’t you agree?

  18. unarguably the best post i have read on this contest ! i could go on saying ‘ exactly ‘ all through the post . . very well written . . all the best for the contest 🙂

  19. Yes, in the age of Google we all know everything through a click. Still the minds are clouded 🙁
    Great post Rachna.

  20. General awareness is most required and it can come with open discussion 🙂

  21. A post after my heart!!! Fantabulously written–every word, every phrase punchy and apt! Lovely! Ok, now how do I contribute to the discussion? Perhaps by sharing a bit of my research on menstrual communication. For e.g., while in contemporary Indian tradition, a woman often is kept out of rituals and ceremonies for being “polluted”–the entire concept of being outside emerged from an actual construction outside the main home where women could bleed in peace. In Spanish cultures women in her periods are known as having the “curse.” But what is beautiful is in Native American traditions, a woman is said to be in higher power. Women in menses are often made to sit in separate tepees for their energies are considered too intense and medicine men channel those energies for the visioning process. I do believe that menses is a powerful way by which women can distil out their negative energies and by the very act become more sacred than men who have no such option. Further, I hate current ads where women are asked to behave during the periods like all other days–a way by which we erase our moments with out bodies. I personally allow myself to be quiet and alone and distant during that time and take pride in being so. I do not behave or even attempt to behave normally. I bleed with aplomb:):)

    • Thank you Bhavana! So happy to have you back :). Thanks for all the information that you provided about the other cultures. I really did not know these, and I am quite fascinated. Now this is the right way of doing things. Just like in pregnancy a woman is treated like a queen. Her discomfort is acknowledged and accepted. She isn’t treated like a leper. Similarly, menstruation is not something dirty. It is a natural process that happens because our bodies are capable of giving births. My only problem is the whole association with being dirty, polluted, impure and untouchable. Treat this period with respect and dignity as it is meant to be. I do not have the time to bleed in peace, but I do try to go easy on the strenuous activities. And, my hubby helps me with chores if they get too taxing. So, yes rest is crucial. Loved your comment and the insight it provided.

  22. Very true Rachna, Its actually needed to be aware & discussed also. So girls should not be feel embarrasement. Atleast we do explain this things to our child..

  23. Great post Rachna. Amusing to read what all we did, in those days on”those days”. In our college days even wearing a bra was looked down upon.:-)

  24. Oh wow…finally i find someone who detests the ‘tight’ vaginas. What do these people care about? In a country where sanitary pads can get to the downtrodden only by ‘free’ distribution scheme of government like in TN, what is being propagated by these kind of sponsors is irritating. If someone asks me if i would like to try it, i am sorry, i love being lose:P:D Brave post, Rachna!

    • hehe Hang in loose, baby ;-). Rightly said, where sanitary napkins are a luxury, such products feel demeaning. By all means, have it for those who want such stuff but don’t try to fool us by “empowering” us. If anything, you are demeaning us by spreading these crazy ideas. Thanks, Cloud Nine!

  25. Wow…what a post!By all means, accentuate the positive…..and there’s nothing to feel embarrassed!…so powerfully expressed. A befitting post for the contest! Kudos Rachna!
    And all the best…

  26. I loved the way you told of ‘those days’ both in the context of our generation and how it was referred to. Remember we all said something like “I’m having my chums”, even the word ‘period’ was not mentioned except in relation to our timetable!! Oh those days of ignorance and innocence. But we don’t really want them back do we? No, we want information and education and yes, light. The whitening and tightening can be left to those who want to pressure themselves to look good to feel better about themselves.

    • Yes, we never used the word “period” at all in this context. You are right! Those days of ignorance are best left behind. You are absolutely right, those who want to rectify these areas, by all means go for it. But promoting it as something that empowers women, give me a break! Thank you Corinne for your comment.

  27. VERY WELL SAID Rachna.. I remember the strictness by the teachers in school we dare not snigger or laugh.. and yet the whole chapter somehow got over in just 45 minutes , done and dusted …

    I do think that although we were way back in THOSE days but looking at the way things are going , ignorance was indeed a BLISS ..

    evne though so much info is there and all that people talking yet it has brought all the negative points to as you mentiones the fairness creams etc etc .. Things we think have changed but I doubt , anyway saying that I also feel that talking about it all has also helped a lot of people , we are more aware of what goes round, (US doing nothing about it , is a different issue) ..


    • Thank you Bikram! When it comes to women’s health issues, I am happier in this open climate where I can directly discuss this issue with you (a male) without feeling any shame and hesitation. This is truly a welcome change. In some other ways, of course I wish that the innocence was retained, but everything has its pros and cons, and we have to move with the times.

  28. Rachna you have adroitly turned this whole topic on it.s head.Much though i hate this sort of brain-washing for profit spinning-you gave us a sensible post.

  29. Thank you Indu! The reason why I wrote the post was exactly this. I wanted to voice my disgust at this kind of mindless brainwashing that is taking place to profit from gullible women’s insecurities. I am glad that you could connect with the post.

  30. In our country, too little of something (say, information) is a bad thing. Just as too much of it is bad as well. Balanced moderation is probably the right call, but we Indians can turn that upside down, too.
    Unfortunately, some of our taboos and preferences are quite primal and no amount of education or information seems to shake our beliefs and prejudices. How is it that while we have done a good job at abandoning caste and race from our urban milieu (more or less), we can’t seem to make even a dent on body image? Thin = Good, Not Thin = Bad, Fair = Beautiful, Dark = Ugly etc etc.

    • Thank you for your comment, Rickie! It fails me too that this body image business for women is so difficult to change. Is it because it keeps getting reinforced by media and in turn by people. Every cosmetics company is on the whitening bandwagon. Every packaged food company is on the health food bandwagon. Good information is never given out, instead stereotypes are propagated. The whole situation is sickening :(.

  31. Good post, Rachna. Those who are against 18again, should remove the link to 18again.com from the posts once the contest is over. Otherwise you would be giving their website and product credibility….

  32. Bang on, Rachna!! The post took me down the memory lane!
    What a different time it was… It was so difficult and uncomfortable to watch so many things on TV earlier but thankfully we had books to learn from.
    All the best for the contest!

  33. Firstly, let me wish you all the best for the contest. 🙂

    Great write-up. We have all been through that phase. Giggles in the class, wrong notions about menstruation, pregnancy and the likes. It’s an embarrassing topic to broach, no doubt!

    • thank you dear! Yeah, those days were something! And, this was a tough post for me to do too. Pretty bold by my standards, but I wanted to say what I wanted to say :). Thanks a ton for your support.

  34. which contest is this? i don’t see any contest link here.

    anyway, good girls were not supposed to show their curiosity and they never did and that can be attributed to fear of society. our society always wanted girls to behave in a certain way and when they don’t then they don’t fall under the category of ‘good girls’ and there will be animals on the roads or inside a pub to let them know about the guidelines set for them. no matter how much progress we make, women will always be subjected to harrassment. and a large section of people (IN BIG CITIES forget about small towns and villages) behind the mask of educated and liberal-minded strongly cling to those prejudices.

    • There was this contest on BlogAdda sponsored by 18again. You must have seen their obnoxious ad. I just wanted to share my disgust with the ad and the product that they were doing in the name of women empowerment. I wasn’t going to give them a linkback, so I removed the link as soon as the contest got over. And, you are absolutely right about the expectations from “good girls.” But girls and boys from small towns have come a long way these days.

  35. Pingback: Sex-ed out? | Rachna Says

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