What’s it like to be a teen girl in India?

What's it like to be a teen girl in India

Hello everyone, I am Ananya, currently interning at U4U. Being a college student from Bangalore, India, I often find myself drawn to global trends in TV, film, music, and fashion. It’s amusing how many teen girls around the world seem to share similar interests, like sporting Nike apparel in Bangalore, Texas, or London, as seen on my Instagram feed. However, beneath these surface similarities lies a world of contrasting day-to-day life and traditions, making the journey and experiences of an Indian teen girl distinct and intriguing.

As an Indian teenage girl, life is a journey of self-discovery amidst diverse traditions and modern values, but not without challenges rooted in old beliefs. 

As girls in India approach the teenage years, we encounter a taboo surrounding menstruation. The topic is often treated as hushed and secretive, creating confusion and shame around a natural aspect of life. This secrecy made us feel a large sense of embarrassment and I feel it reinforces the societal message that our body’s changes are something to be hidden and ashamed of.

In some Indian customs, when a girl experiences her first period, she may undergo a period of isolation lasting about 10 days to ensure her purity. After this period, a special event is held to celebrate her transition into womanhood, during which family and friends gather for a big gathering, participating in a series of events and performing various rituals. This joyous occasion is filled with blessings and gifts, symbolizing the significance of the girl’s journey into womanhood. In my personal experience, when I got my period, my parents disagreed with the idea of performing the isolation ritual. Instead, we had a small gathering with close family members and friends to mark the occasion and celebrate. While respecting our cultural beliefs, my family made sure to make it an event filled with love and support.

In certain traditions, teen girls may even be symbolically married to a banana plant or other objects to signify her entry into womanhood and fertility. The customs have deep cultural roots and hold immense importance, signifying the beginning of a new and important phase in a young girl’s life.

Teen girls in India also face a large influence from society with unrealistic beauty standards. Fair skin and slim figures are often idolized, which I feel makes girls question their worth and perpetuates excessive body consciousness. These standards cast a shadow on their self-esteem which make them feel inadequate and unworthy.

As I grew up in India, I noticed that boys and girls are treated differently. Boys are encouraged to be strong and independent, while girls are often expected to stick to traditional roles and not dream big. The expectations to follow traditional gender roles can be very heavy for girls in India. Society often prioritizes marriage over education and career ambitions for females. We must decide between pursuing our dreams or giving in to societal pressure to marry early and fit into expected norms. Many females sacrifice their career for their family, influenced by societal expectations and traditional gender roles as caregivers and homemakers. It can be fulfilling but also challenging, for the young ladies that long for their own career goals while taking care of her loved ones.

Despite the challenges, I feel that an Indian girl’s journey reflects her unyielding spirit to overcome struggles. Despite facing hurdles, I want to become a symbol of hope, inspiring a new generation to dream big and break limitations. Together, I feel my generation can create a brighter and more inclusive future for everyone.

I am grateful for my parents’ unwavering support, and believing in equal opportunities for women as I pursue my degree in computer science and consider my future. They encouraged me to pursue my dreams without limitations. They and parents like them drive positive changes, but in rural areas, many still lack awareness, limiting women’s potential. Spreading awareness and education is urgent to empower women with the opportunities they rightfully deserve.

I realize the females across the globe face a lot of challenges, but I look forward to seeing continued progress in making a more fair and equal future in India & globally.