Oddity 2022, a recently published calendar shot and created by Rishab Dahiya, celebrates diversity and inclusivity by challenging the stereotypical norms of beauty. The calendar is an attempt to normalise the beauty of the people who are considered ‘odd’ because they do not fit into the standard markers of beauty.
Dahiya is a Delhi-based fashion photographer and film-maker, who has previously worked with brands like FBB Femina Miss India, Times Music, and Lakme Fashion Week.
People featured in the calendar come from diverse backgrounds of caste, gender and body type. It presents the beauty of people who are not exceptions, but in fact we see them all around us every day.
Beyond serving the practical purpose as a catalogue of dates and important events in a year, calendars are also treated as a piece of art, featuring photographs of landscapes, wildlife and, more often, fashion models, which are highly sought-after in Indian elite circles. As such, these calendars perpetuate certain standards of beauty in society that are not only problematic but also harmful. Oddity 2022 tackles these perceptions and celebrates the beauty of the people we see all around us, yet think of them as ‘odd’ because of casteist, classist, Eurocentric, transphobic, sexist, and ableist beauty standards.
The calendar features 12 people from marginalised castes and genders, including persons with disabilities, all coming from diverse backgrounds. Along with their portraits, the calendar also features their personal stories and thoughts. They all echo a universal message that beauty is not limited to certain skin colour, body type, gender, sexuality, caste, religion or physical features. Beauty is beyond these visual or social constraints; it is a feeling that ‘stimulates warmth and happiness inside us.’
Dahiya, while speaking to The Satyashodhak about his inspiration and the development process behind this initiative, said, “This is actually my second calendar. Last year I made a calendar to spread awareness around disability. But this year I wanted to do something that promoted true diversity and inclusivity. From the beginning, I was planning to do a concept shoot which was called Decolonising Beauty but it never came to fruition. This time, however, with the help of new networks and certain individuals who supported the project, we were able to put this out.”
Dahiya also stressed upon the impact of online networks such as the mental health support group The Blue Dawn and phone apps like Clubhouse and Instagram that helped him reach out to potential participants willing to model. “These networks are the reason we were able to come up in such a way and were able to organise this, otherwise it wasn’t possible. Because, the community building was never like this before and social media has helped a lot in building supportive Bahujan networks overall,” he added.
Talking about the challenges in developing the calendar, he said, “Apart from finding the people, one major challenge was to find suitable time and create a comfortable environment for them. Because as for someone coming from Dalit or other marginal background their lives are already full of struggles and they have their own jobs and obligations. Besides, the Eurocentric and Brahminical ideas of beauty are so deeply rooted in society that sometimes people don’t feel comfortable. But I think eventually I was able to build trust as they felt comfortable knowing that I was behind the camera.”
Dahiya further added, “Another major challenge was financial but I was sceptical of seeking corporate support not only because they would not back it up, but even if they did, I would have to go by their expectations and sacrifice the whole purpose behind the effort. The corporate structure doesn’t really care about diversity or representation, they just want to show off with photo ops and ‘token’ representation. So, in fact I am glad that I was able to keep this away from the corporate censorship and got the support from within the community itself. This allowed the featured people to express themselves freely on their ideas of beauty, which was our goal.”
In a country like India, the concepts of diversity, inclusivity and representation in media and pop culture are either foreign or often misappropriated. This calendar is an endeavour to communicate these ideas to the wider audience unfamiliar with them, with the hope that this will encourage them to gain a more informed perspective in understanding the world. It is a celebration of the rich spectrum of beautiful people who defy the stereotypical norms of beauty.