“Most men are okay looking at nude or semi-nude images of women, even objectifying them, but similar pictures of men make us cringe.”
Search for @daintystrangerphotos on Instagram, and you’ll witness a beautifully curated tapestry of coloured, black and white, and sepia-toned images. Of men—nude and semi nude, single, with their lovers, or in groups. It may confound you, or perhaps overwhelm...stun, even. It is not often, after all, that you see men baring their bodies—and their souls—
to reveal their deepest scars, saddest secrets, and biggest vulnerabilities.
The page, with a modest 2,298 followers when we checked last, is a far cry from the digital sensations that some body positivity accounts have come to be; but it is certainly an unexpected sensory offering—for the eyes as well as the mind.
Founder Raqeeb Raza describes the page as capturing “intimate portraits and intricacies of male sexuality”. In reality, it is much more than that. Through these photographs, Raqeeb’s page also captures intimate stories—of mental and physical trauma caused due to male body shaming, and calls out the toxic intricacies of stereotypes associated with manhood.
“I didn’t plan it. It was a very instinctive decision...I started off using it as a personal platform to express dilemmas and stories of those close to me—my friends, partner, and other loved ones. They had all experienced bullying and other kinds of mental/physical abuse because of their bodies or sexuality. I had been bullied as a child, too. So, the page was actually meant to be a visual representation of all that I had been through and all that I was seeing around me,” Raqeeb tells Cosmo. “Slowly, other people also started approaching me, asking me to photograph them and tell their story.”
Each one of these men had been at the receiving end, because of the way they looked, or walked, or talked—too effeminate or unmanly, in the conventional sense. “And not all of the victims were from the LGBTQIA+ community. Some of them were straight men, who had been harassed because they were ‘too thin’ or ‘too fat’. Because they didn’t have the quintessential ‘macho’, muscular body, with six pack abs,” he adds.
The perpetrating men, Raqeeb explains, were so enslaved by the idea of ‘masculinity’ associated with certain traits and body types, that anyone who didn’t adhere to it was seen as an outcast. The aim, thus, was to break these stereotypes. “I, too, was embarrassed and ashamed of my body for a really long time. By way of expressing others’ stories through the page, I found the strength to accept myself for who I am. Gradually, I even mustered the courage to finally put up my own photograph and tell my own story. It was so liberating.”
Body positivity is a fast-growing and much-supported movement for women, but Raqeeb says we still have a long way to go before we can educate Indian men about it. “Most men are okay looking at nude or semi-nude images of women, even to the extent of objectifying them, but similar semi-nude or nude pictures of men make us cringe. I’ve had so many posts reported against and removed—and they didn’t even contain any explicit content. It’s surprising how easily people get offended, and how readily we want to censor intimacy, while pornographic or fake content, or that with copyright infringement gets green-lighted.”
That said, the response to the page, by and large, has been phenomenal. “People from all over, across communities and categories, have been sending encouraging messages, the number of people wanting to be featured has also grown immensely, and there’s a lot of media publicity as well. I am just glad that we could transcend the boundaries of gender and sexuality, and resonate with everyone,” Raqeeb smiles.