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BREATHE: Raising Boys Right

Nov/03/2023 / by Team Seema

How one influencer is changing the next generation of men

Navigating a grocery store. The basics of dental hygiene. Proper toilet seat etiquette. The perils of mansplaining. If these sound like valuable life lessons, welcome to the “No Dusty Sons” movement. Since influencer Payal Desai hopped on the TikTok trend, generating 50+ videos on the subject since August, she has racked up views in the millions. 

Desai’s reels are concise, charming, and efficient, sticking with a consistent soundtrack (an instrumental version of Luniz’s “I Got 5 On It”), homespun vignettes, her trademark direct gaze, and text captions that pack a punch. Her most popular video, about journaling as a tool to regulate emotions, has more than 10m views. 

The mother of two young sons, 7 and 3, Desai has no place in her worldview for lax parenting. No “boys will be boys,” if she has anything to say about it. Desai’s mission is to educate parents—and kids—about the burden of invisible labor. She defines “dusty” as “toxic masculinity, lack of emotional intelligence, weaponized incompetence, and laziness.” Desai, who began using TikTok and Insta primarily as a fashion influencer, started exploring more vulnerable content when she had her second child, Dev, at the beginning of the pandemic. Isolated and postpartum, she announced her sobriety pledge on her social accounts.

When the dusty son moment broke, Desai, a middle school teacher based in New Jersey, couldn’t help chiming in. She says the series was born when she realized she could lean into her own life for inspiration, with the countless teachable moments she and her husband could model for their boys. Why continue to reinforce gender stereotypes that put the hefty burden of countless, unacknowledged tasks on women? 

From addressing the household imbalance of chores to boosting emotional intelligence, Desai’s crusade to raise well-rounded human beings that “never withhold any form of self-expression of joy” is a welcome intervention.


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Speaking in Mother Tongues

Health information delivered in multiple languages won over South Asian communities

The confusion that happened when the pandemic hit was real. Add a language barrier, rapidly evolving information, and a glut of fake news, and a lack of information becomes the perfect storm for vaccine hesitancy. But what happens when key public health information gets delivered in a language communities understand, at places they go, and on apps that they use?

A recent study out of McMaster University found that the early days of the pandemic hit South Asian populations in Canada the hardest. New immigrants who worked as essential and health-care workers, often in multigenerational homes, were especially vulnerable to misinformation. 

The study found that the difference-maker for vaccine adoption was prioritizing the languages and cultural norms prevalent among South Asians. Once grassroots organizations paid careful attention to the messaging, vaccination rates increased. For example, when Zoom town hall meetings offered interpretations in Bengali, Tamil, and Urdu, participants became more receptive. Punjabi-speaking doctors, who stepped in on the ground level, also gained immediate traction with their target audience. (In 2021, more than half a million Canadians spoke predominantly Punjabi at home.)

In addition to removing the language barrier, another effective way of encouraging South Indians to frequent test centers was to set them up in familiar, convenient gathering spaces, such as banquet halls. Banquet halls, a staple for South Asian weddings and festivities, helped normalize and integrate vaccine awareness into everyday life.

“Language and culture matching between health-care workers, researchers and community members builds trust, while poorly translated health messaging erodes it,” says Sujane Kandasamy, lead investigator of the qualitative study.

Her research points out that the sharing of vital information, with a lot at stake, is much more effective when it’s available in one’s native language. Graphics tailored to the South Indian aesthetic, as well as apps favored by them, such as WhatsApp, also were huge factors contributing to the success of the outreach.


The percentage of South Asian vaccination rate after this grassroots intervention — 3% higher than those who were not visible minorities. 

How to Manage Holiday Stress

Four steps to emotionally survive Diwali and Thanksgiving

It’s go-time with the holidays, Diwali around the corner and Thanksgiving riding its tails. Diwali, which welcomes Lakshmi, the goddess of abundance, into the home, reenacts the triumph of inner light over spiritual darkness. Celebrated over a span of five days, with a hefty bit of cleaning, cooking, entertaining and gift exchanges, it’s a marathon of a holiday that can leave you more depleted than delighted. 

Although many people don’t tend to discuss mental health during the festive season, assuming it’s all laddus and love, a growing awareness of the holiday blues now has a toehold in the South Asian psyche. It’s precisely this time of year, with its whirl of social obligations, parties, shopping and lavish feasting, that stress levels can skyrocket. One effective strategy is pacing yourself. Here’s how: 

Clarify your boundaries

You can establish your own personal rules of social engagement with coworkers, friends and family during the festival. Do you notice when your social battery may be losing its charge? Despite the time-honored traditions, it’s crucial to prioritize emotional well-being first. If hosting guests at your own home causes anxiety, and too many social events outside the home wear you down, it’s perfectly acceptable to adjust the level of social commitments.

Eat in moderation

How many gulab jamuns does it take to feel sugared out? Just one should do the trick. Delicious fried foods and milk sweets are potent manifestations of Lakshmi’s prosperity, but too much of anything can take its toll on your digestion, throwing it out of whack, interrupting your sleep cycle, and causing turbulent mood swings. Far safer is to adhere to a sensible approach to indulgence, tasting a bit of everything but feeling no obligation to finish what’s on your plate.

Let your hair down

On principle, it’s a smart idea to stick to your exercise routine, diet, and any mindfulness practice during the holiday. But of equal importance is to let your hair down, give into the playful spirit of the holidays, and dance your Bollywood heart out. Plus, if you miss out on your regularly scheduled fitness class, dancing is the ultimate full body workout. You’ll be having too much fun to even realize you are working up a sweat.

Break out of the social media comparison trap

Fear of missing out is a basic human neurosis, and social media amplifies this tendency. Remember that comparison is the thief of joy. Social media is a curated experience, representing truth from a certain angle, not the entire spectrum. What you don’t see is the effort that went into the making of the narrative, the grittier outtakes that did not make the cut. You only see the photos that have been selected, edited and filtered. Cut down on your scrolling, but if you must scroll, take it with a sense of humor, a generous heart, and a grain of salt.


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