A cursory glance at the Instagram account of underwear brand Tailor and Circus shows this is not a company in competition with Victoria’s Secret.

Flab, stretch marks, body hair and beauty spots are all part of the Bangalore, India-based brand’s advertising campaign, aimed at endorsing a concept known as body positivity.

The models in the photographs are not trying to be sexy, but they do look comfortable. They are shown as being natural, playful, raw and untouched and are all lounging about as they would at home. With zero photo-shopping or airbrushing, Tailor and Circus makes a serious case for realness.

However, initial reactions to their Instagram photos were ones of concern and discomfort. “People actually commented, saying they are ugly and unattractive. Most people, especially men, aren’t ready to see other people, particularly women, in this way,” said Abhishek Elango, one of the three co-founders of the brand.

“They want to hold on to the ideal perfectionism ideology that underwear is associated with. They want to see sexy people in underwear.

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‘Real’ people in their underwear. Photo: Tailor and Circus/Instagram

“Hyper-sexualization is a huge part of why we don’t take underwear seriously. When we look at underwear we think of sex. We want to de-sexualize it,” he added.

While all the women seem to be comfortable, a close look at their Instagram page shows many of the men don’t. The athletic ones with washboard abs are shirtless, but those with paunches or love handles have unbuttoned shirts covering what they may imagine as unflattering body parts.

There are even a couple of photos featuring oversized women, but no oversized men.

Elango says this is because the male body positivity movement has not had as much traction as the female body positivity movement.

“There is extreme toxic masculinity, which drives men to be insecure about their body constantly and they can’t even be vocal about it,” he said. “Female body positivity is understood, accepted and cherished, has a lot more allies and is much easier to sell as an idea, but male body positivity is seen as an issue in terms of the impact it has on boys and men.”

Many women featured in the campaign agreed to be photographed because they struggle with body image issues and looked at the project as a means to overcome their inhibitions. The men, on the other hand, did not even acknowledge they suffer from body image issues, Elango said.

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The men appear to be slightly uncomfortable. Photo:Tailor and Circus/Instagram

“For men it’s become very natural and internalized to hate your own body. It’s so seamless that almost every guy hates his body. Boys want the best body if they want to be shot in underwear and set unrealistic standards for themselves,” said Elango.

However, in the “shop” section of their website, both the female and male models look relatively fit, with some men even flaunting a V-cut torso, which in a way defeats the purpose of the body positivity idea. Elango said it is to make the shopping experience easy because most people are used to seeing regular-sized models.

Among the first things that women shooting for the campaign told Elango is that they had not shaved their body or pubic area and asked if that would be okay. In the photographs, body hair on women cannot be seen as much on men, though Elango claimed it was all there but not visible because of the lighting.

“We tell them that they don’t have to worry about shaving at all. Some keep it and some don’t,” he said.

In fact, in the models’ contracts a list of things mentioned include: “You get the final say in any photo or video that makes the cut. We don’t click any photos or shoot any videos without your clear, express consent. And if you don’t want us to use something or even everything, we won’t. It’s that simple.”

All the prints and colors are available for men and women, without any differentiation, propagating gender neutrality. So far, sizes available are Small, Medium, Large and Extra Large. Soon the company is planning to expand to Extra Small and 4-Extra Large.

Tailor and Circus, which some say translates as “customized underwear for misfits,” started as a brand for men only. After seeing men scratching their crotch in public, co-founders Gaurav Durasamy, Vasanth Sampath and Elango realized that people had taken uncomfortable underwear for granted.

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Another PR shot for the brand. Photo:Tailor and Circus/Instagram

The idea then developed to include women and now the brand is working to cater to third genders. In the pipeline is a campaign with Anjali Lama, the first transgender model at Lakme Fashion Week. Even a bralette and a sports bra are in the works that will focus more on comfort than on shape-wear.

Tailor and Circus use a fabric called MicroModal, which is 40% more expensive than the highest grade of cotton but far more environment friendly, Elango says. The fabric helps fight bacteria and makes for healthier, cleaner underwear.

“Even if nobody sees your underwear, it should be the most important garment you’re wearing. It has a direct impact on how you feel and function,” Elango explained, adding that underwear should be discarded every six months to one year.

Tailor and Circus is perhaps the only Indian underwear brand that focuses on comfort and gender neutrality, doesn’t glorify washboard abs, keeps it real, and is inclusive – all at once. In Asian societies, where unhealthy obsession with fair skin, petite frames, and straight hair is common, Tailor and Circus’ underwear is probably the need of the hour.

“We on principle don’t say one body is better than the other even if it might help us sell better. All body types are welcome. The broader idea that we’re trying to sell is that ‘everything is okay’,” he says.