Tuesday, 3 May 2016

We must embrace our differences

By Iliana Oikonomu via UN Volunteers

While you grow up, you have a lot of people telling you what’s right and what’s wrong. What’s okay and what isn’t. And all these “rules”, all this ‘musts’ and ‘mustn’ts’ are based on society stereotypes, and what is consider a trend. But those things, those stereotypes, change over the eras which really makes me wonder; Is there really a right thing after all? Is there a thing that should apply to everyone?
And why should we all look, talk, act and think the same way? Every human, every single person, is different but it often seems we try to put them all in a bag and make them clones of each other. Where are their beliefs and since when ‘feminism’ is a trend and not a way of thinking and living? These things occurred to me a lot and I’m happy to finally be able to share my story.
Growing up, I’ve been no exception of people judging me for the clothes I wore or the way I talked or walked. Even as a kid I had to take hard criticism about my style, my hair, my weight and even things I had no control over, as my height. My clothes were too ugly. I was too short, too skinny.
Even my family insisted my weight wasn’t healthy, that I was underweight and I should eat more when for that part of my life, that was just my body type and there was nothing I could really do to change it. Growing older and getting into high school, my body had changed completely. I started having curves and I was getting thicker, something that pleased a lot my family, but it seemed, not society.
When I was finally starting to feel confident with my (finally) curvy and more woman-like body, I started getting called fat. They started telling me tips about the perfect weight and looking weirdly at me when I was eating a simple sandwich. I started seeing pictures in magazines of girls being extra thin.
Social media at that time were going crazy about the new trend, thigh gap, trying to give you advice on how to achieve that perfect empty space between your legs. At that point I decided to eat less. Cut down some of my calorie intake, eat healthier. The results weren’t fast though and my family started complaining once again about me eating “nothing at all”.
Even though I completely changed my eating habits there was no big difference. I got rejected by people I liked for my weight. I’ve never been overweight. Just thick.
Long story short, after a series of circumstances I only ate one tiny meal a day. I was getting not only thinner but also weaker. I was dizzy. I had no power to do anything. I didn’t want to go out because people might make me eat something and then I’d feel guilty about it. Still it wasn’t enough for me.
I only wanted to fit in. Fit in that size zero dress.
People then started saying I’m too skinny. That I should eat something. That I don’t look healthy and that I was better the way I looked before. And then it clicked. No matter how I look or what I do, people will always want me to look different. And that I just shouldn’t care.
I should just try to feel comfortable in my own skin. And that was my next goal. Not losing one more pound, not grow a gap between my thighs. I reached the weight I wanted and that I still keep, and I worked on feeling comfortable like that.
Trying to love myself for what I am because in the end that’s all that matters. To be healthy. And the times changed and the next trend was thick girls that are working out and are fit. And even though I fit in that new description of the “perfect body” I know there are girls out there that are naturally skinny, just because they’re built this way.
And I want to say to every girl to stay just the way they are. That’s my message. To stay as you are and love it. Because you’ll never be enough for society, unless you’re enough for yourself first.

Don’t try to fit in new trends that most times are unhealthy. We’re all different, and that’s our power. Our uniqueness! I was lucky enough to get out of this situation alive but also stronger. If you’ve ever felt targeted because of your weight please share your story and feelings about it. This is about #SharingNotShaming

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Societal expectations are built on judgement

By William Calhoun via UN Volunteers

Our lives are filled with stories—stories we hear from our parents, from our teachers and professors, from our friends and colleagues, and from ourselves.

We are led to believe that these stories about us are true, and that someone in a position of authority over us has authority over all things—the ability to judge us and evaluate our lives. But like any story, none of this is actually true.

For example, two people can watch a football game and talk about it afterwards, but in very different ways. Sure, they’ll tell you who won and who lost—that is what is so—but they will also tell you who played the best, who was the most impressive, and whether or not it was an interesting game. All of these are part of a story, and says more about the person telling it than what actually happened.

Our control over our lives is limited. But we do have control over how we view our lives, and how we approach difficult situations. What can we do when we are faced with a seemingly insurmountable turn of events?

I graduated college in 2007. Those four years were a wonderful time for me. Campus life was beautiful, I had many close friends, and my experience was intellectually fulfilling. It was a welcome change from high school—I finally met people I could relate to. I had confidence in my future. I was also utterly unprepared for what life would hand me.

I moved home in 2008 and found some low-key jobs that helped me save a bit of money. I quit my job toward the end of the summer, and then the Great Recession hit. Stores closed, jobs disappeared, and I was unable to find work. My affluent hometown intensified feelings of shame that accompanied my lack of a job. I didn’t think it could get worse. It did. 

I remember waking up while it was dark—it must have been midnight or possibly a bit later. I felt like someone had my head in a vise and was popping my left eyeball out of its socket. I was rushed to the emergency room and strapped to a chair. I was held in place, my eye open, my body at an angle.  I had never experienced physical pain so intense and overpowering. It was torture. I wept. 

The diagnosis was narrow-eye Glaucoma—a hereditary condition that tends to affect older people. I was 23, and had no family history of the disease. The chances of me getting it were astronomically unlikely, but there I was. Over the following months I received shots in my eye, laser treatment, and eventually had tubes installed in the back of my eye to reduce the pressure. 

I was physically limited and spent most of my time in my house (usually in bed) on strong painkillers. I gained weight—about 70 pounds, enough to make me obese. Isolated, in pain, permanently blind in my left eye and burdened with the knowledge that my plans for the future were on hold indefinitely, I fell into a deep depression.

I knew I had a difficult road ahead for recovery. I noticed that people around me made fun of me. Nurses infantilized me, saying things like “Do you need your mommy right now?” Old “friends” from high school slighted me with put-downs like “You’ve literally lost focus!” 

I was also shamed for my weight gain and lazy eye. I especially remember one encounter. I called urgent care after feeling some pain. I walked into the office and the doctor motioned for me to sit. He told me to close my left eye. I put my hand over my eye, and he began waving his hand in front of me, and said sarcastically “Can you see this?” He growled, “Don’t come crying to us when you don’t pay attention to what we’ve said.” He patted my stomach. “You’re a big boy now.”

Much of my depression and loss of confidence came from the terrible shaming experience of being overweight, unemployed, depressed, socially isolated, and living with my mother. In my Silicon Valley hometown, with such a premium placed on professional and social success, few people were willing to be understanding about my situation.

We all have a need for social belonging—this is a basic psychological need that is built-in by evolution. We want to feel accepted by others. The brain processes and experiences social rejection the same as it does physical pain. I had not met expectations to be successful, as defined by my community. I felt ostracized and worthless. But I eventually decided to reject these feelings.

It certainly hurt to be judged by society. But what is society? What does it mean to be judged, and how meaningful are those judgments? Whose opinion matters in the end?

Society’s “expectations” are a myth. Expectations of who we should be and what we should be doing vary across cultures and time periods and can be extremely different from each other. They are simply stories, which only have as much power as we decide to give them.

Acknowledging that we have been hurt is healthy realism. But hurtful stories, created by “society”, are nothing we have to give in to. There are things we have and do (like money and a job) but there is also being, which is separate from having or doing.

Being cannot be put into words and is not subject to any outside judgment or evaluation. Recognizing this means freeing ourselves from any social “expectations.”

Once we make the decision to know ourselves—to recognize ourselves as bigger than the sum of our parts and definitely bigger than any social expectation—we can create a story about ourselves that is empowering instead of shaming.

I looked at my experience as a victory, and a very private discovery of something greater than myself. This gave me the strength to ignore the stories of shame and get back on track.

Since my physical recovery, I have found work as a writer and editor, interned in northwestern Ireland, and completed a Persian language course at the University of Wisconsin.

The truth about shame is that it is a cruel lie. We can reject it and embrace our true selves—our great selves.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Shame is a distorted mirror in our society

By Isil E. Celik via UN Volunteers

I have had a wondrous weekend with the ones that I am in love with. We wandered around days and nights smoothly in a beautiful world, then closed the door and slept together feeling secure.

Monday morning I learnt that during the weekend the head of the Diyarbakır (Amed) Bar Association Tahir Elçi, a lawyer of Kurdish origin, a human rights activist was shot dead in Turkey. He has been receiving death threats and he was facing a prison sentence for supporting Kurdish rebels.

The Kurdish movement in Turkey is the same age as me. The attacks against journalists, activist, against people who fight for freedom, equality and peace is far older. On Monday morning after I read Elçi’s death in the newspapers, I read more about his life. I regretted that I didn’t know much about him before he was killed.

This is neither the first, nor probably the last time we feel pain because of losing someone, yet this time something is different for me because now I am in love and I feel everything subtle and more intense. As usual, I felt ashamed of being a citizen of a country that lets those who seek peace get killed. I felt ashamed because we are still living in a world where people are shot dead because they want a peaceful world for all.

Then, under flying autumn leaves and the first rays of winter sun I wondered if I should have felt shame because of being in love and joyful while many others are suffering. Millions of refugees are searching new territories to escape from wars, the nations of the world are negotiating on devastating effects of global capitalism on our -so far- only possible environment in a democracy capital, which is actually in a state of emergency because of terrorist attacks that diffuse more and more fear tearing people apart. But how can we even think about feeling shame because of love and joy?

The mirror which shame gives us to see how we look like is a distorting mirror. The more we affirm shame the more we feel shameful. Yet shame is a meaningless feeling that feeds on us being too much concerned about our images and about ourselves. It is about learned expectations that reduce the world into images that we think we are condemned to. It is what pushes us to little corners where we are more and more swallowed by a narcissistic vortex where the more we feel shame the more we get separated from each other.

Shame is difficult to share, but it loses its meaning, its power on us and disappears when it is shared. Maybe that is why it is difficult to feel shame when we are in love. Because in love we experience the world beyond our own selves and we enter into the domain of collective. We accept and feel accepted, which means there is no place for shame in love.

Within the alienating and separating societies we live in it is impossible to not to feel shame. But it is also possible to get over it and learn from it by sharing it. And, we should do so because in the coming decades, humanity will continue facing an unprecedented incertitude about the future. We do not know if we can find solutions to the complex problems that have been effecting radically our environment and our cognition leading us seemingly to new conflicts and wars. 

It seems like to communicate the vast knowledge we acquired so far on behalf of life is the only thing to resist with. This means that we should shift from “I” to “Us”, from “Shame” to “Share” because if there is a way out we can’t make it alone.

Meaning is constructed collectively and shame divides us apart into lonely corners. To share lets us stand together for a meaningful world. If you ever feel shame because of anything just share it. Future is about #SharingNotShaming

About Isil

My name is Isil E. Celik. I am from Turkey and I live in Japan. I am majored in Philosophy and I am an art curator. I have been conducting PhD research on art management about art practices of marginalized people, lately focusing on sex workers.