Friday, 28 October 2016

Skin Color and Beauty Aren't Linked

By Ly Than Phuong via UN Online Volunteers

Many societies have put a link between the beauty of a woman and her skin color. In my country, Vietnam, people like pale skin and they show more affection and favor toward lighter-skin individuals. Vietnamese people often associate lighter skin with wealth, tidiness and beauty. They consider people with lighter skin more easy-looking and attractive. On the other hand, darker-skin girls are thought to be less pretty and of course they do not receive as much attention, admiration and love as girls with lighter skin.

I am twenty years old and I am a young girl with a darker skin than many of Vietnamese people. My life with a dark skin color is not very easy as I from time to time have to listen to all the different things that people tell me about my skin color.

When I was small, my aunt told me that I was not born by my parents because my skin color was darker than theirs. I got so upset at that time that I even asked my parents and others for the confirmation of my origin. Since that moment, I have noticed that the color of my skin has concerned other people and they do not seem to like my dark skin.

Another incident happened when I got transferred to a new school in class 4. I came to new class and met a lot of new friends. Everything went well except for one problem with some of my classmates because they made fun of me for my skin color. I was called “Black Phuong” every time they saw me and this name followed me for the whole time I was in elementary school. I did not like that name and I would not let them call me using that word. I kept on with my fight, I told their parents and I resorted to my teacher and their parents for help but none of these attempts worked out. I was exhausted. I stopped fighting and I accepted that I was black and ugly.

The most common thing that I heard during my childhood was that if I had had a lighter skin color, I would have looked more beautiful and I might have become a very hot attractive girl. It was because of my skin that I became ugly in the eye of beholders.

Even now, my skin is still the very first thing people notice in me. I have been hearing a huge number of comments from other people about my skin color. They would say something like “Oh Phuong, your skin looks darker than I last see you. Remember to take care of your skin.”  

Growing up in the environment that valued pale skin color, I lacked my confidence and pride in my appearance. I stopped believing that I was pretty and I lost my confidence in standing in front of others. I was miserable for the hate speech of other people and drown in these comments.

However, when I came to university, I met a lot of people and I noticed their efforts to find out who they were regardless of the prejudice, stereotype of society. I started to question myself. I keep thinking about why I should care about what other people tell me. Why I should become miserable just because of what people think about me. I am who I am and I do not want others to define or judge me.

I have a chance to challenge my identity and to define my own meaning for beauty. After much thinking, I start to believe in the beauty of myself. I am black. I love it. I am standing out as a young beautiful person in my own way. The skin color cannot make me feel bad and upset anymore.

No one can set any standard on beauty because what is called beauty for one will differ from that of other people. There is no such thing that this person is prettier than the others. Everyone is different and it would be unfair to use the same standard of one group for the whole society. I think everyone is beautiful in their own ways and everyone has the right to be proud of their own beauty regardless of what color their skin is.

If some people around us tell us about what beauty is and that we are not beauty, please do not believe in what they say.

On the way to beautify ourselves in a bright way, one thing to bear in mind is that if we do not allow others to manipulate our feelings about ourselves, no one could do anything to our identities and prides.

Now, I am happy to tell the world that I love my skin. I am proud of it. 

Friday, 21 October 2016

Reclaiming the Narrative Gives Happiness

By Gaurav Ganti via UN Online Volunteers

I was 13, when I first noticed the small clump of hair in my hand as I took a shower. The implications of this did not strike me until a couple of years had passed. Fast forward 7 years, and my male pattern balding has progressed quite far.
I have never considered being bald to be an issue. Yet, every time somebody asked me why they could see more of my scalp than was normal, I would feel a twinge of regret. A twinge of regret that was tied to the fact that I would always be different from people who had nice wavy locks, or curly frizzy hair. People, for whom a haircut lasted more than a few minutes, and could include a variety of different styles which were beyond me. Tied to these occasional twinges of regret, is an unfortunate comparison to what my life could have looked like, if I had more hair. This unfortunate tendency to associate our body images with our problems in life, is what leads to the genesis of a cycle of insecurity that doesn’t break very easily.
However, these twinges of regret continued to remain occasional, and I got used to people staring at my receding hairline, while they spoke to me. What troubled me more, was the fact that there were bigger issues out there. There were people who suffered from genetic disorders, people who were openly bullied because they weren’t thin. The world seemed filled with people who had issues which were more problematic than mine. It was with this mindset, that I began to be filled with a degree of disgust every time I thought of my receding hairline. This comparison to other’s problems, was proving more harmful than a comparison to other’s wavy locks.
These aren’t issues which are uniquely linked either to me, as a person or my receding hairline, as an issue. I believe that anybody who is a victim of circumstances, often tries to appropriate some amount of blame to themselves, for playing up problems which are small, in relation to the rest of the world. They are also people who continue to be victims of abuse, where it is important to note that abuse isn’t always from people with bad intentions. So, I think it is important that I share how I tackled these issues, in the hope that my receding hairline can teach other people the lessons it taught me.
A friend told me, “Balding is a condition, being bald is a choice”. I decided to shave my head. I was now bald, but felt empowered because I had reclaimed the narrative. It was now my choice, and I could claim as much. I also realized that no problem is too insignificant. Our inability to show compassion to people who we believe have small problems (“Oh, he’s fat because he eats too much”), is often an active inhibition to us showing compassion to people for whom this problem might shape their life. A degree of compassion and empathy can be derived only when we realize that a small problem for me, might be a huge problem for others.
Yet, for those of you who feel like they are victims of circumstances, and feel helpless, reclaim the narrative. Never let anybody tell you to feel ashamed. Never believe that you have no choice, and that circumstances control you. Because they don’t.

Nature took some of my hair away. The day I got ahead of nature and got rid of the rest myself, I looked back at nature and laughed because I had got there first. I had reclaimed the narrative of balding, from nature and society. And I had never felt so ameliorated.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Female Healthcare Should be Discussed Openly

By Marion Mbiyu via UN Online Volunteers

I feel like the older I’ve become, the more aware I have become of my shame. I find myself constantly scrutinizing and doubting myself in a lot of things especially when it comes to making personal decisions. I also find myself more embarrassed about the most mundane things. For instance, I try to say less a lot of the time because I might say something stupid. It’s as if there are invisible standards that I am trying to confine myself to.
Growing up there wasn’t much discussion on sexual intercourse, relationships and even female healthcare and hygiene. There was so much secrecy and shame when it came to these sorts of conversations. I remember being on my period and I would be in excruciating pain and would lie about the cause of the pain. Or even going swimming as part of the lesson which was mandatory, and having to ask the nurse to give me a letter stating that I wasn’t well.
Worst of all, was a school matron in boarding school and among the most absurd, dreadful advice she had given us. I remember her explaining how a girl is at her worst when she is on her cycle, she’s disgusting and no man would want to see that (the blood stains). She then went on to say how girls need to hide their period and that it is a shame for people to know.
Now I am able to look back and understand why these conversations barely happened because there’s still a stigma attached to these topics till this day.
Between the ages of 14 to 19, I feel that I slowly and subliminally started becoming more aware of beauty standards, which were completely unattainable on my part. Between the ages of 14 to about 16, I saw beauty and prettiness equivalent to lighter skin, which seems absurd, but at the time it seemed like the lighter skinned (mostly mixed race) girls and boys were instantly beautiful and likable, purely on the complexion of their skin.
Around that age, I was also aware of how much difference “curves” made to a girls physic. By the age of 18, I remember asking my mother why my body just wasn’t developing the “right way” and like most mothers, her response was that sometimes it takes time but things would change the older I got . It was all fun and laughter when talking to my mother, but I remember on one occasion playing rounder’s and a group of older boys (whom I didn’t know) saying how “I looked masculine”. At the time, I also had really awful acne, and then again I remember a boy (whom I didn’t know) saying how my body was okay but my face was “something else”. In another occasion, I remember two boys saying how my face was dreadful from a closer view.
I think the thing that bothered me the most from these kind of comments was because they weren’t confrontational and part of me felt that there must have been some truth to them. I walked away hating myself even more and being ashamed of my appearance. Worst of all was how I became insecure, and I acted out and said the most unpleasant things to others as a way to make myself feel better.
Now I am 22 years old and I feel like I’ve learned to love my appearance and appreciate my feminine body. I am much more aware of social issues, gender being one of them and the shame that society burdens girls and women with. At my age, I feel that I am much more critical of the social norms and standards.
So what if I have cramps and aches, it is part of what happens to my body when I’m on my menstrual cycle.
So what if I have a stain on my trousers or skirt, it happens.
So what if my body is not up to societal standards and my appearance isn’t “fit” enough for people’s liking.
I am aware that when it comes to gender issues such as FGM, the right to education, healthcare etc. there is an urgency to tackle them due to their magnitude. But, I also feel that there has to be a huge shift in society’s mindset, and conversations on sex, relationships, female healthcare etc., should be discussed freely. This, of course, will not happen instantly but it is worth having these conversations with both boys and girls at a young age and save girls years of unnecessary shame.
I’ve grown to suppress a lot of what I have experienced, but I’ve also grown to be more mindful and happy with myself.