Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Let's Embrace Our Imperfections

By Courtney Lucey via UN Online Volunteers

As a woman in society today, it is almost impossible to accept our bodies and be confident in our own skin while everywhere we look we are surrounded by images and expectations of how our bodies ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ be.  
We are force-fed ideas about our superficial appearances; such as what weight we should be, what size clothes we should wear and what our hair and make up should look like in order for us to be perceived as ‘pretty’ or ‘beautiful’. 
But ultimately as women and girls, our worth is not determined by how we look on the outside and we must stand together to stop body shaming and teach girls that their beauty truly comes from within. 
For a girl growing up in our globalised society today I think the pressures to look a certain way are shockingly excessive and unnecessary. 
Since the age of around 12 I can remember constantly comparing myself to other girls’ bodies and how they looked; from the other girls at school, girls in my dancing classes, friends and even to models on TV and in magazines. 
I don’t remember a specific situation or moment that triggered me to become obsessed with comparing my body, and feeling inadequate, but I recall gradually becoming aware of how my body was slightly different to some of my friends and the girls I saw in the media. 
I was curvier, with bigger hips and thighs and over time this led to a huge lack of confidence in myself, as I felt that I could never be beautiful unless I had long and thin legs and bigger boobs. Now I can see that this was such a damaging and distorted way for me to be valuing myself in terms of my body when these things were a part of what made me, me; being curvy I could still be beautiful. 
Despite this, I couldn’t help feeling that I wasn’t beautiful and I wasn’t good enough because I didn’t have thin legs or big boobs like other girls. I knew that what I was feeling was wrong and I should love myself for who I was, but so many things such as seeing models and celebrities on television portrayed with their ‘perfect’ bodies was giving me an entirely unrealistic and distorted perception of how I was ‘supposed’ to look and what was important. 
I valued myself in terms of my body and things that are only skin-deep and I failed to see that I was beautiful inside; as someone who was kind, intelligent and a good friend.
These images of models that girls today are forced to compare themselves to through the internet and social media have been edited and photo-shopped excessively to make the models appear ‘better’ by making them thinner, smoothing their cellulite and removing spots and imperfections. But this is so WRONG. 
There is nothing to be ashamed of with our bodies the way they truly and naturally are; we must embrace this and accept our imperfections and part of what makes us, us. A scar is a reminder of pain that has made us stronger, a birthmark is something that makes us unique and we deserve to be proud of these things that make us special and set us apart from one another as individuals. 
My own experiences of being shamed for my body and my appearance occurred around between the ages of 12 - 16 at secondary school. 
The strongest memory for me is how a group of boys in my math class would often talk and laugh, loud enough for me to hear, so I knew they were making comments about me. 
One day I was walking out of class with some friends across the playground and a group of these boys called out to me; they said that I was “chunky”, I had “thunder thighs” and “tree-trunk legs”. 
I felt a sudden pain of panic in my chest, tears stinging my eyes and I felt sick. I could not believe that they were calling me these names in front of my friends when I had done nothing to deserve it. 
I was already conscious that I was curvier than some of the other girls. Deep down I knew that my thighs were strong and muscly because I went for swimming and dancing lessons every night after school and I should be proud of being strong and fit. But I couldn’t help feeling so embarrassed that I just wanted to run away and hide, I could feel my cheeks turning red and it felt like every single person was staring at me and I couldn’t get any words out, so I just walked away. 
I let their comments affect me and hold me back for a long time before I learned to love my body and feel confident in myself but now I do, there is no going back. Now these boys will see me in the street and cannot look me in the eye because they know that what they did and said was unacceptable. 
Being told we are too much of one thing and not enough of the other is so damaging to confidence and self esteem. Four years after my experiences of body shaming I have only just learned to accept my body because it is so difficult to forget the words that people say when they have hurt you so much. 
These past 4 years have taught me a lot about what is truly important; and that is being happy and confident in my own skin. Inside we all possess our own unique beauty that makes us who we are, and what is on the outside is not something to be judged by anyone other than ourselves. 
If you want to exercise more often or if you don’t want to exercise at all then that is OK, if you are slim that is OK and if you are curvy that is OK too; because ultimately how we look does not, and will never define who we really are as individuals because if you are happy, you are powerful and that must come from within. Nobody is perfect and there can be no such thing if we are all to embrace ourselves as individuals. 
My experience of being shamed for my body is by no means uncommon. I believe that almost every woman in the world has felt some shame about their body at some point in their lives and this cannot continue. 
Society must evolve and stop judging women by their appearance and actively take steps to support girls and women to achieve their potential by giving them confidence and acceptance. 
No girl deserves to feel shame about her body or how she looks. Ever. Our bodies are ours to celebrate, be proud of and enjoy, but they do not define our worth. 
So I believe we must teach girls to love themselves and embrace their bodies, knowing that how they look will never define them – Every girl is beautiful, courageous, powerful and strong.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Women do not 'belong' to anyone

By Tessy Aura via UN Online Volunteers

In my culture, a woman belonging to one is not celebrated and rarely tolerated. The consensus is that when a girl is born she belongs to her father or her brothers and when she is of age, she is then given away to another man, her husband who is now responsible for her.
Growing up I remember hearing countless stories about women being evicted from their matrimonial homes just to return back to their birth homes to be rejected there as well; 
Stories about girls who spoke out of turn and thus never got married or got divorced; stories about women who suffered immensely because they never found a man to love them enough to take care of them physically, emotionally, mentally and financially; 
Stories that served to warn me against being too independent or else risk being alone and being banished to a life of economic destitution.  
The consensus being that there is no silver lining to being an independent woman.  Further, not having a father, brother or husband in your life to manage your independence was the quickest road to poverty. 
The other day I learned that our language does not even accept the ownership of property or the implication of it by women. I was visiting my grandmother, and when it was time to leave I told my uncle, “It is time for me to go back to my place.” 
And surprised he asked, “Are you married now?” and I responded “what does that have to do with me going home?” 
He made me aware that when a woman says that she has a home or a place, it is assumed that she is either referring to her parents’ home or her husbands’ home and since my mother was in a different country they knew I was not going there so the latter option was the only possible one.  
But in actuality, I was going back to my apartment that I religiously paid rent for every month so while I didn’t own it, the only other human being who contributed any money towards it was a woman, my mother, who had been paying her own rent since she was in her 20s and owns multiple homes and properties that are in her name and her name alone– with money she earned.  
So, I asked my uncle, “what about when my mother says she is going home?” He and the other men in the room all laughed and said that my mother was an exception and not the rule and that I needed to change how I spoke, be less argumentative, and more docile if I ever wanted to get married and not go through the same suffering my mother did. 
I had always had trouble internalizing these stories and practices as the norm because I was raised by a single mother who defied these odds; a woman who was independent, a woman who despite the death of her father and the absence of her child’s father was able to celebrate herself and not tolerate anyone, irrespective of their gender, putting her down. 
Further, when I was old enough to understand my grandmother told me stories about the adversity she had to go through to ensure that the income she earned went towards educating her children and not my grandfather’s pockets to decide how the money was handled. 
The women in my blood have prioritized education and independence and strived to make that our legacy.  
It is this being the reality for the future generations of women that my mother and her mother have fought for and not the cultural practices upheld in my community that contributed to me having my first job at the age of 16, completing high school and going to college and subsequently attaining a Masters’ degree by the age of 23. 
For every remark about my intelligence and independence being a flaw, I was encouraged to sharpen my skills, read more and work harder to achieve all that I wanted in life.  
For every time I was ridiculed for being too smart, and every time I tried to “dumb it down” to be more feminine and confer to men as the only possible authorities in the room, my mother insisted that I speak up and let my presence be known. For every time, I was told to focus more on being pretty and silent to attract men, I was motivated to be opinionated. 

So although, the stories the masses chose to share are of women who were doomed for their intelligence and independence, the consensus of the women in my family has been that it is imperative to share their success stories about their intelligence and independence and that is why my story is one that defies those tales. 
Through not shaming me and instead sharing with me their stories about their choices and struggles and how they have all contributed into making them the woman that they are today, they have shaped the woman that I am today.  
They have instilled in me the same legacy of sharing to make a difference, sharing to inspire, and most of all sharing to encourage acceptance and freedom.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Embracing Denial Is Not Shameful

By Immaculate Nakimera via UN Volunteers


I was raised by a single Mother after having lost my Dad at a very tender age. Before I was born, my Mum and Dad had given birth to my sister and brother. My sister was the first born while I was the last. As we grew up, my sister was always in a boarding school while my brother and I were in day schools. She usually came back home for short holidays.  I spent most of the time with my brother  and he become my childhood best friend. He was a friend whom I entrusted with my secrets and he entrusted me with his.
I associated so much with my brother and other mutual friends. I was the only girl in the group and always wore my late Dad's clothes to fit in the group. At time in my community, women mostly wore dresses, skirts and it was rare to find a woman wearing troussers. By then, ladies’ trousers were not so common and were rarely sold in the market, but I felt more comfortable wearing men’s clothes.
My Mum never bought me troussers and never wanted me to wear them, most especially on Sundays for Church. On such occasions, I used to wear dresses but never liked them because I always felt uncomfortable in them. Troussers were the perfect fit for my lifestyle. Whenever I wore men’s clothes, I was always mistaken for a boy and it was hard to be identified as a girl. Usually in the evening after school, we used to play football and I could be the only girl among boys, yet I could only be identified by a few friends. I was a good footballer and I believe I inherited the talent from my late dad, because during the 70s, he was a football player in one of the Ugandan football clubs.
Almost 90% of the people in my community new me as a boy due to my characters and the few who new my true identity, were my school mates and friends. Sometimes when I moved on the streets, people usually looked at me critically; I always heard them make funny comments about me. These comments always made me feel uncomfortable and out of place, which always made me to wonder why God made me a girl, but there was nothing I could change or take back.
Change is a fact of life. Every human body goes through change and this was the toughest process I encountered in my life. By then I was around ten years old when my breasts started to grow big. I usually wore big shirts and a jacket to hide them, because I never wanted to be noticed as a girl. I lived with this self denial for along time until I come to realize that, in every tough situation, there is always something good that comes out of it and I believe God does not make mistakes. All the tough situations I encountered made me stronger, focused and courageous.  I discovered my potentials which made me know who I am.
At the age of 14 years, I joined a boarding School which was a single sex School. My Mum took me to this school because she wanted me to change my characters. It was a different environment according to what I was used to. We wore dresses for uniforms all the time, and the school had strict rules. But though my sorrounding changed, I never ceased to behave like a boy. It was a part of me, something I had grown up with and still feel today.
I still wear trousers, though ladies’ trousers and there is no change in my looks because some people still look at me on streets, wondering my true identity. I no longer hide my breasts in denial. I appreciate what I am and who I became, because it’s unique. Not every woman looks like a man and not every man looks like a woman, but I look both. When I wear a dress, I look a lady and when I wear trousers, I look more of a gentleman. I take this as a gift and I intend to use it in the movie industry. I have a dream of becoming a Hollywood Actress and I believe with my character, I will be a great asset to this industry.
Any girl out there who may be or have gone through the same situation like I have, don’t feel ashamed of yourself, embrace what you have.  Wear clothes which make you feel comfortable and don’t mind what others say about you. It’s the 21st Century, with different kinds of fashion clothes.   Choose to be happy, love yourself and your life style. It’s your life and we all live once.  What matters most is who you are on the inside and not at the outside.

About me:
My name is Immaculate Nakimera, aged 26 years. I live in Uganda and I hold a BSc in Physics attained from Kyambogo University, Uganda. My interests are; writing, acting and outdoor sport.