Thursday, 29 December 2016

Shamed for Being Thin

By Ananya De via UN Online Volunteers


There has been a variety of body shaming that I have faced, sometimes subtle and sometimes direct. There were some even over those features on which I actually have no control, for ex., my blunt nose or my height (when in school), but the one over which I have encountered the most throughout my life is over my thin body frame.

The most peculiar thing that I have seen is that most of the people here are not even aware that they are thin shaming. We see that people try to control themselves or others from uttering some remarks on someone’s obesity or darker skin colour etc., but we see automatic comments on seeing someone thin or skinny on how they need to eat something.

I know that due to the image portrayed by the media, people who are overweight face much stigma. But it’s actually a matter of perception. Even if the visual media is seen to promote to become thinner, it seems that in Indian common households girls with few layers of fat are more preferred or else why should I be given such kind advice from more than one person on how should I try to obtain a proper figure so that later I would be considered a good prospect in the marriage market. 

Again, I would like to make it clear I am not pulling any view on being under or over weight upwards or downwards, I am just telling about the way the people are affected by what they usually see in their society and how they judge others on the basis of what they think is ‘normal’. 

I am just putting forward the thought that if someone is happy with how they look, then, we should let them be so.

There was this incident which occurred when I was in school, maybe in class 9 or 10. Some of my friends from school and others, we all used to attend a biology coaching class together. I don’t remember the details clearly, but I remember that one day the teacher put forward some questions on whether I was not eating properly or if I was having any problems in nutrient absorption and metabolism. 

Maybe it was meant to be some remark in light manner, but it doesn’t diminish the effects that it had on me and the other friends who attended the class.

I still remember the way the questions plagued my mind. I still remember how it became a long standing joke amongst that teacher and my school friends. And I still remember how I thought that since he is a biology teacher, what he said must be correct and that if I was thinking in that way, my friends must be thinking in that same way. I remember that when added to the usual remarks of my classmates on how thin I was, it made me question myself time to time if I really had a problem or if I was really so thin that it should invite comments. 

These kinds of comments on any body type and shape are much damaging as they put a dent into one’s self-esteem and confidence.

But again, I remember the other aspects too. I realised that I was always eating more or less a balanced diet. I also remember how I searched a lot in books, internet and also discussed with our family doctor over these questions. 

And I remember how sometime later I had told that bio teacher about how genetic factors might be a reason along with other factors (three of my aunts, i.e., sisters of my father have similar body frame) and being thin doesn’t mean I don’t eat well or I have a metabolism problem. One cannot just assume that being thin means being unhealthy.

I don’t know if I could make him or others understand it no matter how much I have repeated it till even now. Even if it’s ironic that the ones at college (irrespective of boys and girls) commenting on how I would float away in the air or something else were the ones trying hard to lose weight and asking frequently about what diet I maintain. 

But that search backed by scientific facts was one of the firsts which put my mind into rest. I could tell myself clearly that being thin doesn’t mean I am weak or I have any kind of problem and there can be other reasons. And it is not my shortfall if I look differently than what is fixed to be the societal standard for ‘normal’. 

Yes, I still have self-doubts on whether I look too thin or not while trying over new clothes or so. 

There have been years of occasional remarks and various name callings ranging from stick to size zero which would have surely left some mark or so, more than I would like to admit. But I now know that if I think with a clear mind, I can try to put them past me. I know that if I am well and active, then, no matter how much people try to demean me, I should not let them pull myself down (my BMI stays around 20-20.5, well within the ideal range).

As we grow older, the way we perceive things changes and the way we handle things changes. Books and interaction with other people helped me a lot. It helped me to understand the differences between the spiteful comments, the teasing ones, the concerned ones and the remarks without any intent but due to habit etc. We have to realise when we need to protest and when we have to ignore it, i.e., when that person is not worth it. We are what we are irrespective of it being our choice or us being naturally so. 

And any kind of shaming hampers the process of embracing ourselves the way we are. Our nature, our personal character defines us, not a part of our body or a certain body type. Thus, we don’t have to listen to anyone if they are trying to portray us as anything less than a person as a whole.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Ain't I A Woman

By Ashley Dye via UN Online Volunteering

If I had a dollar for the innumerable times I’ve been called or refer to as he, him, or sir, I would be a millionaire. Seriously, it happens so often to me that I’ve actually become accustom to the shaming, offensive, and masculine pronouns.  It’s been happening to me since I was a kid. I grew pretty much a tomboy playing basketball, football, soccer and many other sports. Most of my friends were guys and the role models I related to the most, were the men in my family. Now, I’m not trying to infer that I didn’t have women role models. I’ve just always been an adventurous and active kind of person. 

The men in my life afforded me the opportunity to live that lifestyle. I’ve never wanted to be anything other than myself. I never thought that people would challenge my gender simply because I wear men’s clothing. My choice of clothing has always ventured toward an androgynous or tomboyish style. Yes, I am very aware of my both my masculine figures and my masculine personality. However, regardless, of my attire I’ve always indentified as woman. I just happen to shop in both the men’s and women’s department, but does that make me any less than a woman. It completely baffles me that some people can be so narrow- minded and not realizing the diversity in womanhood.

 As I got older I began to realize that I was fighting for my right to be called a woman simply because of the clothing I choose to wear, my hair and my masculine facial figures.  Clothing, hair, and physical figures shouldn’t be the only thing included when determining whether someone is a woman. We women are phenomenal in every aspect because we have the power to be anything we want to be, there’s no one type of woman.  We’re not all straight haired, makeup wearing, dress shopping and heel wearing types of women. Some of us like to switch it up. For example, my attire depends on my mood or comfortably. One day I may be in a dress with heels, and the next day I maybe in a Polo shirt with men’s jeans and sneakers.  Regardless, I still proudly profess and embrace my womanhood.

                About three years ago, I began working as a cashier at a local gas station where I live. I had just cut off my hair so that I could embark on a healthier and more natural look. The goal was to start growing dreadlocks. Now, from the first day that I began working there I would get mistaken for a man. I would get called sir, man, and dude.  At first it didn’t bother me because I thought maybe people aren’t use to seeing a woman with natural hair. However, it began to bother me after I would correct customers and they would continue to refer to as man. For example, I was assisting a regular customer one day with lottery tickets and he insisted on calling me sir after I had corrected him. Now keep in mind that this particular customer often visit the store and was very aware of my gender. 

                 After, getting annoyed with the constant masculine pronouns I finally told him sir, “I am a woman” and his response was “Well! I can’t tell.” It was right then and there that I realize that our society has a distorted picture of what a woman should look like.  It really got me thinking was my masculinity over clouding my femininity? Should I begin wearing makeup? Or perhaps I should just attach a sticker to my uniform that reads “I am a Woman.”

Chaka khan once sang “I’m every woman it’s all in me” because being a woman isn’t simply based on personality, the way she dresses or the way she wears her hair.  We women shouldn’t be place in a box because we are the very definition of diversity. Women come in all different shapes, sizes, races, cultural and of diverse educational backgrounds. 

One of the most common misconception is that women should act and look like women. But what exactly does that mean? Who came with this act like a woman notion? Why are we women constantly being place in a box? When I think of the diversity in womanhood I think of women like First Lady Michelle Obama, Erkyah Badu, Pink, Serena Williams and Janelle Monae. These are all beautiful women who have been shamed, demean and even dehumanize because of the way they’ve dressed, their body type, and the way they’ve worn their makeup and hair. 

For example, Serena Williams has been subjected to some harsh and cruel criticism throughout her career as a professional tennis player. It’s no secret that being a professional athlete puts you in the front row seat of critics. However, I feel some critics go too far.  In life, we’re all going to be subjected to some kind of criticism, and in many ways it’s good for our growth into adulthood. I feel that some of the things the media has said about Serena Williams have crossed the line.  The biggest issue for me is the constant body shaming.  Instead of recognizing her for her accomplishments as an athletic critics tend to focus on the fact, that her body type doesn’t fit society idea of femininity and beauty.   

Over the years, I’ve read countless articles and have seen horrible tweets about to her physique and how she’s apparently “Built like a man.”  Our society seems to be intimidated by women that don’t fit into the norm.   Serena Williams is an incredibly athletic and one of the most beautiful women in sports today, yet so many critics go out their way to try and demean, degrade, and dehumanize her simply because of her unique physique.  I can relate to Serena Williams because I know what it’s like to be shamed because of the way you look.

“Ain’t I a woman?” I mean, at the end of the day “Ain’t I a woman?” Sure I don’t look like the traditional idea of a woman. I don’t always dress in feminine attire. I have masculine figures both physically and emotionally. However, does that make me less than a woman or unworthy to be called a woman?  Society teaches us that femininity means looking, acting, and having particular body and facial figures. Society has inadvertently or perhaps purposely poisoned our minds with what it means to be a woman. 

Today’s society tell us that femininity and masculinity pertains to your gender when, in fact, it doesn’t.   Masculinity and femininity has nothing to do with gender and I believe because of this misconception I have experience misidentification. I think that young women everywhere should embrace who they are and not become accustom to societies social norms pertaining to women. 

Every little girl should be encourage to be themselves and not basic on what others think.  Your clothing, hair, personality, and lifestyle choices don’t define your gender, or your womanhood. We women are divergent, strong, and passionate and come in all different types of packages.  Not all women have the Hollywood look or meet social norms.  

Be you, be brave, love yourself and realize that not all women have to look like the women on television or in the magazines.  It’s okay to prefer jeans over dresses.  You don’t have to wear make up to be consider feminine.  For all the little girls that will be challenge with gender identity, know that you are phenomenal, beautiful, and very definition of strength.  Never like anyone make you feel unworthy or less than a woman simply because you don’t fit their definition of femininity and beauty. 

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Being Afghan in America

By Nargues Kohzad via UN Online Volunteers

As an Afghan girl, growing up in America has had its difficulties. Trying to balance where I am from and where I live required courage, and I did not have that at the age of ten. Unfortunately I dealt with what is called “ethnic shaming” and to tell you the truth it was not dandy.

                The problems began when I started school, even at the early age of six. I remember it was Eid one summer, a celebration generally conducted by Muslims after the holy month of Ramadan. Eid is a celebration everyone was looking forward to, especially the kids. We would always get new clothes, gifts and eat yummy treats we never ate the rest of the year. Nevertheless, during this celebration everyone would henna their hands. Henna is a type of dye that we used as temporary body art. I remember being so excited to apply henna on my hands, not knowing the fatal events that would occur the next day at school.

                The next day arrived and as you would imagine, all the kids at school looked at me in an odd manner. They would point at my hands and laugh, as if there was some sort of specimen crawling on it. What is that? Why does it smell so funky? They would add.  Remarks like this made me very insecure.

                Several other events occurred as well. I remember it was cultural day at school, a day to celebrate our roots. I was not too excited about this day in particular but my mom decided it is the perfect time to wear my traditional Afghan clothes. I could not say no to her so I slipped into the clothes and wished for the day to end as soon as possible. I arrived at school seeing everyone dressed up. Kids came up to me and touched my coin necklace and stared at the mirrored embellishments on my dress. They gazed at my scarf that was subtly put on my head. I already knew they were uncomfortable, uncomfortable because they could not recognize my heritage. Was I some tribal girl? Was I dressed as a gypsy? The question mark on their face made me want to leave immediately.

                Awkward events like this continued throughout my life. Sometimes I was bullied, sometimes I was ignored and sometimes I was even accused of being the extreme.Unfortunately I had grown up after the events of 9/11 where people just assumed that if you have brown skin, an unpronounceable name and roots from the Middle East, then you must be a terrorist.  Growing up in an environment where I was wrongly accused and shamed for who I am was extremely tough. I would often wonder to myself, why can’t people accept me for who I am? Why do they have to treat me so differently? Why do I have to be ashamed of my background?

                Days, months and years passed, with this, American society had also grown. Bullying and teasing from my fellow classmates had decreased a lot as I got older. Society seemed to have gotten much more culturally aware and international, finally I felt as though I could fit in.

                Now at the age of nineteen, these issues are all behind me. I learned to love myself and my background because it is the one thing that makes me unique. I learned to look at the brighter side and use my ethnicity as a tool that would help me rise rather than a burden that would weighing me down. 

               After all, nobody should be ashamed of where they come from because it is a part of their identity, part of their soul. In addition, to anyone else who is juggling between two identities or cultures, know that it is possible to create a beautiful balance. If you have ever been targeted because of your background or ethnicity, please share your story.
               This is about #SharingnotShaming.