A conversation with Singer/Songwriter and Tazyeen Ayub on her podcast, Digging Deeper.
On the season finale, I visited my friend Tazyeen and had a deep and frank discussion about life, body image, entrepreneurship, and more. This moment was very important for me because it meant sharing passion for my work as a fashion designer and love activist. Watch the full episode below.
"Expression is an exploration of our inner selves, when we dig deep and allow ourselves to be inspired. There are so many forms in which a person can express themselves, through art, poetry, music, food, and much more. In this weekly series, Digging Deeper, we discuss, in depth, topics around expression as a deeply spiritual endeavor as well as expression as a means of activism. Each week Tazeen sits down with a local artist, activist, or person with a spiritual practice to dig deeper about a topic relevant and important to the guest and the viewers. At the end of the hour, the guest shares their expression with the audience."
Episodes are live every Tuesday evening at 7pm (EST) on Tazeen's Instagram (@tazeen.ayub). Because they are live, viewers can comment with their reflections and questions. Digging Deeper is meant to be a wider conversation between Tazeen, the guest, and viewers so that together we can gain deeper insight and clarity.
It was like a light switch went off in my head. What used to seem horrible, unthinkable, and incomprehensible was suddenly easy and natural. Leaving Islam. And joining the rest of humanity. Yes. Being a Muslim did mean separating yourself from other people. They will tell you that's a lie. That Islam respects other religions, etc, and don't misunderstand me- they do – but from a distance. Don't be friends with quote “Non-Muslims”. You can smile and talk about basic things like school or work but you can never form close friendship. This type of self isolation causes fear to arise of the “Other”.
Growing up in a religiously split family, my mom's side was Catholic or non-religious, and my father's side was conservative Muslim. My mother converted after marrying my father and that meant that all of us had to be Muslim too. When I was younger, it gave me a sense of community and belonging. The people around me were almost always either Muslim or Middle Eastern or both. Some bragged about how long they spent at the Mosque. Like that did anything to better the world. In their mind they had racked up virtual “Good Deed” points that an angel on the right shoulder writes down. An angel on the left shoulder writes down all the "bad" things you did.
As a young teen growing up in the Islamic community, a lot of things I did were considered “bad”. Thinking about boys. Talking to a boy. Any type of physical contact with a boy before being married to him, for that matter. Drawing nude bodies in art school. Going out at night to dance. Showing skin besides my face and hands.
That one got me the most. When I was younger I pictured myself being an adult wearing the Hijab*. Then I grew up and realized I never wanted to wear it. I got some pressure from my dad growing up to put it on, but not as bad as some girls get. He never forced me to explicitly cover my hair, but he maintained steady control over what I wore. I had to be surveyed before leaving the house. If he disliked something- my skirt was two inches too short- he would ask me to change. Why? Because he didn't want boys to be tempted to do something to me because of my clothes. That's the bottom line of modesty in Islam. The responsibility of men's behavior falls onto women. And even then women in Burkas** get raped. They show a flash of ankle and it turns some sicko on. It takes a rapist to rape. And covering up the women will not stop them.
When will it end? Will women have to wear armor from now on? I'm a designer- yeah, I should think for the future and make fashionable armor because that's what women will need continue in this direction. Armor for our bodies, To protect ourselves from men who were raised in the mentality that “boys will be boys”.
Why are women in Islam taught not to make eye contact with a man? Is it that our eye contact will entice them sexually or because it is too defiant? So instead we look down. And the men talk down at us. The eyes are the windows to the soul. Having to look down puts out some of the fire in you. It makes you feel less human, and you connect to less people.
My dad's side of the family covers their faces with black veils when they go outside. I respect their choice to do so, and I don't think they are ignorant for doing what everyone in their culture does. However, for me personally, I find the Burkah highly offensive and would be devastated if I was forced to wear it somehow. It dehumanized the woman. She's just a faceless shadow walking around the city. Why can the men show their faces and hair? Why can they have all the power, and all the sexuality? It is widely accepted that men get turned on, why is it a "taboo" that women do, too? Women get just as horny as men do. Hormones be crazy, and sometimes, ladies just wanna jump on some dick. This is biological stuff, people. So wouldn't it make sense- religiously speaking- to encourage celibacy by having men cover themselves up except for their faces and hands? Better yet, have the Saudi men start covering their faces with a black veil, like they force their women to, and have them tell me how much that helps their eyesight.
* The Hijab is an Islamic covering that requires everything but the hands and face to show. Some women also show their feet up to the ankle.
**Burkah is a covering that goes over the entire woman covering her face, hair, and body in fabric. She sees through sheer black fabric over her eyes.
***Niquab is like the Burkah but there is a cut out for the eyes so the woman can see better.
Photography by Thomas Scotch
Fashion design and modeling by Lena Harbali.
To get any of these pieces made-to-order email Lenaartinfo@gmail.com
How has religion influenced your life? In what ways has it been positive, negative?
Islam has not all been negative to me, and that is important to remember. I will be following up this post with ones in the future about the good things that religion has taught me.
Anxiety feels like...
That initial feeling of dread when you realize you lost your wallet or keys, but that feeling drags on for hours.
Forgetting to breathe, realizing that you aren't breathing, then panicking and breathing deeply only to cause yourself to get dizzy.
Hearing the voices of people you know saying negative things about you that they have never said, and you can picture them saying it in your head.
A hazy mist of tense and stressful thoughts swirling around the brain causing problems with attention and memory.
Migraines that feel like all the muscles in your head are doing somersaults under your scalp.
The constant expectation of something horrible happening in your life, causing it to turn completely upside down.
Feeling like no thing is stable or trustworthy.
Fighting daily not to surrender to helplessness, despite feeling completely powerless and out of control.
Thinking that death sounds blissfully peaceful compared to the storm inside your brain.
Replaying all the mistakes you've ever made in your head over and over again and analyzing every move and how it should have happened.
Reliving every uncomfortable moment until your present gets ruined by negative emotions from the past.
Wanting to quit everyday because everything is so hard but expecting too much of yourself to ever quit.
Always having the feeling like you are missing some big, critical idea or task.
This is my own experience with anxiety, each person with anxiety feels it in a different way.
Having anxiety is like fighting a constant battle in your head. The problem is, if people don't talk about their anxiety then no one will be able to understand. Having a mental illness is supposed to be something you are ashamed of and don't publicize. I'm tired of feeling shame and trying to hide what I deal with every day. By sharing my struggles with the world, I hope that someone out there will be able to relate and find comfort in the fact that they are not alone. Not only that, but I believe that by talking about insecurities and imperfections openly, I can balance out the perfect image of myself that has been manufactured on the Internet. Online, it is way too easy to make it seem like your life is perfect. We all need to start portraying an image that is a little more flawed, and maybe in that way we can rediscover our humanity.
“The way we spend our days is how we spend our lives” It makes perfect sense, but sometimes it is so hard to just be one with the present day. If we spend our days being consumed by worries about the future that means that's how we are spending our lives- in a constant state of discontent. The fact of the matter is, there is no “future”. There is only this day, and yesterday can never be changed no matter how bad we want it to. Anxiety comes from a disconnect between the past, future and present.
An anxious person will come up with a thousand mini movies in their head on a daily basis. These could consist of anything ranging from the engine on your car falling out, to getting physically assaulted, to you or your loved ones developing strange illnesses. Most of these stories lead to absolute horror and devastation As you can tell none of these future predictions are ever positive. While watching these 'films' in their head through out the day, their mood naturally dips down, causing even more negative thinking. If left unchecked, this cycle can continue all day until all their energy is depleted and they feel absolutely miserable. Some people live every day like this. I am fighting everyday not to live like this. That is where Presence plays a key role.
It comes first with accepting the fact that no one can never predict the future. And I mean never. I used to have ideas about my life when I was a child, and a teenager, but very few predictions actually came true. I remember saying in 3rd grade that when I grew up I was going to be an artist, a writer, and a teacher. All of those things are true this day, which still amazes me. But other than that, I could never have predicted all the details- every tiny beautiful (and ugly) moment that came together to form this life I am living.
Every day, I remind myself to stop picturing what I think the future should look like. I have hopes, sure, but I am no longer set on a specific ideal, an unreachable goal that will supposedly finally bring me a sense of peace and satisfaction. You must ask yourself, if you never reach that dreamy future ideal, will you live in a state of dissatisfaction your whole life? Or even more importantly, if you did reach that goal, do you think you would truly be satisfied, or is the discontent coming from something other than your circumstances, somewhere deep inside you? The key to true success is to feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in the small things you do and experience in every present moment.
One way I like to cultivate Presence is to meditate on my breathing. Wherever I am, and whatever I am doing, I will zone in on the breath coming in and out of my lungs. When my anxiety is flaring up, and I am stuck in some nightmare inside of my mind, my breathing can become short and shallow. Just being able to remember to breathe can sometimes bring me out of my head and back to reality. I tell myself take a deep breath. Look around you. What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear? I take time to check all my senses and mentally log what I see, smell, and hear. Sometimes it takes a few seconds, sometimes longer, but I eventually come back to the present moment. I realize that there is only ever this moment in time. That I will never get to repeat it. I continue to breathe deeply.
The next thing I do is attempt to be content with the present moment. I look around and find the smallest thing to be happy or grateful about. This might sound simple, but during an anxiety attack it can be difficult, everything you see is through negativity-tainted glasses. Once I find that one positive thing, I focus on it and consciously try to shift my emotions away from the negative downward spiral.
Once I have recovered slightly, I have to make sure to monitor my thoughts to make sure they don't start back on the downward trend. I do this by routinely asking myself What are you thinking? What are you telling yourself? One would think that we are always aware and in control of our thoughts, when in fact our thoughts are a voice playing in our heads, but it is not us. That is why, without paying attention to what we are thinking, we can have negative thoughts running through our head all day and poisoning our lives. Imagine having a sidekick that followed you around and constantly critiqued everything and made horrible comments. You would definitely not be a happy camper. That is what anxiety is like, and being present in the moment can help stem the flow of thoughts that can ruin your day.
Remember: Breathe, check your senses, find something positive, then monitor your thoughts.
It is no secret that White supremacy is becoming more and more mainstream in America. Trump's hateful rhetoric has given a platform for characters like Richard Spencer. Props to whoever punched him, by the way. Besides punching people in the face (which I admire but do not condone, ha ha) White people need to find practical ways to help the fight. It can't just be the responsibility of People of Color. They are the victims of a system built to oppress and exploit them since the founding fathers. It is the responsibility of White people to try our very best to change things, for the good of us all. Because at the end of the day, if your neighbors are suffering, then you cannot truly be free.
1. Be aware of your own privilege
This is absolutely, 100% the most important factor when it comes to battling white supremacy. It takes a lot of self reflection, and it is often uncomfortable for many people to accept that their blessings are at the expense of another person, but that is just the reality of things. I like to take myself as an example. My mom is white (Polish, Irish, German) and grew up in a middle class white collar family. My dad on the other hand grew up poor and came here from Syria with a few hundred dollars in his pocket. He is the chief earner in our family. He put himself through college working at a gas station. He is brown, has an accent, and can't pass for white. Growing up I identified as Syrian, I knew I looked different than a white person with only European ancestry. I knew my dad worked hard for everything he had. I didn't take into account how much help he received from my mom, whose family had been here generations. I also had to recognize that no matter how wealthy or poor I was growing up, I still had white skin. I could identify as Syrian all I wanted but as long as I was dressed in “American” clothing, I would be treated like a white woman. That alone helped me get jobs easier, get out of speeding tickets, and be seen as an individual as opposed to part of a homogeneous group. I can be angry and not be labeled as an “angry white woman” like the equivalent “angry black woman”. Being privileged doesn't mean that I didn't work hard for everything I have, it just means that if a black woman were in the same shoes, it would be harder for her to prove herself to the world, and that is not okay. Awareness of the problem is the first step to finding a solution.
2. Pay attention to the struggles of people don't look like you.
One of the many advantages that White privilege provides is the luxury to be blissfully unaware of the everyday struggles of people of color. White people can say “give Trump a chance” and be baffled as to why everyone else is freaking out. White people have the power to completely diminish the pain of people of color by saying things like “every life matters,” when it is mostly Black people being harmed and profiled by the police. We are not directly affected by these issues caused by institutional racism, therefore many of us never lift a finger to help, and often don't make the effort to know what is happening to people in our own country. In order for you to battle White supremacy you must be willing to get uncomfortable. You have to come face-to-face with the facts. I, for example, taught an art class in a high school in Wayne during the last year of college. It was a majority Black school. This school was so poor they couldn't even afford to buy pencils for their drawing classes. Their budget was literally one dollar per student. This isn't poor money management, this is manufactured institutional racism that has been going on since the founding of America, by segregation and unequal equivalents for people of color. Because I am passionate about social justice, seeing this angered me and gave me even more fuel to burn to continue fighting for equality. If you truly want to make a difference in the world you have to be aware of all the unique struggles of people of color that you have been blissfully unaware of.
3. Get involved in social justice campaigns, be in rallies, be an ally, volunteer, don't just hashtag.
Hashtag activism can quickly kill a social justice campaign. As a white person, it is not enough to stay in the safety of our homes and hashtag Black Lives Matter or hashtag End The Muslim Ban, while our counterparts of color are out on the street facing brutality at the hands of the police. It is not enough to wear a safety pin on your shirt and call yourself an ally. This type of passive activism is especially dangerous because it can feel so satisfying and like you are actually accomplishing something. Yes, having your post re-tweeted several thousand times can mean more exposure for your cause, but what has actually changed? Absolutely nothing. Historically our country only made significant change (in a timely manner) when the citizens took to the streets and made legislators uncomfortable. As White people we need to not only be social media warriors, we also need to be bodies on the ground, marching and shouting just as loud as the rest. If you can't find a local rally or event, start your own! It doesn't have to be a protest, it can even be a dialogue between two communities. Other ideas are organizing mass emails and calls to your local legislators, volunteering for food banks, sit-ins, charity events, or themed marathons. All these require permission from the city so make sure you respect all laws while being a revolutionary!
4. Make a conscious effort to develop close friendships with People of Color
People hate what they don't understand, because what they don't understand they fear. Many White people live in areas where they would only occasionally come across People of Color, and therefore have fewer chances to strike up friendships. Because of racial tensions (especially now) White people can find it hard to reach out. Now, don't understand me wrong, I am not telling you to go out and find yourself “The Black Friend”. That is not and never will be helpful. You can't attempt to empathize with an entire group of people based on the experiences of one member of that community. If you are a White person with only White friends, you need to make an effort to place yourself in diverse groups of people. I grew up with a multicultural family and we traveled a lot, so being around different people feels natural to me, but it may not for you, and that is ok. It is not your job to feel comfortable. It is your job, however, to make an effort and get some real genuine friendships going after you get over your fear of the unknown.
5. Don't be a culture vulture
Katy Perry, I'm talking to you. Stop using people's cultural dress as costumes. I get it, it feels nostalgic to dress up in costumes you have been familiar with your whole life. I grew up with an “Indian” outfit in my dress-up box. Even the name is offensive. It had fringe, beads, and a feather headband, a complete stereotype. I could have grown up and worn the same outfit to a Halloween party and claimed ignorance or tradition. Instead I recognized the disrespect in those costumes. I will never dress up pretending to be someone of a different culture, and I won't let my future children do it either. People who grew up seeing clowns in Black-face do not have an excuse. They are adults with free will, and people have a choice to change. Another challenge is appropriating cultural dress for reasons of fashion. For example, wearing a Niquab (covering over mouth and head, only showing eyes) is a religious symbol of piety. It is not about being sensual or being a tease, like some pop stars like to portray. Not only is this disrespectful, it is devaluing real Niquabis who have committed to being pious their whole lives, not just one night.
6. Call people out on their bullshit. Don't stay silent.
Evil can only persist when good people do nothing. This quote is as true as the day it was written. You may not feel like a racist, dress in black-face, or do anything to directly harm people of color, but if you stay silent in the face of racism you are part of the problem. This doesn't exclude your family and friends, either. If you overhear someone saying something racist, or being unkind in anyway, you should be brave enough to stand up for what is right and call them out on it. We live in an America where racists are no longer afraid to voice their twisted opinions. That means that activists such as yourselves need to be just as unafraid, and be loud enough (literally and figuratively) to drown out those voices of hate with a more inclusive and loving rhetoric.
7. Don't be afraid to bring up race in a conversation, especially with People of Color.
We as white people need to be more comfortable talking about race. It can't just be a Black thing, or a People of Color thing. Many Black people grew up knowing it makes White people uncomfortable when they bring out the “race card”, even if the situation truly is one of racial discrimination. This is not okay. People of Color should know that their feelings are valid, that their voices are welcomed, and that they are being heard without the resistance they usually encounter. The best way to help break the ice is by asking questions. Don't be afraid to sound stupid, but always remain respectful. Many People of Color will be impressed that you are taking the time to try and understand them. Be aware that some people are more open than others. If you feel your repertoire with that person is at that level, go for it. If not, don't be rude. Hold your tongue and wait for the right moment.
8. Become a mediator between communities
If you are fortunate enough to be a White person with close friendships with People of Color, make use of it. Because of your close relationship, you have been gifted with an inside look of how they live and think. They may trust you enough to share problems and experiences that they are not comfortable sharing with other White people. It is a common experience for People of Color to share problems with White people only for them to be diminished or misunderstood, which is why they often shy away from it. Be a shoulder to cry on, show that you are willing to understand and listen. Then, with their permission, take this knowledge to places a Person of Color may be less accepted. This could be a government institution, the newspaper, non-profit organizations, or even TV producers. As a White person you have the privilege of having your voice heard more than that of a Person of Color. You need to use that power and speak to audiences that are more likely to receive the message from you than your friends. It is a sad reality but we must learn to work the system to our advantage.
9. Vote with your money.
It is fairly easy to find information online about big corporations and their hiring practices. If a company has a history of hiring discrimination or excluding People of Color in any way, you should not be supporting them. This means to immediately stop buying their products. In America, big corporations funnel unimaginable amounts of money into the government to influence laws in their favor. By purchasing their services or products, you are allowing a company with discriminatory practices to influence our lawmakers with your hard-earned money. You need to vote with your money and boycott them. Put them out of business.
10. Empower and support business owned by people of color.
This is another way to vote with your money. We all have a set of items we buy on a consistent basis, like groceries, toiletries, and clothes. We must slowly replace the items we get from big corporations with items from local businesses, specifically ones owned by People of Color. Once noticeable amounts of money starts shifting away from big corporations, the local economy will flourish. There will be less money available to pour into politics, and hopefully this means less corruption that results in discriminatory laws.
It is true, there are so many wars and humanitarian crises going on around the world that it is hard to keep up with it. I get so involved with the Syrian conflict that I have little energy to remember that there is instability in Venezuela, homelessness in Detroit, famine in Sudan, and of course, the crisis in Yemen. Experts in the field call it the biggest crisis happening in the world today. As someone with Syrian family affected by the crisis there, it is only natural to have empathy for those families and want to help them.
I have always found ways to combine my art and my passion for activism. Recently I accomplished that by hand making chunky, colorful hats for Syrian children while I was in Istanbul. People from all over the world donated money to the ongoing campaign to help purchase yarn for the hats. That's how I came up with the idea for the Art for Yemen Campaign. My next project is a pop-up shop at the Raw Artists Showcase at St. Andrew's Hall in Detroit on May 17th and sales there will go towards this project to help Yemen. If you can't make it to the event, but would like to support, donate to the Relief for Yemen fund. Any small bit you can give helps a lot!
10% of shop profits will be donated. That means that every single hand-made back pack, dress, wallet, and graphic T-shirt you purchase will be directly helping feed and clothe Yemeni children. To do your part, come to the event on May 17th and buy some beautiful handmade items or graphic T's. Doors open at 6pm, tickets can be purchase here.
Please make sure to share this information with a friend. Not everyone is aware of the Yemeni crisis. I personally wasn't aware of exactly how severe it was until someone sent me a video when things took a turn for the worse. Its been going on since 2014. Just like the Flint water crisis, things like this need people like you to reignite the flame under large organizations to step in and help.
Make sure to stop on by St. Andrew's Hall on May 17th to donate small change to the Yemeni Crisis fund and to buy a mother's day gift. Use this mother's day coupon at the shop for big deals!
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We all have brands and stores that we love. In high school there was the girl that wore exclusively Victoria's Secret underwear and yoga pants. Some guys and gals spend their entire paychecks on Air Jordans at only 17 years old. This brand obsession starts young and keeps going strong until adult hood, and these same people become Logo Slaves. Don't confuse logo slavery with loyalty, however. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a company consistently putting out good products that their customers enjoy and build up a following, but when that company doesn't respect it's employees or the earth, and over charges its customers, that's when the issues arise.
I am guilty of being a normal human being and buying things from big corporations like Walmart, even though I know some of their business practices aren't the best. I don't research every single item I purchase on Amazon to see whether or not it is a fair trade product or if it's factories paid their workers slave wages. Let's face it, living as a person in this society is inherently consumptive. Unless we have a team of researchers it is impossible for the average person to live in a zero carbon footprint and 100% ethical manner when it comes to the products they consume. As a human I will always produce trash, purchase items out of necessity, and buy things from companies I don't exactly applaud. This is something that I came to accept. Here is an anecdote from my time in Istanbul that really drove this point home to me:
In Turkey I worked at a university and taught English. Traditionally the Turks drink lots of tea, and there are big thermoses in the cafeteria. I was getting tea with a coworker. He filled up the styrofoam cup, and I out of habit, picked up the glass cup. He knew that I was very green and very much a hippy, I joked, “I take the glass cups so as to not harm the environment...” he replied, “well, after you drink that tea the cafeteria women will wash the cup with hot water, which uses water and energy. They will also use soap to wash it, and that soap may not be friendly towards the environment. One way or another you will always consume and effect the world around you.”
He and I had a lengthy discussion on the matter, but this is the paraphrased version. That really made me think. Did anything I do to supposedly “save the planet” actually do anything? I came to the realization that I can still do my part, that I refuse to contribute to a broken system, and I can make my own change even as one small person. I think that in this era of consumption it is important to start a dialogue about what it means to have a set of values as a consumer, or to identify what exactly you expect from the brands you support. That's why I compiled a list of all the deal breakers that cause me to break off relationships with my brands.
1. The use of prison labor
This is absolutely, positively, number one on my list. This country is a capitalist society, that means it runs on money. With every dollar I spend I am casting a vote on how I believe consumers and corporations should interact. Many people are still unaware of the prison labor problem that we have in this country. As the leaders of the “free world” and the “Land of the Free” we are also somehow the leaders in incarceration rates. According to prisonpolicy.org,
“The American criminal justice system holds more than 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 901 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, and 76 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and prisons in the U.S. Territories.”
Think about that. More than two million people in prison. That's more than the population of some countries. Not only is there a prison industrial complex in this country, large corporations are cashing in at an exponential rate. Prison labor makes it completely legal to force inmates to work for cents a day, producing items that we use every day and would otherwise have no clue as to how they were made. The benefit of paying workers such low wages is that the profit margin on each item is insane. That money is then funneled back into politics to ensure legislators continue voting in favor of for-profit prisons, and the judicial system to continue sending more and more people to jail. It is a horrible monstrous cycle and the cost is not only innocent human lives but also the well being of an entire society. When millions of us are locked behind bars and are living in standstill, it slows down the progress of the entire society. Victoria's Secret is a company that has its clothes produced in prisons, which is why I refuse to purchase or wear any of their products.
2. Discriminatory hiring practices
Have you found yourself in a store and realize you are surrounded by a bunch of employees that all look almost exactly the same? I find that happens most at the mall, specifically at Abercrombie and Fitch. I don't shop there, but I used to browse when I was younger and I always seemed to be helped by some form of young, slim, and blonde white person. That company is also known for it's owner, Mike Jeffries, who is notorious for spouting offensive things like,
“That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people.”
Read the other ridiculous things he's said here. When Mike Jeffries says he only hires cool, good-looking people, and you go to his store as a consumer and only see thin white people working there, that is code for racism. I call it like it is, he is a white supremacist consistently pushes people of color and people with larger bodies out of his brand with his rhetoric. When I go into that store, I personally feel unwelcome and I am not even a quote “plus-size” girl. I wear a size 12, I am almost 6 feet tall, I am a large person, but not over weight. Even so, I still used to find difficulty finding clothing in my size. This made me feel discouraged and I ended up never shopping there, accomplishing what Jeffries wanted. I can only imagine what a size 22 woman of color would feel walking in there.
3. Two-faced marketing techniques under big umbrella companies
Ever sit and read the back of your shampoo bottle out of boredom? Admit it, we've all done it. During one of these boredom fueled reading sprees I discovered that my Dove soap was made by the same umbrella brand, Unileaver, as Axe. Generally Dove is marketed towards women and Axe is marketed towards men. Dove gained some attention in recent years with its campaign to help women love their bodies, with commercials showcasing women of all colors and body shapes. I am sure Unileaver raked in extra profits because of those commercials, they were catering to the soft spot inside all women who secretly just want someone to tell us we are pretty. They are exploiting the insecurities of women for their profit, because in the same breath their Axe commercials create the same problem the Dove commercials claim to be tackling. You may have seen an Axe ad on T.V in which a sexy greek god looking man uses the soap/cologne/shampoo and suddenly he is being followed by a bunch of thin white young white women. I specifically remember one commercial during the Super Bowl where the guy looked like a sports champion and he walked into a room holding his trophy, and found five naked women, all porcelain and long limbed, ready to be taken as a prize. This was obviously targeted towards young men, and the ad is objectifying women to serve its purpose as an attractive element to the product. That really rubbed me the wrong way. When large umbrella companies manipulate their customers to make a buck, that's when I take a step back. Now I used organic soap bars and try to buy local when I can.
4. Funding corrupt politicians
This one is a little more difficult to prove or find out. There are certain types of corporations who donate money to politicians. In a world where companies pinch every penny, they are pouring billions of dollars into politics for a reason, they hope to influence policies in their favor. The gun and oil industry is famous for being involved with politics, but I know there are others. The roots of this country is in exploitative capitalism, so corporations will always use their power to swing the odds in their favor. I like to do research when I can to find out more about the companies I am supporting. It helps to start in reverse, by looking up top paying politicians and seeing who is contributing money to their campaigns. An example of that is JP Morgan and other big banks funding the Hilary Clinton campaign. Her history with Wall Street, the fact that several other banks donated large sums, and that she was paid thousands to make a single speech, leads me to believe that these banks are in some shady business. I try my best not to give my money to businesses like that.
5. A history of causing ecological disasters, and other companies who fund them
When corporations have a history of causing large ecological disasters and continue business as usual, that sends a huge red flag up in my head. Enbridge is a the biggest example I can think of. It is an oil company with pipelines lacing like spider webs across the United States. The history of oil spills is scary:
6. Creating hype and over saturating the market with products and ignoring societal consequences.
didn't even realize the true effect that Air Jordan shoes had on youth in urban school until I heard stories from friends who grew up in Detroit. Students in poor schools weren't allowed to were Air Jordan shoes to school because students kept getting beaten up and robbed of their shoes. It makes sense, these kids are living in an area where your clothes are your status. They save up all their money then spend it all on a pair of shoes that are limited edition, like all the Air Jordan shoes, and then they feel special. These kids use these shoes for pride and self-esteem in an otherwise crazy environment. It is normal to have hype and thefts over expensive items, but that can be reduced by creating a less exclusive brand. When shoes are made to be so expensive, and are only for sale for extremely short periods of time, it gets competitive. The brand Supreme has people waiting in line for countless hours simply so they can purchase products to resell as break neck prices. For these brands, it's all about the novelty, and making their customer feel special and part of an exclusive club. Air Jordan releases a new limited edition pair of shoes every month. There are so many pairs that no one except the true fans can name them all. There are so many, but there are so few of each design, and they are all sold at such high prices. When they are released people spend their un-refundable currency of time and wait for days to get the shoes.The person standing in line can often times be depending on the money for their paycheck, the consumer who doesn't make it in time is screwed over because they now have to pay twice the original price, and in the end the company is the only one who wins, because they make the shoes in China for $2 each and release a new one every month for the cycle to repeat itself while consumers fight for scraps.
7. Getting products made overseas and pay workers slave wages but sell their products for an insane profit margin.
This one is a general catch all for large corporations. Most business see the benefit in outsourcing work to China. Hell, I've even been guilty of checking out Ali Baba and seeing how cheap it is to get 500 beautiful leather bags made for me, but after a quick thought I didn't go through with it. The profit margins are tempting, and I know a lot of fellow Detroit designers who are getting their products made overseas, but I can't bring myself to do it with a good moral conscious. This goes for my spending habits as well. Usually when something it dirt cheap, its for a reason. I would rather spend a little more and know I am sending out good karma, rather than buy something made by underage kids in some basement in Vietnam just to save a buck.
8. Discriminatory branding with only thin/white models shown
This one hits home for me, because I'm so emerged in the fashion industry. Everything I do on a daily basis revolves around my fashion business. When I walk in the streets I observe what people wear to inspire me. When drive I see billboards of skinny models in dresses selling perfume. When I am in the mall I look at the imagery in the makeup shops and of the models in their clothing. I draw inspiration and pay attention to everything about clothes on people, and so I notice a lot about it too. When I notice a company, for example, Eddie Bauer, that very rarely shoes a person of color wearing their clothes, it sticks with me. The fact that some lingerie brands only depict women with impossibly tiny bodies and porcelain skin makes me not want to shop there or support them. I told myself from the beginning of my fashion journey that I would commit myself to building an inclusive brand, for bodies of all shapes sizes and colors. My shopping habits should show the same values as my business.
9. No effort made towards finding a greener business solution
Let's face it, technology is evolving more and more every day. There are always new solutions being found, and sometimes to problems we didn't even know existed. One problem we are all very well aware of is climate change. Even though people like Donald Trump and his administration like to be in denial about facts, there is evidence that coal companies started predicting climate change as early as the eighties. There are so many ways to utilize green energy to create the products and services that we use every day. Clothing companies could start an initiative to recycle cotton instead of continuing to grow more. In fact, it takes about 1,800 gallons of water to grow the cotton necessary to make one cotton shirt. As a consumerist society we throw away so much clothing, and there is so much excess raw materials available, that a profitable and logical solution could be found to satisfy all parties. Companies that make camping gear should only make tents out of recycled bottles from Flint, Michigan until they fix that (cough, HEY SNYDER). The tags for the clothes themselves can be made from recycled paper or even the fibers from sewing the clothes. There are so many different ways to develop a zero-waste and low carbon footprint production facility, but when large companies don't make any visible effort to move in that direction, I simply cannot support them. That is why I chose to make my own clothes from second hand fabric, or buy from thrift stores, to save all that water and to save those clothes from ending up in the landfill.
10. Purposefully making items that don't last and/or are made with cheap materials
Have you ever bought something only to have it break without warning soon afterwards? Most of the time its something techy, like a laptop or a smartphone. I remember my family's old HP desktop computer. We had that thing for years and years. We had it before internet, used it through dial-up, and I still had it in my bedroom long after we got Wifi. Back in those days, people actually would spend the time and money to get their appliances fixed. You wouldn't ever hear of someone attempting to fix a toaster nowadays, but back in my Grandpa's day, you would tinker with it till it works. This generation is so used to throwing things in the trash and driving to the nearest Walmart to buy a new one. It is too easy to order a replacement phone on Amazon. We have to remind ourselves that each item we purchase was made from materials that came from this earth, and that when we throw it away it isn't actually thrown “away” but is simply out of our site in some landfill somewhere. Matter is never created nor destroyed but simply changes forms. When companies purposefully make products that are designed the malfunction or break in a few years, specifically large appliances that use lots of raw materials to make and have a high profit margin, they are practicing unethical business with no regard to the well being of their customers or the earth.
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Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend the first Anti-Bullying Workshop organized by Trendsetter's Productions Modeling and Etiquette School. The owner, Tracy Palmer, has been running the school for over three years in the Flint area. I met her back in 2013 when I designed a collection and showed it at one of her runway shows. Back then I was pretty fresh into the fashion scene, it was only my third show. What struck me back then was how she combined fashion with community and social activism. Her focus these days is on reducing bullying not only in schools, but across the board. She experienced bullying growing up, and so did a few of her children, so the cause hits close to home. Tracy's goal is to show people going through bullying now that there is hope for the future, and to give them practical tools to cope. The unique aspect to her approach is that she doesn't only focus on healing the bully victim, but also on engaging the entire community to help prevent people from becoming bullies in the first place. This method treats the bully as a human being, and with compassion, rather than blind punishments. Seeing the bully as a person with a past history can help us understand what caused them to end up hurting other people.
When I first arrived, Tracy was reading out some statistics about bullying. The first shocked me: Michigan is number one in bullying across the country! The second was even more shocking: suicide is the leading cause of death of youth between the ages of 10 and 24. This results in approximately 4,400 lives lost each year because of bullying. Hearing this really effected me, because I could have been one of those numbers. After I left the workshop I felt very inspired to share my bullying story, so that hopefully someone can gain some useful insight or a new perspective.
Not many people know this about me, but I was bullied to the point of being suicidal during 8th and 9th grade. Because of my depression, I attempted suicide three times. The only thing that stopped me was thinking how much it would scar my four younger siblings if their older sister they looked up to suddenly killed herself. Just thinking about it gets me upset, even though I haven't felt depression in years. My bullying story is pretty typical: I moved to a new school, where many of the students had known each other since grade school. In retrospect, its clear they felt threatened by the 'new girl' who was artistic, smart, and taller than everyone there. I can say that now with confidence, but back then, the bullying consumed my entire world.
Through my school years, I had always been the 'good kid', did well in class, and got along with my peers. It wasn't until the bullying that things started to change. Because of the bullying and depression, I developed anger issues that got me into trouble with the teachers. It was infuriating to me that the teachers always trusted the bullies' word over mine because I was an outsider. Every time an incident would occur, I would retaliate with anger against the bullies, then get punished by the teachers and administration in response. The principle and vice principle had what seemed to be a vendetta against me. I got suspended for the most ridiculous things, breaking rules that other, more long-time students didn't even know existed. I felt rejected by both the students and the teachers, so I had no where to turn for help.
Back home it wasn't any better. The transition from my secular school in Hiroshima, Japan to the private Muslim school in Michigan was extremely difficult for me. I had been in the secular school for four years during middle school. I had good friends and the art program was spectacular. The teachers loved me and encouraged my unique voice. My parents always wanted my siblings and I to be in religious school, so they had big hopes for my time back in Michigan. I was expected to graduate from the Muslim school like my older brother did. Their dedication to providing me a religious education made it hard for them to hear my complaints about school. They thought that I was simply being a rebellious teen, and that I just needed to adjust.
My depression got worse really quick. Within just those two years, I was diagnosed with clinical depression, tried out three different counselors, and several types and doses of anti-depressants. As a minor I had no control over anything. I was forced to go see a counselor, but lost all trust when I discovered she was relaying every word to my parents. I didn't want to take medicine. I knew I wasn't sick, my environment was just making me this way. Every day I took the pill in the morning before school, but would come home crying and upset regardless. Every time I took the anti-depressant it made me feel like there was something wrong with me, just like the bullies made me feel, just like the teachers made me feel, and just like my parents made me feel for not loving the school they chose. It was a horrible cycle and I felt trapped.
I was overwhelmed by these feelings of being trapped and powerless so much that I no longer wanted to live. The first suicide plan I had was to take a bunch of pain pills and overdose. I couldn't follow through. The second was to hang myself in my closet. I even had a chair set up, a belt hanging from the rod, and in a noose around my neck . I remember taking one foot off the chair and bending the other, letting the pressure build on my throat till I saw black. I chickened out and stopped. The last time was the same, but before I had a chance to put the belt over my head, my little sister knocked on the door asking to play with her. I broke down crying because I knew I could never leave them.
When I wasn't attempting suicide, I was engaging in other self-harming coping mechanisms. My left arm still has scars from the cutting. It started out as a curiosity, to see just how much physical pain could I withstand. The physical pain numbed all the emotional pain I was feeling. It was a rush and an adrenaline that I used to cope. Other teens may turn to drugs, alcohol, or partying. I chose to hurt myself. At first it was just pins and other objects I could make a small surface scratch with. I quickly graduated to real razors that left deep wounds and dripped red. My mom found a blood soaked pillow case in my room, and that's when she really understood the severity of my depression.
All this hurt and suffering was caused by only a handful of people. The private school was extremely small, so I was forced to see these same girls every day in every class. They never beat me up, stole from me, or damaged any of my property. Instead, they made fun of and excluded me relentlessly, day in and day out. It doesn't take being physically bullied to get physically hurt. Often times verbal bullying drives the victim to hate themselves so much that they do the job themselves. Thankfully, I was able to convince my parents to let me transfer schools, and the bullying finally ended. My last three years of high school were spent at Washtenaw Technical Middle College where I was able to heal and rebuild my confidence. Being bullied changed me in so many ways, and if there is someone out there reading this who bullies someone, I'd like you to recognize exactly how much your actions hurt people. Here are some of the ways I was affected by bullying:
Thinking back on my bullying story and how I overcame it, I feel a sense of pride. I pulled through. I came out on the other side as a strong, confident woman. But not everyone is so lucky. There are people of all walks of life experiencing bullying this very moment, and some may be considering taking their own life as a result. It necessary that communities are persistent with opening and continuing dialogue about ways we can work together to end this epidemic. That is why am teaming up with Tracy to bring more awareness to the issue and search for solution. We are cooking up an event together to achieve this, so stay tuned!
Thank you for reading up until this point, and for exploring the most vulnerable parts of my heart with me.
Have you ever experienced bullying? If so, how has it effected you?
What are some practical ways we can stop bullying in our schools, workplaces, and society?
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In life, the only currency we have is time. We trade our time while working at our jobs, which gives us money, with which we buy the products we use to live. We assess the value for each product we buy, so why don't we assess the value of each person we trade our time for? That time will never be given back. There is no refund policy for life. If its hard to assess whether someone brings value to your life, ask yourself if you could have done something more valuable with your time than see that person. If the answer is no, then you know that you have a deep and meaningful connection with that person. If the answer is yes, you could have been more productive with your time, then maybe it's time to reassess this relationship. Start by assessing the value each person brings to your life, then move on to the steps below.
1. Think objectively about how much you sacrifice to continue that relationship, and how much they contribute.
Ah, the needy friend. Don't we all love those? This point takes me back to freshman year of university. I had found a new group of “cool” older friends, all in their mid to upper twenties. Ironically, as the youngest of the group, I was the most put together out of them all. I was the only one with a steady job, and a car. These “friends” started asking for rides in my car, for money, or to grab the bill at the restaurant. When I have a deep and meaningful connection with a friend, like I do with my best friends, money means nothing and I will treat them to dinner till I go broke. But with these friends, they did nothing to reciprocate my kindness. I realized that I didn't trust them. It wasn't until I discovered that one of these “friends” had taken my car and driven it without my permission while I was at a party that I decided to cut these people out of my life for good. As I figured, they only texted me when they needed money, or a ride to work. I promptly blocked all their asses.
2. Ask yourself: “Can I see myself having a meaningful relationship with this person in 5-10 years?”
With regards to the people mentioned above, the answer for me was a resounding “HELL NAW!” If you find yourself questioning your relationship with someone, whether it be an old friend or new acquaintance, think about your future with them. Can you see them at your wedding, graduation, or other important events? Do you think you would invite them to your birthday party twenty years from now? If the answer is no, then you probably should save your time in the present and walk away. If you don't see yourself having a valuable connection with this person in the future, then it probably won't benefit you now.
3. Listen to the type of language they use around you.
Have you ever been around some one who was ridiculously passive aggressive? How about someone really sarcastic or negative? Thinking about people like this probably already has you in a bad mood. I've had countless friends, classmates, and coworkers, that I didn't pursue friendships with because of their negative vibe and energy. The first way someone's vibe is detected is through their speech and language. If they are constantly bringing themselves down, this tends to bring down your energy too. They could use language meant to bring you down as well, perhaps because of jealousy or projected anger. These types of people will only remain this way, cannot be fixed, and should be avoided like the poison they are.
5. When it comes down to it, does hanging around them make you happy?
This one's pretty simple. If you hang out with a friend and come home feeling like shit almost every time, then maybe that friendship isn't so great. It doesn't matter what type of unwanted emotion that person is making you feel, as long as it is unwanted that is enough justification to end the friendship. I once had a guy friend who was in a long-term relationship. He wanted to marry the girl, or so he told me, but was always flirtatious with me and would complain about his girlfriend every time I saw him. I found myself becoming attracted to him even though I valued our friendship, but it was an automatic response to his manipulative ways. I would come home feeling guilty like I was the “other woman” even though we had never done or said anything sexual. When I started feeling like this all the time, I knew it was time to stop seeing him. I simply stopped replying to his messages, and its been years now since I've seen or heard from him. The drama went away along with him. All the time I would have spent on him is now restored back to me, where I can use it for something much more positive and meaningful, and that makes me feel happy.
After going through the steps above, the rest will come naturally. Once you have recognized that the relationship isn't bringing enough value to your life in exchange for the time you spent, you will have an easy time deciding to end that connection. Next comes the hard part. How do you stop engaging with a person who feels so entitled to your attention? In this age of technology, cutting people out has to start there. If someone is bothering you or making you feel uncomfortable, immediately block them on all social media sites. I can't even tell you how long my block list is on Facebook. You would think that I would mainly be blocking creepy old men, but the type of people I encounter on social media as a modern woman shockingly broad...
The list goes on....
As I have worked to expand my brand and blog, I've had to reach out even further into the depths of the internet to engage with audiences. As I was doing this I started seeing more and more hate being thrown, seemingly without remorse, in all directions. There are communities on the internet that are so supportive and loving, but on the outskirts there always lies a hoard of ignorant haters, sitting in their underwear posting on the internet out of pure spite.
How does one navigate this shit storm, you ask? Simple.
It all comes down to your mindset. It sounds cliche, but things are cliche for a reason. When someone sends me a hateful, violent, or uninvited sexually explicit message, instead of feeling fear and anger, I turn it around in my head and feel sorry for them. There is clearly something wrong going on in their life, heart, or soul, for them to think that this behavior is acceptable and necessary. They should be ashamed of themselves. Recognize that you are the sane and loving one who is not sending negative vibes into the universe. You are simply taking up your own space, doing your own thing, and they are intruding on your bubble and causing harm.
You need to strengthen your mental bubble. They are sad, pathetic people, who have nothing better to do than sit on their computers and find a feminist to slut-shame on the internet to make themselves feel better. They are the people who grew up with uneducated families, and were taught that black skin meant evil. That Trump supporter who hates immigrants is now missing out on some of the best food in the world. By being a hater, they are missing out on so much GOOD STUFF. Of course, it makes a lot of sense! By being a hater, they are missing out on so much LOVE. THEY are the ones who have their hearts and minds shut to the world, to people different than them, and to the “other”.
Opening yourself up to every kind of person is hard. There are so many people in the world. They will say things that hurt, confuse, and scare you. The important thing is that you listen. Listen and learn. How can you know your enemies without learning about them? How can you find common ground with a stranger without knowing what ground he stands on?
So let's all learn to not be a HATER, learn to open ourselves up for LOVE and ENLIGHTENMENT, and use our new-found self love to care for our selves by kicking haters out of our lives for good!
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This generation does not view religion like the previous one, and that is clearly visible. Our parents generation generally went along with what their parents did before them, when it comes to religion anyway. Often times a child born to Christianity was a Christian when they died. A child born into Islam was a Muslim when they died. It is a cycle. People live and die for generations having the same mentality without ever growing or evolving. I think in a different way. I made the choice a long time ago, while I still identified as fully Muslim, to allow myself to think that there might be another way. This is something extremely radical in strict religious communities. In Islam its called Shirk, meaning doing something that discredits Allah, his Prophets, or the Qur'an.
It always bothered me that in religious communities, even simply asking questions is met with negativity and resistance. I remember being in Qur'an (holy scripture) class and reading lines that I didn't quite understand. When I would ask what they meant, or why we had to obey what was written, I was treated like a rebellious child. Disagreeing with the words of the holy scripture is never an option in religious schools. Drowning in that expectation, I tried to make sense of things as best as I could. My curiosity was stifled time and time again, and all I could do was force myself to believe and obey. All those unanswered questions lead to frustration that built up over time, and that's why years later I'm coming face to face all these un-examined feelings stuffed in my chest.
Sadly my experience is a common one in religious communities, whether it be Christianity, Islam or Judaism. Each religion has its own culture and traditions that often converge to complicate things even further. For example, in Islam, the holy scripture commands all women past puberty to cover in a headscarf, or Hijab. If you travel to Saudi Arabia, they take it to the extreme and the women are covered head to toe in black with only eyes and hands showing. On the other hand, a trip to Pakistan would show women with midriffs showing, Saris slipping off their shoulders, and their silk scarves falling off their hair. Each group of people will interpret the scripture their own way, making religion corruptible. People of all backgrounds born into these religions have experienced these unpleasant circumstances. As I got older I came to realize that most of my friends or people that gravitated towards me also felt this same way about organized religion.
Several friends of mine have recalled experiences in their religious communities that made them feel resentful, confused, and unwelcome. They have similar stories of asking questions at school or with family, and being shut down without an answer. These experiences create a collection of memories in one's brain relating back to religion. Because of how our religious communities handle truth-seekers and skeptics, our recollections of religion now often have negative connotations. Those negative feelings, mixed with my natural skepticism, evolved quickly into the question:
“Why don't religious communities encourage their followers to ask questions and empower them to find the Truth?”
If religion was truly about connection with God and finding the divine Truth, then religious communities shouldn't discourage their followers to ask questions. If history has shown us anything, it is that holy scriptures and religion can be used to manipulate naive people. Christianity is an easy example- it was used as a weapon for years, to strip away the identity of Native People, and to control the African slaves. Back when most of the citizens of a land were illiterate, it was generally the government who controlled and interpreted the scriptures. As the saying goes, wherever there is power there is corruption. The only way to prevent being taken advantage of or mislead is to always follow your gut.
It wasn't until I actually slowed down and examined my views of religion that I recognized all these stifled doubts inside. My gut had been poking me for years. Identifying as Muslim this long without being fully convinced, or at least working towards full conviction, was doing myself a huge disservice. I was robbing myself of the chance of living an open and genuine life, and fully stand behind what I say I believe in. I had to either get answers, or move on from the religion that was causing me so much discomfort. Religion is not a person or an entity. It's not a job you can't quit. The religion is not going to miss you. My family doesn't own the religion, and me disliking it shouldn't reflect on how I feel about them or how I was raised. The biggest breakthrough I had this year was realizing I didn't owe it to anyone to stay Muslim.
I do however, owe it to myself to be honest, with myself and everyone else. I can't afford not to live an authentic life. Admitting to my family and the religious community that I am filled to the brim with doubt was the bravest thing I've ever had to do. I am still facing the repercussions of my decision to come clean. It's funny how religious people preach honesty until you are honesty about something they don't want to hear. Its been extremely difficult and emotionally exhausting, but allowing myself to be vulnerable has made me stronger. This journey towards authenticity has been marked by a steady feeling of calm growing in my chest. I won't stop till my demons are done dancing.
COMMENT BELOW! What ways does religion work? What ways doesn't it? What are some ways you have experienced religion and how has it effected you?
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People close to me have asked me "why was it important to you to come out publicly? Or specifically, on social media?" I can't even begin to explain the impact it has had on my life. The amount of love and support I've received has been overwhelming! I've had several extra-extra long messages in my inbox about experiencing a similar situation with their family and the religious clashes, or just applauding the class with which I came out. I've had people unfollow me on Instagram, at an alarming rate. All I can say is I'm dropping haters like flies. I don't have time for people who don't have positive vibes or wish me ill things. I don't have time for people who think I'm going to hell for making choices that give me an open and authentic lifestyle. Frankly, I don't have time for people who want to judge me. The only person I judge is myself. I judge how I like myself this year, and decide how best to progress towards my goals. Like I've said before, walk unapologetically in the direction of your goals and dreams. Don't let anybody bring you down from your high on life, love, art, connections, or success.
For a long time it felt like an answer was missing, and the answer was to a question I didn't even know. So you can understand the general feeling of unrest I had throughout my young adult hood. I had feelings that I presumed were normal, but somehow I always felt out of place. I did things that I would later reflect on that are clear indicators.
Choosing to come out now seems so random in the grand scheme of my life yet at the same time perfectly understandable. My family is probably shocked and doesn't understand why I'm choosing to come out now and why it took me so long to do it. Isn't this something that should have been brought to light as soon as I felt it?
The difference between me and maybe someone else coming out to their family is that I was raised to believe that homosexuality was disgusting, that gay people where either sick, confused, or following a social trend. Homosexuals needed to be helped. They needed to be pitied and prayed for. So it was something that I always had in the back of my head and I pushed down deep inside me.
Throughout high school and college, I always had this open-mindedness towards the LGBT community that my family never understood. My mom told me later on, after I told her I was bisexual, or queer, that she had wondered if I was “that” because of my support for the LGBT community, having gay friends or being excited to design wedding outfits for two grooms. That's something that another Muslim or middle eastern girl might be comfortable with. Just be because I was friendly and supportive she suspected I was gay, which is wrong on so many levels.
People who don't really understand sexuality will ask me: “Well, how do you know you're bisexual?” And I say, “Well, how do you know you're straight before you ever slept with someone?” I ask them that. They really don't have an answer, but they just say they're attracted to that gender. I ask them about when they were kids and had crushes on little boys or girls. They just knew they were straight...or rather it was something they didn't really have to think about.
I came to the realization that we are raised our whole lives to be straight and everyone assumes you're straight, so you kinda just assume it too till you step back and look at yourself in the mirror. Now I'm like, well shit! Everything makes sense now! It makes sense how I have this masculine side to me that I never understood or fully accepted.
Growing up I was always a tomboy, but at the same time I always loved art and clothes and all the things that were stereo-typically feminine. That's probably what made it so hard for me to recognize my sexuality, because I never knew it could be such a spectrum. My idea of a queer woman was a super-butch lesbian with short hair, and that wasn't me. As a kid I would wanna play the prince in pretend games with friends. I would tie my hair back and dress up in boy clothes. My first kiss was my friend who was pretending to be a princess. I must have been ten years old. I swooped her low like I'd seen in the movies and planted one on her lips. Everything was fine until she told her dad the next day, and we weren't allowed to play anymore.
In middle school I had my first real girl crush. She had auburn hair, freckles, and hazel eyes. I remember thinking she was the prettiest thing I'd ever seen. She was just a kid, we were all kids. I don't even remember recognizing that it was a girl crush, because I was taught by society to know what it felt like to have a crush on a boy, but I never knew what it felt like to have a crush on a girl, which is different in a way. But, the only thing I remember is just really wanting to be her friend. It sounds so silly and cute but I remember when I moved away, I wrote her a letter saying I wish we could be friends forever, or something like that, and I gave her a little present. And, looking back on that, I was really crushing on her.
That's not something that was talked about in my home. I knew not to mention even being friends with a boy, let alone having a crush on him, so imagine talking about crushing on a girl! In my house, if you felt things for your same gender, that meant you were sick and twisted. You need to be fixed.
But now, I recognize that that's just the way my brain is wired. That's just the way that I'm wired. It doesn't mean that I'm a deviant, it doesn't mean that I'm being rebellious or trying to be a “snowflake” or any other of that bullshit. You know, people make it seem like its a choice, and it may seem like I am “choosing” to be bisexual or to identify as that right now, when in fact I'm choosing to be honest with myself and the world rather than live in denial of my true self.
I told one person, one close friend, and then that turned into coming out to almost all of my close friends. It feels public when all your close friends know and you can just be yourself around them, but its not public until your family knows, and social media knows. Because (sarcasm) every one knows if it didn't happen on social media it never happened.
Back when I first was identifying privately as bisexual, I thought to myself "Damn, this whole time I was involved in activism for the LGBT community, being a supporter and an ally, and I couldn't even admit to myself my feelings about women. How fake of me." And I had that guilt. But now I realize I have nothing to be guilty about. Everyone has their own journey and now it's my duty to use my voice in a way that helps other people.
My mom often asked me why I think its important for people to know. I know that secretly she wishes I would have kept it to myself. But I know that my voice needs to be heard. My mix of identities is so eclectic, that someone out there might identify with me and my story. There has to be another half-Syrian girl that is living in fear of how her family will react. I want to assure her that she is strong and will make it through this. That there are people who will support her, even if her family is utterly confused and disgusted at your existence.
Being queer is just a small part of my identity. On most days I don't even think about it, it's just who I am. The world needs to see people as multi-dimensional instead of putting them into boxes. I pray this story has brought someone hope and bravery.
I was only in Turkey for a total of four months, but I swear to you it felt like way longer. Something about the city just draws you in. Its so chaotic, everything is always moving, but then there are those small neighborhoods like mine that make you feel like you're in a village. What a weird combination, Istanbul. It was such an eclectic mix of ethnicities, yet it was still mostly Turks. People rarely spoke English, so I had to get by with gestures and the few words I had picked up along the way. The hustle and bustle. It blew my mind.
When I first arrived I learned that indeed, the English language was just as confusing and boring as I anticipated it to be. I was enrolled in the area called Kadikoy, right on the water, at a TEFL school for a certification. I had made the plan to teach English in Turkey to extend my stay with my Syrian aunts that were living there after escaping from the conflict in Syria. I hadn't seen them in around seven years, so I wanted to be around them for a while. During that time I learned how to take the buses and not get (that) lost navigating my way to and from the language center downtown. At the center I practiced teaching English to retired Turks from around the area, and they were absolutely charming.
After I was certified I landed a job at a university in an area also close to the water, called Uskudar. There I taught at a preparatory school for students going into university for the first time. I learned how nationalism was popular for young Turks in this day and age. How many students, especially the males, would boast about the infinite wisdom of their president. It was an interesting parallel to the presidential race in the United States happening at the same time.
I realized then that authoritarian leaders rise in every country at different times and for different reasons. But also that there seemed to be a larger plan in the world that was being pulled in different directions by strings shrouded in mystery. The question I always seemed to have on my mind was who the true puppet master could be. Every country seemed to have different stakes in this global game of thrones. From an outside perspective looking at the United States, it was clear to see that maybe we were no longer the first world power. It looked like Russia was battling for the top, and the U.S was struggling with its grip on the world.
This kind of shattered my glass ceiling, and shifted my perspective of the world. Things are really not all what they seem. My time in Turkey was marked by moments like this for me. Weeks went by with this feeling of transparency in time. I knew I was in a moment that would come to be marked down in history as a time of change. I kept asking myself what my place was in this giant story. That could be a result of the big-ness of a city like Istanbul.
The city was crawling with people. Each person walking along had their own story. Each had their own voice, that they could choose to keep silent, or they could use for change. There's a word for this feeling- being overwhelmed with the existence of each passerby's individual story- and I was feeling it hard in Istanbul. I asked myself, in this crowd of people, how could I possibly change a thing? I guess you could say I went through a minor depression, or at least a loss of purpose.
Then I had kind of an epiphany. I examined my own individual mix of identities. I came to the conclusion that there really isn't anyone with my same vision, voice, or perspective. My mix of identities had always contained being American-born, half-Syrian, Muslim-raised, artist and designer, third-generation kid who lived all over the globe, and most recently; queer woman in a heterosexual relationship. I had that last realization about a year ago now.
I had reflected on my childhood and young adulthood while in Istanbul, and the explanation was clear for the way I had been feeling. I had been bi-sexual all along, but I hadn't been able to get past the mental blocks nailed in my head by religion to admit it to myself. Things I had thought about, felt, and done as a young teen now made sense to me. I reflected back on having my first crush on a girl, back in middle school.
I don't remember thinking of it as a crush, though. All I felt was a strong sense of wanting to be closer to her...and that she was the prettiest girl in the whole class. She had auburn hair and freckles across her face. When it was her birthday, valentines day, or any other excuse holiday, I would make cards and gifts for her. I would make them for my other friends too, of course. But hers I would take extra care with.
I look back and remember small instances in time like that, before I even knew anything about sexuality and what it meant to be attracted to someone. Flash forward to this past summer at a job, and I knew for sure that I was queer. This was the confirmation anyone could have asked for. Ironically this girl had red-ish hair and freckles too. And she made my heart pound fast. I think what made it more alluring was that it was clear she was not straight either. I wanted to talk to her so badly.
It was in Istanbul that I found the strength to tell my family (my mom for now) that I was bisexual. She reacted okay. I knew my dad, with his cultural Syrian roots and religion, wouldn't really have the tools to deal with a discovery like this. I didn't tell him just yet. I knew I had to tell him when I could see him face to face, back home. I knew the transition was going to be difficult. I was revealing a part of myself I had kept in the depths of my mind for so long. I knew it would be hard for my family to adjust to the idea.
People ask me, how do you know you're bisexual if you have never had sex with a woman? I ask in return, how do you know you are straight when you are young and haven't had sex yet? They get it then. Its about attraction. Its about how your biology is wired. I didn't choose to be attracted to women, that's just how I feel right now. The only choice I made wasn't to have these feelings, but to be transparent with this part of my identity.
When I first began to identify as queer, I suddenly had this feeling of not being genuine. Through all the support I showed to the LGBTQ community, I still hadn't been able to be “out” myself. I knew it was time to change that. In this world that paints Syrian women as one thing, or Americans as one thing, or even Muslim-born women as one thing, we need voices saying no. We are not a monolith, we are individuals. Syrian women are not all desperate refugees, but are strong, resilient warriors. Americans are not European/white people, America is White, Black, Brown, Asian, Arab... and Muslims are not all terrorists, we are normal people with normal struggles, like juggling our identities and discovering our sexuality.
I learned in Istanbul that I am part of the many people who are missing links. We hover in the limbo between worlds, between identities. We show the opposite of the stereotypes people paint us as. It's voices like ours that will change the perspectives of the world. This realization gave me my purpose back. I have this vision in my head and I carried it back home with me. It's time to work.
Today I'd like to take a stab at approaching skin-color-hierarchy from a global perspective.
Interracial prejudice is real and thriving. I hesitate to even say “interracial”, because it isn't as much an issue of race as it is about color. I plan to write an entire separate article about that topic, because I feel there is so much to be said about it. As for prejudices within said communities, it seems the effects of colonization and slavery have stretched far and wide, bringing generations of skin-color-hierarchy with it. I've experienced this personally and witnessed it in nearly every aspect of my life, and across numerous cultures. It is so rampant, and frankly very, very sad.
My personal experiences tell me that this is not only a “people of color” problem. I've seen it happen with Black, Hispanic, Indian/Pakistani people as well as Japanese and Middle Eastern people. Generally speaking, Arabic people aren't described as people of color, except in Arabic-speaking countries in Africa, like Egypt. We have pretty fair complexions, just a hint of brown. Yet, even in countries that started off as literal deserts, where the sun was beating down on people and it would be a very bad thing to be fair-skinned, there is an undeniable preference for paleness. I experienced this in my dad's native country of Syria.
My three sisters and I all have different coloring. I have fairly pale skin with dark hair, the next one has my coloring with caramel skin, the next one is very pale with green eyes and mousy brown hair, and the last little girl, surprisingly, is blonde with blue eyes. My 16 year old sister and I are mistaken for twins all the time, but the rest of us look so different. I never realized that in fact, our individual coloring fall exactly on a beauty-ranking scale that was made long before we were born. It goes something like this:
When I lived in Japan from '04 to '08, I saw the same thing among the Japanese. They pretty much all have dark hair and eyes, so the feature of choice for discrimination was skin tone. Contrary to popular media's representation of Japanese people, they are not all pale-skinned. Around half of them have tan skin. These people feel compelled to use whitening salves too, just like in Syria. Anime characters are shown with pale skin, princesses and characters in plays painted their face in pure white pigment to signify beauty.
I went to middle school with a number of Indian and Pakistani people. One of my closest friends when I first moved back to Michigan was a smart and sarcastic Indian girl- I liked her almost instantly. She was on the darker side, but she had older sisters that were lighter colored. She recalled the same experiences as I had with being considered less beautiful because of her skin tone that I considered so gorgeous. It made my heart hurt.
Now, I'm working as a substitute teacher, so I get to be around kids from districts all over Michigan. I tend to find jobs in lower-income areas, and the vast majority of the students are black. I had a long discussion just yesterday with some high school students about the color hierarchy after one student wrote on the board “Light Skins Winning.” He proceeded to boast why light-skinned black guys are “prettier”, and called a fellow dark-skinned classmates ugly. He said it with such nonchalance and the dark-skinned students accepted his words as if they were the truth. This really lit a fire in me.
As I teach, I hear these things on the daily. Guys and girls alike proclaiming that they only date light-skinned people. Calling fellow classmates ugly, stupid, and less than because of their tone. As I travel from school to school, district to district, this is one pattern that remains constant. It drives me crazy, because I know that this is such a deeply rooted and complicated mentality.
It's bad enough that there is discrimination of separate groups of people against each other, but this is on a whole other level. Groups of people are turning against each other in their own circles, scooping hate from the outskirts and dumping it in the center like some horrific typhoon. Back during segregation years, if a black person was light-skinned or mixed, they were discriminated against by white people AND black people. They weren't quite “black enough”, and definitely were not white. They didn't fit into either group, they were hated and treated badly. Now, I feel it is that same hate they experienced being projected outwards.
They say that when someone is hateful or critical of you, it is because of the things they hate in themselves. Its a vicious cycle. When we catch ourselves thinking hateful thoughts towards someone, we must stop and reflect on what is it within us that is causing it. Heal your own thoughts and tear down the color-hierarchy in your respective communities- that will bring us one giant step closer to stopping global colorism and discrimination.
The issue I would like to talk to you about is politics, and how it effects everyday relationships. Yes, I admit, I love a good debate. My friends reading this might be saying sarcastically, “Who...Lena? Talking about politics? NO WAY.” I'm pretty sure I get it from my dad, because it seems that like he is the first one to bring up politics at Thanksgiving dinner (yikes!) just like I'm always the first one to bring it up when hanging out with my group of friends. What is important here is the relationship between all the bullshit happening in the government, our stances on it, and how that plays a role in our friendships.
I like to follow my dad's lead. It's always entertaining to watch him start a heated debate. Our extended family is ridiculously diverse in color, religion, and of course, politics. We have people leaning far right, far left, middle-path, and people who simply distrust all forms of government. My dad will strike up a debate with all of them...all with a smile on his face and between bouts of booming laughter. It's lighthearted. He takes the issues seriously, and is very passionate and blunt in stating his opinions, but at the end of the day he respects his fellow people too much to be rude or dismissive towards them. This is what my approach to politics is like.
People before politics- that's my rule. My closest friend is black/Brazilian and a Republican. I am white /Syrian and a Democrat. We both have immense distaste for the two-party system, but she tends to lean conservative, and I tend to lean liberal. I am an avid supporter of Bernie Sanders, she voted for Cruz but would vote Trump if he was nominated. We couldn't be more different!! Admittedly, our debates over issues can get pretty heated- that is only natural, since we are both very passionate for our causes- but there is never any genuine anger. We respect and care for each other, and because of that we accept each-others differences of opinion, and focus on what we do agree on.
At the end of the day, isn't that how everyone's relationships should be? We are the citizens, the little people. The puppet show happening in Washington is so far away, and each individual candidate has far less power than we think. So while we rally behind our person and throw vicious hatred at the other team, the real politics is happening behind closed doors in other branches of government. It is our job to look past all the bullshit, and see people with compassion in our hearts and understanding in our minds. We must love and respect each other as fellow humans, regardless of how vast our differences may be. I have an example for this....
First we must understand that you are as sure of your beliefs as the person standing beside you. Think about that for a moment. Just as much as I believe gay marriage is rightfully legal, many people out there believe just as strongly that it shouldn't be. Everyone will have a list of reasons why they believe a certain thing, and that list comes from our past experiences and backgrounds. And since everyone has had hugely different experiences, isn't it expected that we don't agree? This realization helps me be more compassionate towards people. So the story goes, I find out that my closest friend supports Donald Trump. I totally freak out- “how could she do this? I just don't get it! He's racist, omg!!” That was my strong belief- that he is prejudiced. Over on her side of the story, “Bernie Sanders is a socialist! Socialism has no place in America!” See? Just as shocking of a statement.
We were both very firm in our beliefs, that much was clear. We took turns ranting about how wrong the other was till we had our fill. When it comes down to it, I know what she believes in and what her values are. I know how good of a person she is, and her political affiliation doesn't change that in any way shape or form. Our friendship is what matters, not the drama happening up top.
I invite everyone to implement this strategy in their own lives, and not just for politics but for all differences of opinion. This is a giant country filled with people who all have so much good to give. It would be such a shame to alienate and dismiss them just because you can't agree on one thing. Focus on the things you do agree on, find common ground, and lead on with love.
We'd all like to think that Hollywood reflects the diversity we see in our communities. There seem to be more people of color in movies and shows in leading roles. LGBT style families were made mainstream and approachable with shows like Modern Family. Female actors increasingly take on non-gender-stereotypical roles. Sadly, excluding the white-straight-male-type characters, most everyone else is either under-represented, or misrepresented. It's a given that people of different sexual orientations or genders and people of color are not shown enough on TV, however today I will focus on three ways Hollywood fails to satisfy when they do finally get their screen time.
By the way, my use of the word “Hollywood” refers to the media as a whole: Tv shows, movies, etc.
1. The Token Character: this type of character is thrown into a show/movie for the sole purpose of appearing to have a diverse cast.
The first type of failed attempt at diversity is something commonly known as the “Token Character,” for example, a “token black guy” or “token Asian woman”. The word token itself is a good indication as to why this type of representation is offensive. This type of character is made up for the sole purpose of attempting to have a diverse cast. They have no important roles in the show or movie, they may be in the background most of the time, or sometimes get a few seconds of highly-tokenized screen time. Its almost as if the network is saying, “Hey, look at us being all inclusive, we have this one Latina here!” If, among a sea of white people, one brown head stands out, that is a token character. Generally, this character feels out of context to the viewers. He or she has no friends or coworkers that look like them, they act like the people around them, but somehow they still can't blend in. Its extra offensive when they are devoid of any culture, because then they can be deemed as “safe” by their white counterparts. The inclusion of this type of character is an effort by the production to increase their viewer base by specific audience targeting. Also, in a world of political correctness, its something tossed in at the last minute to satisfy the masses. It is a lazy and ineffective way diversify the cast of their show.
2. Stereotypical Characters: these types of characters are very clearly defined walking stereotypes of their perspective race/gender/sexual orientation/religion and are often shown in groups.
The second type of failed attempt was one that was brought to my attention when I was in one of my classes at Eastern Michigan University. It was a reading class, and the teacher brought out a children's book and told us to observe the cover. On the cover was (very definitively) a white boy, an Indian girl, a Chinese boy, and a black boy in a wheel chair. On the surface, this may seem like the perfect picture of diverse representation- every kind of person had been shown! Or...had they? The problem here was that every child on that cover was so clearly defined as some type of person- the Chinese boy was pale faced with pointed eyes and a bowl cut, the white boy was smiling and blonde, the Indian girl was dressed in traditional garments with a bindi on her forehead and the black boy in the wheel chair sported an Afro and held a basketball (here, the teacher pointed out that the black kid was being used as a “two-fer” for being both black and disabled).
Where are the mixed-ethnicities and ethnically ambiguous characters? And possibly the most important question: why is each person shown defined so strenuously by their perspective stereotypes?
Not only are these individuals being defined by their stereotypes visually, they are also being shown as displaying those personality/mannerisms that have been attached to them. In the media, when these types of characters are shown in groups, the effect is even more harmful. For example, black men are often shown as violent gang members with a pack mentality, and tells the viewer that they are a monolith, while white men are portrayed as having their own thoughts and opinions. A similar picture can be painted with tens of bearded men yelling angrily in Arabic. Does the word “terrorists” come to mind? This is because of the relentless mental training we all unknowingly endure when watching media of any kind. This type of representation reinforces pre-existing stereotypes and clumps entire groups of people together. Stereotypes confine people they are aimed at, and close the minds of people who are exposed to them.
3. Recycled Characters
Last but not least are what I like to call “recycled characters”. There have been a sprinkling of debates these past couple years about things like comic book characters and iconic movie/TV show characters (Idris Alba for James Bond!!) being played by someone of a different ethnicity than the original. Specifically, I'd like to focus on what I now have come to define as a “cheap and lazy way to gain readers” by the comic giant Marvel. The two comic book roles that were switched up that caught my attention were that of Ms. Marvel and Captain America. Admittedly, when I first started reading about the new Ms. Marvel character, I was really excited. Not being a huge comic book buff myself (hey, manga!) I didn't know much about the original Ms. Marvel.
I did some googling, and wasn't surprised by the results. Of course, being a female comic book character (I say this with my voice dripping in sarcasm) she has completely unnatural body proportions- ginourmous boobs, a big butt, and a waist smaller than the circumference of her head (literally impossible, except I suppose if she took out a few ribs). Ms. Marvel had ruby red lips and long, thick blonde hair that fell down her back and framed her leotard-clad body. She was a typical all-American super hero chick.
The new Ms. Marvel was a boyishly shaped little brown girl with short hair. She is the daughter of Pakistani immigrants living in America and battling the line between her own conservative background and the world around her. Its almost like she was invented specifically for me to relate to! Except....that's exactly it, isn't it? Her story could be the narrative of any second generation immigrant, I am just one of many examples. Marvel clearly tried (kinda) hard to make readers feel like they could relate to their characters. However, if she is so real and likeable, why isn't she good enough to have her own original super hero identity? They simply recycled the name and powers of the old barbie doll character. That's where Marvel's efforts fall short, and my excitement for this character begins to fade.
The same story goes for new Captain America. The only differences between the new Captain America and the old one is his name and the color of his skin. The new character goes by the first name of Isaiah, which is a historically black name. His nose is wide, his lips are poofy, and his dark skin gleams. He is a caricature of a black man, like white Captain America in black-face. I can picture the Marvel conference room now...
Frantic assistant: “Sir! Our numbers show that the average rate of black boys reading our comics is falling!”
Head guy: “Hm...” *pulls out brown colored pencil, fills in Captain America* “Call him Isaiah, problem solved.”
I recognize that I mostly focused on race here, but there is so much content when it comes to women and LGBT issues in Hollywood that it will require a separate segment!
What are some of the other ways Hollywood and the media fail to represent diversity?
What types of characters would you like to see more of in shows and movies?
All high schools should change their policies: no longer teach abstinence, but instead implement frank discussions and education about safe and healthy sex lives.
This is a controversial statement in the eyes of many, but I have well founded reasons for my beliefs. Before my student teaching last winter, I had thought that only private and/or religious schools still advocated for abstinence. For student teaching, I was placed in a high school in Wayne. My cooperating teacher mentioned their abstinence based sex-ed policies to me in conversation, and I couldn't hold back my laughter. The assumption that a bunch of hormonal teenagers, all cramped together in a school of a thousand-plus kids would not be having sex was unrealistic. I know this because of my experiences with students even younger than these.
Young children dating- sadly- is now becoming a social norm. When I worked a morning care program at an elementary school, fourth and fifth graders boasted about their “girlfriends” and “boyfriends”. Regardless of the legitimacy of their claims, the fact remains that the mentality is there. It is talked about, and encouraged by parents and teachers alike calling it “cute”. What isn't cute is when the real-life repercussions come from an initially imagined relationship.
I remember being in middle school. Back then, middle schoolers were still kids, we played outside, we were awkward around the opposite gender. Now, I walk into a middle school and there are girls with crop tops and belly rings, guys slap their butts in the hall and wolf whistle as they walk by. Couples walk around holding hands, and the poor teachers have to break up PDA in the hallways. It has long been said that kids are getting older, younger, and that is definitely evident here. Middle schools are beginning to resemble high schools.
When elementary school students are exposed to the dating lifestyle early on, it isn't such a far stretch for them to actually start dating when they hit middle school. Of course, this is also the joyous time when puberty hits, so they have real biological feelings towards people. With overly-sexualized TV shows, movies, and music videos, they become desensitized to it. It is very common now for middle school students to engage in sexual acts. I know this for a fact, because in a school I volunteered at, there were three pregnant students. They were only twelve years old.
With those memories in my mind, and the suggestion that suddenly high school students had decided to keep it in their pants, of course I had to laugh. This is the sad reality that we live in. For us as educators and/or adults trying to guide our youth, it does us no good to ignore the realities of a situation. This is the world that these youth are growing up in, and we have to accept that the societal norms have evolved. Its not our job to change the world they live in, just provide them with tools and advice to successfully navigate it. That's why I believe that all high schools should stop their attempt to teach abstinence, and start teaching young adults how to have a safe sex life.
Traditional sex-ed in schools focuses on the physical side of things: STD's, getting pregnant, keeping your body healthy, but no one really talks about the emotional repercussions. In addition to rigorous education on the prevention of disease and pregnancy, I believe schools should hold frank discussions about the social/psychological/emotional aspects. This should include, especially for young women, a checklist they should follow to decide whether they should in fact sleep with someone. For example: Are you in the right state of mind to provide consent? Is this something you want, or do you feel pressured by friends or your significant other? How long have you been in a relationship with this person, do you trust him/her? How does a relationship evolve with the introduction of sex? These are all very real things to discuss and consider.
With the use of these very real and relatable situations as a base for frank and open discussions, perhaps it will encourage the youth to think things through a bit more carefully. Hopefully, disease and pregnancy prevention education combined with these discussions will help students become more considerate and sincere with each other with regards to physical relationships. This may reduce the rate of teen pregnancies, the spread of STD's, even rape culture- and isn't that what everyone wants?
What types of discussions regarding relationships do you think is important to have in schools?
What other types of sex-ed practices do you believe will increase thoughtfulness and caution among teens?
I've been asked before if I consider myself a feminist, and the answer has always been yes. I get two different reactions: either the questioner cringes and slowly inches away, or they grin and say “good for you!” I always find this pretty entertaining, but for the purpose of my blog, I thought I would define what I believe to be true when I call myself a feminist.
First and foremost, the belief that women should be advocated for at the expense of men is wrong and does that align with core values of feminism. To put it simply, we believe that all people should be treated and respected equally, regardless of gender. The numerous ways women are objectified is also protested. We fight for emphasis on the whole person rather than her physical attributes or her inherently 'female' functions.
Now, many of you may be saying that there are feminists out there that hate men, and I will not disagree with you. Sadly, this type of feeling can be directly compared to racism- hate comes in all forms. These women are taking the stereotypical attributes of a misogynistic, undesirable man, and projecting it onto every man they ever encounter. They use these characteristics to shame, insult, and bring down the male gender, instead of bringing up women. Needless to say this is wrong, and makes more barriers than it breaks down. Just like there are bad apples in every group of individuals, the feminist movement is no different. We need to use love and positive rhetoric, not generalized statements against an entire gender.
We believe that men and women are equal, simple as that. I usually like to take it a step further and say that every person is equal, regardless of gender, since I believe that gender and gender identity is a spectrum. That is a subject for an entirely different post. Now, stereo-typically, are women better at certain things than men? And men better at certain things than women? Of course. Generally speaking, women are less physically strong than men, and we are more nurturing. Note the word- generally. The idea that we are all equal is accepting the fact that there are many exceptions to societal gender norms. Ever watch American Ninja Warrior? There was a woman on there that was five feet tall and conquered physical challenges my brother could never dream of at 6'5.
I enjoyed watching that episode, because the crowd and commentators were cheering and focused on her physicality and strength. They weren't sitting there analyzing the fact that her face was flushed and her hair was coming undone. This is another issue I feel very strongly about- the objectification of women- specifically our looks. There is this unspoken rule in society that in order to be taken seriously, you must be beautiful. You must dress sexy, and paint your face. If you don't wear makeup, suddenly you are considered unprofessional. If you are not “pretty”, then you are deemed less-than, the ugly duckling, something to feel sorry for and throw a bag of makeup at.
Of course, society's definition of beauty is very specific, and one that ever only applies to a small minority of women. I would say about three years ago, it was 'in' to be tall and super thin, like Taylor Swift. My tall frame could get down with that, except I have the curves of an Arab lady, and frankly, don't want to be that thin. Now I would say we are in the phase of big butts and boobs, overly curvy with a teeny-tiny waist. I know a few women that look like that naturally, but for most of us that is unattainable except by plastic surgery. Not only is beauty being defined very specifically and with the exclusion of everyone else, it is constantly changing! No wonder its considered normal for women to have self-esteem issues.
All of this- defining what a woman should be and what she should look like, is what I stand against as a feminist. This also includes the objectification of women when it comes to our function in the world. It is changing slowly now, but for a long time a woman who didn't have kids was somehow supposed to feel unfulfilled...as if her entire purpose on earth was to bear children! This makes me chuckle. We are such strong and diverse creatures. There are already so many children on this world that need love and help, so if a woman decides not to pop out another, that is her own choice, and she should not be made to feel guilty about it. That same woman could start numerous non-profit organizations, be an author, or a teacher. Just because she doesn't want children doesn't make her a cold-hearted person.
We must look beyond what society tells us women are supposed to be and do and look like, and observe the individual human we see before us. When you approach something with a bias and expectation, you will always be disappointed, because no one will ever fit a mold perfectly. Only when we remove these barriers can we truly see clearly. Then we can embrace people for their strengths and faults that exist because of who they are, not because of their gender.
You don't have to be pretty. You don't owe prettiness to anyone. Not your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not your co-workers, especially not random men on the street. You don't owe it to your mother, you don't owe it to your children, you don't owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked "female"
Let's talk about body image issues here for a second. This is an issue that has become more mainstream to discuss with the recent “Big is Beautiful” campaign. Though the vast majority of BBW women simply have a few extra pounds, there are cases of the morbidly obese being celebrated, like SSBBW. This is a subcategory of BBW, and stands for "super sized big beautiful woman". These women are often 400+ pounds, and clearly have physical side effects caused by their weight. Alongside campaigns that advocate for women with curves, there are also movements like Pro-Ana, that glamorize the lifestyle of skin-and-bone anorexic and bulimic women. All this begs the question: at what point does being accepting and uplifting of other women start to become enabling them to lead an unhealthy lifestyle?
The answer is simple in my mind, and it comes down to one thing, and that is health. It's funny to think that for the most part, women who exercise neurotically to the point of damaging their bodies aren't doing so to get healthier or stronger, but to fit the image of ideal beauty they have in their heads. Obsessive and unhealthy behavior manifests itself in many ways, and it all depends on their specific image of ideal beauty.
To look like the skin-and-bone fashion models, girls as young as ten are starving themselves, going on water fasts, and eating cotton balls in orange juice. To look like the next reality TV star, women are doing 600 squats a day just to get a Kim K butt. Will it make them stronger? Yes, if they don't over do it and hurt their muscles and knees. Women who identify as BBW sometimes intentionally over-eat, to make their curves even bigger. They should be eating enough to satiate themselves, not stuffing till their stomach hurts. Extreme measures to alter the appearance of your body is never healthy, physically or mentally.
That being said, every woman has a unique build specific to her own body. A combination of genetics, metabolism, and lifestyle will determine her “default” weight. So, while the runway models do workout and diet, these girls are naturally inclined to be thin. Ever had a friend that would inhale food and never put on any weight? That's them. Others have a natural pear shape, and have that sought-after booty without even trying. I for one am tall enough to be a model, but I have always been the same build- proportionately distributed fat and muscle that just makes me a curvier person, and I'm okay with that.
That is the key here- to recognize your unique body shape and accept it. Accepting something, as a general term, means to take as is, and not try to drastically change it. I remember being in middle school, being taller than all the boys and wishing I could be teeny-tiny like most of my girl friends. It wasn't until high school that I embraced my height and my curves as something that were a part of me.
Once you have accepted your God-given form, you truly start to get a sense of respect and gratitude towards it. I learned to appreciate my strength and long stride that gets me where I need to go. With that respect we take pride in nourishing and taking care of our bodies, and we do that with exercise and eating right. With health comes happiness, a radiating glow, and a sense of accomplishment for making our bodies stronger.
Accept your body's natural state, don't try to force it to become something new entirely. Focus on being able to do things, like push-ups, or running a mile without stopping. When you do this, gratitude and love for your body will skyrocket.
I observe & write about society & culture.