Monday 25 June 2018

Teen Muslimah and Body Consciousness

I remember being a teen and sometimes getting unwanted attention, probably at a younger age than was appropriate.  I remember being a teen and being aware of my many perceived flaws alongside a cocky arrogance about my youth and how skinny I was.  Despite these things, I would rather have been a teen then than now any day.

I see the pressures that my oldest daughter faces at aged 15 - academic, social, from peers, physically and I lament the loss of childhood so soon.  I also resent the culture we live in that focusses on every inch of a women’s body from the crown of her head to her toes.  A focus that is hyper-critical, merciless, unrealistic and punishing.  Full lips, nose contoured to a perfect point, chin shaped to a point and cheekbones you can slice bread with.  Enormous breasts, tiny waist and killer curves. Salon perfect nails and perfect mermaid waves in your hair. Slim ankles and perfect toes, feet with a high instep and every inch of the body hairless, silky smooth and free of pigmentation, scar or stretch mark.  That’s before you even get started on clothing and a studio-full of makeup layered on faces over and over again until you can hide the face Allah (SWT) gave you with a mask you like better.

The cultural pressures and standards around beauty are part of our culture and I have tried over the years to teach my children that they are as Allah (SWT) wishes them to be, that Allah (SWT) made them beautiful as they are.  I try to teach them to be grateful for all that Allah (SWT) has blessed them with and finally when all else fails to “work what your mama gave you”.

I reject the unrealistic standards of beauty that change each generation so that there are always losers as we chose one ideal of beauty over all the others and fail to appreciate the diversity of beauty.  Whether gaunt “heroin chic” when I was a teen in the 90’s or surgically enhanced curves today, in choosing either you fail to see the different types of beauty around us: willowy, slender women, toned athletic women, petite curvy women, luxuriously full-figured women.

Even moreso, I reject the cruel beauty standards of my own South Asian culture: an obsession with fair skin and weight – always too fat or too slim, but never right.  On top of that the lack of manners or perhaps thoughtlessness of sisters who feel the need to comment on those around them.

I have spent years hearing family members and acquaintances commenting on my weight and colour, but more recently on my children’s colouring.  People will say that Little Lady was “so much fairer when she was a child, what happened?”  When Little Man was very small people would say he is dark with distaste – I loved has glowing, healthy dark Mediterranean colouring.  People would comment on his big lips, ten years later his big lips are in fashion.  Darling is often complimented on her fair skin, but this is no better than people saying negative things about my other children, because I would rather she does not become fixated on something as superficial as colouring.

This week I heard three comments from friends over two days.  I attended a sisters halaqa where a sister asked why Little Lady tans so quickly.  I replied because I do and we all catch the sun quickly.  The next day I met a friend while out shopping with my daughter and she asked me why Little Lady was so skinny.  I was surprised because LL had gone from skinny kid to plump teen almost overnight and then managed to bring her weight down through healthy eating and discipline.  I said that she was a healthy weight and left it that.  This after being told in her early teens that she was fat, including by both of her grandmothers.  I can tell you they got an earful from me and didn’t mention her weight again.

The some evening a neighbour popped by to ask for help in filling out a form.  LL happened to be trying on a new dress that Harlequin Sister gifted her and came to show me.  My neighbour complimented her and commented on how much she has changed from a short, skinny little kid to a beautiful young woman in a few short years.  I took the compliment for what it was, and I think LL enjoyed it anyway.

It has made me think though about how much scrutiny young women come under. How easily we expose them to our throw-away comments and how people seem to feel comfortable criticising and judging things that are not of their choice but from Allah (SWT).  I think as my girls get older I will make it my business not just to educate them about the blessings of Allah (SWT) but to educate those careless people around them too.  It’s one thing to have a thick skin and to make your children resilient, but there is something to be said about making people think twice before they open their mouth to say something unkind to a young woman when she is at her most impressionable.

1 comment:

  1. I love this post, so much that I had to comment. I have a two year old, and along with helping her become a good practising muslimah, I am very conscious of helping her become a confident woman. You put my thoughts about it all into words. I fear where society is reading with its obsession on physical appearance and maintaining an image of perfection.
    Allah make it easy for you and me, Ameen.