Do you ever have days where certain topics or themes just seem to show up consecutively? At the weekend, yesterday and this morning, it’s felt like the shadow of body shaming has been thrown in my face, but under different circumstances.
Yesterday – and this morning- on the train, two very public cases of fat shaming happened right in front of my face. At the weekend, something very similar happened to me, where some of my relatives commented on me becoming ‘too strong’ and said that I looked fatter because I do weight training. Naturally it hit me hard; it’s never easy hearing such snide remarks from people in your family regardless of your age and how accomplished you are.
For the last two weeks, I’ve been blogging about love, sex, desire and sexuality in the South Asian Diaspora and feelings of shame whenever lust runs through our veins – you can read it here. Much of my inspiration, of late, stems from the extensive research that I have been doing about ancient Indian culture/history and how a general lack of knowledge about South Asian history has influenced the way that the Diaspora currently views itself. One point, which has been particularly engaging, is how the Diaspora views sex, desire, nudity and attitudes towards women.
This modern push behind ideas of modesty […] is one which has not been examined properly.
Historically, South Asian women would wear a long skirt and scarf that was draped across their breasts, but centuries of colonial rule inevitably changed this, as ‘purdah’ was introduced and women were covered up and hidden away for their own safety. It is an interesting observation to note that, in many regards, South Asian women are still being covered up and hidden away in an array of discreet manners – and it’s not necessarily for their own safety.
Many (mostly men might I add) take pride in boasting about being part of a culture that is ‘better’ than Westernised cultures, because its women cover up and do not flaunt themselves. This modern push behind ideas of modesty, which has been instilled in the vast majority of South Asian women, is one which has not been examined properly.
The methods used are so subtle, that many of us have subconsciously adhered to them, because we saw our mothers, grandmothers and other women in our families behave in a similar fashion. We believe that labels of ‘purity’ ‘modesty’ and ‘respectable’ liberate us, when in reality, they end up stifling us. For many South Asian women, to simply talk about aspects of womanhood, sex, sexuality, sexual desire are almost impossible.
I remember the day that I went on holiday with my family and wore a bikini for the first time. I was so nervous and felt sick with shame that I was wearing a two-piece; I was terrified that they would tell me off for being so shameless and for flaunting my body in public. It sounds pretty basic, but it was one of the most nerve wracking experiences of my life so far – but it taught me a lot. It made me realise that the reaction I was so afraid of, thankfully, didn’t exist in my family. They didn’t even bat an eyelid, but I am painfully aware that there are scores of South Asian women who are not so fortunate.
As a Diaspora, we must change our attitudes towards bodies, sex, sexual feelings and desire
We currently live under social labels which dictate to us what kind of items of clothing and mannerisms make us ‘good Asian women’ who are socially acceptable in the eyes of others whose opinions of us don’t even matter. Even as I type this, I feel a flush of shame that we encourage and uphold such behaviour. If everyone is free to dress or live a life on their own terms, why do we vilify South Asian women (such as Sunny Leone) who are sexually active and confident in their bodies? When I was younger – and even now – if word got out about a female relative who has sex before marriage, she is immediately disregarded as ‘impure’ and ‘dirty.’
Since when did we treat our girls and women, in such a callous manner, for being human beings with emotions and feelings? Generally, society has a cruel way of punishing women who are sexually liberated, are at ease with their self esteem and physical appearance. However, this does not mean that we continue to uphold such attitudes, instil feelings of shame about being a woman and undermining the emotional capacity of young girls and women.
I believe that it is hugely important that, as a Diaspora, we must change our attitudes towards bodies, sex, sexual feelings and desire because it bears a strong influence on the way that we view ourselves and each other. There is a very good reason why movements, such as Feminism, talk so much about sex and place an importance on women’s bodies. When one is able to make decisions about the types of clothes she chooses to wear, access birth control and feel at ease with her sexuality, it allows an individual to exercise a sense of autonomy over their physical body which empowers them.