Growing up · health · Self-love

Stay Positive By Saying No

A big "no" written in capital letters made up of many yeses.
Image by GDJ via Pixabay

We often hear that one of the keys to living a positive life is saying to things more often: Yes to adventures, yes to new opportunities, yes to new relationships etc. And it is true, the more we say yes to things, the more we say yes to new experiences that could make our lives more dynamic and colourful. Our yeses help us grow, but guess what? So do our nos.

“No” is one of my favourite words in the human lexicon. In whatever language it’s said, it’s succinct, clear and an entire sentence on its own. It’s the perfect boundary setter and clear boundaries are instrumental to positive living.

I’ll let you in on a maybe-not-so-secret secret: Setting my boundaries by saying no hasn’t always been a strong suit. Although I wouldn’t say that I was the archetypal people-pleaser and I never really had too much of a problem saying my piece, saying no was no easy task.

If you had a problem you wanted to text me about even though I wanted to be left alone? I would have probably answered the message. Wanted to ask me a question I felt was a bit too personal or annoying? I’d have probably budged and answered it to keep the conversation moving. Needed me to help you while on a break? Ugh, alright, 10 minutes wouldn’t kill me. Lots of things were allowed to just slide.

I was capable of standing my ground and refusing to do those things, but I didn’t really like conflict and I felt it more comfortable not to. After all, I wasn’t saying yes to things that deeply encroached upon my values or violated my autonomy, so it didn’t seem like too much of a problem.

But it was a problem and it is for you too.

When we don’t say no when we really want to, we are telling ourselves that our needs are secondary and that we’re not worthy of having them met. Denying our own needs and ultimately, our own wellbeing to keep a “positive” atmosphere isn’t positive at all. It actually paves the way to very negative things like resentment and a lack of respect for you and yes, your boundaries.

If it’s hard to say no to the seemingly benign stuff, saying no bigger things that have worse consequences for you can be a lot harder, so you just have to start saying it. As with most things, it does get easier the more you do it.

You might have to ruffle a few feathers and you may cause a bit of friction too, but so what? We won’t always get the green light to do what we need, but we still need to get going anyway. The right people/situations will always be forgiving, even if it takes time. You will be happier and feel more positive in the long run. You will also live your life on your terms more than anyone else’s. That’s growth worth going through, too.

For the right people/situations in your life, compromise does have its place. Sometimes it’s your turn, but other times it isn’t and you can make that clear. Saying no is a fine way to do just that.

Saying no is a fine way to do a lot of things.

Do you find it hard to say no? What tips do you have to make saying no easier? Share them in the comments!

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Growing up · Self-love

Eat Pie, Don’t Live It

A slice of red cherry pie
This is not a metaphor for life. Image by Capri23auto via Pixabay

Everyone wants to live a peaceful life at some level. A few peaks and troughs do make things interesting, but in general, I think I can speak for the vast majority of people by saying that some (particularly inner) peace and stability is essential for staying content. We probably all realise as well that gratefulness for what we have and gratitude helps massively in maintaining that peace.

So what’s any of this to do with pie?

Well, in the past few years and more so, recently, I have started really believing that living a good, fulfilling life doesn’t have to come by constant pushing, shoving and competing with other people for all the dangling carrots that appear on our way. We don’t have to hate our current state to do well, and we can actually just take it all quite lightly and go on achieving what we set out to do. No rancour, no endless competitiveness, nothing; just hard work, taking what we need to on the chin and getting on.

I no longer believe that operating in scarcity mode is the best way to get results. In fact, it’s just stressful and seeing people achieve with a lot less emotional drainage has been enlightening and a bit annoying because I realised that I could actually do it too — so could everyone.

The opportunities and resources that can help us live good lives aren’t limited because we aren’t all scrambling for pieces of a pie that will run out. We can get to point B through a different route or maybe through the same one, just in a different time and set of circumstances.

Someone else’s success doesn’t necessitate our own failure, even when it’s identical to the type of success we’ve been seeking. We can (and should!) even celebrate other people’s successes because we don’t live our lives at each other, but rather alongside one another. And opportunities do tend to show up in different shapes and sizes for different people and at different times, and sometimes we have to make our own when we don’t find them. And that’s okay because when the time comes, we will figure out how and see that we can.

The point is, it’s pointless being in an eternal race against everyone and anything we think could hamper our chances of just doing or being what we want. Things will happen the way they’re supposed to, so let’s just try to do/be the thing and relax while we’re at it. We’ll probably be just fine whatever happens and a lot happier than we imagined.

Self-love · Women's issues

A Letter to Survivors of Sexual Misconduct

A piece of paper on a wooden table with an ink drawing on it. There's a fountain pen placed on the letter and crunchy autumn leaves on top.
Image via WerbeFabrik on Pixabay
Dear survivor,

Lately, sexual harassment and assault have been all over the news. It started off with accusations geared towards a few big names in Hollywood and their alleged victims speaking out, narrating accounts that cannot be described as anything short of spine-chilling. Shortly after that, more allegations came to light accusing other types of public figures of sexual misconduct which, of course, also followed with more apologies and some resignations. The most striking thing for you in all of this may have been how this news trickled down to private conversation and the number of (especially) women you know who said that they could relate to being victimised.

Even though each story and circumstance may have been different, you may have started to wonder if surviving sexual misconduct was somehow a female rite of passage — atrocious, silent, and taboo, yet somehow managing to masquerade as just another milestone. It may have brought back feelings and memories you hoped would never have to resurface. It may have even served as a reminder that some things have gone unresolved for a bit too long.

I just want you to know that whatever is happening or has happened, you’re not alone and that you don’t have to go through this thinking you’re alone. You are allowed to heal. You are allowed to speak up. You’re certainly allowed to use your legal right to get justice and you don’t have to put up with buried grief, blame and shame eternally. If something doesn’t or didn’t feel right, you have the right to be protected from it.

You certainly don’t have to be ashamed, even if the loudest voices in and out of your head insist you do. Shame is never the antidote in these situations and it just makes no sense, even though details of each story may differ and the layers seem complex. You were the victim of a crime. That’s it, a crime. Once someone decides that it was okay to violate the sanctity of your body and your sense of self, even if it was just through the spoken word, they have committed a crime, even if it is not punishable in your jurisdiction. So, shame on them and never on you, even if there is a societal insistence to impose a strange standard with sex-related crimes.

Societal messages aren’t always the barometer for justice and morality, sadly, even if we wish they were; we all want to feel supported and like we belong. But the good thing about healing and resilience is that they come from within, no other parties needed. I can’t promise you that it’s instant or easy, but I can absolutely assure you that it’s worth it and that so are you.

With The Lord’s permission, you can absolutely do this, even if you don’t have anyone to cheer you on for this journey right now. He’s there and you’ve also got me, praying for you and wishing you the best. I also can’t tell you for sure, but I have a feeling that you will find and/or know your tribe through this, and the people who give the love and support you need for your healing will stick around — they’re the ones who count. Above all, you count.

Allaah, The Almighty God, knows best.

In solidarity with you,

Tesneem

Body image and body positivity · health · Listicles · Self-love · Women's issues

In pursuit of health and fitness: The body positive way

A heart-shaped china plate filled with raspberries on a wooden table.
Image via PublicDomainPictures/18043 on Pixabay

 

A lot of popular talk on health and fitness across all sorts of platforms seems to be about attaining them so that we could look our best and apparently, as a definite consequence, finally start living our best lives.  We can even see it with marketing campaigns for services that promise to provide customers with the tools to attain health and fitness advertising success with people who’ve used their programmes and attained “hot bodies” as a reward.

Those “hot bodies” are represented as the epitome of fitness that is supposedly attainable for everyone who follows the “right” formula being sold. Because toned legs and a six-pack are the faultless markers of wellbeing, am I right!? [I’m actually absolutely wrong, but you were smart enough to realise that and I am proud.]

Of course, the aesthetics of those advertisements change in line with whatever body type is in and to emphasise whatever body parts being fetishised that season. So fitness is conflated with appearance, which is not only wildly inaccurate but also dangerous. As it’s been documented in human history time and time again, not everyone with a trim physique, bright smile, and glossy hair looks that way because of their impeccable ways; in fact, for a number of people, those looks came at the cost of unhealthy habits and mental strain.

The premise of using attractiveness as a criterion for health and fitness is faulty anyway because of how subjective it is. But above all, everyone is different with different needs and body types.

Now I am not here to tell you precisely what to eat, how to move, or how to do anything, really, to be fit and healthy. But I know that healthier, positive, and particularly, more body positive narratives on these issues that also encourage healthier behaviours are certainly possible. Here are a few tips that can encourage a shift in perspective:

Re-think your understanding of health and fitness

We’re all in need of nutritious food, exercise, good sleep and the rest of it, not just people who want to change how they feel or look.

We’re all living organisms who need to nourish our bodies in ways that allow them to work effectively. Addressing your physical needs isn’t a means to an end; you won’t stop needing to keep up with healthy habits once you have your dream physique or even once you’ve reached your wellness goals.

It’s also important to remember that sometimes our bodies’ appearances may not match up to our ideals even after making conscious efforts to get healthier. And as long as we are actually getting and keeping ourselves healthy, that’s okay.

We are all unique, biological beings after all, and our bodies’ original purpose isn’t to decorate the world. Their original purpose is to be vessels that allow us to navigate our lives, and that’s pretty amazing.

Try to find out what it means to be healthy for you

Because, as discussed above, we’re all unique, biological beings, what being healthy means for one person may not be the same for another. While guidelines for different biomarkers that can give an idea about our health do exist, it’s a good idea to find out what your individual targets should look like.

Want to know how much you should weigh? Ask your doctor. Want to know if your blood work looks good? Your doctor can help with that. Want to know if the sound your shoulder makes when you wake up is normal? You’ve probably guessed it by now, see your doctor.

It’s perfectly understandable that not everyone has a good relationship with their General Practitioner/Primary Care Physician, nor do they necessarily feel that they can address their concerns with them, but really, they’re your best first line of support. If changing doctors is the best option for you, go for it. If you need a referral for more specific care, why not ask for one?

Try to get the ball rolling with the right people, because 2 AM Google searches and advice from Facebook groups tend to have nothing on tailor-made advice from an expert with access to your medical records.

Get friendlier with food

Food is nourishment that we give ourselves a few times a day and comes in a variety of colours and textures, and can taste pretty nice. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? That’s because it is, so it makes sense to develop a good relationship with it.

It’s also a good idea to follow universally accepted advice like eating different types of food so you can get a variety of nutrients, savouring the flavours, and feeding yourself when you’re hungry, and stopping when satisfied. Eat your veggies, and don’t forget to drink water — you know the score.

I found this New York Times article by Dr Aaron E. Carroll to be a great, sensible guide on how to eat healthily that’s based on his knowledge as a paediatrician and health services researcher, which he also shares with his patients. As he himself notes, they’re general guidelines with some scientific backing that make sense and also work for him but are not a substitute for medical advice. He also writes that they may not work for people with metabolic disorders who could have their own dietary needs.

I personally found that taking up an interest in cooking, finding out the flavours I like and experimenting with different foods and recipes helped me develop a healthy, more positive relationship with food as well. Enjoying food does not have to mean or lead to overindulgence, and there doesn’t have to be a fear of that either. You can enjoy great flavour, get sufficient nutrients AND know how to eat when hungry and stop when satisfied; there are no contradictions.

Move in ways you love

Exercise is essential for good health and its benefits are numerous. For the average adult, 150 minutes of moderate activity a week (or 75 minutes of intense activity) is what’s recommended, and it doesn’t have to be hard or boring. Are brisk walks your thing? Do you like to speed things up and go for runs instead? Is playing basketball with your friends your idea of fun? Maybe you have a wide enough living room and you like hula hooping in it? You get the idea. There are a lot of choices available, and you can find something that’s safe and works for you.

You don’t need to be an expert in your activity of choice — the more you do something, the easier it’ll become. Besides the health benefits and the enhanced mood resulting from exercise, you’ll also begin to see what an amazing instrument your body is, which is fundamental to body positivity.

Have you wondered how you can become fitter, healthier AND more body positive? Do you have any of your own tips to achieve that? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Body image and body positivity · Self-love · Social media · Women's issues

On Attacking Women’s Appearances & Fighting Back

A heart-shaped broken mirror against a red background.
Shattered reflection.
Photo credit: “Broken Heart” by Alexander Boden. Used under CC BY-SA 2.0.

It’s never been a secret that some people love to put women down and in specific ways, just because they’re women. It happens online and off. And most of the time, these people formulate their abuse towards women on the most important (sarcasm) thing about them: their appearance!

It happens at school, work and in the media — social or otherwise. Even certain major political figures in the Western hemisphere have been in the news for doing it. It’s almost like there’s a silent, universal rule on how to deal with women who say, do, or exist in ways you don’t like: Attack what they look like saying/doing/being the things you dislike, probably make obscene comments about their sexuality too, and for bonus points, round off the job with a few expletives.

I’ve seen this in various forms, and I know you have too. It’s ugly, repetitive, and of course, terrible for the self-esteem. If cross-culturally, women are conditioned to believe that having good looks is the leg up they need to do well in life and a mean-spirited person wants to break one down by telling her she lacks in that front, it’s going to work.

It shouldn’t be that way. So in true, gal-pal, Tesneem’s Corner style, I am going to reiterate that this is all tosh and fight more in your corner by showing you ways to push back against all of it.

For starters, let’s do some inner work.

No matter what you’ve been told about where your value as a woman lies, it isn’t in your appearance. You’re a whole person, complete with her own strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, and feelings. You are not just your shell — because that’s what your appearance is, your shell (or your skin suit, whatever you want to call it). You need to start believing that.

Spend time exploring your inner workings. What gets you up in the morning? What keeps you up? What do you stand for? It’s never too late to get to know yourself and value her. And you can do this again and again. We forget what we’re made of sometimes, so a nice reminder and even a friendly kick to get us going won’t do us any harm.

Choose to see yourself from the perspective of who you are instead of what you are. Do this every day, and build your identity around that. When you’re secure in yourself, whatever goes on outside of you shakes you less. That includes snide remarks, back-handed compliments and even personal appearance changes that make you feel uncomfortable.

We can’t always control these things or other things that happen to us, but our reaction to them makes a massive difference.

I am not saying that you’re now going to be shielded with a force field that protects you from all distress (and oh do I wish for one!) but hopefully, you’ll grow more resilient and come through the rougher times like the brave person you can be.

It’s also a very good idea to evaluate the places from where you’re most likely to receive harmful messages about your self-worth. Is it social media? The newspapers and magazines from your local newsagent? Conversations with friends?

When you get an idea, start taking steps to limit your exposure to them. You can unfollow those accounts, stop buying those magazines, rip the unnecessary pages from the morning paper, or tell your friends why you don’t like the conversation and change the subject. Whatever it is you have to do, do it.

Now for the outer stuff.

I’ve always believed that what we project on the outside has a strong, bi-directional relationship with what is going on on the inside. How we act isn’t just reflective of our beliefs and feelings, it influences them as well.

We need to pay attention. We’re working on resisting negative messages and seeing ourselves as complete, three-dimensional beings who aren’t just their appearance, yes? So we need to start seeing other women the same way. We are not competitors in some daily, universal, beauty pageant where we have to tear each other apart to win, so we need to act like it.

The more we act on what we learn, the more it has a chance of becoming ingrained in us.

In fact, let’s go a step further and encourage other women to see themselves that way and work together on holistically building true, positive, self and body images.

The take-home message?

The voices that say cruel things about our self-worth can feel deafening, and the messages they send can pierce through our hearts. But we can start muffling them because the work starts within.

And to those that still persist, we, all types of women from everywhere, are just going to let you know that we don’t care. Because change.

Article · Self-love · Women's issues

Why We Should Celebrate Every Day

An up close photograph of red, orange and blue balloons that have streamers of the same colour attached to them
It’s party time! “Red, Blue && Orange Balloons.” by Knar Bedian used under CC BY-SA 2.0

It’s been a while since I realised that emotional well-being is quite a big deal and that I have some control over the flow of things when it comes to it. One of the most rewarding lessons I have learnt since then is to not only take every day as it comes, but to also thoroughly enjoy it.

Now, I can see it already how you could think that I am going to regurgitate the whole “seize the day!” cliché, and while you are partially correct, please hear me out.

Disclaimer: I know firsthand how dealing with a mental health condition makes it hard or impossible to give ourselves a hand up when we’re feeling down. This article does not aim to discredit that, and please do try to get professional help if you are struggling. The strategies I discuss here are what helped me during my lowest times before treatment, after seeking treatment, and still help me today. I hope there’s something here that can benefit everybody.

When going through rough or busy patches in our lives, actively seeking joy tends to take a backseat. We think that because we’re so busy problem solving, that joy is only warranted on special occasions — or at the very least when we’ve solved the problem(s) at hand.

It shouldn’t be this way. Our circumstances aren’t always in our hands, but to a significant extent, how we feel is. Delaying all joy isn’t just miserable and boring, but it also makes solving our problems harder and is a great catalyst to feeling burnt out. And really, how can we be our best selves if we aren’t energised by our own lives? We need our pick-me-ups and dangling carrots until we reach the finish line.

That’s why I think we need to celebrate, and as often as we can. We don’t need to throw daily, whole, one-person parties for ourselves (they’re probably a good idea once in a while, though) but we should acknowledge the good in our lives and treat ourselves by enjoying them as much as we can every day, and being thankful for them.

The special occasion is now, and you deserve to celebrate and feel celebrated now. And this can mean different things to different people, and can shift every day depending on what’s practicable. For me, sometimes it can mean taking the time to end my evening snuggled up in bed with hot chocolate and listening to my favourite poems, even if there’s a looming deadline. Other times it can mean dressing up even if I am staying at home the whole evening and not expecting anyone. Sometimes, my way of celebrating the moment can mean accepting an invite out during a weeknight. No deadline, solitude, nor weeknight can stop me from celebrating the moments I have; they are worth celebrating just because they exist.

When we treat every day like it’s a special occasion and embellish it with the things that make us smile, we feel happier and more worthy, and it becomes easier to deal with the hard times. I am so down with that.

What little things do you do to celebrate your life? Share them in the comments!

Listicles · Self-love · Social media

4 Ways To Keep Your Cool As An Opinionated Person On Social Media

7 wooden spoons in front of a black background. Each spoon has a social media handle on it placed on powder matching the handle's dominant colour. A spoon with red powder has the Pintrest logo placed on it, another with orange power for RSS, yellow for Snapchat, green for Vine, light blue for Twitter, dark blue for Facebook, and purple for Instagram

For many of us, social media isn’t just used to connect with friends and colleagues across the globe, it’s also our platform of choice when we want to make ourselves heard. While it can be good to express ourselves and hear from people who think differently, sometimes it can get a bit heated. So from one opinionated person to another, here are some tips to make for smoother, less temperamental sailing on the interwebs:

1. Think before you speak — really

Being behind a screen means that you can actually buy yourself time to carefully think about what you want to say! This means that you have more of an opportunity to think of how you can communicate your message in the best tone and style possible. You also have more time to understand what someone actually means to say.

Not only are you then more likely to express yourself clearly, but you’ll also have time to cool off if someone writes something that really bugs you. This means that you will minimise the chance that you will say something you will regret, and that’s good because you probably don’t want to write paragraphs apologising for going on a rampage and/or explaining how you were misunderstood. Which brings me to the next point…

2. Be clear

Dr Suess made a good point when he said “say what you mean, and mean what you say,” and it’s totally relevant for social media, and the internet in general. It’s hard as it is always nailing what people mean when they speak to us face to face, let alone with the added difficulty of not being able to rely on physical cues or tone of voice.

Although we cannot always avoid misunderstanding — and as a result, conflict — we can do our part by wording our messages as clearly as we can to minimise the chances of any of those things happening.

3. Avoid subtweeting, subposting or subanything-ing

Subtweeting, or subposting in any other social media platform, is the act of posting something (usually negative) alluding to a particular person, but without mentioning their name. Don’t do it, and don’t engage when someone else does.

Not only does it look juvenile and petty, but it doesn’t solve the problem you have with the person. Trust me on this one. All you will probably accomplish is attracting a gaggle of negative comments that fuel the frustration you are already feeling. It’s wasted energy that comes at the expense of your inner peace; and nothing is worth that, even if you have a point.

4. Walk away

You can’t control or change what everyone is saying or doing, but you can control how much you let it affect you. Not only are you free to decide what you want to engage with, but also how much you engage with it. Just because there’s an impassioned debate about something you care or know a lot about, it doesn’t mean you need to stay in it until it ends with your word.

It’s also perfectly okay to decide what you don’t want to see at all in the first place, and hide content you find inflammatory or even distressing. You are also well within your rights to mute/unfollow the well-meaning relative/friend who insists on posting misinformation to show “an alternative point of view”. People will believe and think what they want, and your self-care comes first.

What tips do you have for more AND less opinionated people on social media? Share them in the comments!

 

 

Photo credit: Visual Content Social Media Marketing Mix via photopin (license) https://howtostartablogonline.net

Growing up · Self-love · Women's issues

A tale of two women, gratitude, and why it matters

I have met a couple of women who have made a notable impact in my life. I need to thank them, and I also need to talk about them.

Both of these women were my teachers, and I met them a couple of years apart. They both come from different backgrounds, look different to one another, and you would also probably never guess that they have much in common when seeing them. But not only did they both teach me the same subject, they also taught me essential life lessons that I have carried with me beyond the realms of the classroom, and hope to retain for the rest of my life.

My relationships with these women went deeper than the subject of study. Between lessons, we had conversations  about our personal journeys, past experiences, and how we came to be the people we are. Oh, and sometimes there was tea involved as well.

Although I will only be able to share a couple of anecdotes from my time with them, listening to their stories of loss, failure, and even personal tragedy has permanently altered my perspective on a number of things.

Showing gratitude to people who help us along the road is essential. (I actually drew that, friends)

I remember when one of them talked about an accident that almost killed her and had left her severely disfigured. Despite this, she was due to give a presentation a week or so later, and had certainly delivered it, missing teeth and all.

This particular story still stays with me years later because it cements the importance of showing up.

It doesn’t matter what you have been through, and it certainly doesn’t matter what you look like, if you have things that need to be done, and you are fit enough for a task at hand — because self care always comes first — then execute them the way you know best, even if something as crucial and glaringly obvious as facial reconstruction surgery is due in the forseeable future.

The version of this woman that I had met almost a couple of decades later was a fun, empathetic individual who truly didn’t sweat the small stuff. In fact, she herself credited the accident in changing the way she viewed life.

She always seemed very interested in the diverse lives of people she met, and had enjoyed talking about what she learnt about and from them. She was also embracing of opportunity and change. The last I heard from her was when we said our goodbyes during our last lesson together, before she was set to start a new life, in her fifties, with her family across the pond.

A couple of years prior, the other talked to me about how as a young teenager, she was somewhat grudgingly pushed out of her comfort zone at school when it came to picking electives for her course of study. Her father encouraged her to pick subjects in which she had little background talent to fall back on, and that’s exactly what she did. But, the hard work she had to put in to catch up with her peers, and to excel, had led to her making great strides throughout her student years.

Over a decade later from those events, she would find herself in a similar situation. She would wind up in a different country, in a completely different continent where she didn’t speak any of the official languages fluently. She was forced to start from the beginning and learn how to live and communicate as she went along.

Between that time and the time we met, she had worked a number of jobs — some unsuccessfully — and her life could have taken many different paths, until she discovered one where she felt more or less centred.

She once said something to me along the lines of “I was fired many times,” but then made it clear how essential it was in molding her into the person she would become. Under her scholarship, she made sure to engrain in me what she had learnt in her younger years: no matter how much talent I have in something to start off, with consistent hard work, I would be able to accomplish whatever I set out to do. The lessons she learnt during her formative years had in turn shaped mine.

Whether from the words they spoke to me directly, or from the ones they shared with me in telling their stories, both of these women have taught me lessons on resilience, stretching my strengths and even engaging with my creative self. Both of them helped me see that my potential reached beyond what I thought, and that most importantly, I could get there. They saw and treated me as a young woman who had a lot more going for her than what she looked like or possessed materially.

They saw a whole person, even during the times when I didn’t see myself that way. And sadly, many young women may not, especially during the years where we’re still trying to figure ourselves out, and trying to muddle through all the mixed messages about how we’re supposed to be. I need to thank these women for playing a role in my reaffirming my unique personhood.

In a world that tells women and girls that the most important things about them are what can be seen externally as opposed to what they think or feel, it’s important for them to learn to view and accept themselves as whole, complex, three-dimensional people. It’s also important for them to recognise and honour the people who remind them of this. And that’s why I felt that I needed to write this, and that it matters.

Body image and body positivity · Body Positivity · Self-love

Hiatuses, conversations on self-acceptance, and selectiveness

السلام عليكم و رحمة الله و بركاته

It’s been over a year. I know, I am sorry.

I never intended to be away for this long, but see, a lot of things went on between now and my last post. Let’s say that I successfully graduated university, and I have done well and I made myself and others proud. I pulled through quite nicely despite the rough patches in between. Alhamdu lIllaah. Does that mollify my absence a little bit? (Please say yes)

My sister and I talked about something a couple of moons ago that I have been meaning to share here.

Unique personalities and life experiences are valid. (Image by flickr user richardoyork)

We spoke about the different parts of our identities, and how we live in a world where people try to make us and others less multi-dimensional than we actually are. We said that this takes shape in several ways; some want to flatten and tune out certain parts of us that we are born with, or even do that with certain personality traits and idiosyncrasies that have been a part of us for a long time. Others may want to narrow us down to certain stereotypes or perceptions that come with whatever labels they’ve assigned to us, and may still be unwilling to budge when they learn, inevitably, that we don’t and can’t strictly conform to them.

The conclusion for us was that we were going to accept and completely acknowledge all parts of ourselves: the weird, the funny, the ugly and the contradictory. We also decided that we weren’t going to entertain people who make us feel deficient, or want to snuff out the bits of ourselves that feel uncomfortable to them.

I felt like I needed to talk about this here because this conversation wasn’t just important for me or my sister. I felt that there was a common theme with a lot of us; we feel the need or at least the pressure to smooth out bits of ourselves that we think are too much or are just unpalatable, especially when it comes to thinking about the way others perceive us.

And I am not talking about the character flaws that we can all have and work on, but we are indeed unique people who have our own special markers that are not going to be liked or accepted by everyone. And that’s okay. The point is that we, above everyone else, should at least be accepting of them. But liking them is certainly cool and a step ahead, totally work on getting there if you can.

And that’s where selectiveness comes in. It’s absolutely okay to weed out the people/things/situations that give you a diminished sense of self worth. You certainly won’t miss out, and doing this just might make living a little bit nicer and lighter, because only the nicer and lighter things around you are left. Even looking back now at some “toxic” (this word is so overused online, I know) circumstances were snatched away from me against my will, I can now honestly say — after some bickering and crying, of course — that I don’t want them back.

So, yeah. Be self-accepting, and totally selective. You deserve it.

I hope to write to you all again, soon.

Photo credit: richardoyork Memorial, Bilbao via photopin (license)

Islam · Self-love

Islam and (My) Identity Politics

I have recently found myself caught up in a lot of thinking about the concepts of race and identity and so on, perhaps due to being bombarded with a lot of news and events that centre on these issues. Not infrequently, I wondered where I could place myself in the mesh of labels that exist, because codifying my existence in such specific ways within the human race is “important”, apparently.

Yesterday, after neglecting to pick up the Qur’an and recite from its passages for a while (May Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta’aala forgive me, please don’t do this, dear readers) I decided to do just that.

A photo of an open Mus-haf, a copy of the Qur'an, seemingly with tafseer (exegesis) written on the sides of the page with a black background.
I was reading passages from Surat Aali-‘Imran, where many figures from Islamic tradition were mentioned, such as Maryam (Mary) radi Allaahu ‘anha (May Allaah be pleased with her), her parents Radi Allaah ‘anhum (May Allaah be pleased with them), Prophet Zakariyyah (Zachary) ‘alayhis-salam (peace be upon him) and Prophet ‘Easa (Jesus) ‘alayhis-salam (peace be upon him).

My mind wandered into the concept of identifying with figures in Islamic tradition based on geographical region. I knew that this was a flawed approach, even while engaged in thought. Then, thought about the fact that in Islam, labels like that don’t mean anything, and that human diversity was created by the will of Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta’aala and was a sign from Him, as He tells us in the Qur’aan:

“And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of your languages and colours. Verily, in that are indeed signs for men of sound knowledge.” [30:22]

“O mankind! We have created you from male and female and have made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Indeed the most noblest of you with Allaah is the one who has the most taqwaa.” [49:13].

It felt refreshing to (re)realise that what ties people with the figures that we revere in Islamic tradition is not any of the worldly things such as ethnicity, colour, wealth, tribe or social status, but it’s the belief and the acceptance of the message with which they came. That is where brotherhood in Islam comes from, nothing else.

photo credit: Al-Qur’an by Ibn Ar-Rashid via photopin (license)