Growing up · Self-love

Ramblings on pauses, reverses and fresh starts and the like

بسم الله

AsSalaamu alaikum wa rahmat Allaah wa barakatuh and greetings to everyone,

Welcome aboard..again..after a long break  (an extended period of negligence?) and thank you all for sticking around to read this.

Life this academic year turned out to be quite different than expected. For starters, although it was an “academic” year,  it wasn’t an academic year in the I-am-in-full-time-education-and-I-am-solemnly-abiding-by-that sense. Somewhere between Julyish and Augustish in 2014, I decided that I wasn’t going back to university for my final year, because although  the university experience was swimming with positives, I couldn’t go back immediately just yet. I had things to sort through, perhaps even ever-so-slightly, a life to fix .

As with any variation in life’s seasons, I had inevitably embraced this one with all its crookedness. Despite taking the conscious decision to do things differently for the year, back-tracking, regret and the feeling of missing out were themes that appeared less infrequently than I would have liked.

But fruits had been borne. Lots.

Walking the actual walk of experiencing life with less linearity is definitely one of the things that I have found to be easier said than done; I know, how obvious. But we plan and God plans, and His plans are always better than ours.

Even when they sting at first.

Feelings of regret and shame, and even slight envy at those who were doing things closer to the way they planned had occurred less infrequently than I would have liked. But how? After all, I made this decision, yes? But I wanted to stick to plan, and this was not what my 18-year-old “fresher” self had planned.

I really didn’t want to feel answerable to anyone about why I didn’t just get university over with once and for all, or what had prompted me to do things this way or whatever. I wanted to absolutely fall head-over-heals for my own choices no matter what, and to just twirl in the honeymoon phase, always and forever.

I spent the months between September and December doing and trying to do different things and then since January, I have been working as a schoolteacher. So that’s where I have been. I (partially) swapped the journalism/blogging/miscellaneous writing life for 5 AM starts, board markers, instant coffee, constantly-multiplying pieces of paper, excessively-boisterous children and of course, report-card drama. That awesomely challenging chapter of my life had wrapped up over two months ago. Alhamdu lIllaah.

That was the vocational bit. But, as is with everyone else, I’m probably a bit more than skin, bones, clothes and a designation, so we all know that this post won’t end here.

The simple act of taking myself out of the environment I was in — even if only for a little while — had given me the ability to detach myself from whatever I formerly perceived as expected or routine,  and because of that, I could form a more honest perspective on things and make decisions that better served me.

The result? A melange of better self-care, increased clarity and direction, and episodes of sadness and despair which were often born out of both a heightened awareness of just how destructive some of my habits were (are) and unsavoury circumstances, and joy I couldn’t anticipate .

Treading on the subject of self-care, it is true what the self-help folks say, oodles of positive things do result from it. And it isn’t all about scrubbing up well for every living second of the day, or burning a lavender candle in your room; taking the time to do anything that is important for you to live a positive, quality life is self-care.

My version of self-care included tweaking bits of my daily routine, welcoming perspective changes, getting treated for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and even working to make my spell as a teacher smoother.  God entrusted me with the blessing that is life and all the other blessings that come with it, and I am still to give them their due.

It is true that not everyone will be in a situation that will permit them to move away from current life in a conspicuous way, and I know that my combination of circumstances will not always be readily available for everyone, perhaps not even myself in another point of time. But I hope that you,and everyone else, can acknowledge that it is possible that there is no inherent rightness in what is seen as “linearity” or conforming to expectation. I hope you can forge a way to work things out. If you’re struggling with the way it’s all going, be it because of hardship or a mere desire for change, it doesn’t have to be this way forever.

Get a bit uncomfortable if you need to. Just do you, correctly and with good intentions.  And Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta’aala (God Exalted be He) is the Most Generous.

Now here’s a visual account of what my version of The Teacher life (#theteacherlife) looked like:

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See you all soon.

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

Living through the noise (or, Part 2: What having a body while being female means + loving thy body)

If you’ve been here before, you’ll know that I write quite a bit about body-image, self-esteem and self-love generally, and that these topics are some of the nearest and dearest to my heart. You may have also  stumbled across (Slightly Edited) What having a body while being female means + loving thy body before ( subtle nudge at you to read it) and gained some sort of understanding of where I stand when it comes to this. This post might be a smooth continuation of its predecessor, or something completely different, or just a daft attempt at saying the exact same things again, you decide.

Disclaimer: This topic is very personal to me, so a large part of this post is going to be reflective and I will be speaking from my own experiences. Any ideas or tips I shell out in this post will be a reflection of that. I am not a professional of any kind, and I recognise that I won’t be able to speak for everyone who has struggled or is struggling with body-image issues and I apologise in advance for any shortcomings in this post. I just hope that this can help someone see things from a different perspective or at least bring forth some conversation.

My personal experiences with negative body image were  sadly not limited to short-lived strops at high-street shops or  quick bouts of insecurity after hearing a comment on my appearance. The confusion arising from conflicting A couple of brown coloured hands aggainst a purplish background making a heart shape. The heart shape is made by joining the thumbs together to make a the pointy shape at the bottom of the heart, and joining the index fingers together to complete the heart shape on top. The picture has been edited to give it a sketch like look.external messages about my physique, unwelcome comments, coupled with the messages I got from society about what my body means/should mean/should be had obviously skewed the perception I had about my body and my relationship with it for quite a while. This propelled me into the cobweb of seeing my body as less of the amazing, intricately-fashioned medly of systems and functions that it truly is, and more of a mess of hair and skin that worked almost-full-time shifts as a tool to exercise people’s judging and opinion-making abilities. This learned insistence to be hyper-aware of the way my body is viewed externally meant that I myself had often looked at it from the outside in. I was self-objectifying, which I later learned to (sadly) be quite a thing with women and girls.

Naturally, the socially-perpetuated idea that my value lies heavily on my exterior was reinforced in me, and my self-esteem in those facets had suffered. I say “facets” because I do not believe self-esteem and confidence to be monolithic. While I was growing to be quite an outspoken adolescent who more often than not stood by her beliefs and opinions and was self-assured and confident in quite a few ways, all praises and thanks to God Almighty, the self-objectifying bogeyman still didn’t miss out on holding the floor when it could. I think that when people start to think that their value depends on things they really don’t, they become vulnerable to believing that a lack in those things will limit their living experience somehow. I believed some of those limitations. I now feel a type of disconnect thinking about all of this, because as I grow into my beliefs and increasingly go understand my creed, these types of ideas can no longer really fit. All praises and thanks to God, always and for everything.

One day, during a rendezvous with the interwebs a few years ago, and I stumbled across a blog where a young woman wrote about her journey with body image.  I found that surprisingly/exhilaratingly/my insides-quietly-jumping-with-happiness-and-relief-ingly her struggles resembled were similar to mine. But, she saw things differently to me and in ways I didn’t used to believe were completely possible. She didn’t see that self-love, even when it came to body image, was conditional in that it could only exist if she changed the things about her body that she didn’t like and if she got her body to “behave” the way she thought it should. To her, there were no befores and afters where body-love and other self-love were concerned. Although I was blessed to grow up with parents who didn’t really stress on my appearance, and had repeatedly drummed into me the message that it wasn’t the most important thing in the world, their ideas couldn’t completely settle with all of the other conflicting ones. And they just didn’t understand, so I thought. But there it was, someone who understood “the struggle” and was navigating through it with a refreshing outlook. It felt good learning reading further, so I just gave it a chance.

All the things I read about loving myself just the way I am, even if I do want to change/I am trying to change, had properly sunk in for the first time in probably, ever…Well…. pre-adolescent childhood doesn’t count because micro-mini Tesneem wasn’t really about the body-negative life. And let me tell you, it was really, really, nice! All praises and thanks to God. Learning to wholly embrace myself, flaws and everything, was wonderful. Seeing myself differently, and my body differently, by seeing the functional miracle it is, learning that health and wellness doesn’t look the same for everyone, and simply respecting physical diversity represented in myself and others felt much lighter, a lot more positive and just plain fantastic.

I was beautiful, righ then, and not to the exclusion of my imperfect exterior either. I found more beauty in it, and I just didn’t think it was all that necessary any longer to be next-to-perfect. Yes I had to keep improving the way I treated my body, by feeding, moving, and resting it in ways that will make it feel top — something I am still working on even today. But the motivators for this had changed slightly. It was also more grounded in me that everyone needs to get on with the same things, no matter who they are or what they look like. Health and wellness is for everyone, not just for people who want to lose a stone or two. I started doing more things that made me happy, wore the things that I felt were flattering (with limits and varying according to where I was, obvs, I observe the hijab) and I walked with confidence. It’s not even that I didn’t do those things before; it’s just that this time, I actually meant it and cared a lot less about the way any of it was viewed by others.

Of course, as with anything in this world, it wasn’t all linear and confortable all the time. I certainly had setbacks and I really felt the troughs. But it was definitely the start of bigger, better, and definitely sparklier, things. And that’s what it is. Loving yourself right now. Thinking you’re beautiful enough right now. Realising that you are worth so much and owning that fact, right now. No questions, no exceptions. I haven’t conducted any studies on this sort of thing and base this very largely on my experiences, but I think that when it comes to learning to live and work with your body, and on a grander scale, your whole self, it’s much harder to make lasting, positive changes when you’re running short on self-love. Remember that your whole self, including your body, are going to be with you for an entire lifetime, and have been with you non-stop from the day you were born. So, your treatment of them, like the opinions you express on them and your validation of them, matter a lot more and will have a longer-lasting impact than anyone else’s .

Yes, reinforcement from others that you are marvellous, loved and simply enough just the way you are at the moment feels good and nudges you a bit more to believe those things too. But people change their minds all the time and perceive things in their individual ways, and that’s just too fickle for you to rely on, and you’re worth more than fickle. To some people, you’re going to be very close to a real-life version of their idea of aesthetic perfection, and that’s lovely. But to others, you’re going to be just the opposite, and that’s fine as well. We are all unique and have unique beauty to go with, just not everyone sees it. That’s cool. In the end, you’re going to have to live with yourself and your thoughts, so it’s worth making this journey as pleasant as it can be.

You’re not going to be kind to yourself every living second, or every day, week, month and maybe even every year, but you owe it to yourself and the God-given blessing that is life, to give it a go.  I wasn’t even put here on this earth to stress about my body-image , and God Almighty knows that I am not, nor will I ever be perfect, so why hate on myself? Why hate on yourself? The way I see it, if God Almighty can forgive me infinitely if I seek it, then I am worth living, learning and giving things a shot — I just am!

Look around. There  are beautiful people out there across the shape, size, colour, ability, and even ethnic and cultural spectrums who are living happy, colourful, fruitful lives. People who are doing spectacularly cool, positive things and are contributing to the lives of their loved ones, their communities and the world in with all their idiosyncracies , and in the most wondrous ways. People who have all kinds of fulfilling relationships with others who have accepted them and their human-ness, wholesale. So clichés and all, none of the factors written above should stop you from being the person you want to be and having the type of life you want to have. And if anyone wants to put limits on you based on them, that you know objectively do not exist (which you may need to double-check that with those in a position to tell you, because your version “objective” is not always that), nor have been codified in any type of law or policy or whatever, pay no mind, no matter how much it stings. They can’t even tell the future anyway.

And the noise eventually becomes quieter.

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

On girl to girl relationships, competition and bla

I figured that this would be a relatively touchy topic for a lot of people and may just get a few people clicking onto this post’s link a bit apprehensively. But I promise, I will not be going into the conventional woman-hating dialogue (you know that won’t come from me!)  In fact, I want to make my baby-footed effort to help quash it.

I’m going to be “real” here and tell it to you as it is: I love my girls and think that sisterly bonds are just marvelous.

I’ve always been a girl’s girl, and I hold my girl-friends dear. I have always loved it when we banded together, whether it was for planning how we’ll spend time together, or figuring out how to pull-off something of more importance. I have similarly pleasant feelings when it comes to working with women who aren’t closest to me.

It goes without saying that because I feel what I feel, I am absolutely bugged by the commonly churned-out rhetoric that we women are and are always expected to be out to get each other, that we only bring drama and cannot be trusted with one another. It’s almost seems like we’re made out to be perpetually envious, and incapable of wanting good for one another without letting the green-monster have a foot in so that together, we could conspire to bring other women down .

Unfortunately, this competitive buffoonery is not something I can say I have been sheltered from. Witnessing the consequences of this competition-oriented socialisation has not been pretty — but this didn’t all come together in a vacuum. As females we are told subliminally and not-so-subliminally that our value is directly proportional to the amount of the superficial and volatile we have at our disposal. Prettiness and popularity, coupled with male attention and validation are some of the things shoved at our face as things to give primary importance to. Because there isn’t anything else we need to pay attention to, is there?

If from a young age, females are exposed to the mantra that they can only find their value in such  “all-important” determiners of worth, and that these same determiners are made to seem almost scarcely distributed and therefore chase-worthy, even at huge costs, what type of dynamic do you expect to resonate with their malleable minds? We need to do a better job at examining where the blame for all of this really lies — and this is not to suggest that we can or should pin it all down to one place, either.

I find it tragically laughable that it is anticipated that I will swallow the nonsense that I should expect to compete with and have my back stabbed by a fellow woman, by the exact same culture whose values could be the reason that Ms Hypothetical Woman stabbed me on the back.

How about this: let’s reject the venomous jibes that tell us we need to constantly look over our shoulder and simultaneously be insecure about things over which we have limited control, and that can only stay and benefit us for so long.  Let’s understand that hating on the people who are probably victimised by the same things we are is only a recipe for self-sabotage.

It isn’t really a secret here that I  am a Muslim, and therefore, a believer in God, so I will share with you how I see all of this with my personal life-view:

There is absolutely no reason for me to compete with a woman who is just like me. A person. Incredibly flawed and has her own quirks, difficulties and insecurities. This brings me no benefit, because tearing her down will not make me any better and will not make my life any better, and will in fact,  worsen it somewhere in the long-run. There is no scarcity in anything, even those things that we’re “supposed” to be trying  snatch before they “run out”; because beauty, popularity, grades, career prospects and yes, ladies, even marital prospects (this is a pre-mature-bridal-war-free zone, thanks) are in God’s hands. No, that doesn’t mean I sit idly and wait for things to fall into place because I do need to take action; but no amount of stepping on people, eves-dropping, rumour-spreading or mirror hogging is going to change what is to come. Fate. It will be what it will be. I need to drive my attention to, invest in and cultivate the things that I can control and that will serve me in the long-term.

I need to me-positive, and I can’t do that with heightened antenna-like awareness for things are probably none of my business. I can’t keep waiting for things, people and circumstances to validate my existence.

That’s pointless anyway because as always, haters gonna hate, craters gonna crate.

Uncategorized

Updates, and so on, and so forth

Hello Cornerers! (I need to get better at this)

Although I’m sure that blog-reading has not been the same for you in these almost two months that I’ve been missing, it’s okay now, I’m here again.

I am kind of writing this post for myself in an attempt to de-construct what has been going on in my world but in a verbosely palatable way. If you found that this hits home with you in any way, then I am glad that this shareable was relevant to you. If it didn’t, then consider this to be my way of letting you in, and maybe when you gracefully depart from these premises, you would have taken a sweet little knick-knack that might come in handy someday. Just maybe.

So these passed two to three months have been a bit turbulent and a lot has happened, and of course, being who I am I often had a lot of semi-quality time with my own head and undoubtedly, thoughts were born. I realised that it really bites losing sight of the things that I want and think are important, in exchange for catering to and investing mental energy on things that beyond superficial, ephemeral gratification, neither serve me nor actually have my care at a profound level.

A spider diagram  drawn with a black marker on ruled white paper
A (definitely exaggerated) representation of my thought processes lately.

I am of course all for enjoying things for just what they are sometimes, and I don’t want to always think too deeply about everything; but in time, things have got to give. Putting my energies in the fleeting in hopes that they will fix what was supposed to take a bit more than a glue-on job, or that they will somehow manage to  fill  deep, specifically-squiggly edged holes, was not cutting it. Nor was swaying from one numbing and/or distracting agent to another, mostly the mental kind ( the rest occasionally came in the form of Nutella).

I think it’s a common human behaviour to put off stripping down all the all the phony layers and confronting what is really happening, head-on.  And it’s not just when it comes to the things which unsettle us, but also the things we need to and might really want to do, because of looking at the perceived enormity of the work needed to be done to do it , or that it might just be a little bit uncomfortable, even if said thing could be one of the best things you could do for yourself, or at least a catalyst to make what could be the best of things happen.

And what a way for me to lose sight of important chunks of who I am! Inevitably, detracting from the things that are the most important to me and focusing on what I see as “lesser things”  would have very well made me lose sight of who I was or what I want to achieve. The way I see it, these things that we hold so dear and think to be essential probably acquired that status because they are probably also the things that make us, well, us! A good portion of them are probably the values to which we aspire to live up or to just keep.

I haven’t exactly made any huge transitions yet, but I am definitely getting there. It’s been interesting seeing myself deliberately decide that I was going to make a move; I was going to pack my things and get away from the things I just didn’t want to linger in any longer. Thinking about it now, the decision itself is rather weighty and can be compelling, for some. I talk quite a lot about self-love here and making the best of your current circumstances and so on, and so forth, so on that same token, I also want to be the one to say that when a disconnect (or two, or three) starts to materialise, it may be time to go back to the start – home, in a way.

It’s also nice to hear from you all again.

 

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

Interview: Surviving Breast Cancer at 27

Breast cancer is an illness often associated with older women and although 8 out of 10 cases of breast cancer are those of women aged 50 and over, young women can also be affected. Lauren Bash, the vice-president of Fighting Pretty, a charity dedicated to helping women going through the illness to regain confidence and feel beautiful during or after their battle with it, speaks to me from across the pond about her own battle with the illness. The now healthy 30-year-old recalls what it was like to be diagnosed with breast cancer and having to fight it at the tender-age of 27, and talks about why she is now giving back.

A pink breast cancer ribbon painted against a black background made by paint but not fully covering the light-brown/beige surface (paper) on which it is painted
Owning it in pink.

“It felt like my world was crashing down around me,” Bash says, recalling the moment she received her diagnosis. A month earlier, Bash says that she felt a “pea-sized ball” on the lower left-side of her left breast but waited until she had her annual gynaecology appointment to address it with her doctor. The doctor sent her to get a sonogram which revealed a 10cm lump which spanned from her nipple to the wall of her chest.  At that stage, she says, the lump was still suspected to be benign. “They thought it was just Fibroadenoma,” she says.  Despite the doctor’s suspicions, an MRI was still ordered and was followed by a biopsy which revealed the result that changed her life. “I had DCIS in my left breast,” Bash says. Two days before her best-friend’s wedding and four months before her own, Bash’s diagnosis could not come at a more difficult time: “I had to give a speech [at her best-friend’s wedding] and act like nothing was wrong after finding out I had breast cancer at 27 years old.”

The diagnosis also brought back unease from the past for Bash.“I watched my mum suffer through her surgery just a few years earlier, but I never imagined at the time that I would have to endure what she did,” she says. Bash says that until this day, the shock of her diagnosis feels surreal.

The then young bride-to-be went on with her treatment which consisted of a bilateral mastectomy, and this did not come without its struggles. “My breasts were my prized possessions, so to lose them almost felt like losing an arm or a leg. They made me feel sexy and confident,” she says, “it is hard to face this at any age, but when you are 27 with hopes to start a family someday with your husband, it makes you question if you will ever have the self-confidence to do that.”  The big up-side, she says, is that she did not require chemo therapy or radiation and after having the mastectomy, her treatment was complete and she was declared cancer-free soon after. She was given the all-clear over 18 months ago.

Although breast cancer is no longer a part of Bash’s anatomy, being the vice-president of Fighting Pretty still makes it a big part of her life. She says that she felt that the only way she was going to get through the trauma the illness brought was if she helped other women who also went through or are going through the same thing: “by making other women feel strong, I was going to become stronger and be able to cope with what I had just been through.” She also says that meeting women who also went through the breast cancer is “very therapeutic”, and until this day she maintains ties with women she met who also survived the illness.

These days, Bash sees every day as a blessing and won’t let a day go by without making the most of it. “Sometimes it takes such a devastating experience to realise what a good life you have,” she says.  Bash also says that she isn’t going to let the way her body changed hold her back, and even though she has hang-ups sometimes, she strives to keep moving forward. “I survived by removing my breasts, and that’s all that matters,” she says, “I look at the scars that replaced them [her breasts], it reminds me of how strong I am and what a fighter I am.”   When feeling down, Bash says she she looks to what she calls her “support system” to bring her back up. Someone who she credits for sticking around throughout her battle is her husband: “my husband has supported everything I’ve done to survive and doesn’t physically look at me any differently.”

So if you’re a young woman and you think you have breast cancer symptoms, what do you do? Bash stressed that seeing a doctor ASAP is important and says: “if something doesn’t feel right, do something about it.  Don’t wait and see what happens.” And if you already have Breast cancer, Bash says that support is available: “know that you are not alone. There are support groups and resources out there for you.”

If you want to know more about Fighting Pretty or to contribute by sending a donation or a Pretty Package, or just want to know how to get in touch, visit: http://www.fightingpretty.org.

Article · Features

Feature: Britain’s Invisible Faces of HIV

According to the National Aids Trust (NAT), the number of children under-18 estimated to be living with HIV in the UK is around 1,200 and as treatments and awareness continue to improve, this number continues to see a decline. However, because silence persists about this invisible HIV-positive community, the stigma still remains. I investigate just what it is that is keeping paediatric HIV a silent taboo.

Image

Although it is true children make only a tiny proportion of those living with the virus in the UK, HIV can still be as – if not more – destructive  for them as it is for the most at-risk groups – men who have sex with men and heterosexual, UK-based Black Africans – to whom the majority of HIV-awareness campaigns are targeted. Darshan Baskaran, a cell biologist and PhD student researching HIV says: “the only thing I am aware of [in terms of differences between the effect of HIV in children and adults] is that the progression to Aids may be quicker in children because they have a young immune system.”

For children currently living with the virus in this country, the most likely way they contracted it was through mother-to-child transmission, according to Abi Carter, the participation officer of the Children’s HIV Association (CHIVA).

“Most of the children we work with were born in the 90s,” she says, and says that they don’t work with as many younger children in the organisation thanks to the relatively new introduction of routine testing of HIV in pregnant mothers which has kept mother-to-child transmission of the virus under control in recent years.  Carter adds that these days, only around one per cent of all babies born in a year to HIV-positive mothers will carry the virus.

But despite the reality that today you can don a red-ribbon in public without attracting scornful stares, at large, attitudes towards HIV and Aids and those affected by it are far from friendly. Ideas that HIV is a death sentence reserved for the promiscuous, poor and marginalised still cloud British society, and children are not exempt from these stigmas.

Although it is uncommon for children living with the virus to have contracted it sexually, many have been subject to bullying and mistreatment due to the idea that they may have contracted it that way: “we have lots of examples of young people whose statuses have been made public and they would be called ‘slags’,” Carter says.

Because many HIV-positive children are only told about their statuses when they are older, by the time they find out, Carter says, many of them would have already internalised the stigmas attached to the illness: “a lot of them are in complete denial, they don’t want to know that this has happened.” And the mothers of these children are not spared of this suffering either; they often end up shouldering the guilt that comes with both passing the virus onto their children – which may have happened unknowingly –  and not telling them at an early age that they have been infected.

Although charity organisations like CHIVA try to create safe spaces for children where stigma is curbed as much as possible, children cannot be completely sheltered from it. “We advocate that they [the children] are told from an early age about it [their HIV status]…we advocate that it’s always named,” Carter says. But she says that children are told that their status has to be kept a secret because of the stigma they could face: “a school contacted us when the HIV-status of a child became public; they were worried about the parents’ reaction.”

The misconceptions that Carter says some children and their parents have about interacting with HIV-positive people are the kind that HIV-awareness campaigns have tried to debunk time and time again. No, you can’t get HIV from sharing food with HIV-positive people, or from swimming with them, and you won’t get it from hugging or kissing them either.

But stigma and the inevitable bout of ignorance attached to it seem to not just be limited to people’s conversations. A 20-year-old Politics student who just goes by the name “Georgia” thinks that classes like her year seven sex-education class have had a part to play as well: “they taught us that it [HIV] was really easy to catch and that it would ruin our lives, and that we wouldn’t be able to live a normal life, which is completely untrue!”

She also says that she thinks that she and the other children probably left class that day with the idea that even being around someone HIV-positive would have somehow put them at risk of contracting the virus.  She later learned, however, that HIV was not the end-all she thought it was after talking to her mother, whose close friend was living with  the virus.

After that class, she says, the word “Aids” became an insult: “I remember after this [the class] there were a few of the popular boys who if they didn’t like something, they would say it was ‘Aids’, like, ‘the class is Aids’…it was just a big joke.” Georgia also says that at that time, the thought that children could contract HIV was unimaginable, unless they had been sexually-active. But now, she says, she knows that’s not true because she took it upon herself to do some research. “It should have been taught then,” she says.

So what exactly can be done to break the silence on paediatric HIV? And how can we help those who have been affected?  “Kids need to feel like they are not alone, like they’re not the only people in the country going through this,” says Carter. She also adds: “we need the people to raise awareness for themselves. The rates of HIV are increasing among the heterosexual White population.”

Georgia also thinks that awareness is key and says: “I think there needs to be a lot more awareness, especially about the fact that it is not just contracted sexually, and I think people need to know that it is no longer a death sentence.”

If you would like more information on CHIVA or paediatric HIV, visit their website  at: http://www.chiva.org.uk

Creative

Poem: In The Valley

This is a piece I wrote at the end of December, I hope you like it!

I sometimes catch myself wavering from side to side,

Not knowing if its right to stay or hide.
It would have been a lot easier if I didn’t have to care and if my convictions were always true.
But when it comes to this, can a single thought ever see me through?
I would never have thought that I would spend my night being haunted,
After all, what was, had left me daunted.

The burning desire had made me shake and quiver.
Questions, thoughts and yeses and noes have brought to surface what I yearned to keep below.
This thing, about which I wanted to be so sure,
Had washed me up and beached me onto a point of vaguely elusive closure.

Images reeling through my head of scenes from a time certainly lived,
Recalling everything I gave and got and wanted to give.
Dragging myself to territory very much earthed,
Trying to fathom exactly what it was that I had birthed.

If only, I wonder, I just let it stay put;
If only I never what it meant for this to be understood.

But here I am now, a product of it all,
Weathered in ways never thought of before.
Conflicted and confused,
looking out for every possible clue.

Because I am now shrewd and know of what exactly the journey consisted,
And know that should I re-embark on it, it would be met with greater reservation and resistance.
Yet a part of me will go back and is naggingly insistent.

So now I linger in this valley as I am slowly dragged closer to the mountain better climbed and I keep looking back.
As I wonder and visualise just what it would be like to climb the other mountain yet trying not to stumble on my tracks.

Two articles soon to follow!

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

(Slightly Edited) What having a body while being female means + loving thy body

In this over two-and-a-half month long hiatus, this whole  “predicament” of bodies and body image has been constantly ringing in my mind and contrary to what you all might be thinking because of the way I’ve worded the first clause, it wasn’t really a bad thing .I’ve been able to yield a lot of conclusions and semi-conclusions, ask questions and  end up with thoughts pretty much still in the embryonic phase too. This post will be about the things fitting into the conclusions/semi-conclusions category.

Throughout my late-childhood and adolescence, I have pretty much grown up with the idea that as a female, it’s important for my body to look good. And no matter how body-positive members of my family were I couldn’t help but internalise a lot of that twaddle. I know what you all are probably thinking “oh no, here we go again, another clichéd body image post on the blogosphere” and you’re right, it is exactly that.

But with something like this, with so much negativity surrounding it accompanied by a very real course of toxicity served alongside, looming around every day, I’d like to say my piece. As I have managed to successfully internalise some hackneyed tat about what my body should mean and how it is expected to be, I’ve lived on for a long time as though my mind and body were almost two entities independent of each other. Like my mind and body needed to feel different to one another and to be treated that way, and in effect, nurtured exclusively from each other and that my love of one can be detached from my love of the other.

I didn’t look at my body as something that was gifted to me, equipped with all the tools I needed to function, do all the things I love and fulfil my purpose, just like my mind. Instead, I saw it as something which needed to look good and something which can be compared and scrutinised. It was only when I became ill one way or another did I realise that these fully-functional parts were not to be taken for granted.  I noticed how beautiful it looked and how comfortable it felt to have the whites of my eyes actually remain white and not be a shade of red and inflamed as it was when I had conjunctivitis. Spending a week over two years ago with my right foot blown up and gulping antibiotics after a trip to the mangroves had left me teary and vulnerable had led me to remember the blessing it was to be able to use both feet to walk. Soon of course, the sweetness of those essential reminders was rather overtaken with thoughts floating around the realms of “it looks/I wish it looked/it should look/ I am glad it looks a bit like this.” I was covertly re-directed to the idea that the focus on the way my body looked was key and inevitably, having it look as close to “right” as possible was currency I needed to pay for having it.  Although I started to grow less inclined to that idea, it often felt called-for to return to old patterns of thought.  Years of chomping down (and occasionally being  force-fed) ideas that deviating from what is “right” by an ounce, inch and even a shade sometimes, is a green-light for people shout all sorts of abuse or dish-out unwarranted, “friendly” advice and is a validator of negative self-talk and body hatred was not going to be undone easily .

Because don’t forget this women of the world, it’s essential that you stick to that vaguely-elusive, ever-changing, semi-amoeba like brand of beautiful because you need men to okay your appearance and let you know that you’re allowed to take up space. Men are monolithic creatures who cannot see beyond what you look like and only like deem very limited qualities as beautiful and you need to trap them like honey because later on, you need to fulfil your most important mission and marry one of them.  This is of course until you realise that you need to be preserved in amber for all the years to come to keep him interested with your looks. If you couldn’t detect the sarcasm in the last three sentences then I fear that you and I suffer a slight communication deficit, anyhoo….

It’s just a little bit disturbing that such a large, wonderful system which carries out amazing and barely quantifiable functions is made to stand up against other equally-wondrous systems to be valued and judged on its appearance alone. And when signs of all the wonderfulness God had allowed this system to muster up show on its surface, they’re suddenly “ugly”. Like those scabs on your knees made to protect those wounds you got after a rugged adventure at the park, or those stretch marks which are a sign that your skin was saved from exploding after you put on a bit of weight during that summer spent with grandma after an intense academic year, where you barely had to lift a finger. And I am not encouraging getting wounded and being sedentary, but I am also not standing for body-shaming and tailoring people’s values and worth solely to the choices they’ve made about what only clothes the parts of them which are really amazing – even if the clothing itself is pretty fantastic. And besides, has no one ever made a choice that wasn’t the best (or even a series of them)?

The body, like the mind, needs to be treated with love and nurtured properly, and just as we need to be in tune with our minds’ needs, we need to be in tune with our bodies’ needs as well. How can you be expected to maintain a healthy relationship with or make changes to your body if you loathe it? Loving your body doesn’t always mean that you think it’s perfect, but it does include realising and being grateful for what it’s giving you right now. If you can read this at all and have been able to scroll down your window to get this far, then you are blessed with a lot already.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying what you have at the moment and being confident with it and grateful for it; even if you do know that you need to make a change. The two thoughts can coexist and when they do, they harmonise in a beautiful way which would not only bring about a physical change, but intellectual, emotional and even spiritual changes.  And yes, that does include the outside too! You don’t need to wait until you lose/gain a stone to start acknowledging that you are good enough and that there is beauty in what you have now and treating yourself on that basis because it can even be the start of your journey to self-improvement.When you start having relaxing bubble-baths or rubbing on velvety lotion, or even getting out of bed to style your hair and put on dangly earrings just for a day spent lounging at home, the desire to be more mindful of well-being in other areas kicks in too.  And all because you knew you were worthy of that unconditionally from the start. When you also start seeing your body for the amazing machine it is with the capability to do and learn extraordinary things, it might be just a bit more likely that you’ll want to explore what its muscles have to offer you and to use them to move in ways you enjoy and maybe learn a new skill.

I remember near the beginning of primary school when I was learning about my body I was taught how important it was to have a nutritious diet so I can grow up to be strong, and little was said about appearance. I wish that discourse stuck throughout the years .  I would rather feel need to take care of what God gifted me and serve my body so it can be healthy and strong and not so I can conform to some expectation for which I don’t think I genuinely care. And  sometimes, juuust sometiiiimes, taking care of yourself and having a healthy relationship with your body can mean not depriving yourself of that bar of chocolate you really want.

Body Positivity · Growing up · Islam · Self-love

Reflections last week, empathy, beginnings and time, oh my!

So I know, I didn’t post on Wednesday and I know that the gap-long week between this post and the one before it is rather abhorrent, if you will, so my apologies to you.

Despite all of that, I still have the audacity to try to clue you in on the happenings of this past week, and you know what? I’m going to do just that.

Between this week and the last, a very long game of ping-pong was taking place inside the mushy mass of stuff inside my head that common-folk like to refer to as “brain”, and in the midst of thinking about too many things, I feel like I have learnt a lot about the way I see things and picked up some gems (I hope) along the way.

We all, and let’s admit it, have things that we are too embarrassed/feel too uncomfortable to admit to ourselves, or we’re in denial about something that’s not exactly going the way we think it should. Either way,  we’re not being very truthful to ourselves sometimes and it’s pretty understandable. We have a set of principles we to which we ascribe ourselves, and even at the smallest scale, for example, when we tell ourselves that something is “cool” to be/think/feel or not. And sometimes, just sometimes, we flout them and then we beat ourselves up about it.

Well, during this whole week that just went by (hello Monday!) I realised that there were emotions that I had that I tried to gloss over in my thought process, and I was doing things in ways that I actually don’t think are OK. And I needed confrontation and so I confronted myself, and I realised that my thought process is a lot healthier and deal that I deal with things a lot better when I am truthful to myself, because let’s think about it, I can’t really find solutions to problems that I refuse to acknowledge. And could  I really get the whole picture of something that I’m refusing to look at? Not really.

So my conclusions about related things had come to these: it’s okay to admit that you’re not completely okay with something you’re trying to convince yourself that you are. It’s okay to admit that there are issues you haven’t worked through yet and that you need time. It’s okay to admit weakness or defeat. It’s okay to admit that things are not going as planned/that your thoughts aren’t going as planned/that circumstances aren’t as linear as predicted/that you might have to change your game-plan. It’s also okay (albeit many people see this as taboo) to admit that there are parts of our character that need work. And it’s okay to not get it right from the first time.

In relation to the above, another thing that I have been getting huge doses of lesson-things from is empathy.  And honestly, when looking at things from a more empathetic lens, I feel that they just become a lot easier to work through. When you’re being empathetic,  you’re not necessarily succumbing to a circumstance, but you understand it a bit more, and that can save you heart-break. I’m not saying that it’s wise to go out there and scratch everything raw trying to find out why things worked out the way they did in a bid to “understand” them, but a bit of understanding can be a strong guiding light which will be there when you need it. And this applies to ourselves as individuals. I realised that many a time, when we are empathetic towards other people’s behaviours and ideas, we forget about our own and we go on to senselessly punish ourselves for thinking and behaving a certain way.

While I am a strong patron for self-improvement and I do believe in bettering oneself, I wholeheartedly believe that approaching yourself with understanding can clear so many things up and finally give you a kick-start on changing things for the better. No change, to my knowledge, has ever been fully effective if it came from a place of shame. Shame brings anxiety, which brings high expectations, which bring even more anxiety, which brings shame. I think you catch my drift.  If you understand yourself and work through your issues through a loving lens, you can only serve yourself better. May God Grant us all understanding, Amen.

Of course the product of that  sense of understanding towards will differ from person to person and situation to situation, and those products are up for modification as well. But, you won’t really know any of this until you actually start looking for solutions that way. Now I am not saying that what I say is the best, and I certainly won’t tell you to take it wholesale, but this is just my showing you what conclusions I have come to about certain things, and I would certainly love to hear yours.

It’s quite ironic how this post has come about now, Glory be to God, seeing that the Islamic New Year began just yesterday (I’m Muslim, in case you haven’t got the memo), and it seems like everything is coming together to show just exactly at what rate things are changing. I’m not, nor have I ever been one to have New Year’s resolutions of any kind, and I think that everyday is good for a new beginning, but this does give me a bit of perspective on time and how fast things are happening and effectively, how I must make use of it in the most efficient way possible because it’s not really waiting for me. I don’t think it’s really waiting for anyone, for that matter.

I hope you all keep sticking around for more updates and posts on this blog because soon, I’ll be doing more of the “journo” stuff that I know a lot of you want to see. I will be talking with people who do cool things around the interwebs so you’ll be getting a lot more than just my ramblings, God Willing.

Watch this space!

Body image and body positivity · Body Positivity · Growing up · Self-love · Women's issues

Poem: I want to breathe, I want to be free

Hello *insert appropriate adjective and/or newly-coined noun to describe/identify my readers*!

First off I want to apologise because this post was supposed to be published a few hours ago when it was Friday where I am but of course my intended end of the week hour-and-a-half nap had turned into a six-hour slumber. All in all, I bring to you, my second post! *Applause*

This is the latest edition  to a poem I wrote a year-and-a-half ago when the subject matter had a strong grip on me, and because it still resonates with me, I’ve decided to share it with you all here; I hope you all like it:

I want to breathe; I want to be free,

But I am told I can only do something if it results in an aesthetically pleasing me,

I don’t want to be bound to the labels on my shirt, trousers or bra,

But it’s as if no one wants to look beyond that far,

Why am I more beautiful if I am bustier, slimmer or taller?

Why can’t appreciation transcend beyond that border?

Why can’t anyone look beyond what’s skin deep, and for once, stop me from crying myself to sleep?

My reflection is ever changing and temporary, so I am going to cultivate what is preliminary,

Profoundness, zest and quirkiness,

These define my happiness!

I will only let those things affect my smile,

And if you beg to differ, I suggest you run a mile!

Everything is exactly what it’s supposed to be at the moment and is great and perfect,

And even if you really want to change, you should still live, love and work it!

For once, give your mind a break from your waist-to-hip ratio,

Play, write, draw or call a friend to say hello!

Beauty and everything that makes you never fail to amaze,

Do not depend on your body shape or face,

The shape of your heart and the contours of your soul are what truly matter,

So none reserve the right to take your feelings and toss them to a scatter.