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Paint me like one of your Instagram girls

By Tricia Ferdinandt

I remember when I was younger and in primary school, we started to learn about puberty in Health Education and how girls and boys alike would see changes in their bodies as they grow up. I did not really think much of it and instead, I welcomed these changes as they made me feel like a woman and not a little girl anymore. I started getting these changes when I was 9; I remember that not many of my classmates caught on as early as I did. I wore a singlet under my clothes, but I didn’t look into it much. I still went about my gymnastic and ballet classes all the same.

Over time, as I transitioned into secondary school, I was not as lean and skinny as I used to be. I weighed steadily at 55 kg pretty much throughout secondary school, which was acceptable for my height. I never really gained or lost weight. We ran a lot during P.E. classes to train for our 2.4 km run. Other than that, I did not really look after my diet or health. That would go on to be something that I regret.

Members of my family would joke about my weight and observed if I had lost or gained weight at practically every family gathering. I did not look to them for their approval nor did I understand why they were policing the way my body looked as if it were of any concern to them since it was my body. I would understand their genuine health concerns for me as they advised me to take less sugary drinks and eat less junk food. Other remarks like how my hips would get more round in the future once I had kids of my own just fell upon my deaf ears. Honestly, I loved my hips. I had a small waist and I loved the way my rounder hips would complement my figure. Of course, that’s a different story now that I gained almost 30 kg in the last 4 years.

I have been struggling with depression and anxiety over the course of my adolescent years. I have difficulty coping with my emotions, leading me to sometimes harm myself and others. There have been many low points in my life, some of which I brought upon myself. Others habits include horrible eating habits, a disruptive sleeping pattern, and a non-existent exercise routine. Looking after myself was not important to me at all. As the number on the scales kept increasing, I chose to avoid it and run away, like I always do with my problems.

The comments from family, friends, and even partners kept coming. They were mostly hurtful words stitched together with good intentions. I would think a lot about what people said after, about the “burger going down to my butt” or oil creating more “moon craters” on my face. Not only did I struggle with my weight, I hated my acne-scarred skin. The acne on my cheeks, forehead, and even my back could be connected with a pen to create constellations. I was extremely sensitive about my body, weight, and the way I looked. Something as simple as someone staring at me too long could send me into a frenzy. I remember my boyfriend staring at my protruding stomach when I asked if we could have our lunch at my favourite American fast-food chain. Although he had no ill intentions and did not mean it in the way I interpreted, it scarred me.

I wished with all my heart that I could just be like the girls of Instagram, with the killer figure and perfect skin. Beautiful, stunning, but not realistic. While praying hard to look like someone else, I learnt the hard lesson of acceptance and self-love. We are all beautiful and unique in our own special ways. Ironically, it might seem like the grass is greener on the other side, but I can assure you that everyone has their own insecurities. People who pick on others’ flaws and faults and take joy in bringing someone pain are battling demons of their own. That is why instead of getting upset with a classmate of mine who made a rude comment about my weight or appearance, I prayed for him. He can make 1000 comments to bring me down, but I will not give him the permission to hurt me. These people in your life are nothing to you and one should never give them the power to make you upset in any way, shape, or form.

My goal in this journey is not about the numbers or seeking a thumbs up from  others. If I do this to seek approval from others, then I will never be happy. I am doing this for myself, to be the best version of myself. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have flat abs or a bubble butt. Girls on the covers on magazines have their bodies photoshopped and retouched. Love your love handles, muffin tops, and thunder thighs. Treat your body right and it will treat you right too.

Author’s Bio: Tricia Ferdinandt is your resident brown baby. Her hobbies include adding memes to her album collection and binge-watching makeup tutorials. When she’s not stuDYING in school, she’s probably at Starbucks trying to convince the barista she has 60 stars to redeem a free drink.

Featured image by Colleen Clark.

 

 

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My Looks Don’t Need Your “Concern”

By Gwen Guo 

When I was in kindergarten, princess dresses were all the rage. I’d wear them not just for special occasions, but also on normal days. You could call me happy-go-lucky — everyday was a day to celebrate something and feel good about myself. Those were also the years when my parents enrolled me in swimming classes. The first time I felt conscious about my looks was when I was celebrating my 6th birthday, where I wore a fancy white princess dress.

Everything was great — there were presents, a cake and singing. Yet, some of the grownups felt compelled to comment about my skin, asking me why I was so tan and declaring that princesses look strange with dark skin. At that age, I didn’t think it was anything. But after looking at the developed photos of myself from that birthday party, I began to feel that something was amiss. Growing up, all images of princesses in movies, TVs and books were always fair-skinned. Maybe the grownups were onto something after all.

Eventually, I grew out of the phase of wanting to be a princess and picked up basketball in primary school. I’m fortunate that the all-girls’ school which I attended valued sports, so there wasn’t much pressure to be more “feminine”. After all, primary school is about play, fun and exploration. My friends and I even roleplayed as Amazonian queens during recess; we would climb onto rocks pretending to be scouting for enemies, or create imaginary ammunition out of pebbles. Being surrounded by children my age without interference from adults, we could aspire to be whatever we wanted to be without fear of judgement.

But things changed in secondary school, where one’s image and physical appearance holds more weight in society. Being an outdoors person, my tan skin had remained with me throughout my life, even till this stage. Even my mother was concerned about me developing freckles and blemishes, and would occasionally comment about my skin tone. At this point, I had become more conscious of other flaws like my jiggly bits, sparse eyebrows and thinning hair. I felt like I didn’t fit in for a plethora of reasons – I was socially awkward, liked sports but wasn’t particularly good at it, abysmal in my studies, shy, and hideous compared to everyone else. While everyone else was coming the streets of Orchard Road to shop for new clothes that were “in fashion”, I would wear my brother’s hand-me-downs.

Me during my secondary school days.

During this stage, I also picked up video games as a hobby. Going out to meet my all-male gaming friends in person was both exciting and terrifying. I could almost smell disappointment when these boys, who met me for the first time, realised that the “gamer girl” they’d been so eager to meet was just a tanned tomboy wearing her brother’s clothes. One even told me that my hips looked “too big” just because I was wearing bermudas.

Then, at 16, I met my first boyfriend through gaming. Having a boy like me despite the way that I looked was flattering, and I treated his opinions with great consideration. I thought he accepted me for the way I looked. Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out so rosy – my boyfriend started policing my clothes, “recommending” that I wear shorter skirts, heels and makeup. Somehow, even my thinning crown became something he had to talk about. “I’m concerned about your balding,” he’d express. I’d buy hair tonic and desperately try to thicken my hair while trying on new makeup, just to appease him. But whatever I did to my appearance was never good enough for him. The only saving grace was that I genuinely began to enjoy applying makeup, but he still managed to find an angle for criticism. “Who the hell wears blue eyeshadow during the day?” he sneered.

The final straw that broke the camel’s back was what he said to me after finding out that I had suffered second-degree burns after irresponsibly playing beach volleyball without sunblock for 3 hours. “You look like a black piece of crap,” he snipped. For the first time, I decided to stand up for myself, and told him that his words hurt me. Predictably, he brushed it off by proclaiming that it was just a joke.

Harnessing the dignity that I still had, I finally left him after enduring unreasonable expectations for months. I went on with my life, more confident with the realisation that I was in control of my own appearance and that I had the power to say no. After all, lions should never concern themselves with the opinions of sheep. In Polytechnic, I experienced so much more freedom – I wore my makeup the way I wanted to, chose the clothes that fit me instead of forcing myself to fit into modelesque clothes… That positive energy was eventually translated into the outgoing person that I am today.

Me during my Poly days.

To be honest, there are days when I still suffer from low self-esteem. I didn’t dare to walk out of the house without makeup until I was 22, and I still feel conscious about my fluctuating body fat percentage till this day. But, as I continue to grow and form a deeper and larger identity beyond the surface of my skin, I know that these low phases will become shorter.

For those of you reading this, please understand that your body choices are a personal right, and nobody can take this right away from you. Go forth and face the world, whether you are fat or skinny, made-up or bare-faced, tattooed or not, bald or hairy, firm or flabby! If people comment negatively on your appearance, a simple reply would be, “Thanks, but I don’t think my looks need your concern.”

Me today!

 

About the Author: Gwen is one of the three co-founders of IMBA Interactive, a startup which provides audio services to video game developers. Being an avid gamer and lover of internet memes, she hopes for a world where games and game communities don’t shy away from inclusivity.

 

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Purple-haired slut

Written by Tammy Lim, Change Maker

1I always aspired to be a purple-haired unicorn once I was done with Junior College. It was only after A-levels that I could reclaim my body as an individual, since the idea of ridiculously strict dress codes will not apply in my life (for the time being). After highlighting my hair a brilliant purple (I wanted to dye my whole head purple but my parents said it would be ‘weird’), I was then still called ‘weird’ by several of my male classmates. I casually brushed the comments off, until it escalated to the point that it became slut-shaming.

One day, when my brother’s friends were over, I joined them for dinner. My brother, one of the few people who thought my purple hair was cool, excitedly told his friends that I had dyed my hair. That friend of his commented, “Well, at least you’re not like the other girls who dye their hair.” That statement raised a red flag in my mind, so in response, I prompted, “What do you mean by ‘the other girls’?”. To which he replied in a strangely matter-of-fact way, “They’re sluts.” That answer caused an eruption of laughter among my brother and his friends, while it left my mouth hanging open, blood boiling and very appalled.

It seemed like an incredibly innocuous incident that girls with dyed hair would encounter, but I found it extremely disturbing instead.

It was disconcerting to me when my brother’s friends were laughing at how other girls with dyed hair were called ‘sluts’, because it reinforced the notion that it was perfectly acceptable and even  hilarious to call girls derogatory terms for their own pleasure, even though it made no sense. Also, them laughing stems from self-righteous behaviour: knowing that labelling others ‘sluts’ places themselves on a pedestal above girls who have many sexual partners (although it is truly alright to have many sexual partners). However, this present an ironic double standard as boys are celebrated for being sexual, since it is a sign of their supposed masculinity.

It was also strange that my brother’s friends made a mysterious correlation between having brightly coloured hair and being a slut – how does such brilliantly colourful hair even relate to a person having loads of sex? To me, they were being illogical and anyway, it is no one’s business to know if a person has loads of sex and much less condemn it. Though them spouting the common rhetoric that I’m “not like the other girls” was only said to make me feel like I’m the ‘special one’ who is exempted from the brutal ‘slut’ label, it does not make them any less offensive, because it is still sexist.

From this incident, I realized that slut-shaming has grown from bad to worse. It used to be an insult to girls who have sexual agency, but now, it has evolved to a derogatory umbrella term used to punish girls who deviate from the eye-pleasing and feminine ideal of a girl, even when it is completely unrelated to their sexuality. Imposing such an ideal on girls is not only harsh but also dehumanizing, as girls are expected to be sexy, but not sexual, which in itself is contradictory.

Since the incident, I have been trying to think of ways that I could have countered their misogynistic ways. It dawned upon me that it is much more difficult that simply telling them off: how was I supposed to educate a group of males who enjoyed degrading women in the most ridiculous ways? I still struggle to answer this question till today, but I believe the key is to show that feminism is not meant to police and oppress men (and women also), but rather that feminism liberates and benefits everyone, regardless of gender, through its inclusive nature.

To show others such problematic behaviour that is entrenched in their beliefs is akin to presenting themselves with a mirror and pointing out their flaws – something that is incredibly painful for them to recognise and change.

Slut-shaming is a pervasive form of sexist behaviour that should be eliminated. We all ought to think twice before we scream ‘slut’ at a girl who is simply choosing to take ownership of her body – we should simply respect that.

2About the Writer: Tammy is a recent A level graduate who occasionally writes about feminism and enjoys learning more about gender equality advocacy work, how to fight the patriarchy and being a better feminist. She is constantly with E.T pointing at a new horizon that is bright and full of gender equality.

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YouTube sexism

Written by Rhyhan Astha, Change Maker

YouTube videos. The drug of today’s youth. YouTubers clamour to gain subscribers, producing seemingly harmless comedic videos to give viewers a short chuckle. Yet, in Singapore, many of these videos frequently and tactlessly use outdated sexist tropes for distasteful comedic effect.

Sexist Video #1: Guys vs Girls: Teenagers

This video is by Jianhao Tan, a prominent YouTuber with over 430,000 subscribers and just over 85,000,000 views.

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 12.34.04 pm

The scenario portrayed in the video deals with the different way men and women interact with friends of the same gender. The first segment features two guys hurling insults like “Stop being such a pussy” and “Don’t be such a dick” to each other during a conversation. Yet, the guy still believes his friend “is so great” despite the conversation that they had.

In contrast, the girl responds very differently to her friend. Her friend tells her “I’ll see you soon okay? Love you!” When her friend leaves, she says that her friend is “damn freaking fake”.

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I find this video highly problematic in how it portrays men and women in these ways:

  • All men are emotionally stoic. Both men are unfazed by the insults they hurl at each other such as “pussy” and “dick”. The man takes these insults in his stride and even reaffirms the friendship by saying “Don’t you love him?” to his girl friend. One guy even says “He is so great” in response to these insults, which leaves the viewer thinking that the exchange of insults that is somehow integral to the friendship between both men. Phrases hurled between the both of them such “Don’t be such a pussy” serve to show that men are not supposed to express emotions which reflect their vulnerability. These portrayals normalise a culture of verbal abuse between men, alienating men who do feel hurt by such remarks.
  • Women are overly emotional and highly manipulative. On the other hand, the woman immediately thinks the worst of her friend, calling her “fake”, even though she said goodbye to her in a friendly manner. The video implies that women are only capable of using their emotions and instincts to make a judgment of someone. Her perception of her friend as “damn freaking fake” suggests that women tend to put up a facade for others and are always up to something. This implies that women frequently act maliciously towards each other, and it perpetuates a culture of girl-on-girl hate. Furthermore, her response also normalises misogyny amongst women, as she represents the caution that women should have towards each others behaviours and intentions.

Sexist Video #2: Morning Routine: Guys vs. Girls

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 12.34.28 pmAnother video, this time from Singaporean YouTube channel WahBanana!, also uses sexist tropes in its portrayal of men and women. In this video, they portray the difference between what men and women do when they wake up. These difference are inherently based on sexist stereotypes.

In this video, a girl is portrayed taking a few selfies to post on Instagram for her followers.

Immediately after, the girl’s actions are compared to a guy’s, who is shown to open up the Instagram app on his phone and ‘like’ the picture posted.

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 12.34.45 pmOne of the most harmful messages being portrayed by the video is that the female body is solely for the consumption of others in society.

The video shows how the guy likes the girl’s picture on Instagram then scrolls past immediately. This seems to make acceptable the idea that images of woman are taken for men to feast their eyes at, almost as if women exist only for their looks and nothing else. This belief is highly damaging to women, who then model their appearances, whether they want to or not, on whether it can please the men in their life.

What I worry most about these videos is their widespread acceptance in Singaporean society. Are these videos a gruelling reminder of how despite being a nation at the forefront of many things, Singapore still remains unprogressive in how it thinks about gender equality?

We have to start talking about what the humour of these videos say about youth culture in Singapore. We should not be accepting this content into our daily lives  and excusing the stereotypes that it draws from because it is intended for humour. The things we laugh about and bond over ultimately shapes the identity of our community, and I do not wish for my generation to think that sexism is a topic to be taken lightly.

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The feminine ideal

Written by Teejay Vergara, Change Maker

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 11.31.11 am There has always been a tremendous pressure for women to conform to a ‘feminine’ standard, especially once they hit puberty. Suddenly, hair starts growing on certain areas of your body you didn’t even know was possible.

Some girls start wearing padded bras, plucking their eyebrows, shaving their legs and armpits and waxing their upper lip hair.

Sometimes, we live our lives parallel to these unspoken rules to feel like we belong. The problem is, beauty standards have always been so inexplicably unrealistic that it’s always impossible to achieve.

We face a constant struggle to be the best version of ourselves, but ironically, we follow these unwritten rules society set for us hence, our plummeting self-esteem. Like Lena Dunham, I tried to hide my self-hatred with an aggressive “self-acceptance” by cutting my hair short, dyeing it a weird seaweed green and wearing all sorts of clothes that didn’t match. I’ve always admired girls with short hair, so I thought I’d stop looking at them from afar and just be one  myself.

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 11.31.30 amThere is a silent expectation for women to be in competition with one another: to have the most proportioned eyebrows, the smoothest legs, or even the whitest armpits. It might seem absurd to think about these things out of context, but it’s happening – in the advertisements we see, and the products we’re sold – and it’s been happening for a long time.

However, thanks to the Internet, there have been an ongoing dialogue about double standards, beauty standards and inequality, and several campaigns to raise awareness on it. Times are changing and so are we.

It was a big deal when Jemima Kirke showed up on a red carpet event with unshaven armpits. Somehow, dyeing them with pastel colors even became a trend. But it doesn’t have to be just a trend because trends end. We should educate women, especially little girls, that they shouldn’t feel as though they have to conform to any societal stereotypes or expectations. They are in charge of their own bodies and being or looking a little different doesn’t degrade their value as people. We shouldn’t be disgusted with our natural form.

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 11.31.52 amHair is not the only issue though. Through the recent Free The Nipple Campaign, we bring light to the objectification and sexualisation of women’s body parts. The campaign aims to put an end to the censorship of female breasts as a step towards gender equality – it is not a crusade that exclusively advocates for women to bare their chests at any and all given times; rather, it seeks to strip society of its tendencies toward the sexualization of the female upper body.”

The only difference between a man’s nipples and a woman’s breasts is that the latter is objectified. Some call it nudity, but nudity doesn’t have to be sexualized. Why are we so afraid of it? Why should we have these principles dictate what we should and should not wear?

There’s no such thing as a guideline on how femininity should be like and we’re all slowly trying to realise it. We all must be respected regardless of whatever choices we make.

About the author: Teejay is a communications major, a music enthusiast and a frustrated journalist. Her views on Feminism are largely influenced by pop culture and her deep admiration for Lena Dunham and her work. Her ultimate dream by the time she turns 40 is to live in a world where people treat each other as human beings without any basis on what’s in between their legs.

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Crossdressing: Blurring the lines between genders

by Ming Gui, Change Maker

Generally, in Singapore, the idea of crossdressing is not widely accepted. Some people view crossdressers as weird or “gay”, insulting them online or offline.

0Why is society not receptive to crossdressing? Why can’t a man wear skirts and have long hair without people glancing at him judgmentally? Why can’t a woman have super short hair without people calling her a tomboy?

Perhaps speaking to a couple of crossdressers can provide a new perspective on crossdressing and societal views towards it.

Rain* is a woman who presents as a man every day for more than a year now. Most people are surprised and confused on how ‘convincingly male’ she can look. She was assigned to the female gender at birth, but feels that her gender identity can range from agender to male, and often confuses people in the way she looks. She feels that her women’s clothes are more like a costume and feels like she is a man crossdressing as a woman whenever she wears women’s clothes. When interviewed and asked about her view of crossdressing, she answered:

“The idea of cross dressing is largely defined by society. It is society that has decided what is male clothing and is female clothing, and it is society that has decided to view your gender according to your biology. Obviously I don’t agree that guys /girls must look a certain way. There are female bodybuilders and there are plenty of guys with long hair. The only reason why they are not common here is because of NS and reservice regulations. The subject of cross dressing gets a little more complicated when it comes to personal gender identity. If you identify as a girl despite having male biology, you will think of dresses as normal wear – something you should be wearing anyway, and not “cross dressing””

Dotz* is another crossdresser, who can look really convincing when he puts on his wigs and make-up. Reactions from others about his crossdressing hobby ranges from positivity to curiousity. He says:

“Regardless of the reasons, I think society generally don’t take too well to crossdressers. This bad rep is probably gotten from cases we see in the news (like that recent report of the guy who crossdressed to peep at girls in the toilet) or from the negative assumption that transgender folk are usually streetwalkers, ergo, crossdressers are too. Nevertheless, I think our society is slowly becoming more open towards crossdressers. I think fashion today is also blurring the gender divide as the style of clothing is becoming more androgynous. Then there is also the deluge of the Korean wave with male artists donning eye liner, make up and all that to perform (Visual Kei too, but I guess that isn’t as mainstream). So these are some of the factors that I feel are slowly influencing society to see crossdressing as a form of self-expression or perhaps even as a fashion choice rather than seeing it for negative things.”

When asked whether he believes in the unspoken rule that only men can wear men’s clothes and only women can wear women’s clothes, he says:

 “Since I am a crossdresser, I definitely don’t think that. But I think it is rather difficult for the standard male body to be able to pull off most female fashion nicely. If you ask me why, I will have difficulties answering why I feel this way. Perhaps it’s an effect of being influenced by society since young? Or maybe it’s evolutionary? Anyway, as I mentioned, fashion is gradually blurring the gender divide. Also, what wrong has a boy committed if he simply wears a dress? And of course, I think most people would probably give you the example of the Scottish kilt worn by guys. I think most people have their own preconceived notion of what others should wear, which I think is really selfish. I for one, am offended by people who wear sandals with socks, but who am I to judge right?”

Mihiko*, a male crossdresser who loves Lolita fashion, crossdresses both in private and at gatherings and events. He views crossdressing as a form of art and appreciation of ‘your other side’. He comments:

“My mom knows about my crossdressing and she discourages me from it. However, others such as those who are into subculture scene see me dressed pretty at events, compliment my dress up and hoped I could dress up more frequently. The will be objections to crossdressing, given a majority of conservative people in a conservative society here in Singapore. There are such a wide range of crossdressers that it is almost impossible to stereotype them as homosexual people. Some of them did it for role-playing (getting into the another gender role as similar to the character), and they have their own ethics or principles to draw the line between free love with the same sex. Therefore people assuming all crossdressers as ‘homosexuals’ are pretty ignorant, biased and downright disrespectful, and I hope that more can be done to change that.”

All in all, it all boils down to societal norms. It is society that tells you what a man should wear and what a woman should wear. It is society that tells you that girls wear pink and dresses, and boys wear blue and pants. It is society that lay out such rules. Even in schools, girls wear skirts while boys wear pants.

When someone wears an article of clothing that does not immediately correspond to their gender, it raises eyebrows.

a6b66e5c034416f231e127329636d2bcdb4c30a5Fortunately, the world is getting more and more accepting: there has been a rise in the number of people, regardless of their gender, trying out new types of fashion. There are many other people like Rain and Dotz, who crossdress and feel happy about it, regardless of what others may think. Indeed, the line between gender-appropriate fashions is blurring.

I leave an apt quote from Rain:

“I think everyone should be allowed to wear whatever the heck they want without getting judged.”

*Names have been changed to protect identity

About the Author: Min is bisexual, and will openly admit it if anyone asks about her sexuality. However, she likes dressing like fairy princess. Her fashion style gains her judgmental stares whenever she walks down the street, but she does not care. She feels happier dressing that way.

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Hair

by Goh Li Sian, Change Maker. This piece was written for the Body/Language creative writing workshop, co-organised by We Can! Singapore and Etiquette SG, and performed at the Singapore Writers’ Festival 2014.

In my purple tank top, I yawn and stretch
Sleepy! A hard day’s work. Sensing vulnerability
My mother picks up where we left off,
Though I try in fewer words to tell her things are different now.
She says, “You know, you could.”
I say, “No.”
She says, “Just once-“
I say, “I don’t want to.”
She says, “Why not?”
I say, “We are not discussing this.”

My mother has tried before,
When the tweezers she favoured failed,
Razors, epilators, wax strips, waxing salons,
Until we’ve arrived at this final solution
To troublesome body hair
On troublesome daughters
Lasers!

My mother couches her disgust in tact,
Telling me, “Your father has asked me to bring you to a salon you know.”
Of course, when the noble patriarch says “Shave,”
It’s my job to say, “How close?”
Or brings it up in lighter moments, snapshots that could almost be happy-
“You like this dress? Sleeveless, you know! When you wear it, you must shave,
or wear a jacket. Some people may be offended. I’m just telling you.”
Ah, that bogeyman Some People.
How to explain to my mother, who is not just Any Person,
That I know Some People
And they have nothing to say about my body and how I choose to adorn it.
If they ever did,
I would choose to have nothing to do with them
The way I cannot have nothing to do with my mother.

On my mother’s head rests thinning hair
She dyes chestnut brown,
Disdaining jet black, her original shade, as “too harsh”,
Disdaining long braids that stretch to other ladies’ waists,
Or supermarket cashiers who pick at their hair before checking out her groceries
Shrinkwrapped packages of meat.
“Too dirty,” she says,
And I turn away, stifling casual rage.

My mother’s never shaved her legs in her life,
Has been known to exclaim wonderingly
Over her daughters’ layers of fuzz,
On shin or forearm.
Where does it come from? she asks.
After all, “Me and your Pa have no hair!”

I know where, but don’t say
Secret teenage hours spent locked in the bathroom
Experimenting with a baby blue plastic razor and shaving gel
Before I gave up. The rush of ritual:
Smoothing the gel. Running the razor. Over inches of pubescent limb:
Shin, calf, thigh.
Elbow to wrist, even inside of forearm, smoothed over sides.
Fingers, phalanges to knuckle.
They say
The hair never grows back the same way again, new growth sprouts
Against the follicle, not with,
Springing back with a vengeance against this tree-trimming,
Asserting its existence.

My mother uses tweezers to pick and pick at the armpits
I snuggled under as a little girl,
But to do the same to the hair on her pubic area
Would be inconvenient and obscene.
I try to explain why I feel the same about the fur under my arms,
Knowing a lost cause when I see one.

“Why?” my mother says, a plaintive moan,
And I turn silent, examine the clothes on the rack,
Rows of dresses without sleeves,
Stifling the impulse to swear,
Stifling the reason, “Can’t be fucked.”
Stifling the reason, “Fuck you!”

The hair under my arms
Is coarse and prickly at its roots, but curls
Into the softness of pelts at its tips
I have a sweet lover, who understands this,
Who would stroke the hair there,
Kiss it, a rest stop on the way to his final destination
Sniff, tell me that he adored the way I smell

This is not a battle in a war, but
A piece of the puzzle
She never will understand.
Sometimes, I suspect my mother would like me better
Bald as a newborn,
As sweet smelling
Infantlike,
Hairless.

lisianAbout the Author: Li Sian works for AWARE. She enjoys trivial conversations with close friends and makes shy jokes in less intimately-known company. After five months of living at home, she is proud to announce that she is still resolutely hirsute.

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Fat Woman

by Manessa Lian, Change Maker and Body/Language creative writing workshop participant. This piece was performed at the Singapore Writers Festival in November 2014 and Breakthrough: We Can! Arts Fest in December 2014. 

When I was a child
I first learnt that bigger was not always better
Because those were the days
They sent the biggest kids for classes
Extra classes after school
Which should have been fun
Because we actually got to roller-blade
But because everyone knew who those classes were for
Nobody wanted in
We held our breaths
Our Physical Ed teacher
Scanned the class for those whose sizes did not conform
Singling them out with a crook of the finger
I was one of them

When I protested for being one of the chosen ones
The PE teacher turned to the class
And duly informed them that I was a time-bomb
A walking health time-bomb
I would drop dead any moment
From a heart attack or a stroke
All because I refused to attend the extra class
I went, of course reluctantly
Walked away without getting any smaller
Except for my self-esteem
I learnt little about roller-blading
Mainly how to fall safely on my butt
And I had the honour
Of having the cracks in the courtyard attributed to my name
It was the year we learnt about Hiroshima and Nagasaki
So I had a new nickname: Fat Woman

Eventually I left school
But I realised I never truly left school
The mocking eyes of the classmate who felt entitled to take my sandwich
Turned into those of the waiter
Who judged what I chose to order
That was why I chose to buy my clothes online
Because when I cannot be seen or heard
I cannot be judged
But I have always wondered
Why the need to pay more for a few more inches of fabric?
What was normal, what was plus-sized?
Maybe it was just like my high school friends
They insisted I pay more for our shared lunches
Because who would believe someone of my size didn’t eat more than they did

So I worked hard
So that I could pay
For the right to dress up and be beautiful
For my lunch appointments with the same high school friends
Even if all they talked about were the people
That they had the freedom to love
Not for me
I learnt the freedom to love was never for me
Many people would love to have a fat friend
Because it would make them look thinner
And because it’s hip in this era to say
“I don’t fat-shame!”
As long, as I stayed platonic
But when I forgot my place
I turned into a terrifying Godzilla
Striking horror into the hearts of the innocent
“Shameless! Get away from me, FAT bitch!”
When all I wanted to do
Was to love them
But
Some people’s love is less equal than others
Especially when you have a nickname like Fat Woman

My nickname is Fat Woman
But unlike Fat Man
I was taught never to explode
And incinerate all those who have ever hurt me
Instead I am expected to implode
Slowly
Killing myself from within
But there are other ways of dealing with bombs, isn’t it?
I fought hard
To exorcise the demons that others had planted onto me
Sometimes in the depth of the night
I would recall the things I did not want to
Reopening all the wounds that nobody could see
Inflicted yesterday on this body of mine
But when dawn comes
I defuse myself.

About the Author: Manessa Lian writes because she loves, and because she loves, she writes. Through her writing, she hopes to get people thinking and talking about various social issues simmering below the surface.

 

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My Experience at the Body/Language Programme

by Kelvin Ng Jiawin, Change Maker and participant at Body/Language creative writing workshop

photo (1)I joined Body/Language, a creative writing workshop developed by EtiquetteSG and We Can! Singapore, for a simple reason: it combined writing and feminism, two of my favourite things. Needless to say, my expectations for the workshop were high. What I did not expect, however, was how much I gained from the workshop in return — besides affording me a creative platform to express my personal experiences with gender issues, the workshop prompted me to reevaluate my own conception of gender-based violence.

A wide range of topics were covered throughout the four sessions, as my fellow participants and I discussed issues of beauty standards, religion, gender stereotypes as well as institutional sexism. Manessa Lian, a public workshop participant, says, “It was an empowering experience, to be able to use poetry to talk about things that otherwise are rarely voiced out.”

Despite being the only (cisgender) male in the workshop, I never once felt left out, not only because I was able to share my own experiences with deviating from gendered ideals, something I’ve never been able to do comfortably in a mainstream setting, but also because I truly learned a great deal about how issues usually thought of as trivial, such as daily microaggressions, can realistically perpetuate more harm than we’d like to think.

1523098_871894242845508_7416063464966567862_oThe facilitators of my workshop, Nurul and Anne, were nothing short of stellar. They were simultaneously professional and personal throughout the four sessions, and succeeded in fostering an atmosphere comfortable enough for everyone to share their honest opinions. I particularly liked the ground rules democratically established on the first day, initiated by Anne; it provided a useful framework for our later discourse and ensured that no boundaries were transgressed.

I wasn’t the only one who felt this way; Sahar Pirzada, a fellow GEC workshop participant, says, ”The environment created by the facilitators of the course was one of warmth, support and trust. I felt safe to put my unique voice out there without fear of judgement from the facilitators or my peers. The positive support I received from the participants in my cohort of Body/Language encouraged me to perform at SWF.”

Knowing that it would be the first time performing a spoken word piece for most of us, Nurul also helpfully shared a few spoken word videos so we’d have a better idea of the techniques and forms that could undergird our works. At the same time, however, it was emphasised that we didn’t have to confine ourselves to any format or structure, and encouraged us to express ourselves in the most comfortable way, however informal or unstructured. Anung D’Lizta, a HOME workshop participant, opined that, “A lot of our feelings can’t be talked about, but it can be shared through our writing.”

10856490_871893199512279_6637369888932692318_oAs we began producing our works in one of the later sessions, the facilitators would go beyond providing helpful technical advice — they’d also initiate a conversation with us to understand where we were coming from, and why we wrote what we did. It was all done in a respectful, understanding manner, and other than providing a catharsis of sorts, both facilitators also shared really germane advice on our personal issues. Throughout the workshop, there was a significant amount of time devoted to conversing with each participant personally, yet in the end, no one was left out and everyone was catered to.

My facilitator, Nurul, shares, “It’s a beautifully designed workshop program that enables participants to tap into their inner writing warriors, most of which is driven by personal experiences that they have never or yet to articulate. It was evident that for most of the participants, it became a cathartic outlet to express themselves, not just through words, but through poetry, which allowed for a more creative and powerful resolution. The workshops also presented many participants the opportunity to discuss issues on a wider scale, having come with different perspectives on different issues.”

I had mixed feelings about sharing and performing my piece in front of the class during the last session — I was undeniably excited to let an audience hear it, yet there was an inevitable sense of anxiety and self-doubt. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to share it with, for everyone was immensely supportive and encouraging. Constructive feedback was provided in a very respectful manner for every participant’s work, and I really enjoyed listening to all the pieces written by my fellow creative minds! I left the workshop not merely with a poem I’m proud of, but with so much more — a better understanding of the different dimensions to gender violence, a stronger mastery of poetry-writing techniques and above all, a group of really kickass feminist friends.

pic1About the Author: Kelvin Ng is a debater by training and part-time poet. His biggest accomplishment is remembering all the lyrics to Beyonce’s ***Flawless — both the original one and the Nicki Minaj remix — so that must mean something.

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Boyhood

by Kelvin Ng Jiawin, Change Maker and Body/Language creative writing workshop participant. This piece was performed at the Singapore Writers Festival in November 2014. 

Dear 12-year-old Kelvin,

You are more than a simple three-digit test score, so
Don’t quantify your existence as a numerical term,
Don’t reduce yourself to a statistic that says nothing about you,
And don’t force yourself to see your image in white, able-bodied, cisgender, straight men;
Also, you’ll learn how to say “fuck you”
In a B-grade horror movie starring a white, able-bodied, cisgender, straight man;
But it’ll take you much longer to learn
How to say “fuck you” judiciously.

Dear 13-year-old Kelvin,
You came from an all boys primary school
Masquerading as a missionary boarding school with its fancy art deco facade,
And this may seem like a major revelation to you, but:
Men are not from Mars, they’re from Planet Earth;
Women are not from Venus, they’re from Planet Earth;
So stop trying to be a pseudo-Martian and just, you know, be yourself.

Dear 14-year-old Kelvin,
Just because everyone around you has a girlfriend,
Doesn’t mean you have to have one.
Take some time off, and get to know both herself and yourself better.
Also, banish the word “friendzone” from your vocabulary;
Expel it, exile it, extradite it altogether,
Because friendship should never be an insult.

Dear 15-year-old Kelvin,
You catch yourself stealing glances at the James Franco-lookalike in class,
And you catch yourself playing Born This Way on repeat a little too much;
Now repeat after me:
One: That is entirely normal,
Two: That doesn’t say anything about masculinity;
And three: What is masculinity, anyway?

Dear 16-year-old Kelvin,
You don’t have to take an all-science course just because you’re male,
You don’t have to force yourself into a sport you hate just because you’re male,
You don’t have to install DOTA2 on your laptop to get street cred just because you’re male.
I wish I could go all Butler on you — and read her, you’ll love her —
You literally don’t have to do anything just because you’re male.
(By the way, yes, I mean literally — check your privilege.)

Dear 17-year-old Kelvin,
You know what people say? That eating disorders are for girls only?
You’ll learn how insidious that twisted illusion is,
You’ll realise that there’s no point starving yourself and tasting the acidic tinge of your bile every recess,
You’ll discover that there’s so much more to life than trying to look like the Abercrombie and Fitch model gazing down at you, disapprovingly, when all you’re trying to do
Is to get to Kinokuniya across the street.
You learned the word “fuck” five years ago, now say:
Fuck body standards, fuck anyone who thinks you’re too fat, fuck anyone who thinks you’re too thin.

Dear 18-year-old Kelvin,
You just watched Boyhood,
And you can’t help but feel slightly alienated;
But remember:
You don’t have to see your image in a white, able-bodied, cisgender, straight man.

Sincerely,
19-year-old Kelvin.

pic1About the Author: Kelvin Ng is a debater by training and part-time poet. His biggest accomplishment is remembering all the lyrics to Beyonce’s ***Flawless — both the original one and the Nicki Minaj remix — so that must mean something.