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Is ‘Casual’ Racism Really Casual?

By Natasha Sadiq & Tan Jing Min

“How long does it take for an Indian woman to pass motion?”

“How long?”

“9 months”

Cackles of laughter ensue. I look around the group of friends encircling me. I seem to be the only person who didn’t find the joke funny.

I’m going to go out on a limb here (I might be completely wrong) and guess that it’s because I’m the only person of Indian descent. I tried hard to conceal the indignation coalescing on my face.

I failed. I suppose they couldn’t miss my suddenly darkened face.

“But it’s just a joke, don’t be so sensitive la.”

And they were right: it was just a joke. But the jokes we tell speak volumes about our subliminal racial biases and standards of beauty. Colour is the subject of much banter among youths and even some circles of adults especially in multiracial Singapore, but the light-hearted irreverence belies more insidious undertones: body shaming and body image issues.

Body shaming is the practice of making mortifying and demeaning remarks about a person’s body size, weight, or appearance. The prevalence of body shaming in societies should not be trivialised – anxieties about one’s beauty and appearance are rising exponentially.

According to the Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report, Dove’s largest-ever study on women’s perceptions of beauty, research shows that women’s level of body confidence is at an all-time low. The study, which involved interviews with 10,500 women across 13 different countries, showed that a large majority of women struggle with body image issues.

The study also showed that body image issues are not confined to a mere lack of confidence and physical insecurities. These issues do pose consequences on a much broader and larger scale. For example, the study showed that about 85 per cent of all women and 79 per cent of girls admitted that they choose to absent themselves from important life events when they do not feel confident about their appearance. Additionally, 9 out of 10 women skip meals and compromise their health when they feel insecure about their bodies.

The problem of body shaming can also manifest in tangible third-party harm: a study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) showed that bullying in Singapore is worryingly high compared to other countries – the third highest, to be exact. 18.3 per cent of students experience ridicule a few times a month. Spreading of rumours, being left out, and having things taken away from them were among the other forms of bullying cited by students.

This is telling of a mindset internalised from early childhood: we are entitled to judge others, and ostracise others if they fail to meet the mark.

In Singapore, casual racist remarks about one’s appearances may also constitute body shaming. One can even argue that these remarks are more damaging to a person’s self-esteem because changing one’s race or skin colour would be arguably more difficult than altering one’s weight. Here, body shaming is a reality not merely for girls and women, but for boys and men as well.

Indeed, body shaming and racial stereotypes share a symbiotic relationship. Racial stereotypes and colourism contribute to a culture of body shaming (and vice versa) when people associate a certain race with certain physical characteristics, and then conceive of a narrow standard of beauty based on certain “undesirable” traits found in one’s race or physical appearance.

One example of this is when we attribute certain physical traits like fatness, darker skin tones and even unkempt hair to certain races, consequently branding them “lazy” or  “unprofessional”.

What we need to be more aware of is the fact that individualised instances of casual racism have the potential to affect how we perceive broader social groups and communities. Here, something as personalised and singular as casual racism helps build the foundation for larger issues of social prejudice.

Because skin colour can be such a visceral reminder of how one individual differs from another, it is especially important that we take heed of our latent biases. The issue of race regularly arises in national discourse for good reason–from racial politics to majority privilege, it is clear that while Singapore embraces diversity, it also poses a constant potential source of tension.

Whether we are concerned with seemingly superficial issues like physical appearances or those that entail greater social implications like race, we need to understand that they are all connected by threads of influence. The seemingly light-hearted jokes about race we pass around as pleasantries carry more poison in its arsenal than we think.

 

About the authors: 

Natasha graduated from NUS with a degree in Political Science and dislikes empty niceties. She is currently looking for her job. Please inform her if you find it.

Jing Min is waiting to begin reading Law at Cambridge University, but looks like she could be starting primary school. She tries to use this to her advantage (with little success).

 

Featured image by Natalie Nourigat.

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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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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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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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Bald = Beautiful

Written by Michelle Shobana, Change Maker

My hair has always been a big part of my life. As a young child, around the age of 4 or 5, I was already spotting wavy hair that went all the way to my knees. My mother loved styling my hair, and as such, I had various styles: braids, scorpions, pony tails, huge locks. So when she had to cut my hair because I got lice when I was 7, I was devastated. I felt the short hair made my face seem so round and unsightly. The growing process did not make me feel any better, as my hair grew out thick and rough. I always had it tamed into a tight ponytail, despite the headaches.

1bb As soon as I started secondary school, I started to straighten my hair every 2 years and never allowed a pair of scissors near my head for almost 4 years. I took so much pride in my hair as I thought it showed everyone the type of person that I am. I felt that modifying it in any way would change me internally. Even till last year, the changes I have made to my hair were either very subtle, or were made to complement my body shape. I always felt that my hair was the most beautiful feature about me, and without it, I just wouldn’t be ‘me’.

About a month ago, I was scrolling through  social media when I saw a colleague of mine post about her registering for Hair for Hope 2015. It intrigued me, and I read about how she felt joining this movement and making a statement would be another way of supporting the movement, especially since she couldn’t afford to donate a substantial amount. It sparked something in me, and I immediately started to research more. The more I read, the more I wanted to register for the event. Something I wouldn’t have even imagined doing 24 hours ago, seemed more real to me than ever at that moment.

I didn’t feel the need to ask anyone permission, but I decided to ask my close friends and family what they would think if I did it anyway. And to my disappointment, those closest to me were very much not interested in the idea. My sister’s engagement was set to happen a month after the event, and some of my family members were concerned with the image I would portray. I was asked, “You want to be bald? And wear a sari?” as if doing so would make me a spectacle. Some made me feel I would regret my decision the second I had done it, while others made me feel like they would be embarrassed or unwilling to handle being around me.

3bbThe reaction that I received was not something I was anticipating, but it gave me great insight into the social stigma that came together with shaving your head, especially as someone whom identifies as a woman. Femininity is usually portrayed or identified with hairstyle, causing hair to be seen as an important element of someone’s personality, attractiveness as well as a great indicator of their femininity. Though they are present, it is rather hard to find active representation of bald women as a norm in media. It is even harder to find representation of bald Indian women in media, especially on local television. Perhaps this was a reason for my initial thoughts about my own hair as well.

As advocates for a better and more accepting future, we must show everyone around us that being bald is not different from any other hairstyle, and that you are never alone in your fight. Children should be brought up in a social environment that does not ostracize anyone, especially for appearance.

Bald is Beautiful.

2bbAbout the Author: Michelle is a third-year student in Republic Polytechnic, doing a course in Information Technology. She aims to be a teacher and hopes to help individuals in their education through self-awareness. She sees a future where she and her partner can live happily, without being called out for being different. In her spare time, she listens to rock music and takes things one day at a time.

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Policing fat bodies and misogyny

By Louise Low, Change Maker

“You would look so much better if you lost all that weight!”

“Wah! You still want to eat so much!”

“She shouldn’t be wearing that – she’s too fat.”

louiseDoes this sound familiar? These statements are commonly directed towards fat people in attempts to control or police their bodies. Fat-shaming is the act of discriminating against a person because of their weight, and often involves publicly policing fat people’s appearance, behaviour, and attitude. We’ve all likely experienced fat-shaming as a victim, perpetrator or as both.

In societies like Singapore, many social factors combine to produce a general disapproval of larger bodies. Individuals feel entitled to police fat individuals – condemning their diet and attire, among other lifestyle choices, and sometimes openly disparaging them. It can be directed towards celebrities, strangers, friends, and children. People whom feel judged for their size often in turn internalise such attitudes and discriminate against other fat people. People of any gender may be subject to such treatment, though one’s age, race and environment among several varying factors affect their experience of fat shaming. This article focuses on the policing of women with fat bodies, its underlying misogynist roots, and its harms.

How do people police fat bodies?

The intolerance of fat women’s bodies and the denial of their autonomy manifests itself in various forms. People hold fat women to certain expectations; in terms of behaviour, they are judged for what they eat, their physical activity, and their attire. For instance, fashion magazines or well-meaning friends or family might tell a fat person how to dress to appear slimmer, and deem certain articles of clothing unflattering or only meant for thinner frames; fat people, women especially, thus have an imposed limitation on their choice of clothing. In this manner, the fat individual’s attire is policed.

In terms of attitude, they are expected to be apologetic, self-conscious, and uncomfortable with their bodies, and to want to “remedy” their “problem”. They are obliged to feel responsible for the perceived unhealthy and unlikeable state of their bodies. I recall a joke on ‘The Noose’ in which a character proclaimed, to combat inappropriate attire, that uniforms should be imposed on polytechnics, “but not the sleeveless kind, like SCGS, because some of the girls’ arms are very fat.” Incidentally, I was studying at said school and wore an uncomfortable jacket everywhere out of insecurity – which was funnily affirmed by this aforementioned joke. Even though it might be done in jest, the constant and cumulative rejection and ridicule of large bodies has real impact on the self-esteem of individuals, particularly young women. 

trqlq-st_-81Why is it harmful?

The policing of fat bodies compromises an individual’s physical and mental health. Studies have proven that fat-shaming is not only unhelpful in losing weight, but also exacerbates weight gain. It may also lead to body image issues, to which young girls are very susceptible, potentially causing mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, as well as eating disorders. A person pressured into losing weight via fat-shaming is not necessarily healthier, and may in fact hold misinformed ideas on health.

Decreased confidence and poor self-esteem could also affect a person’s choices and behaviour, forcing them to limit what they can or cannot do, and make decisions out of fear. They may also deem themselves unworthy of things such as love, from others or themselves. This belief may affect fat individuals too; it is a result of, and worsens how society deems fat people less deserving.

Besides compromising their health, the act of fat-shaming dehumanises fat people. I realised even accomplished women were subjected to discomfort and policed their own bodies when a highly skilled, experienced, and knowledgeable university professor would make self-depreciating jokes about her weight during lectures. Policing fat bodies dehumanises fat people, and may mislead some, including fat people themselves, to believe that it is a definitive and shameful aspect of their identity, regardless of their character and personal achievements.

louise2How is the policing of women’s body size misogynistic?

“Misogyny” refers to the exhibition of hatred towards, or the mistreatment of, women. The policing of plus-sized women’s bodies are inextricably linked to and rooted in misogyny. The main reasons for fat-intolerance are male-centric views on female attractiveness and mainstream beauty standards. Take a walk down Orchard Road, and you’ll easily spot fashion advertisements featuring women of similar, slender build. (Another disturbing pattern you can observe is that a disproportionately large majority of the female models we see in beauty advertisements here are Caucasian or East Asian. This of course reveals not only the mainstream discrimination of women’s beauty by body types, but by race as well. Beauty standards are very often racialized, and this also stems from patriarchal systems as well as the objectification of women who are ethnic minorities, and is an issue that warrants its own discussion.)

Conversely, fat bodies receive negative media portrayal, and are regarded as a problem that needs to be fixed – women are bombarded daily with advertisements for weight loss treatments. They send a clear message as to what society deems acceptable – a narrow range of body types that excludes fat bodies. A more disturbing connotation, that is not always acknowledged, is that women’s bodies are not their own, but subject to male approval, and women are thus obliged to change their bodies to fit male standards.

Although there exist supposed counter-movements that praise “curvy” women and claim to inspire body positivity, they are unhelpful when acceptance for fatness is centred on it being more appealing to men, while rejecting smaller bodies. For example, ‘All About That Bass’ relies on lyrics that supposedly celebrate fat women by putting down thin women – “You know I won’t be no stick-figure, silicone Barbie doll” – even though body positivity is about acceptance of all bodies, and claiming that the former is more attractive to men – “boys they like a little more booty to hold at night”. This merely shifts sexual objectification from one body type to another, and personally, does not empower me as a plus-size woman. Women are not in competition with each other for male approval; no one body type should be deemed inferior to the other, by men. People should acknowledge women’s autonomy over their own bodies, instead of viewing “beauty” as something bestowed upon them by men.

Internalizing negative portrayals leads to anxieties regarding one’s own body, and leads to the judgement of others as well. A person with body image issues as a result of the policing of their bodies may apply unrealistic expectations upon themselves, and project such negative and unhealthy expectations onto others. This results in a collective condemnation of fat women, the root of which is negative stereotyping and gender expectations.

It is time to let go of the misconception that fat people are obliged to feel apologetic about themselves, and to stop the normalizing of harmful, sexist condemnation of fat women. 

About the author: Louise is a feminist and an undergraduate at the National University of Singapore. Her most despised TV/movie trope is the one where a self-loathing plus-sized or otherwise supposedly unattractive female character learns to love herself through (or even worse: loses weight for) a romantic relationship with a male character.

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#InstaWorthy

by Nicole Seah, Change Maker

woman-low-self-esteemI think it’s safe to say that Instagram is the most addictive app I’ve ever downloaded. I’m addicted to staying in the loop. The nationwide obsession with Instagram is definitely on the steep incline, with most of my friends posting almost daily, obsessing over their Instagram feeds, and finding out which ‘vsco’ edits to use for their selfie. Despite Instagram making me feel bad about myself, I still continue to scroll through the endless pages of impeccable compositions and perfect bodies. I double tap often, begrudgingly admitting that I ‘liked’ their photo.

Instagram, that sneaky little app, now makes me obsess over the number of ‘likes’ I get on a picture. If it doesn’t go above a certain number of ‘likes’ in 20 minutes, I seriously (no joke) consider deleting the photo, or ponder incessantly about why so-and-so scrolled past the well edited, square-cropped photo of my lunch.

Embarrassingly, I have yet to mention the amount of ‘fitspiration’ and ‘fitness gurus’ that I follow on Instagram. Sporting long, lean legs and a flat, toned tummy, their bodies are tapered and sleek, fit for a Victoria’s Secret Model. I follow around 40-50 fitness icons and supermodels, just to sneak a peek into their glamorous lives, prodding my insistent insecurities and questions: What can I do to achieve that body? Those legs? If I starve myself for a couple of weeks maybe it’ll reduce the size of my thighs by a couple inches so it can look like theirs?

Sometimes, when models post food photos I get insanely jealous: if they can eat that and stay so thin why can’t I? Life is so unfair! I’m sure this resonates with a number of people. Instagram is like the alcohol of social media: we know the stigma attached to being obsessed with this sort of app, but we do it anyways.

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 9.51.26 pmInstagram can also promote jealousy and negativity. Many comments on popular pages nowadays range from snide to outright disrespectful. Girls anonymously say hurtful things to spite others, such as ‘she’s too fat’ or ‘she’s too thin’ on photos of strangers beaming in bikinis. Shouldn’t girls be respectful to other girls? Be supportive of other girls? Rather, the ideal girl has been portrayed so many times on Instagram that everyone develops a “critical eye”. Social media, coupled with the patriarchal society we live in, pits girls against each other, waging a war with the number of followers they have, what kind of edits they used, and their life in general.

Just my reminder to ANY girls – or boys for that matter – who are reading this: Instagram, or social media in general, is all done by choice. People are hidden behind a shiny iPhone 6 and glamorised by good lighting and layered effects. ‘Perfect’ people on Instagram only show you what they want you to see.

I am not saying delete Instagram, because many people (including yours truly) find it a nightly guilty ritual, scrolling through the colourful pages. But be aware. Be wary of what is real and what isn’t. There is always an angle, a backstory and a flaw. We are human beings and we are stitched with flaws, they’re what make us who we are. Teenagers are arguably at one of the most rocky and most raw parts of our journeys towards self-perception, and nothing hurts more than society telling us that other people are “better than you”. Believe me I know. Remember to be proud of what you are.

You are worth more than a hashtag, or 1000 likes. Do not let Instagram – or anyone else – determine your worth.

About the Author: Nicole is a professional sloth, yoga enthusiast and avid bookworm who has no sense of direction whatsoever. She likes to surprise people with her audacity and her supremely horrible puns, and is a little too obsessed with frozen yoghurt.

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Gaming As Women

by Ming Gui, Change Maker

From the massive underrepresentation of females in video games to the sexualisation of female characters, video games have been responsible for promoting gender norms and stereotypes. Since we were young, we have seen female characters like Princess Peach and Zelda portrayed as damsels in distress, waiting around for a male character to rescue them.

So why these stereotypes are an issue, and what are their impact?

Firstly, it encourages negative attitude and beliefs

Warrior_FemaleIn games like Grand Theft Auto, Tomb Raider and Dead or Alive, female characters are shown as scantily-clad women with large breasts, an impossibly slim figure and a face that society would describe as beautiful or sexy. In fact, a study by Dill and Thill in 2005 found that 80% of video games include such portrayal of women. Female characters are also, more often than not, portrayed as weak, dependent or as damsels in distress.

What kind of message would this send to the players? That girls should aim to achieve the body of, and dress just like, the female characters in order to be liked? Or that women are supposed to always wait around for a guy to rescue her?

How are you even supposed to fight enemies while dressed like that? I would be too busy pulling and adjusting that thin piece of cloth covering my important parts whenever I walked.

Secondly, it encourages tolerance and support for sexual harassment and rape

Research by Dill, Brown, and Collins found that long-term exposure to violent video games can lead to more tolerance towards sexual violence. One possible reason could be that because video games portray sexual harassment and rape as the norm, it is also seen as the norm by the player, even in real life. Sometimes, the game might even praise the player for using such violent means to progress through a mission.

17pofc3mjy2xsjpgThis is further supported by a study done by Yao, Mahood, and Linz. Of the 74 males who were assigned to play either a sexually-explicit or non-sexually-explicit game, those who played a sexually-explicit game were more likely to view women as sex objects and display inappropriate behaviours towards them.

Some may argue that men are equally objectified in video games because they are portrayed to be muscular, strong and impossibly well-built. However…

If we examine the traits given to female and male characters, we will notice that female characters are usually portrayed to have no other personality other than their big bust and beautiful figure. Whereas for male characters, they are usually portrayed as not just muscular, but strong, courageous and brave. There is a difference in the messages the game sends across to each gender. Being portrayed as nothing but a beautiful figure is not the same as being portrayed as a muscular and strong person. One is passive while the other is active.

As video game critique Jimquisition points out, there is a difference: Female characters are objectified while male characters are idealised.

As the video game industry is worth billions of dollars with millions of players, changes need to be made in the video game industry in order to further promote the cause of gender equality. If game producers were to be a little more mindful of the gender stereotypes they portray in their games, we will be one step closer to gender equality.

As a child, I remember that my favourite game is Super Mario. In the game, Princess Peach is always being kidnapped by the big bad guy Browser, and it is up to Mario and Luigi to save her. Because the characters are cartoons and I play as Mario, it does not have that much of an impact on my views of men and women. However, I recall finding myself wishing that I can play as Princess Peach instead, and have my own adventures to escape from Browser’s castle.

15gaming-callout-master1050As I got older, the gaming world grew as well. I started playing a few MMORPGs. In these games, I noticed that female characters always have great clothes, really big busts and just look really pretty. I remember spending a lot of time customising my character. Before I knew it, I started wishing that I could look like them. I even started altering my appearance, and buying accessories that looks like the character’s. Looking back, it was the first time I actually took notice of my own appearance and started being self-conscious. It affected me slightly, as I fought to attain the unachievable beauty of my character, spending hours in front of my computer screen and visualising myself looking like my character.

Now, as a young adult, I feel confident with my own looks. I now play games for the plot and storyline, not for the beauty of the characters. However, my story illustrates the impact that gaming has on young teenagers who are still learning to accept and love their own bodies.

As a hardcore female gamer, I would love to play a game where female characters are shown as brave warriors, but without being scantily-clad or sexualised. I would love to play a game where male characters are not always the aggressive one, and are capable of showing emotions.

I would love to play a game meant for everybody.

References:

Dill, K. E., Brown, B. P., & Collins, M. A. (2008). Effects of exposure to sex-stereotyped video game characters on tolerance of sexual harassment. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44(5), 1402–1408. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2008.06.002

Dill, K. E, & Thill, K. P. (2007). Video game characters and the socialization of gender roles: Young people’s perceptions mirror sexist media depictions. Sex Roles, 57, 851–864. doi:10.1007/s11199-007-9278-1

Yao, M. Z., Mahood, C., & Linz, D. (2009). Sexual priming, gender stereotyping, and likelihood to sexually harass: Examining the cognitive effects of playing a sexually-explicit video game. Sex Roles, 62(1-2), 77–88. doi: 10.1007/s11199-009-9695-4

About the Author: Min is a hardcore gamer with a Steam library loaded with games. She loves Skyrim, Two Worlds, GTA, Vampire: The Masquerade, Pokemon, Ace Attorney, Final Fantasy, and the list could stretch on for miles. She hopes to play more games that allows her to play as a strong female character.  

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Blog

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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Blog

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.