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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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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”.

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 12.34.17 pm

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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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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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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#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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The Art of Growing Up

by Lishani Ramanayake, Change Maker and Body/Language creative writing workshop participant

Here’s an urban myth-
If your second toe is longer than your first,
you’ll be a dominating wife.
When you are 12, your grandmother will tell you that when a nice doctor with a car and a house
comes looking for your hand,
Your sari should always cover your feet,
because who wants a wife that will tell you what to do?
This will be the first time they teach you womanhood.

When you are 13, your aunt will tell you to eat less,
That cute boys don’t date fat girls,
That there are a 100 calories in a banana,
That you are unpretty until told otherwise.

When you are 14, your English teacher will tell you that he’d like to see your hips in a sari,
You will want to take your thick anthology of poems by Rudyard Kipling
And shove it down his throat
As if doing so will erase the indelible mark he left on you
As if doing so means that you can drape silk on skin and not have it feel like an unwelcome touch
As if doing so means you will forget
But instead, you will smile and glance away, uncomfortable, apologetic, because good little
Ceylonese girls are always meant to be seen and not heard.

When you are 15, your mother will tell you not to cut your hair,
Do not listen.
When she says that girls should have two tight braids hanging down the length of their spine as
they sit straight, legs crossed at the ankles like the ladies they- YOU- are supposed to be,
Do not listen.
Cut your hair. Run with scissors in your hand. Do not listen.
When you are 16, you will meet a boy
with eyes the colour of a bleeding sky and a smile that tastes like Sunday mornings.
You will think you’re in love.

When you are 17, don’t do it.
When he tries to take your shirt off instead of teaching you how to drive,
Don’t do it.
When he says you’ll do it if you love him,
Don’t do it.
When he breaks up with you, you will feel like cutting out every part of you he’s ever touched
As if salvation can come from the sweet kiss of a razor blade,
As if bleeding your veins dry will take away whatever is left of him inside you,
Don’t do it.

When you are 18,
You will think you have the whole world figured out,
You’ll think you fit in their boxes,
You won’t fit in their boxes,
Fuck their boxes,
Make your own box,
Make your own circle if you have to.

About the Author: Lishani Ramanayake hails from Sri Lanka, but has made Singapore her adopted home. She has been many things- an imaginary pirate, a tree climber, a freelance journalist, and an undergraduate at Yale-NUS College.