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50 shades of fab

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You see her pulling back her top. You see her pulling down her skirt. You see her angling her body away, averting her eyes, folding into herself bit by bit until she can fit into a corner. “That top’s too low,” they’ve told her. “Are you going out in that tiny skirt?” they’ve questioned. “Keep your eyes down, keep your legs closed, your hands folded” she’s instructed.She’s poked, prodded, pushed, pulled to fit into the mould they have her assigned to, slowly folding into herself until she becomes so small she is no more.

Who is she?
Isn’t she a little bit of all of us? Aren’t we a little bit of her?Speaking with a few girlfriends this week, the conversation inevitably led to criticism us women are so quick to dish out on ourselves. While most men swagger around like they own the world and everything that’s in it, most of us women, we are busy finding fault with themselves even before we made it through door in the morning into the big wide world.
“I am too fat,” some say. “I’m too skinny,” the others.
“I am useless.”
“I suck at everything.”
“I am so stupid.”
“They don’t like me.”
“They will make fun of me.”
The myriad of negative self-talk we have become experts in giving ourselves.

“You can’t help internalise it,” a friend said, “especially if you’ve heard it so many times from the people who are supposed to love you” before she gave her mum as an example. “If she didn’t agree with me, she would speak her mind in words that were hurtful – so hurtful that it would make me feel, if she is saying it, it must be true. But now I can tell her to take it back and that whatever names she calls me – “useless” or “stupid”, I do not accept them.”

“I wore this top this morning and only felt as I was driving into work it was a bit low. Now I keep telling myself I shouldn’t have worn it and I keep pulling it back, even though I know it’s really not inappropriate. I think it is cultural – from being told what to wear and what not to from an early age.”

“It’s like in my culture,” said another, “Growing up, I was always told I need to wear long tops to cover my backside and to this day I feel it is wrong when I wear something that doesn’t cover my bum. If I did, I would start wondering what other people are saying about me.”

Inevitable the conversation turned to double standards and how men never feel the need to live within the parameters set by the family or the society. Have you ever seen a man questioning the length of his trousers as he proudly puts on display in mankles? Or wonder if his tailored shirt is too fitted to be considered appropriate? Have you ever met a man who worries about what people will think of his suit, or his shoes, his beard or his man bun?

The mundane fears of “what will they say” and “what will they think” have a darker side too – when societal double standard imposed on women ramp up under more grim circumstances.I have always marvelled how women in developed Western nations never correlate the length of the skirts or the cut of their tops, the sway of their hips or the angle of their gaze to the behaviour of men around them. They have simply not been brought up to think what they wear or how they carry themselves will give men other ideas and put them in the path of danger.

On the other hand, any woman who’s grown up in a developing nation knows the incredible weight of fear of the imminent danger and carrying the responsibility of wayward make behaviour. “Don’t wear short skirts, you will get harassed”, “don’t get on a crowded bus, you will get fondled,” “Don’t go out late at night, you’ll get raped.” Even when not so overtly instructed, we know that it is the unspoken, unspeakable conditional that follows every warning. We are taught, inadvertently, we are the cause of men’s misbehaviour. And if a man has misbehaved, it is often accepted unanimously the woman must have caused it.

In Turkish, we even have a proverb that goes, “If the bitch doesn’t wag her tail, the stud won’t try it.”As women we are judged almost from that first step we take as toddlers to every single step – whether it is out of the door in the morning, or into the boardroom with men who should be on equal footing, or walking down a tough alleyway. Even more so, if you’ve been raised by mothers who’ve been raised by mothers who never knew any better.
Self-doubt, self-questioning, verbal self-flagellation are meted out as part and parcel of being a woman and we perpetuate these beliefs every time we look at the distorting mirror of our mind and reduce ourselves to foldable, flexible insignificance. As women we are not only so full of self-doubt but also have an immeasurable propensity for negative self-talk. The bar for our conformity has been set so high up that even when we are just an inch short we start berating ourselves wondering for not being good enough.

So I urge you, today, when you look in the mirror, tell yourself you are beautiful, talented, smart, fifty shades of fabulous that you are phenomenally, wonderfully you, beyond measure. Then put your high heels on, and that top you always thought was low but actually isn’t, the skirt you kept pulling down which didn’t need pulling, put on your red lippy and go out and conquer the world.


In this article:
Sinem Bilen-Onabanjo
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