How to stay fitness motivated + my journey (pics)

I’ve always had problems with my weight growing up. I remember being a heavy teenager and then yo-yo-ing during my early 20s. It took me a really long time to finally get into a routine and to feel confident in my own skin. Even though I seem like I have this gym thing down and my days of being overweight are a distant memory, I’m still trying to keep myself motivated. This path is not a linear path. It’s full of ups and downs and bumps and slides and ebbs and flows and highs and lows.

fat diana
Me in December 2015

I hated my figure, I hated the way I looked without makeup, I hated pretty much everything. I was stuck in a career limbo and even though I went to the gym, I wasn’t losing much weight because I didn’t know what I know now (and what I’m about to share with you guys). It took me a few years, but I finally got to this:

fit diana
Me in February 2018 ☆

Even though I still consider myself on my journey, getting to where I am now was one hell of a rollercoaster. Some weeks I was very motivated and would go five times a week and then I would just not see the point anymore. I would either get very frustrated from the results, or I’d just get lazy. I used to force myself to go to the gym after work so it would always be a burden on me.

At one point I woke up at 5am for a workout before my shift – good for you if you can do that, but that was not for me.

I couldn’t exercise because I was so tired and I wasn’t able to eat a proper breakfast because I had to rush to work straight after, I got even more tired, depressed, was less healthy and had a very horrible relationship with food.

I got there eventually – but here are some things I wish I knew:

Keep your expectations realistic

Don’t overburden yourself with a crazy amount of pressure. Don’t go into the gym with an overpowering urge to get that super sexy body – especially because that’s not what your journey is primarily about. Looking good is important, but it’s not the reason to go to the gym.

Don’t compare yourself to others and don’t try to make drastic changes. This is where people tend to fall because they don’t build strong foundations for a healthier lifestyle. Start off with making sure you’re exercising regularly and whilst you’re doing that, gradually cut down on sweets etc so your body can get used to the healthier alternatives. It also gives you more time to figure out what works for you.

Your unhealthy cravings change over time as well. In 2015, crisps were primarily a no-go for me. Now, I see a packet and I hoover it down. Does that mean I’ve regressed? No, it just means my taste has changed. We’re human.

Don’t scare yourself with technicalities. Start slow and as you progress your workouts, actually research the exercise, the muscle groups and the form. Start off light and work your way up. Constantly review yourself and ask people to help. I was very intimidated by fitter people when I first started, but now that I know what I’m doing (to a degree), I’m more than happy to help and ask for help at the same time.

Obsessing over body image is self sabotage

I had a really hard time with this. Still do sometimes. Hating your body will not motivate you to change it, if anything the opposite plays out. You’re on a new journey to better your looks, your mindset, your routine, etc. You’ll stress less and do better if you stop obsessing over your “goal.”

27657636_1453964618063210_597353433308180108_n
September 2017 – progress!

Trust me, the moment I stopped caring about how I looked and focused more on building strength and increasing my form was the moment my figure improved. It’s also a good mental exercise to stop you from judging your self worth based on your self esteem. There’s a difference between wanting to look good and the crushingly counterproductive act of over-scrutinising.

You fall into a vicious cycle of something that isn’t a big deal. We don’t realise that life journeys start in our heads. If we are convinced that we’re ugly, our perception of ourselves will be ugly no matter what we do. Start with not hating yourself and aspire to love yourself.

It isn’t just my body shape that is different when you compare September 2017 to February 2018. Look at the way my feet are firmly on the ground, my posture, my shoulders and the way I’ve stopped hyperextending my knees (look at how far back my left knee is in the photo). I didn’t even realise how bad all of these issues were back in September because I was so fixated on being “skinny.”

Take your time in developing a routine

Make sure your first few months at the gym consist of you figuring out what does and doesn’t work for you. I hated working out in the morning before work, but I know people who swear by it. Work up a sweat, chug a protein shake, eat something they prepared the night before and they are good to go to the office.

Waking up earlier than I would I am not working, however, works for me and this is only something I realised this month. This lovely girl I met encourages me to go to pilates on Saturday mornings taught by my PT and when I’m not doing weekend shifts, I make sure I go.

As you exercise, you grow and change as a person; not necessarily because of your workouts, but because of the way you manage your time and life so you will have to find and keep updating your workout routine.

Aim to go three times a week. If you slack at some point, don’t beat yourself up and do not plant the idea that you’re not made for the gym. Don’t even think about it or analyse it, just have a better gym week the next week. If a pattern emerges, however, and you realise you don’t go to the gym after work, etc then work around that. There’s a huge difference between having a bad week and having a bad routine.

Remember, you are what you attract. If you treat the gym like a burden, it becomes one. Be wise with your thoughts because they are more powerful than you think.

Don’t think about it

One of my biggest mistakes was thinking about going to the gym. I still make this mistake now.

I used to plan my week and the days I go to the gym, but I realised that doesn’t work out for me. What I like to do is I keep myself in check and on a day I know it’s been a while since I went to the gym and I have nothing to do after work, I just pack my gym clothes with me and take my arse there.

Some of my readers work full time and are also mothers – for that, I would say exercise at home if you can’t go to the gym. YouTube has an insane amount of workouts (at one point I preferred YouTube to the gym) and you can always exercise with your kids.

The gym isn’t the only place to exercise and you shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll get a good workout only if you go to the gym. It can be the complete opposite sometimes.

When you have that urge to exercise, just do it. If you know you can’t make it to the gym, then do it at home or at a park or wherever else. If you wake up and have a free day, don’t procrastinate going to the gym, just put your shoes on and go.

Remember, it’s really simple. Don’t over complicate and overthink. Don’t try to be an expert or whatever is in your head, just treat it as a part of your life rather than something you add to your list of chores. Give yourself time and cut yourself some slack. It’s hard to stay committed, but it’s so worth it.

Counterintuitive chronicles

This is going to sound like one hell of a massive contradiction, but considering how life in itself is a massive contradiction, do contradictions really make us wrong?

It’s weird. We could really want something , yet when it comes to figuring out how to get there, our minds can sometimes become our worst enemy. We become so rash and try to find the easiest “quick fix” approach to dealing with our discontents. Sometimes there are no decisions that can be made to make rash ones, which could seem worse at some points. We just sit in a limbo state. Waiting. Our minds want to zoom up and take us out of this state we’re in, but nothing can be done.

The art of doing nothing

The concept of doing nothing has become almost like a lost art. Its cousin, laziness, only has as much to do with doing nothing as your own scale of laziness. If a friend was horrible to you for no reason and you choose to do nothing and ignore that person, you’re not being lazy – you’re taking yourself out of a situation which would lead to more fights and petty arguments.

If you’re taking a break from life to meditate, you’re not being lazy. You’re focusing on your mindfulness which will make you more productive. If you take “meditation breaks” during work outside of your break/lunch hours, you’re being lazy.

 

The major thrust behind doing nothing is realising that not everything is in our control. When we want something more than anything, desperately scrambling and stressing when you know your stress is counterproductive, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Yes, strive. Yes, allow yourself to feel stressed when things get really bad. We’re human. We’re allowed to stress and feel like shit. But when you’re doing something for the sake of doing something even though you know pretty damn well it may lead to nothing, sit down and just do nothing.

Spooky-ookie-vibes

When I first read about the Law of Attraction, I honestly thought it was a load of bullshit. I didn’t understand how “raising your vibration” will lead you to having a better life. To me, it consisted of visualising and then letting go, so you have to pretend you have what you want but at the same time let go of the thought and forget about it? And then I was desperately trying to manifest something into my life so I was scrambling to read about it and practice it even though I didn’t believe in it but I had to do something and, ugh!!!

Really, the principle isn’t some new-age crap. It’s all about striving to get what you want, but not being emotionally attached to it and never thinking our happiness relies on getting what we want to manifest. Just know you’ll be okay – because it’s a universal fact. It’s also true that when we’re emotionally attached to a specific outcome, things don’t come to us because we don’t allow them to. We send out such negative vibes to God that even though he is all merciful, he asks us to show gratitude for us to give him more. We need to be thankful for what we have and okay with who we are. Nothing from our personal spheres, be it a person, a salary, etc will make us happier, because happiness comes from within.

Being counterintuitive

The main principle of being counterintuitive is to relax. Just know things come and go. So do people. Usually, you find yourself in win-win situations. For example, if you’re speaking to someone and they suddenly ignore you, an urge that was socialised into you would be to salvage the conversation or the budding friendship, because one of our deep driving desires is companionship. It only makes sense to chase after people, no?

The counterintuitive approach, however, would be just allow that person to do their thing. If someone isn’t making an effort with you or is being toxic, put aside your innate desire for companionship and do what is best for you. The person will either stay away from you, saving you from yet more disappointments, or will come back and apologise.

We’re all taught to work hard to succeed, but as we all know, working yourself to the grave is not exactly the best idea, to say the least. So what should we do? Take breaks. That’s counterintuitive.

Same goes for wanting to be in a relationship. The quest to find someone is situated on finding another person, so surely, you would need to be on the look out and have your eyes open. Yes. Of course. But don’t forget to blink. And sleep.

When we are so fixated on finding someone, we lose ourselves, which makes it harder for people to find us. Let go and stop stressing. Trust that it will come to you.

It seems so heavy at times, but really, being counterintuitive all comes down to one thing: trust. Trusting God, trusting yourself and trusting the process. If you don’t trust yourself, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

Trust that you will get to your goals and they will come. The more you stress, the less connected you are to your inner being and to the world around you – which in turn means the further you are away.

Journaling…

I always say this, but: bloody hell, long time.

Gosh, I miss when my website was called www.dianaism.com. I need to contact WordPress and get my old domain back.

Anyway, I completely forgot about this blog when I saw no use for it. Maintaining it became a chore and I was uninspired to the point I lost all touch with even documenting the beauty around me. Did I want it to become a food blog? Did I want to conceptualise and write solid articles? But why do that when I could just pitch to magazines?

Well, my journaling story and being cuckolded by depression and anxiety have answered all of my questions for me. I have been trying to recover using so many means from the outside, because I felt like healing from within is useless and overrated. I felt like mindfulness, yoga and meditation were all band-aids and ways to trick myself into recovery. Every time I felt something “strange” happen, which looking back were mini revelations that I suppressed because I wasn’t taking myself seriously, I would stop and start scrolling through Instagram.

How fucking toxic?

Work, gym, home, friends and repeat. My only real sanctuary was writing in my diary, which in all honesty, I would only do when things got too much. It was temporarily therapeutic, but did nothing for me in the long run because I was irregular. I mean, who has time to write two pages a day about how shit life is?

It wasn’t until last month I was with a friend, her niece and her sister. The niece got restless so we took her outside and ended up in Waterstones. There we saw a one line a day journal, which my friend’s sister has and she started to talk about how amazing it is. You have one page for one day, enough for five years. You fill in the year and write a memory. I got curious. I then saw a similar one in which you answer one question per day; so being indecisive, I got both.

diaries
My babies ♡

I usually write before bed, which forces me to have a good enough bedtime routine so I’m not too exhausted to write. It’s as much of a must as removing my makeup.

The notepad below is my diary I’ve had for years and it’s the one I’m hardly regular with. It’s more of a vent book. Being a writer, I undoubtedly have a crazy amount of notebooks lying around, so yesterday I decided to rip out the used pages of the watermelon and coconut one (which I initially used when I was doing vox-pop interviews for work) and turn it into my mantra book.

One mantra per page and the rest of the page, I elaborate with bullet points, other quotes, Qur’an verses, etc.

I have been journaling daily for a month now and I find that even though I only write a few lines a day, my mind is less cluttered. I’m able to think. I’m able to meditate and I’m unafraid of my own thoughts when doing so because at least I know I can figure them out after. My mind re-arranges itself and I affirm and assert through my writing.

With my mantra book, so far, I’ve been trying to advise myself through either quotes I’ve already heard or read, or stuff I’ve made up alone. I realised very recently that I have an attachment problem, so I used it to project the attachment onto myself instead. I’m using it to become my own self-love coach.

There are so many ways to journal – usually, do what your soul needs. Do you need to vent? Do you need to have a journal for a thought which you unpick daily/weekly to see how it develops? Do you want to compare and contrast with five year journals that you can use as a time capsule? Do you want to journal your goals? Your recovery? No one can tell you how to do it. It’s your own story that you’re writing for yourself, and will look back at for yourself.

Pop into Waterstones or stationary stores that do journals and try to find a customised one. Or just look around on Amazon. A simple Google search does the job with different ideas for a blank journal, or structured journals like the five year Q&A one I have. I’ve even seen a journal for those who are experimenting with the law of attraction.

Here are some titles and themes – you can either buy specialist journals or use your own notebook and turn it into a themed journal:
– 52 Lists for Happiness by Moorea Seal
– Good Days Start With Gratitude by Pretty Simple Journals
– Five Year Memory Journal by Sterling Publishing Co Inc (I found this on Urban Outfitters website)
– Do One Thing Every Day That Makes You Happy: A Happiness Journal By Robie Rogge and Dian G. Smith
– Diet journals
– Exercise journals
– Prayer journals, rather than writing about what you’re anxious about, turn it into a prayer. Pray for your broken heart to be mended, get fit, etc
– Picture scrapbook – either draw or print photos out and write underneath
– Song lyric journal – write one lyric that relates to you and elaborate
– Self love/confidence journal – write one thing that you like about yourself and elaborate
– Or just old fashioned venting in a notebook

THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ABSOLUTELY ENDLESS! I would say take your time, but it’s only journaling. Just do what feels right in the moment and keep it up. You’ll find that going with your gut is the best way. Deep down, we all know what we need. Best thing to do is to ask yourself what you feel lacking in your life and do something about it. I started the mantra journal when I needed guidance.

Good luck and God bless.

xox

Lessons from ‘yaqeen’

يقين – yaqeen – a word which has no real translation in English.

It’s a cross between certainty and conviction. It’s like taking a blind, yet somehow calculated leap of faith. In Islam, when we pray, we pray with a sense of yaqeen, knowing that God will answer our prayers. He is there, he is listening and we will get what we want, even if it’s not in the way we imagine.

This notion can sometimes be a daunting one when coupled with a stubborn demeanour. We want something, we want it now and God will give it to us for as long as we pray for it and stop at nothing to achieve it.

We forget life doesn’t work out this way. We’re imbeciles, to say the least. We lock ourselves in our dungeon of desire, where we allow dreams to rob us from very grim realities in front of us. We use yaqeen as a shelter from the truth.

“It will happen, I know it will happen. I prayed for it to happen and I’m certain God will make it happen and God will reward me for having faith in him.”

The tides start to turn against you, everything you do in obtaining this gem of a prayer seems to be faltering, you’re finding yourself forming an uphill struggle and you even lose yourself in trying to get this prayer answered. You become someone else; even do things you never thought you’d do.

This is not yaqeen, it’s a masked addiction.

To pray with yaqeen is to be able to let go. To be able to see the bigger picture. To know when your heart is so attached to something that your ontology is drastically skewed by an air of disillusion. Yaqeen is not an excuse to hold on, it’s to give you the courage to let go.

It’s hard. It’s hard to admit that we were once wrong. It’s hard to come to the reality that our dreams may not be materialised. It’s hard to wake up and fix our mistakes.

Over the years, I learned that praying and acting with true conviction, with true yaqeen, means to face tough choices and make them. To pop your bubble and leave your comfort zone.

Be prepared to break your own heart and to realise people whom you may care about may not feel the same way.

Swallow your pride by putting yourself in a risky situation and cry as you escape what could have been a cycle of toxicity. You’ll thank yourself later.

If the risk proves that things are going right, thank yourself regardless.

Either way, rest assure. It will be okay.

Alhamdulilah.

POEM: Sepia’s haram

at ab felA
Selling dreams of sultry surroundings
Sordid coffee
Scandalous serenity
Of the silenced voices
Within the locutions that have constrained my fading Arabic tongue

Squiggles
Vowels
Seens س and sheens ش
Leave nostalgic backdrops
Oh,
To fluently embrace the outcasts of the old Middle East

Silent reconnections
Of sepia screams
Unwrapping rebellions
In old texts that mama and baba would never let us read.

Alef ا
ba ب
ta ت

Why is the Arab feminist movement so racist?

Hey everyone, this is an article I wrote for Middle East Monitor. For those who are not able to access the original, I am going to paste it on my blog. Here’s the original.

A self-proclaimed “humanitarian” and women’s rights activist from Jordan was caught recently taunting domestic workers at a recruitment agency on Snapchat. Ola Al-Fares, an award-winning journalist, lined up six workers for a photo, only to laugh at them in front of her followers. She then ruthlessly mocked the way that they dressed, saying that she has to work on their “fashion sense”, and did so with thousands watching.

Only when the condemnations of her went viral did she decide to apologise. She claimed that she did not intend to offend anyone, though was met with further criticism for her disingenuous “regret”.

Another case of racism against workers earlier this week also went viral. A woman in Kuwait was filming a domestic worker as she was hanging onto the railing of a balcony and refused to help her just before she fell from the seventh floor of an apartment block.

Video translation: Employer: oh wow, you’re crazy! Come here! Domestic worker: grab my hand! Grab my hand!

The fire brigade came to her aid, so she was then mocked on social media because, “She fell from the seventh floor and nothing happened to her.”

Thousands of people reacted furiously in defence of the victims in both cases. While many called for justice for the victims, there were few calls for an end to the structurally racist systems in place in such countries which ensure that foreign workers have to endure such situations.

It is undeniable that, more often than not, the Arab feminist movement shows an immense lack of intersectionality. In a similar way to which “White feminism” is criticised by a range of postcolonial feminist scholars for addressing women’s issues from a Eurocentric perspective, feminism in the Arab world places disproportionate emphasis on Arab women. As a result, the rights of working class non-Arab women in the Arab world are often overlooked when, in fact, they are crucial to the Arab women’s liberation project.

Months ago, I wrote about why it is dangerous for white saviours to speak over Arab women. The article was based on a video that went viral earlier this year, which opposed male guardianship in Saudi Arabia. The video was hailed as a feminist revelation in the Arab world, yet it only focused on the plight of Saudi women in Saudi Arabia. The fact that the video went viral, without it being widely criticised for focusing exclusively on the plight of middle class Saudi women further insinuates the racist flaws within the movement.

Many have claimed this argument to be a complete generalisation. However, it does not erase the fact that there are many Arab women who believe race and class must be core components of the feminist movement in the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region, rather than it assessing the shortcomings of the growing movement. To dismiss the wide gap in intersectionality in the movement by regurgitating that “not all Arab feminists lack intersectionality” can no longer be an option, and the persisting crimes against foreign working women that occur under systems of structural racism, classism and misogyny prove this.

At this stage, to be offended by addressing flaws in the Arab feminist movement when it is rapidly growing is a blatant whitewash and denial of the systematic racism that exists in the Arab world.

Translation: we are all with Ola Al-Fares Photo: Ola Al-Fares being hugged by a worker

When race and class issues are not embedded into the Arab feminist movement, it leaves room for people like Ola Al-Fares to proclaim themselves to uphold women’s rights and to feel as though they can be publicly racist and classist. By continuing in the way it is, mainstream feminism in the Arab world is doing nothing to hold governments to account regarding the systematic abuse of poorer and non-Arab working women, and therefore risks losing its credibility as a feminist movement.

Arab female politicians also fall prey to perpetuating such double standards. Kuwaiti MP Safaa Al-Hashem feels that she is fighting sexist comments in parliament; just this week, a male colleague refused to sit next to her because she was wearing perfume. She is the subject of praise both in Kuwait and the Western world purely on the basis that she is the only female MP in the Gulf State.

However, Al-Hashem is also known for her leniency towards racist comments and anti-immigration stance. At one point, she said that expats should have to pay a tax to walk on the roads in Kuwait. She also believes that they should be banned from obtaining free medicine in hospital, regardless of how poor they are.

By holding her up as a positive role model solely because of her gender, her racism is completely whitewashed, and the victims of her racism, which include working class expat women, are quickly erased from the discussion.

While it is to be applauded that the feminist movement in the Arab world is gaining rapid momentum, it must be done with the right intentions. Working class non-Arab women must no longer be viewed as subjects of sympathy, or outsiders within the movement, but as the foci for change. If their plight is not treated as one with the plight of Arab women, the movement will continue to fall into the trap of racism, and little will be done to achieve genuine change in the Arab world.

Starving for life: Arab women open up about eating disorders

NOTE: This is re-published because there have been some difficulties in people accessing the original article on Middle East Monitor. Click here for the original.

Eating disorders have for long haunted the lives of girls and women all over the world. The thought of a girl as young as 11 scrutinising herself and starving herself is no longer seen as farfetched, but more of a sad reality that millions are forced with. In the Middle East, however, while girls and women are routinely scrutinised about their weight and the way they look in general, there is little awareness of the extreme lengths in which girls and women take to reach these standards of beauty.

The amount of studies on eating disorders in the Middle East is shockingly disproportionate to the actual effect of eating disorders within the region. Like with most mental illnesses, eating disorders are considered a taboo within Arab communities. However, the obsession with weight and scrutinisation of the appearance of girls and women are overly discussed. Girls and women are often forced to listen to vindictive comments about themselves and deal with the mental scars that follow, but are shunned when they suffer as a result of them.

 

In 2013, a study in the Zayed University in the UAE found that 75 per cent of female students were unhappy with their bodies and almost a quarter were at risk of developing disorders. The experts who conducted the studies largely blamed “Western ideals and beauty standards”.

“To be honest, I blame both Western and Arab standards of beauty,” Samira, not her name, a former eating disorder patient from Saudi Arabia told MEMO.

“Growing up, I suffered from an eating disorder that was caused by two things; one was my sudden exposure to Hollywood after having been monolingual for the first 13 years of my life. The second was my brother marrying a woman who was very Arab, not influenced by the West at all, but had an obsession with perfection.”

“She bullied and harassed me a lot about my body growing up,” she said.

“People don’t understand that eating disorders are a psychological issue, not only physical. They assume it’s a choice, which is completely sad,” Dana Al-Jawini, also from Saudi Arabia told MEMO. She recently opened up about the death of her sister at the age of 22 after battling with anorexia.

Extreme procedures

Taken to extreme forms, methods of weight loss are becoming more popular in the Arab world. More women are resorting to procedures to lose weight, such as jaw tightening to prevent women from eating, or injecting botox into the stomach to trick the individual’s brain into thinking they are full.

“It is very safe and can even be used to maintain your weight,” said Dr Nader Saab. He is one of the most famous plastic surgeons in Lebanon and among the prime instigators of the procedure. He has even said this in a video advertising the procedure, claiming injecting botox into your stomach has “zero side-effects”. Unsurprisingly, he made such claims with no scientific backing.

Still, self-starvation and bulimia remain very common, especially among teenage girls. A study conducted in Jordan in 2014 and which surveyed students between the ages of 18-27 showed that 71 per cent have skipped at least one meal and 86 per cent believe women in Jordan struggle with body image. Some 72 per cent believe eating disorders among women are a problem in Jordan, however only 18 per cent felt adequately informed about eating disorders.

Arab women fight back

Despite patriarchy and stigmas surrounding eating disorders and mental health in general, Arab women refuse to give up on fighting for their voices to be heard and for their struggles to be known.

“We definitely need to be outspoken,” Dana said. For her, it was her personal experience that encouraged her to come forward. “I couldn’t sit and keep quiet about what happened to my sister because I don’t wish it upon anyone.”

Dana is a staunch believer in women supporting other women to remedy the problem.

If someone sees a friend or a sister or even a stranger going through something like this I think it’s our duty as Arab women to speak out.

For Samira, it was making new friends that inspired her to embark on the road of body-positivity. “I met new people, made new friends who helped me change my perspective on what it means to be alive,” she explained.

“Weight loss in general in the modern Arab world is praised and no one stops to think of how and why someone lost weight,” she added. “You realise as you’re healing, there is just so much more to the human experience than all of this.”

Sara Sherbaji, a mental health campaigner from the UAE is currently working with a team to establish mental health provisions in the Arab world. She and her team are currently producing a documentary on mental health in the region and view the topic of eating disorders as a part of a larger stigma on mental health.

“We want to establish a platform that will be up at all times on all days to support people with mental illness and offer both education and links to professional services. We’re currently working with a team of professionals and an established clinic here to see this through,” she told MEMO.

Her team is also trying to initiate a year-long campaign on mental health in the UAE, which is something relatively new. “Our main concern is that we have very short campaigns in the country,” Sara said. Despite this, she spoke of the support she is receiving, and that one of the top English-language news outlets in the UAE has repeatedly featured them and their campaigns.

While there remains a long battle in destigmatising mental health and eating disorders in the Arab world, Arab women are refusing to stay silent. Their fighting spirit is ignited by a love for justice and a need to overcome cultural setbacks, which can only be done through unity. By supporting each other and listening to one another they are slowly but surely instigating change within their communities.

Can’t control your sons? No problem, shame their daughters.

It’s no secret that misogyny is within the very fabric of our societies. As women, we feel as though we are being watched over. We have to assess our surroundings and if we want respect, we act according to their norms, customs and values. We’re left confused and anxious because if we don’t calibrate our moral compasses with the norms of another individual, or society, we are unfairly targeted and shamed. It gets scarier knowing that the vast majority of the shaming happens behind our backs.

It’s even more perplexing when we find ourselves in a situation in which we are subject to the insecurity of others. For example, there could a particular person who may have a son that drinks, smokes and doesn’t believe in God. The parent of the son could be religious and would deep down condemn the actions of their son, but would not outwardly oppose him. So to compensate, the parent would focus on other girls and the daughters of others, as objects of honour and shame.

الْخَبِيثَاتُ لِلْخَبِيثِينَ وَالْخَبِيثُونَ لِلْخَبِيثَاتِ ۖ وَالطَّيِّبَاتُ لِلطَّيِّبِينَ وَالطَّيِّبُونَ لِلطَّيِّبَاتِ ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ مُبَرَّءُونَ مِمَّا يَقُولُونَ ۖ لَهُمْ مَغْفِرَةٌ وَرِزْقٌ كَرِيمٌ
Bad women are for bad men, and bad men are for bad women; and pure women are for pure men, and pure men are for pure women. They are free from the slanderer’s accusations; for them there shall be forgiveness and honorable provision from Allah.
The holy Quran – Surat An-Nur, Verse/aya 26.

The aya is crystal clear. The problem with the way it is interpreted many times is that people think it’s a flat out promise from God, implying the people we have in our lives are a reflection of God’s opinions of our actions. It isn’t; it’s a warning from God, telling us to stay around good people.

The previous verses in the chapter were defending Aisha (RA), the wife of the Prophet Mohammed (SAW) when she was accused of committing adultery and was ostracised from her community. The verse that I just quoted is a follow up of God defending her against the rumours flying against her. Ultimately, it was revealed as a form of advice for Aisha (RA) and to all humans who would then find themselves being accused and shamed the way she was.

The underlying message is we do not need to conform, nor impress. If bad people around you talk about you, stay away from them, not just if you’re innocent. Even if you slip up and make a mistake, you do not deserve to be reminded about it and punished for it constantly. We’re all human and we’ve all screwed up.

If someone has malicious intentions, there’s no need to prove yourself. Stay away and surround yourself with good people who forgive, motivate you to do good and elevate you.

The problem is, this is easier said than done and not only because we don’t always know who our real friends are. Because the shaming of women is normalised, we often subconsciously try to conform to their neurotic demands. We allow their norms to define who we are and we have been conditioned to accept their opinions of ourselves. Even if we’re doing nothing wrong, we have it ingrained that no matter how erratic or hypocritical they may be, the morals of others should define our behaviour and that they have a right to shame us accordingly.

In our culture, a man could drink, smoke and do all of the impermissible things under the sun and his mother (for the sake of embodying my point, of course fathers do this too) may not say a word to him. She may even go above not condemning him and would even full on accept his lifestyle. That’s between the mother, the son and God. No one has a right to speak about them. The problem is, however, is when the mother accepts her son’s lifestyle, but holds her daughters, or the daughters of others to account.

She would not condemn her son for having a girlfriend, or for drinking, but would condemn his girlfriend for being a girlfriend and would condemn a girl who drinks with her son. It doesn’t stop there. Usually, when this particular type of mother or auntie possess such attitudes, it’s as a result of an inferiority complex, which means her judging, double standards and hypocrisy know no limits.

She could speak to the mothers of girls who have done nothing wrong and belittle them and their parenting. She could make innocent girls or women feel disgusted by themselves, for no reason at all. How? By creating a bubble of her own scattered norms, which are derivative from her own double standards and facilitated by structural misogyny.

These attitudes must be directly resisted. We must make a conscious effort to unlearn the culture of shame that society has forced us to internalise. We must trust our own judgement and moral outlook. This doesn’t necessarily mean fighting every auntie that speaks ill of us. That gets tiring. The battle is an internal one that focuses on self love, self trust and the dismissal of nonsense. She is wrong, not you. She is wrong for talking about you, twisting your innocent actions or dwelling on your mistakes. We must refract, not reflect on the negativity of others.

Maybe at times you would want to, or even need to get into confrontations. When you feel it is right, don’t shy away. For the most part, rather than fighting everyone head on, simply ignore them. Do what you want and follow your own moral compass. Ignore and isolate those who shame you, even if it is almost everyone in your community. Don’t feel the need to justify your actions, or to impress them. Be yourself and don’t allow yourself to be a victim of the insecurity and hypocrisy of others. Only when you stop caring is when you find true contentment and peace and is when you’re secure enough to only allow those who truly wish you well and accept you for who you are to be a part of your life.