I didn’t want to be a woman

Growing up I never thought I was pretty. I was a chubby kid with glasses and braces to go with it. I went to school with long braids because my hair was too fierce to be tamed in just a ponytail. I remember I wanted my hair to look like my friend Julia’s. Julia was a red-headed straight-haired girl. I took out my braids one day and was frustrated at how it wouldn’t stay the way her’s did. Curly hair was not popular back then, so I started wearing hijab in the third grade and figured it would tame it even more (surely now I wear it for the sake of God).

I remember how uncomfortable I was with my body. She decided it was gonna develop faster than everyone else did. I cloaked myself in loose boy clothing and sneakers to mask the image of being a  “woman.” Oh, how the idea of being a woman made me uncomfortable; I heard what the boys would say about them, rip them apart piece by piece. “Oh she’s bad but she has a weird this and that.”  I heard women shame other women. Women were being judged by their appearance, therefore, I didn’t want to be a woman.

Being womanly got me in trouble so many times. In the sixth grade, I allowed my mother to dress me for my middle school’s Eid celebration. As a tomboy, I wore sneakers even with my skirt uniform. So this was a very exciting moment for her. She put me in a purple dress. “Hanoona its eid, you have to look eid,” She said as she put pink lipstick on me. Mama was happy so I was happy. I remember how my Islamic studies teacher looked at me; she smiled as she escorted me out to the hallway. I remember how she pushed me on to the wall and started yelling at me for my “problematic outfit.” “You are the reason why we have to dress our kids in uniform, your dress is too tight, shows your body, your wearing lipstick kaman? (“also” in Arabic) What do you think this is a party? Why you wanna get attention from boys? Sharmuta,” she continued. I remember how my soul gasped at these words. Most people didn’t think I understood Arabic. Sharmoota, especially in this context, means whore. I felt so ashamed of myself, so stupid and horrified. This is the image I was portraying? A whore? Was it my joy? My smile? I was in the sixth grade I didn’t care for boys nor did I care for clothing. I remember how my face burned up. I nodded my head, cried in the bathroom, and kept quiet for the rest of the day. I hated being a kid stuck in a woman’s body.

Eighth grade comes along and I had no braces or glasses. I was also 50 pounds lighter. During lunchtime, my friend looked at me and said: “you’re really pretty for an African.” I had never been called that before— “pretty.” I ask “What do you mean?” she says “well most Africans have huge noses, darker skin, and huge ugly lips. But you don’t.”

“Thank you,” I muttered.

To this day, I’m angry I accepted such an ugly compliment.

Children are so innocent. Words are either encouraging or fatal to the mind and to self-confidence. I want my children to one day live in a world better than I did. I don’t want them to look down as people mock their hijab, I don’t want them to accept an ugly compliment from foes parading as friends, and I don’t want them to allow adults to yell at them just because of the fact their adults. Majority of my bullies were adults. Majority of my bullies were teachers. Majority of my bullies were Muslim. Calling anyone “pretty for a…” is dangerous. Its confining to some arbitrary standard of beauty that we choose to adhere to. That THEY choose to adhere to. It will take these children years to recover and realize this is no compliment. I was shamed more in an Islamic school for being myself than anywhere else. When I took out my braids to fit Julias’ hair my white teacher was furious with me, even held a meeting with my mother; Only now did I realize that she didn’t want me to be Julia. She was encouraging me to be me. To this day Islamic institutions make me anxious and make me uncomfortable. If you’re not apart of the solution than your apart of the problem. If you allow cliques you are apart of the problem. If you are the excluder than you are apart of the problem. If there is a higher archy in your masjid or school your apart of the problem. If you think this is not your problem, you are apart of the problem. If we don’t teach our kids to love themselves, they will hate themselves.  If we don’t teach our kids to love others, they will hate others. What will our kid’s world look like, will we leave it polluted with hate or will we clean up our environment?

“There is no cosmetic for beauty like happiness.”

Audrey Hepburn 

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