Let’s Not Makeup: The Dangers of the Beauty Industry

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Alicia Key recently announced she has stopped wearing makeup and she was quoted explaining her choice; “Every time I left the house, I would be worried if I didn’t put on makeup. What if someone wanted a picture? What if they posted it? These were the insecure, superficial, but honest thoughts I was thinking. And all of it, one way or another, was based too much on what other people thought of me.”

For most females and even some males, makeup is integral to their everyday life. I have a lot of females in my life. In the past four years their increased dependency on makeup has become indulgent to the extent that many of them have turned their talents to makeup as a career. Their choice to both wear and pursue makeup is actually understandable, you only have to take a superficial glance at any of your chosen social media platforms and you will be bombarded with an avalanche of aspiring or established Makeup Artists (MUA), Beauty Bloggers and “public figures”.

My daily social media investigations (awe filled ogling) reveals a generation of women who are obsessed with contouring, highlighting, baking and over lining their lips – while uploading these endeavors onto social media in the hope of becoming the next self-taught Huda Beauty. However, the mania of this new section within the beauty industry has created is fandom and superstar status given to makeup artists turned product developers, is a little lost on me.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s fantastic that makeup can now be a career which not only compares to “serious professions” but is able to surpass them. Huda Kattan is a shining example of this mega success especially for the Muslim Diasporas around the world. Many young girls have followed her footsteps branding themselves “public figures” and even have their very own “products”; which is basically repackaged eyelashes, made in China, for sale on their Instagram page. Huda Kattan’s mega success has given them something to aspire to which is not entirely a bad thing. My apprehension is in the dependency and insecurity this could be creating for women.

Dame Helen Mirren sparked controversy when she encouraged women to stop wearing make up and embrace the natural look. “I think it would be wonderful if it became a fashion,” Mirren said. She went on to clarify, “Things are always cyclical, so I suspect we might’ve reached saturation with the whole selfie thing and maybe we’re moving in another direction.”

When people come full circle, as Dame Helen suggests, and realize contouring is not life then what happens? Will we all wake up in a year or two and think, what was I thinking contouring my face like that? And if we do “wake up” most of us will just pretend it never happened and move on with our lives. What will the girls who’s only talent was to highlight and contour do? I know I’m being dramatic. More reasonable opinions have come from Alicia Keys who clarified that her choice to not wear makeup is not a judgement on those who do. She said, “It’s great to not wear makeup but it’s great to wear makeup too, if it makes you happy. If you like how you look with a full face, contour and some serious lashes, you do that, and slay. But if you like yourself bare-faced, go forth and slay like that too. You do you.”

Her opinion is potentially the best way to look at makeup. It’s about choice.

“…You do you.”

Unsurprisingly the MUA and product developers at the forefront of benefiting from the beauty industry, disagree vehemently. Famous makeup artist turned brand owner- Charlotte Tilbury talking about Dame Helen Mirren, said in an interview, “I totally disagree with Helen. She’s absolutely wrong — completely wrong,’ she was of the view “Why would anyone, in a world where everyone is judged by their looks, not wear make-up? I’m not saying do a full-on glamour look all the time. It can be very sophisticated and chic at the same time as being natural, like the Jennifer Aniston look.”

I think Charlotte Tilbury’s opinions are very one dimensional and judgmental. Instead of stopping to question why we live in a world that judges a women’s looks constantly, she blindly defends and caters to this judgement. We cannot be reinforcing ideas such as this to young girls, helping them believe that their natural beauty is not good enough and they will be “judged” for daring to bare their face.

I couldn’t agree with Dame Helen sentiments more. Makeup is a powerful tool which often enhances natural beauty, provides glamour or fantasy, but can’t be a permanent substitute for our actual face.

Social media sets the standards of beauty, life and lifestyle so high and wide that the masses can never meet it; creating trolling on social media. When envy, insecurity and dejection has nowhere to go it makes its way to the keyboard; attacking, offending and criticizing the object of its desire and jealousy.

We are all feeding the makeup and beauty industry’s consumerist agendas but at what expense? It’s a well-known fact that insecurities, depression, and anxiety are a direct result of social media use. Daily consumption of media depicting the beautiful faces and lives of others leaves us feeling empty and inadequate. I believe this MUA and Beauty Blogger bubble will eventually pop, like most in vogue phases. I hope that it doesn’t leave behind a plethora of disillusioned women. It’s reassuring that we have voices of reason in the form of Dame Helen Mirren and Alicia Keys offering women an alternative way to view makeup and the world.

Alicia Keys puts it perfectly, “I don’t want to cover up anymore. Not my face, not my mind, not my soul, not my thoughts, not my dreams, not my struggles, not my emotional growth. Nothing.”

Boobs Need to be Taken Seriously

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Boobs. Knockers. Melons. Tits. Tatas. Jugs. Bubbies. Breasts. There are many adjectives to describe the fleshy lumps above our rib cage.

Breasts fascinate the world. They bring many of us pleasure, provide sustenance to a newborn baby, are utilized to entice or dishonor. In some instances they are safeguarded, covered, flaunted, admired, protected, restrained, or simply just ignored.

Women of every generation have potentially felt the sting of boob envy. Depending on the latest trend, our breasts are always expected to be in vogue. With advances in surgical procedures, breast vogue is now attainable, which enables sycophants to indulge their desires to emulate their celebrity idols.

I don’t have much in the boob department, which doesn’t worry me. In fact, I enjoy the autonomy of wearing clothes and not fretting about cleavage or “tempting men.”

A few years ago, my work in health research led me to a project working with a breast cancer charity. The charity aimed to expand their reach and increase knowledge of their services amongst minority women. This aspiration was based on previous research which suggested that awareness of breast cancer and its signs/symptoms is considerably lower in women from ethnic groups, especially in South Asians, as compared to other groups. Early diagnosis of breast cancer is vital in ensuring recovery and survival. Hence, the need for a project researching hindrances to seeking help in the local highly South Asian populated community was crucial.

As part of the project, I attended a two-day course to develop a better understanding of the charity’s work. I learned about caring for my breast. Preventatives such as healthy lifestyle, appropriately checking breasts (monthly self breast exams), signs, symptoms, and what felt like much more. I received a fancy certificate on the final day, which ascertained that I knew all I needed to know about boobs.

I completed my apportioned project shortly afterwards and that was that. I forgot all about the project, the course and, to be honest, I forgot all about breast cancer.

Two years later I found a lump in my left breast while showering.

My hot shower suddenly felt scolding as my body temperature increased every time I ran my fingers over the lump. This lump seemed to have appeared overnight. Why hadn’t I noticed this? I thought to myself. It’s a fairly substantial lump. How could I have missed it?

I searched my brain trying to recall my learning from that two-day course, two years ago.What were the signs and symptoms? How do I do a breast check? I am the right age and or demographic? I asked myself questions but could remember surprisingly little.

My anxiety didn’t subside. However, I managed to internalize it, as I do with most of my issues. I calmly finished my shower, dressed, and went to work. I spent the day reassuring myself that I was overreacting.

That evening, my anxiety reached new heights as I felt the lump over and over again. I finally asked my mother to check my breast. I needed a second opinion. She could feel a lump too which was smaller than the lump in her throat as she choked back tears. My mother overreacts to most things and especially health-related issues. Through her choked tears, she managed to lecture me, reminding me that my breasts needed to be producing milk at my age and not lumps. My lack of marriage and producing babies was the reason for my lump, apparently. Needless to say, her speech did little to relieve or reassure my anxiety.

I had to wait four painstaking days to have my breast examined by my friendly female physician. She was comforting but not dismissive of the lump. Part of me hoped she would be dismissive. She examined the lump again and again and with every stroke, my heart sank further into my stomach. Finally, she said, “Get dressed and meet me at my desk.”

“You will need to be referred to the oncology clinic at the local hospital and have further investigation done.” Her words pierced through me.

It’s a peculiar feeling having morbid thoughts which aren’t based on any facts. I started assuming the worst, visualization and making plans for circumstances that weren’t a reality. My mother’s words rang in my mind, I haven’t had a baby yet. What if I can’t now?

Everything melancholic and hopeless flooded my mind.

I came home and dreaded telling my mother. I acted my nonchalant best and declared it was just a routine check at the oncology clinic and everything should be OK. I even lied that the doctor had said there is nothing to worry about.

To my absolute surprise, my mother didn’t panic or start flapping as I have witnessed many a time before regarding various other issues I faced. She was utterly calm. She even got up from her armchair, walked towards me as I was sitting on my bed, then proceeded to nuzzle my face into her breast while kissing me hard on the top of my head. Breaking free from her grip, I looked up at my mom, her eyes looked straight into mine and she said, “Everything is going to be fine.“ I believed her.

My religion teaches me that a mother’s prayer is never overlooked or disregarded and I know my mother’s prayers for me have always protected me.

I spent four excruciating weeks waiting for my oncology clinic appointment. During this time, I didn’t touch my breast at all.  I didn’t feel the lump and I refrained from hugging anyone. My breast felt heavy and not part of my body. I struggled to put it out of my mind, but it was always there lingering in my darkest fears.

The night before my appointment – I didn’t sleep. I had only half-heartedly insisted for my mother not to accompany me. Secretly, I just wanted to curl up in her lap.

On arrival, I waited a quick 20 minutes before I was summoned into the senior consultants room. She asked me some routine questions about the lump for no more than 30 seconds. Then, gestured for me to go behind the curtains, instructing me to remove everything on top. She burst through the curtains before I laid on the examination table. Clearly, she was in a rush. After fondling my breast [unforgivingly] for 40 seconds, she announced that I needed a scan which may determine what that lump was. The frown on her forehead did little to console my apprehension.

I redressed and met the consultant at her desk where she handed me a slip, instructing me to make my way down stairs. I had barely opened my mouth at the receptionist downstairs when the slip was taken from my hand and I was asked to take a seat.

The five minutes I waited felt like five hours. In those short minutes, I prepared a speech in my head to rival all of Steve Jobs’ speeches. OK, maybe not, but I was truly presuming the worst at this point.

I was summoned by a nurse and asked to remove everything on top. As I laid there, helpless and in complete acceptance of my circumstances, prepared to hear the worst, the doctor walked in. Pleasingly, she was patient with me. She talked to me very calmly and asked me how my day had been. She inquired how I felt in general and about my lump, then confidently stated that she was going to help me. She fulfilled that promise.

After briefly feeling my lump, she placed the scanner on my chest and within seconds announced, “You have a cyst in your breast.” She continued, “It’s a big one, size of a golf ball I would say.”

“A cyst,” I said as a tear escaped my eye. “The size of a golf ball,” I repeated as I wiped the tear from my eye.

“How do you know?” I asked stupidly. She smirked and said, “Your lump is filled with liquid, it’s not solid.” I sighed deeply. “Ahh OK,” was my response pretending to understand. I hardly cared what she had said. All I knew was a cyst is not cancer and cancer is not a cyst. Therefore, I was fine.

“OK, we will sort this out, let me get a syringe”.

“Sort this out, like now?” I asked.

She didn’t respond, but proceeded to walk away from me to the other side of the room and reappeared before I could ask anything else.

“We will just drain it, OK?” she said, placing the scanner over my breast again while holding a syringe with her other hand. She was truly talented.

I nodded and she dug the long needle deep into my breast and began draining the cyst. It was painful but strangely satisfying, knowing that the reason for my emotional agony was leaving my body. I could see the syringe filling up with a dirty yellow liquid with bits of red in it – and with it my hopes for life and a child filled up too. A few more tears escaped my eyes while I lay there having my boob drained. Not because I felt sorry for myself, but because I felt relieved.

The whole process lasted no more than 10 minutes but felt like a few seconds. The doctor informed me I had been brave and to smile because my fears had been eliminated. I couldn’t thank her enough.

I couldn’t help but smile as I walked out of her office and found my mother in the waiting area with her head lowered and prayer beads in her hand. She was muttering Dhikr (remembrance) silently and intently. She looked up and smiled at me. Precisely as she had promised, I was fine.

I hope my inconsequential, but very personal story, can raise some awareness of an issue that is imperative. I write with the optimism that it can help women and men think about breasts more often and for the correct reasons. Breasts are wonderful! They need to be enjoyed, appreciated, and respected by all. But most importantly, they need to kept healthy and checked. Early diagnosis of breast cancer is fundamental to the recovery and survival of patients. You know your body better than anyone else, trust your instincts and trust your body. Below is a chart that explains the simplicity of self breast exams – these should be done once a month, after you’ve finished your monthly period. Please take the time to learn the signs and symptoms of breast cancer and how to check your breast correctly.

breast_cancer_care_signs_2016

L.S.Deen

I Blame Shahrukh Khan

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Yes, I blame Shahrukh Khan personally and Bollywood widely — for my expectations of romance, passion, and love. My idealistic anticipations of what it would feel like to fall in love, how a man would pursue, romance, and marry me, were all developed as a result of Shahrukh Khan and Bollywood.

I grew up on a huge diet of Bollywood movies. My grandmother was the biggest movie buff I have ever known. She had a collection of hundreds, if not thousands, of video tapes (VTRs). Yes, I am that old. She had chronicled all the best and some of the worst movies from the ’70s, ’80s, and early ’90s. With the introduction of DVDs, her addiction waned but never ceased.

All my earliest memories from childhood include Bollywood movies. They were unremittingly playing in the backdrop of every family function, domestic row, Eid, and Christmas – basically, they were permanently on.

Bollywood is wonderful; it is one of the main topics my siblings and I bond over. We often reminisce about the cheesy songs, bizarre comedy, and the evil villains in these movies, some of which have scared us for life! Yes, I am still very, very afraid of Reecha from Katilon Ke Kaatil (A Murderer’s Murderer).

Having said all that, it always was, and still is, the love in the movies that we admired.

Love is by far the principal theme of most of Bollywood’s movies; it is depicted in every way imaginable and omnipresent in some form or another in almost every single movie. As a child, I would endlessly watch my heroes and heroines Amitabh Bachchan, Govinda, Anil Kapoor, Sridevi, Maduri Dixit, and many more. They would fall in and out of love and dance around trees entertaining me. I watched them distantly; they were a foreign concept, people who had issues and realities far removed from my own.

Then everything changed.

As I was coming of age (hitting puberty), my life and the lives of a whole generation and many generations to come completely changed. We were bestowed with the genius and the phenomenon that is Dilwale dulhania le jayenge (The Big-Hearted Will Take Away the Bride).

Shahrukh Khan and Kajol mesmerized me and everyone I knew. They were performing our lives on screen and talking about our issues. Issues of cultural and religious restrictions, arranged marriages, familial constraints, women’s rights and so much more.

Depicting an accurate paradox; this movie talked directly to a generation of people who lived in western societies, yet were holding onto the traditional values of their motherland. It spoke to every young girl and boy hoping to travel, get into adventures, and most importantly fall in love. It spoke directly to me.

I experienced love for the first time while watching this movie. Yes, it was vicariously through fictitious characters, but it was love nonetheless. I was introduced to a world of possibilities, and more importantly, I was taught what love should feel like.

With the arrival of Dil to Pagal Hay (The Heart Is Crazy), my convictions were cemented in the power of Shahrukh Khan’s message of love. I watched this movie every single day after school for months. Shahrukh Khan would say and do exactly what every girl wanted to hear and feel. He conveyed a magical message while making it relatable.

I truly believed my Shahrukh Khan would bump into me unexpectedly, in a library, at a train station, at a party, or while I unassumingly sipped my coffee in a café. We would fall in love at first sight and he would sweep me off my feet. There was never a question in my mind that I wouldn’t find the love I have created in my mind.

It never happened.

What I got instead were awkward family introductions, bizarre romantic gestures, capricious behavior, stalkers, online weirdness, and too many other things to name.

I did eventually fall in love and all I can say is, I promise you, love is nothing it promises to be. When love is emotionally painful, it’s endurable; when it’s physically destructive, it’s dangerous.

Heartbreak helped me snap out of my imaginary world of meeting my very own Shahrukh Khan. I attempted to become “practical,” as life, culture, and especially my mother demanded it of me.

“Practicality” involves marrying a suitable doctor, lawyer, or accountant, who is the correct color, creed, race, religion, and geographically down the road from my mother. Needless to say, that won’t happen. Therefore, I am still in the pursuit of practicality, which may evade me forevermore.

The truth is I am just one of many who have somehow lost our way with love.

I no longer watch Bollywood movies. Yet, the messages of Shahrukh Khan in all the movies of my teenage-hood are etched in my psyche. They are a part of me no matter how hard I try and wash them away with the soap of my heartbreak.

I have left behind the vivacious, inexperienced notions of romance, passion, and love, yet, I am resentful of the magic they took with them. We live in a time in which many of us are actually incapable of romance in its traditional or historical form. We find it awkward, corny, and outdated.

We live in a culture that breeds hook-ups, where labeling a relationship too soon is blasphemy. With three-minute speed dating to swiping left or right, blind dates to insipid family introductions, a generation of people that are too pessimistic to believe in concepts of soul mates and infinite options for our every desire, why would we? We are truly spoiled with choice. The plethora of choice only adds to our confusion. One of the repercussions of this endless choice is infidelity; people don’t even have to leave their houses to cheat anymore. Many of us know what it takes to build relationships and how little it takes to break them, too.

In search of a little bit of everything: stability, practicality and affability, yet, we are still yearning for the magical. We are stuck in the peculiar place were Bollywood, Hollywood, and Disney are still our ideals, and yet, our realities produce mundane arrangements, familial or otherwise.

I ask myself often, do I even know what love is anymore, or perhaps I never did, or maybe I always did and it’s just manifested differently in this generation.

Romantic love is as old as time. It’s spoken, depicted, and written about from the beginning of time. It is described and declared everywhere and always.

Shahrukh Khan defined it for many men and women just like me. I feel it’s now time to redefine it.

To reclaim love and appreciate it in its current practices, inclusive of swiping left or right. We should proudly declare that we are a generation with more choice and aspirations for love, accept that we do care about intellectual compatibility and moral fiber, and we want an ambitious partner who we can goof around with. We do want it all; we want the magical with the practical and we won’t settle for anything less.

Yes, I blame Shahrukh Khan personally and Bollywood widely for setting my standards for love, for shaping my notions of love; it’s up to me to add to this: and live up to love.

L.S.Deen

Happy New Year

 

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I have written a reflection at 11.40 on the 31st of December each New Year for the past 3 years. My reflections are often just a very quick summary of my feelings about the year’s events, where I am currently in life, and most importantly what I am most thankful for.

Reading through the previous two years’ reflections is painful, yet satisfying; knowing I am now a different person, which allows me to accept my past. Also, interestingly I find what I am thankful for has remained unchanged. I will share a small part of my summary of gratitude.  

Its 11.40 on the 31st of December 2016; in 10 min from now it will never be 2016 ever again. I’m sitting on the floor, having a carpet picnic with some of my favourite foods, my favourite people are in earshot, while I scribble away.

I’m leaving behind 2016 with a little smile inside my heart; not because it brought me happiness but because it taught me the lessons I needed to learn.

It’s been a long and tough year, heart-breaking, and most significantly 2016 has been about growth. 

I thank Allah for helping me throughout 2016, for protecting me and resolving all the obstacles that have come my way.

I am thankful for my health, my comforts, and possessions. 

I am thankful for my family.

I am thankful for my heart and mind. 

And I am most thankful for my mother.

I welcome 2017 with an open heart, a stronger mind and a hope-filled prayer. May it bring us all that is best for us.

Happy New Year

L.S. Deen

A Deeper Look Into Faryal Makhdoom and Amir Khan

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Faryal Makhdoom is a young model and activist as well as the wife of two time World Boxing Association Champion, Amir Khan.

Very recently, Faryal announced via Snapchat that it was time to break the silence surrounding the abuse she and her husband had suffered at the hands of Amir’s mother and sister. She let followers know that Amir is an amazing husband and son and has done everything to support his family even in the face of the abuse.

In the several Snapchats detailing what had happened in the family, Faryal accused her mother-in-law of demanding that Amir file for divorce while Faryal was nine months pregnant with their first child. The accusations even go as far as stating that Amir’s mother and sister physically assaulted Faryal when her husband was not home. This very public airing of family drama caused an outpouring of support for Faryal on social media, which is a change, as she usually gets peppered with trolls and cyber-bullying on her Instagram page.

Conjectures of family conflict in the Khan family have been rife for several years now. Therefore, Faryal’s revelations are essentially confirmation of the gossip and widespread speculation.

Most of Amir’s family members are working with him or for him in some capacity while others are just outright dependent on him financially. The fact is, Amir Khan is the golden egg laying goose for his family. He has made no secret of the fact that his father takes care of his finances. Therefore, it’s almost expected that a wife in any shape or form could be an inconvenience, especially if she wises him up about just how much sponging his family is doing. Added to this is Faryal’s American-Muslim background which is in large contrast to the British-Muslim background shared by her in-laws. Generally speaking, British-Muslims with South Asian roots (like Amir’s family) tend to be less liberal than their American counterparts. The North of England where Amir and Faryal live is a particularly regressive diaspora of South Asians.

Faryal’s story encompasses all the negative stereotypes of South Asian families, including an abusive mother-in-law, violent sisters-in-law, and a jealous, underachieving brother-in-law. She has actually evidenced some of her claims of abuse through screenshots of text and twitter messages.

Faryal’s public family feud might be providing a dose of gossip and social media drama, however, it is more important than it might seem. I feel it reveals many layers of issues still plaguing South Asian communities and families. And, in many ways, her exposé is the perfect example of the Muslim, British, South Asian marriage problem. The sheer number of women and girls (and some men) empathizing with her and drawing similarities while disclosing their own woes is evidence that there is a real issue at hand.

I ask myself, as I am sure many others do, how and why tribulations such as physical violence, bullying, and threats of divorce would still be a part of society now–in 2016, let alone, the life of a multi-millionaire?

Surely, we are civilized, refined, educated, second, third, and even fourth generation British Muslims. Why is this regressive, antiquated mentality still around?

Unfortunately, one of the answers to this is women. It breaks my heart to acknowledge this, but more often than not, it is women who break women down. It is frequently women who oppress the other important women in their lives. I can only hope they unwittingly let their insecurities, jealousy, prejudices, and cultural retrogression cloud their better judgment. However, it may well be as calculated and malice as it often seems, and, if so, then we truly have a long way to go as a society.

The mother-in-law, daughter-in-law dilemma is nothing new and has plagued a whole world worth of women. It transcends cultures, continents, and religions. Arguably, it presents itself in differing forms, wherever it is found. But at its core, the issues are often all the same, just dressed up differently.

The fact is: two very different women (mother and daughter-in-law) are often thrown together because of their common interest in one man. The battle that ensues is one for the attention, affection, and commitment of this one man. I believe this issue is more pronounced in the South Asian community, but perhaps that’s my only experience of it, where the matriarch mother-in-law essentially owns her son and all that belongs to him. The encroachment (in the mother-in-law’s opinion) on her power, by a naïve, inexperienced, seductress will not be tolerated or endured. If the daughter-in-law won’t conform to the demands of her in laws, she will either be emotionally destroyed, excluded, or worse, divorced.

The South Asian mother-in-law is possibly at the top of the overbearing mother-in-law leader board. She inherently feels that the daughter-in-law owes her a lifelong, eternal debt now that she, the mother-in-law, has bestowed upon an undeserving girl her most valuable possession. It is now the job of of this unworthy girl to be her everlasting slave. You may think I am being over dramatic, however, my choice of words is actually mild in comparison to the narratives I have been privy to. My own grandmother didn’t mince her words when informing my mother of her “place.” My own experience of a ‘nearly’ mother-in-law is not too far away from what I describe.

I believe their mentality stems from the South Asian sub-continent, from a time when girls where seen as commodities, burdens, and less human — thus, less valuable than men. We may have left the mother land behind and our immediate surroundings don’t breed such perceptions, but the platitudes of gender inequality are yet to be fully drained from some of our minds. There are residues of this thinking even in the most liberal South Asian minds.

In my experience, another fundamental contributing factor to this dilemma is ‘Eldest Son Syndrome.’ Amir Khan is the eldest son in his family. To those less familiar with the South Asian community, this fact translates into an expectation from parents of a lifelong commitment and unspoken pledge from their son.

He is expected to be the flag-bearer of the family, often the financial provider, and, in some cases, a father figure. My father is the eldest son in his family, therefore, I am all too familiar with what this role entails. This eldest son is expected to often forgo his responsibilities as a father and husband to maintain his status as a good son and brother. Emotionally manipulated and blackmailed, he has to obey the wishes of his family (mainly mother); he is threatened with curses, his mother not “forgiving him, her breast milk” (this is a Pakistani concept), being cut off from the family, etc. You get the picture. They will make him feel like crap about his existence if he doesn’t comply. I, myself, have witnessed men manipulated into divorcing their wIves at the ultimatums of their mothers. I think mothers and daughters-in-law who have loving and understanding relationships might always be a rarity. But what I do believe is that we can work towards a society where we leave behind degenerating notions of gender inequality, bullying, and violence.

There are conflicting opinions on Faryal’s disclosures, complete with opposing camps. Some people claim there are two sides to every story or she may well be exaggerating, even lying. Another popular opinion and that of my own mother: “regardless of what’s happening within the family, Faryal shouldn’t have broken her silence and taken to social media the way she has.” My mother’s comment didn’t disappoint or surprise me. Despite being a fairly liberal Muslim, my mother still has the residues of the South Asian subcontinent mentality I mentioned earlier.

The concept that men and especially women need to suffer in silence when it comes to family issues is almost a perquisite for identifying as South Asian. Revealing injustices that you or people you know are suffering is perfidious and shame-worthy. There are hundreds of messages of support under Faryal’s Instagram pictures with numerous girls claiming to be in her exact position. Therefore, her coming forward with the issues she’s having with her in-laws not only humanises her, but potentially provides support and confidence to women in her position. They can now ask themselves why they should suffer in silence. And whose respect they are maintaining by doing so.

Faryal shared a screenshot of her sister-in-law threatening to “destroy” her if she didn’t stop sharing her truths on social media. If the accusations of abuse, violence, and threats of divorce are true, why should Faryal stay quiet? It is high time we lift the lid on these taboos and disarm the fear of shame and disgrace because, let’s be honest, the only thing disgraceful about Faryal disclosing her issues with her in-laws is that it took this long for her to do it.

We no longer live in rural South Asian villages, women are not commodities and or slaves, and no, a man is not doing a girl a favor by marrying her. These thought patterns need to be eradicated from our culture. Such ideas should not be allowed to exist in a society where women are proven to be surpassing men in every way. The onus is on us as a society; we need to empty the power these notions once had in a land that is alien to you and I. We need to realize that destroying a daughter-in-law is destroying the core of our society. We can’t expect broken women to produce strong men or women, so let’s stop this breaking and start building each other up.

I can’t say I have ever found Faryal inspirational and I would be lying if I said I suddenly find her that now. What I do find her to be is brave. Perhaps inadvertently, nonetheless, Faryal has sparked a meaningful conversation, a conversation that is well overdue. A conversation that quietly takes place between women all the time, in whispers and in sobs, while screaming and crying; a conversation about women oppressing women. This oppression needs to stop.

L.S. Deen

Its a Jungle Out Here

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More specifically, it’s a refugee Jungle in Calais, France.

I am going to play a little game with you.

I’m assuming you’re sitting in some sort of comfy chair.
Perhaps not too far from a nice cool or hot drink.
Let’s start with removing this comfort.
Next, eliminate your family.
Your occupation and opportunities are now redundant.
Remove your freedom of speech and respect.
In fact, let’s just take away all of your basic human rights.
Add a shower of violence to this combination, and because of this you are now dangerous and unstable.

Are you uncomfortable yet?

I’ll get to the point now.

There are vast refugee camps in Calais, contemptuously named the “Jungle” by its occupants and now wider media. An apt designation for this region; as the circumstances endured by its residences are not dissimilar to a jungle. “Victims” feels like a better description of these people, but they are in fact refugees.

I guess the use and acceptance of this epithet (Jungle) bothers me, not least because of its mocking undertones. But, more importantly, because of the wide acceptance of the violations it depicts.

So, why are they (refugees) there?

A rather dumb question asked customarily, not only by the ignorant but often the well-informed British media. The reality is this is large scale displacement of thousands of people, vulnerable and damaged people. It does not require divine inspiration to figure out why these refugees are abandoning their countries, risking their lives, and then living in squalor for indefinite periods of time. What they are experiencing in their countries of origin is a direct or indirect result of actions of the West. The West’s involvement in every single conflict around the world is common knowledge, so I won’t bore you with the details. You can Google the lies later.

These displaced people are the victims of created conflicts. They are fleeing violence in countries such as Syria, Eritrea, Somalia, and Afghanistan and landing on French soil having risked their lives.

Giving up their life savings, they pay smugglers to get them to Calais. They cross deserts, oceans/seas, countries, and cities. They climb aboard moving travel lorries, often falling off, and being severely injured. They travel in precarious boats which often capsize. The Euro tunnel has become a common place for fatalities. All this in a pursuit of fantasized, idealized Britain.

Much to their disappointment what awaits them after a life risking journey and before even reaching the promised land of rights and opportunity (Britain) is the Jungle of decay.
The Jungle (Calais) is an illness-infested, dangerous place, particularly for women and children. It is a volatile mix of desperate young men of different nationalities. Rape of women and children is not uncommon. Substance abuse, drinking, petty crime, and violence is widespread.

With general sanitation resembling degradation, the Jungle is not a happy place. There is some access to water including some showers, if a six-hour wait is endured. The quality of drinking water provided is sub-par. However, food is distributed by various charities and UK and French governments alike. There’s even heat available during cold weather, how kind (excuse my condescension). Ironically, not too far from this Jungle is the developed world and the contrast is stark.

The media would have us believe the British labour market is the ultimate aim of the refugees. The first ever quantitative survey at a refugee camp in Europe, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), found that 82 per cent of Calais’ 6,000 refugees were aiming to reach Britain. Primarily, because many claim to have family residing in the UK. Unfortunately, these refugees are the inconvenient and unwelcome side effects of UK and American Foreign policies.

The ruthless treatment by the police is one of the main reasons the refugees refuse to apply for asylum in France. France also has lack of job prospects. Harsh employment laws prevent refugees from seeking employment for months and sometimes years. The Jungle has been a focal point and hit by protests from both locals and truck operators for many years now.

Given the debauchery described earlier, you may be pleased to know this Jungle has now been “cleared,” or deconstructed, very recently, 26 October 2016 to be exact. Rest assured, it will pop up again, as this is not the recent “crisis” that the British media would have us believe.

Unfortunately, these refugees are the inconvenient and unwelcome side effects of UK and American Foreign policies.

Many clearance attempts have only temporarily deterred refugee occupation. The southern section of the Jungle was disassembled in the beginning of 2016. Despite the efforts made to “clear it,” the Jungle grew. Humanitarian groups believed the full population was close to 10,000 at one point.

A larger police force to prevent squats returning has now been deployed in this region. Work is also continuing on a UK-funded £1.9 million wall in Calais to prevent refugees from boarding UK-bound lorries heading to the ports. When will we learn the lessons history has taught us about walls?

Some reports suggested 6,000 people were evacuated on the day of clearance. With more than 1,200 police officers deployed for the operation. With their futures bleak and uncertain; the refugees were recorded and transported to reception centers across France to apply for asylum. The clearance of the Jungle leaves in its wake around 1,000 unaccompanied minors, still in Calais, amid fears of falling into the hands of people traffickers.

What do they want?

The audacity of this questions baffles me. Without sounding presumptuous, I’m going to take a guess at answering this question. What they want is what we all want and deserve:freedom, humanity, respect, and a chance at a better life.

What these people “want” is what we all seek. It’s in all of us, deep in our souls and spirits; it’s the fight for survival and a better future. Each one of us, when faced with fight or flight, will do one or both to survive. We may climb moving trucks and risk drowning in boats, and even accept the prospect of death by crossing a desert, if it promises us freedom or the potential of a better life.

The facts are, we all know the facts. Yet, we need them spoon-fed to us again and again. Simply put, there are two sides to this coin. The first is these refugees are the consequences of negative actions the countries they seek refuge in have created. The second view, “These parasites, need to go back to where they came from.

It’s hard for us to imagine a life removed from our liberties and yet, these people are forced to live it. They are forced to be subhuman and operate on a lower level of intellectual and emotional capacity.

What makes you or I different to them?

Or should I ask, what makes us more human?

Is their blood a different color? Or do they feel pain differently than you and I? Perhaps they need to switch-off parts of their intellectual and emotional abilities in order to be truly obedient to their “countries of origin?”

These rhetorical questions don’t need any answers, and sentiments like this don’t hold any water in asylum appeals.

I don’t have rose-tinted glasses on when it comes to asylum for refugees on British soil. I am British and I want my country to be safe, economically functional, and not overpopulated. However, I refuse to believe that any of the aforementioned would truly be consequences of accepting displaced refugees into Britain. We are programmed to believe that our resources are only just enough for us. The fact is, there are enough resources in this world to feed, house, and clothe every single human many times over. The discrepancies in how wealth is distributed is what keeps fear-mongering of economic function and overpopulation alive.

So, who cares?

“No, I don’t care. Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in the water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad. I still don’t care.” – Katie Hopkins, 2016

The quote above is the view of a very popular British columnist and is, perhaps, not hers alone. I guess what scares me more than the vileness of her words is the lack of humanity in them.

I also struggle with it on a personal level. I ask myself…

Do I really care?
How much do I really care?
What am I willing to do about it?

 

L.S. Deen

Marry, Me?

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Women are marrying themselves. Yes its true.

Its a growing trend- like nude lipsticks or caring for your body

It only seems to be women that have caught onto this phenomenon.  I have yet to witness a man marrying himself. It’s also often extremely overdramatic women. The eternal singleton, scorned, heartbroken or divorced many times over, preaching this message.

Committed women aren’t recommitting to themselves or reaffirming their self-love through self-marriage.

Why is that?

Perhaps they’re already being loved, loving their partners and in doing so developing self-love? Alternatively, they are stuck in a loveless marriage/relationship. Pretending to love themselves and or their partners. While simultaneously being miserably unhappy, and internally dying slowly. Either way it doesn’t matter. Irrespective of the quality of their relationship these women have them. Which is why they’re not self-marrying.

What bothers me most about this phenomenon is its often a response to failed relationships or marriages. It baffles me.

Can you not see?

This just reinforces the insecurities that were potentially created as a result of that relationship. Which need to be eliminated not dressed up as self-help. Added to this is the narcissism which helps them to believe that no one is good enough for them. So they’ll just marry themselves.

These self-married women are apparently preaching commitment to yourself, loving yourself, trusting yourself. For crying out loud, loving, trusting and committing to yourself; needs be differentiated from marriage.

Marriage is essentially a legal, social and religious contract, which requires the presence of another human in it. If this is being used as a short term copping method, then fine, I can just about accept that. However, to truly believe that you are any different in terms of the Law, Society or Religion is slightly scary. Yes, dealing with insecurities, healing and growth involves self-love, I agree. But how does that translate to marriage?

And why should it?

If you don’t have your emotional shit together (which most of us don’t), this has nothing to do with marriage. It has to do with growth, development and healing. Marrying yourself is just another toxic relationship entered because of the need for commitment.

My most significant relationship was in my thirties; so I wasn’t discovering myself or unsure of who I was. In fact, I was fairly happy with who I was entering into that relationship. That quickly changed. My soul, fiery spirt and laughter was all crushed and then stomped on. It was a long hard road to loving, trusting and committing to myself again. It was hard work, and only gained through prayer, passion and perseverance. It also included a lot of help from a lot of people. There is only so much introspection that we can do for ourselves. We need critical appraisals of our hearts and minds from others, that is also learning.

Also liberation through self-marriage is a contradiction in itself. Does society not already reinforce the idea, that women need marriage to validate their existence? Therefore, if we are truly trying to liberate ourselves from these shackles. Then why use the same mechanisms to proclaim liberation?

And if the purpose is to disarm and downgrade the value of marriage. In order to reduce the power, it has in your life. Then that really doesn’t sit well with me. To lessen the value of one thing in order to increase your own value is just childish and stupid. In fact, it only reinforces the power that marriage still has over you.

Believe me when I say I am a staunch feminist who is completely self-sufficient and does not “need” a man. But I bloody well want one. We are not an insular mammal. We need contact, we need relationships, interpersonal, personal and otherwise. Why should we become so insulated and self-sufficient? That we no longer need any emotions, or romantic love, or commitment to us from another.

The fact is no relationship is perfect and that’s ok, and if you’re in a toxic one, get out. If you’re unhappy with your life try and get some help or help yourself. I know all this is easier said than done. But please don’t start encroaching on concepts that are fundamentally about togetherness; and make them about selfishness. Marriage is where people come together. We cannot hijack its truthful and loving concepts and use them as theories for self-help.

I’m just as disillusioned and disappointed in men as the next broken-hearted girl. However, what I find insulting is marriage being dragged into this bitter conversation. I’ve been in love so I know what it takes. I’ve nearly married the wrong man so I know how it feels to throw away years of your life. I know heartbreak; I’ve starred it long and very hard in the face.

Did I learn shit?  Yes, I did.

But I also learnt shit from my cat dying, from my car accident and the business venture that nearly left me bankrupt. I learned a lot of shit from a lot of shitty things in my life. Is that not life? Is it not all about learning? Then processing? And perhaps adjusting your future actions? The answer to our downfalls should never be taking a sacred concept and disfiguring it for foolish notions of self-help.

Regardless of whether the outcome of any relationship is good or bad the process is worth it. Not only because of the amazing feelings but because of the crap ones too; because that’s life folks.

We are not in a race to see who gets to their deaths first with the least amount of human contact and heartbreak. We are here for the process. If we try living a life in which we eliminate the hurdles. Firstly, that’s impossible, secondly how bloody boring would that life be?

The concept of marriage in my religion and most religions is sacred. The prophet Mohammed (pbuh) was asked. What is more important than marriage? He responded; it’s the spirit of marriage, the intention which underlies it. There is a treasures it contains, hidden deep within; which must be realized by the married couple themselves.

This is a beautiful concept, manipulating or distorting its meaning, to be used as self-help, trivialised as a gimmick, or used as feminism is ludicrous. It’s also just a new level of narcissism.

The true test of character, in my opinion is not how well you get along with yourself. It’s how well we can live with each other in relative peace and harmony. Whether that’s your neighbour, your brother your mother and especially your significant other. I truly believe it’s important to know yourself through others. This can be a process that can truly enlighten and help your self- realisation.

For me true self-realisation is not only loving yourself but loving someone who once was a stranger just as much. Making the commitment to them that they are an extension of you. If both parties do this with sincerity and love, then we really have nothing to fear in each other.

I truly hope these women who are preaching this message are merely using self-marriage as a metaphor, for loving and respecting themselves; while encouraging everyone to do the same. But please leave marriage out of it and find a new gimmick.

L.S. Deen

Wish

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I wish..

I wish I knew what to wish for,

I wish I had one true wish.

I wish I had wished when wishes were coming true,

I wish not to wish for you.

I wish I could pray,

I wish I could just say,

I wish it wasn’t true,

I wish I didn’t still love you.

And yet,

I close my eyes and make a wish,

I wish for all your wishes to come true.

I truly wish I had one true wish,

All I would wish for is you.

L.S. Deen 

Our DisAbilities

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I was talking to my sister earlier today and somehow we got onto the topic of crap jobs.

While recounting my past nightmares, I remembered a really difficult but equally rewarding job. I was a student studying for my MSc, and I took a part-time role with a charity. It was the National Autistic Society, which is a fantastic organisation. I have no affiliation with them now and am not being paid to say this. 

They provided paid training and everyone I worked with was really good at what they did. But there was this one trainer, I wish I could remember his name, he was just amazing. I have never met a trainer better at his job or more enthusiastic about a cause.

Disability in any shape or form is a complex subject matter. If you’ve never interacted with or been around anyone who has a disability it may be even more complex. I grew up with a cousin who had a hearing impairment. I also had neighbours with two down syndrome children. So with that, I thought I was a disability expert of sorts. How wrong I was.

Anyone who works with disabled people and especially autistic people; may understand that what it requires more than anything else is stamina. Mental, emotional and physical stamina. Your empathy, mental agility, compassion and physical stamina will be stretched and then tested.

For my first solo support role I was paired with Ally. A beautiful young girl only 16 years old who had no outward signs of ‘disability’. She was actually smart with numbers, very well spoken and polite. However she had no real sense of the world around her, no understanding of directions and social interactions or awareness. She would cry abruptly and what seemed like for no apparent reason. The worst was when she would suddenly begin to hit herself extremely violently. She dishevelled her otherwise well kept hair with the force of her pulling it. The self-slapping would often leave her beautiful face beetroot red. Sometimes when this behaviour peaked she would vomit forcefully. All the strength in my body was not enough to convince her to stop any of what I have mentioned.

I would be physically upset each time this happened. I would find it hard to sleep recalling the day’s events. Thinking I have to deal with it all again in the morning. I harboured guilt that it was me and I was just a really bad support worker. But I was convinced by my team leader that I had done nothing wrong.

Over time I slowly realised there was a pattern to her behaviour and that she had triggers. What seemed like abrupt and unpredictable behaviour was in fact completely logically to her, in her reality. My task was to understand her reality from her perspective and not my own. Let go of what I thought was ‘normal’ and become accustomed to her ‘normal’.

This may sound like such as obvious point; but for me (aged 22) at that time was such a profound learning.

This realisation made my life with Ally a lot easier, did it completely change her behaviour? No. Did it lessen the self-slapping incidents? Yes. And that for me was an accomplishment.

Ally didn’t like being ignored and something as slight as me turning around to talk to someone could be perceived as rejection; and many other nuances I learned about her. If I could do anything to lesson Ally’s aguish it was my duty to do that. Not only because I was her support worker but as her friend, and as a fellow human for crying out loud. Understanding her ‘normal’ was easy once I opened my mind to receiving it.

Perhaps this is why most of us fail to communicate, regardless of ability or disability.

Even in our everyday lives. With parents, boyfriends, siblings, husbands, wives etc. We fail to view their reality. Understand their thought process. Even when their physical environment is so similar to our own. Even when we have lived with that person for months, years or decades. We fail them.

We label their feelings as unfounded or unpredictable.

As a society we do this to each other, able or disabled alike.

When our lack of understanding reaches fever pitch our ignorance produces hate. We hate people for their abilities and disabilities, their colour, creed, class, religion, culture; we can just about hate everything. We hate what we don’t understand, and our understanding will only stretch as far as our hate.

Perhaps if we stop our minds racing away with our own prejudices for just a moment and view each other as Ally. Unable to communicate her feelings, caught up in a world which views her as incapacitated, harming herself to communicate.

We want to save Ally don’t we? We want her not to suffer? We want to lessen her pain?

Are we not all Ally?

My job at the National Autistic Society ended, the learning taken from there has only grown ever since.

L.S. Deen

Cairo

One of my passions in life is travelling. In fact, it’s my one true and undying love. A lot of the money I have earned has been spent on travelling. To the utter horror of my sisters and mother may I add.

Egypt was always very high on the travel list and I have to say it did not disappoint. I am a history geek; I get it from my mum. I was always fascinated with Egypt primarily because of its history, but I realised that’s not all Egypt has to offer.

Some highlights: 

  • Tahrir Square
  • Egyptian Museum
  • Al Azhar park, Mosque and University
  • Khan Al-Khalili
  • King Tutankhamun artifacts
  • Nile cruise with live belly dancing
  • Giza is the site of the iconic pyramids and Great Sphinx, dating back to the 26th century BC
  • Visiting carpet factories outside the city center
  • Sheesha, and the food generally from most places was really good
  • The revolving restaurant at the Grand Hyatt which affords panoramic city views with a five-star dining experience. It was a little strange eating while revolving, I did feel a little nauseous not going to lie. 

I flew from London to Cairo with British Airways which was comfortable enough. My hotel of choice was the Grand Hyatt Cairo on the banks of the river Nile. It’s a five-star hotel with lots of restaurants; one main swimming pool and a small shopping centre attached to it. It also had a revolving restaurants on the top floor when I visited (not sure it’s still active). The Hard Rock Café was also right next to the hotel which was convenient entertainment in the evenings. I am not going to go into detail of every activity I did, but just generally offer some advice. 

Firstly, it is advisable to stay in a good hotel if you can afford it. For me being next to the river was a real bonus; the fresh breeze during our nightly walks were lovely. We visited Cairo in the baking heat of summer so the afternoons were very hot. Families and couples would swarm to the riverside to take in the view and breeze in the evenings. It was actually a very family friendly environment.

Secondly I would advise pre booking tours with reputable companies. This not only works out cheaper but also gives you a UK point of contact should anything go wrong. I pre-booked all the tours through Expedia. They obviously outsourced them to local travel agents but Expedia provided their own tickets and reference numbers. Try and go for smaller group tours if you can. I know you can get private tours which cost slightly more. However, I feel it is fun chatting to other tourists, which added to my experience at least. 

Thirdly go off the beaten track but do be careful. Cairo in my experience is as safe as any other city across the world. You wouldn’t venture into a dark ally in any part of the world so the same rules apply. I ventured into some of the local bazars in the city centre which was very fun. It can be hectic especially if you’re travelling with children. However, you get a real sense of everyday life in the bazars and the locals are friendly enough. There is a lot of counterfeit and fake goods for sale, if you are that way inclined, may be a bonus to you, (I hate fake goods).

Fourthly, I would say Cairo is a fairly tourist savvy city, they have a decent infrastructure to deal with the swaths of tourist descending each year. The locals are very accustomed to tourist; most people you meet have some aptitude in English, which is helpful. However, be careful not to be over trusting. We had taxi drivers and randoms offering to be tour guides for the day or take us shopping. We had strange people approaching us, offering to take us “places”. My male counterparts had female “offers”. You get the picture; someone is always trying to sell you something.

Fifthly, if you are in the market for artefacts and souvenirs, do be careful where you buy from. There are a lot of fakes as mentioned, but not only in terms of designer goods. I was in the market for Essence and Papyrus, and I ended up with both fakes and genuine. I would suggest going to bigger well established shops. Tour guides often include a stop over to genuine shops and you can also ask tour guides what they would recommend.   

Lastly Cairo is not a holiday destination for everyone, you really have to be interested in the history of Egypt to want to visit it. It can be smoggy and busy, hectic, a haggle fest, and foreigners will be hounded. Safety first would be a good motto to hold onto while venturing out at night. All that said I loved it, it’s an adventurer’s paradise and has all the history anyone would ever desire. You can see the decades and centuries of change and yet normalcy goes on around it. It’s a stark reminder that life does not stop for anyone. Not for the Pharaoh’s who believed in their own immortality and certainly not for mere tourists (me) hoping to snag a deal for ‘authentic’ papyrus.

 

L.S. Deen