I was 11 years old the first time a teacher made me stay behind after school to tell me that some of the boys in my class were discussing my t-shirt being too tight. I wish now that I could go back in time and ask her whether she approached these boys about body-shaming me.
There’s a huge problem in the South African Indian community when it comes to body shaming children, particularly girls, and it pains me that we seem to do nothing to address it.
At 11 years old, I can assure you that I wasn’t trying to lure male attention. In fact, I often wore t-shirts and my tracksuit to school because it was easier to run around in. I never thought about the boys in my class or male teachers. I only thought about my friends and the games we were going to play during our lunch break.
I remember going home that evening and making my parents buy me new t-shirts. I didn’t tell them about the situation. In fact, I never spoke to anyone about it. I felt dirty. I felt ashamed of my body. I didn’t want to develop any more and I started wearing baggy clothes and jackets to cover myself.
This was huge contrast from the way I was brought up. Growing up, my parents would let me run around the house in shorts and t-shirts or strip down to my underwear if I didn’t have a costume and we were near water. I was allowed to be a child.
However, in the age of social media, children experience body shaming routinely. It doesn’t help that patriarchy is deeply rooted within our community. I’ve witnessed family members, friends and acquaintances comment on the way young girls dress with vile undertones. This is completely inappropriate given the statistics of sexual violence within our country.
It confuses me how we are comfortable with criticizing children without addressing the lens through which this issue is viewed.
Is it okay if a child is sexually abused because of the way that they’re dressed? Are we comfortable with this narrative? Is it really okay to ask children to cover up in order to make adults comfortable?
The onus is on us to change our culture and protect our children.
We need to start questioning adults who are critical of the way children dress. We need to question the families of young children who are overtly sexual at a young age.
I believe that this is where change starts.
Children are children. We need to let them be just that.
Alushka Rajaram, Columnist |
Based in Australia, her ties to India are less about India itself and more about paying homage to the people who paved the way for her path into the world. The people who chose and were subsequently chosen by the land.
For now, her personal sense of self aims to encompass everything I believe I am and love – Australia has captured my heart. India runs through my veins. And South Africa has won my soul.