Flickr:Mariyan Dimitrov, Creative Commons

Going to keep this relatively short. Who knows what gender a child might be, but for the purposes of what is to be discussed, I’ll refer to the child with she/her/hers.

Several things struck me about her. She looked so calm as she rested, occasionally smiling or stretching in her sleep. I felt so lucky to see a life in someone’s arms. But I couldn’t shake a little bit of sadness that tugged at the bottom of my throat.

This child is going to grow up with so much pressure on her shoulders to conform to an image, even if it wasn’t her own. Take, for instance, the obsession with the weight of the baby. Sure, for health reasons, medical professionals like to check the baby is a “healthy” weight. Yet everyone asks about the weight of the baby, sighing and tutting. I can’t help shake the feeling that this is just the beginning of an image-obsessed life.

Another absurd example is people poke a baby’s nose. Literally, they try to stretch it, making it longer and thinner. As a baby born with facial palsy, I knew there would have been several attempts to make the paralysis on my left side go away. But the nose? What is wrong with a baby’s nose?

This poor kid. She probably doesn’t know it yet, but she’s in for a tough ride. When babies are born in the Pakistani community, the immediate instinct of older relatives is to either frown or smile over the baby’s skin colour. Pale = yay. Dark = nay. In fact, people spend their entire life cracking jokes about how one child was born darker and therefore uglier than the rest.

Already, people are probably wondering how hairy the baby is going to be. Seriously. It seems you have to be perfect without actually doing anything about it. It’s not just about the appearance, though.

When your newborn baby is reliant upon you for everything, you’re stressed out of your mind. You don’t have the energy to argue, especially with silver-tongued grannies and granddads who won’t listen to anything you have to say on the matter. I don’t know what it’s like in other communities, but in my Pakistani community, we have a huge hurdle to overcome in terms of encouraging self-esteem and discouraging bullying. Parents should not give their children a complex about how they look. It’s ridiculous to think that degrading someone’s appearance in order to “make them better” comes under the subject of “tough love”. No; it creates sad people who lead sad lives trying to live up to your ever-changing, unrealistic expectations. Is it any wonder mental health issues are so rife within the community?

It’s hard enough getting communities to loosen up on their gender expectations. Girls must be quiet, pretty, and obedient. Boys must be strong, faithful, and spirited. Forget the non-binary, forget those who don’t care about the gender stereotypes, and definitely forget the people who don’t prescribe to religious doctrine. Unfortunately, the children will grow up having an image foisted upon them, often with violence and emotional abuse.

I notice that a lot of these image problems are projected onto children by adults who have the same image problems and have grown up thinking that way. Something about self-improvement makes people say all sorts of horrible things. It shouldn’t be that we live to a ripe old age regretting we didn’t elongate our child’s nose enough. But I’ll say this with certainty: your child is not an image of yourself or anyone else. Let them be a child, and teach them to be strong enough to withhold all the stupid ideas of image people will press upon them their entire lives.

Teach them to be their own person; that’s all they will ever ask or need from you.

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