Gender & Identity Life Stories Life

When my boss made my body feel taboo

As a teenager, you’re acutely aware of the way your body changes. It’s terrifying and yet exciting. But as you grow older, and enter the “real world”, shit changes. You watch your body being used against you. Your clothes being used against you. Your age being used against you.

I’m not writing this to make anyone feel bad, I’m writing this because this story needs to be told. And I need to tell it.

I went to the same school all my life. Fifteen years feels like a long time, but that school became a home. I didn’t have a bad high school experience, in fact, I always loved school. I loved my friends, my teachers, my classes. Surprisingly, I felt safe there. I was lucky. And for that, I am grateful. So when the opportunity arose to teach literature at the place that had always felt like home, I quickly accepted. The students were witty, bright, challenging – always pushing me to find new ways of teaching and learning. I loved every minute of it. 

However, there was another side to things. Ever since my first day of teaching, I was uncomfortable. 

My clothes were watched like a hawk. I was told my clothes were “too casual”, my shirt “too short”, my top “too formal”.

Every day, there was something new. I would ask my boss to tell me the dress code, just let me know what was acceptable. Because she wasn’t happy when I wore shalwar kameez, and she wasn’t happy when I wore western clothes. I was constantly on edge. Afraid of being told off for the way I dressed. 

And let me tell you, I was not inappropriate in my dressing. Not in the least. I’d wear button-downs with trousers, or a nice kurta and pants, or a formal shirt and plain black pants. Sometimes, even blazers. I dressed how you would in a workplace.

We weren’t allowed to wear sneakers (something I wasn’t told when I joined), so one incredibly cold day, I wore plain white sneakers and was reprimanded for them. And the irony was that senior teachers would wear them and get away with it.

But because I was “young” and “impressionable” and “the boys would look at me and think things”. Yes, I had to dress in a way that would hide the fact that I had a body from my 14-to-16-year-old male students. I had to dress like I had no style or taste.

It’s funny because some days I was so frustrated I would think they just didn’t want me to look or feel good. Because honestly, the way I look does impact the way I feel. I can’t help it, but it does. It’s there, and it’s real and so, if I’ve put together a power outfit that makes me feel on top of the damn world, I’m going to own it. 

But that wasn’t allowed. My feminism was constantly quashed. And I was walked all over.

See, I finally understood what the problem was. It wasn’t how I dressed. It was my age. And that irked my boss. That I was a young woman who knew who she was and dressed how she liked, and actually knew what she was teaching – that shook her. She wasn’t used to people not complying with reverse ageist tactics.

Before one sports day, she came up to me and two fellow young teachers and said: 

“Girls, since you’re young, I hope you know you need to wear something that will cover your behind.” 

Because God forbid someone actually looked at my ass and realized I was a grown woman? God forbid someone looked at me and thought something? God forbid I wore a shirt that wasn’t down till my ankles and her eyeballs would roll back in her head from seeing my physique?

Was it because I had a body that took up space? I hated the feeling of being watched and observed, her looking me up and down when I entered the building. I began to hide. I’d slip in and out of the school, checking the hallways to make sure she wasn’t there, eyeing me from a distance, ready to strike at any moment.

This one morning, it was 7:25, I was dressed in a plain white kurta, a shalwar and a shawl. I signed in and there she was. She looked me up and down, and said: 

“You’re dressed too casual.” 

I questioned what she meant by that because most of the teachers wore lawn kurtas and shalwars and tennis shoes.

“It’s not appropriate,” she went on.

It was too early for me to deal with that. She had ruined a perfectly good morning by accosting me in the hallway. So I turned around and said: 

“You know, every time you talk about my dressing, it makes me uncomfortable.”

And I ran off to class because the bell was ringing.

She was taken aback. I was being honest. For once, I just wanted to tell her that every time she commented on my dressing, it was a reminder that my body was taking up too much space, it was a reminder of every time I was conscious of my curves, a reminder of every time I dragged myself to the gym in the morning because I didn’t feel good about myself. It was a reminder that so many women in positions of power felt the need to belittle younger women.

I wanted to tell her, ask me about my work, my teaching, my students, my class disciple – ask me anything but the clothing that covers my skin, and the one that doesn’t.

If someone is doing a good job, is dressed appropriately, I don’t see the need to constantly berate them. 

I questioned myself. I wore my mother’s clothes instead of my own. I changed the way I dressed. And I’m realizing that I didn’t need to do that. No one had the right to tell me what to put on my skin. I wasn’t a child in uniform. Of course I had no problems following a dress code, I understood the need to dress appropriately, and I was following the lines. 

Workplace harassment comes in all shapes and sizes. You decide the line. The second you feel like someone is making you uncomfortable – that’s when you know. 

My body wasn’t there to be sexualized but the way she spoke about my clothing, and looked at me, made me feel like I was being observed like a piece of meat and not a human at all. And I got enough of that from the predators lurking around the city.

There needs to be an understanding of gender consciousness. When she used different language to address my younger colleagues and me, as opposed to the older teachers and men, that was age bias. And a lot of gender bias. Maybe it ran thick through her traditional ways. But things were changing. 

Was my body being policed by her? Yes.

Was this another form of her rooted patriarchy? Yes.

Was someone ready to do something about it? Maybe.

My head of department stood up for me, luckily. But that took a while. 

Imagine feeling like you need to hide your body because you’re so afraid of being called out for wearing something as simple as trousers? 

The dirty truth is that most workplaces in Pakistan are like that. So often they look at a woman and assume things due to the way she dresses. 

I was hired because of my knowledge of my subject, and if it was just about the literature of things, maybe I would have even stayed. But being in the thick of a toxic environment that pushed every insecurity I had of myself was threatening my wellbeing on the daily. And I’ll never allow myself to go through that again.

I hope you won’t either.

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Sexuality The Vulvasation Love + Sex Love Advice

Let’s talk about sex baby and South Asia’s problem with it

Vulvasations is a Tempest Love exclusive series dedicated to spreading awareness about the female reproductive system, debunking myths about periods and dissecting everything vajayjay related. Let’s talk about vaginas!

I’m 15 years-old when I realize I can’t identify my body properly, mostly, because I’ve discovered I have clitoris and I don’t know what it is. I will go on to spend the next two years of my life ignoring that particular body part because I think that something’s wrong with me. I would only figure out what it is years later as an adult woman. But the real question is why did no one around me talk about sex?

Before this diatribe starts, I would like to give some context to the South Asian, particularly the Indian problem with sex. I was born to an Indian family from a Southern state called “Tamil Nadu” to two slightly conservative but overall liberal Tamil Christian parents. My upbringing was a weird mismatch of culture, ideas and traditions due to my maternal side being heavily Anglicized. I was expected to be liberal about Indian ideals, after all, my family moved to the desert nation of UAE in the 90s, because they wanted us to have better opportunities.

I grew up enjoying liberties that perhaps weren’t the case with fellow Tamil or Tamil Christian girls. We spoke English at home, played records by Western 70s and 80s musicians, notably ABBA, the Beatles, Elton John et al. But for all the liberties we experienced, there were still some lines we never crossed, my parents would firmly stick to the fact that we were South Indian and there were certain things expected of South Indian women (especially those from Tamil Christian backgrounds).

What further reinforced this notion was my place of residence – I grew up in the UAE which at it’s base, is an Islamic nation. While the country itself was liberal in comparison to all its neighbors in the region, school was a conservative place. I studied with boys till the third grade and after that, we were segregated in true Indian private school tradition, because that’s when we realized that our male classmates are men. And here’s where it begins to get weird.

Sex education in Indian schools, especially private Indian schools are abysmal.

I say this with confidence because I’ve never been taught sex-ed and no, I don’t count that one time my tenth-grade Biology teacher speedily taught a class full of teenage girls the reproduction system. It was an awkward experience, and we all felt like we were breaking some unspoken universal taboo.

Most of my sex education, funnily enough, came from reading the Bible because it detailed laws on what believers should and should not do. It took me a very long time to understand what each law meant because I had no idea how everything worked. I was quite sheltered growing up and under the impression that you only get pregnant if two people of the opposite sex slept in the same bed.

Not my finest moment, but I had no teacher to tell me otherwise.

The only person who gave me “the talk” or a version of it was my elder sister, who fed me second-hand information about sex to me from her friends, while we did our homework and then, never spoke about it. Of course, a lot of the things I was told, were factually incorrect but that’s how limited our resources were. We had blocked websites due to the country’s censorship laws, and if you wanted information, you’d have to read an encyclopedia or just ask someone you know.

We weren’t encouraged to talk about sex or understand how our bodies worked. We never spoke about male and female interactions – at least, we didn’t talk about them in the way we should have because that would have made all the difference.

If I had to go back to all the times I’ve awkwardly looked away from the TV when things get heated between the hero and the heroine in their “love scenes” and when I mean love scenes, I mean those scenes, where the heroine is having her belly caressed sexually or having her neck sniffed by the hero because Indians are really strange about showing two consenting adults touching. It’s easy to see why we’re uncomfortable. We’re conditioned to deny ourselves pleasure.

It’s not that Indians aren’t having sex because they most definitely are. India ranks third worldwide for being porn consumers and now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re consuming porn now more than ever. So why are we so shy talking about it with our young people?

Don’t people think that we would benefit from educating people on consent, sex and how their bodies worked? Don’t people think that our society would be infinitely better if we all had useful sexual education?

Well, I do and in the words of the Salt-N-Pepa, “Let’s talk about sex.”

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Fashion Lookbook

Here’s my big-chested secret to finding a supportive sports bra

I’ve never understood why it’s so hard to find sports bras or tops that are flattering on large chested women. From my experience, all of the cute ones either only come in smaller sizes, or are impractical. What I do find is never actually supportive, though, like a sports bra should be, and I wind up having to wear two sports bras just to feel comfortable while exercising. This is suffocating and not at all ideal, especially when sweat starts to build up in crevices that should just not be sweating. 

If I don’t go through the hassle of squeezing my chest into 2 sports bras at once, which is something that I think resembles a medieval corset, then I feel almost as if I’m being held back during my workout. It’s hard to push myself when I don’t really feel secure or comfortable. Not to be graphic, but if I’m going on a run or doing jumping jacks, the last thing I want to be thinking about is my boobs flopping around in every direction, basically an inch away from a wardrobe malfunction. Yet most of the time, that is all I can think about. Not to mention that all of that breast movement can also be downright painful during a workout. Frankly, it feels like my boobs are being torn right off my chest with every jump or swing. 

As a result, my exercise routine just doesn’t last very long because I’m so tired of having to deal with my boobs. Sometimes I even find myself holding my breasts in my hands to stop them from bouncing while I’m jogging. But I shouldn’t have to do that. Girls with larger chests should be able to find sports bras, or any other top for that matter, that are flattering, trendy, and fits their chest just as much as the next girl

But I also know that my big boobs are not going anywhere anytime soon. Neither are those narrow stereotypes of the ‘perfect’ female body that are the driving force of the fashion and athleisure industries. So, after a few years of dealing with this, I’ve come up with a few tips and tricks of my own for finding a sports bra that is comfortable, stylish, and that I trust to keep my chest in place and supported. 

Our boobs deserve the best — AKA not to be smooshed so I’ve always found it best for a sports bra to have some sort of light cupping on the inside. This ensures that our boobs have a designated place to go so as to limit movement. 

Freya Active Bra.
[Image description: Freya Active Bra.] Via
Another thing that is key when looking for a sports bra is a strong and substantial bottom band. This acts like a shelf for our boobs to sit on and helps keep them in place during a high-intensity workout. When looking for a bottom band that offers maximum support, however, it’s important to take into consideration whether or not that band will rub or cause irritation in the area. Rubbing is not good. For this reason, I usually try to go wire-free when picking out a sports bra. Adjustable straps and a flexible under-band are always my go to for comfort and ensuring minimal bounce. 

Natori Gravity Contour Sports Bra.
[Image description: Natori Gravity Contour Sports Bra.] Via
Another important aspect is the material that your sports bra is made of. Moisture-wicking or mesh materials are great for soaking up sweat and acting as a ventilator to keep you cool. 

Zella Body Fusion Sports Bra.
[Image description: Zella Body Fusion Sports Bra.] Via
It’s time we start taking a stand and taking care of our boobs, because if we don’t, we could be doing more damage than we’d like to think. 

Health Care The Vulvasation Love + Sex Love

Things that everyone with a vag should definitely know

Vulvasations is a Tempest Love exclusive series dedicated to spreading awareness about the female reproductive system, debunking myths about periods and dissecting everything vajayjay related. Let’s talk about vaginas!

I recently came across a series of paintings done by a brilliant artist named Jacqueline Secor. The pictures made me do a double take because what looked like floral textures at first, were in fact, vaginas. It was a series of work depicting floral renderings of female genitalia.

What was intriguing about these pictures wasn’t that they were female genitals painted in flowery patterns, but how different they looked from each other. It didn’t look like the same thing done in different styles. There was a noticeable difference between them.

image description: A series of nine artworks in a grid showing floral depictions of vulvas
[Image description: A series of nine artworks in a grid showing floral depictions of vulvas] via Jacquelinesecorart on Instagram
I previously believed that vaginas looked all the same. In hindsight, I’m surprised at my naivete.

Now, we already know women should explore themselves more, and I truly believe that. The statement that the vagina is the most talked about and least understood part of the body, doesn’t just apply to men.

In theory, you know what a vulva is, but would you be able to pick yours out of a line-up? If you can’t, then maybe you should work on that. Why don’t you grab a mirror and take a good look?

I’m not saying you should start researching vagina pictures (unless that helps you).

However, a first good step would be to remove the preconceived notion of what a vagina should look like, and instead, recognize how different each one can be.

Why is it important to appreciate and understand the variety in vaginas? Because the more you appreciate the beauty of your body, the less likely you are of looking for that validation from someone else. Self-love and acceptance are incredibly empowering.

The failure to recognize, embrace and love yourself the right way, can have greater consequences than just misrepresentation and unawareness. It can lead to psychological distress and at times, even a severe condition known as body dysmorphia or Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD).

Body dysmorphia is a mental disorder which causes individuals to obsess over an aspect of their appearance relentlessly, even if the perceived flaw is non-existent or insignificant. Falling for a media-based view of the perfect vulva can cause people to feel genital dysmorphia. They could find themselves making the desperate leap to cosmetic surgery, an industry which is more than happy to sell you the idea of perfection by going under the knife.

Plastic surgeons currently perform two kinds of corrective surgeries on genitals:

1. Vaginoplasty: A procedure to make your vagina tighter. It may also include the removal of some external skin for a more aesthetic appearance.

2. Labiaplasty: The surgical modification of the labia. The clitoral hood, the lips at the entrance of the vagina, and pubic lifts or reductions.

These surgeries can have serious side effects and might not treat the actual source of the problem: that there was nothing wrong with the appearance of your vagina in the first place, it was deeper rooted than that.

Plastic surgeons claim they’re going to make a patient’s genitalia “more appealing.” But to who? Are they trying to meet other people’s expectations, or is the media feeding you the idea of what a vagina should look like – without you even knowing?

If you need some realistic insight into this, please understand the porn industry is definitely NOT going to help you. Neither are pictures of genitals represented as neat little fruits and flowers.

image description: sliced fruit on purple silk
[Image description: sliced fruit on purple silk] via Charles on Unsplash
There are some amazing artists who have done alluring pieces of work similar to this that are worth looking up. There is also a captivating and thought-provoking documentary called 100 Vaginas.

The film is a very up close and personal look at vulvas and people with vulvas openly talking about them and their experiences. If you get a chance to watch this, do it, and understand that it will change you in some significant way by the end.

At least to a point where you won’t feel like you want to run and hide every time there’s a full-blown vulva on your screen.

image description: a woman is smiling while holding a camera between an open pair of legs
[image description: a woman is smiling while holding a camera between an open pair of legs] via IMDB
In the documentary, one woman said “It’s [the vulva’s] physical appearance and makeup is rarely discussed. And while we are taught endlessly about the blood, birth, and pain it will bring to us, its potential for pleasure is only ever really noted in relation to others. We live in a society that treats women entirely like a cock pocket.”

There are many diverse types of vulvas, and all of them are beautiful.

And if your V doesn’t look the way you thought she should, trust me, she’s still lovely, and you’re still a goddess.

If this is an explorative journey you have yet to take, I highly encourage you to try. It’s empowering, and you can never have too much of that.

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Science Now + Beyond

I had no idea what a urethra was until I got into a fight with my boyfriend

I grew up smack dab in the middle of a part of America that is nicknamed the “bible belt,” where “socially conservative evangelical Protestantism plays a strong role in society and politics.” Both my Muslim mother and conservative Christian father were very tight-lipped when it came to discussing “controversial topics” with their children.

I can’t remember ever having a conversation about sex, periods, or anatomy in general. Everything I knew came from novels or television. In addition to this, I received an abstinence-only sex education starting in the 8th grade where they forced the boys to leave the room so they didn’t learn about “female stuff.”

Turns out they might as well have thrown me out of the room as well because I didn’t know a thing about “female stuff.” I had never heard of a douche, didn’t know that people actually shaved down there, or that women had a “pee hole.”

How I found out? My ex-boyfriend.

I remember complaining about my tampon causing me pain one night because tampons are the devil and he asked me, “well did you put in the wrong hole?”  I remember thinking to myself, what a stupid question!

 Barack Obama throws hands up and with an aghast facial expression.]
Attribution: [Barack Obama throwing his hand up in a questioning manner with an aghast facial expression.] Via
I asked him “what do you mean the wrong hole, there’s only ONE hole.” His response changed my world.

“Tiara, you have two holes down there. You know that…right?”

We argued for hours over this. My thought process was, how can some man think he can tell me about my body. Of course, I knew my body and I thought I would’ve noticed another freaking hole in it.

I did not notice the second hole.

Cardi B looks confused during grammys red carpet interview
Attribution: [Image Description: Cardi B looking very confused during Grammys red carpet interview.] Via
We finally ended the argument when I  googled information about the vagina. Turns out there was that second hole called the Urethra and this was the hole women peed out of. I had honestly never felt so ashamed. The fact that my boyfriend had to teach me about my own anatomy and that I was a 20-year-old girl who could barely tell you a thing about her vagina was appalling. It was scary to think I let conservative ideals and teachings leave me ignorant to my own body.

So I took human sexuality and culture in college and received a proper sex education for the first time in my life. I’m finally able to move past the shame, especially knowing that so many women have no clue about their bodies, just like I didn’t. So here’s a quick comprehensive lesson that every girl should know.

1. Your vagina is not actually your vagina

Jenna Marbles looks up into the air in confusion
Attribution: [Image Description: Jenna Marbles looks up into the air in confusion.] Via
The vagina is not the visible part of your genitals and is actually the internal canal, the outside parts are called the vulva.

2. The vulva comes in all shapes and sizes

Chris Rock points enthusiastically. caption: you want diversity, we got diversity
Attribution: [Image Description: Chris Rock points enthusiastically. caption: you want diversity, we got diversity,] Via
You should not be ashamed of how your vulva looks because porn lies.

3. The labia are the lips that surround and protect your vaginal opening.

Man in swat gear pulls down his protective face mask
Attribution: [Image Description: Man in swat gear pulls down his protective face mask.] Via
You’ve got the labia major (outer lips) and minora (inner lips). These come in all shapes, sizes, and colors as well.

4. Your clitoris is located at the top of your vulva.

Rihanna winks and laughs
Attribution: [Image Description: Rihanna winks and laughs into the camera.] Via
It’s very sensitive, I think you’ve met – if not you should.

5. The hole you pee out of is the urethra

Man leans back in surprise
Attribution: [Image Description: Man leans back in his chair in surprise.] Via
Right underneath your clitoris is your “pee hole” aka your urethra. Please don’t stick things in there before consulting a doctor on proper techniques.

6. Your vagina is self-cleaning.

clean up GIF
Attribution: [Image Description: A woman dancing around with big headphones on in her living room with a duster in one hand and mop in the other.] Via
You don’t have to shove anything up there to be “sanitary.”

7. Vaginal discharge is completely normal.

Michelle Obama exhales in relief and is hugged by surrounding women
Attribution: [Image Description: Michelle Obama exhales in relief and is hugged by surrounding women.] Via
It’s just your vagina doing that cleaning thing we talked about.

8. Kegels are useful but not for what you think.

Oprah rests her face on her hand, listening intently
Attribution: [Image Description: Oprah rests her face on her hand, listening intently.] Via
Kegels strengthen your pelvic floor which is really healthy for you in the long run but they do not make the vagina “tighter.”

These are just a few facts to know but it’s important that we all get more personal with our own bodies. Society has made the female body into something taboo, but there is nothing wrong with understanding and loving your own anatomy. My favorite resource is a Facebook group called vaginformation that is dedicated to helping girls like me who have no idea about their own genitalia.

It’s time for us to reclaim our vaginas!