Thursday, September 27, 2012

Whatever you do, don't stare!

I was inspired to read today about a young Sikh woman, Balpreet Kaur, who was the subject of Internet bullying after someone snapped this photo of her in line at the Ohio State University Library and posted it on Reddit. The Reddit user captioned it "I'm not sure what to conclude from this," and soon had all sorts of comments pouring in, most not very nice.

Kaur was alerted to the furore, and she responded in a graceful, typically Sikh way. She herself posted to the forum, saying:

"Hey, guys. This is Balpreet Kaur, the girl from the picture...If the original poster wanted a picture, they could have just asked and I could have smiled :) However, I'm not embarrased or even humiliated by the attention [negative and positve] that this picture is getting because, it's who I am. Yes, I'm a baptized Sikh woman with facial hair. Yes, I realize that my gender is often confused and I look different than most women. 
However, baptized Sikhs believe in the sacredness of this body - it is a gift that has been given to us by the Divine Being [which is genderless, actually] and, must keep it intact as a submission to the divine will. Just as a child doesn't reject the gift of his/her parents, Sikhs do not reject the body that has been given to us...By transcending societal views of beauty, I believe that I can focus more on my actions. My attitude and thoughts and actions have more value in them than my body because I recognize that this body is just going to become ash in the end, so why fuss about it?...So, to me, my face isn't important but the smile and the happiness that lie behind the face are. :-) ...I appreciate all of the comments here, both positive and less positive because I've gotten a better understanding of myself and others from this...I hope this explains everything a bit more, and I apologize for causing such confusion and uttering anything that hurt anyone.
She also explained her turban:
Also, wearing turbans for women is a sign of inner strength and empowerment because we too are equal to Sikh men. Sikhism advocates total equality for both genders [the only difference between them are the last names] and therefore, it is okay, however rare the occurrence, for a woman to adorn herself with the turban just like her male counterparts. I encourage everyone to go and google and expand their knowledge of the sheer diversity in this nation - as will I; and gain a better understanding of each other.
I wish I had half her grace, maturity, and wisdom--no reason to get all worked up or humiliated--just calmly explain where you are coming from and don't worry about how people react to you.

And what's even more beautiful is the fact that the original poster regretted his/her insensitivity and created another post on Reddit, apologizing to Kaur.

Lizzie Velasquez with her younger sister
The Yahoo news article I read about Kaur linked to another story: "Lessons From the World's Ugliest Woman: 'Stop Staring and Start Learning.'" Lizzie Velasquez has a rare disorder: she has no adipose tissue and cannot create muscle, store energy, or gain weight. She has no body fat and weighs only 60 pounds. She too was a victim of Internet bullying; someone posted a youtube video of her, labeling it "The World's Ugliest Woman" (now removed). But instead of letting her life be ruined, Velasquez has turned this bullying on its head. Now 23 years old, she's become an author and motivational speaker and teaches people that beauty is only skin deep. She was born 4 weeks premature (at 2 pounds, 10 ounces) and was not expected to survive. Her organs are healthy, but she has to eat every 15 to 20 minutes because her body does not store the nutrients.

Lizzie is stared at CONSTANTLY, everywhere she goes, and I imagine Balpreet is as well. I can relate to this in a small way, since I had a cleft lip and have a visible scar. Even a few weeks ago, a new school-age girl in church (a foster daughter) kept turning around in her seat to stare at me. Maybe she was staring at my three boys! But I've been stared at enough to always wonder if it's me. In my life, however, I don't generally think about my scar and my slightly off-center nose. I can put it out of my mind, but these two beautiful women can never do that.

We need to teach our children (and other adults!) not to stare and to accept differences with grace, just as Balpreet did. When we were at Holden Village this summer, there was a woman with facial hair in the village...and she was staying in our lodge. My friend Shelia thought she'd better tell her daughters, in case they were alarmed if they saw her in the bathroom. When she informed them, casually, of the fact that there was a woman with a beard in the village...her daughters were completely nonplussed. "Yeah, we know, Mom..." I love that. There was no issue.

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