Virtue and Garments

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

When I was four years old, I wore dresses with stockings all the time whether at home, at school, or meeting friends. That was all my father considered acceptable attire. Although I must admit, my outfits were so adorable I wish I could share them with you. Pants were scandalous and shorts were a straight ticket to hell. There was such a fierce urge to protect the values and culture of our home country and religion, that anything related to Canada or western culture would be outright refused without discussion.

    However, once I graduated from kindergarten, gym class required pants or shorts in order to participate. This put my father at a crossroads. If he allowed me to wear pants where would it end? Would I be demanding to wear shorts and skirts soon as well? T-shirts? It was outrageous that I should be allowed to wear pants and be showing my arms and knobby elbows to the boys in my class! I, however, was thrilled to go to Zellers and BiWay to shop for my new wardrobe until I saw what my mother was picking out for me. I was being offered large-sized t-shirts that would come to my knees from the women's section and sweatpants loose enough to fit two of my legs through one hole. I wished I could go back to my dresses and stockings because at least I looked cute in them. 

    Once my mother started attending nursing school, she also fought to be able to wear pants and shirts to school for comfort reasons while continuing to wear a headscarf. My father did not know how to handle all this change. This was not headed in a good direction for him and in some ways, he was not wrong. 

    In one rotation during gym class, there would be tall ladders and other gymnastic equipment that was for our use. During this time, the requirement to climb the tall ladders was shorts. My other girlfriends who were Muslim and Pakistani were given permission by their parents to wear shorts just for this particular portion of gym class so that they are able to fully participate. I, unfortunately, was not given the same understanding by my parents. I would sadly mope along the balancing beams, wistfully gazing at the ladders while all my friends would abandon me to go play on the more exciting equipment. 

    It was not just the change in clothing that was terrifying, it was having to change clothes and interact with the opposite sex. Co-ed classes for both my mother and me in school would mean interaction with the opposite sex. Because he could not argue with my mother, he decided to pour all his focus into my education instead. This would become a new terrifying phase for me. My father would come by during school hours to peek into the class to see what I was doing and who I was interacting with. I would come home and be hit with rapid-fire questioning of why was my desk next to a boy's or why was I talking to a boy during class. If I explained that seat assignment was the decision of the teacher, my father would storm into class the following morning and demand my seat assignment be changed immediately. This would happen in front of other classmates and parents during schooltime. I would be so embarrassed I wished the floor would swallow me up so I would never have to return there again. If I was walking to the car with him after school or during lunch and a boy I knew said hello to me I would pretend I didn't hear and quickly look the other way and pray my father did not notice. This continued until grade six when he became too busy to follow me around anymore and there were two younger kids in the house. 

    I did not know how to recover from my approach of boys and men. Even when my parents were not hovering over me anymore I would still feel the racing in my heart when a boy talked to me. I felt like God was watching me and I was racking my sin points to hell every time a friendly boy would talk to me in class. This could also be because of the tight-knit community around me and I felt anyone at any point could see me make a mistake and it would get back to my parents one way or another. I built a wall between me and any boy that would try to talk to me. I was the weird awkward kid in school who would not look you in the eye when you spoke and try to run away as soon as the conversation was over. I would never initiate a conversation and try to remain in my safe spot in the background. I stayed in the background until I graduated high school. Once I started college, I slowly climbed out of my chrysalis into the world.

 I have continued to uphold my modest clothing sense into adulthood because that is what I feel comfortable in now. I did try on different styles of clothing and eventually found one in which I can express myself well without losing who I am and who I have become. Compared to my younger siblings, I am the tamest one of all!

Until next time,

Photo by Andre Mouton


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