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On social media and the censorship of wom*n's bodies

Art by Ranuka Tandan.

Ever since I started using social media, I’ve been warned about people with malicious intent: scammers, pedophiles, stalkers. I never thought it mattered because my intentions were never wrong. I never consciously wore “indecent” clothing, but I did not know what qualified as “indecent.” Honestly, I still do not know. Is a blouse that hugs my body and shows a fair amount of skin ‘indecent’? Is it my fault if this is the body I was born with, and do not know how to appease everyone without covering up from head to toe? People have always had something negative to say. I have been told I will never find a husband or a job, that I will never be respected if I don’t stop showing skin online.

I took a (very long) break from social media, but that just resulted in more anxiety about giving in to a society that is not concerned with my safety and wellbeing. I was giving in to a mindset that blames the victim, that censors women’s bodies, that shamed me for pictures where I looked ‘indecent.’ But why am I ashamed? Logically, I know now that I am not at fault, and that wicked people will always have dishonorable intentions no matter what I put out there. This cycle of shame has not started with me. If I do not work toward breaking it, there will never be a future wherein young girls won’t have to think about what a man so far in their future will think about their Instagram accounts. 

It’s easy to say that I don’t care about what people think. It’s easier to stop posting pictures I know will result in contention. But is this the person I want to be? Do I want to hide away parts of myself because I am too afraid to fight for it? Do I want to continue being terrified of partaking in ‘normal’ Western activities because of my South Asian upbringing? When, in the middle of all of this, am I expected to form my own opinions about what is acceptable, and what is not? When, in a culture so oppressive, am I ever going to feel free? When can I do something I want to without thinking twice, thrice, four times about it? How many times will I be shamed out of “concern” for my character? I refuse to live with the constant fear of being “caught” doing something I do not think is wrong in the first place. 

I feel guilty writing this, and I will keep feeling guilty until I accept that I am the only one who should have agency in my life, online and offline. Coming to terms with the reality that I will have to fight back to reclaim my sense of identity for a long time is daunting. But the possibility that one day, hopefully, I will be able to be every part of myself is the only assurance I need to go on.