This summer was supposed to be the first in a long time that I felt ok about wearing a bikini.
Didn’t quite happen. Because, like many a girl from my part of the world, I wear my burkha on the inside.
We all know how we’re supposed to look. Stomach: a taut stretch from rippling ribs to jutting hip bones. Breasts: high and proud. Limbs: long, strong and smooth as butter.
That wasn’t what I saw in the mirror. So, back into the old black swimming costume.
Sometimes, it would be a relief to cover myself from head to toe. To hide from the bullying gaze of my inner Heat magazine, that only ever sees all the ways my lived-in body invites contempt. As if loathing could lazer away your physical flaws, when all it does is uglify your mind.
My insecurities are my own, but they’re far from unique. I’m sure hardly anyone looks at themselves in beachwear and truly loves what they see.
The question is, why need such bulletproof self-regard, just to feel the sun on your skin?
In the UK, we may throw our hands up at the French police, making Muslim women strip at gunpoint on the beach. Showing the same kind of force as the Iranian religious authorities when they arrest women for immodest dress.
But in our gawping society, female bodies exist on the same axis of desire or revulsion. They are never just the way we are anchored in the world.
We’re long used to the idea that women dress for a reaction. Take Cinderella. The original makeover story. Cinders is transformed by a magic frock: a frock so damn fine the Prince is helpless, overwhelmed with attraction. It’s not a million miles away from the queasy old argument that a girl wearing a certain kind of clothes is to blame for someone else’s lustful violence. That she was ‘asking for it’.
There’s a story that’s been floating after me for the better part of two years. I feel it calling when I walk along the Uxbridge Road, passing the local masjid with bare arms. I feel it when I cross the school playground with my daughter, and wonder what the Somali mums think of me with my hair blowing madly in the wind.
It’s a what-if tale. Aimed at anyone that’s telling anyone else what and how they should put over their body.
What if the rules didn’t apply to the looked-at?
What they were only for the looker?
My story’s set in an alternative present, in a religious society which tells people the old story about the danger of bodies. Women can’t be looked upon by men: men can’t be trusted to control their lust. But in this world, power is split differently, and there’s only one logical solution.
If they’re going beyond the family compound, men must cover their eyes.
For, after all, if your right eye causes you to sin, it is better to pluck it out…
My story is about a girl whose father is blinded in a fundamentalist attack, and her fight for justice. For a world in which people see each other as human beings.
When we’re policed as prisoners of the flesh, we lose the ability to look each other in the eye. To see past the marvelous, ridiculous, flawed and brilliant bodies we are accidentally moored within. To the life that leaves everyone in the end.
When we lose sight of that, we’re all blind.