Culture, body types, and personal identity.
I was watching news from Sudan. A very slim, small pretty young woman was being interviewed explaining the reasons for the massive uprising and demonstrations which are taking place right now. She could have been a very big woman from a different Sudanese tribe and probably would have not received as much attention here in the west, even if both spoke about the same topic. A few years ago we didn’t see women from that part of the world making political comments at all. Thank God for small victories.
Most of us never take time to think about physical appearances as a determining factor affecting our opinions and dismiss cultural differences or gender issues as unimportant. We pride ourselves on being impartial, especially in Canada. The world uses us as an example of where multiculturalism works, but the world is wrong. We have a great divide which we simply refuse to admit.
I remember school days when I was a little kid. I was very tall and skinny. Teachers at the beginning of the year used to send me to sit in the back of the class for that reason. I was not allowed to play physical games since I had health issues requiring surgeries and my mom believed that I would die if I chased a ball or did any strenuous physical activity. Teenage came and the lack of physical activity and muscles became a critical issue. Unknown to me, life was setting me up for the mating period of my life. Physical appearance also was an important aspect of how life would be, what kind of jobs I would be able to do and more. The way I talked and dressed unjustly classified me as a candidate for future success or failure.
Now I am considered old and I look back at what happened. One blessing I thank the Lord for is my somewhat unusual ability to remember things that happened at a very early age. I am surprised to learn that I was building myself up every step of the way. I remember choosing to arch my back and slouch since the teacher placed me at the back of the class. I remember considering how I should walk and an adult telling me not to “eyeball him”. For the rest of my life, I have been avoiding staring into someone's eyes which in our culture is considered avoiding eye contact. So much of who we are is based on the way we accumulate information and assimilate it into who we are.
Being born human determines our overall shape and characteristics. Our race gives us other major features and genetics do more refinement. However, a very strong force is exerted by the environment. Evolution is at work to make us adapt to factors like the weather, working conditions, available food supply, or even likes and dislikes and what we may consider attractive. It all leaves a mark on us. Our overall economic situation determines our reaction time, feelings about what is just or unjust, the strength of family commitment and a lot of aspects which may be interpreted as racial or cultural characteristics.
A human being accumulates information from the moment of birth till the last moment of life. The information is translated into both physical appearance and mental capacity. You may say, who would want to be deformed in some way or possibly suffer a mental disorder, but we some times do. You figure out what you think people want from you and do it. Rare are the conditions that happen without your choice. I like to say that God is always watching and listening, more than we think. Some people call it the subconscious brain.
Some of us have or had jobs where we had to go into meeting rooms, often to talk to a crowd of people. If you are like me you will remember stopping just before the door and deciding who you will be today. We do it since we are aware that we project an image which will have consequences on getting what we want. Just observe the behavior of teens meeting other teens they are attracted to and take notes.
When we reach the age of about six or seven, most of our life long decisions are made and the basic person that we will project to the world is formed. By the time I went to school the major decisions had been made and later I was reacting and making adjustments. My basic form and most of my ideas were modeled on my parents and a few other influential people in my life.
I often think, who am I? It's not easy but I dismiss the notion that I am the form I see in the mirror. It is a construct which was formed by nature and shaped by what I collected and assimilated. Did you ever notice that many big families have an individual who is less strong and everyone takes care of him/her? Remember Tim in the Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens?
Slowly but surely humankind is beginning to change from jungle animals to something else. Body types and racial features matter less and even gender is less of an issue. Physical strength is diminishing in importance and the species is transforming to a higher state. We see it when a Sudanese little woman is on the news commenting about politics.
I once watched a movie that was a true piece of art. The story was about a young man who struggled to discover who he was and express it in a poem. In the end, he manages to come up with one true sentence. “We are the stories we tell ourselves.”
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Woman at a street protest in Khartoum, Sudan 2019.
Photo courtesy of Noor Ali.