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  • Pre-Existing Condition

    By Katie Shier I posted something on my Instagram story a few weeks ago about getting aggressively catcalled. I usually don’t post things like that, but I guess I was pissed off more than usual that day. It wasn’t even 10 a.m. I was just trying to go to a doctor’s appointment. I got message after message: “I’m so sorry that happened to you.” “I hope you’re okay.” “That’s so scary.” I’m not sure what response I was expecting, but I didn’t really think people would care. I’m so used to this. We all are. It wasn’t that big of a deal, right? I genuinely didn’t think it was a big deal. This happens to literally every woman on earth. Everyday. The only difference is that I said something about it this time. What about the time I was 12 and I got catcalled while babysitting? We were on our way to the park. A group of construction workers whistled at me. I grabbed her hand way too tightly as we walked past. I hope she didn’t know what was going on. What about the time I was on the subway home and a guy was masturbating and staring at me my whole ride home? I have never felt so violated and the man hadn’t even touched me. I almost threw up in the garbage at St Clair station. What about the time a guy forced my hand on his crotch at a party and when I tried to get away, he grabbed my wrist so tightly that I thought he broke it? I was told by a friend that it wasn’t worth reporting because “I didn’t really have anything to report.” What about the time the guys in my seventh grade class made a hot-or-not list of all the girls solely based on our boobs? What about all the times I had to order a new drink at a bar because I left mine unattended for half a minute? What about the time a man old enough to be my father grinded on me and groped me at a bar? His hands dug into my hip bones like he was trying to dig through me. I couldn’t move. I was trying to celebrate my 18th birthday. What about all the times that are too insignificant to post about because getting harrassed is the rent I pay to exist in the world as a woman. What about all the times I thought I would get kidnapped or raped or killed? Where’s the nearest exit? Are there any other women around? Is anyone around? What’s in my bag? How fast can I run in these shoes? Can he grab my ponytail? Did he look at me weird? Did she notice him looking at me? All of these questions go through my head the second I make eye contact with a man. Even if he’s ‘normal looking’ or a mutual friend or young and cute. Every man is a threat when my mere existence is a pre-existing condition. An invitation for male attention. What about all the times incidents like this happen on the way to work or class? We’re expected to function as normal. Like nothing ever happened. I’m supposed to take notes during my lecture. I’m supposed to focus on what my professor is saying. As if I was not just yelled at by a random man like I was a dog. Like I am worthless. Like I am a removable piece of garbage in his way. After each one of these situations, I’ve just brushed it off and gone on with my day. I’ve had to and I’ve learned to. We all have. Because if we start talking about all the ways we have been violated there would never be silence.

  • The Skin I'm in

    The ugly side effects of European beauty standards By Sonia Bermas When I was a child, my mother would make me a sandwich every day for lunch. More often than not, it would end up in the trash. I hated the plain food and was tired of the same ham sandwich, wondering why she didn’t make me the dishes we usually had at home, like the chicken biryani, butter chicken, roti and curry. I told my sister how I felt and she sat me down in our small shared room that was so cramped it felt hard to breathe. She told me how she brought my mother’s cooking of traditional Indian food to her elementary school for lunch every day, and how her classmates would make fun of her by calling the food smelly. She broke down one day crying, begging our mom to make her something else so she wouldn’t be made fun of. Our mom listened and gave plain sandwiches for lunch instead. My mom had to give away a piece of her culture for her children to be safe. When my sister told me this, I realized how much of ourselves we lost to assimilate to Canadian life. My parents immigrated to Canada — one from Persia and the other from India — in the hopes of a better life. I was never taught the languages my parents spoke in their homeland, and as I grew older, I’ve regretted not learning how to. I now wish that I was more connected to the beautiful lands my parents came from. The mountain ranges and lush forests, lands filled with rich vegetation and exotic fruits, streets filled with rich flavours and the smell of strong spices. My desire to be more attached to my roots wasn’t always the case. There was once a time where I wished I could be something I was not. I wanted to be white. I hated my skin. I hated how I never saw someone that looked like me in magazines and movies. My mom would try to make me see my beauty, and constantly remind me that brown skin is beautiful. I never listened. I wish I was happy with who I was, but I kept denying myself that opportunity because I was trying to be the person I saw in the media. I never felt represented. When I did see someone like myself, often when I watched Bollywood movies as a child, I felt like an outsider — so disconnected from my Indian roots because I could not understand a word of what was said. Growing up, only a small group of my peers looked like me. I remember the girls who were paler than me and had lighter hair. They were always happier than me, living in a big house surrounded by a white picket fence. They were always favoured by other students — the popular kids with many friends and the types of girls that boys liked, while I felt invisible. I downloaded Instagram when I was a teenager, which made me realize that Eurocentric features were the beauty standard as I scrolled through my feed of popular celebrities — all white or lighter-skinned. I saw what my people were called on social media based on our skin colour: terrorists, cow worshippers or smelly. There was always an underlying tone to these so-called jokes, as if they truly perceived my people to be like that. These “jokes” left deep-rooted scars. In a world plagued by patriarchy and misogyny, women are often valued by their appearance. It is no surprise that young girls are brought up to aspire to fit society’s standards of beauty — a white standard of beauty. We idolize characters like Barbie who construct this idea that we need to be skinny, have fair skin and straight hair. I owned two Barbie dolls as a child — one white-skinned and the other brown. I would get mad and pick fights with my sister when she left me to play with the brown doll. When I look back on that memory, I feel disgusted. I am ashamed of myself for the thoughts I had. I looked like that doll, and yet, the doll was ugly to me. I was a child no older than six, and I already felt like my appearance had no worth. I was taught by society that I needed white beauty to have worth, and for a long time, I was so focused on trying to achieve that goal. I would dwell on things I could never change about myself. I would compare myself to every girl who looked nothing like me. I hated that my skin was brown instead of white, and my eyes were brown instead of blue. Looking back, it breaks my heart to see how I strongly believed I wasn’t beautiful, to remember how I cried myself to sleep every night. As I grew older, I finally started to see my mother’s beauty. How she gave everything up just to protect her children and how she was still true to herself through it all. I wanted to be strong like her. I forced myself to stop caring about beauty standards because they don’t determine my worth. It was hard at first to give up a version of myself I carried around for so long. I was saying goodbye to a piece of myself. Even now, there are still days where I am consumed by my thoughts and fall back into destructive habits. When I look in the mirror, I see the face of my mother. My mother, who did everything she could for her children in order for them to have a better life. She endured every rude remark, every judgemental stare and every scar. Yet she faced it all and it somehow made her stronger. She put on a brave face for her children's sake. I see the golden eyes, the raven hair, I see the beauty I deprived myself of for so many years.

  • the attic

    By Arianna Kyriacou you always expected me to immediately get on my knees for you you are not something to be worshipped you are not a god i am not below you yet i know you are not capable of loving me without making me feel so small so i tuck the way i feel about you into tattered cardboard boxes that sit thick with dust above the bed we spend far too much time on it lies dead, enclosed around brown walls and it’s damp & leaking onto the floor, through the muddy print you left from your size twelve shoe sometimes it drips onto my torso while you are bruising my jaw and strangling my neck for fun

  • "That means good luck!"

    By Ana Leal There is nothing magical about an old mattress on the side of the road, lumpy and tainted. But when I was growing up, my grandmother would excitedly point them out and exclaim, Eso es de buena suerte! “That’s good luck!” The old unwanted non-functional mass became a sign from the universe. My grandmother had a whimsical way of turning unwanted and ugly things into something charming and full of purpose. Things that would otherwise go unnoticed or ruin my day would instead make me smile with the understanding that the universe was looking out for me, like bird poop and pennies on the ground. As far as I am concerned, 2020 was a massive bird defecation on the world. For obvious reasons, such as the whole planet dealing with a pandemic and on a personal level, I was dealing with a break up in isolation. By the time October came around, I was petrified knowing that my mental health typically takes a dive as the winter sets in. I knew that it wouldn’t be pretty once my pandemic blues met my online learning blues and collided with my winter blues. After talking with a friend, I realized that the trick to surviving the holidays was going to be in sparking little hints of magic in my spirit throughout the season, instead of avoiding the season all together. I thought about what sparked joy in me when I was growing up. I recruited my sister to brainstorm the traditions that brought us joy as kids. Among our many traditions, both Canadian and Colombian, what stuck out the most from our childhood was the good luck our grandmother injected into our lives. My grandmother died in December 2012 due to a sudden heart attack. Thinking back, that was when my winter blues began to hit me hard. Growing up in between countries, I developed a strong sense of belonging in my family instead of the outside worlds I was navigating. My family became my social network and the foundation I used to understand those worlds. When my grandma died, she took her magic with her. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find messages from the universe anymore. As my sister and I threw ideas back and forth, we both knew we wanted to do something special to mark the end of a fairly non-magical year. As silly as it might seem, we wanted to do our part in bringing some good luck to the world in 2021. Fortunately for us, we grew up hearing about New Year’s traditions and thought it was time to bring them back into our lives. We posted on social media asking for people to share their traditions and we also looked up articles online. We wanted to know as many traditions as possible. “Run around the block with a suitcase if you want to manifest travel in the upcoming year,” said our aunt Diana, who would be joining our celebration via Zoom. Diana — who also suffered the loss of our grandmother, her own mother — asked us to share these hints of magic with her two sons who never got a chance to witness their grandma’s magic in action. I realized that by sharing these moments with my seven and eight year-old cousins, I was sharing parts of my grandmother with them. One of the beauties of tradition is that it connects generations to each other and cultivates a sense of magic and hope between people who have never met. A second realization came when friends from different backgrounds who had family in different countries started messaging in. Apparently, our grandmother wasn’t the only one sparking magic in her family. “We put lentils in our pockets for good fortune, too!” said a message from a Brazilian friend. “Eat 12 grapes at midnight and make a wish with everyone,” read a message from a friend born in Venezuela. “Wear yellow underwear,” said a friend from El Salvador. As friends and family started to report back to us with their anecdotes and quirks, we became more interested in not only the traditions themselves, but also what they were believed to bring. “Let’s do them all,” I told my sister with wide eyes and a sense of purpose. December 31, 2020 My five-foot-seven sister hunched below our dinner table, taking up the length of it while she was on all fours. My cousin and I stood over it wondering how we were all going to fit under the table while holding suitcases, a cup filled with twelve grapes in one hand, and a glass of wine in the other. “No, you know what? I can go another year without a boyfriend. Tell Rafa to get under here, she is more important,” yelled my sister in a panic. My cousin and I called for my aunt Rafa, who had been divorced for years now, and made her sit under the table. One article said that in parts of Latin America entering the new year sitting under a table would invite romantic love. We needed to prioritize. It was almost midnight and we needed to figure out how to perform every tradition in a matter of minutes. We scrambled around and shuffled our way under the table, strategically set up empty suitcases nearby, filled our pockets with dozens of uncooked lentils and started making a wish at every grape we scarfed down. In the other room, my parents were having a video call with our aunt Diana and the other half of our family who weren’t able to join us. Her sons questioned what the four of us were doing in the background and laughed at us in their innocence. It was five minutes to midnight and as is customary in Colombian households, the song “Faltan Cinco Pa’ Las 12” began to play. Every single year as far as I can remember this song has made me cry because it reminds me that I am missing someone I love. This year, I didn’t cry. Perhaps none of us will get married, win the lottery or travel the world, but the little hints of magic and excitement that these traditions brought my family and I for one night were relief enough. These traditions tie us to our ancestors who did all the same rituals and trusted that the universe was looking out for them too. These traditions meant there was hope that life was going to get better and bring better things in the upcoming year. These traditions brought my grandma’s magic back to me and introduced it to my younger cousins. For a few minutes, I didn’t feel like a lumpy mattress on the side of the road. I felt the same way that I imagine my grandma felt when pointing out messages from the universe, like a magical bearer of good news during dark times.

  • stitch by stitch

    How crochet connected me to my grandmother and the long line of feminists before me By Lauren Kaminski Time would completely slow down. Every time I looked at my phone, hours had gone by and the wool that rested on my lap continued to grow. With a single string, my hands moved like they were part of a machine. Insert hook into the second chain, yarn over, pull through and repeat. Crocheting is so repetitive that it’s easy to let yourself fall into a meditative state — the switch between yellow to orange, like clockwork, while I fastened hundreds of sunflower granny squares for an afghan throw blanket. These colourful creations painted colour on the dull, grey skies of early March. In 2002, my grandmother Audrey passed away in her sleep the morning after her 65th birthday. She was a life-long knitter, and all over my childhood home my mother displays her lace doilies, pillows and granny-square afghans. I was only two years old when she passed and despite hardly knowing her, I’ve always had a strange connection to her in my mind. I longed to be close to her, to have the connection of a grandmother. So in elementary school I taught myself how to knit using YouTube. As I grew older, I would only knit seasonally to make the odd scarf or pair of socks as a present. Without the knitter’s eye of my grandmother to appreciate the detail of my projects, I grew to rarely pick up the needles. Knitting and crochet are often stereotyped as elder domesticity. Admittedly, for most of my life and into my teenage years, I believed this too. It wasn’t until I scoured social media for inspiration and saw that the yarnwork community is far from the cisgendered white grandmother often envisioned. My Instagram feed was flooded with psychedelic matching sets, bohemian-style crochet homegoods and inclusive communities like Black Girl Knit Club that are committed to empowering knitters of colour. These limiting domestic narratives are being flipped on their heads by many creators using this traditional work to empower and rebrand the craft as something for all to wear, enjoy and make. Amongst the sense of worry at the start of a pandemic, I was fortunately able to find comfort in the slow pace of life. I was no longer working three jobs while commuting from the GTA to Toronto for full-time classes. I had time to myself, moments in the day where boredom was a possibility and I didn’t have a responsibility or deadline to meet. As an adult, I’ve never succeeded in developing healthy habits. I bite my nails so far down that it’s impossible to even fit a press-on nail. I drink wine in the bath while watching HGTV shows whenever life gets a little too hard. Some may assume an outlet like journaling my thoughts would universally fit my needs as a writer, but frankly, I find it tedious to write my thoughts down when I can just think them. I've failed at every positive outlet that self-help books recommend — that is, until both boredom and a sense of nostalgia from being stuck in my childhood home prompted me to google "crochet for beginners." The first project I completed was an Amigurumi baby Yoda plush doll. He was, of course, lime green with the Star Wars signature huge ears and brown onesie. Albeit, baby Yoda wasn’t my best work. The five inch tall Star Wars character looks a bit wonky sitting on my desk today, with some of the lime yarn poking out of his toes from not knowing how to weave in my ends. But, at the time of his creation, he was flawless — the apple of my eye. It wasn’t just this feeling of creating a physical article out of a single ball of yarn that fueled me, or it being the first meditative and anxiety-calming tool that actually worked for me. I felt there was something more to crochet than just a yarn and hook, and I longed to submerge myself in the craft entirely. I wasn’t aware of the trend’s history and cultural significance when I created this first Amigurumi project, but the genre of cute characters had profound beginnings. In the 1970s, Amigurumi rose to popularity in Japan when a subculture built on Kawaii products was developing. I didn't consider that there was more to yarn work crafts than just the blankets and sweaters I used to make. There was something deeper that I was beginning to see as I scrolled through Pinterest boards hunting for my next project. Valuing yarn work crafts is a feminist act in itself, as the belittling of knitting or crochet links to a history of women’s activities and work being inferior to men’s work. I could see how the yarn community lifts and empowers creators, especially those who identify as women, to defy the domestic, grandmotherly stereotypes and make profit off of something once seen merely as house work for wives. I wanted to be a part of the community again after seeing it in this new light. It’s an act of rebellion for some to take up something once so wrapped up in femininity and make it whatever you want it to be. Crochet has connected me to the feminists before me and to the long line of practices centered around women. It’s connected me to my grandmother in a new way. I no longer wish that she was the one who taught me my first single crochet stitch, but rather I wish she was here to see all I’ve made with her in mind. Since becoming a crocheter, I feel a part of something bigger with every stitch. It’s a portable, physical act of rebellion — one that doesn’t take its past too seriously and lets anyone be able to take part in. It’s a community my grandmother was a part of and a community I can be the first to pass down to my children.

  • one basket at a time

    How the Hijabi Ballers are empowering Muslim female athletes By Stephanie Davoli Growing up in India, Amreen Kadwa’s life was filled with sports. She would constantly play around in her backyard with her sisters and cousins, yet she always hoped to do something bigger and better. When she moved to Toronto at the age of 10, she had her first experience of being part of a sports team when she joined her school’s soccer team. Although she was benched most of the time, Kadwa would make her mother come to every game for the chance to watch her play. Never having any opportunity to play an organized sport before this, fifth-grader Kadwa felt an immense sense of accomplishment and pride — a feeling that she would continue to chase for the rest of her life. While Kadwa was always involved with sports in some capacity, she never felt that she was part of a community that she truly belonged to. So when her high school started a rugby team, she jumped at the opportunity to join. Kadwa fell in love with the sport. After playing for three consecutive years, she won the title of MVP. The sense of belonging and the community she found within rugby followed her after graduation and she went on to play for the Yeoman Lions RFC in Toronto. It was during that time when Kadwa realized she stuck out amongst her teammates — she was the only hijab-wearing Muslim woman on the team. But the realization that her hijab caused her to stick out amongst her peers only fueled her passion to play. After playing rugby for a total of seven years, Kadwa’s world suddenly changed when she broke her leg. The devastation of knowing that she would never be able to play her sport again was heartbreaking and she felt her athletic identity was stripped from her. The thought of leaving behind a community that had been so welcoming to her — where she had made friends and grown both as an athlete and a person — was almost too much to bear. Not one to give up easily and definitely not feeling ready to leave the sports world behind, Kadwa began writing blog posts about what it means to be a hijabi athlete in a world where her identity is often ignored and frowned upon. Soon, her blog posts attracted enough attention that another community began to form: a group of mainly Muslim and female athletes like herself, who are now known as the Hijabi Ballers. “It came down to, ‘What can I do to still feel like a part of the sports scene and how can I still give back to sports?’’’ says Kadwa, the founder and executive director of the non-profit organization. “It was obvious that there was this new-found need for a physical space for Muslim females to get together and play sports and to just be recognized and seen.” The Hijabi Ballers are now a renowned GTA-based organization known for their support and encouragement of Muslim women in sports. Since its formation in 2017, the organization has hosted many large-scale sports festivals, countless other in-person and virtual events and has cultivated a partnership with Nike and the Toronto Raptors. According to Kadwa, the Hijabi Ballers’ first sports festival in July of 2017 was a huge success and encouraged her to continue planning more events. Over 70 women registered to play in the multi-sport tournament, with the majority of them being Muslim. Many also participated in other athletic activities, such as drop-in cricket and soccer games, yoga sessions and a variety of fitness classes. All of these activities took place in an environment that cultivated and celebrated the athleticism of young Muslim women where sisters, mothers and friends cheered and played alongside each other for hours. Kadwa credits the success of the first festival for the growth of the Hijabi Ballers. “There was definitely enough demand and support from volunteers and other businesses that showed that this could be sustainable and grow into something a lot bigger,” Kadwa says. There are many barriers for Muslim women who play sports. For example, restrictive dress codes often interfere with wearing a hijab and make it difficult for women to dress modestly. Additionally, some coaches don’t know how to address the unique needs of Muslim women who wear hijabs, so participation becomes difficult and sometimes even impossible. Having gone through this herself, Kadwa sought to address these issues in order for other women to feel recognized and seen. Since then, the Hijabi Ballers have become a resource for many Muslim women athletes in the GTA. For Hodan Hussien, the head coach of the Hijabi Ballers’ Sunday Basketball Program, the organization was a community where she saw herself represented right away, making it a dream collaboration for her. Hussien has played basketball and been an avid swimmer since she was four years old. But when she started wearing the hijab at 17, she began to encounter challenges that she had never faced before, from searching for facilities that hosted women-only programs to figuring out what to wear when playing sports. Hussien says she never had these issues until she started wearing a hijab. As the Hijabi Ballers continued to grow, they began to host more events where Muslim women could find a space for their athleticism to be seen, appreciated and encouraged. “It’s really incredible to see how many Muslim female athletes there are in all kinds of sports,” says Habibah Haque, a volunteer with the Hijabi Ballers and a Muslim female tennis player. “The sense of belonging for me also comes from seeing Muslim females find their own path in sports where they might be the only one or one of few.” According to Kadwa, there are currently about 40 volunteers helping run her organization and that number only continues to grow. Most of the volunteers are young Muslim female athletes. According to Kadwa, videographer Zach Derhodge noticed the empowering work that the Hijabi Ballers were doing when he approached them in 2019 to produce a video showcasing Muslim female athletes from Toronto. Not only was the video successful in highlighting the importance of the Hijabi Ballers, but it quickly drew the attention of Nike Canada. Additionally, the Hijabi Ballers were featured in a Toronto Star article around the same time in the spring of 2019, which Kadwa credits for drawing more attention to the organization. It was around this time that the Hijabi Ballers became the inspiration for the Toronto Raptor’s Nike Pro Hijab — a sports hijab that was the first of its kind and a partnership that was meaningful to the organization. “That was a big moment for us,” Kadwa says. “It kind of put us on this global scale because legitimate organizations like the NBA and other sports teams would look up to us, or the Raptors, and see this as something that they should also do in terms of recognizing and respecting the diversity of their fanbases.” While the Hijabi Ballers have continuously grown and expanded as an organization since its formation, COVID-19 has unfortunately caused the group to suspend all of their in-person events and activities. The organization’s Sunday Basketball Program, a weekly drop-in affair where young women would come together on a Sunday afternoon to play basketball at a gym inside a local Scarbrough mosque, was one of the hardest activities to see be put on hold for Kadwa. “We had a lot of athletes missing that sense of sisterhood and community that they would normally find with Sunday Basketball,” Kadwa says. Hussien’s favourite memories from the Sunday Basketball Program come from the moments after the basketball games ended. As the girls would wind down after playing a series of lovingly competitive games, they would gather together in a halaqa (meaning a “circle of learning” in Arabic) where they would sit in a circle on the gym floor and simply talk to each other. According to Hussien, there would usually be an Islamic lesson or topic integrated into the conversation and, afterwards, the girls would share knowledge and information together in an “open, heart-to-heart talk where everyone could contribute whatever they wanted.” These conversations, paired with the enjoyment of some post-workout snacks and drinks, were the “perfect cooldown” to Hussien. Despite the inability to host any in-person events due to the pandemic, the Hijabi Ballers recently collaborated with Ryerson University’s Faculty of Communication and Design’s Global Experiential Sport Lab (GXSLab) to create a virtual community conference titled, “Integrate. Advocate. Mobilize.” This virtual conference focused on the inclusion and recognization of Muslim women in sports. The collaboration was originally scheduled to be an in-person conference held at Ryerson University in April 2020, but it was restructured due to the pandemic. The collaboration consisted of a month-long community conference from September to October of 2020 that featured live webinars and a variety of other virtual panels and events. Every Tuesday there was a “Toolkit Tuesdays” social media campaign where audiences would learn how to include and welcome Muslim female athletes into sporting communities. One of these presentations focused on acknowledging how to accommodate and respect those who choose to wear a hijab and modest clothing in an athletic environment. Other nights, they would feature a keynote speaker who would share their experiences of being marginalized in the sports community, including Ibtihaj Muhammad, Olympic bronze medalist and the first Muslim woman to compete in the Olympics for the U.S. while wearing a hijab. “I’m really proud of the ways that we were able to make the conference community-involved and interactive in the virtual world,” Haque says. The collaboration ended with Laurel Walzak, the GXSLab director, and her research students receiving a grant to conduct a study on how Muslim women are consuming, engaging with and being represented in sports. The study, which is set to be published in spring 2021, includes research from a survey done in association with the Hijabi Ballers that recruited almost 100 Muslim female athlete participants. “We wanted to make sure that we heard more stories of each participant to help people better understand how Muslim culture and religion intersect with the Canadian sports world,” Walzak says. “If we can use this to have an impact in the industry while running these conferences, that, to us, is progression.” Immediately after the conference ended, the Hijabi Ballers launched their Black Muslim Female Athletes Community Fundraiser. This fundraiser was created out of the recognition that financial inaccessibility can stand in the way of many Black Muslim girl’s sports journeys and it sought to help address this issue by “levelling the playing field.” The funds collected went to Black Muslim female athletes through grants, sports equipment, memberships and whatever else they needed to make playing sports more financially viable. While the fundraiser has since ended, the Hijabi Ballers are maintaining their commitment to aiding Black Muslim women in sports by continuing to grow their Black Muslim Female Athletes Fund in new ways. They’re also looking to the future by promoting their “Get Certified” program which focuses on certifying Muslim female athletes as coaches and referees, while offering them mentorship opportunities with local organizations and Islamic schools. These programs, in addition to a bit of internal restructuring and organization, are some ways that the Hijabi Ballers plan to stay active until everything reopens. “We can’t wait until we can get everyone back together to play in person again,” Kadwa says. “But for now, we’re hoping to use this time to grow and to help us meet our short-term goals in the next three to five years.” Until then, Kadwa is left remembering her early days of being a benchwarmer on her fifth grade soccer team, not knowing then that by the age of 25 she would create an organization that helps Muslim girls like herself find a place in sports. The Hijabi Ballers have provided a sense of belonging and joy to hundreds of women in just it’s short four years of existence. Through her years of hard work and dedication, Kadwa shows that it is truly amazing what passion, some ambition and a broken leg can accomplish.

  • My breakup with instagram

    By Munara Muhetaer “Don’t worry,” she said. “You can use my phone to call an Uber home later.” I barely knew her, but she meant it as a reassurance. We were a small crowd of nineteen and twenty-year-olds partying downtown for a mutual friend’s birthday. This was her way of looking out for a female acquaintance whose phone battery had just died, and who’d have to make her way out of the city alone in the dead of night. I appreciated her offer, of course. But at that moment, getting home wasn’t my main concern. All I could think about was how I wouldn’t be able to document this night and plaster it all over my social media. Outfit: wasted. Fancy drinks: pointless. Night: ruined. After all, if you didn’t post about it, did it really happen? Now, when I look back at this memory from over a year ago, I’m embarrassed that I couldn’t simply enjoy an outing for what it was. But at the time, my relationship with social media, specifically Instagram, was consuming. I was constantly recording and sharing my life: what I was wearing, where I was and who I was with. It was a habit, almost a natural instinct. There was a time when I’d spend entire weekends reading a book while curled up on the couch. Where I cut my own bangs unevenly and made my own jewellery out of beads that I bought at the dollar store. But over the years, I’d created and carefully cultivated a caricature of myself online: one that was outgoing, done up and with an expensive taste for clothes and food. It happened gradually. What initially started as a hobby bled off the screen and began to control the real-life me. Every view, like and comment I received validated my self-esteem, and so I kept seeking them. I felt this need to maintain the image I’d meticulously crafted and mimic the lifestyles of the other beautiful women overcrowding my feed, no matter how unattainable. What was once a fun fling between Instagram and I had morphed into a toxic relationship and I was trapped without knowing it. Then the pandemic hit. All my weekend plans went out the window, then the next week’s, then the next month’s — until there was nothing left to do but to sit at home and wait. In quarantine, my life became somewhat static and suddenly I was out of things to post. Yet that no longer seemed to matter anymore. There was so much devastation everywhere — people were losing their livelihoods, their loved ones, their own lives. I knew that I was one of the luckier ones. Largely stuck in isolation with no set schedule and with a lot of spare time on my hands, I spent hours upon hours doing what I knew best: scrolling through posts, sifting through comments, refreshing the explore page. But along with the inspiring stories and activism that came out of this time, I also saw a lot of negativity and skepticism and comment sections bombarded with hate. The more time devoted to my screen, the more hopeless and depressed I felt. I developed insomnia and was always fatigued. There were days I didn’t want to do anything, where I didn’t even want to get out of bed. And every time I clicked on my profile, I could barely recognize the person smiling back at me. Who was she? Certainly not me with my uncombed hair and the bags under my eyes. I could feel for the first time the true extent of the mental stress social media was causing me — something that I didn’t let myself feel before, when I was too busy maintaining a public performance of myself. Though my relationship with Instagram had somewhat evolved, it was even more draining now. I was no longer concerned with views, likes and comments, but my mental health was suffering from all the negativity I was exposed to. I knew that I had to step back, but it was difficult to tear myself away. Toxic relationships aren’t always easy to recognize and they’re even harder to leave. I decided to take my departure from Instagram one step at a time. I set myself daily reminders for how much time I can spend on the platform and abided by them. I spent more time with my family. I started taking long walks outside. I bought myself a dozen new books. And I began writing for myself again — stories, scripts, essays, ramblings — and in doing so, I rediscovered a love I’d somehow abandoned along the way. Now, some months later, I’m in a much better place. My mental health has improved and I feel the most creative and productive I’ve ever been. I’ve learned to focus my time, energy and efforts on what truly matters: the people I love, the projects I’m passionate about and the real me instead of the caricature. I’ve also learned the importance of practicing mindfulness and moderation when using social media. And I’m slowly learning to rediscover Instagram again through a new lens — this time, as a tool to inspire and to be inspired, to inform and to be informed and to connect — not as a toxic partner keeping a tight rein on my life. Yes, Instagram and I are broken up, but we’re working on being friends.

  • How to disappear

    By Eduard Tatomir The phone rang from across the room, 15 — no 1500 — yards away. It was vibrating off the hook, shaking the house. I could feel it in my throat. I could feel it in my heart. It’s been years since I left New York. The intensity of the city just grew too much for me. Maybe it was the sleepless nights, the early mornings. Or maybe it was people — how many there were, how crass they were, how ruthless they were. As though I’m any better. I’ve become just like them over the years. The city changes you. I can’t quite put my finger on when, but it did. My father warned me before I left, tried to stop me when I told him. He said I’d hate it, that it’s not my kind of place, that I wouldn’t find anyone there like me. He was right about one thing. The second ring was even louder than the first. It echoed down the street and through my neighbourhood. I used to get vertigo from the skyscrapers — being inside them, looking down, and being below them, looking up. It was dizzying, New York. I never quite felt connected to the earth below me, because it wasn’t there. It was nothing but concrete or stone or carpet or tile. I could’ve gone months without feeling dirt beneath my feet or seeing greenery in the trees above me. But one thing made it better. The third and fourth rings bled together. I’d almost tuned them out. I stood up to answer before it stopped. Because I knew it was you and I couldn’t not pick up. When I picked the phone up off the hook, I had to hold it with both hands to keep it up. Had it always weighed a tonne, or was I just getting weaker? I heard a car go by on the other end. “Hello?” you said, as though you were the one that answered. I cleared my throat away from the receiver, “Hello.” “I’m sorry, do I have the right number?” You sounded just like you did the first time you called; somber, telling me you needed to drive to LA, that you needed to see me. What about? You didn’t say. You never say. “Yes, it’s me, John. Where are you now?” “Riverside. I pulled into a truck stop to dial.” “That’s not too far,” my fingers slipped through the coiled wire. “That’s not too far at all. When can I expect you?” Silence, but the call didn’t disconnect. I heard another car going by on the wet road. You sniffled away from the phone, a deep breath. “An hour at the most,” you said. My ring tapped the receiver. “Everything all right, John?” “Oh absolutely, Lana. Absolutely. I’ll see you soon.” You didn’t sound the same. I heard it. The neighbours heard it. The cats in the yard heard it. Something’s changed with you. I thought perhaps I was imagining things from our first call — I chalked it up to you being tired from the stockyards. Now it’s undeniable. I hope everything’s okay, John. I’ll only know when you arrive, so please hurry. I made a spread. Cheeses and hams, bread and crackers. You’re always hungry. Even when you tell me you’re not. I cooked for two every evening, despite the protests. An hour had passed. Then two. Then three. Sunset came and went. I worried. It wasn’t like you to be this late. What if something happened? What if you got in an accident? I didn’t know who to call. I didn’t have a number. All I could do was wait. And before I knew it, I’d fallen asleep on the couch in the flower-print summer dress I put on for you, hugging a throw pillow, with my heels kicked off under the coffee table. Knocking at the front door woke me up. Tilly meowed at me. I checked the clock, half-past midnight. It couldn’t be you. You wouldn’t be this late. I peered through the window, but it was too dark to see. “Who is it?” I asked. A pause. “It’s me.” I opened the door, and it really was you. Soaked from the rain — it looked as though you walked here. Your car wasn’t in the driveway and you reeked of alcohol. You exhaled. “Oh John, what happened?” You cleared your throat. “My car broke down.” I stood in the doorway as you made your way to the couch and sat down. “Is that so?” I asked, shutting the door behind him. The rain stopped for a moment. Everything did. Even the cats stood still. “So, if I took a match to your mouth you wouldn’t breathe fire?” You looked over at me, eyes drooping. “I’m sorry.” “Christ, you’re such a dick, John. I don’t know what I was expecting when you called. I thought maybe something had happened, that maybe you changed.” I pulled out a cigarette. I lit it up and took a drag. Then another. My entire body ached for it, as though I were starved. I hadn’t smoked in four months, but that streak didn’t matter anymore. “That was foolish of me to think. You’re still the same old man child,” I said. He looked away, at the floor, through the earth, and into the galaxy on the other side of it. Tilly meowed at him. I waited for him to speak, to move, to blink. Nothing. I put the cigarette out and walked over to the fridge. “You know what this reminds me of? That time at Rockefeller when you got pissed with the Hardy brothers.” I opened a bottle of wine. One of the good ones — I was saving it for something special. “It was your birthday, so I didn’t say anything, but you were such a tool that night, and every time you drink, which only seems to be on the days you want to forget.” I poured myself a glass and it went down like silk. “You always make such an ass out of yourself. You always get so ugly.” I slammed the glass in the sink. It cracked. “And what was all that on the phone about you needing to come see me? Huh? Driving all the way down here from New York for days just to get wasted on the last stretch? Then lying to me about it? The hell’s the matter with you? What was the point of all this?” I turned back around to face you, “I mean, tell me, what was the point…” only to see that your head was now bobbing in your hands. “John?” I’d never seen you shed a tear in my life. I’m sure God could say the same. Tilly curled up next to you and began purring. Sunny swept your leg. When I sat next to you, the act started and old John tried to return. You cleared your throat, you covered your eyes, you stood up and away from me. You did everything you could so I wouldn’t know what you’d just done. Your hand was on your mouth, as though you’d uttered a slur. How many times have you hidden this from me? “You’re right, Lana, I’m sorry.” “John.” You rubbed your eyes until they were raw. “No, everything you said was true. I shouldn’t have come tonight. This was a bad idea.” You made your way to the door. “Forgive me.” “John, wait.” You opened it into the storm and stood there for a moment, shivering. The wall of water had you trapped. That’s when you dropped your defences. You kept repeating, “I shouldn’t have come, I shouldn’t have come, I shouldn’t have come.” My words of reassurance were drowned out by your repetitions. You fell to the floor crying and I fell with you. We sat there together in a puddle of your tears until you were ready; until you finally spoke. You asked me, “why did you leave New York?” All the air left my lungs. There were a million things I wanted to say, but only one that mattered. “Because I couldn’t take it there anymore. The cold, the grey, the hardness of it all. It changed me, for the worse.” You didn’t move. “Why do you ask?” A pause. “Because I don’t think I can take it anymore, either. I don’t have anyone.” I pulled him close. “You still have me.” “You’re gone, Lana. It’s all gone.” “Nothing’s gone. No one’s gone.” You rested your head on my shoulder, it fit perfectly, and we just listened to the rain hit the roof. “I’m always going to be right here,” I whispered in your ear. “No one’s going anywhere.” I wish I could’ve pushed the subject, I wish I did, but I wasn’t about to take a mile when you only gave me an inch. I made up the couch and you stayed the night. No way I was letting you go anywhere in your state. I thought you’d pass out quick, but you laid there with your eyes open and Tilly cuddling you while I turned out the lights and closed the blinds. “Lana,” you said. “Yes, John?” “You’ve changed.” “I have?” I asked. You nodded. I sat on the cushion next to you and, even though that was the closest I was to your face all night, you felt so far away. You left before sunrise. I never found out why you came, or why you were crying, or where you went. I had no number to call, no address to visit, and the operator has no correspondence with the last name I provided her. You disappeared, and the only note you left behind was an apology for the intrusion. As though there was one. I only wanted to know what happened to you and why you came that night. You held back, to the point of falling apart, and then vanished. My mother always said that’s how good men disappear — they keep quiet until they reach their breaking points. Then, they’re gone forever. “Why?” I remember asking her that sunny afternoon after dad’s wake. I was only 11. “Why do they do that?” “Because that’s what they’re told their whole lives,” she responded as she was washing all the dishes in the house. Even the clean ones. “That they’re wrong for feeling sad, feeling vulnerable, feeling depressed, hell… feeling anything at all. So, they don’t. Then, they break. And then they’re gone for good.” I don’t want you to end up like my father, John. I don’t want you to be gone for good. If you’re reading this, I want you to know I’ve never moved and I’ve never changed numbers, and I don’t plan to. I’m always going to be right here. No one’s going anywhere.

  • Have wheels, will protest

    How Black Americans use roller skating as a form of community and activism By Asha Swann If you saw roller skaters effortlessly dancing through your social media feeds over summer 2020, you weren't alone. Millennials and Gen Z are the latest group to partake in the classic pastime of roller skating. Coinciding with iconic fashion and music of the disco movement, it isn’t hard to see the appeal. In the 1970s, roller skating and roller derby swept the world, giving people a new way to express themselves through movement and dance. For the new generation, roller skating is excellent uncharted territory. While social media has certainly propelled skating back into the mainstream, it conveniently ignores the consistency of the sport through the last several decades in southern Black communities. Jasmine Moore and Marician Brown are two California-based roller skaters, whose followings on social media have led a never-ending string of viral videos. The history of roller skating holds a unique spot in both Brown and Moore’s history, as well as Black history overall — a fact that has gone largely unacknowledged in mainstream media for decades, according to Brown and Moore. Brown believes social media has helped connect lovers of roller skating from around the world, giving an incredible resurgence to the sport. Brown says that going to rinks in the South as a kid was very different from the carefree era of TikTok skaters today. When she was growing up,she couldn’t look to YouTube for instructions, she says. “I’m 24, and every time I went to the roller skating rink when I was younger, it was very different,” Brown explained. “[Now there’s] good music, good instructors and people who are willing to teach you. I didn’t grow up with that.” Before looking at roller skating’s popularity across TikTok, it’s important to take historical context into account. According to a 2014 article published by The Atlantic, roller skating was simply inaccessible to anyone poor or Black before the Civil Rights movement — partially due to Jim Crow legislation, but also partly due to labour laws. The majority of the American population was forced to work long, grueling hours for measly wages. If you were Black, these wages were even more pathetic. Take a look at the Roaring 20s that saw massive economic growth, consumerism and the birth of some of America’s first roller rinks. In 1923, the average worker was a white male, earning $34 per week. Black Americans meanwhile, were on average earning between $5 to $9 weekly. With a pair of skates selling for around $2.25 a pair, this meant skating for Black Americans could cost about half of a week's salary. As a result, the white affluent class thrived in the environment, which segregated them not only from all other races, but low-income people as well. Jim Crow laws enforced segregation from 1870 until 1968. Undeniably, 1970s white America and 1970s Black America were worlds apart, even after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 technically made types of discrimination illegal. While white Americans became cozy in the suburbs with the first Barbie and Hot Wheels toys, Black Americans were finally allowed to take the bus into newly integrated schools. Race scholars say that during the 1970s and 1980s, roller rinks and amusement parts were among the last places to desegregate due to how ingrained they were in white recreational culture. As Moore explains, Black America used roller rinks to create spaces of justice and activism. “When you look at the history of roller skating through the segregation era and up until now, Black people used roller skating as a form of protest. They use it as a form of escape, they use it as a form of expression,” Moore says. In 2018, The New York Times reported that around 95 per cent of attendees at the nightly roller rink specials in New York and New Jersey are African American, ranging from teens to seniors. During segregation, roller rinks that allowed Black patrons needed to be scheduled in advance. During the one night each week, Black Americans were allowed to take part in a “coloured-only skate night.” In the 2018 documentary United Skates, a Black skater explained how he grew up seeing KKK members picket any roller rink which allowed African Americans, saying that people would “rather die than integrate.” Racial tensions increased alongside pop culture. Disco and hip hop grew alongside flared pants and the fight for civil rights. Using the large rink, Black people organized protests in their forced segregation. In places where hip hop was rejected, musicians performed in any roller rinks that would permit Black people to gather. It isn’t hard to see why Moore is just one of many skaters who believe the rich history of roller skating is intertwined with the Black Lives Matter movement. Brown, who grew up going to roller rinks in her hometown of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, says the roller skating movement has become much more inclusive because of social media, adding on that rediscovering skating makes people “feel like they’re on top of the world.” For Moore, the power of skating as a form of protest has been a powerful tool in the Black community. Moore also explains that the diversification of roller skating is long overdue but necessary for the sport to grow. North American skaters should also strive to understand the historical context of skating, she says. For both Moore and Brown, skating isn’t a fad that will pass with the seasons. Roller skating as a whole never stopped — instead, it stealthily shifted underground. It is a community, a sport, a lifestyle and a culture that coincides with an integral part of Black history.

  • Echoing Walls

    Living alone, but make it during a pandemic By Samreen Maqsood After a long and tough day of online classes, Naya Yacoub ran herself a hot bath, lit some vanilla scented Bath and Body Works candles, put on some slow indie music and put the world on pause. She settled into the bubble bath, thinking her day was over. The first-year fashion student at Ryerson University missed her friends and family back home in Calgary, as well as her boyfriend in New Brunswick. Keeping in touch with them online was still keeping in touch, but she couldn’t wait to get back to the “old normal” of being there with them — going out for food and drinks, thrifting and attending fashion events. Yacoub remembered one night when she was feeling particularly lonely. She was scrolling on TikTok when she saw a video of someone speaking to their reality of constantly feeling alone. They dove into the details of how COVID-19 affected their life and how this pandemic has created a world filled with people who are all feeling alone. COVID-19 seems to have forced Canadians into living the same day over and over, often alone and isolated from their regular communities, which is making them feel lonelier than usual, according to a recent Ipsos survey. The more self-isolated and lonely a person feels, the more stressed they will feel. Realizing she wasn’t alone and could reach out for support, Yacoub began opening up to her friends and family when she would think herself into a bad mood. She found that the majority of them felt the same way. “This entire sequence of events has gifted me with the ability to accept my feelings, talk them through and then dismiss them,” she says. “The key thing here is connection.” COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns have been especially difficult for those who are living alone. According to the U.S. Census Bureau data, younger adults who are living alone felt more anxious and depressed during the pandemic than older adults living alone. The report found that 51 per cent of people ages 18-44 who live alone had anxiety, and 51 per cent of those living alone had lost their jobs during the pandemic and reported higher feelings of anxiety compared to those who still had a source of income. Being alone was a huge change and beyond terrifying for Yacoub. Without the comfort of having her family and friends around whenever needed, Yacoub found that she had to gain inner strength and force herself to face the idea of independence. “It was difficult realizing that I didn't have my parents to rely on like I was used to,” she says. “When I was down, sick or needing help, I found my own ways to cope, which I now have so much value for. Self-soothing was a skill I didn’t think I had in my life until I was put into an environment and situation that forced me to develop it.” Through the journey of finding herself and gaining enough strength to pull herself out of her negative mindset, Yacoub found interesting hobbies to keep herself occupied. Her favourite is rug-hooking, a craft where you make rugs by pulling loops of fabric through a woven backing. She enjoys the slowness of the activity most of all, as she says it’s a break from her fast-paced routine. “Creating is such a fulfilling and beautiful way to spend time,” Yaroub says. “The great thing about it is there is no fear of failing. You can express yourself artistically and be left with something you've made yourself. You can play, which is something we forget is so important when we reach adulthood.” According to Leslie Hackett, a relational and psychotherapist in Winnipeg, extroverts feel the stress of the pandemic much earlier on. They have been affected by the inability to socialize in-person and to make plans with large groups of people. A client of hers recently mentioned "the exhaustion of being bored,” which she thought was a great description of the feeling. Having a lot of time to rest does not work for everyone, as some people recharge their batteries through interaction with others. However, Hackett said that everyone can get stuck in negative thought patterns when spending a lot of time alone, regardless of if you’re introverted or extroverted. The challenge for people who are very introverted and have enjoyed being able to stay home will be when we eventually have to venture out into public interaction again. People who enjoy and need a lot of time to themselves may not be distressed by pandemic restrictions, especially if they get social contact through work. Those people might find it difficult to get back into the routine of being around other people, which can be exhausting for an introvert. For Yacoub, the biggest way to combat her loneliness is by staying active. Winter made staying active more difficult, but she found at-home workouts and yoga sessions on YouTube to help her. Along with having a healthy and balanced diet, she can focus more on her mental and physical well-being during such difficult times. According to an article in the Daily Press, social isolation can lead to loneliness and cause stress, which can have severe effects on both mental and physical health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that loneliness is associated with a 50 per cent risk of developing dementia, along with increasing a person’s risk of premature death from all causes including obesity and physical inactivity. For 10 per cent of the adults already facing anxiety and depression because of loneliness from the pandemic, they will have long-lasting effects from their mental health, according to Dr. Shekhar Saxena, a professor for the practice of global mental health courts. Narod Zakarian, a second-year social work student at Ryerson University, moved away from Burnaby, B.C., during the summer, something she says impacted her mental health. Zakarian was used to waking up the smell of coffee, or the sound of her mother's voice saying good morning. Now, when Zakarian wakes up, it’s with a sense of loneliness inside her and an empty apartment to go with it. According to an article by Calgary CTV News, Canadians’ mental health has declined for the 10th time since the Mental Health Index rating system was put in place in April 2020. The reasoning behind this is because of the long and harsh Canadian winter and the uncertainties of the pandemic. Zakarian remembered those nights where disappointment took over her body and self-doubt was the only thing running through her mind. “Did I make the right choice by coming here?” she would often think to herself. In November 2020, she decided to go to therapy. “For the longest time, I thought I didn’t need therapy,” she says. “I thought I was okay because I was suppressing my emotions.” In therapy, Zakarian learned how to manage being a full-time student and her job and learned to love herself, including how to allow herself to feel negative emotions and coming up with healthy ways to cope. One day a week, Zakarian spends the days practicing self care — cleaning her room, putting on new bedsheets, drawing a bubble bath and having some wine. “It's important to pay attention to where your mind is going and to interrupt those negative thought cycles,” Hackett says. “It's not easy to do, but it's important to avoid going into really dark states of mind.” In an article by Rolling Stone, Lisa Brateman, a psychotherapist and relationship specialist in New York, said that while people were doing art projects, home renovations and puzzles last year, this time they’re spending hours in front of a screen unsuccessfully trying to book a vaccine appointment. According to Brateman, this only takes more of a toll on people’s mental health. According to the CDC report, immigrant and LGBTQ2IA+ people are at a higher risk for loneliness, with language barriers, differences in community and family dynamics being the biggest reasons for loneliness within these groups. In the Rolling Stone article, Brateman gave different ways to boost mental health and avoid loneliness. One of the biggest recommendations many Canadian therapists have given is virtual therapy sessions. Talking from the comforts of your home can help people open up more, said Barteman. There’s less travel time involved and easier access for people living in rural areas and higher retention rates. With the increase in technology use, such as Zoom and video conferencing, Barteman also suggests chatting virtually with loved ones to conquer the feeling of loneliness. While it won’t necessarily fill the gap of in-person meetups, therapists say it is still good to stay in touch with friends and family regularly to avoid spiralling into a dark mental state. A Canadian initiative set up by Here to Help B.C. is “The Loneliness Project,” which is a collection of personal stories aiming to help those who are lonely. It also provides new strategies on how to build connections with new people and develop compassion in these difficult times. Several therapists have said that while self-care days are important, maintaining social connection is so important for maintaining a healthy mood and frame of mind, according to Hackett. Technology allows people to have virtual meetups with friends and family. Seeing people's faces and hearing their voices is a major part of fulfilling communication. At the same time, Hackett realizes that lots of people are tired of talking on-screen, especially if they have to do that for work or school. There is also the option of meeting up with one or more people in outdoor settings, depending on where you live and the pandemic restrictions. Hackett encourages people to do this, only if it is safe and according to the guidelines in their area. “Nature can be very restorative, and that, combined with conversation with a friend, can really break up the monotony and isolation we're experiencing,” she says.

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