The Afghan Barometer: There isn’t One

I recently had an Instagram page ask to feature a “sexy” pic of me. They said they also wanted Afghans to be “free”:

“It’s all about making people understand that individuals are different and so are Afghans. They need to understand that people can do as they want – wear what they want, instead of judging people”. I agree with this sentiment and I think the intent of the admin means well. But I have several issues with their method on a personal level, and as a reflection of the state of our larger Afghan diaspora.

On a macro level, I don’t see how objectifying people or portraying them in a certain light does anything but divide us further. When I went on this page I saw girls in bikinis and guys with duck faces…now there’s nothing wrong with that AT ALL but if I was a “conservative” Afghan I would automatically feel opposed to the message of the page; I wouldn’t think “oh let me learn more about these people and understand they’re Afghan too”, I’d automatically have a visceral response because that’s how I’ve been programmed to think.
I don’t think pictures by themselves can change someone’s mentality. I don’t think having pictures of Afghans in “revealing” clothing on an IG page will “prove” to anyone that Afghans in diaspora have agency over their appearance or lifestyles. I think that actually is counteractive and just further adds labels and categories of Afghans. I think we need to get over proving ourselves to Afghans and non-Afghans. I am a firm believer that there’s no barometer to being Afghan. If someone else sees another Afghan and thinks they’re not “Afghan enough” then they clearly don’t understand ethnicity or nationality. Yes, there are certain practices, norms, ideas, that can be distinctly Afghan, and if someone subscribes to them, they may be portraying or following a more “traditional Afghan” lifestyle. And yes, depending how you exercise this lifestyle, you will get a subsequent response from the greater diaspora. But none of this by no means defines what being Afghan is.
I think it’s personal interactions and narratives that can spark change. It’s natural to judge someone based on their social media, but an individual interaction with that person paints a more accurate picture. 
Now on a personal level, I don’t care to use my image to further anyone’s agenda but mine. I’m not our here posting a pic of me in a tube top because I want to prove I wear tube tops. I’m doing it cuz thats what I wore on a Tuesday and felt like posting a pic on a Tuesday. I am Afghan in a scarf at prayer and in my PJs at 11pm and in a bikini on a beach. Whether someone else thinks so is a personal problem and a lack of understanding geography. I don’t “represent” Afghan women here or back home, conservative or liberal. I represent myself and if people are appalled or find me relatable then that’s their experience, but I’m not in the business of changing people’s opinion of me. Those who know me or follow my work know how I view my Afghan identity and I did not go out of my way to prove it, it just is what it is.
I’ve had dozens of people tell me (in one way or another) that they initially judged me, but as they got to know me their opinion changed. This is a backhanded compliment but again I think the intent means well. Personally I couldn’t give a fuck what you thought about me initially but ok cool thanks for letting me know. But the reason I bring this up is because without that personal interaction, these individuals would still think whatever they thought of me before. And unfortunately we tend to think that if someone doesn’t dress conservatively then they don’t or can’t celebrate their Afghan heritage. So it’s most likely that I look disconnected from my identity or culture, but that couldn’t be further than the truth. 
Now for those who believe one must act and dress a certain way to be Afghan:
We are a people impacted by war & trauma. We have diverse migration patterns and have landed all across the globe. We hold status as one of the largest refugee populations. Did you really think we’d be wearing lungees and Panjabi kali for the rest of our time here on earth? Do you think this is what we always wore? No. Afghanistan is at the center of the Silk Road and has always had a diverse culture. It is only recently due to Wahhabism and outside intervention that we’ve become more of a monolith in the motherland. But that internal monolith does not define the diaspora. If it did, then we’d all be in burkas a decade ago. But the behaviors and appearances of those in Afghanistan does not dictate what we do here. Additionally, I acknowledge that our counterparts have limited agency in their attire or lifestyles, but that does not mean they are not “free”.
I’m not free because I’m in a skirt and my sister isn’t imprisoned because she’s in pants. Please stop imposing your definition of what it means to be Afghan on the greater population. It only gives you a headache and hurts those who are not like you. My opinion is based on facts. No two Afghans are the same. Stop this divisive mentality and let individuals exercise their agency how they please.


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3 Responses to The Afghan Barometer: There isn’t One

  1. Zora

    Very well said! I think many aspects of this post apply to other groups of people, not just Afghans.

  2. Bill

    Keep doin what you’re doing!! As an Afg male who hates this misogynistic bs, I totally commend you on your opinions and your blog in general!!

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