I’ve been visiting the gym regularly this year. I realized that it was a necessary evil I had to comply with if I wanted to lose that extra butt I’ve been carrying around. I could easily run for Most Unhealthiest Person in Gym award and win since most of the people I see there are hard core, weight lifting, protein shake drinking, cross fitting guys and gals. In the past few months that I’ve been there, I’ve seen more armpits than I’d like to accept. I’ve seen abs and six packs and calves of steel. None of them are mine, btw.
So, I go to the gym 2-3 times a week after I drop off this man who stays in my house (he says he’s my husband but idk). After an hour of cardio and struggling around with minimal weights, I go grocery shopping ’cause after all that exercise your girl’s gotta eat. I’m very iffy about the kind of poultry I purchase. Good poultry is available in this Pakistani/Indian/Arab/Confused grocery store a few miles from the gym. Some weeks I go there directly after working out and other weeks I drop by while running errands.
There’s a sweet old Pakistani/Indian/Arab/Confused Uncle who works there. I’ve been frequenting the same shop for a few years now so he recognizes me. Every time he sees me he gives a toothy smile and says, “Salam Alaikum! Kya haal hain?!”
Now firstly, I can’t speak Urdu and I know only conversational Hindi. Yet for some reason 99% of the people I’ve met assume that I can actually SPEAK these languages, because as a Muslim it is blasphemy if I don’t speak urdu. They then proceed to have long conversations with me. However, while I can understand what’s being said, I cannot reply back. So when Confused Uncle asks Kya haal hain, I give my best smile and say “Teek hain!!!” He then returns to stacking the shelves apparently satisfied with my answer.
Now, every time we’ve had this interaction I’ve been dressed more or less like this.
A button down, skinny jeans and whichever scarf is clean. This is my uniform, my normcore. In the above picture I’m wearing my favorite button down with donut prints (H&M men’s section, you’re welcome). I most probably haven’t showered and from the look on my face I’ve only had one quota of caffeine. While I applaud my sartorial choices, I’m not too thrilled to go grocery shopping at 11 am when I could sit at home and watch Netflix. Basically, I’m the most anti social person and that’s just me generally. But I always try to put on a smile, even if it is fake, for Confused Uncle ’cause he always enquires about my haal.
The days when I go the shop after gym, I look like this.
Sweatshirt, leggings, a cap instead of a scarf cause I don’t want to strangle myself and a smile because endorphins. I’m sure most people would find this gym outfit too stuffy but I feel comfortable in it. And some days I look cuter than pictured. I’ve not got weird looks in the gym so far ’cause honestly nobody cares what I wear. They’re all too busy pumping weights and what not. The first day I went grocery shopping, Confused Uncle was manning the meat area. When we made eye contact I automatically smiled and said “Salam Al–”
“Aapko kya chaahiye“, this cold eyed stranger cut me off.
“Uncleji!”, I wanted to scream. “It’s me! You know me!” But this man with his poker straight face looked right through me like we’ve never exchanged the same conversation ten times before. I was confused initially but then it struck me “Uncleji didn’t recognize me in my gym clothes!”
Oh Uncleji, could my cap and leggings be that big a disguise.
But it wasn’t just that he didn’t recognize me. He treated me like he does every other customer and reserved his sweet side only for scarf wearing, desi Mozlem women. I was and still am so outraged by this. Funnily enough, I’ve never had bad service anywhere because of my scarf. Maybe it’s because I live in liberal state where there are Mozlems aplenty but people have generally been nice to me. I’ve never felt mistreated because of what I wear or don’t wear. But this Uncle is a perfect example of stereotypical desi man mentality of sitting on a 100 feet high horse judging every woman for the choices she makes from their stinky Tower of Male Privilege. Men like him only believe in external “modesty” because they understand modesty to be one dimensional. My cap wearing self is not wild and loose. And just cause I wear a scarf I’m not a goody two shoes. Over the years I have found a sweet spot in the middle of these two “extremes” that suit me just fine. Also, why do men get to dictate levels of modesty? It’s so easy for men to tell women to dress modestly (doesn’t matter the level of modesty) when they get to wear the same two pieces of clothing as every man on the planet. If you have an opinion about women’s modesty you better be a woman yourself. And don’t judge a woman for her choice of clothing unless you’ve actually worn said clothing before.
Since I have a deep fear of confrontation I never said anything to Uncleji about it. But it wasn’t the only time I experienced it. The situation played out the same way every time I wore my gym clothes. Now, I don’t go the store in my civilian clothes ’cause I ain’t got no time for fake enquires about my haal. So, BYE FELICIA.
(I will still purchase poultry from said grocery shop because chicken.)
(Not all Muslims speak Urdu. Your world is shattered, I know. But hey, it was a small, narrow one after all.)
(All images belong to me. Please contact me if you’d like to purchase my artwork.)