Let me start off with a little bit of a history lesson for you: The British invaded India in the 17th century, they came-they saw- they conquered… and eventually, they left…leaving behind many legacies, some good and some not so much. The one that has plagued my life for as early as I can remember is an incredibly unrealistic (and quite westernized) view of beauty. I know you’re probably thinking, ‘what a vain thing to obsess about’, so please, allow me to explain. Growing up in the South Asian community can be very difficult for girls. From a very early age you are surrounded by unreasonable expectations of what a ‘pretty Pakistani girl’ should look like. You must be thin, but not too thin (so that child bearing doesn’t become a problem), tall, but not too tall (otherwise how will you ever find a husband), fair skinned (really fair), have thick hair, perfect white teeth, dainty hands, a thin nose…and the list continues.
I remember early on, I didn’t really pay much attention to the comments, I felt pretty confident…that didn’t last long. Once I became a teenager, everything changed. I started to avoid mirrors, I hated what I saw staring back and popular opinion agreed with me. I started starving myself, bleaching my skin on a daily basis (thanks to the creators of the fair and lovely products), applying make up to thin out my features and so much more. I was completely obsessed with reaching that unrealistic idea of beauty. It worked for the most part, I was thin, fair, make up perfected and even started to look a bit taller…my exterior started to match others expectations, but what about all the stuff on the inside. I was always unhappy with the way I looked, something could always be better…I could never reach my goals, because they never existed. My goal was always to be better than where I was. I was never able to walk into a room late, out of fear that I would draw attention to myself, hated taking pictures and couldn’t even sit without wrapping a shawl around my waist. I felt alone…but I wasn’t…low self esteem was something that was prevalent in South Asian females across the community; my friends, my cousins and even my aunts. Everyone was going through the same obsession of reaching that unrealistic beauty.
As I grew older, got married and had kids, those unrealistic expectations started to fade slightly, but never really disappeared. To this day I can’t walk confidently through a crowd, I still find myself shying away from the sun, and am always draping myself in a shawled distraction of some sort. I try really hard not to let my insecurities shadow over my daughter…but while I may have grown somewhat, societies expectations of beauty have not changed. When working with young girls in the community (including my daughter and nieces) I am always trying to push positive self image, and why it’s important to ignore societies expectations of us…but it’s hard at times, because deep down inside, I know that I am still avoiding that person looking back at me in the mirror.