For those that don’t know me, or the purpose of this blog, head over to the “About” page to find out more. It’s still under construction, and once I have a more comprehensive overview as to why I started doing this, I’ll update that page 🙂
I’ve started blogs in the past, and have failed miserably. For those that know me well, they’ll know that I don’t revel in front of a camera lens, but I prefer to be the one behind the camera, capturing something or someone with an infinite amount more beauty than myself. If you know me, you’ll know that my humour is often sarcastic and dry, and very self-deprecative. And this is what I want to address.
I chose this quote for a specific reason. Aside from the fact that it was said from one of the most prominent and influential poets and activists of our time, it embodies what the crux of this blog is about. It’s about changing the things you don’t like, or at least if you can’t change them, to at least view them in a different light in order to gain perspective of the issue at hand.
So, back to the link between this quote and the purpose of this blog. I discovered my diary from 2005, so approximately 12 years ago. I giggled and cringed as I flicked through its pages, picking up on all the horrendous grammatical errors I had made, and my intentional sullying of the English language, which horrified me slightly. As I read through it all, I noticed a disturbing pattern emerging – I really hated myself.
Now at age 12, you don’t really know a lot of things. For many of us in the UK, it’s the age at which we spend our first year in secondary school, an experience which is both exhausting and daunting in equal measure. It’s like starting school all over again, and facing that anxiety of making new friends, trying to “fit in”, and trying to ensure you keep your shit together as you find your way around a new chapter of life for the next 5/7 years. A 12 year old could be forgiven for saying things like “I hate myself” whilst going through a period in their life as turbulent as this, but when they are continuously saying this months, even years later, surely thats a cause for concern?
Anyways, back to my diary (or as I have proudly called it on the opening page, my “dairy”…fml). My hinting at being unhappy with myself was subtle. At first, it started with the usual complaining about school, grades and friendships. Whining about someone who complained when I gave them a mark they didn’t like, or girls just being bitchy (I went to an all-girls secondary school), it all just seems normal. But then it descends into me describing how much I hate myself for all of these problems, and added to this, how much I hate my body, and the way I look and the way I am, and just how much I wish I could disappear. At the time, I thought this was normal (I’ll get to this later), but now that I look back on it, I realise just how toxic harbouring these feelings at such a young age is.
You see, the reason why I felt like all of these negative feelings and hate toward myself was normal was because this was the way I was conditioned growing up. This was in part due to the pressures of modern culture, and also down to the society in which I was raised. I would say that modern culture only started having an influence on me when social media was on the rise, and the majority of this self loathing was caused by my cultural upbringing. Let me explain.
It is no secret that I am proud of my Pakistani heritage. Although I was born and raised in the UK, my parents have never let me lose touch with my Pakistani origins, and this is something which I have grown to love and forms a large part of who I am. The vibrancy and warmth of our culture is something I have learnt from and incorporated into my own day-to-day life, and I’d go as far to say that a large part of my personality and nature is influenced by that part of me. Now as with any culture, Pakistani culture comes with is thorns as well its roses. Where on one side success is celebrated and encouraged, on the other side people are constantly being put down and made to feel worthless by a set of values and ideals that are seen as some kind of “gold standard” if you want to live peacefully within a Pakistani society. Again, let me break it down for you.
For those who are unfamiliar with Pakistani culture, let me give you a quick low-down. Pakistani culture is incredibly family based, and mostly deep rooted in Islamic teachings too (although sometimes the two are mixed and this causes problems, but that’s a different blog post altogether!). It encourages people to treat one another like family, which means that family friends are often treated more like blood relatives, and people will go out of their way to help you, which is excellent. We feel comfortable being honest with one another, and to people who don’t have as much experience, we can seem brash when we present our opinions about things, because we’re mostly straight talking. When we joke, we often joke by making small (or sometimes big) digs at one another. This often disintegrates into making jibes and personally targeting people’s insecurities about themselves, and this is the inherent problem with the social aspect of our culture – we’ll make someone feel like absolute crap just to get two seconds of approval from someone else. This leads me on to my next point.
Aunties. They’re everywhere. From the moment we’re born, it feels like every desi woman we meet is an aunty of some form. Again, for those unfamiliar with the culture, we use the term “aunty” as a means of addressing a female family friend with respect. We rarely refer to them by name alone (that’s is frowned upon and discouraged). My mum even made me call her English best friend “aunty”, who found it odd, but never stopped us from calling her that nonetheless. From the moment you call a desi woman “aunty”, it gives them a divine right to probe and pry into every aspect of your life, from your grades, to your weight, to your education and your relationships. They feel that they have authority to poke their nose into your business, and essentially just make you feel like rubbish. In my opinion, they’re the biggest culprits in causing negative body image issues among desi youth, especially young girls. Now, that’s not to say that every aunty-ji is out to get you. I’ve been blessed with some lovely people in my life, but unfortunately for me, the positive didn’t outweigh the negative, and growing up, I had every aspect of my life under the severe scrutiny of aunties. From my facial features, to my height, my weight, what subjects I was studying at school, my aspirations, everything was constantly criticised by what seemed like an aunty whose full time job was to go through my life with a fine-tooth comb, and tell me just how shit I really am.
“Beta, your hair is so thin and dry, why don’t you look after yourself?”
“You’re so pale and weak, what is wrong with you?”
“What happened to you?! You’ve gained so much weight!”
“Lose weight beta, or else no one will marry you”
“You look like a man. Sort your facial hair out”
The quotes above are actually the things I’ve had to grow up listening to. Yes aunty, I’ve lost my hair. It’s falling out because I had anaemia so bad, that my ferritin levels were near non-detectable. This also caused me to me pale and weak. And do you think I chose to have all this excessive facial hair? I can’t help the way my hormones are, and trust me if there was a way I could banish it all forever, I would have. I was called out on my weight gain at a time where I was actually a healthy weight for my body type. Whenever I looked in the mirror though, I felt like hacking at myself because I felt so disgusting. They were right, right? No one would want to marry me with all this excessive fat. Except, I weighed 60kg and was 5ft 3in, and this gave me a perfectly acceptable BMI score. Their constant body shaming for a lot of things that weren’t even my fault, or weren’t problems to begin with not only made me loathe myself, but pushed me into a downward spiral of comfort eating, which caused me to gain over 3 stone in weight, and that’s when the real problems began.
The weight gain caused from comfort eating made me feel sluggish, and even worse about myself, but by then I was already in a vicious circle of deterioration. I hated every fibre of my being, and the comments just kept on coming. I literally felt so isolated and disgusted with myself that I would avoid going to gatherings, just to avoid confrontations and comments from so-called “well meaning” aunties. I know i’m not the only one in this position, but I want to make sure that others are not made to feel the way that I was made to feel growing up.
The teenage years of anyone’s life are fragile. These are essentially the years where you discover yourself, and these years can shape you for years to come. Your experiences within that decade of your life will influence how you see yourself for the foreseeable future, and if you hate yourself when you look in the mirror, ultimately you will most likely carry that contempt and bitterness towards yourself well into your twenties.
So my message from this post is this, if you’re someone who has suffered from these issues yourself, please know that you’re not alone. Reach out to someone you trust and talk about it. I never did, and I regret it. If you are a parent and you witness someone chatting absolute rubbish about your child, don’t agree with them just for the sake of friendship, stand up for your child and tell the nay-sayers where to shove their unwanted and unsolicited opinions. You should be supportive and proud of your children, no matter how they look. And most importantly, if you’re an “aunty” and you’re reading this, please stop with your counterproductive and flippant behaviour. We are raising the next generation of adults, and your constantly disdain for them and their mental health should not and will not be tolerated. You just concentrate on staying in your lane and keeping your own house in order. You’re an embarrassment to what is otherwise a fantastic and accepting culture.
As human beings, we should be empowering each other to be the best that we can possibly be. We should be actively encouraging each other to lead healthier and happier lives, not making someone feel like rubbish just so you can show that you have some kind of leverage over someone. Get with the times and just spread positive vibes, it really isn’t difficult.