Photo courtesy of the author, Ananya
I’m a teenager, so I have definitely not experienced all the “evil” the world can throw at me. However, I will not discredit the particular experiences I have gone through that have been less than pleasant. One of these experiences, which is ongoing, it will never cease to exist. This experience? Living in the world as a woman of color. Each woman deals with certain issues that have travelled through time with her, and I believe I have found mine. Hair. Yes, hair.
I am of Indian descent. My parents are both Indian, and moved to the United States during their late teens and early 20’s. I’m also from America, a predominantly white country, which means, the beauty standards, are, in fact, white. Now, being Indian, I have never conformed to these white beauty standards. My skin has always been a little darker than acceptable, I’ve always had more hair than acceptable, and I’ve always had brown eyes and brown hair. Never the poetic pale skin, never the poetic thin, wavy, hair, and never the poetic blue eyes and blonde hair.
I grew up with these being the beauty standards, and as a young girl, I was always confused about why I wasn’t the image of beauty portrayed through toys, books, tv, and even children’s movies. I didn’t fit in. Not only did I not fit in, in the media standpoint, I didn’t fit in in my social circles. I was dark while my friends weren’t and I was hairy, while my friends, well you guessed it, weren’t.
My earliest memory of realizing that I was different, and didn’t conform to certain beauty standards was when I was in 4th grade. There was a dance recital, and the costume top was a tank top, meaning you could see my very hairy armpits if you looked close enough. We were trying the costumes on, and one of my best friends said “ Why do you have hair under your arms?” I was confused, didn’t everyone have armpit hair? Apparently not. So I told my mom I needed to get rid of it, and so I was only 9 years old when I first shaved. Not because it made me feel beautiful, but because I thought there was something terribly wrong with me and I needed to get rid of it.
Today, eyebrows are a major part of beauty. However, there are still standards, and young 5th grade Ananya didn’t conform to those standards. One day at school, a boy told me I had a unibrow very nonchalantly. Like it was normal for me to have a unibrow, but it was still disgusting. I went home that night, and grabbed scissors and cut my eyebrows. Not only was this dangerous, it was extremely bad for my eyebrows. They were uneven and unnatural. I was scolded, and told never to do that again. Did I listen? Nope. I stopped messing with my eyebrows for, maybe, a year. Then a year later, another person told me I had a unibrow.
This time, I took a razor and tried to “fix” them. I remember the night I broke down crying because I was so frustrated with myself. Why couldn’t I just fit in? Why did I have to be born with such thick hair everywhere and why was I not beautiful. This mentality, is shockingly (or not) prevalent throughout young, elementary grade, girls. I have siblings who have been bullied for “moustaches” and “garbage colored skin.” I know for a fact, that they still struggle with accepting themselves and their uniqueness. I’m still struggling with accepting the fact that I don’t fit into certain beauty standards. I still ask myself “Why couldn’t you just be white?”
And that’s a problem. I should be growing up feeling beautiful and confident, not questioning myself because I don’t fit into a certain mold. I know many readers can relate to feeling left out, that’s the entire reason we have this blog. And I know for a fact, that many women of color, struggle to accept, well, their color and everything that comes with it.
There can be days, horrible days, where I look at myself and go “You are really, really ugly today.” However, I am happy to report, that, for me, these days are dwindling.
A large reason is because I am constantly surrounding myself with positive and supportive people. The “friends” that belittled me are gone from my life, instead, all my friends are positive and accept that not everyone fits into a mold. If you are struggling with self esteem issues, like many girls my age are, the people you surround yourself with is important. Make conscious decisions about who you are friends with, listen to their comments about other people, and make sure they are not playing into your low self esteem.
Another method, per se, that I use to make myself feel better about myself, is by doing things I love. When I’m feeling particularly down, I’ll go on long walks with just myself, music, and a camera. Taking pictures of beautiful things in nature perpetuates the idea that there is beauty in everything, and I really love to nurture this idea, especially on my bad days.
And finally, I think it’s extremely important to clean yourself up. A large reason I will feel horrible about my appearance is because I am not clean. And if you have spent much of your childhood believing that your hair and skin is inherently “dirty”, actually feeling dirty does nothing to help the image I have of myself. So, take a shower or bath, use soaps that smell good, put on lotion and clean clothes, and finally, snuggle up in clean sheets and play your favorite show.
I am not a therapist, so I am not professionally recommending anything, so remember that every situation is different, and my tips may not be applicable in your situation. I hope that hearing my story helps you in some way, and if you don’t relate to it, you begin to realize the problems many young women of color face.
It can take time, and effort, and an unmeasurable amount of strength to go against what the media, social circles etc. are telling you.
But I promise, we will get there soon, and we will shape a generation of positive, confident, young women of color.
You can find out more about Ananya on her author page!