“Her skin got darker.”
“You look so … weird.”
I’ve heard a variation of all this in my 18 years of life. People–family, friends, and strangers alike–seem to constantly want to scrutinize my appearance, as if I didn’t already know my own flaws and shortcomings. How many times will aunties sympathetically look at me like I was some afflicted patient? How many times will my peers discreetly look away like I was some unspoken taboo? How many times will I have to hate how I look?
When I was younger, I was teased by my classmates whenever I wore cultural clothing like salwar kameezes and fotuwas to school. I was considered an oddity, drawing an uncomfortable amount of attention that made me embarrassed of my Bengali heritage–from the bright shirts my mother sewed for me, to the orange henna decorating my palms. I used to beg my mother to buy me “normal” clothes, throwing tantrums until she changed my wardrobe. And then I would supplement my new clothing by dusting my brother’s baby powder on my face in hopes of lightening the dark complexion of my skin tone. For a long time, I would model this look in front of the mirror as I searched my reflection for some sign that I was finally fitting in.
I was insecure about the dark circles under my eyes, along with my brown skin. I was insecure about my South Asian background and my short stature. My different lifestyle. My entire self. I have not just experienced insecurity, I have lived it– self-loathing at its aching, maddening, damaging, worst.
The change was gradual. I started looking in the mirror and seeing more than all my self-scrutinized flaws. Instead, my reflection showed me two eyes that could see what so many others could not, two ears that can hear when so many others can’t, a mouth that looks so much nicer when it smiled. I have been blessed, I realized, blessed with working arms and legs and brains–a stunning arrangement of nerves and synapses, bones and muscles, that allow me to walk and run and jump. There is beauty in every ridge of my fingerprints, every crease in the pattern of my knuckles, every pore in my skin, so rich in melanin.
I have been honored with my body and it’s taken me so long to appreciate it, to understand every complaint I have is a disservice to myself. Don’t get me wrong, I still have an abundance of flaws–I am nothing if not human–but today and tomorrow and continuing on with my life, I embrace them. I try to improve what can be and I love what is.
Remember this: Because what you are is something nine letters and three syllables can never fully describe, the word beautiful does not do justice to your magnificence, your significance, your brilliance. I am, you are, so much more.
An unapologetic and opinionated Muslim brown girl who types faster than she thinks. But sometimes these nonsensical ramblings make sense.