Walking Uphill

To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever really truly found my confidence and had it stick. Being confident seems to just come to some people. But for others, they need to toil for it, make themselves believe they deserve it. I have been struggling with the latter. I’m not sure why, or where the roots of my personal relationship with confidence comes from, but for me demanding acceptance and respect has always been a rigorous uphill battle. There are times when it plateaus, and I can give myself approval for a time, but then without warning the hill becomes suddenly steeper, more treacherous, and I have to train myself all over again. 

As a kid, sometimes I was so shy that if I needed to walk across the room, I convinced myself to just stay put because I didn’t want people looking at me. I let people, including my friends, bully and degrade me because I thought it was better than standing up for myself and losing friends. These feelings and behaviors carried me through my primary and secondary years of schooling, and while things gradually improved I still have not discovered the essential secret to unleashing my confidence, my true, best self to the world. It seemed that as I got older, there were more things to dislike about myself. It began by me just being shyer than a lot of my friends, but then by the time I got to middle school I realized that my skin color and religion had something to do with people making fun of me, and then I turned from a skinny wiry kid into a chubby adolescent.

My body developed in ways that I felt was unfair – I didn’t grow any taller, but instead grew rounder, stouter. Stretch marks snaked down my thighs and breasts. I felt repulsed by myself, and soon became unable to even look at myself in the mirror. That became a habit that I haven’t rectified to this day. Finding my confidence has really been all about me convincing myself that I deserve to feel good, enjoy things, and experience all that I possibly can despite my self-perceived ineptitude.

There was no epiphany, no one else reassuring me that I am worthy – it has been me honing and perfecting a skill – that painstaking skill being self-love, acceptance, and preservation. Sometimes I still stumble, more often than not actually. Sometimes I avoid mirrors, other times I’m so desperate to assure myself that I’m hideous that I won’t stop until I find one.  It has been about me not looking at photos others have of me, and deleting everyone I don’t like on my phone so I’m not reminded of how I really look. It has been making jokes about myself, it has been starving myself, it has been hiding who I really am. It has been hiding inside and under the trees in the summer so my skin doesn’t darken. It has been me crying in the bathroom at a function because I can’t even stand to look at myself. In essence, I really just had to tell myself this is who I am. This is who I’m going to be. And I just need to get over it, accept it, maybe even love it someday.

Lizzo conveys it perfectly – “I don’t think that loving yourself is a choice. I think that it’s a decision that has to be made for survival; it was in my case. Loving myself was the result of answering two things: Do you want to live? Cause this is who you’re gonna be for the rest of your life. Or are you gonna just have a life of emptiness, self-hatred and self-loathing? And I chose to live, so I had to accept myself. That’s the first step: Acceptance. And acceptance is hard. I’m still accepting myself every day; I’m still working on it.”

So that’s what I’m doing – I’m working on it, actively, every day. And I have discovered a few things, a few ways that really do make me feel confident, and to build up my self-esteem little by little. The first one was discovering what I’m good at, and actually owning it and putting effort into it. Short summary of the story is that I got so depressed that I dropped out of school and moved to the other side of Canada to work at a summer camp. I never really envisioned myself in that type of environment – leaving home for the first time, a chance to be completely on my own without my parents, siblings and friends who already “knew me” – so I could actually be myself.

And I was surprised to find out who I really was. I discovered how much I actually enjoy working with children and youth, and realized that I’m actually good at it. I love inspiring people, making them happy. This realization helped me so much – it helped me excel in my job, it made me fall in love with the outdoors after years of being out of touch. It improved my life in general. It has helped me in all aspects of my life, because now I know who I am and what I want. Another key to my confidence was really learning about my culture and heritage. I’d grown up in a primarily white area, so only really had white friends and coworkers.

I would omit a lot of personal details about where I’m from and my religion because I knew from experience that a lot of people wouldn’t understand, and honestly by this time I began to tire of justifying who I am and having to educate people. I was passive about the casual racism of people around me because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. But there came a point where I didn’t want to dislike myself anymore, so I started asking my family about our history, our stories, and I started researching the history of India and Pakistan, going deep into the pre-colonial days. I discovered so many interesting and overlooked facts. I even started watching Urdu dramas. All of this seems small,  like things I should have been doing anyways as a second-generation Pakistani immigrant.

Learning more about who I am and how rich and vibrant my culture has made me fall in love with it, when all I used to feel was shame and embarrassment. It has has helped to shape my identity into something solid, something that can’t be forced down, something that won’t wither. This last one is hard, unforgiving really. I just had to let go. The truth is that I don’t like my body, I just don’t like the way I look. It bothers me to see my reflection, it has the power to bring down my entire mood. But the reality is that even if I don’t like the way I look, the way I feel, physically, is always going to be good if I do the things that I want to do.

The way I look in shorts wont change the way the warmth of the sun feels on my skin in the summer, the rejuvenation of plunging into fresh, clean water in my bathing suit. The carefree pleasure of laughing with friends instead of sulking alone at home. These feelings trump the feelings of self-loathing and insecurity every time. They are worth it. It’s a lifelong journey, with dips and sharp turns. It riddles me with anxiety. But it also makes me proud of myself for taking these steps, for recognizing my worth, and fighting to care for myself each day. I smile when I think of how far I’ve come, and I can appreciate it because no matter how far I’ve still got left to go, I’ve already made it past the most strenuous element – realizing that I truly, indisputably deserve it.

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.

You can find announcements, more news, and get to know our staff on social media: give us a follow, and learn how you can get involved today!

We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.

We hope you’ll join us.

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