Mirror Mirror


Nine Years Ago

Eyes squinted, knees bent on the soft, thick, white duvet below me, I peer into the clear mirror at the reflection of my eyes. From this angle, in this lighting, due to a combination of delusion, wanton hope, and deep desire, my eyes look green. My eyes are not green. They are so brown that they’re black. Black as the sea at midnight. Black as obsidian rock, forged from volcanic magma underground and smooth as glass. Black as the heart of the cruelest villain. Black as my fringed hair, lobbed off at the shoulders and swishing against my neck. Nevertheless, right now, they look green and I’m happy, happy because my eyes are pretty now, soft, colored, filled with light that normally gets sucked in and extinguished by my dark abysses. 

Finally, my eyes are a color in the rainbow, bright and clear—something that’s celebrated in the South Asian community. India is infatuated with light, colored eyes—a token of beauty according to their society, as rare as those may be. My eyes sting. I haven’t blinked since I noticed the false greenness of my eyes, a discovery of fiction. They begin to water. I’m forced to squeeze my eyes shut, letting them recover from the strain my excitement burdened them with. I quickly reopen my eyes, praying that the hint of green is still there, but as the stinging subsides so does the green coloring. Even though I squint my eyes again, wildly searching my reflection for it, I’m back to reality, my eyes back to their deep, darker-than-mud, boring brownness. The corners of my mouth tug my face into a frown, the top lip brown and the bottom a soft pink, an idiosyncrasy around Canadian white people with two pink lips each.


Seven Years Ago

Pencil grazing the stark white paper, a dark grey mark is left behind in its wake. In the middle of the outline of a face I am drawing is a “button nose,” which is small, round, and perky with an indent where the fleshy part of the nose bends away from the bone and points towards the cloud-littered sky. Perfect, pretty, and flattering on the girl’s face, the nose I drew and am now staring at makes me feel contempt for my own; mine is too long, too straight, too big, too Indian, pointing down at a 180-degree angle. My bushy, also-too-Indian eyebrows furrow as my stare morphs into a glare. I don’t care that my nose contains history, matching a long line of Indian and Sri Lankan ancestors. I want to trade with the girl in my drawing. I want to reach down through the flat paper, my hand submerged in a sea of white and buoy-like grey pencil marks, grab onto her nose, and wrench it from the picture to replace my own. Instead, I push the fleshy end of my nose up, up, up with my index finger until it’s pressed against my nose’s bridge. I hold it there, unwavering in my resolve to bend the end of my nose until it’s perky and cute and just like the noses of the white girls at school. I hold it there, my nose looking like a pig’s snout, the nostrils stretched vertically. I hold it there for God knows how long. 


Five Years Ago

Hair dripping, mirror fogged from the scalding shower, I palm my cheeks, rubbing a pink, sticky, gel-like substance into my deep brown skin. After squirting another dollop of the skin bleaching product onto my fingertips’ soft pads, I slather it onto my forehead covered in dark polka-dots that I despise and massage it into the sides of my nose and my chin. My fingers tap at my phone’s screen, setting a timer for 15 minutes, 5 minutes over the recommended time period stated on the bottle to give the product ample time to work its magic. If I’m going to play Ariel in my school’s rendition of The Little Mermaid, if I want to be pretty, if I want to finally be free of my parents’ and relatives’ advice on how to lighten my tanned skin, then I need to use “Fair and Lovely” to be “fair and lovely,” to get as close to white as possible. No risk could outweigh the reward. The not-so-secret family recipes that every South Asian family knows by heart for skin-brightening (a.k.a. skin-whitening) papaya facials weren’t up to par so I couldn’t resist plucking a bottle of “Fair and Lovely” from the top shelf of the local Indian supermarket. 

Beep, beep, beep. 

The timer goes off, the shrill sound bouncing off the smooth, glossy, white walls. Hand hovering over the silver faucet handle, I hesitate. The sensation of cool water running over my face as I scrub out the bleach moves farther away from my imagination and reality as I move that hand to set a timer for another five minutes instead. I press start. 


Last Summer

Sweat pours over my brows and drenches my cotton t-shirt. A stabbing pain shoots from my ribs, my lungs sending out a plea to my brain. My brain’s on: Do Not Disturb; it’s not taking any calls today. Pumping my arms faster, synching their movement with that of my bouncing knees, I sprint in place on the stiff carpet of my bedroom floor, eyes fixed on the computer screen in front of me where the introduction and theme song for “Parks and Rec” plays. As the theme song finishes its final upbeat notes, I stop. Panting hard, eyes blurring, I collapse into the bed in front of me covered in crumpled sheets. As the episode continues and Leslie Knope, the series’ perpetually-positive parks director, begins her staple antics, I roll the waistband of my pajama pants down. I pinch the belly that was exposed by that action to pinpoint how much pliable fat is still there and then smoothing it down, flattening it with the press of my palm. Pinch. Press. Pinch. Press. As my focus remains on my stomach rather than on the show, the words of Indian aunties praising my mother for losing weight, the desire to feel skinny and thus desirable, and my mother warning me of the consequences that will come later in life (weight gain) if I eat a second slice of cake or another bag of skittles run through my mind on repeat. My fingers brush the bumpy braille above my bony hip; four years ago, these stretch marks began appearing on my skin, suddenly, like a magic act, to my relatives’ chagrin. They’ve been spreading, multiplying in number every year since. 20 minutes remain before the next episode starts and I’ll have to drag myself out of bed to run in place until the theme song concludes. It will be my 3rd time doing that in the past hour, my 6th time doing that all day. And yet, it still won’t satisfy my toxic coach of a brain, forcing me to do 20 jumping jacks, a two-minute plank, and 25 crunches after I eat one measly slice of pizza at dinner and a kiwi for dessert, a kiwi instead of the calorie-loaded ice cream in our freezer. 


Present Day

Same body, new body image. I’ve wasted too many years of my young life striving to reach unattainable eurocentric beauty standards that South Asian society puts on a pedestal. While I’d let smoke plumes rise off my naturally wavy hair as I straightened it, I’d bend my straight nose upwards with my finger. I would obsess over the shade of my skin and try, and fail, to bleach my black hair to a brownish rust color with lemon juice in the sun. I’d eat beetroot with the hopes that it would permanently stain my brown upper lip with color and perform even more actions to suppress my external, visible-to-the-world connections to my South Asian heritage. However, now I know that being South Asian is something to be proud of, a reason to hold my head up high so everyone can see the beautiful features it afforded me. 

Here’s a redefinition of myself by no one’s standards, but my own: my skin, the color of mulch, connects me to the earth, the giver of life, and to the hearth, a symbol of red hot warmth with mellow orange accents; my hair, embodying the spontaneity I want in my life, never curls the same way twice in addition to attracting all of the sun’s rays, like a magnet for Vitamin D, and pouring warmth into my body; my dark spots are a sign that I’m beating my demons as they are the healing remnants of ruptures left behind by anxious, bitten, bitter fingernails; my eyes are color-changing chameleons and a mixture of all of the colors of the rainbow in one pot, portals into outer space, beams of tree-bark, dark-chocolate brown, and orbs of cinnamon honey depending on the time of day; my mismatched lips enclose a wide, full-face, teeth-bared smile that looks giddy with an  internal golden hour; my nose is a gift from my father and every South Asian before me, and it would be rude of me to be unappreciative of a gift, especially when it gives my face character and elegance; and my belly holds my organs tenderly in its protective embrace. 

There are two reasons why I love my body now: 

One, it’s not only my body because I share it with the other millions of beautiful South Asian women of the past, present, and future and thus, it deserves for me to look at it with unbiased lenses rather than with harsh, nitpicking eyes. 

Two, this is the only body I have and the only one I’ll ever have. It’s done a darn good job of keeping me walking, dancing, playing, living, and doing everything else I love to do. 

A life spent hating my body because of social constructs like the “ideal body type,” which can’t seem to make up their mind, is a life I don’t want to live. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and when I look in the mirror, I see beauty, but I also see more than just external, physical beauty. When I look in the mirror, I see a person who has the bravery to keep moving forward every day, the bravery to be unapologetically herself, the bravery to dare to love herself for what’s inside as well as on the outside of her body. I see confidence, pride, and appreciation. I see a caring friend, a determined dreamer, a sunbeam who tries to warm everyone in her path. I like what I see. 

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.

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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.

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