My name is Harleen Kaur and I am 21 years old. I was born in Edison, New Jersey and I am currently residing in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. We live in a modern world, yet the desi mentality has not advanced to a broader spectrum to be all-inclusive of others’ thoughts or emotions. In regards to beauty, this is especially true. This type of mentality may not seem like a tremendous issue, but having experienced it throughout one’s life, it takes a serious toll on the mental health and affects the perception of how one sees one’s self on a daily basis.
Growing up, my parents always supported me every step of the way, no matter what I did. As a child, my family moved around a great deal due to different types of business opportunities. Because of this, a solid group of friends were hard to retain throughout the years. This made it hard to connect with people my age, and that was something I longed for, for much of my childhood. Not having friends and constantly being judged for my weight growing up lead me to have low self-esteem. It was hard when others wouldn’t accept me for my character, and rather focused on my appearance, and it felt as if I was never enough to fit in anywhere because of this. These instances did not just occur with strangers, but my own extended family, which made it even more painful to deal with everything. The constant berating and judgment from loved ones made me more of an outcast than anything else. I believe Martin Luther King Jr. said it best when it came to my situation: I wanted to be judged for the content of my character.
I still remember my time in middle school and the bullying I experienced due to the color of my skin. I didn’t attend a private institution, or even a decent public one; it was pretty ghetto, honestly speaking, so not necessarily the best. I’ve heard people say that bullying is an important part of life because it teaches children to be strong. In this instance, I wasn’t strong; I was a young, naive, weak and broken child which gave others the opportunity to take advantage of me, well into high school. A story comes back to me, set during winter, when I was waiting for the school bus at a stop. Out of nowhere I was ambushed by snowballs to my face, as well as in my backpack, by a bunch of kids. I had no other reaction than shock; this was so unexpected and absolutely crazy. My fight or flight response was on hold. I was so unsure of whether I should just return home or suck it up and go to school. An even more outrageous moment was when I was 12 and riding the school bus to school. A 14-year-old boy stared at me and whipped out his penis and said, “I’m gonna rape you.” This situation had me so puzzled because my mind just could not figure out the reason that made him want to do that. I was so exposed to odd and unforeseen things that it really made how I was brought up as a sheltered brown girl in a brown household a thing to ponder over. Were others my age more aware of such situations?
Every situation I’ve been in, from middle school and so on, has taught me to just keep my struggles within myself. Talking to others was useless because they waived it away as unimportant or irrelevant. Bottling up emotions until they build up and explode has become a habit. Having no one to talk to made me insecure. I was alone with my thoughts, and they weren’t very optimistic at this point in life, and so it led me to believe I was never enough and will never be enough for anyone. Acceptance was all I wanted, and when I received it from someone, I gobbled it up, but it only led to being deceived and taken advantage of. Not wanting to disappoint anyone, I saw myself constantly apologizing for things that I didn’t even have any hold on. My character, my perception, and the way I conducted myself around others, changed. College was where I found myself and truly began to be who I am today. I met people who I’m proud to call my friends. They broke me out of my shell and became my guiding lights to experiencing the world with a new approach. Soon, the fear of not being accepted slowly diminished as I joined various activities in school and built my confidence.
Although I gained confidence, acne has a way of bringing about insecurity in almost everyone. From May of last year to March of this year, I suffered with cystic acne. Touching my face was a big no because it hurt so much to even do. I had pimples here and there, but outright acne wasn’t really something that I had growing up. It changed my appearance, definitely, and so every time I would go to the gurdwara, I’d receive weird stares from aunties. It even went as far as an ignorant auntie coming up to me and saying, “Harleen, what have you done to your face? If you want to be in the medical field you need to look presentable…” Of course the brown community knows nothing beyond what is and what can be seen. There is no explanation as to how something could happen and they, at most times, don’t even wish to know. Anything going wrong is the individual’s fault, and not the circumstances or nature. So yes, hormones are in my control, apparently, and the acne on my skin is my fault. Being fed up with the blatant ignorance and sheer narrow-minded mentality of my community, I stopped going out as much. I would constantly ask my friends if my face is improving and it was exhausting. It began taking a toll on my health and I hadn’t realized how depressed I really was until I overcame that stage. I tried everything from herbal medicine to dermatological treatments to make my skin clearer and reduce the acne. Finally, in October, I started my accutane journey and it has really helped my skin. By march, my face did not have any cystic acne, and all that remain are acne scars. Accutane being such an aggressive medication didn’t help with the self-esteem and depression, either. I always wondered what people saw when they looked at me. This always had me paranoid.
Before beginning college, I promised myself that I would try to do as much as possible and change myself to be better than who and how I was. Socializing, networking, and everything in between, it was all mine to explore. Looking back, I believe I made good on that promise to myself. I have gained many friends and I’ve learned so much from them that it has changed me into a person that I am so happy about. Having the support of women, especially, makes me proud because we should all be uplifting one another instead of breaking one another down. “Other women’s bodies are not our battlegrounds,” as Rupi Kaur wrote in her Milk and Honey book.
For those who are living in the kind of situation I had been in, I just want to advise you guys to try. Try not isolating yourself from others; try not to keep your struggles within yourself; try not to feel as if no one will care and so that’s why you’re not trying. Being alone is the worst thing you can do to heal. There will always be people there for you, and if you don’t allow yourself to leave your shell, you’ll never find out how they could influence your life for the better. Find that one friend that will always be by your side; the one that will be your pillar of support and your light in the dark. Trust them enough to let them guide you through all the hard times you will have to overcome. It’s alright to let someone catch you when you fall. With everyone supporting one another, the world can change for the better. I’m always there for anyone who ever needs me. I’ve been through the dark times as you now know, and someone else can always be in my position at this time in life. It doesn’t hurt to ask someone how they’re feeling, especially because the world is so cruel. Anyone will always appreciate if you lend them a listening ear. It won’t just be for their benefit, but for your growth, as well. Life is too short to be stressing over how people see you, you can’t please everyone, and those that are satisfied are the ones you should keep in your life because they know your character better than anyone else. Your aura radiates when you are positive and people see that. Get a friend. Open up. Start loving. Spread love.
My name is Harleen Kaur and this is my Project Why.