Science Now + Beyond

8 ways social media is changing our brains

Y’all, social media isn’t as great as we made it out to be. Study after study after study is revealing the consequences of our obsession with social media! But what harm has that done to our minds and why should we care? Here are some reasons why we need to think twice about what we are doing.

1. We’ve accidentally rerouted our ability to do more than one thing

Social media has rerouted our ability to focus on more then one stimuli in real time.


As stated by Stanford professors, “we are more susceptible to interference from irrelevant environmental stimuli” when we have been exposed to a certain amount of social media. Basically we can no longer multitask because we are easily distracted, something you wouldn’t have expected when you go from one device to another to complete various tasks. How does that work? Turns out that heavy electronic use can make it harder for you to commit information to memory, unlike if you stuck with a certain amount of time and were able to soak things in before moving on.

2. It’s similar to a drug addiction

Social media triggers a part in your brain that releases Dopamine, a feel good chemical that is initially released to trigger euphoria. While social media addiction is obviously different from drugs or an alcohol addiction, a 2012 study found that our brain treats the two quite similarly. This should make you aware of the fact that soon may have to treat Internet addiction as a new and serious mental health issue if the rates of addictions keep up.

3. It’s rewiring our nervous system

Ever felt your phone buzz out of the middle of nowhere, checked it, and realized there had actually been no buzz at all? This is because of Phantom Vibration Syndrome. 89 percent of test subjects have admitted to feeling a phantom buzz once every two to three weeks. Weird! Turns out our phones have rewired our nervous systems in astonishing ways. Researchers believe it’s caused by chronic phone exposure causing our nerves to interpret the simplest itch as an incoming text message.

4. Sleep is but a memory…

Nowadays, we typically stay awake to catch up on all the social media we had left to rest during our day. The fluctuating hours of sleep result in grogginess, cramping, and worsening eyesight. As said by Russell Rosenburg, “Unfortunately, cell phones and computers, which make our lives more productive and enjoyable, may be abused to the point that they contribute to getting less sleep at night leaving millions of Americans functioning poorly the next day.” That can’t be healthy. As experts continue to warn about the effects of smartphone use before bedtime, a new study shows how social media use in particular can have an effect on sleep and cause sleep problems.

5. Our memory capacity increases

While most would believe that you don’t use your brain as much online in comparison to real life, this study proved the opposite. In the study they asked one participant to refresh their friends’ Facebook status updates. The more this was done, the working memory levels grew: more status updates meant more information and pictures to take in and retain to memory. Our brains have to work harder to keep up with the slew of information set before our retinas and, like a muscle, the more the brain is exercised, the stronger it can grow.

6. It makes us lose our ability to think for ourselves

According to research that emerged from HP Labs Friday, the bandwagon effect was very much alive and soaring online. When people were presented with two choices for sofas, one that was picked two hundred times and another picked just twice, people flocked towards the one that was picked two hundred times. Maybe the two hundred sofa was nicer? Not so. They were the one and the same.

7. Social media can deteriorate your self esteem

“When we look to social media, we end up comparing ourselves to what we see which can lower our self-esteem. On social media, everyone’s life looks perfect but you’re only seeing a snapshot of reality. We can be whoever we want to be in social media and if we take what we see literally then it’s possible that we can feel we are falling short in life,” said psychotherapist Sherrie Campbell.  Something to remember when online is not to compare your life to others. Where a peers’ Instagram is beautiful and photogenic, remember that yours is too.

8. Social media rewards us for our selfish behavior

We are essentially making narcissism the default physiological behavior. Eighty percent of the time we are active on social media we are talking about ourselves. Since social media use increases the amount of dopamine in our bodies, we begin to feel euphoric when talking about ourselves!

Now that we are through with that, a cat video to erase all traces that you ever read this.


Love Life Stories

I believed I didn’t deserve my own success

I can’t pinpoint the exact point when I started to put myself down, but at the time I couldn’t have imagined the consequences. It was sometime in high school, between all of the tough assignments. That wasn’t good enough, I would think to myself after handing in an assignment. I didn’t work hard enough. At first it was a way to motivate myself, and to make sure I did better on the next assignment. I didn’t realize how corrosive it was, and how the worst parts of the mantras that you tell yourself over and over can stick.

[bctt tweet=”The worst parts of the mantras that you tell yourself over and over can stick.” username=”wearethetempest”]

By the end of high school it was definitely a full blown self-esteem problem. At my senior year awards ceremony I swept in academic awards in all categories, even subjects like science, which I didn’t think I was good at. But somehow I couldn’t appreciate them, and couldn’t feel like I deserved them.

[bctt tweet=”So I can’t say this has been absolutely world changing for me. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

I was very self-aware about this problem. I knew I was having trouble with my self-esteem, and knew that I needed to find a way to rebuild it. But I couldn’t figure out how. I would talk with friends and mentors who would try to help me with compliments or by pointing out so-called “amazing” achievements. I would treasure their words, because I respected them. But I couldn’t fully believe them. Yes, maybe I’m hard-working or a good writer, I’d think, but I could be better.  

[bctt tweet=”Yes, maybe I’m hard-working or a good writer, I’d think, but I could be better. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

Being at Wellesley certainly didn’t help. When I first arrived, the women around me were amazingly human, and able to acknowledge their insecurities along with their incredible accomplishments. But while many people there had been amazing in recognizing the imposter syndrome, and educating students about it, it’s still a place full of high achievers, with value placed on getting things done, and it was difficult to break free of my issues there.

So it’s been a puzzle I had been working on for years, and it seemed like an unsolvable one. But then, a few weeks ago I came across an interview with psychologist and researcher Kristin Neff in The Atlantic. After years of research she advocates something called self-compassion, instead of a search for self-esteem.

Here’s why. Self-esteem, she said, is too often based on comparison with others. In order to feel validated you have to feel as if you’re better than others. This sucks you into a competitive cycle, where being average is not validating, and is a failure.

This made so much sense to me, because I had recognized and lamented the degree to which my self-esteem problems were wrapped up with productivity. From the very beginning of this mess it had been about making myself do more. What I hadn’t figured out was how to break this cycle of productivity without sacrificing my ambition.

[bctt tweet=”From the very beginning of this mess it had been about making myself do more.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Self-compassion and recognizing your own humanity seemed like the best solution. Treat yourself as you would treat your close friends and loved ones when they mess up, Neff advised. Well, I knew I was good at listening to other people, and emphasizing with them. I was always quick to reassure my friends that “you’re only human, so this is only natural” when they expressed guilt or frustration (even if my advice was often accompanied by a self-doubting “I’m not sure if this helps”). Why not try it with myself?

[bctt tweet=”Treat yourself as you would treat your close friends and loved ones when they mess up” username=”wearethetempest”]

It’s only been a few weeks since I found Neff’s point of view. Solving these issues, as I know well, takes time. So I can’t say this has been absolutely world changing for me. But I am optimistic that this can do nothing but help.

Beauty Lookbook

This is why I really got a nose job

Earlier this year, I saw a photo of myself and absolutely loathed it.

I was already having a bad day. I was approaching a professional deadline, sleep deprived, and seriously hangry – not a great combo for emotional resilience. While I was in this irritable-zombie state, a friend took a Snapchat of my profile and embellished it randomly with all the brilliance the emoji keyboard has to offer. Objectively, the snap was hilarious, but upon seeing it, I recoiled with sadness and disappointment.

I hated the way I looked.

More specifically, I hated my nose.

Unfortunately, my temperamental predicament did not fabricate these thoughts, it just made it more difficult to ignore them. I became well acquainted with the sharp anguish of physical insecurity in my tweens, and now, in my mid-twenties, alternating between detesting and ignoring the centerpiece of my own face had become standard daily procedure.

Until quite recently I had a very large nose.

From its inception, it made a sharp, immediate jolt outwards and then a long, gradual descent from pinnacle to tip. It then protracted past my mouth and even had a tendency to dip when I smiled.

(Does this kind of sound like erotica? Well, it is the human body.)

I in no way intend to inflate or overexpose my ego when I say that I have always believed I am beautiful (brace-faced, acne-ridden years of puberty excluded). I’m a mutt of many breeds, housing Italian, German, Syrian, Dutch, English, Irish, and French heritage within my genetic makeup. I’ve never encountered anyone else who truly resembles me besides members of my immediate family, and I take a certain pride in my distinctive looks.

[bctt tweet=”Would I really stoop so low as to augment my physical appearance? ” username=”wearethetempest”]

However, beauty is an elusive concept that carries with it heaps of small print to discern itself from pretty. Growing up as a young woman with a sizable, arguably disproportionate, distracting, and ever-growing piece of cartilage in the middle of my face was the most potent of lessons in defining and never ever confusing these two words for one another.

Alright, so I didn’t feel perfect.

No one does. No one is. But I was fed up with feeling terrible about myself.

There was only one solution to eliminate my facial insecurity, but considering surgery made my aesthetic dilemma more complex.

Would I really stoop so low as to augment my physical appearance surgically?

How incredibly vain and selfish of me.

What a waste of money.

How utterly un-yogic.

What happened to transcending the media bullshit?

What about self-love?

Wow, you’re not who I thought you were, Sophia.

It’s no secret that qualifying self-worth through physical appearance is an unjust and emotionally wasteful formula for constructing identity.

It’s unfair and yet it remains a sour social reality that ushered me to a crossroads. My nose had become a constant and forceful hindrance to personal and positive self-affirmation, yet merely entertaining the idea of a rhinoplasty was grounds to punish myself for egotism, frivolity, and betrayal.

Here’s the thing: we live in a world where conventional beauty rules.

Only the most striking of uncommon features are given ethnically charged, quasi-flattering, and, honestly, rather unconvincing labels like “exotic” or “unique” (at best). To be a pretty millennial woman in the West curates power, privilege, and a consequential breed of elite happiness. I hate that we created and continue to enforce this cultural standard.

I hate it, and yet I abide by and promote it as I sit here writing this article with a facial feature I paid for – a facial feature that acts as a much swifter catalyst for self-love than its predecessor.

In the general time frame of my aforementioned bad day, I was in a rare position to take some financial and professional liberties. Knowing that I would not have the privilege to luxuriate in hypothetical scenarios forever, I booked a consult with a surgeon. Within his rendering of my smaller, straighter nose, I saw the potential for a reality in which I did not cringe at my own reflection.

A reality in which I might not sabotage my love life out of fear that I was too ugly to deserve it; one in which I could permanently eradicate the word “ugly” from my private vocabulary.

It was as if I could feel these emotional burdens evaporating from beneath my skin. I felt like I could finally breathe, I felt free, I felt love.

I got a nose job and I’m happy I did it.

I understand the temptation to criticize my decision, I do.

But instead of engaging in women-on-women crime as our first means of dialogue, I would like to point out that any omission of my pre-operative narrative would be a falsified account of my reality.

If you want a story of effortless and unwavering self-acceptance, please choose to read another work (maybe one of fiction).

If we are to scrutinize any facet of the cosmetic and plastic surgery industry in connection with my own journey, it should be the paradox of self-love brought to light through self-hate.

Although much of this piece is an examination of surgical augmentation, there’s more to be said regarding why we turn to permanent change at all.

Yes, there is a disgusting social double standard that allows self-loathing but chastises the possibility for emotional growth if it involves anesthesia.

But the underlying quandary is that I now love myself more as a result of evaluating myself through dissatisfaction. The cultural end game for women has always been and probably always will be the improvement: something to change, to enhance, to decrease, to make more desirable, etc.

It’s patriarchal oppression at its most transparent.

And although I knew that, and although I tried to love my nose, it was just too hard. Of course, I never wanted to be averse to any part of myself, to begin with, but oh how joyous it felt to discard negativity and replace it with a higher grade of love.

My decision to get a nose job was driven by my yearning for contentment in a life I felt had been devoid of persistent self-worth. In addition to some more recent soul-searching, my desire to remove the bump in my nose was partially legitimized by its stronghold against the test of time.

[bctt tweet=”Beauty and aesthetic trends evolve, dissolve, and recycle themselves.” username=”wearethetempest”]

But our trend-manic culture is notorious for presenting fleeting fads as fact, which often leads us to augment our bodies out of an urgency to fit in instead of resulting from meditation on the self.

Beauty and aesthetic trends evolve, dissolve, and recycle themselves again and again.

In the early 2000s, droves of women sported the hyper tweezed, ultra-thin eyebrow. Now, not even twenty years later, we celebrate the full brow. Women are coating their eyebrows with gel, filler, dye, and even tattooing their brow bones with darker pigmentation.

Remember crimped hair and butterfly clips? That was a thing.

Now we chemically straighten our manes and laser off the majority of our hair below the waist. So how do we decide which of these movements warrant indulgence – and to what degree?

There is a fine, blurred, and often entirely indistinguishable line between change for trend’s sake and change in the name of self-fulfillment. The dangers of addiction to cosmetic procedures and perpetual self-loathing through trend-worshipping are absolutely real. But the truth is we all engage in body augmentation, and we are always at risk to make the “wrong” decision.

People will judge if you hop from trend to trend. People will scrutinize your cosmetic procedures.

And people will label you even if you never radically change yourself (whatever that means).

The idea that self-love is only truly attainable through the condemnation and avoidance of “shallow” acts is credible in theory, but ultimately just another constructed and restricting edict that dictates how all individuals should live their lives.

There is a difference between recklessness and decision making in pursuit of lifelong serenity, but there is no definitive answer for how to treat our bodies or love ourselves. Change is inevitable as we age and grow as physical, emotional, and spiritual beings.

But it is not change in general that endangers one’s sense of self; the impulse to find a quick fix for self-acceptance in lieu of true fruition of identity will always leave us feeling emptier, greedier, uglier, and more perplexed as for how to find ourselves at all.

I made a choice as a seeker of clarity and happiness. Self-love is real, but the rules for achieving it are bunk.

Pursue your true north, your happiness, your you.

Be conscious, be kind to yourself, and you’ll find that the details are irrelevant and the answers are obvious.

Health Care Love Life Stories Wellness

I’m brown, fat and fabulous – deal with it, Desi aunties

Growing up as the chubby kid isn’t always easy.

Growing up as a chubby kid with the word ‘fat’ in your name doesn’t really make it any easier.

However, despite the fact that my name itself was sufficient ammunition for playground bullies, the biggest name caller in my life has been one of the people who gave me that very name – my dear mother.

I have been overweight from the age of two and it has been the bane of my mother’s existence. I understand her frustrations because I have my fair share of them too.

But for some reason, my mom thinks that if she constantly reminds me of my size I will one day hate myself enough to actually lose the weight. This theory hasn’t worked for the past twenty years so my guess is that it’s probably not going to work now.

She affectionately calls me “moti billi” or “fat cat.”

Every time I tell her that I don’t like it when she calls me fat, she says, “then why don’t you lose weight?” I have been listening to this stuff ever since I was a kid so I thought it didn’t faze me, but I recently realized that it has massively influenced my insecurities.

I’m a relatively confident person.

Sometimes I stand in front of the mirror in my underwear and I like what I see, but there are other times when I do feel insecure.  Moments when I wish the ground would form a crater sufficiently large for my obese body to fall into.

Pakistani society is also not the most forgiving when it comes to weight – or any “abnormality” really. I have lost count of the number of times that I have heard people describe me as “healthy,” which is another way of saying”‘put down the samosas or you will never find a husband.”

So many aunties have told me to hurry up and become “smart” (thin) before it is “too late.”

Aunties have also told my mother that it is her fault for making me this way, which makes her even more adamant to make me hate my body.

Despite my mother’s best efforts, I have to admit that sometimes, I find her comments genuinely funny. I know she says these things to make me feel bad, but her delivery is fantastic and I actually find them hilarious.

Once she was taking my measurements so that we could get custom-made clothes from Pakistan, and as she wrapped the tape measure around my waist she said with a sly smirk, “Oh look, there isn’t enough tape measure to record your size,” and I collapsed into a fit of giggles.

Another time she told me that she would give me a framed picture of one of my particularly “healthy” aunts to put at my bedside table so that it discourages me from eating too much.

Things are made more complicated by the fact that Pakistani culture revolves around food. The role of the woman in the traditional household is to make and provide food, and this is the main way that my mom knows how to take care of me and my siblings, especially now that we are grown-ups who don’t need her help as much anymore.

So with one hand, she slaps the cake out of my fingers, and with the other, she spoons lamb pilau into my mouth. I don’t know what she wants.

But that is mothers for you, I guess.

At the moment I am trying to control what I eat for health reasons – diabetes runs in my family and I have been diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, which means that I need to keep my weight down for the physical well-being of both myself and any potential future spawn. But I almost don’t want to lose weight because that’s what my mom and society wants me to do.

I almost want to stay in this body as a “fuck you” to anyone who has a problem with it.

But ultimately your health is the most important thing, if not for yourself, then for the people you love. So I am attempting to love the body I have while working for the body I want, which is much easier said than done.

I would love to lose weight.

I would love to look hot just throwing on jeans and a jumper. I would love to not worry about my protruding belly or my jeans wearing away due to the friction of my thighs rubbing together.

I would love to be able to sit on the floor for longer than fifteen minutes without getting pins and needles in my legs. I would love to find it easy to find clothes that fit me in a high street shop.

I would love to talk about my love of food without feeling self-conscious. I would love to be able to walk down a subway car without worrying about knocking over someone’s drink or armrest.

I generally hate talking to people about my weight because I don’t want sympathy or awkwardness, I just want someone to listen and to laugh at my mom’s jokes, even when my awful translation skills render them no longer funny.

But I am learning to accept my body, to talk about it and to make decisions that are better for it. At the end of the day, we are all striving to become better versions of ourselves.

Why not choose to love the journey as well as the destination?

Love Life Stories Wellness

Overcoming body-shaming isn’t just for teens

When I was younger, I was so tall and thin that most people thought I didn’t eat. It’s not an exaggeration – they really did.

People would relentlessly ask my mom why I was so thin and whether she ever fed me. I would cringe and retreat into my bony, skeletal frame and try to laugh off their remarks. I endured nicknames like “beanpole” and “too-tall” from my friends and family. In class photos, I was always stuck in the back with the boys – even then I was taller than them.

Clothes never fit me right – I always had to pin my skirts on the sides, even if I had bought the smallest size. Shirts hung off my body like sheets on discarded furniture – limp, listless, and not doing much but diminishing the girl within.

But I grew up in an era where we never really focused on our body image. In the late 80’s and 90’s, women were still somewhat immune to the obsessive body-image standards that we see today. So even though I was rail-thin, I didn’t feel bad about myself.

Fast forward to college when my body started to fill out a bit – specifically my hips and thighs. This was in 2000, an era in which Jennifer Lopez had made it “cool” to be curvy. Women everywhere wanted to look like her, and with my Middle Eastern and Latina genes running through me, I was already primed for that body type.

I still dressed as I always did, therefore no one really noticed my body changing except for me.  I was also too busy being the campus superstar to truly care about my body. I had a fast metabolism, was physically active, and even though my diet consisted of mostly takeout, I never gained a pound.

I thought it would be that way forever.

However, it wasn’t until the explosion of social media and the body-shaming culture that I have started to truly care about my body. Why?

Because in the last two years, I have gained about 35 pounds.

Yes, you read right. Thirty-five pounds.

I used to think about that number and mentally kick myself for letting it reach this point. How? Why? Did my body just decide to make up for all the years when my weight was stable? It seems so unfair that when I was younger and actually had time to be active, I never gained a pound.

Now, because I finally maintained a desk job, my metabolism decided to slow down.

My body betrayed me – or so I thought.

Social media has it’s positive impacts, and for me, that came in the form of articles about our bodies and how to keep them healthy. Weight gain is not always bad. For instance, muscle weighs more than fat, so even if I gained some weight, my body is much healthier being weighed down by muscle. Of course, my clothes no longer fit me, so I know that fat played some part.

But these articles also gave me some ideas on body positivity that I would have never thought of. One exercise that helped me was replacing one negative thought with a positive one when looking at my body. My wide hips and thick thighs were not an obstacle to fitting into my favorite jeans; they were instruments of strength that helped me stand on my feet after being knocked down by life’s hardships.

The extra weight around my waist was the indication of a fortunate lifestyle – I had enough to eat and was luckier than most.

Another exercise that helped me gain confidence was seeing my body through the eyes of others. I hired a photographer, went shopping, and participated in a photoshoot.

Just for fun.

When I saw myself in those photos, I beamed. I looked carefree, confident, and content. I took it even further after that; I participated in a fashion show. I modeled three designer’s clothes and strut myself up and down that runway to first-pumping music in front of hundreds of people. I was asked to speak at events in my community, and I did. As my confidence soared, my weight gain and changing body retreated into the furthest recesses of my mind.

For one to be happy, you don’t need to be a size zero. I used to keep my old clothes around as motivation, thinking that if I saw them I’d be inclined to work on my body by any means necessary. I dieted, I worked out avidly, I forced myself to give up the foods I loved.

But none of that made me happy.

So I donated all my old clothes, got rid of fad diets, and stopped forcing myself to go to the gym. Instead, I adopted a healthier lifestyle, one with lots of good, healthy food that I cook myself, plenty of water, and activities that stimulate both my body and mind.

The result?

I feel happier. I don’t stress about any extra weight gain. I don’t have a scale in my house. I workout, eat what I want, and even indulge in sweets when the mood strikes. I buy clothes that make me feel good. I wear a size 10 now, two sizes bigger than the size six I was used to.

I look back at my photos from that time and I look good, but I look even better now. Why? Because now, my happiness also comes from within. I know what my body is capable of, but more importantly, I know what I am capable of.

Life is too short to worry about the pounds; instead, I intend to make sure that I am living beyond that image.

I am making sure that I just live.

Race Inequality

Colorism ruined my life growing up in Pakistan

Colorism is a form of internalized racism and has been the absolute bane of my existence.

As an “obsolete” form of discrimination, colorism is used as a weapon to make those with darker skin feel lesser than those with fairer skin. It’s a disease. It’s an ugly, gnarled branch stemming from the oh-so-large tree of racism.

What gives the word “colorism” its inherently toxic meaning is the belief that we can discriminate against others within our own community. Thus, colorism supports the self-rejection of one’s body, culture, and race.

In Pakistan, skin-whitening creams are commonly used among women and it’s considered “the norm” to do so. My grandmothers used it, my friends used it – even my family’s maid used it.

I was only nine years old when I grabbed the “Fair and Lovely” bottle from my friend’s dresser and slathered it all over my face and neck.  I spent a lot of time in the sun as a child – I’d spend days horseback riding, playing tennis, and hiking (I still do), but I was taunted for it. I was compared to Mowgli constantly and called things like ‘Kaali Kaloti’ (dark-skinned woman) by my Pakistani peers. My sister was born with fairer skin, and compared to a sweet, fair “China doll.”

People would compare the two of us and look at me inquisitively with the question “what happened to you?”

Later in life, colorism crept into my personal relationships.

My ex-boyfriend was half Emirati (from the U.A.E) and half Iranian. His other Emirati friends would constantly taunt and mock him for looking “Pakistani,” because apparently, that is an insult. He’d get flustered and annoyed, and project his anger onto me – making fun of my culture, saying I was too “brown,” and declaring he would’ve never gone out with me if I had a “Pakistani” accent.

After moving to Toronto, I faced more colorism, albeit an oddly flattering one.

I was seen as “exotic” for being a woman of color. I seemed too “well-spoken” and “presentable” for someone who grew up in Pakistan and the Middle East. My brown skin was the first thing people saw, and they became shocked when they realized I didn’t have an “ethnic” accent. I won’t deny that I enjoyed the attention sometimes, but the glamorization and exoticization of darker skinned women made me really uncomfortable. Depending on people’s reactions to my skin color, I either reveled in their “ooh’s” and “ahh’s,” or felt ashamed of it.

The only way to combat colorism is to combat your personal demons. That’s exactly what I did. Now, I embrace my darker-than-what-is-considered-beautiful skin because it is beautiful to me.

The darker I become under the sun, doing things I enjoy outdoors in nature, the more empowered I feel – and I would feel the same way regardless of the color of my skin.

Now, when I walk out the front door, the last thing I consider is the color of my skin.

My dear friend Mavra, who can relate to mine as well as many others’ experiences, also went through similar familial and societal discrimination.

After being constantly mocked and teased for being darker than the rest of her family, she began to hear remarks like: “Thank God she has a nice figure and face, her kaali (dark) tone isn’t a setback anymore” once she hit puberty.

As Mavra put it to me: “It’s so problematic that dark skin is automatically linked to being undesirable, but it’s even more problematic that beauty is measured not only by color but also the size of her breasts, the slenderness of her waist, the smallness of her nose and the symmetry of her face.”

The idea of people discriminating within their own communities is truly incomprehensible to me because it alienates us from the people we assume we can relate to and understand the most. And unless we can move past this, darker-skinned women will continue to be mocked, taunted and bullied within their own communities, leading to feelings of unworthiness and self-consciousness that stay through adulthood.

As a young adolescent, I loathed the color of my skin because of societal pressures.

It took me many years to unlearn the backward things my community taught me about beauty. I salute every woman who’s fighting colorism, racism, and objectification every day.

All that I have left to say to those who discriminate and those whose self- esteems and self-worth have fallen prey to this pernicious mentality is this: be “kaali” and proud, don’t let that word get you down!

Mind Love Life Stories Wellness

This is what happened when I didn’t look in the mirror for a week

I’ve never felt that I’m overly vain. Self-involved? Yes. Charming, hilarious, and humble but confident? I wouldn’t disagree with you.

Yet the amount of time I spend in front of my mirror doesn’t exactly correlate with my body image. I care a lot more if a person appreciates my ideas or laughs at my jokes, but I spend far more time ensuring I am satisfied with the way I look throughout the day than I do with, say, a pocket-sized notebook to jot down my thoughts.

Even worse – I don’t think my male counterparts bother with their appearance nearly as much as I do, putting myself, unnecessarily, even further behind.

Like most women, my appearance and I share a complicated relationship full of baggage and unresolved issues. This work week, I was ready to investigate them and get the closure I deserve.

Here were the ground rules of my five-day No Mirror Experiment:

  1. No looking at my reflection in any surface at any point in the day. I thought about covering up my mirrors but decided to have faith in my, albeit minimal, self-control.
  2. If I had to look at my reflection (see “Day Four”), I would limit my methods, and therefore time, to that of a guy my age (again, see “Day Four”).
  3. I would record how I spent my time away from the mirror.
  4. Surprise, unwanted group-selfies could be punishable by whatever means I deemed fit. Admittedly, it never got to that point. But I was ready to be pretty severe.

Here’s how this went down.

Day One

I didn’t have class on Day One, and because of the weather I stayed inside, so even if I were looking in the mirror, it probably wouldn’t have mattered very much. Not a successful start to the experiment. But I chose to try and be proactive in the name of this project, and dug up some personal history about my appearance and I.

I’ve never been thin. I’ve never had naturally smooth, manageable hair. I’ve had glasses on-and-off since the first grade. My parents have emphasized the importance of appearance, making a point to dress me well as a child and to appear professionally themselves. As people of color, they have always valued the way we present ourselves in terms of representing our culture, but also for the sake of access to opportunities, ensuring that a jacket smelling of masala never held us back in a world where such petty things make a difference. After some resistance growing up (“But how I look shouldn’t affect the value of my thoughts!”), I’ve come to agree with them. Things can come harder to us. The way we look, if we can help it, should not be working against us or our valuable ideas and contributions. Enough already is.

[bctt tweet=”Like most women, my appearance and I share a complicated relationship.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I have been very privileged in this way, because my access to appropriate and tasteful clothing has never been limited. I have lived a cushy life in a pudgy, well-dressed body. But a ticking time-bomb quietly awaited me in the background of my happy girlhood, setting off a mid-adolescent explosion of bubble-gummy lip shimmer, salicylic acid gels, and mascaras and liners that could blind one’s eyes just as quickly as they could “define” them. Yes, I not only needed to be a teenage girl. I had to start looking like one.

I was very late to this realization. One of my best friends remembers the day it finally occurred to me as the same day she knew we would be friends. After gym class one day, I looked at myself in the locker room mirrors and asked her, “Why do I look worse than everyone else?” She had retorted something about how everyone was wearing makeup just for me to finally notice, which was unhelpful but funny.

“But I should probably try to fix this, right?” I said, and we decided that concealer might help, but honestly, who gave a crap.

[bctt tweet=”‘Why do I look worse than everyone else?'”]

This attitude has effectively persisted through the seven years since I took gym class in eighth grade. And not to speak on her behalf, but the same goes for my friend.

Day Two

This was a day where I personally felt how badly I needed this experiment. I woke up late, my hair was presumably a mess, my clothes were all wrinkly, and it was below freezing out, so I would be layering four wrinkly, unflattering articles minimum.

[bctt tweet=”I not only needed to be a teenage girl. I had to start looking like one.” username=”wearethetempest”]

The point of this experiment was never about if I could get away with not looking in the mirror. I wasn’t after a “Wow, you look great!” “Thanks, I didn’t even look in the mirror!” “Shut UP!!” “You know I won’t!” kind of exchange. I only wanted to do this to see how I would spend time otherwise wasted fixating over each “effortless” wave in my sea of dandruff and brunette hair.

Guys my age don’t seem to spend nearly as much time obsessing over their looks, reflexively glancing at their reflection in windows, or worrying about touching up during the day. I thought I would ace this thing, and find myself in a really positive mental space having better managed my time.

Boy, was I wrong.

The morning of day two was a disaster. Instead of coolly walking it off and moving on without a care like I thought I would, I felt far more hopeless than empowered. It wasn’t because I was worried what others would think, but because I was out of control of what I have methodically controlled since I bought that first tube of orangey, awful concealer. I’ve gone out in public without makeup often, and I’ve had days where I have given up with my hair and pulled it back, swearing under my breath. Every woman has. But it was always after I examined my reflection enough to validate the decision. Being unable to confirm if I was satisfied with how I looked was surprisingly difficult for me.

[bctt tweet=”Being unable to confirm if I was satisfied with how I looked was surprisingly difficult for me.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I eventually was distracted with the rest of life, just like every other day, and I made sure not to stop and check myself as the day went on. When I almost did, just like every other day, in the washroom mirrors or along the tall windows near where I park my car, I either looked away or curbed the instinct by looking at just my winter boots. And I did so repeatedly, either because knowing I couldn’t look up made me want to even more (especially considering how unhappy I was with my appearance to begin with), or because I’m not used to looking at very much else as I walk. Both possibilities were highly disappointing. I could not believe how much this was bothering me.

Day Three

This was a much better day. I spent much of my time working with high school students on various projects, and I think the prospect of being the ~college student~ in the room made getting dressed blindly seem less frightening than the day before. Plus, I wasn’t running late, nor was it Palin’s Alaska outside. Things were better.

I got to the high school and first had to speak to a large group of students about a fundraiser I had organized. This turned out to be 1) a pretty frustrating and constantly interrupted effort and 2) eventually impossible. High schoolers are an intrepid force when it comes to unending conversation regarding the irrelevant and futile (and I am too, but this was my time to shine!). Some of the staff recognized me as a former student, but I think many assumed I was still a sophomore or junior there. I wondered if things would have gone differently if I had put on makeup before coming or not worn sneakers or stuck my head into a kiln to make my unruly hair more silken. I eventually decided that I don’t need to worry about it. High school has been a nightmare for everyone since its inception. This probably had nothing to do with me.

[bctt tweet=”The point of this experiment was never about if I could get away with not looking in the mirror. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

Ultimately, I didn’t spend the time saved on Day Three more efficiently. Instead of tossing and twisting my hair in the mirror that morning, I spent that time worrying about the impact of not having done so on my presentation for the students. I simply changed when the obsessing was happening, from before to after the fact. This was not going as planned. Chalk it up to a flawed experimentee?

Day Four

On Day Four, we had a guest lecturer visit one of my classes, and professional dress was made mandatory. I decided I would really kick the gender element of this project into gear, in order to make myself look presentable without obsessing and still learning something. I would simply live in the parallel, just like ~~a guy~~, and finally get a chance to see myself in the mirror without feeling guilty. I blow-dried my hair after I showered, justified by the fact that leaving it to air-dry might literally have given me pneumonia in the winter weather. My dad dried his hair that morning, too. It’s all good!

Blow-drying is not an easy-fix for wavy, relentless South Asian hair, for the record. In the name of professional appearance, I twisted the front of my hair and secured it with a single, solitary bobby pin. I figured it took as long as a guy using gel or pomade. I wasn’t trying to betray this project. I just wanted to look nice for once this week, and professional enough for my class.

[bctt tweet=”Blow-drying is not an easy-fix for wavy, relentless South Asian hair, for the record.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I chose my clothes accordingly as well, wearing a shirt tucked into trousers and a (boy’s department!) sweater to keep warm. I checked the length of my trousers in the mirror to make sure they didn’t look too short, and once I was sure, I was getting on with the rest of my day without a hitch. I didn’t know if I had something in my teeth, nor had I gone through my CC-cream/eyebrow gel/mascara/cherry chapstick routine. But knowing I appeared at least somewhat composed was very reassuring.

I don’t think I saved a lot of time on Day Four. Despite limiting myself, I still spent time in front of the mirror, and I realized that looking at just trousers doesn’t save a person that much more time than looking at their whole body. It’s instantaneous – I think that’s part of why I kept nearly giving in on Day Two. It’s a really quick check in the scheme of things, so long as it’s only a check and not a complete rearrangement of hair, dress, and makeup. In the spirit of the experiment, I kept my eyes focused on the areas at hand, but it honestly didn’t make a huge difference time-wise.

Day Five

By this point I was used to not looking at my reflection, and felt I managed my time well for most of the day, though it was nothing remarkable. Still, I was excited to be finishing this project. It was a learning experience, no doubt, but more in tune with being punished (“okay, okay. I get it!”) than empowering myself.

I think a lot of it has to do with my approach being that of a weirdly exciting punishment from the start. I thought of the time I spend in front of the mirror as problematic and wasteful, and that this would be a fun way to see that I can do so much more instead. But the truth is, I no longer want to spend that time better, nor am I even able to. I didn’t really save much time in the first place. Even if I had, spending it in front of the mirror to make sure I look the way I want and feel comfortable with myself is not a waste of time. Humans only need to be so efficient; self-care and self-confidence should always come first. And I’m glad I made myself do this, so I never feel guilty about it again.

[bctt tweet=”I’m glad I made myself do this, so I never feel guilty about it again.”]

The same goes for men. Day Four, the day I decided to get ready like a man would, was perhaps the best and least-insane day of the five because guys use mirrors, too. Thinking this was a women’s-only problem was rooted in the stigma that women care too much about what others think. Being presentable matters to all of us, not just women. Men’s restrooms have mirrors too, after all (there’s your equality, concerned scumbag Meninists).

At some level, the desire to be presentable could be about acceptance. To me, after these five days, it’s about bringing out my most comfortable and confident self by taking an extra 15-20 minutes in the morning, instead of wondering about her every hour of the day.

That seems like a more efficient use of time, doesn’t it?

Love Humor

This is the secret nobody tells you about being an adult

There are lots of things I don’t like about being an adult. Navigating tax forms. Remembering only after dinner guests have arrived that the bathroom mirror is splattered with spittle from messy toothbrushing sessions. Being driven into a daze with the plethora of negative experiences and memories I’ve seemed to collect over the years that replay in my mind when I’m mindlessly folding laundry.

One of the memories that sometimes hypnotizes me into a daze during tedious house chores involves one of the most agonizing mornings I can remember. I was seven years old and spending the summer in Egypt with my family. One morning, I woke up to the usual sound of roosters and car horns and watermelon street vendors. But something seemed off. I looked around the room: My mother was gone. So was my father. And my brother.

I tried to tune out the organic sounds of a bustling Alexandrian street to listen to the sounds coming from the living room. I could hear the TV on. My mom and aunt were noisily chatting about the high price of meat. Three of my cousins were playing a loud card game. My father and uncle talked about the embarrassment that was last night’s soccer game as their sugar spoons clinked against their tea cups.

How did this happen? How did they all wake up before me? Usually, my internal clock made sure I was the first one up so I could head to the living room and wait for others to wake up, taking them all in slowly and privately. Now I would have to go out to the living room.

They all would look at me. They would surely wish me a good morning. I would have to respond in Arabic and make sure not to get the letters in the words mixed up.

Responding in English wasn’t an option–they would laugh at my incapacity and try to speak English with me. Which means I would have to endure a longer conversation than if I had just replied with a terse “good morning.” My aunt would ask me how I slept. I focused hard in my mattress on the floor to remember the way to say “good.” My uncle would make some sort of silly comment about my bedhead hair. I would have to fake smile at this joke he repeats every morning.

Fast forward 15 years later.

My Arabic accent is still thick and broken, and when I visit an Arab country and confidently ask the cashier at the supermarket “how much are the tomatoes today?” I know he picks up on my poor grammar and foreign accent. But he tells me their price and I leave with a bag of them. As an adult, I do not have time to worry about mispronouncing something in a language that is not my first or enabling my own insecurities.

I’m an adult, and I have tax forms to fill out, bathrooms to clean, and ice cream to be eaten for dinner.

Gender & Identity Life

I have a confession to make: I’m a feminist that loves trashing some women

I am a feminist.

I believe that instead of tearing each other down, women are better off building each other up and being allies against the patriarchy.

And for the most part, that’s what I do: I cherish, support, and encourage other women, and mainly, I abstain from passing judgement on other women, thinking that just because someone is making a choice I wouldn’t necessarily make, is no reason at all for me to form an opinion on her.

But there are some women that even the better part of me just can’t refrain from judging, from seeking out their flaws just so I can feel better about myself.

Because how can you think anything good about someone who constantly makes you feel small? How can you wish the best for someone who has only wished the worst for you?

And most important of all, how can you prevent yourself from hating someone who fought you in a race, won, and never fails to rub it in your face?

Sure, some people might say that karma will do its work and each will pay for their wrongdoings- no need to fret about anything. But somehow, hearing that has never comforted me in the least.

I can’t be all Gandhi and offer my other cheek, no matter how hard I try. I can’t not hold any grudges and forget about the pain and embarrassment that some women have caused me, no matter how many times I tell myself that we’re all allies.

Because the truth is, some women just aren’t interested in being allies.

Some women do not care about the greater cause (or may not even be aware that there is one), and that’s why they have no qualms about putting down other women for their self-satisfaction, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

So where does that leave me, the self-proclaimed believer in women empowerment?

While I know that the ideal thing to do would be to be the bigger person and forgive the women who have knowingly hurt me, I don’t think that for the time being I’m at a place where I can actually do that.

Of course, I don’t spend my days pricking voodoo dolls of those women and wishing the worst on them, but I can’t pretend to like them either, and I can’t help indulging in a little bitchfest every once in a while, where I bash on the women whom I justifiably don’t like.

So for now, I guess I have to settle with being this living contradiction: I say that I don’t believe in girl hate, but if you happen to be my close friend, you might occasionally hear me trashing the girl who used me for her own benefit.

Gender Inequality

These are nine simple steps to stunt Muslim women’s self-worth

“Does anyone else check with at least three friends before making a formal complaint, just to make sure they can’t be perceived as irrational?”

It was late on Sunday night when I read my friend’s tweet during a break between my end-of-weekend-studying frenzy. I tweeted her back, starting a conversation on how we would always question voicing our complaints and opinions, out of fear of being rejected or brushed off because we are women. The saddest part, though, was realizing we both felt this lack of respect in the Muslim community more than in our communities at large.

For most of my life, I was okay with the patronizing treatment I received, not just from men who held positions of authority in the community, but from female leaders who stayed silent due to their upbringings in societies that normalized such behavior from men. I thought such patronizing attitudes were normal since I’d never worked in a Muslim group where the leadership treated me with esteem.

There are Muslim women everywhere who are dissatisfied with the way they’re treated in every aspect, from the conditions of the spaces they receive in mosques, to the disproportion of men to women in leadership positions, to the patronizing treatment they receive in both professional and personal settings. It has gotten to the point where women felt the need to have their own mosque, and have opened one in Los Angeles.

It seems the men dedicated to perpetuating the patriarchy are truly overachievers – so if you identify with them and aren’t sure if you’re pulling your weight, these are nine tried and true methods guaranteed to stunt the self-worth and confidence of Muslim women.

Dear men of the Muslim community:

1. When you need to speak to one of us, please stand at least six to ten feet away, and don’t make any eye contact or even look us in the face. In fact, turn your entire body in the opposite direction, please. We should be addressed and viewed as a serious source of fitnah, or temptation – not as living, breathing individuals.

2. When the community event you asked us to help organize is around the corner – perhaps a day or two away – please inform us in an abrupt and stern manner over the phone that we may not attend. Because although the event was originally advertised for both men and women in the community, such interaction can be a source of fitnah, so the women can no longer attend.

Bonus points: Make sure you break the news to us over the phone. Don’t have the decency to do it in person. Make sure we are responsible for making the announcement to all the women planned to attend. Why put yourself through that?

3. When we send you a formal and professional complaint in person or via email, don’t listen. You may respond to the complaint by using flawed, patronizing logic, and not addressing anything that was actually mentioned in the content of the complaint.

Bonus points: Add a personal attack in the response to the complaint about us or our family members.

4. When designing the mosque, give the women less space. Ignore the fact that the kids are generally on their side as well. It’s not important. Make sure it is difficult for women to attend the masjid. Don’t consider providing child care or anything to make it easier for them to make it to events and prayers. Because, priorities.

5. When you occasionally hold a meeting for the entire organization, make sure the disproportion of men to women is clear by seating the three to four women in the back. That way, they can see the sea of forty men in front of them and feel outnumbered and uncomfortable voicing their opinions.

6. When one of the two women on a committee cannot make it, make sure that the other one still takes the time out of her schedule to arrive at the meeting. But when she gets to the door, turn her away and tell her to go home, because she cannot be the only female at the meeting. The meeting can’t be held in a more public room, of course. Why go through the trouble of making those arrangements?

7. When reviewing the institution’s bylaws, confirm that there are several sexist double standards inherent within. If you find that your existing bylaws are full of “progressive” rules that encourage diversity and equality, there are numerous options to fix them.  These can include but are not limited to, not allowing women on the official board, or maybe having more red-tape when it comes to event planning for women (arranging for more chaperones, security, or setting rules on the farthest distance the women can travel). Don’t be afraid to let your own, often unqualified, interpretation of Islamic law support your views. Get creative!

8. When working with us in person, make comments about how we dress. Make comments about the lengths of their shirts, the tightness of their clothes, or maybe even the few strands of hair that slipped when their hijabs shifted. You can make these comments directly, or use indirect communication and have someone else do the dirty work for you.

Bonus points: Victim blaming. When you receive any complaints about the comments, make sure to be clear about how women are fully responsible for the fitnah caused between men and women in the community. Don’t consider that maybe men could lower their gaze to add to the anti-fitnah effort.

9. When dealing with physical, emotional or sexual abuse or harassment, you have several options:

a. Magnify the taboo around these subjects. Don’t put any effort into providing a space for the community to discuss these issues.

b. Imply to victims that because such things are so common, they are normal. Victims just need to get over it and move on with their lives.

c. Stress the role of a woman in keeping a family together, so she feels guilty for even considering leaving her abuser if he is in her family. In your organization, don’t allow for the advertising of any resources that aid women who are in, or are recovering from abusive situations. You don’t want to break families apart, do you?

d. Again, victim blaming is also a great way to contribute to the situation. Blame the way the victim dresses, or blame her for allowing herself to be alone with him in the first place. Think outside the box.

Let me be clear, these are based on experiences my friends and I have had in the Muslim communities we have grown in, from summer schools to mosques to personal relationships.

Don’t get me wrong, we have enjoyed our experiences in the communities we have grown up in and have interactions and relationships with many wonderful people. These steps, however, are based on unfortunate experiences we’ve had that have taken a toll on our psyches. They need to be discussed and brought to light so that we can improve the shortcomings our communities. I am not pinpointing or attacking any one institution.  Believe it or not, these are based on actual experiences and aren’t exaggerated.

Because of these experiences, I, amongst others, have found myself constantly second-guessing myself: Am I being rational? Am I overreacting? Is this idea even worth proposing? Questioning my sanity like this stunts my self-esteem and stunts the community as a whole, holding women back from their full potential to better the community. Not to mention that’s it is mentally and emotionally exhausting. I have several friends who choose to avoid working with or participating in Muslim organizations because of these previous negative experiences.

When I have had the pleasure of working with organizations that treated me fairly and valued my input and ideas, I have felt confident, empowered, and motivated to contribute. As a Muslim community, it is absolutely essential for everyone to support one another in their work and initiatives. It is especially important for leadership in communities and organizations to set the standard for valuing everyone and treating them with regard.

Let us work to get our communities to treat all individuals as equals and learn to build each other up instead of stunting one another’s potential. Maybe then, our communities can prosper and flourish.

Mind Love + Sex Love Advice

The five-step guide for what to do when you’ve been ghosted

Ghosting (definition adapted from Urban Dictionary):

A term used to describe when a person one has been seeing for a while stops taking calls and answering their texts. These actions are usually preceded by many a broken promise to “hang out” or “catch up” on the part of the Ghoster. The Ghostee is left wondering whether the person that who was infatuated with them two weeks ago is now alive or dead. Neither can be definitively proven.

Ghosting is a huge part of life in the 21st century. If you have dated anyone in this millennium, ghosting is practically the calling card of our generation. A study published in Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that out of about 1,300 study participants, 25% had ghosted people, and 20% of respondents had been ghosted themselves. Ghosting does not only refer to romantic situations, but also to friendships, being flaky and not following up in situations in general.

We know it’s rude and that we shouldn’t do it, but we do.

When you are the ghost, it is an easier tactic than dealing with your problems directly. But when you get ghosted, it’s really hurtful, especially when it is by someone who you really care about. Maybe you are going through a breakup, maybe it is a former friend, or perhaps it is just someone who you thought cared about you more than they evidently do.

As a recent Ghostee, I can attest to the awfulness of reaching out to someone for support only to find that they’ve disappeared, but I can also attest to the fact that I’m over it. Now that I’ve made it through, I’ve compiled five easy steps to help you get through being ghosted, so you can bounce back and continue to be the fabulous person that you are!

 1. Accept it. You’ve been ghosted.

Oprah saying What

In every process towards self-actualization, you must first accept the situation you are in. No, their phone hasn’t stopped receiving texts; sorry, they aren’t “super busy”; nope, this wasn’t a mistake. Unfortunately, you have been well and truly ghosted. It’s really hard to let go of the idea that this person has let you down and failed you, but this fundamental acceptance is necessary to move on.

 2. Feel angry/sad/disappointed/hurt/frustrated.

Liz Lemon saying "Everything is the worst"

This is an incredibly important step. Let yourself feel all that you need to. Of course you’re upset – how dare they?!

At this stage you might find yourself in denial again – check the text you sent, it says “Delivered,” but WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? You will wonder what you did wrong, but the truth is, you did not do anything to warrant the unpredictable disappearance of a friend from your life.

 3. Think about how to respond.

Rey from star wars thinking

Resist the urge to keep pursuing the issue. It will only make you feel worse. You do not need to subject yourself to more negative emotions.

Truly, if someone cared about you, you would not begin to doubt their affection due to a lack of communication.

 4. Decide that the best reaction is none at all.

Beyonce hair flip

Trying to get that person to remember how wonderful you are is not going to make things better. You should never have to make a case for yourself in order to get someone else to treat you with the respect that you deserve. If you have to do that, they clearly do not respect you enough to begin with.

Also, the fact that your values do not align on foundational matters, such as communication, shows that you two are perhaps incompatible for any sort of relationship – romantic, or otherwise.

 5. Realize that you are a badass.

Girls walking like a badass

You never have to tell someone, “Hey! Come back! I am worth it!” because, it’s true, you are worth it. You have to know that. No one else can validate that for you.

You do not need someone back in your life who can hurt you like that, or who can make you feel unwanted, or insecure. Anyone who can make you feel inferior in any way, or make you doubt yourself, is not a friend. Even if the Ghost comes back in your life, the fact that they have had that impact on you, and have been able to mess with your feelings, means that there is nothing left to salvage.

I believe that the second you lose confidence in a relationship, it’s over. As soon as you stop trusting someone, it’s over. If you get suspicious, it’s over.

Continue to be awesome, immerse yourself in activities that make you feel great about yourself, and realize you are much better off without the negative energy in your life.

The one thing that you can do that makes you a real badass, is to say, “Yeah, you ghosted me. You are going to miss me. This is your loss. I do not need you.”

Gender & Identity Gender Life Stories Race Inequality

I hated just how dark my skin was.

I finished rinsing and slowly opened my eyes, looking back at my sixteen-year-old reflection and felt my heart sink.

My dark skin remained unchanged.

Not even scrubbing what felt like nearly three layers of my face had lightened it in the slightest. I sighed, slowly dragging myself back to my room, engulfing myself in a chasm of hate.

I hated myself.

I hated the fact that my skin was almost two shades darker than that of my butterscotch cousins. I feverishly prayed every night to God to slowly lighten my skin.

“Not too white, God.” I would whisper in the darkness of my room. “Just enough to make me pretty.”

I spent hours looking up home recipes, stirring ridiculous potions to apply to my skin in hopes of lightening it. I became religiously obsessed with the idea that if my skin were just a bit lighter I would attain some sort of ethereal beauty. Each day, I descended even deeper into my bottomless abyss of self-hate, feeling ashamed of my dark skin. I felt – no, I knew – that if I was lighter, I would feel better about myself. Perhaps if I was just a few shades lighter brown, I would be more beautiful, and more appealing to the people around me.

I wouldn’t have extended family members constantly reminding me that I was ‘so much lighter when I was younger, and to stay out of the sun’ or that I was ‘cute for a dark skinned girl’.

I vividly remember crying myself to sleep myriad nights, feeling a mixture of shame and resentment for crying over something so seemingly insignificant, but I couldn’t help it.

Everything was wrong. My skin was too dark. My hair was too curly. My hips were too wide.

My mother soon noticed the change in me and continuously reminded me that God had created me perfectly, and beauty had no bounds. I tried to listen, I tried my best to allow her wise words to soak into my mind, to nurture my broken soul, but I couldn’t. She was my mom; she had to say that. My insecurities had built such a bleak bastion in my mind that could no longer be overcome by optimistic anecdotes.

I began to mask my insecurities as best as I could and forced myself to understand that I could not change myself no matter what I did, but inevitably, the seductive voices of hatred came crawling back every night.

I watched as beautiful light-skinned women like Beyonce, Rihanna, and Nicki Minaj graced the cover of magazines, commercials, etc., seeming to get lighter as their careers progressed. Although they never came out and said it, I felt it was apparent they were using skin lightening creams, a fad that was becoming very commonplace for a lot of women I knew and heard of, and it was nauseating.

It made me sick because people wanted so desperately to shun their roots and lighten their skin, they were willing to put themselves in harm’s way with these toxic chemicals. I found it so incredibly repellant because I secretly wanted to do the same, but knew I would never possess the impulsivity and, frankly, guts that was required. It was appalling as I slowly began to realize how much we wanted to resemble white people because western media told us this is what beauty was.

Because when you Google ‘Beautiful Women,’ only size 0, white women show up.

As I grew older, I told myself that I just had to get over it.

Instead of loving and accepting myself, I bottled up my insecurities and hate, shoving them as metaphorically back as they would go. I stopped obsessing over my skin tone and focused on feeding my mind with as much knowledge as possible. I thought that if I wasn’t going to be pretty, I was going to be as intimidatingly brilliant as I could. I ignored every man around me both in real life and social media constantly reminding everyone how “bad” and beautiful light skinned – or as they would call it, yellow bone – women were, and how “ghetto” darker skinned girls were.  I told myself that I was okay, that I was fine with who I was, but I wasn’t.

I was a hormonal teenager going through the slowest, awkwardest, puberty, and I was burning inside.

And then came Lupita Nyong’o, a Mexican-Kenyan actress whose striking dark melanin took the internet by storm.

I looked at her beautifully sculpted face and chic short hair, overflowing with pride that a dark-skinned woman was being placed next to beauty elites like Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Lawrence. Of course, it wasn’t like she was the first dark skin woman to grace our screens or the first black woman to challenge the stigma placed around dark skin, but it was her speech she delivered at the Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon that touched something deep inside me, leaving me undeniably transformed. She described her struggle growing up as a dark skin female, and I felt it to be parallel to what I had felt growing up.

Much like how Alek Wek served as a source of inspiration and encouragement for Lupita, she instantly became that for me.

I felt hot tears running down my cheeks as I replayed the video for what may have been the tenth time, feeling an array of emotions I was all too familiar with coursing through me. Guilt, anger, and hate for punishing myself for something I couldn’t control, and refused to love; for being so shallow and ungrateful, and not appreciating how immensely God had blessed me. I was swallowed with happiness and relief to have someone translate the pain that subsisted within me for so many years into such empowering eloquence, broadcasted to the world.

With her beautiful midnight skin gleaming under the stage lights and bright, proud smile, she confidently addressed every individual watching, “…That you will feel the validation of your external beauty, but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside.”

The sentence resonated with something deep inside of me.

I repeated it to myself, tasting it on my tongue and attempting to wrap myself in it, wielding it as a blanket of protection for myself. Feel the beauty inside, I thought. Let it shine through. You are valid.

I’d love to say that today I fully love and have completely accepted myself, but I’m a nomad on this extended journey of self-love. I have, however, learned to look in the mirror and appreciate the deep richness of my mocha tone, the way it illuminates my dark eyes and how almost any shade of lipstick compliments it wonderfully.

How it is beautiful because it is mine, and because I validate my blackness.