By Aqsa Chow

Navigating a dual cultured life whilst also navigating womanhood, feeling confused and disconnected from both, Self-love for a South Asian woman is a long journey. I want to speak about this due to my own personal struggle in finding this within myself. I know ‘self-love’ is a hell of a ride for everyone, but I wanted to touch on the specific struggle that South-Asian women face in this process, and how it may differ or relate to anyone else’s. I also wanted to touch on my own personal journey and how I’ve managed to find ways to show myself love despite the struggles i’ve faced.

The journey to loving yourself is full of confusion and self-doubt. Feeling pressure from both sides, resulting in more confusion, wondering if you’re the only person fighting an internal battle in your teenage years, whilst everyone else around you seems perfectly fine, confident and content within themselves. This ultimately leads to anxiety and fear of being yourself, because in some ways, you may not understand who you’re meant to be as a South Asian woman living in a Western society.

Identity struggles. Different cultural and spiritual beliefs, fear of embarrassment for being your unique self. Feeling the immense pressure to succumb to the norms and afraid to push boundaries in fear of being is seen as ‘too much.’ I personally struggled to show myself love as I felt like I did not deserve it, due to not conforming to the typical stereotype of a Pakistani British girl. I remember being quite embarrassed to embrace my culture, the loud colors, the extravagant jewels and the bold prints and clothing. I also felt embarrassed to embrace the aspects of Western culture that seemed desirable, yet almost unattainable for me.  Modern clothing which -some- family members would side-eye and judge me if they saw, lighter shades of makeup, thinning out my dark bold eyebrows, being open with my sexuality, and my femininity too. (Side note: Sexuality in our culture is very frowned upon however it’s so important to remember how fluid, open and well respected sexuality was once in South Asia…but i will touch on that in another post.) I felt like a fraud because I did not think I was able to do both. One lesson I’ve learnt and I want to reiterate to all the beautiful South-Asian women living in Western countries, it is okay to be both. There is nothing wrong with embracing your own personal culture and the culture of where you live/have been raised. I love being able to intertwine my different passions and unique tastes together. Your identity is your own and you are free to present yourself in whichever way you desire to, without feelings of shame, or guilt. Living in London my entire life, I once felt extremely compelled to hold to my roots and I felt guilty for not being true to my Pakistani culture, as I grow up I realize more and more that I can embrace both those parts of myself, and not feel as if i’m neglecting my roots. It’s really helped me to love myself for my uniqueness, and my own personal view of myself overall. I enjoy it. My sister always says to “own your quirks,” and looking at myself today, theres nothing I would rather do than be myself, unapologetically. 

Another thing I have noticed is how society now has categorized people into groups, and when people don’t conform to those groups and the characteristics they entail, they’re mocked and made to feel confused as they are not understood. Owning your individuality is not wrong and nothing to feel ashamed of. I feel that many people who follow these trends and categorize themselves into these groups are essentially hiding what makes them unique.

So how can you practice self-love? How can you overcome struggling with your identity and appreciate yourself for your uniqueness?

The art of not giving a fuck. How your differences make you special and unique from others. Being yourself is what you owe to yourself. Don’t compare yourself to others, you wont ever be happy with yourself, and insecurity can become violent in many ways. Having dealt with people who have projected that onto me, I’ve learnt to understand projection is a defense mechanism used in order to aid in coping with emotions one is unable to cope with, or express. For example; a person who does not understand your confidence. How it has stemmed from your own personal struggle and how it has shaped you, because they haven’t experienced it for themselves. Instead of dealing with it and understanding the problem, whether that is insecurity, passive-aggressiveness or narcissism, they go out of their way to make you feel uncomfortable in who you are, so you can feel the way they do. 

This is where the art of not giving a fuck comes into play. Again, way easier said than done, but not impossible. As soon as you engage with the individual, you are giving them what they want. You’re looking back on yourself and what you’re doing instead of them dealing with what they have going on. Ignoring the person is a good way to go if you don’t see them regularly, or know them personally. The art of not giving a fuck means understanding, but not reacting. It has taken me personally so much back and forth to come to the point where I am not swayed by these things, and even now I still struggle.

Not caring about what people think of you, WAY easier said than done, but not impossible. One thing i had to remind myself is usually when one is provoking you, and making you feel less than you are, you need to remember the problem is not you. It’s deeply rooted within them, which is essentially what projection is. You have to remind yourself that opinions cannot sway you because you validate yourself. Repeating what i said in my last post (Self Care), being your own best friend is important here. Having close, trustworthy and genuine friends who love and honestly care, and who help guide you is always helpful, I know that has done wonders for me when i’ve struggled in the last year. We are blessed to have those kind of relationships in our lives. However, i believe self love is the most admirable and healthy thing you can provide yourself with. 

A few other short but important tips I’ve learned along the way, that I want to share:

Allow yourself to make mistakes, grow from them and embrace them as much as you can. As humans we are constantly growing, and I personally thank myself for all experiences I’ve felt, as they shape the woman I am today. Process what you go through the best you can instead of rejecting, this is healthy, and you’ll find a beautiful sense of clarity through it.

Remember your value, trust yourself. Re-affirm into yourself that nobody validates you but yourself. You are valuable and you deserve to see that in yourself. Remove anyone who makes you feel any less and try to not be swayed by other opinions. Remind yourself that just because someone disagrees or misunderstands you, does not mean they are right or true. You need to have trust in yourself and have faith in your own strength.

Create your own opportunities. Put yourself first. Feel everything you can to the fullest level, and don’t ever limit your emotion. You’ll gain confidence in this and who knows who else you could inspire with your strength? I struggled lots in creating my blog as I didn’t think anyone would care or want to hear my perspective on things. Now when I receive messages from young girls in their teens to women older than me, thanking me and telling me how insightful it is to red and relate to my posts, I feel more confident in my craft. I realise that sometimes I was (and still am) my own worst enemy by having fears of what people may think of me. Get out of your head and put yourself out there! Living your truth proud and clear is one of the most admirable acts of self-love you could give to yourself. 

Speak your mind and don’t let people invalidate you, your experiences, your feelings or your actions. Your feelings are completely valid, and nobody will understand that to the extent that you do. So why waste time making them understand? Everyone has their own individual journey and if someone wants to invalidate you for loving yourself unapologetically, that is completely on them. You are not the problem.

I also asked on my Instagram story (@lilaqsi) for my fellow South Asian girls on their experiences and how they’ve learnt to love themselves and overcome this identity struggle, I wanted to share some of the responses on here too for you guys to read to show that many people have had to learn to love themselves through their own experiences. It’s important to uplift and inspire one another, so thank you to all the lovely girls who participated!

‘Understanding that peoples judgments are about them, not me.”

“Stop giving a fuck and do what you want to do, everyone else’s opinions don’t mean anything if they’re not helping my growth”

“Appreciating my South Asian girls helps me to love my own features more”

“My life is short… I should use whatever time I have to enjoy my life…Just understanding that I shouldn’t worry too much about these issues has helped me overcome a lot and helped me to love myself”

“I look a lot into the history of where I’m from and appreciating my culture more helps me love myself knowing I come from such a rich culture. I still feel shame in expressing my sexuality but all that leads to is me loving myself more because I’m doing it for the generations after me.”

“It took me so long to be proud and embrace my culture and break away from trying to appease towards Westernised standards”

To conclude, for all the beautiful people reading this, even if you don’t see it now, think about how far you as an individual has come. I often reflect on the hardships I experienced and the immense power of being a strong woman and overcoming those hardships, and I then remember that there is so much still to come for me, to learn as I go. Try and be patient as you can with yourself as it’s not easy… but keeping track and celebrating those small wins is essential. The fact that despite all of the pain and hardship you’re still here today, breathing, alive, still going and thriving more than you know? That is self-love, and self-appreciation. 

Again, I’d appreciate all feedback and if anyone ever wants to talk my page is a safe space for this! I also will post more about future posts and I would love to hear your opinions and perspectives! You can message my insta at any time @lilaqsi. ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡