Finding My Voice – Anonymousnotyourwife1214
Growing up in a south Asian family, as a daughter of two immigrant parents, consciously or unconsciously, I was taught from a young age what was expected of me. I was raised to be good, proper and modest. My mum embodied all of these traits. Still to this day, she is the most selfless woman I know. She would go above and beyond to put our needs before anyone else’s. A characteristic that extended to relatives past our own family, irrespective of the consequences to her own wants and needs. This, for me, was what it meant to be a good woman.
I grew up in a house with an older sister, two younger sisters, my mum, dad and grandma (dad’s mum) and sometimes dad’s grandma. Our extended family was also big. I had a lot of cousin’s my own age, so getting together was always fun – and frequent. Our house was like what I often call a revolving door. At times – and usually the ones I didn’t care to see, guests would show up uninvited, smiling obliviously, like they hadn’t just ruined my TV time. Mum would report to the kitchen to begin cooking and dad would host, keeping them entertained. Me and my sisters would help my mum prepare and serve food.
Hiding my slim figure in baggy joggers and a t-shirt became common practice for the most part of my teenage years. To the point where there was something slightly unsettling about wearing fitted clothes.
“Were people looking at me? Was my top cut too low? Perhaps I should go back and change?”
Soon enough my dad would appear and I would have my answer. Make-up was also frowned upon in my house. It was a miracle that I managed to get away with plucking my eyebrows. To my relief, no matter how strict my dad was, my mum and older sister refused to let me continue going to school with a monobrow.
By 14/15, I had developed a lot in confidence. I made good friends and came out of my reclusive shell. These years of my school life were the best for me and certainly the most memorable. The summer before my 16th, my family and I attended a wedding. It was here for the first time that I noticed how different girls my age looked compared to me. I saw girls wearing their hair down, dressed in beautiful lenghe and floor length dresses, the necklines not plunging, but not suffocating, were lower than what my parents would say was appropriate, but their parent’s didn’t seem to mind. A sense of embarrassment came over me as I looked down at my snot-green coloured Punjabi suit, my long uncut hair slicked back in a ponytail. “I want to cut my hair”, I begged my mum. She looked at me slightly alarmed, but not surprised. I pleaded with her that my Dad wouldn’t even know and made the argument that not one girl here my age looked like me. When she could see that this was true, she gave me the go ahead, but warned that if my Dad found out it was on me.
My first hair cut was awful, but I was on cloud nine. Just the thought of going into school and showing off my new look, filled me with so much excitement. I started to wear a little make-up, expanded my friendship group at school, wore the clothes that I wanted to wear (to some degree) and grew massively in confidence. I felt like I was coming into my own – and it was freeing. Because my dad was so strict, naturally, we clashed because of this, and arguments often led to stricter restrictions upon my freedoms. Not being able to express my personality in this way was demoralising and chipped away at my self-esteem, but the support of loving and understanding friends around me and being able to see them every day, helped to keep me in high spirits.
Good friends have been a blessing to me and the confidence that their support gave me, was what kept me going throughout my college and University years. It was after this, when I started to struggle to maintain that sense of positivity. Whilst our friendships stayed the same, not having the reassurance of friends who understood my situation around me every day, was a difficult adjustment. “People at work would never understand my situation”, I used to think. Having to constantly lie and make excuses for missing socials, along with the pressures of finally being done with education and the expectations of marriage from my Dad loomed over me.
The idea that at 21 I should be thinking about marriage was laughable to me and I would openly express this to my dad, but I couldn’t deny that it didn’t cause me grief. For the most part of my life, I was discouraged from expressing my individuality, from having a social life, from having a voice, but now I was expected to think about a decision as big as leaving the house and getting married. It was ridiculous. But with my eldest sister getting married, it started to feel like I had less control over this part of my life…
I continued to bat off suggestions and tell my parents that I didn’t wish to meet anyone that they had in mind. They had dictated every decision I had made up until this point, so there was no way I was going to be flexible on this. This was until March 2020 when Covid-19 did the job for me. We were in lockdown. Everything had come to a standstill and the running around, trying to avoid the reality of my situation was no more. However during this time, I had developed an infection which led to me losing my voice entirely for 6 months.
Not being able to speak to anyone at all, on top of being in lockdown wasn’t an easy period for me, and 12 months later, things aren’t still completely back to normal with my health. But not being able to speak, in a way really forced me to sit with my thoughts. Ironically, it was not having a voice, that allowed me to find the strength to speak my truth and regain a sense of control over my life.
The last year has taught me that owning how I felt, whether it was what my parents agreed with or not, does not make me selfish. It doesn’t mean I am not grateful for the things that they have done for me or the opportunities that their sacrifices have given me. But that I still deserve to lead a life that makes me happy. Covid-19 may have put a pause on our lives, but it has only made me more hopeful about the future. Sometimes, as South Asian women we’re taught to shrink our personalities, or be submissive, so not to disrupt the status quo. But the truth is, whilst its easier to abandon ourselves for the comfort of others, this is also a form of self-betrayal. I have found so much joy in finding my voice and discovering myself. Here’s to strong women and self-discovery. Here’s to a transformative 2021