Twelve. Age twelve was the first time that I was bullied for the color of my skin. I clearly remember running back home from the bus stop evening after evening, and crying to my mother until all of the energy was drained out of my body. Though I don’t have many memories of my middle and high school years anymore, the ones that I do never tug at my happy heartstrings. Instead, they bring back daunting memories of the racial trauma that I constantly faced back then. That’s right, all of that trauma for being different from the rest, for looking different than them, for being unique, for standing out — situations that I had absolutely no control over.
During those years, though I understood that what was happening to me was cruel and unfair, I didn’t realize how much of an impact these experiences would have on my life. My self-confidence faded away a little bit with every racial slur, every comment on my appearance. I could feel myself falling into a rut of self-loathing, again, for things that I had no control over. Reading this, I don’t know if you’re able to relate to my twelve-year-old self from a decade ago, but the one thing that I am sure of is that most of us have carried this type of weight at some point in our lives.
While my self-esteem continued to take a massive hit back then, I felt my mental health being compromised as well. From mere stress to depression, I have sometimes quietly, and other times very evidently, suffered through it all. On some days, it would come and go in waves. On other occasions, I could feel the hefty burden of these mental health issues for a prolonged period of time. In fact, to this day, I face some form of anxiety every time I interact with someone I haven’t met before, or when socializing in a new setting. While I have come to accept the fact that these horrors of my past will always remain a part of my life, over the years I have made a lot of progress in combating my mental health issues.
Your soul will never be fully nourished by anyone’s love but your own.
Though this era was hard, and though it took me a lot longer, as life went on I learned for the first time that there was a whole new sea of possibilities for myself. Slowly yet steadily, self-love started to pour in. I opened my heart to new experiences, surrounded myself with kinder people, and built a more refined mindset for myself. I learned to step into my power, to appreciate my experiences and resilience as a first-generation immigrant woman belonging to a middle-class family, the first woman in my family to pursue an education and career in STEM. This led me to become a stronger person and advocate for those who are filling the same shoes that I wore all those years ago. Many years later, I founded my very own non-profit organization — Embrace Her Lead, through which I am fiercely dedicated to uplifting every single woman who longs to feel seen and accepted.
If you can relate to my words, I want you to remember that trauma is trauma. Your trauma does not compare to anyone else’s pain. You deserve for your pain to be recognized, you deserve to get the help that you need in order to fight these hidden demons and emerge stronger. I want you to understand that you are valued and that you matter. It is never too late to ask for help or to speak up for someone who is clearly in need. Your experiences may have a lasting impact on your life, but they do not have to shape the person that you become. Don’t let them. The next time that someone tells you that the color of your skin is not worthy of love, or the next time that you flip through a fashion magazine and feel a sense of self-deprecation, I want you to take multiple steps back and remember that you are above the standards of beauty, strength, and grace that society has set for you.
I want you to feel the power vested in yourself to harmonize the beauty and love within you. After all, there is only one you in this universe — be-YOU-tiful.