Muslim Girl sat down with Deepti Vempati from Netflix’s hit reality dating show Love Is Blind, to chat about her new book, internalized misogyny in South Asian communities, the male ego, and more.
*This discussion has been edited for conciseness and clarity.
Vempati is ready to tell her side of the story as her book, I Choose Myself offers more details about her experiences on season 2 of the Netflix show.
Muslim Girl: For a lot of us it was very refreshing to see a Brown woman represented on the show, especially for our families. There are a lot of cultures that get wrapped up in things, and I know I’m speaking on behalf of probably millions of people out there. So, what is the status update?
Deepti Vempati: Honestly, I’m taking life as it comes and that’s the beauty of it, you know especially being a south-Asian woman. I feel like it is in our culture. My parents, they’ve sacrificed so much for us to be here and have a better life, and so you know we’ve always been told there are certain professions that you need to keep with. So quitting my corporate job and taking on this new endeavor has been so exciting, unknown, and risky, but I love it! I’m kind of just working on myself, trying to be a better version of me. That’s where I’m at pouring love into myself.
For sure. And, writing a book is no easy task. You have this whole book coming out about your experience and your journey. Can you tell us a little bit about that? What inspired you to write it?
DV: Yeah, so my book is out! It actually came out on September 19th, which is so exciting. Honestly, I’ve been trying to find a way to express myself. And on social media, you can only do so much with it. And so, I wanted to really write about my experience because I have many people who come up to me or write in my comments, “oh you’re so strong,” “you’re so confident, you have so much self-esteem,” all of these things.
I wanted to show people that I was not like that. It takes a lot of effort and actual practice for me to get there in my mind. This is why I wanted to write about my life leading up to that altar moment where I do choose myself. It’s not been an easy journey and I wanted people to kind of learn from my mistakes and grow from the things that I’ve gone through. That is why I wrote it and I just love the feedback that I’m getting from it, and people actually resonate with it. They’re like whoa, that’s exactly how I felt when I was growing up. And so, I just wanted to connect with people in an authentic way, and that’s why I chose to write the book.
Amazing, I think you hit the nail on the head because that moment when you were at the altar was an absolutely iconic moment for pop culture, but also for Brown girls. You know, I think it goes without saying that Love is Blind has absolutely become a viral show that so many people across social media are tapped into. And to have so many people see somebody that looks like us, not only be represented but actually stand up for herself and be an empowered archetype! Was that moment of choosing yourself an easy decision for you, or was that the culmination of a lot of pieces along the way?
DV: I think it is an accumulation of pieces along the way because you know when you’re in that situation you tend to really care about the person that’s standing at the altar with you. We’ve gone through such a journey together, but I just knew leading up to that moment I couldn’t say yes. There were too many red flags. Obviously, he wasn’t into me in that way, and so there’s just no way that I could have said yes or lowered my self-worth. Here I was again. It was a test for me at that moment. Am I actually going to put the practices that I learned and how much I’ve grown? Am I going to apply it to my reality? And that’s what that moment was for me. It was a tough decision because I wanted to find love, and I wanted to find my husband through this experience. But I found so much more and that was myself again. That was the most empowering part of the whole situation.
One thing that was really moving for me was just seeing how your mom was. I saw my mom in her. There was this maternal instinct to want your daughter, your child to be happy. I believe she just wanted to see you happy. And, it also resonated with me because I do think there’s that family aspect of the pressure to say yes. To get married and settle down. How have you dealt with that and the family pressure? How did that play into you being on a show like Love is Blind that’s so public and out there?
DV: It’s so crazy because I’ve only had 2-3 serious boyfriends in my lifetime, and they’ve all been White. So, Shake coming into the picture, it’s interesting because he’s perfect on paper. For my family and I, he matched so well. There was a little bit of pressure to say, okay, this is the perfect person for you on paper. But I think the beauty of the whole situation with my family is that they also learned so much about themselves, and it brought out a lot of topics for us to discuss.
One was obviously intimacy. We don’t talk about that in our culture, right? And we don’t talk about how it’s okay to not say yes to a situation just because of a timeline. We don’t have to stick to society’s timeline of getting married. My parents have been trying to get me into an arranged marriage since I was 22 years old. It takes a lot of courage to be like, “no, I don’t wanna do that, I don’t wanna go that route. I want to pave my own path.” Whatever it is I just want to find that organic love, because I think I owe it to myself in this lifetime to do that. And you know, culture and society shouldn’t play a factor. It should be me and my internal feelings about how I should approach marriage.
I want to ask you about that. Abhishek (Shake) deserves no air time from us whatsoever. But the reason why I think it’s important to bring up your experience with that relationship is that it felt like such a case study of what so many Brown girls have to go through when it comes to finding someone. Especially somebody from our communities. He was the archetype of what we call a “wallah-bro,” which is a Brown f-boy. All of the internalized misogyny and racism that comes along with that. A lot of us have experiences with meeting members from our own community that is always looking for women from outside of the community as being more valuable, right? And we’re just supposed to be the “aunties,” or, the “Virgin Mary.”
Can you speak on that a little bit? It was frustrating for so many of us to watch that regardless of whether or not you’re Brown, but just in general, it is not okay to speak about another person in that way. But even deeper than it, it’s that cultural experience being an issue that we have to deal with when it comes to dating and finding relationships from a different cultural background.
DV: Yeah, absolutely, and I write about this in my book, too. That’s what connected me to Shake in a weird way, because we grew up with similarities, and we always wanted to run from our culture. We wanted to fit in. We became Whitewashed when we were younger, and that’s because media and society show you who is attractive, and what women should look like, to have a standard of beauty.
It’s also aspirational, right? Because I believe for Brown and Black men, getting a White girlfriend or a White wife is almost a trophy. It’s like, “I made it. I have this close proximity to Whiteness” almost, you know? I don’t know if you picked up on that, or if you saw that in any way?
DV: Oh absolutely, I totally picked up on that. In fact, Shake even mentioned that. He wants that “trophy wife” essentially, and I said, “I’m never gonna be that girl for you.” That’s not who I am. It’s important that we address the situation with compassion because change takes a lot of time. It took me years to get out of that mentality, and I’m still working on it. I understand that when a certain idea is put into your brain at a young age it’s hard to change your thoughts on it. I understand his perspective and where he’s coming from. But I would just say then don’t go on a show like Love is Blind, because obviously, you’re trying to fall in love blindly. And if you have a specific stereotype of a woman that you’re looking for and you’re not going to budge from that, then just don’t go on something like this.
Go off and be your superficial self elsewhere and don’t waste our time!
DV: Exactly! Also, it’s not just that he wanted the White girl trophy wife. It’s the fact that he wanted the perfect girl. But I’m sorry I’m never gonna be a perfect girl. That’s what I love about it. Imperfection is beauty! I’ve lost so much weight, and I have stretch marks from it. I have all of these scars from it and I embrace that! Because that is who I am today. It reminds me that I have strength and that I can become better, and evolve.
Don’t we all love when far from perfect men are out there searching for the “perfect woman,” and you know, having all of these crazy standards, that they’re not even applying to themselves? I think it’s insane.
DV: I completely agree with you. I know growing up I did have that mindset: “Oh if I have a boyfriend or a White boyfriend that means that I’m kind of winning.” It was very interesting to then read articles about internalized racism because I was like, do I have that? Is that something that I need to work on too? It’s important because we need to start talking about it and normalizing it so that the younger generation can understand and change their mindset early on to showcase that beauty can come in all shapes, forms, and sizes. That’s what we need to work towards. I think society is getting there, it’s just gonna take some time.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for us in the dating arena right now?
DV: Perfection and options. It’s so easy to go on a dating app, and just be like, oh there’s one thing that she said that I don’t like so I’m just gonna go on another dating app. I’m just gonna swipe again, you know what I mean? Because it’s at your fingertips, but you’re never gonna find that perfect person. What are your values? What is it that you’re really looking for? Are you going to grow with your person? These are the things that are skipped over and you just end up looking for beauty. I know I do that sometimes when I used to be on dating apps. I’d be like, “oh this man’s hot.” But that doesn’t matter. That’s only the initial stage. That is why I was so drawn to Love is Blind, because you get to know someone for who they truly are. And yeah, it’s a special experiment, that’s for sure!
What was the biggest takeaway from that experience? Especially now that you’re kind of diving back into the dating world.
DV: I completely approach dating differently now. It’s not as much about the looks I guess. I do have to say the physical aspect does play a factor because this is somebody that you want to be physically compatible with as well. But I’m realizing that it’s not the most important thing. Dating is so different now because obviously having a social platform, you have to figure out who is going to be authentic and who’s really there for you, or whose there for other reasons. So dating has completely changed for me, but the biggest takeaway from that is that you cannot let the opinions of other people define your reality.
And, even if someone doesn’t see your value or your worth, if you see it in yourself I think that is a game changer. My entire life, I have struggled with that. Having the confidence to know that I am worthy is the biggest thing that I work on a day-to-day basis. I have to remind myself when I have negative thoughts that I have to change the narrative. That conversation you have with yourself – it’s honestly the most important one, and you just can’t doubt yourself, no matter if someone else doubts you or not.
Take me to that moment when you see the person for the first time. How do you think that physical aspect played into things after seeing each other for the first time?
DV: First, I’ll say nothing in my life will top that moment. The amount of adrenaline you feel, the amount of worry, and yes anxiety – but also the amount of excitement there is in that moment. I will never forget that moment. It was so special to me. But during the show, I’m so concerned about what he thinks of me, that I completely let go of the idea of what am I gonna think of him. That’s also a factor. But I never thought about that!
It’s so interesting that we introspect so much, and we’re like, oh my gosh, I just want to be perfect for him. I wanna do this and that. There are just so many emotions running through your head and your body at that moment, and you just want that other person to like you. That’s just innately human, you know? But yeah, that moment really honestly does not top any other moment. But all of my insecurities came to the surface, and you’re like okay, is this person going to really like me for me? Like this is the moment, you know? And, is that emotional connection enough? So, yeah, it’s a memorable moment for sure!
I don’t know if you agree with me, but, I genuinely feel that a lot of this has to do with insecure men and the male ego, right? So much of men’s actions include needing to prove something to themselves all the time. Many men have become really insecure, especially with how empowered women are today, and how vocal we are. We’re not afraid to really assert ourselves and fight for what we feel and what we deserve – much like you and how your story has played out. Do you see that being an issue? In the modern era for women that are single right now?
DV: Absolutely, I think like a lot of men need their ego stroked, and they look for women who do that for them. Sometimes, if you’re a strong, confident, career-oriented, and a badass woman, it’s hard to match that energy. So, it takes a special man to match that and sometimes when they see that you’re doing better, ego comes into play. That’s a huge thing! They’re like, oh I’d rather not deal with that because it’s a strong-willed and strong-minded person.
I think it’s easier for them to be in a relationship with somebody that makes them feel like the man. Oftentimes we say, I don’t need you. I want you in my life, but I don’t need you. For example, I can be financially secure, I can be alone, independent, and be happy as hell. But do I want a companion? Yes! Are you going to step up to the plate and understand what I bring to the plate too? And are we equals in building an empire together? Or do you need somebody again to stroke that ego? Because that’s not gonna be me.
We have witnessed the hardships you’ve had to endure. You have experienced highs and lows while stumbling through life in a way that is incredibly amazing and inspirational. I want to know for those of us watching you, for the readers of your new book, what do you hope that we can all take away from your journey and from the lessons learned?
DV: Yeah, I write about this in my book where I say, you know, if I can at least reach one heart or if I can inspire one person to just be vulnerable that’s what matters. I hate saying the words “choose yourself,” but it does come down to that because it’s been so hard for me to put love and energy into myself because I feel like I need to pour love into others. I just want to give my 120% to other people because that’s what makes me happy, seeing other people happy.
But one thing that I’ve learned, and I hope others can take away from it, is that when you give yourself that love, you will attract the right type of people. I wholeheartedly believe that. My takeaway is just to be vulnerable and share your stories. That’s what connects us. We can learn a lot from each other and I think that’s the most important thing.
To purchase a copy of Deepti Vempati’s book ‘I Choose Myself’, click here.