Written by Sultana Mangal.
I flipped through the latest issues of J-14 and Teen Vogue. None of these girls looked like me. Blonde hair. Blue eyes. Not a single person with olive skin tone in site. I was 13 years old at the time and I was struggling to accept the features that came from my Afghan ethnicity.
At the time, pictures of Nicole Richie, Paris Hilton and Lauren Conrad were plastered all over the girl’s lockers in middle school. They were the celebrities being idolized at the time. The other girls were able to mimic their style and look flawlessly. I on the other hand had a mother who wouldn’t dare let me purchase the short, blue jean skirts and midriff tops that I thought would make me feel pretty.
I had to look like the others and blend in. In my mind, that was the only way to be beautiful.
But I was the complete opposite of what I thought being beautiful meant.
I had thick, black hair that was nearly impossible to handle. In the mornings as I got ready for school, I would stare in the mirror, imagining what I would look like if my hair could be as pin-straight as the girls at school.
I cried to my mother constantly asking her why she wouldn’t let me get my hair thinned out. I spent hours straightening my hair with the flat iron that I had somehow convinced my mother to buy for me. I wished that I could place it in one of those high, perky ponytails that I would see swinging around my school. But I knew that my thick hair would burst through any ponytail holder, which would only have me burst into tears.
In the mornings as I got ready for school, I would stare in the mirror, imagining what I would look like if my hair could be as pin-straight as the girls at school.
My mother told me, that people pray for thick hair like mine. I didn’t believe her, knowing she was my mother and had to tell me that…
“Owl eyes”, was something I often heard.
“Your eyes are really big.” I winced as I tried to ignore the emphasis they would put on the word “really.”
“No offense, but, like, I just don’t think there’s anything special about brown eyes” came from the non-brown eyes girls who shrugged their shoulders at me.
I remember one day I was upset that someone had pointed out my larger eyes and my grandfather found out. He was shocked and told me in Farsi that “people would kill to have big, beautiful eyes like yours!”
I didn’t believe him, knowing he was my grandfather and had to tell me that…
I was in complete denial about my ethnicity. I avoided hanging out with the few other Brown people in my classes, afraid that the others would lump me in with them rather than with the White people.
I tried everything I could to blend in, thinking that if I shopped at Abercrombie and Fitch and carried around a Juicy Couture bag, that somehow they would overlook my physical features.
That they would somehow overlook the fact that my mother wouldn’t let me pluck my eyebrows thinner, like the other girls.
It was with age that I finally understood why my mother wouldn’t give in to my begging and pleading.
That they would somehow overlook my lips that were fuller than what they were used to seeing.
That they would somehow overlook my makeup-less face because my mother didn’t want me wearing it at such a young age.
I didn’t accept myself for who I was until college.
It was with age that I finally understood why my mother wouldn’t give in to my begging and pleading. And why my grandfather had such a bewildered look on his face as he tried to understand why I was upset.
I’m sorry that as a young woman you are objectified and your physical features are spoken about before the depths of your soul are revealed. Because it’s the beauty of your soul that matters.
I’m 24 years old now and couldn’t be prouder of who I am and where I come from. I never hide the features that come from me being Afghan. I proudly go makeup-less every single day of my life, something that stuck with me from my mother’s lessons. I’ve learned to accept my brown “owl eyes” and my fuller lips. I leave my eyebrows thick and the hair on my head thicker (let’s just say I learned how to tame the two).
If I have a daughter one day, I will teach her the same lessons that my mother did:
That you are beautiful inside and out.
That you look different from others and it’s those differences that make you beautiful.
That you should never be ashamed of where you came from and what you’ve been given in this life.
And most importantly, I’m sorry that as a young woman you are objectified and your physical features are spoken about before the depths of your soul are revealed. Because it’s the beauty of your soul that matters.