When I was a kid, I used to love playing hide and seek—but more so, I loved hiding. As I grew older, play morphed into reality as I started to hide parts of myself out of fear and insecurity.
I look into the mirror now and I see dark scars spotting my body and parts of my face, and the split ends growing. My hair was once spirally curls, full of volume and life—but it died long ago. I got accustomed to the burn of relaxing treatment on my head, or the pain that comes with a high heat flat iron against my head every day.
I touch my scars and my mind goes back to my childhood, where my mother told me she always knew best for me and that putting this treatment on my face would make me pretty.
I can still remember the harsh sting of lemon on my skin, trying to force the melanin out, desperate to become fair. I remember the pungent smell of yogurt as I could barely keep my eyes open as I looked at myself in the mirror—a sheet of whiteness covering who I was. When the yogurt was washed away, I thought the lightness of my skin was fragile, like I could lose it any second. I had to do my best to protect this artificial fairness.
I’ve only been to the beach twice since I was 12. The first time I went, I was finishing my first year of high school and I went with all my fair-skinned friends, trying to understand their fascination with getting tanner. I remember feeling the sun on my skin and feeling as if it brought my skin alive: growing, flourishing, happy.
I also remember coming home to my mother furious that my skin was a few shades darker. She threw together one of her all natural concoctions and thrust it into my hands. For a moment, there was a look of sadness as she looked at me and shook her head, “You were so fair when you were born, what happened?”
I avoided the sunlight as much as I could the rest of the summer, and I didn’t return to the beach until after I turned 18. Yet, it didn’t stop my mom from her constant nagging—from buying me an outrageous sunhat (as if it would help me from tanning) to spending money on photo editing apps on her phone to “perfect” my skin. I would watch as her delicate fingers graze over the phone screen with precision, moving temperature settings to more blue to cancel out the dark yellow hues of my skin, and increasing the exposure to the point to where I was fair but none of my Bengali and Middle Eastern features were shown.
I still hid from the reality of my identity. Sometimes my finger would slip and a picture I wanted to post on Instagram would increase in brightness, lower in saturation—something to make me look more beautiful.
And I would hide even more from parts of myself I loved in fear of what others would think, namely my religion.
In the beginning of my junior year, as I was getting my license, a driving instructor explained to me, “The Muslims, they’re ruining everything. Like, I know that isn’t PC or whatever for me to say, but it’s true!”
He turned to me and hit my arm, crooning: “Good thing you’re Hindu or whatever, right?”
I grasped the wheel and clenched my teeth, nodding my head just barely in agreement. My hands clammy and my breathing shallow, I prayed that he wouldn’t decide to check the fine print of my information: Myisha Majumder, daughter of Shafiqul and Shahnaz Islam.
I hide from my truth—it manifests as a version of someone to appease, captured in my own insecurity and sense of fear. I am caught in a strange sense of limbo with my appearance as I learn not to avoid the sun and to leave my hair natural, and most of the time, I feel pretty. Every now and then, I use the foundation my mother bought me—a few shades too light—and I straighten my hair and I can’t help but feel more beautiful. I am constantly torn; I still have yet to unlearn the toxic ideals I was born into.
I hide and I hide—my heart drops into my stomach before I say to someone, “Yeah, I’m Muslim,” and the moments until their reaction feel like eternities. I hide in the comfort of my bed, scrolling through nasty Facebook comments, feeling anger fester but refusing to reply, and I still wonder: what will happen outside of my bed? What if someone harasses me like this in reality?
How long can I hide from who I am?
We hide parts of ourselves, often times, for safety. In some cases for me, it’s to stay safe from a potential hate crime or even just a harsh accusation of “ruining the country”—but in other cases, it’s to stay safe from people just finding me unattractive. And I realize, while the former reasoning for not being true to myself can’t be reconciled in this political environment, the latter is a part of coming to terms with what it means to be beautiful. I can no longer play hide and seek with myself—I can no longer be brought to tears by looking at myself in the mirror and not finding myself attractive.
I was born into my identity. I was born into the loving arms of Islam, with Arabic flowing off my tongue, with Bengali occupying my thoughts, with the melanin in my skin, with the blossoming curls on my head.
I was born into my identity, but I am allowed to find confidence in myself when I straighten my hair or do my makeup—because even if it is “conforming” to Eurocentric beauty standards, it still brings a smile to my face. But the reason it makes me smile now is because even though I might get a jolt of confidence when my hair is groomed and my face is made up—I still love myself the way that I am. The whispers that I am too dark or that my hair is too messy are leaving my head, slowly but surely.
I was born into my identity, an identity many others have, but I make it my own—and I have to live my own truth. We all have to live our own truths. And the path to finding our own truth may be rocky, full of self-doubt and more, but it is a path worth taking.
And it isn’t a corny, over-glamorized path to find happiness.
It’s a path to find a sense of peace.