I have always been insecure about my appearance.
Being of Uyghur/Uzbek descent, culturally Turkic groups located in Central Asia wedged between China and Russia, my features are decidedly ‘Asian’. I carry my ethnicity on my face, for all the world to see, to puzzle over, or to label prematurely, ignorantly.
I grew up in the 90s and early 2000s.
The stock standard ideal of beauty was colored, wide eyes framed with long lashes, luscious hair and perfect skin. We idolized Britney Spears in her early, innocent, breakthrough years, the Spice Girls, Disney Princesses and Barbie was the doll of choice. Diversity was not really there.
Growing up in an Anglo society I was surrounded by people who mirrored the idols we looked up to.
All green and blue shades of wide eyes, set in white skin.
I have small brown eyes, with even smaller eye-lids, two front teeth that jut out slightly, beauty spots dust my face.
My excruciatingly shy self coupled with crushing insecurities and a need for approval by friends was a formula bent for a disastrous teenager who was riddled with self-hate based purely on what I looked like, or what I didn’t look like. These issues were to plague me well into adulthood.
I don’t think I need to talk about the culture entirely based on worship of the body and appearance that I was surrounded by as a teenager. It still is a culture based on worship of the body. Even despite all the attempts to appreciate diversity lately, the fact remains that the ideal of beauty held by most of society is very much stock standard.
It wasn’t until I had my daughter, my beautiful daughter, a creation that I could not have even dreamt up, a combination of my husband and I, a reflection of both of us, somehow perfectly crafted in one little being, that I came to a realisation.
One day in the not so distant future when she was a teen, or even younger, would she come to me dissatisfied with her appearance? With her dark eyes that hinted at her Asian ancestry, and even darker silky straight hair that only reinforced her heritage? Would she not see the beauty in the way her Creator had crafted her? How utterly heartbreaking would it be for me to hear the words, “I think I am ugly” coming from her mouth, when I can only see the wit, the sheer intelligence and vibrant personality that abounds from her very being? Would she be able to recognise her incredible ability to understand good manners, to distinguish right and wrong, her patience, her strength, to listen with comprehension to our attempts to explain this world to a barely 5 year old?
Her essence is pure light, and as she navigates her way through this world, she is much, much more than her appearance. Would she fall into the trap that the world tells her that her appearance is her foremost quality?
As I thought about this, I realised that I myself had been, and was, guilty of falling into this trap. I had once been a teenager, sitting at the kitchen bench, crying to my mum, hands pulling at my face, crying that I hated myself, I hated my face, that I was ugly. High school had not been particularly kind to me, and my weak character could not cope. My mother who had carried me in her tummy, who had birthed me and loved me and thought I was beautiful from the day I was born and every day thereafter, listened with utter heartbreak at the words coming out of her first born’s mouth. That the child crafted as a reflection of herself, hated her own image.
Indeed, how could I hate my own appearance when my daughter’s face, created as a reflection of my own, was beautiful? More importantly, how could I hate myself so when my daughter was created as a reflection and combination of my personality imbued with her own unique self?
More important than any of this however, was my horror in realising (along my path of seeking knowledge) that I had essentially been unhappy with the decree of Allah, with His creation. That my emphatic hatred of my appearance was in fact a reflection of my unhappiness with Allah’s decree. I thought that I knew better.
My dissatisfaction with my appearance reflected my selfish state, concerned only with myself, seeing the world through the paradigm of what others thought of me, of how others saw me, when the reality is that people do not spend their time thinking about me, they are caught up in their own insecurities, their own lives, their own problems. My selfish thought process prevented me from connecting genuinely with others, from seeing their own pain and their own struggles, and thus possibly trying to help them, to lend an ear to listen to them.
Would my daughter also have the same thought processes? Would she see the world through the paradigm of the self, dissatisfied with what Allah had decreed for her, influenced by the corrupted ideals of the world around her?
They say that when you have children, they teach you about the realities and truths of life.
In so many instances has this been proven true. When it came to my preoccupation and dissatisfaction with my appearance, having my daughter ultimately made me face the utter ridiculousness and destructiveness of my thoughts.
The beauty of this world is in its very diversity, but more important than beauty, is knowing Allah, and learning to be content with His Decree.
In a world that worships physical beauty and pushes this onto our children (both boys and girls) from a very young age, teaching our children the opposite is a monumental task. Teaching our children that the most important value of this life does not lie in physical appearance, but in our striving to be true servants of our Creator, and that this entails living not from the paradigm of the self, but the selfless. That yes we recognize and love the beauty (even of the human body) created in this world as an affirmation of the existence and qualities of our Creator, but this value of beauty is not the guiding compass, the ultimate end of this life.
To be able to teach my daughter that her looks should not be her ultimate concern, I know that I need to think, act and live this way. Because the best method for teaching is modeling values for our children. Our children can pick up hypocrisy from a mile away, and if I myself don’t espouse certain principles starting from my very thoughts, I know that she will pick up on it.
I’m being honest. I STILL have these struggles regarding my appearance. Old habits and old ways of thinking can be hard to destroy. But, along the path of seeking knowledge, along the path of being a parent to two little girls, I am trying to change. To learn to accept, contentedly, wholly and with certitude, the Decree of Allah, starting from my own face.