It all began when I came out of my mother’s uterus. I was a red squishy little thing with a head full of thick hair. My eyes opened and two dark brown eyes looked back at my mother as she held me in her arms.
Going into my toddler years, I had fair skin. A delicate porcelain that didn’t match all the bruises and scrapes I got from running wildly wherever I could. Curls spilled out of my head uncontrollably -- thick hick coils that sprung when I ran. I dressed how I pleased: I wore oversized Gap t-shirts tucked into a denim skirt with my chunky pink sandals and a backwards Credit Suisse hat I had stolen from my father. All at the age of four. My grandparents rejoiced at my ivory skin. My delicate nose had no hook. The only outward expression of my heritage came from my curls.
It all changed when I turned six. My mother signed me up for swimming classes when we first moved to Hong Kong. Then one fateful summer my mother took us on a trip to Thailand. The sunblock was enough to stop the cancerous sun rays from damaging my skin from playing in the pool all day; but it wasn’t enough to keep my skin from turning pale white to burnt caramel. My teeth began to fall out and grew in crooked. My nose arched forwards almost as if though it were reaching forward for something between my eyebrows. Everything that had made my grandparents celebrate was slowly disappearing. My maternal grandmother yelled at my mother that she had ruined her most beautiful child. Worst of all, my skin was now dark.
I say that ages nine through seventeen were my ugly puberty years. My nose began to grow faster than the rest of my features. My teeth were completely crooked. My hair had lost its shape and was just a frizzy mess. My thighs and hips began to swell up as did my chest. Everything about me was changing. I knew my grandmother didn’t like it. She longed for the light-skinned little girl in the Gap shirt. When I began to use makeup, I used to smear on foundation shades lighter than my skin color. I specifically remember walking into a NARS store and getting my foundation matched. The makeup artist told me my shade was “Punjab” (which was fitting, considering it’s the region of Pakistan I’m from). I frowned and instead purchased the shade “Cream” and caked it onto my face.
It was the year I turned seventeen that changed me. Throughout my childhood and into my teens I used fashion as the way I expressed myself. I lost myself when my appearance began to change rapidly but I could always be myself in the way I dressed. My sense of style never left me. It was my outlet to express my heritage and my experiences. It was a time when it was trendy to cover your hands in white henna before going to Coachella or place jewels above your eyebrows to look trendy. I saw people who once squished up their faces at my paratha or kebab for lunch suddenly embrace aspects of South Asian culture as if they were creating a new trend. It was unfortunate that it was only then that I could understand why my culture and heritage was to be celebrated.
My hooked nose like the hook of Punjab curving around the northern edge of Pakistan. My wide hips, thighs, and chest like the Indus River providing life to the first civilization of the world. My curly hair resembled my paternal grandmother’s; I look like her the most and share her personality. My skin is permanently tan; the result of growing up in Hong Kong, Singapore and travelling around Southeast Asia.
My metamorphosis began with a little girl who was me but looks nothing like I do now. I’ve been through a huge physical change that many would argue also changed my personality, but I’ve always been (and always will be) the little girl with a wild heart matching her wild curls.