Growing up in Beijing in a typical Nepali household was an experience of a lifetime that I cherish, and I will always be grateful for. However, one thing that I struggled with growing up was accepting myself for the way I am. The standards set by society for women are so specific and, to be very frank, hard to achieve. I suffered from self-hate and anxiety all of my teenage years, due to insecurities I carried in regards to my skin colour and body type. For one, in East and South Asia, “fair skin” is something that is cherished, and being “skinny” is the standard set for girls, otherwise you’re unable to “find a good husband.” Parents would encourage their daughters to “look good,” and looking good meant staying skinny and fair. For me, being a plus size girl with coffee coloured skin didn’t exactly fit into the ideal beautiful woman. People would say nice things about my double eyelids, the bridge of my nose and my high cheek bones, but when it came to my skin colour and body, I received all the nasty comments you can imagine.
During my time in Beijing, my butt was described as “abnormally large,” my thighs were called “thunder thighs.” I was nicknamed “black pig” at school. My classmates used to ask me “Did your parents name you Aastha because you have a big ass?” One of my crushes rejected me saying, “Why would I like a girl with such a fat ass?” Whenever I’d go back home to Nepal, for the summer or for Christmas, my extended family members would say things like, “Lose weight otherwise you won’t find a husband,” “Don’t eat that. It’s got too much ghee,”…“Have you considered liposuction?” and the funniest of all, “If you shower with milk you’ll have lighter skin.” All of these comments were meant to encourage me and their own daughters to lose weight and lighten their skin.
When I first came to Vancouver in late 2013, I had just enrolled at UBC, and I was terrified. Terrified that the people here would feel the same way about me. I was scared I’d get comments about what I looked like. However, my experience here was rather different, and very comforting. When I met my roommate for the first time she was extremely kind and always supportive whenever I was doubting myself. When I’d be on my way to my classes, students I didn’t even know would greet me with “good morning.” Professors only cared about how your classwork was going. My personal life was of zero concern to them. The friends I made were people who knew how to suspend their judgement, and they accepted me for who I was. Whenever I would have feelings of self-doubt or go through any kind of anxiety, UBC had an available counselling service where I was able to vent and gain perspective.
It was surprising to be so far away from home and feel so at ease with myself. I was able to wear shorts or a two-piece at the beach comfortably without feeling ashamed or without feeling judged. There was no one to please because everyone was in their own world, minding their own business. The confidence and independence that Vancouver taught me is something that has led me to love myself for who I am and how I look. The positivity in the peoples’ eyes that you see in Vancouver has really rubbed off on me and changed me into a better person. My hope is to be able to bring this positivity and practice of kindness back home. The practices and teachings that I’ve learned from an accepting society is something that I would love to spread back home, so that the women who grew up feeling self-hate and doubt won’t shy away from certain goals in life that they’re more than capable of achieving.
Thank you people of Vancouver for teaching me how to live in peace, harmony and love with myself.