The Most Beautiful Thing About Me is My Heart

The living room was bustling with different noises as people were busy discussing their usual businesses, but nobody kept an eye on the devastating look plastered on her face. Eyes filled with unshed tears, she was blankly staring at the fragile form of her ten years old daughter sitting quietly with a face flushing red out of embarrassment and mockery.


Oh, Roshanay, why does your skin tone become so dark! You must be playing cricket outside, right? Ayesha, you should tell her how girls should look! It is so difficult these days to find suitable rishta for dark-toned girls. Don't you remember how much your parents suffered to find you a match? Anyways, try some fairness cream or desi totkay on her. Otherwise, you'll regret it later. I don't know what has happened to girls nowadays. They are so careless about taking care of their beauty!


Her aunt’s taunting words about her daughter echoed in Ayesha’s ears, sending shivers down her spine. Reminiscing the past memories of the trauma she had faced throughout her life sinks her heart to the bottom. She dreads what her daughter is about to face.

She wonders if history is repeating itself. Is her daughter going to experience the same generational trauma she had suffered all her life?


How will Roshanay cope with this toxic mindset? What if she gives up just like her mother?


So many questions baffled her mind, but no one answered them, or perhaps, she was looking for answers in all the wrong places.


Her aunt was still cursing the dilemma of the younger generation, but she was not listening anymore. Her mind kept going back to those unforgettable moments where it all began.


…………………….


You look like a boy in this haircut! Her elder cousin said sarcastically, sipping his cup of tea.


Why don't you have long hair like all other girls? Another cousin added her comment to take part in the awful conversation.


She’s got hair all over her whole body, but not where she should have! She continued in a witty tone, making fun of her body hair.

Everyone burst into fits of laughter upon her cousins’ mocking remarks when Ayesha entered the guest room. It was easy to see her awkward shyness and mere off-guard demeanor. It was not the first, and definitely not the last time people threw such comments her way. But the nine-year-old naive girl didn't know how to react. Taking small steps, she made her way to where her mother was sitting. She sat there clueless about how to handle the situation, wondering if it was her own fault and if she deserved this behavior.


………………………


It was one bright evening when she was getting ready to attend a wedding. Apart from the rituals of the event, she was excited to draw people's attention to her newly-grown long beautiful hair. Remembering the time when she was ashamed of not having a girly hair look and for having too much facial hair, she was more excited to flaunt her silky locks and beautiful eastern dress. She had replaced all the t-shirts with full-sleeve shalwar kameez, in an attempt to hide the hair on her arms and legs.


It was her age to have fun and enjoy life, but society made her think otherwise. She was worried about getting the approval of the people for things that were not of their concern. Oh, and how far she had gone to achieve those long, beautiful, girly hair - that was another story altogether. For now, she was happy to achieve that beautiful look. She had fulfilled the criteria to be called beautiful by the people who once laughed at her.


Entering the hall, her eyes hovered here and there to register seats where her aunt and the rest of the relatives were sitting.


What happened to your face, Ayesha? Omg, you're looking horrible! She froze on her way, hearing those words.


How did you get so much acne on your face? Did you see a doctor?


What've you eaten that triggered such acne?


You better use formula cream to treat acne, or your face will remain this mess forever!


Almost all of them bombarded her with questions and comments, not caring about her fragile form standing still.


How could I forget about these pimples? She cursed herself, suppressing the urge to cry her heart out.


She once again miserably failed to live up to the expectations of people. She was called anything but beautiful. She felt nothing but ugly.

…………………


She was standing right in front of the mirror with puffy eyes and swollen face due to hours of hysterical crying all night. Splashing water over the face, she moves a little closer to the mirror to look over her acne scars. There was not a single remedy or cream she had missed to try on—little did she know that it could only worsen her skin issues rather than treat them.


Don't worry girl, the start of puberty does cause some hormonal changes in the body, so getting acne is common. Do follow my prescribed skincare routine, and don't go for any home remedy! She recalled what the dermatologist had said to console her.


My face will never be the same again. I've ruined it! She murmured.


Wiping away the single tear with a thumb, she dumped herself on the bed again as she was too afraid to face the world.


…………………


Thank you so much, Allah! I am so so happy. I've got admission to my chosen medical college.


Ayesha, your clothes are ready, and so are other accessories. Just get yourself ready as guests will be coming at any time. Her mother called out.

Her inner monologue got cut off abruptly when she heard her mother's concerned voice. She was busy with arrangements for the party organized to celebrate her success. Not a fan of huge gatherings, she forced herself to get ready half-heartedly as there was no other option. She was about to leave the dressing room when her mother came in, looking at her with utter disappointment and anger.


I'd warned you already not to wrap this scarf on your head this time. Beta, it's a family function, and you should carry yourself with some style! This was such an expensive dress, and this scarf around you gives a very odd look. Now, all your cousins will come dolled up from head to toe and will make fun of you.


Lips sealed, throat choked, trying to control her tears, she didn't utter a single word in response. Her mother backed off, seeing her motionless state, and left the room. She was the first one in the family who had started doing hijab, and everyone, including her own family, had opposed it. No matter how nicely she dressed, her hijab gave people a new reason for unleashing never-ending humiliation upon her.


……………….


It was 5 pm when she reached home from university. Having missed lunch, she was starving but went straight to attend the funeral of her beloved uncle. She was busy reciting supplications when she heard her mother's voice calling her name to introduce her to some long-distance relative. Greeting her with salam, she continued her praying rituals but got interrupted by the most venomous words thrown at her.


Is she your daughter? I remember she used to be such a cute chubby girl back in childhood. Why did she become so skinny? Please don't mind me, but people do like some healthy girls! It would be tough to find a rishta for her. So many ‘beautiful girls’ are facing rejection these days. How will you find a decent match for her? Said that lady in a stage whisper.


Not that she had any better expectations from the people, but the silent disapproval and pity on her loved ones’ faces broke her heart into a million pieces. Whenever they broke her, she had to handpick those pieces and mend her broken self all alone.


………………


Soon after finishing Fajr's prayer, she was sitting on the bed, penning down her unspoken thoughts in her personal diary.

I have no one to blame other than myself for all I have been through. I've wasted my whole life making up for the so-called beauty standards only to be declared as nothing but a failure. Time has changed, and so have the people around me and the worldly realities, but what remains constant is the bullying, mockery, and humiliation I have faced from so many people of different ages and on different occasions. This was not what I deserved, Allah. I wish if You had made my heart as cold as theirs so I could let them taste the bitterness of their own tongue. I wish I knew earlier that the things I got bullied for were not and could never be in my control. Why don't they understand that this is how You made me? I wish I could do something to change the dilemma of our society so that no other person has to look down on their beautiful selves. But alas! I cannot fight against the stigma of typical beauty standards of society. I cannot fight alone.


………………


I will fight against it. I'll never let this happen to my child, muttering these words to herself, she snaps back from her past into the present while her aunt was lecturing her on how she should raise her daughter well.


No aunty, my daughter doesn't need to change the way she looks. Complexion never defines beauty, be it fair or dark. She is as beautiful as anyone could be. And I am sorry, but I will never push any of this toxicity into her mind. As long as she is doing what makes her happy, and is confident in her skin, there is nothing much to worry about. She is beautiful and I will never let her think otherwise!


In a composed yet firm tone, she says it all and lets out the anger and frustration that she had suppressed in her heart for so long. The previously noisy guest room has now gone silent. Nobody had expected this from her. She knew the storm hidden behind this silence, but nothing seemed as worthy as to stand up for her daughter. She will not let society impose unrealistic beauty standards on her daughter. She will fight for her.


………………..


Mama, mama please open the door. She hears a loud thud on the door from her daughter.


Wiping tears, she absentmindedly looks at the door. She glances at the wall clock showing late evening hours before opening the door. She embraces Roshanay in her lap to make her feel the warmth, tranquility, strength, and eternal love rushing deep within her heart.


Mama, am I not beautiful?

Her eyes widened in shock, and her heart skipped a beat hearing that sentence. It felt like she was looking at herself from the past, asking questions she was still scared and hesitant to address. But she takes a deep breath.


I will do this. For my daughter. I have to do this. She resolves.

Who said you are not beautiful? She asks hesitantly, hoping her answer would be different, not what she had expected.


Everybody says so. Says Roshanay with a sullen look.


And why is that? She asks in a concerned tone.


Because I am not as beautiful as my friends and other cousins.


My child, where do you think this beauty comes from?


I don't know, mama. Roshanay said after taking a long pause. Maybe it comes from their long silky hair, pretty faces, or big shiny eyes! She looked frustrated now.

What if they lose their long hair, or if their face gets wrinkled? Does it mean that they have lost their beauty? Or they should no longer be called beautiful?


Noticing Roshanay’s silence and deep concentration, she continues the conversation.


My love, beauty has nothing to do with how you look but how good you are as a person and how good you make people feel about themselves!


Roshanay is baffled, but Ayesha doesn’t hesitate as this was the right time to make her daughter learn the real meaning of beauty.

Roshanay, beauty is not something that lies in hair, eyes, or any physical feature because beauty is something that never fades. In fact, beauty stays within you.


Where does beauty lie, mama? Asks Roshanay.


Beauty comes from the heart — from the goodness of your heart. And only the one with a good heart can find beauty in places others can't see. Says Ayesha, caressing her cheeks with soft hands.


But mama, does every heart contain beauty? Mine too? She asks in an exciting tone.


Of course, Roshanay, you have the heart of gold. You are beautiful inside out. Every pure heart that can see and appreciate good in others has beauty, and that person is beautiful.


Mama, but why do people not see my beauty? She inquires confusingly.


Because they have not realized your inner beauty yet. They aren't bad people, but they've only focused on your physical appearance and not your true beauty - your gem of a heart.


She further adds: Always remember love, no matter how fair-skinned one is and how smart a body shape one can have, it tends to change with time, but what remains forever is the goodness of heart that actually makes one beautiful!


Does it mean I am a beautiful girl? Roshanay says with eyes finally glittering with pride and pretension.


Yes, you are beautiful. Everyone is beautiful in their own way, and we should not compare any two beauties. Just as the moon looks beautiful, so are the stars, sky, and the whole world. Ayesha replies smiling.


So tell me Roshanay, what will you do if someone makes fun of your physical appearance or tells you that you are not beautiful? How will you answer them? Ayesha asked her one last question.


Roshanay thinks for a minute before hurriedly moving toward the mirror to catch her reflection. While taking a long dramatic pause, she reiterates these words;


There is nothing wrong with me if you don't find me beautiful. You are looking for beauty in all the wrong places…


She glances at her face beaming with sparkling eyes as she dreams of becoming a beautiful person from the heart.


Remembering how she gave up conforming to the societal perception of beauty, Ayesha can't resist the tears of joy and gratitude filling her eyes. She knows her daughter will have to fight back hard against the odds of society, and she'll never give up. It feels like all the struggles she went through have finally paid off. She has finally nipped this evil in its bud. She has finally broken this vicious cycle, not only for her daughter but for the forthcoming generations.


I did it! She says to herself while humming to the beautiful poetry by Kim Uliana she had read somewhere.


Mirror mirror on the wall

It doesn't matter if I am short or tall

If I have skinny legs or my hips are wide;

It only matters who I am inside.

Blue eyes, brown eyes, black or green

What makes me beautiful can't be seen

When you look at me, don't judge me by my parts

The most beautiful thing about me is my heart

………………


 

Aatqa Ali is an amazing in-house writer for the Perspective Magazine.














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