Growing up in a household in which “mother knows everything” taught me how to listen, obey and seek approval on everything. A simple illustration is the very first time I had my period, which happened on my very first day of school at an Islamic private junior high school. Both the school and the feminine pads were her choice, of course.
Attending an Islamic school meant I had to abide by certain standards: What should a good Muslim girl wear? Hijab. Whom should a good Muslim girl be friends with? Other girls who are, preferably, Muslims, too. Who could a good Muslim teenage girl date? No one.
In my three years at the school, all my teachers knew me as an obedient, dutiful student who always had good grades, projecting an image that my mother was very proud of, that of a good girl. It made me want to hold on to the feeling of being approved and making her proud for living up to her standards.
High school was another story, however. I began to feel resentful towards my mother because she did not let me do the things I really wanted to do, like going on a hike to the mountain with the adventure club, although I had already prepared for the trip for six months. Up to my third year in University, I never once went out partying with friends and I never came home any later than 9 PM because she would not allow me to do such things. But in the last year in college, I started to meet more guys, particularly foreign guys, thanks to a dating app that my friend installed for me. It became a stepping stone to my discovery of myself. My perspective changed; I no longer saw the world from under the shadow of my mother’s.
I learned about self-concept, how it is created, and how it shows in the way we think of ourselves and in the way we communicate with other people. It was like standing under a single light in a dark room. I looked around and saw hundreds of my mother’s face talking at the same time, telling me what to choose, what to do, how to behave in the 20 years of my life. As the clock ticked, all her faces grew bigger and bigger, before the swallowed me whole and I was gone.
Was I the real version of myself or the version of what my mother wanted me to be?
To my mother, beautiful is fair skin – as well as long black hair and zit-less face. The thing is, though, she only makes up half of my genes; the other half of my genes, from my Javanese father, makes me tan easily. When I returned from two weeks at the beach with sun kissed skin, she looked at me disapprovingly and vowed to never let me go on vacation to the beach ever again. When I cut my long hair short, she remarked: “You looked more beautiful with long hair.”
It is my body but I did not have any authority to do anything I like with it. When I did it anyway, my mother’s first reaction would be disapproval.
For sometimes it hurt me to know that I couldn’t be a beautiful daughter to her. But I found that to others I looked beautiful (my boyfriend told me that and gradually I began to believe it). I then realized that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. People will have different thoughts when they see me, but it is not my obligation to change myself to meet their expectation to please them.
I only have a responsibility for myself to be me. I have to set my own standard, to draw the lines between right and wrong, good and bad. I have to live my life to the fullest and be happy with who I am. When someone disagrees with me, I can listen to their opinions and reasons first, before making them understand mine.
Some people may not think I’m a good girl anymore because I do not cover my hair and skin. Or they may think I am not a good girl because I occasionally let my hair down, enjoying my time in the good company of a smart foreign guy and a glass of Long Island iced tea. Some people may not think I am a beautiful because I do not have fair skin, and because my hair is short and my face is not free of pimples. Or maybe they think I am not a good daughter because I do not always do what my parents tell me to do.
But, you know what? I have been “good” all my life. Let them live their lives with their opinions and let me peacefully live mine. Being true to myself, being who I really am, is not a crime, though some people may not be happy about it. This is my body, my mind and soul, and I am happy being me. So thanks, but no, thanks, for your opinions.
Olivia Ersa is passionate about exploring things that she hasn’t seen in the world. She enjoys binge-watching on weekends and often writes three-page long essays describing what and why she feels a certain way, and coming up with ideas to overcome it. She prefers the beach over mountains and would rather see a glass half full than half empty.