The piece below was written by Sadia, a young teacher who has worked in East London, UK. It was first posted on her site, Sincerely Sadia.
Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.
To love being ourselves. Not necessarily ‘loving ourselves’, as that classic modern dictum goes: as though we can act as separate entities from our own selves, able to ‘give ourselves’ the love that we, by nature, need, from others. But to love being ourselves.
How can we love being us?
I want to talk about who we really are, again. And how, over time, various groups, settings, have expected, demanded different things of us. Praised certain attributes, may-haps, and while criticising others. Who are we originally? What (within the constraints of Objective Morality) speaks to us the most, irrespective of how ‘attractive’ or ‘stylish’ various external parties might consider it all?
What do you love? What do you love doing? What do you love learning about? Who are you, in truth?
I want to talk, again, about that whole ‘Cool’ vs. ‘Sad’ dichotomy. And how false and untrue it is: allow me to explain…
‘Cool’ [it’s kind of ‘un-cool’ to even use the word ‘cool’ these days. When I was much younger, the ‘cool’ olders even used words like ‘nang’. Does anyone remember that? ‘Piff’ as well. The wonderful[ly weird] world of… BBM [wAGWAN piff ting, can I get your BBM?]. Super ‘cool’, back then. Wearing bright blue eyeshadow, even. Certain hairstyles. ‘Low-bats’. Now: cringe, cringe, cringe]. ‘Cool’ necessitates a grand covering up: seem strong, kind of unbreakable [self-protection. If you show ‘weakness’, openness, ‘vulnerability’: well, what if you break?]. Being neutral with most things, and apathetic-seeming in regard to others. Keep up with ‘trends’, and fit in, and don’t let anything ‘stand out’, ‘stick out’, lest your arms and legs get hurt on… the rollercoaster that is social life.
Don’t be too expressive. Cancel out those exclamation marks. Act like you are ‘above’ caring… about each and every of those ‘small’ things that… you do care about. ‘Cool’ is speaking in a certain way. Measured, ‘edgy’. Pique some attentions, but… not too much. It’s caring much about what people think [we all do. All humans, except, perhaps, the clinically insane of us]… so much so that you do anything to act like you don’t care.
I tell you: have you ever seen how dramatic a creature a child is? Loving cars so much, he wants them everywhere. The colour pink so much: almost everything she has, she asks for it in pink. He wants a black dot printed on his new cap: nobody really understands why.
She starts muttering to herself, beneath her breath, like she is far away from here, imagining all sorts of other things. He likes examining insects. Sees new people: hides behind his mum. She says that she is a princess: the plastic tiara on her head is made up of diamonds, in her head. A sparkly wand, a fighting stance: he’s quite into karate, we find, now.
Suddenly, theme parks are ‘cool’, and so is… doing Sheesha. Boasting about [apparently doing] it, to the others, at school. Designers are ‘cool’, and so is… never tripping up. Walls, defences, high. Phone in hand, makeup on. It’s self-protection. Act like you don’t care. ‘Cool’ is a thing about social hierarchy, no? Social ‘popularity’: power.
A face is put on, to meet the world outside. But come home, close the door, and hide.
‘Mature’. You seem ‘cool’: like… you’ve ‘outgrown‘ yourself, somehow. But I don’t think we ever do. And if we ever could: well then, what a tragedy that would be.
It’s strange how the whole thing works, and how it pretty much always has. ‘Cool’ kids stopped bringing in… their Hannah Montana packed lunch bags to school. Stopped showing an interest, perhaps, in many things (save for… in the opposite gender). And then it seems like that is the standard to meet, in the eyes of others. Hiding things, to appear ‘admirable’, ‘enviable’, acceptable, ‘popular‘.
[But don’t you miss yourself?! The ‘simple pleasures’ of waking up early, to see your room flooded with orange light? Designing paper aeroplanes to glide well, or to boomerang? Researching different breeds of birds; playing Power Rangers? Sitting on the circular swing, at the park, in order to read a book, sort of upside-down?]
‘Cool’ may make others look and think they, too, want to be it. But: when we love people, we are endeared not to the images they may put up of themselves, but… to their very humanities.
Maybe one reason as to why I speak so much on this topic is because I have been there, in Year Seven. New school, and suddenly I was ‘cool’. I had to do everything to maintain it. Act like I don’t care pretty much at all about school-related things. Facebook. Spend time with certain people: they seem to exude ‘self-confidence’, don’t they? And then I parted with the fakeness, meanness, vanity of that whole scene, for… its polar opposite.
I, for some reason, decided to try to become a ‘full-on nerd’ in Year Eight. [This, in retrospect, was probably not the most healthy thing either. A desire to work on one’s intellect and hobbies and such does not necessarily need to translate to… copying established ‘tropes’ to feel accepted into the ‘scene’]. ‘Big Bang Theory’, chess competitions, Maths Club, and the rest. Still, maybe, not being entirely authentic to myself. But: a necessary step on the journey (to balance), methinks.
I remember, once, one of the ‘cool’ friends I once had: I’d seen her at a shop near our secondary school, after she’d left as a student there. I told her I’d just come out of Maths Club — and she seemed… so disappointed in me, like I’d done something wrong somehow. I guess, back then, the prevalent mentality had been (and, in the eyes of some, still is!): anything that impresses boys is ‘good’. Anything else: that expression I vaguely recall her looking at me with…
Similar to another thing that happened, with a girl from that same ‘friendship’ group: back then, I felt the pressure to dress to ‘impress’, or, at least, to evade criticism. One day, I had worn something — to some summer scheme thing — that had not been particularly ‘stylish’ in their eyes. And, there and then, the vain mentality of ‘coolness™’ showed me how truly untrue, precarious, it is: she looked at me in a look of what I could only really call disdain. “I thought you were stylish, Sadia.” Like I’d done something so terribly… wrong.
But a true friend is, actually, somebody who sees you, and smiles upon you, in truth. And not solely when you are coming across as being particularly ‘stylish’/’attractive’/entertaining/upbeat or whatever else.
How much we are known to do, so as to try to escape criticism, the feeling of ‘social rejection’. The faces, masks we put on; hide beneath, decorate, for whatever egoic/self-protective purposes.
And when I had pinned myself to expectations of being ‘cool’: I’d essentially been staring up in adulation at what is actually, by nature, a mirage. And if ‘cool’ is does not care: I think, by now, I know I’d rather have its complete opposite.
Some more anecdotal things by way of processing my thoughts, and explaining them: consistent readers of this blog of mine will likely be aware that… I am in acquaintance with quite a lot of people (Alhamdulillah). Family, friends, family-friends, former schoolmates, neighbours’ brothers’ families, and the rest. I know people who remind me of the girls I had wanted to ‘be like’, in Year Seven. Looks can, and very often do, deceive:
Like when people find they cannot face the world, without makeup on. Even in the comfort of their own homes: if guests (even just one or two) are coming around, eyebrows need to be filled, under-eyes concealed, forehead powdered. I say this, I hope, not in a mean way. Just:
Once, I went to somebody’s house, and she put a member of her own household (perhaps jokingly, but it seemed to be somewhat in-earnest too) into the box of being a ”sad’, weird nerd’. By someone wearing makeup, seemingly to welcome only one, or two, guests. I sort of wanted to know more. What makes passionately talking about… the wonders of the human body, for instance… ‘sad’?
I know for a fact that secure people feel no need to make other people feel bad about themselves. I also know that this happens time and time again: if a person feels like they cannot join in on ‘intellectual’ conversations, sometimes the defensive mechanism that is projected (like projectile vomit) is… “Boring, sad, weird. Nerd!“
But then, after a while of witnessing this ‘lighthearted’ bullying, I asked the ‘nerd’-saying person why… she presents herself differently to the outside world, versus when she is at home. [At home: she feels comfortable enough to do and say ‘weird’ things. She’s intelligent too, Masha Allah]. She admitted that she does stop herself from saying things that could be seen as being ‘intellectual’, for example. She does tend to behave differently, when outside of home. Many of us learn to be afraid, almost, of being ourselves, outside. Put up an act; get validated, on account of it. I’m pretty sure she’s into reading too.
Maybe: as a defence [since, deep down, you know what you are doing] put others down as well [becoming what you, yourself, fear, actually…] for… being themselves.
Like when somebody else I have known, who spoke intelligently, Masha Allah, and had a good vocabulary, sort of made me feel like I’m a little ‘weird’ for… being whom I am, loving what I love. The classic: acted like she did not care; makeup, designer things. Where did her vocabulary come from? She said that, when she was younger, she used to read a dictionary before going to bed or something. How “sad,” she said. She knows.
But: it’s not ‘sad‘. What makes that sad? Why ought it be some cause of ‘sorrow’? Why did she… stop doing things like this, in the end? Or, does she still, but while hiding it before others, whose opinions of her matter to her so greatly? [And would it, by contrast, have been not-‘sad’ if she had spent her time… talking to boys, whom she would never again speak to in the future?] I think, if somebody loved words when they were younger, how on Earth does one outgrow true love for something? I don’t think it’s quite possible. See how complex and self-protective and yet -contradictory all this is: renounce something like this as being “sad”, indicative of a person having ‘no life’. But… it’s you. You’re afraid. But you need to act like you are beyond this: mightier, now, somehow. We’re not, though; we never are.
We’re warm-blooded creatures, and with beating hearts. Insecure, clumsy: ‘imperfections’ would appear to be embedded in our skins, when we peer into ourselves, in the looking glass.
How could we be… ice-cold, tough, ‘unbreakable’, ‘cool’?
[Also, any time someone is excessively defensive/destructive towards another person, I think it’s a huge indication of personal insecurity. Projection, coupled with some need to feel superior.]
And if it’s ‘sad’ to, for example, love learning new words; send emails to professors whose works we find we are fond of; care deeply about the things we have pretty much always cared deeply about, and show that we care about them… then what is its opposite? What is… ‘happy’? What is, in opposition to ‘not having a life’, having one?! Is it just… ‘drugs, sex [appeal] and rock ‘n’ roll’? How image-based, how fake and shallow, and how… sad. [There’s More to life…]
You know, it’s okay for us to laugh at ourselves, sometimes. To attend to the mundane: we all have to, don’t we? To not want to be around other people all the time. So long as we do not allow ourselves to fester within prison walls that so many people build around their souls, in order to be (or, seem) ‘cool’. [We’re going to die, sometime soon. So is this lying worth it?]
We’re so busy ‘protecting ourselves’, and our truths, from criticism, and from others enacting ‘social superiority’ over us. Maybe we are instead actually harming ourselves in the process.
It is [more than] okay for you to be you; to love being yourself. You being you allows others to put their masks down a little more; to feel more comfortable being them, too… Break the ice a little; let flowers grow.
Home is where we are real. Who are you, at home? Is there, for example, a particular outfit you have, which screams [Your Name + Surname here]? Dear reader, I dare you to wear it. Even if it is the most ‘unstylish’ thing in the world. Home (in terms of places and people) ought to be where you are real: and I hope you feel comfortable, remember whom you are, and feel real. You: it’s beautiful, but, still, not everyone in the world has to agree. [They’ve got their own troubles to be dealing with, attending to, to be honest].
“Loneliness doesn’t stop when we are surrounded by people. It stops when we are seen (and smiled at. Loved) for whom we truly are.”
‘Whom we truly are’. Nothing else, really, will satisfy these souls of ours. One of the biggest cliché statements in existence, maybe. It is of so much value: be yourself. Love being yourself. What a worthy thing to do. The disapprovals, criticisms, will most likely continue to come. You are going to, I hope, continue to love being you, and not everyone is going to agree with you. Surely, though, who we are, and the things that we love, are [more than] worth it, though?!
With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.