Updated: Jan 15
Honour, accompanied by shame, are two words to send any South Asian woman into a spiral of anxiety.
As much as I love my history and my culture, I don't believe it is right that we are taught that the honour of our fathers' name rests on our shoulders. We are led to believe that one "wrong" move or one short skirt can destroy our family. The idea of shame needs to be dissolved within the Asian community as it can completely alter the way a person lives. Suddenly, you find yourself living for the happiness of your family rather than your own.
Growing up as a South Asian woman, I'm lucky to say that before the age of 11, I did not notice much if any, difference between myself and my male cousins. I always felt like we were treated equally and that I came from quite a "modern" family. However, as I got older, I noticed the shift and the constant use of that phrase that is now engrained into my brain, "what will people say?". As a free-spirited individual, I now felt the pressure of watching over my shoulder to make sure I wasn't seen doing anything that may disgrace my family. Suddenly, I had to make conscious efforts not to be seen with my male friends because God forbid an auntie sees me. Something so innocent was now a mission of not being caught out and criminalised
As a South Asian woman, you're not just dictated by your parents but also aunties, uncles, older siblings, and cousins. It's almost like your free will has been stripped from you, and your life consists of having to do the "right" thing that doesn't make you happy or leave you feeling fulfilled. What parents fail to realise is, when you don't support your child, and they feel like they have to hide a part of their life from you, you take away their safe place — they can no longer turn to you in their darkest moments.
My teenage years weren't easy; I found it hard to conform, which left me feeling like an outsider in my own family and the wider Asian community. I was so shocked to find that people my age had such backward views. It's difficult to understand that doing everyday things such as wearing makeup, wearing fitting clothes, and being your authentic self would be considered disrespectful towards your family.
As hard as it got, I held my ground not only for myself but also for my younger sister. I've never stopped breaking these barriers because I refuse to believe that living a life that makes me happy disgraces my family. I am now 28 years old, and I would love to say it gets easier, but it doesn't. I still hold that feeling of not wanting to hurt the people I love, but I decided a long time ago that my family won't dictate my happiness.