“The sane shift about in their seats. The ill remain seated.”

Writer’s Note: This creative short-story was inspired by the following quote: “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.” In the United States, it is intriguing to observe various power dynamics: teacher-student relationships, presidential elections, parental authority, and more. This piece makes a bold statement about power: we must use our voices and our minds to act against those who abuse their power.

“The sane shift about in their seats. The ill remain seated.”

The floor rumbles with the footsteps of dignitaries and casual attendees alike, as guests flood the room. “How are we all doing today? Can I get you all something to drink?” I go from table to table, repeating a waitress’ script until my tongue runs dry. “Be a darling and bring me a glass of water,” a woman orders, dressed in a navy blue gown. The walls echo with chatter about the upcoming presentation.

As I shift my gaze, I feel the aura of a powerful man who appears onstage. The attendees drop their silverware abruptly and rush to the auditorium seats. Anticipation fills our lungs like helium fills a balloon. It’s not long before the rubber snaps.

“Welcome, everyone!” The man’s voice echoes for several seconds. The audience roars with applause. Light and sound coalesce, and attendees clap wildly.  Every ounce of attention is directed on the presenter’s words. As I peer about the room, I gaze at my dirty apron and realize I am the only one not applauding. I readjust myself in my seat, as if to help me fit the mold of an insider—someone who pledges allegiance to powerful ideas before careful evaluation.

The presenter quickly presents his innovation, making clear that the product is a “life-changing miracle.” I watch as their mouths and eyes widen in awe. Their faces glow in dim lights, like the faces of children in the lights of firetrucks. A rhythmic beat begins to play. “What is that sound,” I wonder. The heart is a drumbeat against the walls of my chest. “A hypnosis track!” People begin to scramble, their backs curling as they turn away from the stage. The man begins to mutter abruptly. You will buy my product. You will submit. You are in my control. Now slowly, drop your head. Sleep. He continues to repeat his words. Heads begin to fall, mouths close, consciousness shifts to an altered state. The hypnosis track grows louder. I imagine running. The voice of reason crumbles under the weight of fear. Faces blacken, as audience members resist their altered stage of consciousness. The voice is silent but the mind shouts. It’s too damn late to resist. You’re already a puppet to a company that you blindly support. The sane continue to shift about in their seats. The ill have no choice but to remain seated. “You will submit. You are in my control. Sleep now,” the man quickly mumbles. The ill fall deeper and deeper into hypnosis.

Logic begins to break through the barrier of fear. All hypnosis is self-hypnosis. I muster the courage to face the stage and run. My heart jumps inside my chest, as I rush past countless hypnotized individuals. The door is within arm’s reach. I can see the light. Stop! In my peripheral vision, I can see the man extending his hand toward me. His lips curl into a grin, as I stare at the ground. Time is still.

A choice weighs over the room. A choice between a powerful man and the targeted. Thousands of people in the room pledge their allegiance not to the man but to illusive power. To false hope. They are his puppets, unable to reverse their decision to submit to him. His arm is still extended in my direction. Should I trade the voice of reason for blind submission? In a split second, the decision is made. His hand is extended, but I turn my back on him. I turn my back on illusive power… on false hope.

 

Advertisements

Privilege

Writer’s Note: This piece was motivated by those who fail to empathize with the underprivileged and is addressed to individuals who receive privileges on the basis of race and gender.

Privilege

As you walk along the paved path of privilege,

Stand tall, chin up, chest open.

With an air of vanity,

Tell the underprivileged how great it feels to stand on your pedestal,

Looking back at them in mock sympathy.

Can you see the white-knuckled fist

Of the woman who clenches her hands onto her hijab,

As society pressures her to remove her mark of faith,

In a land that prides itself on religious freedom?

Are you aware of the children of Syria

who cover their ears to drown out the sound of bombs

detonating?

Can you hear the plea for help

Of black men and women

Who beg police officers

To spare them?

No.

Close the door to your suburban home,

Safely.

And continue to stand tall with an air of vanity.

It doesn’t effect you anyway,

Does it?

 

 

 

Ever-Evolving Perceptions of the Self

Self-acceptance is crucial to developing a healthy perception of who we are. But throughout my pre-adolescent years (and even today), my self-perception often clashes with the ideas that other people form of who I am. The eighth grade, as I remember it, was a year when I was content with who I was. In my mind’s eye, I walk confidently past Ms. Lawhon’s pre-algebra class. I was (and still am) the girl who would strike up a conversation with anyone, crack a joke with the classmate sitting next to her, and a student who worked tirelessly to be successful in and out of the classroom. But through new phases of my life, such as the beginning of high school and the transition to college, I tend to question and form new perceptions of who I am.

One of the greatest challenges in developing a positive self-image was my decision to wear the Hijab. I remember walking into Information Systems class on the second day of freshman year and imagining the perception of my eighth grade-self fade away. Was I truly the bubbly girl with fluffy, black hair that complimented her smile? I could no longer see that image, as my head was now covered by a pashmina scarf. Perhaps defining myself by the way I looked was a bit destructive. But I was still the same person, wasn’t I? The only difference now was that I was in a new environment with students who looked far too grown for me to label them my “peers.” I shrunk nervously in my seat. I was intimidated because my once-shining self-perception was now a mirror through which I couldn’t see myself. Over several months, I found a solution that would take years to accomplish: to develop a self-image that complimented my wish to represent my faith well. But the greatest accomplishment I achieved on this seemingly-endless journey was giving myself the power to define myself the way I chose. I could no longer hear the voices of those whose religious stereotypes contradicted my self-perception. They can say whatever they want, but I will never give up, I thought.

Sometimes, as I run my fingers through my hair, I’ll imagine what it’d be like if I didn’t wear the Hijab. My side-swept bangs and thick layers were much too beautiful to cover up, weren’t they? Think again. Bullies pushed me to think more deeply about my commitment to my beliefs and the way I represented myself. The toughest part of this journey was digging deeper within myself to realize that there was more to me than what I looked like. There was character, a bright soul, and a compassionate heart that strives to treat all people fairly.

So as I walked through countless classroom doors during freshman year, I learned how to carry myself with more dignity. All of my strength, all of my pride, all of my honor was built on the idea that I—I had the power to define myself. Today, it’s vital to maintain self-acceptance and a clear perception of who I am, as I navigate the highs and lows of my college years.

A couple of days ago, I went to the pool in my burquini (modest bathing suit). I’ll admit, it did bother me that other people stared and may have been judging me. But I remind myself that anyone’s pre-conceived notions about who I am—because of my religion or ethnicity—is not worth worrying about. However, I do find it baffling that those who stereotype any minority group forget that underneath any religious attire is a human, a person who has accomplished countless feats throughout their lifetime, an individual who has friends and family who care about them.

Land of the Free (Restrictions Apply)

Thousands of students recite, “liberty” and “justice” from the Pledge daily, as politicians utter these glittering generalities in their speeches. But as instances of discrimination grow rampant in our supposedly “post-modern” society, our American values fade into the background. When our founding fathers said, “liberty and justice for all,” did “all” include African-Americans? Because the vicious shooting of Alton Sterling by white police officers deadens the meaning of “justice”. As Sterling was shot, a child lost his father, countless Americans lost a friend, and family members mourned his death. But our criminal justice system is indifferent to police brutality. To the injustices that write their stories in the fate of African-Americans.

Daily Show host Hasan Minhaj said, “Civil liberties is an all-or-nothing game.” We will never truly live up to the values upon which this country was founded until we coexist with one another. Until Caucasians hold hands with African-Americans. Until a woman in a hijab can go out in public without worrying that someone will strip “freedom of religion” from the scarf she wears proudly. So in solidarity with the Muslim woman who was assaulted in an Ontario supermarket. With the Muslim doctor who was stabbed and shot at a mosque on his way to morning prayer. With the woman who was stripped of her hijab while running to catch her train in Chicago.  Our voices will be heard. Even over the political tactics that feed off prejudice. Our fight for freedom, justice, and equality reminds us that these values are inclusive. We pride ourselves on domestic security, despite that mass shootings have become a norm. Despite my uncertainty as to whether I am safe from being victimized by those who falsely assume that I am a threat to this nation’s values. Like Alton Sterling and the Muslims who have been assaulted and killed, we strive to exercise our rights in this free society. I am a friend, teammate, student, sister, and daughter to other Americans. So in the face of these injustices, I refuse to be silent. I refuse to let fear suppress my freedoms. Let’s use our voices to speak out against discrimination. Let’s live up to liberty and justice, not let these values crumble under the social injustices that dominate our political climate.

Why Did I Speak out against the Wellness Week Photos?

Writer’s Note: This blogpost is an addendum to “Beyond the Surface Level“, the article I wrote in response to the Wellness Week photos. It is vital for me to give a thank-you to everyone who read the post, as your support helped me achieve an improved sense of wellbeing and confidence.- Naima

Why Did You Write about the Wellness Week Photos?

To every parent, student, teacher, and member of the Hayfield community. Thank you so much for your support. I need to express my overwhelming gratitude to those who supported me for publishing “Beyond the Surface Level.” I love coming in to school and receiving uplifting comments, such as, “Great blogpost,” and, “I love the way you advocate for your beliefs.” But I am not writing this post to emphasize the divided arguments that the Wellness Week photos resulted in. I wrote “Beyond the Surface Level” as a representation of the entire Hayfield community. In this post, I will explain why it was absolutely crucial for me to write about the photos. And the emphasis on this matter will place more weight on the gratitude I have for my supporters.

As a freshman, I struggled with social anxiety because I feared being criticized for the way I expressed myself through words, dress, and emotion. I am so thankful to have overcome this difficulty, as I often felt restricted by my fears. Despite this accomplishment, I have been struggling with anxiety lately, but I have been able to understand this emotion better than I did when I was 14-years-old. Currently, I am enrolled in two of Mr. Finneman’s classes, Advanced Information Systems and Web Page Development. And I have only just learned the trigger of my anxiety, hindrances on my freedom of expression.

After the Wellness Week photos were removed, Mr. Finneman argued against the administrative decision and expressed disagreement toward Alexis Beard’s article (which condemned the promotion of the photos). Whether you agree with the removal of the pictures or not, teachers should ensure that their students do not feel alienated because of controversial discussion. Because this issue sharpened a divide in the student body, I often felt afraid to defend my ideas. I wasn’t comfortable arguing against sexual objectification with those who will never have to fear being objectified themselves. This level of discomfort to simply express my thoughts led to unprecedented levels of anxiety, as I often spent more classes reminding myself to breathe than doing classwork. But in the school where Mr. Tremaine strived to make everyone feel safe and comfortable, we need to ensure that our actions don’t hinder others from expressing themselves. Teachers and other adults don’t discuss politics or religion in the classroom because it would only create divides in the school community. In the same way, the Wellness Week photos led to such a great level of controversy that those who argued against them were afraid of being ridiculed for their beliefs.

There is a stark irony in this issue. An approach that a staff member took to promote wellness only led to the decline of my mental health, so much so that I had to leave class several times to cry until I couldn’t anymore. Simply put, any hindrances on my freedom of expression led to an oppressive level of discomfort.

Ever since I published “Beyond the Surface Level”, my anxiety diminished because the doors to free expression were reopened. Countless members of our community reminded me that it is vital to have a voice, regardless of whether our opinions are popular or not. I want to let you know that I will be happy to befriend anyone who does not agree with my beliefs on any issue. And I will respect your point-of-view because I notice how detrimental it is to fear being the subject of backlash. Hayfield Secondary has taught us not to criticize each other if our beliefs don’t align. Rather, we honor diverse perspectives and reevaluate our own if needed. We are a melting pot of countless cultural identities, religious faiths, and intellectual thoughts. We must promote free speech, whether our ideas are popular or not.

Regardless of whether you agree with the posting of the Wellness Week photos, we can all say that we should never place unreasonable restraints on self-expression. We can all agree that no student should ever feel isolated. No student should ever have to spend a school day crying in a classroom because she does not feel comfortable to simply express herself. No student should ever have to end the week thankful that she does not have to return to school the next day.

I genuinely respect your beliefs because free expression is at the core of a healthy society. And we must do all that we can to ingrain this value as a part of our school community. By doing so, we will feel comfortable to discuss a plethora of subjects, controversial or not.

To every friend, teacher, and member of the Hayfield community. Because of your support, I felt comfortable returning to Room 1349. Because of your support, I found the strength to advocate for my beliefs. Because of your uplifting words, I learned what it took to alleviate the emotional pain that my anxiety often produced. I am a healthier young adult today because of all of your kinds words. “Hey, Naima, great blogpost.” “Thank you for voicing your opinion.” “You’re a brilliant writer.” “I was really impressed with your blog.” Every one of these compliments helped me realize how crucial it is that we never repress our ideas in a free society. And I wish that you will make a conscious effort to promote this American value. Thank you so much for reading, and I look forward to better personal health.

Sincerely,

Naima Sikandar

Graduating Senior and GMU Class of 2020


Postscript: If you wish to contact me for further discussion or questions regarding this issue, you may DM me on Twitter or Instagram @Neemzandchomps.

Unequivocally Beautiful

Dark skin

Or light skin.

But still so beautiful.

Size 15.

Or size 5.

But still so beautiful.

Thick thighs

Or thigh gap.

But still so beautiful.

Well over 6 feet

Or just shy of 5 feet.

And everything in between.

And still so beautiful.

We gaze at the picturesque women in advertisements

And crave.

Crave the narrow standard of “pretty” that media promotes.

But whether or not you look like what you see in billboards and magazines,

You are

Unmistakenly

And unapologetically

Beautiful.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Beyond the Surface Level

Writer’s note: This blogpost was written in response to the photos that Hayfield CTE Teacher John Finneman took of shirtless female students. Mr. Finneman states that his intent was to promote health for “Wellness Week.”

Beyond the Surface Level

I deeply appreciate the H2N Newsmagazine’s effort to promote First Amendment rights, as students did in an article titled “Point/Counterpoint: Were the pictures taken for ‘Wellness Week’ appropriate for school?” I acknowledge our community’s effort to promote an inclusive environment in which students are safe to disclose their thoughts on issues that concern them. As a proud member of the Hayfield community, I make a conscious effort to contribute to this inclusive, respectful, and uplifting environment. I would like to discuss this article in a way that fosters mutual respect and acknowledges diverse points-of-view.

In the article, Senior Alexis Beard condemns the objectification of women in these photos, the students’ lack of parental permission, and the fact that a young male teacher was alone in a room with shirtless females (the great majority of whom are minors). To acknowledge the counterpoint, Lizzy Goldsworthy’s central argument was that we should, “…see these amazing women as athletes and not sex objects.” I appreciate Lizzy’s positive attitude toward female athletes, but let’s evaluate this statement. Her goal is to dissuade students from viewing these women in a sexual way, which I support. But let’s consider the psychology of the human mind and body. If a female views an image of a muscled man in minimal clothing, she is likely to have some kind of sexual response. This inherent aspect of my nature as a female is the reason why I choose not to look at explicit images as they do not promote a dignified view of the opposite sex. Simply informing males not to view the girls in the photos in a sexual way is to ask them to do something that is contrary to their nature. Neither men nor women can blame themselves for viewing an exposed body in a sexual way because we are biologically programmed to perceive them that way. It would be ideal if we could feasibly shift our point-of-view so that we don’t sexualize these individuals, but it contradicts human nature. This aspect of who we are as humans does not justify the objectification of either gender. Rather, it condemns the promotion of images that appear to have been intentionally made sexual. The images draw the most attention not to the workout equipment or the sports drink that one of the students carries. Instead, the focus of the photos is on the females’ bodies whose physical features are made prominent by water that has been sprayed onto their midriffs. We certainly cannot deny the inherent sexual nature of the images.

Beyond the H2N article, I find several incongruities in the argument that supports the promotion of these photos. While Mr. Finneman argues that the administrative decision to remove the photos from Twitter is “sexist,” we must evaluate the photographer’s attitude toward individuals of the female sex. During the first semester of the school year, Mr. Finneman said the following statement to a male student: “Stop being such a girl.” As one of the four females who was present at the time, I was deeply offended. I don’t understand why the word “girl” holds a negative connotation to some individuals. I acknowledge that Mr. Finneman’s comment may have been intended to be lighthearted, but making comments that enforce the dominance of a particular demographic is not conducive to an inclusive environment. Such remarks can lead female students to feeling subjugated, as the class consists of almost thirty males and only five females.

Another contradiction I have found in Mr. Finneman’s argument against the administrative decision is a comment he made in the instructions of an assignment that pertains to modeling. The assignment requires students to create a PowerPoint presentation that incorporates custom animations which demonstrate tasks for models to perform. Some of these tasks include basic responsibilities for a model, such as proper eating, learning the catwalk, and more. In the instructions, which Mr. Finneman typed himself, he states, “While these models are beautiful, they are not always very bright.” Although this comment may seem harmless at the surface-level, we see a connection between the comment he made to his male student, the sexualized photos, and these instructions. They all degrade the female sex.

We are aware of the stereotype that models lack intelligence. These women are solely acknowledged for their sex appeal and physical appearance (unjustifiably, of course). With the comment Mr. Finneman made in his instructions, he subtly agreed with this degrading notion. I absolutely respect all women regardless of the way they dress, but we fail to recognize the possible coexistence between beauty and intelligence. I’m sure that women in the modeling industry may have had successful academic careers. But we reduce these women to nothing more than just a beautiful body, not a human with real thoughts, aspirations, and values.

Another pressing issue relating to this subject is the fact that we don’t pay much attention to mental health.  As someone who has struggled with social anxiety as a freshman and still battles other forms of this issue, I find that it is crucial that we promote mental health. These photos have ultimately reduced the idea of “health” to nothing more than females in sports bras. But do these pictures truly promote all dimensions of health? Do they foster diversity, a value that my school prides itself on? Have they yielded a positive impact on the school community? They have not made a discernible difference in promoting the general welfare of the Hayfield student population. We must pay close attention to the result that they produced. Countless staff members feel unsettled. Students have been put in an uncomfortable situation in which they wonder, “Should I say something?” Members of our community have had to repress their ideas to avoid being the subject of backlash. In no way are these consequences healthy for our school, as we value inclusivity and freedom of expression.

Allow me to ask, why weren’t males included? Is a beautiful female body all health really is to us? And that leads me to wonder, if I’m not wearing a sports bra, would I be viewed as being just as healthy as any of the females who are? We need to make a conscious effort to promote diversity and inclusivity.

In this case, the effect of gender on our point-of-view is evident. In the photos, all of the girls are considered “thin” and are undeniably petite. Girls around the world grow up with the idea that they have to live up to the narrow perception of “beauty” and “health” that our media promotes. If you look up “model” on any search engine, it will be difficult for you to find any females who weigh more than 120lbs. What does that imply? Our culture supports the long-standing notion that beauty is an exclusive idea. I would not want my child to think that she has to have fair skin, blonde hair, blue eyes, etc. to simply feel beautiful. It’s clear that girls are negatively impacted by our media’s strict ideal of what “healthy” looks like. The number of females who suffer from eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, is far greater than the number of males who struggle with these issues. The photos would have truly made a positive impact in our community if we promoted the idea that we can be beautiful and healthy without stripping layers of clothing, without meeting up to ideals that may seem out-of-reach to young females.

I am distraught by various factors of this issue, but I hope to encourage you to do a few things. Look beyond the surface level. Mull over the incongruities I discussed earlier.

As a cross-country athlete, I understand that females have the right to dress liberally, and I completely respect those who choose to run in sports bras. But we must understand that there are different rules within a classroom environment. I acknowledge that the girls whose photos were taken gave Mr. Finneman permission to do so. But consent cannot be given when there is a power imbalance.

Although the H2N article provided two substantive points-of-view on this issue, we should certainly read between the lines. We need to not only evaluate the information that was disclosed in Mr. Finneman’s letter but also pay attention to what is said. Telling a male student to, “stop being such a girl,” and then complaining about sexism invalidates the complaint itself.

If we truly aim to promote health, we should take some action that will produce a discernible difference. We should reach out to our peers and ask them how they’re doing, support members of our community during difficult times, and promote an inclusive atmosphere. I genuinely wish that you feel safe and comfortable at Hayfield Secondary. Whether our beliefs align or not, I respect your point-of-view and thank you so much for reading.


Note: If you are interested in learning more about the modeling assignment that I discussed, please click the link below. Please pay attention not only to the comment that is made in paragraph three but also the condescending language. Thank you.

LinkModeling Assignment

More: Read “Why Did I Speak out Against the Wellness Week Photos?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like A Girl

With every mile that I run, tell me that I run, “like a girl.”

With every breathless pat on the back, tell me that I performed, “like a girl.”

With every stride, every grunt, every grimace, tell me that I work out, “like a girl.”

Because if we’re going to associate the word “girl,” with “powerful,” “relentless,” “courageous,” and more, tell me that I have the athleticism of a girl.

For the last painstaking tricep-pushup,

For the fresh beads of sweat that race down my face as I climb countless steps on the StairMaster machine,

For the pounding of a heart that refuses to give in even as my muscles scream, lungs beg for more oxygen, and veins pump healthy blood to every organ of my body,

Tell me.

Tell me that the countless obstacles I endure to achieve a better version of myself,

Paints the word “girl” all over me.

A powerful girl.

A confident girl.

A relentless girl.

I am just like a girl.

A Writer’s Skill

Countless students that attend American public schools often question the worth of completing graded timed-essays in English classes. But writers have an invaluable skill that can be applied to the real-world that enables us to understand various points-of-view, regardless of the extent to which they contradict our own. A recent conversation with a classmate and friend of mine brought me to realize the value of appreciating diverse perspectives.

As a Muslim woman who practices the hijab, I strive to not only represent my religion well but also help others understand it. For instance, I provided a religious and personal perspective on the hijab to my friend, Matthew. After I finished, he said, “If someone said something (negative) about your hijab, I would get offended.” Despite that he neither practices my faith nor identifies with a minority race, Matthew was able to understand the complexity of a perspective that does not align with his own. Because he and I honor diverse perspectives, we foster peace and coexistence with people of other races, gender identities, religions, and more. We are individuals who do not condemn others for being “different,” but rather, honor unique points-of-view.

As there have been frequent incidents of religious discrimination and police brutality, it is crucial to defend those who may be subject to these injustices. Writing has encouraged us to defend other members of our community regardless of whether they share the same beliefs as we do. I do not partake of the LBGTQ community, but I am still proud to defend and honor anyone who is. I do not identify as African-American, yet reading about instances of police brutality strikes negative emotions within me. I do not have to be the victim of discrimination or injustice to empathize with those who are.

Matthew’s kind words are reminiscent of another instance during which my classmate, Elliott, supported me for speaking out against religious discrimination. I shared an argumentative essay that condemns the banning of Muslims at the rallies of GOP frontrunner, Donald Trump. Upon doing so, Elliott told me, “If anyone ever gives you problems, I will stand behind you!” I am so proud to be a part of an inclusive community in which people of various faiths and races stand beside me. After frequent reflection of both of the instances that my peers expressed their support for me, I noticed a similarity between Matthew and Elliott. Both of these kind individuals are writers.

The ability to honor diverse perspectives regardless of whether they align with our own is a skill that writing fosters. To all the students who groan before the start of every timed-essay, the art of writing is helping you a build a skill that could stick with you for a lifetime. A skill that promotes unity, social justice, and coexistence.

Coexist

 

Transformation

For years, I struggled to express and define myself without fear of being judged or criticized. Little did I know during my underclass high school years that my “friends” were girls who masked their insecurities beneath heavy layers of make-up. Yet, I aspired to be just like them and quickly fell victim to the “halo effect.” I didn’t know how to define or conduct myself because I lived within the confines of my own fears. As I had recently begun wearing a hijab, I was afraid of being ridiculed for who I was or how I dressed. Making a transition from dressing liberally to wearing clothes that expressed my religious devotion required me to redefine my persona. So between all the confusing times that I’d wonder why I found social interactions stressful, I eventually found healthy ways to express myself and build a positive self-image. Many of the subconscious decisions that catalyzed my self-growth are choices that I consciously make on a regular basis. I strive to surround myself with a diverse group of confident and intelligent students. I also run and work out several times a week to promote my well-being, solve personal obstacles, and celebrate my health. Reflecting on who I am today—a self-assured and independent woman, a prospective college student, passionate writer, avid athlete, and more—I am so thankful to have overcome the obstacles that shaped me into who I am.

I constantly reflect on how I felt during my Adobe Dreamweaver Certification exam that I took yesterday. The girl who sat behind that computer desk is someone I never would have imagined myself to become. Dressed in a beautiful golden-tan hijab and rich ruby-red peplum top, this student overcame doubt so many times that being confident became a habit.

I am thankful for all the praise I continue to receive, as my friends and family kindly tell me that I am beautiful, intelligent, and mature. But I find that these compliments only acknowledge the qualities I possess now, not how hard I worked to attain them. The latter subject demonstrates a form of strength that is often overlooked. I am perceived as someone who stands at the top of a hill, not someone who exerted the strength of her heart, mind, and body to reach its peak.

I neither blame nor criticize those who express uplifting words about who I am. I just want people to understand that this transformation didn’t happen overnight. I fought self-esteem issues and other personal obstacles to reach this point in my life. I mention these adversities not because I want you to feel sympathetic toward me. Rather, I mention the idea of overcoming obstacles because it is a form of strength that we don’t acknowledge. As with other beautiful, intelligent, and successful young women, I don’t want people to wonder, How does she make it look so easy to be confident, strong, independent, etc.?

My friends, teachers, and other members of my community would find it shocking if I were to disclose some of the adversities that I have undergone. This astonishment is the result of the surface-level perception people form of who I am; standing at the top of the hill, not fighting to get there. The obstacles we overcome throughout our lifetimes play such a crucial role in shaping us into who we are and building the type of character that people admire.

A thank-you to everyone who encourages me to become a better “me.” But please understand that any successful person you admire did not gain success with the simple flicker of a light. When you compliment someone, you should not only praise her for who she is but also the journey she travelled to become a better version of herself.

ADDENDUM

During one of my classes, a friend asked if I wanted to play computer games. I immediately accepted his offer and sat at the desk next to him. As I became mentally immersed in a game called Agar.io, I let the sound of my laughs carry throughout the walls of the quiet classroom. The students around me knew I was playing games on my computer because I had finished all of my classwork. But what they didn’t know is what those gentle, light-hearted laughs symbolize. Freedom from years of struggling to express myself. Freedom from irrational fears deeply rooted in social anxiety. And freedom from uncomfortable uncertainties. Not knowing how or when I would find a way to define myself; find friends who celebrated and accepted me for who I was, not someone who strived to achieve something unattainable. So let me share these laughs, this joy, with the boy who invited me to play computer games with him… because he let me be reminded of how alive it felt to be wrapped in so many certainties. Knowing that I have the strength to shatter countless personal barriers, express a limitless happiness as we enjoyed a simple activity.