Mamak Stalls vs Hipster Cafes: Understanding Gentrification in Malaysia

Like most of my peers in the Klang Valley (& surrounding areas), I have very much welcomed the influx of ‘high-end’, aesthetic-looking cafes popping out all around the neighbourhood. They make for really great Instagram photos and fun outings with family or friends, going from one cafe to another to sample over-priced coffee and quirky, fusion food.

Up until this point, I mostly saw this as a benefit – frankly, because I am economically more privileged and never thought to think otherwise – without realising the tradeoff we were making for these hipster cafes, housing developments and new shopping malls that seem to be taking over cities like wildfire.

The first thing to understand here is gentrification as a means of urban development. Gentrification is a process where people of a higher socioeconomic status move into or invest in an area/neighbourhood that previously wasn’t doing well in order to urbanise it. This includes things like rebuilding houses, selling property/land to investors, opening up malls, cafes, groceries stores: anything that caters to the consumption needs of the middle class.

Governments and other authorities often cite that this is a positive way to develop cities, to become more of a competing force in the market, limit crime rates and revitalised the city. The way this is done is to maximise economic activity. However, this means that people from lower socioeconomic households get locked out of these areas.

A clear example of this would be the recent news of the closure of two very popular food courts: Asia Cafe in SS15 and Ming Tien in Taman Megah.  According to reports, both those areas will undergo redevelopment, most likely to become office sites (or something similar) that cater to the corporate world and middle class consumer needs.

Hawker stalls in open food courts are an iconic Malaysian landmark – you get people from all walks of life sitting on round tables and plastic chairs ready to consume some of the best damn food you can find. It’s where you go if you want a good refreshing RM2.50, teh o ais limau, instead of spending RM12 on Ice Lemon Tea that comes with a thin lemon slice floating on top. It’s where you go after a long day of everything and all you want is a plate of good, cheap food.

These new developments get rid of hawker stalls (& their owners), get rid of the cheap food and most importantly get rid of any patrons who can’t afford to spend RM12 on Ice Lemon Tea. This is a similar theme with gentrification. It redevelops or revitalises areas, but that comes with an increase in prices of property, of services, of goods – pushing away people who can’t access these things due to their socioeconomic status.

On a larger scale, gentrification often displaces people out of their homes and force those that can’t afford to cope with rising property prices to the fringes of cities. In this article, the authors look at estates in Johor where local residents were forced to move out due to land developments. However, after completion most local residents couldn’t enjoy the benefits of said development due to unaffordable housing prices.

The conclusion here is that with the way gentrification is being implemented, it really is a system that disadvantages those that are already quite vulnerable. It creates a system and a narrative that if you are not rich enough you have no place in a redeveloped, ‘civilised’ city. Gentrification is tied to the capitalist system, so it often does a massive disservice to those of lower socioeconomic status.

Malaysia is still a developing nation, so while I understand the need to take steps to be more developed, there is an opportunity to go about it in a more just way. For one I had no idea there were even plans for the redevelopment of those food courts until it was finalised. Apparently there were some residents protesting it’s development (for around 2+ years), but didn’t get enough signatures to actually stop it.

I’m only just starting to understand gentrification and all it’s nuances, so I can’t say I know of any solutions or steps forward. Most of the literature I’ve read are also more western centric. I think it is important to recognise what’s happening when it comes to the development of our country and the impacts it has on citizens.

I also understand I’m equally as complicit in allowing gentrification to flourish.

However, I’d rather not stand by and watch economy rice stores, road side nasi lemak & cendol stalls and 24 hour mamak stalls change into something they’re not. They not only provide reasonably priced food, but they are also viable income sources for members of our community that might not be hired to work in cafes. It is important to allow for development that includes benefits for all sectors of society, especially when we’ve seen a reverse of this in other gentrified parts of the world.

I’m not saying we should stop going to hipster cafes and the like: but Malaysia has pretty strong ties to our heritage and means of living, even a CEO of a company wouldn’t say no to mamak mi goreng (or at least I’m pretty sure they won’t because how could you resist) so maybe there’s way for development that allows both those things to exist. To allow working class citizens to still be part of urbanised/civilised/revitalised parts of the city.

P.S. Gentrification is quite a complex issue and I’ve only just scratched the surface with this; if anyone knows of sources/people I could turn to so I can properly understand it’s implications in Malaysia/SEA let me know 🙂

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The Politics & the Personal in Workplaces

Did you know around 70% of employers screen your social media accounts in the hiring process?

Ok, I don’t know how accurate that figure is (because it’s based on one study), but I do know it is definitely becoming the norm for employers to look at your social media accounts when you apply for jobs.

As someone doing a degree in communications and media I have no escape from hiding any public social platforms I have from potential employers. If that is the fate I’ve been resigned too then what should I be posting on my Twitter account and blog? Are there topics I should stay way from? Issues I shouldn’t discuss? Will voicing certain political opinions actually get me fired/not hired?

On my twitter and even my blog, I don’t filter the dominant parts of my personality. If you go through the first few of my tweets, you’ll know my stand on many different politic issues, it’ll be very clear the kind of values I stand by, you’ll know that I have very strong advocacy for movements supporting and uplifting women of colour. These are some of the more political tweets you’ll find on my timeline.

Aside from politics, you also get glimpses of my personal life. My interactions with my close friends, my feelings towards some of the friendships I have and even some tweets about my family.

 

If employers are going to be looking at all these things: is there a line I should draw?

Let’s start with the politics. I’ve always been wary and careful about what I post – especially with issues surrounding race. Because I know I will be applying for jobs in Australia – where my employers will be predominantly white – and I’m unsure how they’ll feel about hiring someone with strong convictions on white privilege.

Just recently L’Oreal fired Munroe Bergdof over remarks she made of the Charlottesville protests, the company claiming she was “at odds with our values” in a tweet. Here is where I ask myself: am I willing to tone down my advocacy? should I be a little less intense when I post tweets regarding politics? (All these things I also think about knowing I have peers/lecturers from uni following me online too).

No matter how many conversations I have with myself on this issue, I always come down to the same conclusion – I’m not sure if I should or shouldn’t but I don’t want too. At this point, I’m happy to say I’ll cop whatever jobs I miss out on; if a company is actually using those tweets as a reason to not hire me, probably means I dodged a bullet (this is what I’d like to believe anyways).

When it comes to the personal, I post whatever I don’t mind anyone knowing about me. It could be my struggles with anxiety, funny conversations with family and things I’ve done with friends. I recognise some of these tweets might point towards consuming alcohol, maybe even on sex/dating, but they’re never explicit/crude (most of the time they’re quite funny). I think those are just part of the human experience, it wouldn’t stop me from doing my job to the best of my capabilities.

The thing about my twitter account is that it isn’t just those things. It isn’t just the politics and the personal. It’s also my values, what I can bring to the table, my lens of the human experience. It is part of who I am and who I will be as an employee.

If an employer can look at these tweets and based on an algorithm decide there’s something there that makes me not worth hiring, that means you wouldn’t have liked me in your company anyways. I know companies like to say all they’re looking for is a ‘professional’ online presence but that is a very loaded, very subjective word.

I will end this post with the title of Kris’s blogpost on public identities (which I definitely recommend reading) because it made me laugh and quite aptly summarises what I think: I’m ‘authentic’. Fire me.

The Value of Narrative Practices

Something I often ponder: What is so valuable about seeing your story told, either in your own words or through the words of others? As someone who adores writing, I find words comforting – a way of organising the messy, cluttering thoughts in my head (hence, the name of this blog).

This weekend, I read an article by Carmen Ostrander on narrative practices in therapy. This article explores different ways words and narratives can be used in therapy and how they might influence people’s thoughts and approach to things. Ostrander claims that this can “provide engaging departure points for alternative accounts of lived experience with outcomes that are unique to the individual,” (2017 p. 56). As human beings, we are quite accustomed to the idea of telling or listening to stories. Writing in the Atlantic on the psychological comforts of storytelling, Delistraty suggests: “Humans are inclined to see narratives where there are none because it can afford meaning to our lives, a form of existential problem-solving,” (2014). This is similar to the concept Ostrander tries to use in her therapeutic practices – alternative approaches to therapy by engaging a client’s creativity. She does so by looking at few different ways of narrative practice: documentation, invitation, collaborative note-taking, rescued word poems, letter writing, waitlist letters, bibliotherapy, medicinal words and the written word.

The practices that caught my interest in particular are: the written word, collaborative note-taking and rescued word poems. These three practices link well to my proposed question of the value of seeing your narrative told in the words of your own or the words of others.

Ostrander highlights the importance of the written word. Listening and speaking can sometimes include a tangle of words and thoughts. Writing allows you to neatly tie together certain ideas and the most prominent or important thoughts/phrases/words your mind has latched onto; “writing provides an alternative means of expression, and a different way to hear what is being said,” (Ostrander, 2017 p. 62). This reminded me of a lovely piece written by Claire of excerpts from her journal. There is something quite entirely wonderful about seeing the narratives you have constructed of yourself at a particular moment in time. Ostrander goes on to explain how these constructions are valuable in understanding yourself, your problems and becomes a point of connection in your communities. While I think all of this is true, there is definitely much more to be said about the kind of reflection the written word offers us as individuals. Looking back at your words from the past is almost a form of time travel. It gives you a sharp contrast of who you were then and who you are now.

However, what happens when others take part in writing your narrative?

Ostrander looks at collaborative note taking, as a way “to adopt a decentred approach that fosters a sense of joint ownership over the documents and files,” (2017 p. 57). She actively chooses to show her clients the notes she has taken over their session and allows to them to change the words she’s written. This is a brilliant insight into the importance of being careful with the words of others. I’ve talked about this in a previous blogpost, where I question how we can respect the narratives of others, especially when individuals can be quite concerned with self-presentation. Ostrander has a lovely approach to this with her collaborative note-taking. She explains it by saying a joint examination allows for someone to have “ownership of what is said about them,” (2017 p. 57). This indicates that even when we let others take charge of our narrative, it is important that we have the most control over it. The way we should undertake writing the narratives of others is to remember that we are simply a vessel for their voices – let them do the guiding.

Rescue-word poems allow for some creativity while listening to the narrative of others. Ostrander uses it to “capture points of resonance, evocative images, words that zing and sparkle,” (2017 p. 58). She writes out words, phrases, sentences that her client has said and shows it to them at the end of session. The experience she talks about here reminded me of Kris Christou’s article, ‘Words are powerful entities which convey the values of an individual‘: he created a lumen5 video using words his mother said to him. She was surprised that those words actually came from her. However, having your own words repeated back to you in such a way can be quite confronting. A classmate of mine has said that it was rather weird to see your own words reflected that way. Ostrander acknowledges this as well, saying this method has not always been positively received. However, I do think there is merit to this practice. It allows you to understand how others might perceive your words; how they might engage with the narrative you are trying to present. Sometimes, it can provide a new perspective of your values.

This article was insightful and strengthened my love for narrative writing. I will end this on a quote from Ostrander’s article that encapsulates the value of narratives.

“[Stories] flourish when they are written, spoken, shared and witnessed, extending beyond ourselves, connecting to others, in chorus, in community,” (2017 p.63).

References

Delistraty, C. 2014 ‘The psychological comforts of storytelling’ The Atlantic, 2 November, viewed 21 August 2017 <https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/11/the-psychological-comforts-of-storytelling/381964/&gt;

Ostrander, C. 2017, ‘The chasing of tales: Poetic licence with the written word in narrative practice’ International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work vol. 16 no. 2 pp. 55-64

Feature Image: Power of Words (2011) is by Antonio Litter shared under CC BY-SA 3.0

The Presentation That Never Ends (& How We Grade It)

“Picture a situation where you had to make a decision and what lead you to make it; then think of a value you were representing when you made that decision,” was what Kate told us (well not those exact words, I paraphrased from memory) to do in our first Advanced Seminar of Media and Communications class. After that, the class left in pairs to relay our own stories to each other. When we got back, there was a little spreadsheet online, where there was a box next to our name ready to be filled in with the value we thought we represented in our story.

What intrigued me as those little boxes started filling up with different values – why those values? Each individual person knew what this activity was aiming to do. We knew what to look out for in our story. We knew what questions were going to be asked. With that in mind, why then did we chose that specific story?

Obviously, I can’t speak for everyone when I answer this. However, I think there’s something to be said about the way we choose to represent ourselves in different settings. Wether consciously or unconsciously, a lot of our decisions is done based on wanting to present ourselves a certain way: especially when it comes to our own narratives.

During this activity, the story I chose portrayed me as someone reliable or dependable. Upon reflection, the reason that happened is because to me that’s one of the things I like about myself. It’s one of those things I believe is an accurate characterisation of me. More importantly, it’s how I want people to think of me.

Everything we do in the public sphere comes with the undertones of self presentation. What we wear, what we tweet, the way we interact in conversations, the kind of food we eat. Self-presentation also shifts based on many different factors and can change many times. Maybe it’s just me, but I constantly feel the need to prove myself as a person, especially when some aspect of myself has changed. This could be things like choosing to speak up on a particular discussion in class, wearing a new hat to show change of style or retweeting several articles on twitter when I’ve had a shift in political views.

In this era we are given countless platforms to curate the way we present ourselves in society. The one thing we can’t do however, is have complete control over all narratives of ourself. I was very surprised at how my classmates were unwilling to write a blogpost on the stories of other peers because it could lead to misrepresentation. It was a lovely insight into how thoughtful and considerate people can be.

I don’t think completely avoiding narratives by others is possible though. Just in this blogpost, you get my narrative of what Kate said in class and of the attitude of my classmates. This is my lens of how they presented themselves.

As someone who is studying media & journalism, I want to be able to tell the stories of others. However, I’m hoping to be able to create narratives that respect their self presentation.

The question then is how comfortable are we letting others write out narratives for our carefully curated self-presentation? And how do we make others comfortable that their narratives are safe in our hands? Because I can already think of a number of situations where I know my personal biases might factor into how I present narratives.

I’m not sure I have all the answers for that yet, perhaps in another post once I’ve sat through a few more of Kate’s classes.

The thing I’m leaving with you with at the end of this blogpost: what was I trying to present about myself with this blogpost & why? Could you curate a narrative about me that you feel is fair? (I don’t actually want to know the answers, just a thing to ponder).

 

Guiding the Knots of Sisterhood

In a world that favours men, Josie McElvogue finds solace at weekly meetings in a cabin near the woods. This is Josie’s story on the relevance of the Girl Guides – with all its cookies, camps and crafts – as an institution that brings out the best in every girl.

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Josie, at nine years old and ready to canoe her way to the finish line

On a cold, rainy night in 2005, eight-year-old Josie McElvogue made her way with her parents to a small demountable building in Helensburgh. Dressed in a pale-blue, Girl Guides polo shirt, she took her place among a bunch of excited, giggly girls – each of them clutching a sprig of flowers wrapped in a bright ribbon. One by one, the girls stepped up to their Guide Leader to receive a sash, Promise badge and World Guiding badge. Josie carefully recited: “I promise that I will do my best to do my duty to God, to serve my queen and my country and live by the Guide Law.” She had no idea that she had committed to what would become the most fulfilling part of her adolescent life.

Girl Guides Australia was founded in 1910 with a mission to enable girls and young women to grow into confident, self-respecting members of the community. The Guides are well-known for being an inclusive space for girls of all ages, identities and abilities. This institution has over 10 million members worldwide and over 300 000 members in Australia. Programs range from local camping trips to global programs such as the Stop the Violence campaign. Girls as young as five can join the Guides.

“It’s like a cult honestly – but we’re one of the good ones,” Josie says.

Josie’s parents moved from the UK to Helensburgh right after Josie was born. At school, she was always a quiet kid, sitting in the corner with a book. “I was always the smart kid, the nerd person – I felt isolated in school,” she says. She picks at her fingers and adds, “I’m usually only drawn to people who are like me and there were just so few people I felt like I could connect to in school.”

Her parents decided it would be beneficial to take up an activity outside of school. Her options: karate classes or Little Athletics. Scrunching up her nose Josie says: “Little Athletics was an immediate no. That’s where all the ‘cool kids’ went.” She tried karate for a few weeks but did not take to it. A casual mention by a family friend led her to the Girl Guides one Friday afternoon and she never looked back.

Taking a sip of her soy chai latte, Josie exclaims: “People always think Guides are just selling cookies, doing crafts and baking – we’re so much more than that!”

Now nineteen, Josie avidly recalls her best memories in Girl Guides were always ones that were physically challenging and pushed her to try new things. Her favourite was abseiling. “The first time, I was at the top looking down, thinking ‘oh my gosh am I really going to do this??’ I was terrified.”

The young Josie took a deep breath and clutched the rope tightly. She put one foot down, then the other. Soon she was cruising down the rock, a huge grin on her face. “After that I went for another three turns. I was a ten-year-old who just abseiled down a rock, it was mind-blowing.”

The biggest takeaway was being a girl is not a limitation. Josie’s face lights up: “The whole reason this movement started is because the Scouts were created; this was in an era where it was frowned upon for girls to be doing things that were too outdoorsy and getting themselves dirty, but the girls still pushed back saying, ‘no we want to do those same things even if we like crafts and cooking.’”

This push led to an environment, fostered by the Girl Guides, where girls did crafts and cooking but also had the opportunity to go on hikes and camping trips. “As a young girl hearing this, it was like yes, girl power – I can do anything!”

Turns out Josie’s ‘anything’ forms a diverse skill set: from canoeing, pitching tents and cooking over campfires to baking cookies, directing skits and tying knots. “Fun fact: I can now tie seven knots in just fifty seconds,” Josie claims, smug grin on her face.

The icing on the cookie: Josie went through this journey with her mum, Hazel McElvogue, right beside her.  A year after Josie joined the Guides, Hazel decided to become one of the Guide leaders. The previous leaders had retired and if no one stepped up the Helensburgh Guide Unit would’ve been dismantled.

“I thought this commitment was out of my comfort zone, but I had already seen some of the benefits for Josie and I couldn’t let that be the end of the road,” Hazel says. “I stuck around until my two girls, Josie and Lucy, were too old to be part of Girl Guides.”

Following in Hazel’s footsteps, Josie is now a Guide Leader for the Brownies of Helensburgh. Originally, she never planned to be in Guides this long. “I only stuck around because I was trying to earn the Duke of Edinburgh award in Year 11 and this was a good way to check off the volunteering criteria.”

A few months in, Josie realised being a leader was the highlight of her week. Coincidently the Helensburgh Guide Unit was again low on Guide Leaders so her request to join permanently was welcomed with open arms.

It was much easier for Josie to take on this role with Hazel as a role model. “My mum was so helpful: I knew I could go to her for support and advice on developing my own skills as a leader.”

Josie dove straight into her role, running day-walks and encouraging the younger girls to participate in Guide outings. Josie dedicated as much time as she could to Guide activities. “It can be hard for young girls to step out on their own, to find a place in the world and develop self-confidence especially around younger boys; it’s much easier for the girls to navigate through an environment just for them.”

Girl Guides does a lot to show girls their value through implicit messaging. “It’s not like we specifically say, ‘ok this week is about feminism’, rather we have a range of activities that show these girls we are an all-female movement and we can do anything.” The activities encourage teamwork, looking out for one another and being confident in your abilities.

This movement also stimulates inclusivity. Through mini presentations, the Guides are exposed to different cultures around the world. Girls from any background or ability are treated the same. One of the Brownies in Helensburgh is hearing impaired but that doesn’t stop her from participating and engaging with the others.

“Even when she takes out her hearing aids before going canoeing, the other girls will be conscious of that and make sure they speak to her directly,” Josie explains. “It’s wonderful being able to foster a culture of girls understanding each other despite having differences.”

Even the Guide Promise was changed to be more inclusive. The words “do my duty to God” were omitted and replaced with “be true to myself and develop my own beliefs.” Hand over her heart, Josie says: “I’m agnostic, so I’ve embodied all aspects of the promise except for the bit where it mentions relevance to god; this change was so important not only for me but for any other girl that identifies with a different belief.”

When asked about the Brownies she’s leading this year, Josie claps her hands together and chuckles. “I took them to an event yesterday, a year ago they had no clue what canoeing was, but at the event they were winning races and working together as a team, it was amazing; they were running towards me with huge grins, wanting hugs and a high-five,” she says almost falling off her seat.

“I feel so honoured that I was able to be there and make a tangible difference to their lives.”

A pause.

Releasing a long sigh Josie continues: “In the past, we’ve always had a waiting list of girls wanting to join Brownies or move up to Guides, but now there just isn’t,” she croaks. “I currently only have three Brownies.”

There have been efforts for better PR, especially through the local Helensburgh paper but they were without results. Girls just don’t seem as interested anymore. “There is a real concern the Brownie Unit will go out of action, that would be devastating because I know how good it would be for the girls to have this.”

Josie stares at her phone for a moment, then offers a tiny smile and says, “The current Brownie members will still be here for another year. That’s plenty of time to pull new recruits.”

Despite the uncertain future, Josie plans to stick with the Girl Guides of Helensburgh. “I’m going to be at the University of Wollongong for a while, four years left before I finish my double degree, then maybe I’ll get a masters in teaching. I don’t have to think about leaving the Helensburgh Guide District yet.”

At this point, Josie has reached for her phone and is swiping through photos of her adventures with the Guides. “I know it sounds cliché but I do always want to be part of the guiding movement regardless of where that is.”

The Darkness Behind Fair Skin Commercials

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to add anything to this conversation; a quick google search will tell you that many, many others have offered long, thought-out articles or research papers on the prevalence of light skin being a reinforced beauty standard in the media. But then I figured, no harm in adding an extra voice to this issue – my voice.

Recently, in Malaysia there was an ad that used blackface and depicted dark skin as something disgusting. To be honest, I was repulsed but also not surprised that corporations wanting to sell skin products would use this method. It’s one I’ve seen pushed at me time and time again since I started watching TV.

I can’t tell you how happy and proud I was that so many people were angry and voiced that anger. They shared opinions, tweeted at the company, expressed disapproval of such an ad – it ended in the ad being taken down. What did shock me was the response to the backlash: by the company and by other people.

The company gave your standard PR apology: ‘truly sorry that some elements have offended the  general public’. I was honestly hoping for something better then the company trying to do damage control by putting the main focus on those offended instead of the reason they found it offensive. To be fair, I really should have known better.

Then there were others, who I guess didn’t find the ad offensive. Their justification was ‘oh but it was just following an old legend’ and others saying ‘PC culture has gone out of hand, why are you trying to make this a race issue’. This was the most disturbing part of the reaction to me. That people didn’t understand why this was an issue, why it was a great thing that there was backlash on this video.

So here is – what i hope will be – a simple explanation on the importance of calling out light skin as a defining standard of beauty.

For ages, there was always this consensus that light skin was more beautiful. There is no definitive answers for where and exactly what point that rhetoric became true. Irregardless, companies trying to sell beauty products capitalises on that (like with any other kind of beauty standard). They need you to believe that there is something wrong with you, that your features aren’t good enough and they have the product to make you better. Just look at any beauty ad on TV. It might not be so explicit as the one that caused the controversy, but there is definitely elements of fair skin being the end goal of every woman who wants to look beautiful. Take a look at this Vaseline ad:

I can think of many different reasons body lotion would be good for the skin besides having a fair one. Even if you look at the model, her tan skin really wasn’t that dark at all. Speaking of models, if you look at any of the Youtube pages of cosmetic companies – Nivea, Bioessence, Dove, L’Oréal – you’ll notice the lack of any dark-skin model in videos.

Why is this an issue? Are people just being over sensitive? Trying to be too politically correct? Are they just jealous? (all this I’ve seen people say in comments).

When the media constantly puts out ads the glorifies light skin, the internalised message is that lighter skin is always better. This is reflected in the way people treat others and treat themselves. A dark skin person is seen to immediately loose out in life just for the virtue of their skin colour.

It makes it normal that people gasp when someone has dark skin. It makes it normal for the prettier person to always be the one with lighter skin. It makes it normal for people to see those with dark skin to be of less value. It makes it normal for people to use skin colour as a justification for discrimination. Your normalise the idea that dark skin is a bad thing. Not sunburnt skin, not dry skin, not unhealthy skin, dark skin.

Unfortunately, we still live in a society that places a huge focus on beauty. Not only do you normalise dark skin being a bad thing for others, you also normalise it for those that do have dark skin.

Indian girls (I say this because I am talking about this in a Malaysian context) often try their hardest to have lighter skin. I remember friends in high school complaining about their dark skin, wishing they were fairer. My grandmother, who loves me unconditionally, but will still give me a thousand different skin lightening products thinking it might help. My sisters and I would compare to see who was unfortunate enough to end up with the darkest skin. You create a society where people feel they loose out for something they were born with. You create a society that says all girls should be beautiful, but you only attain that beauty by being fair.

There is still a long way to go in terms of commercials capitalising on insecurities, not just with skin colour but other aspects as well. But I will not apologise for calling these companies out. This isn’t ‘making it a race issue’, it just happens to be one because most dark skin people are Indians and they have been discriminated for it. This isn’t pc culture trying to wreak havoc, this is a real issue that has effected many people and this time they aren’t just going to stand by and watch it slide.

I’ve realised there are a lot of things, a lot of issues we don’t have much control over. But for the ones we do, we are going to do something about it and we will do it unapologetically.

credit for the feature image to sarennya ❤ 

Surviving: University, Anxiety & Trusting in My Capabilities

There was a point this semester, just a few weeks back actually, I was sat in a chair in my lecturer’s office and I couldn’t stop sobbing. The ugly, snot inducing kind of sobbing. The kind of sobbing that made it hard to get words out. I still cringe internally every time I think of this moment.

The reason I was so distraught and trying to fight off an anxiety attack – my grades.

Really, it’s amazing the amount of times I’ve gotten so distressed over grades since starting university. Before that moment – the one I just described in my lecturer’s office – I assumed that the reason I get so caught up in numbers and alphabets that describe the quality of my work was because I had a scholarship to maintain. However, while that might be part of the reason, it definitely was not the main cause.

After this breakdown and a very teary explanation of my stress from having to maintain a distinction average each semester, my lecturer (who is one of the loveliest person I’ve met in my time at Wollongong) told me that they will work on changing the scholarship policy to avoid being heavily dependent on grades and that other factors will also be considered; this policy has now been enacted and for the most part, I think it’s safe to say I won’t be losing my scholarship over the remainder of my course.

With this, things should be fine right? It’s all good, I can be calm and happy and focus on learning new things. Wrong – if anything my brain’s capacity to deal with grades got a whole lot worse.

This really forced me to think about my relationship with grades. I grew up in an education system where most of what matters are your grades: how well you scored in an exam, what was your overall position in class, what was your overall position in the standard. There was this rhetoric that you are only ever ‘smart’ if you were at the top. You had to be getting those straight A’s and top ten positions.

This was reflected in everything around you. After every standardized government exam, your family, friends, family friends who you haven’t seen in years, teachers in the following year at school will all ask how many A’s you got. The way you get into a good school, the way you get scholarships, the way your school celebrates you all depends on the letter ‘A’.

I was pretty lucky because my parents didn’t put too much pressure on me. They never pushed me too hard, they never put me down if I didn’t get those high grades. Obviously, they still wanted me to do well – they got me the help I needed, the extra classes and courses that can increase the chances of me getting that A. And I wanted that extra help. I wanted to get those A’s. I lived in a system that made me think my knowledge and my capacity to learn was only worthwhile if I produced good enough results to show for it.

This anxiety from always having to get good grades followed me into college and now into university.

I’m going to be honest and say that university is so difficult. It really, really is. I’m learning many new things and attempting to do things I haven’t done before. A lot of the time, I’m lost, confused and overwhelmed from all these new things. A lot of the time, I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing.

There can be a lot of different factors on why I didn’t get a distinction on an assignment. I could’ve misunderstood the point of the assignment, I didn’t understand or fully analyse the sources I was using, it was my first attempt writing a news article and I didn’t know how to structure the information. All these things don’t mean that I’ve failed and turned in the worst thing ever, it just means I have more to learn. But nine times out of ten I never see it that way.

All I know is that some people managed to get a distinction in that assignment – and I was not one of them. I hate that I am not exceptional all the time.

There is just the constant loop of you are not good enough playing in my head. Before, it was easy to push the reason towards the scholarship. I had to be good enough to maintain that, I don’t want my parents having to pay more money for my education.

Now though I realise it wasn’t just the scholarship. I constantly seemed to equate my value as a learner and the extent of my capabilities to the grades that I get. This kind of thinking just feeds into the idea of not being good enough. I spend nights worrying that maybe I don’t deserve to be studying here, I don’t deserve the opportunities I am given, I don’t deserve to be learning. All because I’m not getting high grades.

It took a few long nights of not sleeping and some counselling for me to see how very unfair and toxic I was being to myself. Maybe I’ve always realised this, but I just never did anything about till now. I know that if anyone else told me any of the things I was thinking, I would have a million different reasons for why they were wrong.

It’s high time I stop doing that. I get so caught up trying to get high grades, I forget to actually learn. I keep thinking that if I do something, it has to be the best possible version the very first time I attempt it, which just leads to not attempting anything.

The ironic thing is, a lot of the times I am so proud of what I do. I am so delighted that I managed to write that report, that I managed to film and edit that interview, that I manage to learn how to play one of my favourite songs on the guitar. Even if the work is mediocre at best, I get so happy with myself – yas girl! Look at you go, you did a thing!

But that happiness is so short lived. If I don’t get high enough marks or people don’t care about the things I produce, I let that consume me and the weight of it crushes all that happiness I previously had.

I think as much as I want to say, I don’t care what other people think: I do, I care so much. Validation for my work is like a hard drug to me. It gives me a high, makes me delirious, makes my nails clench into my skin when I don’t get it; I don’t know how to stop myself from craving it all the damn time.

But with any addiction, I guess the first step is admitting you have one.

This semester, I learnt that I crave too much validation from other people for my work, my effort, my abilities to the point where it severely effects my mental health.

But really, your value, your worth is not determined by how other people view your work. You are doing good things, you are putting in effort to things you consider worthwhile, you are pushing yourself to be a capable person, you are trying.

That’s such a hard thing to remember, especially when we live in a society that judges us by abilities and outcomes.

Hopefully, I’ll remember it more often. I don’t know how exactly, but baby steps I guess. If you’re reading this, then at least I’ve started.

Next semester, I’m going to learn to take more chances. Create the things I’m proud of and actually post them without having people have to tell me multiple times that they think it’s great and they like it. Be ok with whatever grade I get and look at it as an opportunity to learn and push myself to do better.

Just thinking about it is making me feel anxious because I don’t know how to do this. But I’m definitely going to try.

Because I am so tired of feeling sad all the time, I’m tired of not being happy with myself and my efforts. I’m tired of dealing with anxiety/panic attacks that stem from not achieving the grades I want. I want to make good things and help people whenever I can. And it sucks because I’m blessed and privileged enough with the means to do them – but I stop myself because I’m so scared of failure before even attempting.

I’m 21 and I have so many things I want to achieve. Even if I can’t achieve them, I think it’s time I at least started trying too.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this, I hope maybe this helped you in some way too.

To end here is one of my favourite videos to get me through times when everything smells of failure to me: