Balancing your identity when the media fails you

Anonymous (text)

Ajeet Mestry (graphics)

There’s a commonly accepted idea that our differences make us unique, but that idea always failed to comfort me growing up. As an Indian born and raised in the Middle East while attending a British international School; my identity has always been unique. It was a cocktail of confusion in itself because of how different I was to everyone else around me. The way I acted changed to suit what various people expected me to be. So, my identity changed based on how people interpreted me and this made me confused as to who I was and stopped me from embracing my whole identity.

Growing up with brown skin, my Indian ethnicity was never disguised and it certainly fueled people’s assumptions about me. The false imitations of my Indian accent and the presumptuous concept that my parents had unrealistic expectations for me, are only a few of the many stereotypes that tainted my identity and caused me to lose balance within myself. When I was in India, my foreignness also pulled me culturally out of balance as my international upbringing had made my relatives assume that I was of a wealthy class and that I had lost touch with my cultural values, often leading to me being treated differently as compared to my cousins.

In either case, I never truly blamed  them for assuming my identity because their view of me was heavily influenced by the media. Different moments of my life as a non-resident Indian have been captured in TV shows and movies. The way these characters were portrayed and the way they emoted had influenced people in my life to believe my personality was similar to what was seen in the media. For example, Raj from The Big Bang Theory was an Indian living in a new country as a sheltered nerd who was spoiled by the riches and successes of his parents. As a result, I was deemed a nerd who was out to bring pride to her family. Only when people started referencing him as they described my academic ability being an underwhelming and generic trait of Indians, did I really take the time to analyze his character. He was portrayed to be the typical Asian that is known to thrive in the field of sciences yet lacks any ability to socialise normally amongst people and so i was assumed to be socially awkward in public situations which lead to people undermining my ability to take charge and lead. Similarly, Raj was also known to diminish the values of his Indian heritage and mock many of India’s customs. It leads viewers in India to think that someone like me who was raised out of the country was condescending and disrespectful.  I was shaken by the stereotypical nature of his character, which was hidden behind all the humor of the show. Although the show was merely a comedy, it left a mark on its audience and inevitably allowed this stereotype to be accepted as my reality.

Once again, in no way did I see a need to blame anyone. The media’s limited representation of people who have lived a similar life to mine was simply a problem that couldn’t be solved by the works of my own hands. However, I did feel a sense of sadness that my personality was constantly labelled based on the similarities of a fictional character. The hard reality that i began to face was that I was changing who I was for the people around me- I was unbalancing my identity in order to fit the status quo. Simultaneously, I started to pull back from everyone around me because of the exhaustion of being seen so differently by a diverse range of eyes. My identity wasn’t balanced, it was was shifting to please others. Inevitably, one will find it easier to conform to society’s ideas and I noticed myself submitting to this. I started to lose the parts of me that made me unique.I began moving closer to a label where I was left unbalanced. I was becoming someone I didn’t recognize as myself.

The media can’t always accurately represent all of our lives. The moment I accepted this, the closer I came to stabilizing who I was. It is the first and hardest step to acceptance and there is no rule book for how to do it. I wanted to share my identity with people as the predominant reason for my mental disturbance was the influence of others over me and my way of peace came from facing this problem. I employed a strategy that utilizes the power of educating; showing people that you aren’t what the media set you to be not only allows you to come to terms with your uniqueness , but also encourages others to get to know you as who you truly are. When in India, I showed my family that I was in touch with my roots and that my heritage was a part of my identity while concurrently educating them on my more progressive ideas. 

Unfortunately, one will always return to the screen and be disappointed by the representation of themselves. But it’s important to remember that balance comes when you understand that a character on screen will never hold the same complexity that you do. The years of development that you have gone through to shape yourself into the person that you are isn’t something that can be captured in a mere few hours. 

A person’s identity is their choice. You are in control of what part of yourself you show to the world. The people you surround yourself with or the media that you see should not come between you and your opportunity to embrace a healthy balanced life.

Haru Sukegawa

a thing about Lisa