You may have noticed if you are a woman, a person of color, or a woman of color, we are constantly being gaslighted by the media. For example, not all people of color only date other people of color – also, no one keeps their bra on during sex. And even though there are so many ways to be beautiful, many of us grow up with the narrative that only small white women deserve love and empowerment. In her piece entitled “Holy Shit, That’s Me” Aarushi Agni talks about trying to find herself in the American cultural world, and learning to trust her own experiences instead of the messaging.
As a desperate bid to help us fit in, my parents visited my second grade class in full kurta pajama and sari to come and “teach” about our culture
I went to a small school, 20 mostly white kids per grade
my parents brought Indian sweets, bharfi, made out of milk and sugar— just milk and sugar, my father assured us—and the kids thought he was saying barf, and wrinkled their noses as they tried a bite of my favorite childhood food.
they liked it though, so the joke’s on them.
their prejudice might’ve made them miss something truly delicious.
growing up i learned what it meant to feel lonely.
no matter how bright, kind, or funny i was, i could expect to be rejected
i was weird, or annoying.
in time i learned words to describe myself that didn’t feel as hurtful as the words heard from my peers
anne of green gables was ‘imaginative’— I could be that
bridget jones was quirky— i could be that
harriet the spy was eccentric — that could be me.
imaginative, quirky, eccentric — they were all pretty fun words for outcast.
i read books about young girls who were also weird.
i felt safe in those imaginary worlds, with those weird white girls.
they were outcasts because they were orphans, or because they were abandoned
but i wasn’t abandoned, i was just brown.
when i went to india and saw the other-worldly mess it was, i felt so at home in it.
the sprawling crowds of staring brown and black faces reflected my own…
the strong smells of garlic and cumin mingling with the smell of poverty and shit,
the skinny, starving kids with bright smiles and chipper cadences, yelling “Auntie! Didi! Auntie! Didi!” as they tried to sell us newspapers and crappy souvenirs
there was no pretense here.
you didn’t act like you didn’t want what you wanted
you could be brown and beautiful and flawed all at the same time.
it took me years to understand that my weirdness, my eccentricity and my rejection
by peers wasn’t unique to me. they were part of something i would come to understand as “The Immigrant Experience.” i grew up having learned how to stick out. i got bigger, and so did my personality. i published a newspaper when i was in 5th grade that got in trouble for being too real.
when i got to middle school, of course i was thirsty.
i wanted a ron to my hermione,
a gilbert to my anne of green gables,
a helga to my arnold,
but boys didn’t like me
the first person who made me feel good about my body was a girl named Jackie i met in high school
she was Nicaraguan-American
and we had the same brown skin and the same hazel eyes
but she had sex with boys and i hadn’t yet even heard of a boner before
jackie told me
“you’re not fat, you’re thick”
and she told her guy friends to look into my eyes
not used to being seen
and they said my eyes were beautiful
and that was the first time my body wasn’t a mistake of nature
the physical manifestation of flaws
i had to make up for
don’t get me wrong,
looks aren’t everything.
even as a woman, looks aren’t everything.
they won’t save you from the pain of being used
and no matter what you have going for you
there will always be people who try to reduce you
people will use you for your physical bodies even if you don’t feel beautiful a day in your life
people don’t always love you for who you are— mind, body and soul
people almost never will
but it just kind of fucked me up
because when i thought about a human, that human was white
and I was a great writer, but i couldn’t write stories
because i felt like i had to write stories about white girls
but i didn’t even know what white folks ate for dinner
pasta? Pizza? Burritos?
It all just felt so inauthentic
but i didn’t want to write about brown girls either,
because everyone would always assume i was writing about myself
and why would it be so wrong for me to be writing about myself?
and it just kind of fucked me up because
for the longest time i couldn’t trust myself
i just wouldn’t even believe people when they said they liked my body?
like i have big tits and i’ve always gotten a lot of attention for it,
good and bad, from men and women.
chicks’ll be like OMG I used to WISH I had HUGE boobs BUT now I understand how hard it must be to have them, and how uncomfortable they must be to have around and like HURT your BACK!
and i’m like MY BACK IS FINE, bitch, thanks for your concern.
guys love them and use them as a reason to gawk at me
or have full conversations with my chest
so i started to do research about idk like why people like breasts
is it because it reminds them of their mothers?
what’s the deal with that?
and of course, i stumbled onto one of the darkest human corners of the internet,
the reddit forums.
the place where anonymity, puns and memes coalesce to feed even the most shadow-y of trolls
think on me, young, impressionable, probably 20, reading these long reddit forums about what kind of female bodies are acceptable or the best, or whatever, never mind that these guys are probably in the process of knocking their mountain dew cups over with their own titties
and i read so much shit that made me feel so insecure
like “i hate it when girls lie on their back their boobs just disappear”
and i was like HOLY SHIT THAT’S ME
over the years, i’ve learned that i don’t have to fit into all the stories i’ve been told
i’ve learned to think of myself as a heroine in my own novel
my experiences are not anyone else’s
but they do matter
“i hate it when girls lie on their back, their boobs just disappear.”
i told my friends about this when we would compare chests.
i was just getting over a high over finding out that it was cool that mine could stand up on their own, but to my horror, they didn’t do that when i was lying down
i thought about all the people i’d slept with already and the way my boobs just kind of sink into my chest when i’m lying down, and how these people still keep picking them up and playing with them, even when they go from dollops of whipped cream to slightly less aerated dollops of whip cream
in my experience EVERYBODY JUST LOVES THEM
so get off my tits bonerman745
and I thought about it,
cuz boobs have this mythical power and i couldn’t figure out why,
but it feels good to touch them, and feels good to have them be touched,
my boobs were like socially acceptable fat that people felt like they could mention like they were part of the furniture
and if that’s true, then okay, maybe my boobs are just fat in a different place, and maybe to some eyes they could look really weird and funny, but then i was like, wait it’s empirically true that someone LOVES this FAT,
so why is it so hard for me to believe that they could also love this fat, and that other fat too?
and if that’s true, then… could it be that… all this ‘beauty’ that i see on shampoo commercials and in magazines and porn is just a social construct?
and that when people tell me they LOVE my tits or my butt or even my bubbly lil tum they actually *LOVE* it?
and then i’m like, but EW AARUSHI my body is so UGH like an old man in the shower! maybe they like it b-b-because they actually LOVE *me,* and think my brain and shit is sexy, and want to fuck my thoughts and feelings?!!?
and that’s when i’m like OH SHIT UR RIGHT PEOPLE HAVE ALWAYS LOVED OTHER PEOPLE BEYOND STUPID GENDER CHARACTERISTICS like boobs and butts and muscular shoulders. PEOPLE EVEN DATE PEOPLE WHO LITERALLY LIVE IN JAIL, whose bodies they DON’T EVEN INTERACT WITH.”
anyway that’s why the patiarchy is evil
and being fat-phobic is dumb
and love cannot be contained by a physical vessel
Aarushi Agni (@aarushifire) is a writer, stand-up comic and musician, hailing from Madison, WI, where she worked in nonprofit journalism. She grew up steeped in conversations about medicine and public policy. As a comic, she’s opened for dope people like Aparna Nancherla, Jackie Kashian and Maggie Faris. For the last four years, she has produced and performed within Yoni Ki Baat, a yearly monologue showcase celebrating the intersectional stories of women of color. She’s been the lead singer/songwriter of many musical groups, including the award-winning Tin Can Diamonds, The Rose Lights, and her new project, Little Curl. She founded the intersectional feminist zine, Brown Girl Lifted, in 2015.