Consequences of fitting in

Ritisha Sharma, Intersections Editor

“It is exhausting trying to fit in all the time.” (Gabe Darley)

I have always been told to stay out of the sunlight. I was given turmeric face masks and fairness creams as a kid to be “lighter” and “pretty again,” perpetuating the idea that a darker skin tone would make me plummet down the social ladder where I would be treated differently. This colorism was ingrained into me at a very young age.

When I arrived in America at the age of 12, I found a new color spectrum of people. The realization that my place in this spectrum fell closer to the darker side was terrifying. No matter what I did, I would never be as pale as the other girls in middle school, so I tried to fill the gap in other ways.

I started noticing patterns in how people acted around me. When I wore more ethnic clothing and jewelry my interactions with others were very awkward and superficial. It was clear that they were uncomfortable after a few surface-level compliments. Most of the time I felt like an animal at the zoo with everyone staring at me but too afraid to engage with me.

The days when I dressed in more Western clothing were the days that I would have actual conversations with people. The more I blended in with Western society the more accepted I felt. This blending in made me feel more like a person than an exhibit on display.

The more westernized I became, the more friends I made. So I continued the cycle. As I shifted from Bollywood music and Hindi movies to Hollywood music and English movies, I began to have more things to talk about with my new American friends. 

Due to this pattern, I began antagonizing my culture and my country. Every time my family put on Indian music in the car I would roll my eyes, throw on my headphones and blast One Direction instead. This behavior was not limited to just music, I applied it to almost all aspects of my Indian identity. I had been nurtured by American society to believe that anything Indian was lesser than, backward and primal.

I spent five years of my life avoiding Indian culture and society because I thought I was better, more modern and more civilized than them.

It took one night in college when I stumbled across a TikTok of an old Bollywood song I used to love to question my ideology. It began with nostalgia that grew into confusion. How could I despise something that was the source of so much love and so many good memories?

I was honestly horrified. Somehow something as innocent as wanting to be liked lead to me hating, and therefore changing, everything about myself. I felt hurt, manipulated and betrayed by the people I knew here. 

What made it worse was that no one knew that they were causing this to happen. These were just subtle hints by teenagers who did not understand what their actions were leading to.

This unconscious problem when left untouched can lead to much bigger problems. It is how languages and cultures are lost and forgotten in order to fit into the “superior” Western world.

This trap of Western society that promises “prosperity” in exchange for individuality is almost impossible to avoid. Individuality is difficult to control and society demands control to operate smoothly. 

The loss of individuality leads to the loss of identity that I experienced. Since hopping off the bandwagon, I have been learning who I could be without the pressure of societal expectations. It is exhausting trying to fit in all the time.

I am now building on my Indian foundation instead of ignoring it. India is not a perfect country, but it was my first home, and I owe it to my home to acknowledge its importance in my life. It is okay to love the good, bad and ugly of where you come from. It is the good memories that bring you comfort and the bad memories that help you grow as a person.

India is a beautiful place with rich culture, history, art and scars. Now, she will always play a big role in who I am and who I strive to be.