The first nine years of my life were spent on a tropical island off the east coast of Malaysia. It was beautiful, a diverse landscape and a cultural melting pot. When my parents decided to relocate to NZ for a better life, and to be closer to Mum’s family, I had no idea what I was in for. All I knew about NZ was that it looked very green and had lots of cows, as per the picture on our regular milk tin!
We settled on the Kapiti Coast and I started at the local school. My sister and I struggled to fit in and that period of my life as a young migrant was difficult. I looked different. I talked different with an accent. I was different. I’m as mixed race as it comes – South Indian, English, Scottish and Maori. I was known as that ‘skinny foreign kid’, one of only a handful of brown kids at the school. The constant racial abuse made me feel like I didn’t belong. I remember vividly going home one day and asking Mum what the word ‘n*****’ meant.
I felt confused and rejected. And I’ll never forget the saddened look on Mum's face. That one is tough looking back. To me, the concept of racism was foreign. I came from a sheltered international school where my expat friends from around the world held hands and sang songs about inclusiveness and diversity. “We are children of St Christopher’s, all the children of the world.” But here, I was made to feel ashamed of my Indian heritage.
Malaysia is rich in culture. Indians, Malays and Chinese make up the island and their traditions and cultural ties are strong. It cuts me now to think about, but for years I shunned away from it all. Rejected a part of myself. All I wanted was to feel accepted. So I learned to adapt.
I was good at sports, I played the drums and was in a band. I started connecting with my peers. My family embraced the NZ lifestyle and culture. I felt a huge sense of pride when Dad was elected as Mayor - he’s currently serving his second term. This was the same region he struggled to find a job in as a brown journalist in the mid 90s when he migrated over. So to think that all these years later they elected him as Mayor is pretty awesome.
Diversity is something we need to celebrate and embrace much more as a society. We need to challenge the social norms and narratives around body image that have been created by mainstream media to profit from our insecurities.
Body confidence is all about mindset, something that begins internally. I had to do a lot of work to shift the narrative I had created for myself and how I viewed my place in the world. I now have a healthy, positive connection with my body and mind. I’m comfortable in my own skin, I embrace my uniqueness and I don’t give a f*** what anyone else thinks. To me, that’s the ultimate flex.