Growing up is never easy. We deal with awkward haircuts to awkward feelings and everything in between. We feel obligated to know exactly who we are, what we’re capable of, and our purpose in this life. But in actuality, we have no idea who we are, we discover strengths and weaknesses through continual trial and error, and we fail to uncover what our purpose in this life is.
Imagine dealing with these daily struggles, but on top of that, having a prolonged and uncontrollable identity crisis (SPOILER ALERT: we all have, just in different ways). As a full-blooded all-American girl of Arab descent, that was (and sometimes still is) my struggle. Being a first generation Arab, I was born into one culture, while raised in a polar opposite culture, which proved to be the most challenging experience I’ve ever faced in my almost – I say almost because I’m nineteen – two decades on this Earth. I was too “Arab” to fully fit in with my American friends, but also I was also too “American” to really fit in with other Arabs and Muslims. As a kid and a teen I hardly found a happy medium in my close-knit community.
On top of all that, I grew up in a post-9/11 era, which further marginalized my heritage and religion overnight. Not only was I conflicted with my identity, but also the Western world’s dialogue put Americans at war with the Middle East, which consequentially put me at war with myself. Like many Muslim and Arab-Americans, I was called a “terrorist” numerous times, ostracized for sharing a “similar” background with extremists, and perceived to be a threat to the Free World. I had no clue what to do; I mean I was still a kid. But after a lot of thinking I firmly believed I came up with an ingenious, foolproof plan. I call it the “one culture only” rule.
I figured the only way to fit into modern society was by fully embracing one identity and discarding the other. Initially, I disregarded my Arab identity. I refused to speak Arabic with my family because I lived in America, I always hated how I couldn’t wear shorts or regular bathing suits, and I never, ever thought I would marry someone of Arab descent because I thought Arabs were just not cute. Let’s be real, I was too busy fawning over Zac Efron, the Sprouse twins, and the Jonas Brothers (seriously though, who wasn’t?). Yet, as soon as I detached myself from my heritage, my mom immediately caught on and criticized me for it. As a result, I stuck with my “one culture only” rule and tried to go full on Arab in order to please my family and reconnect with my roots. That within itself was a complete disaster because I felt forced into the situation. It wasn’t organic and it definitely did not make me happy. My “one culture only” rule proved to be a complete flop, so I begrudgingly concluded that I was doomed.
Just as I made that realization, I also started high school. There I was sitting front row on the fast-paced, disaster-prone rollercoaster of hormones combined with cultural confusion and conflict. I had to argue with my parents about school dance attendance, I had a curfew dependent on my dad’s mood, and dating was completely out of the question. Truth be told, I lived vicariously through my friends’ lives since I knew the life I had to live clashed with the atypical American teenager’s high school experience. I felt trapped by my inability to successfully blend the two cultures, leading me transform into a self-loathing, angry, and miserable prisoner.
I broke free and escaped that prison my freshman year of college. Then and there, I was given the chance to finally be Yasmin, make mistakes, and come to terms with who I was. I started out by opening up about my struggles, and discovered that people of all different backgrounds relate in one way or another. By finally realizing I wasn’t alone, I embraced my once detested identity, which eventually blossomed into an appreciation for everything I’d gone through.
Now, I’m not saying the only way to learn to love yourself occurs once you get the opportunity to experience more independence. In fact, that’s not at all what I’m arguing. You begin to love yourself once you accept your circumstance. Up until this past year, I rejected who I was because I felt it necessary, and instead schemed different plans to reach my path of ultimate happiness when all along the only thing I had to do was accept myself.
I promise you that if I hadn’t had my lowest lows, then I wouldn’t hold onto my highest highs, and if you’re anything like me then I guarantee you feel the same way. You don’t have to be an Arab-American to understand what I went through. Our circumstances and backgrounds may be different, but we all at one point felt uncomfortable in the skin that we’re in and that’s normal. However, it’s not okay to hate yourself, hate who you are, and hide who you are.
The key to embracing yourself is solely dependent on your approach and it took me nineteen years of failed attempts to finally come to terms with that. Of course I’ve got my days where I point out my imperfections, whether they be internal or external, but so does everyone else. What truly matters are the actions taken afterwards. You are the pilot of your own life, which means you control if, how, and when you arrive to the destination of self-acceptance.