Ask The Therapist: “I am not getting married due to my dark skin…it’s affecting my self esteem. How do I accept myself when nobody else does?”

In 2016, the number of people estimated to be suffering from mental health issues like depression and anxiety amounted to roughly 1.1 billion. Since then, numbers have likely continued to rise. Moreover, studies have also shown women especially on average are a) more likely to suffer from mental health issues, and b) less likely to talk about them. The taboo in Pakistan surrounding depression and anxiety disorders only serve to aggravate the individuals suffering even more. For the women who cannot seek out full time therapy, we’ve enlisted the help of a trained therapist. You sent us in your questions – here are the answers!

‘I am in my late twenties. I am not getting married due to my dark skin and I find it really hard to cope with. Everyone says colour doesn’t matter, but it seems like in reality it does. All my friends are married now. I am from a middle-class family and I can’t afford to be independent like others and live my own life. I feel so helpless. No clothes look good on me and it’s seriously affecting my self-esteem. How do I accept myself when nobody else does?’

Shahrukh’s Response

Dear Anon,

I know how heart-breaking it can be to be in a place where you’re struggling to accept yourself, and where others are contributing to this idea that acceptance is a conditional relationship with the self. I hear you when you say that while we say colour doesn’t matter, society is constantly giving you reasons not to believe it. I have seen first-hand how others have created this narrative of the “ideal” skin colour, and that tends to be more on the fairer side of the colour spectrum, which is an absurd concept considering the fact that Pakistan is a nation of colour – it’s who we are! So, it’s odd to think that our society has created a belief that goes against the appearance of the vast majority of our population. The question now becomes, what can one do about this? How can you learn to accept yourself when others can’t seem to do the same? Let’s get into this.

Others Don’t Dictate What You’re Worth.

“The culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves. And you have to be strong enough to say if culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it.” – Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom.

It’s interesting that we yield so much power to the world around us – letting others dictate our sense of worth, what parts of ourselves we should or should not accept – essentially giving them a hundred different reasons to reject ourselves, as well as apply conditions to our worth. 

“You are only worthy IF you’re…”

The good news is that the power you give to others is always yours to take back. I know it can seem scary, considering that throughout our lives, the society we have lived in has taught us to focus on how others view and perceive us. Can you imagine what that does to our relationship with ourselves? Constantly living for others, only to see ourselves as a product of other people’s judgements and opinions – it can be really exhausting, and really unfair. You deserve more, you deserve a healthy, accepting and loving relationship with yourself, your body and all other parts of you. 

The Art Of Self-Acceptance

The pathway of acceptance can be one that’s unfamiliar for a lot of us, so be kind and be gentle with yourself through this journey. Here are some ways to practice and build acceptance towards the self:

  • Making a promise to yourself: they say the first step to any kind of action is to first set the intention, a promise. Promise yourself that you will work on honouring who you are – the positives, the negatives, and everything in between. Learning to embrace the idea of your own humanity, and that as a human being, you are a sum of dark and light, and both are a part of you, both deserve space to exist.
  • Remember that beauty is relative: Anon, the interesting thing about the world is that each society has a different view on the colour of one’s skin – generally people in the west want tan/darker skin, while the east promotes fairer skin. The media pushes their own agenda on what’s considered “beautiful” and that’s ridiculous – you do not have to subscribe to that way of thinking. Your skin IS beautiful. No matter the colour, texture or anything really. 
  • Acknowledging parts of you that you do like: try to bring focus towards the parts of you that you do like. These can also be the non-physical aspects of yourself – empathy, kindness, compassion, hard-working, resilient – whatever comes to your head. Recognise that a person is more than just their skin. 
  • Staying mindful of the company you keep: try to surround yourself with people who are there to accept you, who see your beauty and who are there to build you up and encourage you to embrace yourself, as opposed to those who steer you away from your authenticity. 
  • Replacing criticism with curiosity and compassion: every so often there is a voice in our heads telling us we’re not good enough, telling us that we need to change the way we look, the way we behave, and just who we are in general. I think that voice may have overstayed its welcome, and it might be time to ask it to leave, and perhaps invite over your voices of compassion and curiosity. Rather than berating yourself in the face of difficult times, perhaps ask yourself what’s wrong, and learn to forgive yourself instead.
  • Creating mantras: whether it’s for your skin, your body or the non-physical parts of yourself, sometimes repeating certain mantras to yourself regularly can be another way to cultivate compassion and acceptance towards the self. For example: I am enough; my body is enough just as it is; I am more than my physical appearance – and so on. See what works for you.
  • Counselling: if you feel that your feelings are too overwhelming, and that you need some help, try counselling or even exploring online classes and courses on mindfulness and self-compassion. Sometimes you need an extra hand to help you along your journey, so reach out if you need to.

Anon, I know that it’s difficult to fight against society, yet it is within you to define your own understanding of the concept of beauty, because trust me when I say that it is not fixed. It might take some time, and I hope that whatever happens, you learn to see the beauty within yourself (inside and out). I wish you all the best on your journey of healing and acceptance. Good luck and stay in your power!

The above article is written by Shahrukh Shahbaz Malik who is trained in humanistic integrative counselling at CPDD in the UK and currently has her own private practice in Karachi. The views expressed in this article are those of one expert. They do not necessarily represent the views of Mashion, nor do they represent the complete picture of the topic at hand. This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment or therapy.

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