By: Revanche

A lesson in self-confidence and composure

October 30, 2012

Hat tip to Savvy Working Gal for sharing this link and story of people, Redditors in this case, behaving in poor form, posting an image of Balpreet Kaur, a Sikh woman, with an ambiguous message on Reddit without her knowledge and letting the forums speculate wildly, ranging from comments of disgust at her to railing at each other.

She responded calmly and gracefully:

“Hey, guys. This is Balpreet Kaur, the girl from the picture. I actually didn’t know about this until one of my friends told on facebook. If the OP wanted a picture, they could have just asked and I could have smiled 🙂

However, I’m not embarrassed or even humiliated by the attention [negative and positive] that this picture is getting because, it’s who I am. Yes, I’m a baptized Sikh woman with facial hair. Yes, I realize that my gender is often confused and I look different than most women. However, baptized Sikhs believe in the sacredness of this body – it is a gift that has been given to us by the Divine Being [which is genderless, actually] and, must keep it intact as a submission to the divine will. Just as a child doesn’t reject the gift of his/her parents, Sikhs do not reject the body that has been given to us. By crying ‘mine, mine’ and changing this body-tool, we are essentially living in ego and creating separateness between ourselves and the divinity within us.

By transcending societal views of beauty, I believe that I can focus more on my actions. My attitude and thoughts and actions have more value in them than my body because I recognize that this body is just going to become ash in the end, so why fuss about it? When I die, no one is going to remember what I looked like, heck, my kids will forget my voice, and slowly, all physical memory will fade away. However, my impact and legacy will remain: and, by not focusing on the physical beauty, I have time to cultivate those inner virtues and hopefully, focus my life on creating change and progress for this world in any way I can. So, to me, my face isn’t important but the smile and the happiness that lie behind the face are. 🙂
 So, if anyone sees me at OSU, please come up and say hello. I appreciate all of the comments here, both positive and less positive because I’ve gotten a better understanding of myself and others from this. Also, the yoga pants are quite comfortable and the Better Together t-shirt is actually from Interfaith Youth Core, an organization that focuses on storytelling and engagement between different faiths. 🙂

I hope this explains everything a bit more, and I apologize for causing such confusion and uttering anything that hurt anyone.”

While totally secular, early on, my dad communicated much the same message to me, possibly rather clumsily now that I think back on it, in his own way that nothing on the outside mattered so much as intelligence, common sense, and inner strength did.

Even while commenting on the successes of other people’s children and their spectacular or renowned looks, he’d always dismiss the superficial stuff: “But it doesn’t matter if you don’t look like her. As long as you make good decisions and you’re always learning, it doesn’t matter what you look like. You’ll always be set.”

Even if it felt like he compared me to others, (and I came off poorly in comparison!) I wasn’t any kind of a vain child to be hurt by it. The first hint was my asking him to comb my hair like his every morning; the second, my rough and tumble refusal to voluntarily wear dresses or anything without pockets.  And because of that early emphasis on brains over looks, while I had a few minor gripes about my physical self, or bugs for correction when I got older (after all, I did have to buy clothes and get dressed every stinkin’ day) they were of the shrug and sigh variety.

Intelligence, strength, confidence in one’s abilities to be competent, giving, caring, and worthy were what were truly significant, not how solely ornamental you could make yourself. Even though I later figured out he did think my mom was a looker, it was always crystal clear it was her strength of mind and will, and hell, physical strength, that he admired. Oh, the stories we used to tell about my mama!

I always wondered if this was something I would know how to pass on to the next generation. Though, perhaps, with a little less slovenliness as my decided preference for pajamas and comfy tees became my mom’s despair. I don’t think that was part of the plan.

Things like ear piercings, make-up and nail polish were her domain and she introduced me to them when she felt it was appropriate. My attention lasted about as long as necessary to register and save it for later, much like rudimentary knitting, crocheting, sewing and cooking lessons.  I couldn’t be distracted long enough from reading or playing outside to do much with those, though, and my skills sadly never progressed past a beginner’s.

It’s nice to look nice, I learned and later rather regretted not paying enough attention to master anything that would have adorned my professional life.  What I lack was and still is slowly made up, piecemeal, by learning from a friend and the internet but that’s a slow and winding road made that much windier by indifference and spurts of interest.

That, I shall continue to reframe as transcendentalism, or balance in this teeter totter life, while I thank both my parents for gently teaching me confidence without ego, substance above superficiality. While I’m not sure I would have summoned the same calm and grace that Balpreet had in her response, I think the world could use more of the same strength of character, inside and out.

10 Responses to “A lesson in self-confidence and composure”

  1. Kris says:

    I loved her story too! And I also have to force myself to do anything to look nice. I do enough to not scare small children, and to demonstrate that I take a little pride in myself (and so people in the workplace can also have confidence in me), but truly it is the bare minimum. Balpreet is pretty amazing.

    • Revanche says:

      Small children are surprisingly hard to scare if you move slowly. I know because I’ve dropped my standards amazingly low. 😉

  2. Shelley says:

    What a lovely story about an amazing woman. It is certainly an interesting and inspiring perspective that she has. Like you, I got slightly different messages from each of my parents, though both valued ethical behaviour, good character, etc. My mom always wanted me to look ‘pretty’ but be financially self-sufficient. One of my Dad’s wry sayings along the lines of character was ‘It’s important to be useful as well as decorative.’

    • Revanche says:

      I think more women could use such a strong perspective on image and character, and I think it’s rare to hear the messages that you heard.

  3. I love Balpreet Kaur’s story. She has such an amazing character. I can’t imagine how much more I would have accomplished if I wouldn’t have spent so much of my teens and early twenties working on my appearance. I think you are right balance is key. Thanks for sharing Balpreet’s story.

    • Revanche says:

      To be fair, most of teenagerhood is spent with both sexes being odd about one thing or another but still, it sure would have been great to have more women have that kind of confidence.

  4. What a story!

    I often wish that someone – anyone! – would have flat out told me when I was a kid that looks do not matter as much as intelligence, hard work, faith, whatever else is on the inside. I must have had SOMEONE giving me that message, however subtly, because I believed it a little. But I have no memory of anyone actually saying it. I DO remember family members (female) telling me “hopefully someday you’ll have curves like a woman”, and “don’t act so smart in class, boys won’t want to date you”. Those not-so-subtle messages definitely shaped the way I felt and though for many years. Fortunately, logic prevailed and I now spend a minimal amount of time making sure I look presentable and worry more about important things!

    • Revanche says:

      Oy, isn’t that often the case? I so *wish* that “don’t ACT so smart because: BOYS” message weren’t propagated so often, everywhere. Though it implies that you are smart, it doesn’t explicitly say that you are and it definitely tells you that intelligence isn’t valued.

      I remember that my dad didn’t necessarily tell me to always show those boys up but he sure did always laugh and laugh whenever I beat any boys at anything and I took that as an indication that I should just keep right on with the competition.

  5. […] insulting, it’s frustrating considering the kind of opposition we already have to fight. Like Alison said, we have people whispering defeatist messages in our ears at a young age, telling young women to […]

  6. Ronit says:

    I remember that picture! I shed a tear reading back on this and on her beautiful statement.. I wish we all had her strength instead of constantly changing ourselves to fit the standards of ‘beauty’.

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