On Beauty

Truth Byte #68

“Beauty shines, no matter what.”


When I was a little girl, I would look at those blonde-haired, blue-eyed dolls lined up on the shelf at Toys R’ Us with an ache in my heart. That was back before the days they realized little girls with dark skin and black hair may need a doll that looks like them to feel normal. I looked nothing like those perfect, pink dolls, and I wondered how I too, could feel pretty.


Luckily, those pirated Bollywood films my parents enjoyed on our living-room TV on Saturday nights gave me an alternate version of beauty that I clung to into adulthood. To be beautiful (in my parent’s culture) you mostly just needed those big, beautiful eyes that spoke of love and longing and brimmed to the edge with tears every so often.  Lucky for me, I had inherited those exact eyes from some sexy, demure grandmother in my lineage. Long, thick, black hair and light skin helped too, but the focus in those old-time black-and-white movies was always those eyes, ringed with black eyeliner and full of mystery.


I have spent years wondering if I am beautiful.


Then this weekend, I delivered a TedX talk called “People matter more than things.”  As I looked at myself in the mirror before going on stage, I realized that when someone is walking their talk, when they are sharing their heart with no walls up, when they are being real, the beauty shines through. Sure, a cute haircut and well-fitted clothing may help, but real beauty is simply undeniable. We don’t have to look a certain way, we just need those eyes – those eyes that reflect our souls.


Today I plead with my sisters – let’s celebrate beauty, in all it’s forms.


So much of my childhood pain around beauty came from other girls and women, from a look, or a giggle, or a face turned away. My so-called friends would mock my clothing choices, not realizing that I had little influence on which hand-me-down outfit happened to fit my always-growing body.  My cousins, fairest of them all, would encourage me to stay out of the sun because I had a “problematic complexion”. Women that knew my mom would poke my extended, pre-pubescent belly, pinch my cheeks, and chuckle.


They all fed into the Toys R’ Us standard, and I truly didn’t fit it.  And though no one directly told me I was ugly, each of these moments made me go a little deeper into my shell, dimmed my shining light just a little bit more, until in my mid-twenties I found myself obese, bald, and stuck in the hell that is also known as self-loathing.


My mom was different though. As a child, she always pointed out my eyes, my hair, my heart. She taught me how to dress elegantly, and how to enjoy bright, bold colours. She promised me that one day they would all see what she did, and she stayed the course, even when I was feeling my ugliest.


Finally, that day has come.


Mothers, protect those precious little girls, let them know that their beauty will shine even while their bodies change and grow and feel alien to them. Aunts, cousins, be kind to each other. It’s not a contest. There is enough room here for all of us to shine. If we do, it simply makes a brighter, more beautiful world.


It's your life, and only you can live it.


Ten Years and Counting

Truth Byte #67

"Your love matters."


Yesterday was a busy day. I had five clients, two conference calls, one free consultation, and a job interview. Plus, I made three breakfasts, three lunches, and four dinners, made sure kids were brushed and washed and happy and looked after. I even squeezed in two calls to my sister and a text to my mom. And let’s be honest, I checked social media a few times and read a chapter in my book and watched some tv.


A busy day.


In the middle of it, I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize. I eventually the reached the person, who was looking for a counsellor. After a few minutes, it became clear to me that she was looking for free counselling services, which I am not offering anymore. It was hard to be on that call, because I knew she was not going to get what she wanted from me, and yet she was keeping me on the phone….right in the middle of my very busy day. Read More

Giving Enough and Getting Enough

Truth Byte #66

“Not everyone is as nice as you.”


I was raised to be nice. I did not yell at people, I did not swear, I did not gain any pleasure from other people’s pain.  Jealousy, rudeness, and stinginess were frowned upon in my family, and generosity, care, and selfless giving were our pillars. I took on the eldest sister role and learned very quickly to put my wants aside so the littler ones could be happy. We would hunt out the strays during the holidays and bring them home, because my mom felt no one should be alone at Christmas. We always made extra loot bags at birthday parties, because, as my mom used to say, “You never know who’s going to show up!” Read More

Who You Are, Not What You’ve Done

change, self-reflection

Truth Byte #65

“You are more important than your accomplishments.”

I grew up in an immigrant household where only one parent went to university, and that parent was only around until fifth grade. My under-educated, single-parent, working-class mom knew that the best way to secure our future was to push us to do well in school.

So I did.

I did really well.

Ph.D. well.

And because of that, so much of my early sense of worthiness came from my academic success. Preparing that neatly written report or getting the 100% (plus bonus marks!!) on the math test or knowing the teachers adored me was what gave me a sense of identity, a feeling of value. Read More

The Empath’s Guide


Truth Byte #64

“Avoid energy zappers.”


I am an empath. That means I feel deeply what other people are feeling, sometimes even when they aren’t directly experiencing the feeling. It also means I can see into people’s emotional landscape even when they have spent a lifetime perfecting their masks of “everything’s fine.” I don’t know if being an empath is an official thing, but it’s an idea that has helped me understand and cope with my incredible sensitivity and often-debilitating compassion.


For much of my childhood, this made me seem like a crazy person. When there was tension in the room, I would feel it in my body, and my eyes would well up long before voices were raised. Read More

Sweat and Yoga

Truth Byte #63

“Flexible is the new strong.”


I started up my yoga classes again. It has been a few months since I rolled out my mat, because I was starting to feel like an hour of yoga every week was a bit indulgent. After all, I could be spending that time folding the pile of laundry that chronically sits in my guest bedroom, or vacuuming out the backseat of the car (damn kids and their food crumbs) or catching up on emails (over 4000 in my Inbox that need to be filed or deleted) or de-cluttering my garage. So I skipped yoga for months, thinking I would spend the time doing all these other annoying tasks, which, by the way, I never did. I simply took a longer shower and chatted on the phone with my sister instead.


But I digress. Back to yoga. Read More

Lemonade and Gypsy Trips


Truth Byte #62

“Self-doubt will slow you down.”


When life gives you lemons, what do you do?


I know when I heard that phrase as a child, I panicked.  I had no idea how to make lemonade. The closest I ever got to that sweet and tart beverage was dumping a can of frozen pulp into a plastic jug and stirring.
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Re-Writing My Story

Truth Byte #61

“Change your story, change your life.”


I finally got it. The phrase that captures what I am trying to do here in my little corner of cyber-space. I, Dr. Saira, have one message that has finally become clear to me:


change your story, change your life.


Over a year ago, my husband and I sat down for a serious conversation about what kind of future I saw for myself in my career. After a long, intense conversation (including a white-board-mind-map!), I could actually picture myself at my professional peak point. I saw myself teaching, counselling, and storytelling. I saw myself on a stage making the audience laugh while crying, and at the same time, I saw myself in a private, quiet room with one other person, helping them to get to the other side of their pain.  I saw a balanced life where I could make my own hours, where my paid work felt interesting and engaging, and yet did not intrude on my number one priority: the people I love.
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