#ScaredNoMore — Here is my story, what’s yours?

All of us have a story. Some consider it worth sharing, others prefer to keep it to themselves. Some of us heal by sharing our lives and experiences with others in need; I guess that’s the category I fall in.

A conversation I had with a young girl at a festival who spoke of how over the years, having killed her freedom to speak about anything within the family, ‘scared’ had become the state she perpetually lived in — it made me want to write a list of things I am not scared to say out loud anymore.

This doesn’t mean my life is now perfect. Or that I’ve reached some sort of stage where no one will ever criticise me. It doesn’t make me the strongest or the boldest — it is just for you to know that we’re all sailing in the same boat. I have gone through a lot of the things you have or are going through, and you too can rise from it.

While I know I speak on behalf of a lot of you, I need you to know that isn’t enough. Standing behind an empowering shield you call ‘feminism’ isn’t going to change your life. Hiding behind my words won’t liberate you. Speaking up might. Letting go of people that are toxic and dominating might. Voicing your opinions and addressing your reality could… Why, and what are you so afraid of, you have to ask yourself? Are you afraid of being judged, critisized, unloved? Because no one — absolutely no one that gives you crap for a journey that wasn’t in your control should belong in your life. It’s them that should be ashamed for judging you.

I come across people weekly who have sarcastic things to say about my work, and it’s not that it doesn’t ever affect me — but it’s rising past their two dimensional view on life that gives me strength. It’s that one message on a Wednesday morning from a girl that says she now looks right at men when she walks down the streets without being afraid — that makes me strong.

I know it isn’t easy, but you cannot beg for the respect you deserve, you must demand it. Learn to speak up, because no matter how many times I scream my truth at the top of my lungs, it will cease to free you.

I am not scared.

I am not scared to tell you that this journey hasn’t been an easy one. But it’s mine to learn from and I am so, so proud of it.

I am not scared to say that all throughout my childhood, I had alopecia. I grew up with patches & reptile skin and decided that the hair on my head wasn’t going to control how I live my life. My ichthyosis wasn’t going to decide if my skin was pretty.

I am not scared to say that I was indeed a lonely child. I preferred writing more than talking to people, and that hasn’t changed.

I am not scared to admit that I wished I was prettier, taller, thinner.

I am not scared to admit that on some bad days, I still do.

I am not scared to finally accept that being physically abused, was not my fault. I was an 8 year old child — and for the world that we live in to make me feel like I shouldn’t talk about it because ‘what will people say’ saddens me. Yes, Society finds that highly confronting and doesn’t understand why I would want to embarrass myself publicly, and yes, the people I love will call me & say ‘but what’sthe need to tell the whole world about this?’… and for every why, I say why not? You shouldn’t have to hide it out of fear of being judged. Nor should it define the rest of who you are.

I am not scared to admit that it took me 25 years to realise that.

Until I was 24, I was oblivious to women’s rights and feminism. I am regretful that it took me so many years to realise what mattered to me the most, but scared, I am not.

All through my teenage years, I had a fairly confortable life with a few damaging factors and women’s rights weren’t even an issue I’d considered existing. Lost in my own self-sympathising bubble — I lived quite comfortably.

Until one day when I moved to India — and my life changed. Forever.

I am not scared to tell you that depression is real. I’ve lived it day in and day out. I have worked on making myself healthier, and yet there are always going to be some bad days. You will occassionally find something that triggers you and your world will come crashing down. It’s okay. It doesn’t make you crazy or unloveable. Remember that there’s a dark scary place in there where your depression meets your desire to give up which eventually feels like the most comfortable place in the world, and that comfort zone — it destroys every little piece of you. Step out of it.

If handled with care, the sensitivity with which you feel can become your strength and not your weakness.

I am not scared to tell you that when I was 19, I considered converting to Islam for a boy I loved — not out of love, nor out of a belief in God, but purely because I wanted to feel loved and was being rejected for who I am. But when his mother told him ‘why don’t you convert her and dump her so there are more muslims in this world’ I realised… that I didn’t want this person in my life. It was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.

I am not scared to tell you that I don’t believe in religion — to me, there are people that do good deeds and bad deeds. And everyone is capable of either. I judge people by their acts and not from the religion in which they come from.

I am not scared to say that though I stay away from religion and politics, I also think that just like marriage, sex, alcohol consumption and driving — religion too should come with an age limit. Half of my world wants to kill the other half because of their belief in their God and if we could teach kids humanity before teaching them to divide, wouldn’t that be something?

I am not scared to tell you that I have been in some really terrible relationships. And though it made me a stronger person, I woudn’t wish that upon any of you. But the irony is — most women reading this are living in such relationships themselves.

I am not scared to admit that I’ve been in a physically abusive relationship where I let him make me feel like it was all my fault. He convinced me that he was the victim, and I, the reason behind his anger. I, the reason behind the bruises. I woke up every day wondering what I could do differently to not make him hate me — to not hurt his male ego — to believe that the pain sprung from a place of Love — and why not? We’ve been taught all our lives that when our parents hit us, they’re doing it because they love & care for our safety — so when a man comes along as my partner and raises his hands, then gives it the name of love — I believed him.

Every one I knew thought he was amazing to me, which he was publicly, because he cared so much about how people saw him, so much that even I believed him with his charm and his poetry. I distanced away from everyone that loved me and lived in my own little bubble where no one had to know who he really was. I called it Love.

Love, where he cheated, and ill-treated me, and came home to tell me my bra strap was showing and his parents wouldn’t accept me for who I am. I wonder if his mother knows how quickly he raises his hands on the women he claims to love? I wonder, if his elaborated poetry still stinks of his weak heart and his lies. And often when I see him with another girl, I wonder if she calls it love too…

When I finally left him, is when I really truly started writing about self love and acceptence. About women. About speaking up for your self.

I am not scared to tell you that my toxic relationship made me realise that if a girl like me, independent, educated, raised in Australia could move to India and one day fall into a bullshit trap where I was led to believe that his insecurities were my fault, then how the hell could any girl raised in this country not do the same thing? Born and brought up in a society where everything you do is seen as YOUR fault, where culture and tradition are excuses to steal away your rights — I met girls every day that had been slapped or bruised by their boyfriends/husbands and they continued to call it ‘love’.

‘He didn’t mean it’ she’d say. ‘he has an anger problem’… ‘I shouldn’t have yelled at him like that’… ‘he only wants what’s best for me’… ‘at least he lets me work’… ‘he loves me too much’.

It killed me. These stories. Women every day, everywhere I went, had been in an abusive relationship and they didn’t seem to see what was wrong with it. The saddest was when I’d meet a girl who was still in one… because she thought she could fix him. ‘It’s nothing! I can handle it. He — needs me.’

It broke my heart.

I had to do something… I needed to remind these beautiful, wonderful, independent, talented women capable of absorbing the ocean that this — wasn’t love. Waking up with a bruise because he was drunk is not love. Being slapped for flirting or drinking with your friends is not love. Being abused for wearing a skirt, is not love.

I am not scared to tell you that thanks to this guy, I found my calling. I found what it is that I cared about the most and I’ve never looked back since.

I am not scared to fight for the right to put my mother’s name on all my legal documents instead of my father’s. She raised me, and I will owe this to her for the rest of my life.

I refuse to accept that our legal documents everywhere ask for the father’s name and leave no space for the woman that gave birth and raised me.

I am not scared to tell you that we live in such a fucked up society that half the boys I liked said their parents wouldn’t approve of me because I have divorced parents, or because I wear shorts — I’m not the first girl that it’s happened to — it’s them that should be a shame to society, not you.

I am not scared to admit that though I love my family to bits and pieces, and they’re my pillars of strength — we still fight about my posts regularly. It’s not always as easy as it looks. I am not always receiving messages being told how proud they all are of me. On some days there are tears and complaints and an entire afternoon spent justifying why I do what I do. Other days, we don’t talk to each other. There’s disappointment and there’s hurt — as there is in any family. My mother isn’t always a proud mother when she see’s me in a bra and sometimes she has to take shit from relatives that have never been of any good except for creating chaos and chatter from the outside. Other days, what I stand for goes against what she believes in and how she was raised — and that’s OK.

I need you to understand that it’s never going to be perfect. If it were that easy, then I wouldnt need to fight for it, would I? I am grateful that in my little family, we don’t ever talk about disowning each other or forcing our views on one another. We don’t end relationships. We argue, and we fight. We often take time off. Sometimes we can be hurtful too… but in the end, regardless of what I do with my life, I know my mother will fight for my right till her last breath — because that… is what Love is. Love is not imposing on each other. Love isn’t always agreeing either, Love is when you can disagree with the people you care about and still fight for their freedom of speech.

And then on a great sunny day, I’ll wake up to a message from my mother saying she’s so proud of the woman I am and everything else feels like it’s been worth it all along. Usually, that day falls in August. :)

I am not scared to tell you that it will be just as hard as this to speak up for yourself, if not harder.

I am not scared to talk about my body, or my sexual desires.

Women have orgasms. Sex isn’t an act where you exist only to please him — it’s a two way street.

I am not scared to tell you that I support the cause Free the Nipple. I dont think a woman’s body and her breasts should be as sexualised as they are. There is a difference between calling her sexy and calling her a slut.

I am not scared to admit that I never want to give birth to a child. Never. I want to adopt — and that is what my maternal instinct is. I have never felt the urge to grow a human inside me and that is entirely my choice. It is my body. If I were to be put in the unfortunate situation to abort it — I should have every damn right to. If you can sit and tell me that i’m killing a life, I’m going to remind you about the children that are already alive and dying every day without a family to belong to and you may give more importance to a fetus with a heart beat that will one day have your nose and his eyes and I respect your choice, but I cannot argue against loving a child that is already alive, with just as much of a beating heart if not more — and you should learn to respect mine equally.

What we do with our bodies should be our decision without being judged and morally policed by society.

I am not scared to tell you that this is going to be a really tough journey. You need to be strong.

I am not scared of the fact that being a girl in my industry, I get told all the time that nobody wants to work with an actress who is so opinionated, I should go be an activist, or I should shut up and smile and take a selfie.

Wear make up more frequently… because while exposing my body is indecency, caking my face with false perfection to be more desired is the new decent.

The things you think are done for publicity and attention, often actually make me lose out on work because it’s only okay for me to show my breasts when my mouth is shut and my legs are open so I can be objectified without causing them a hassle.

After all, nobody wants to wank off to a girl that’s got so much to say.

I am not scared to acknowledge that far too many people have asked me to get a boob job and a nose job to become an actor — because the irony is, we encourage women to change themselves in order to be desirable, and then we slut-shame them and dissect their insecurities for not being comfortable in their own body.

Slow clap

I am not scared to admit that even as I write this, there are still things and memories I am not ready to share with you, because it’s okay to accept that sometimes… you can be scared.

But I am not scared to fight for what I believe in.

And while I hope that my truth helps you accept your own reality, I also know that you, and only you, can set yourself free from your own fears.

Saloni Chopra