“We need to make sure she gets married earlier on before her beauty fades.” My grandpa spoke in our language to my parents on a car ride home from Atlantic City. It seemed fitting that I was sitting in the back of the car for it seemed as though I was in the backseat of the conversation they were having as well, even though it was about me.

This is one of the many instances where I felt that my life was being groomed to correspond to the values of other people. Everything from the way I would dress and behave was (and to be quite honest, still is) scrutinized. I was always told to consider the opinions of others and mold my lifestyle according to that. If that was not enough pressure, it seemed the smallest of actions and decisions I took would somehow influence the kind of woman I would grow up to be.

Never have I ever felt as though a cup of chai or the way in which I would wash dishes would determine my future family life so much. Why is it marriage and raising a family is the endgame for girls in so many South Asian communities? If you are “too chubby” and can’t cook, you will apparently never find a man and if you wish to further in your education and think of your career, you are supposedly too selfish and stubborn for your own good. And let’s say you have checked all the boxes in said categories, the rest of your life is then supposed to be dedicated to your partner and your children! Not to say being a caring mother and wife is a bad thing, but seldom is this woman to regard her own hopes and dreams.

All of this being said, here are a PSA/few words of encouragement for any onlooking judgmental aunties or women that are hesitant about making any major life decisions: you are allowed to prioritize your own well-being, in fact, it is your right! Deciding to pursue a career in a field that may not be “ideal” or “practical” in the eyes of the people around you is your prerogative! If it is something that truly makes your heart soar, why the hell not take that decision to take that promotion or stay single or eat another cookie or (insert whatever you are contemplating here).

If anything, would you not be setting an example for your future children to in turn follow their dreams and live their life to the fullest? And if these actions would aid in helping you become the best and happiest version of yourself, then wouldn’t that attract the right people and potential partner in your life to gravitate towards you?

But oh Lord, what are we to tell all the aunties that are criticizing us Anisha, you may ask. Well, if you feel so bold, you look them right in the eye and say, “Aunty, I am so sorry that you have felt so judged and pressured to maintain the life you lead to please others that you feel the need to judge me until I follow that sad life as well. I hope you find something in the coming days to do that brings you joy other than gossiping about others.” That’ll show them, beta.

I understand that for some of you, it may not be so simple to separate who you have been told to be and who you truly are and that you may have a lot at stake. Maybe, you feel like it is too late for you or that what you wish to attain is too far out of reach. But ask yourself, what are you losing if you don’t take a chance on yourself?

You owe it to yourself to feed your soul and uncover more about who you are underneath all that you were reinforced to be. If not for the self-discovery aspect, then simply for the sake of your mental health! You deserve to be happy and to look back on your life when you are aged to be beautifully old and grey to not feel full of “what ifs” and regrets. You are worthy and enough and I encourage you to take a leap (or just a baby step if you are feeling really anxious) of faith. I believe in you and I hope you begin to start believing in yourself.