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An Identity Crisis With My Name

By: Ritobrita Mishra

I don’t remember when I first started to hate my name. When I started to hate the syllables, the sounds, and the look of it on paper. I don’t remember when my name became my enemy and when I permitted it to become so. When I allowed the first inherent part of my identity to slowly become something that I despised about myself. 

I remember vividly the day, at the tender age of four, when I first asked my mother what my name meant. This was after grasping the concept that a name is how one addresses another person. How it’s our first way of glimpsing one’s identity and individuality. I remember hearing her excitement in telling me my name and the meaning behind it. Ritobrita, a name that means encompassing the truth and being honest with one’s self. A name that holds different meanings at the roots and was given to me with love and adoration. A name that when I first heard was associated with my identity and individuality, stirred a combination of emotions inside me- content, delight, and excitement. 

I felt the beauty of my name for a short while before it became something else entirely to me. I felt my name was something that I could proudly showcase as it made me feel stronger and more connected to my heritage and culture. I felt there was a power to my name as it made me feel unique and otherworldly, both feelings that I would soon try to eradicate in the near future. Rather than embracing the core part of my identity in the coming years, I would soon find myself wanting to distance myself as much as possible from the name my mom so loved. The emotions of contentment and elation that were synonymous with hearing my name as well as the strength I found in displaying my name would soon vanish. Slowly becoming a part of me that I vehemently despised. 

When school became a part of my daily life, conforming became a lifeline that I clung to. My name was otherworldly and alien. Hearing my fellow peers and teachers try to pronounce the correct phonetic sounds created a barrier for me to be wholly accepted and belong. Thus introducing myself became a nightmare that I had to relive every single time as it was a reminder that I was different and separate. My relationship with the sounds and meaning of what my name meant became lost to me. I abhorred the uniqueness of the sounds and letters and I dismissed how the name was tied to my heritage. The times I was asked for a shorter version of my name or when my friends and teachers would instantly decide to call me a shorter version of my name, essentially manipulating it to suit their needs without my permission, became a daily occurrence. Yet I permitted their arrogance and laziness when it came to my name because I viewed it as acceptance. A chance for me to fit into a mold that I had no business ever conforming to. 

Names are powerful as it is the first introduction to one’s sense of self and identity. My yearning to assimilate drove me to allow people to dismiss my name. Allowing people to shorten my name or mispronounce it was a form of oppression I was allowing to inflict on myself that I never considered. Allowing myself to feel that my name itself was an inconvenience to the person I was introducing myself to was detrimental to my own sense of identity.  I felt that my name in and of itself was an inconvenience to those who knew me or wanted to know me. Yet the realization that I am not to blame for one’s inability to pronounce all the phonetic sounds associated with my name took me years to understand. The identity crisis that I fell into stemmed from not belonging as I let the fact that my name was “hard to pronounce” cloud my perspective and become the fundamental factor in why I should be ashamed of the name my mom gave me. 

In reclaiming my name, my identity took a lot of time but through a revelation of the amount of self depreciation I inflicted on myself, I’ve realized that the stress and anxiety was my own doing and that my name is what makes me who I am. Introducing myself is still a hassle but I don’t allow myself to feel embarrassed and to shy away from making it clear that one needs to pronounce my name fully and cannot shorten it for the sake of convenience. My identity starts with my name and it has taken me years to reclaim it, but embracing it openly has made me feel again the emotions that I first felt in hearing my name- content, delight, and excitement, as well as confidence in my identity that I was never allowed to feel growing up. 

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The Societal Pressure to Look Young and Negate Age

By: Ritobrita Mishra

For so long there has been a societal pressure on women to aspire to have a more youthful appearance, claiming beauty to be one-dimensional and superficial. This message is enforced by so many platforms such as magazines and skin care lines with anti-aging products, both profiting off of having women trying to retain a younger, youthful appearance. It’s become a taboo for women to even hint at the fact that they are aging, and if it shows then it needs to be covered up as society will otherwise deem you unattractive. This has inspired a fear of getting older and thus has created a harmful mindset in women that looking youthful gives us worth and meaning and aging essentially diminishes our significance. 

When seeing how often women are congratulated on retaining a youthful look, one starts to question where this mindset came from and why is it that for women, looking young is more celebrated than age itself? Why are these pressures only enforced upon women? And why do men get a pass to look and celebrate their age when the same right is not given to women? Who essentially perpetuates this narrative of looking youthful being the ultimate end goal? 

One huge influence that is responsible for this narrative are fashion magazines. The way Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, and so many others all display and enforce a certain youthful appearance with the celebrities, especially the older ones that grace their covers. With the use of photoshop and filters there has been this harmful repetitive narrative being constantly recycled that looking young equates to being beautiful. This awareness starts to seep in for girls at a very young age and follows them throughout the rest of their lives with the media constantly displaying this kind of imagery. The message this sends is that despite all they have achieved and the journeys they have all taken, they still have to maintain this appearance of looking young as that is something that ultimately determines their external significance and their age needs to be hidden from society.   

Social Media is another huge preparator that prioritizes the youthful look through filters, and as mentioned before, photoshop that has helped establish this mindset to the youth that looking young should be the ultimate goal. Girls from their highschool years feel pressured to use certain anti-aging products (when they clearly don’t need it) to aspire to look more youthful then they already are as they are following what has been communicated to them which is that they will achieve true beauty by looking young forever. This harmful mindset is taken further with plastic surgery such as botox, and certain beauty rituals, that help girls conform to this feminine beauty ideal which has become so heavily ingrained in our society. 

Men, though have their own pressures enforced upon them by society, do not need to care as much about their appearances as women do, as they are more recognized for their success than anything else and thus them looking their age does not hinder them in the long run. Whereas women from a very young age need to maintain an appearance that is almost impossible to manage. We have been programmed to believe that looking our own age is ugly and unacceptable to society. Thus we continue to reach the goal of looking ever youthful despite the harmful mindset and consequences that might come with it.

Age should be celebrated and not something that we should be fearful of. Women should be able to embrace the years they have spent on Earth and not have it be something they hide due to external pressures. Our bodies are constantly changing and accepting the years that our bodies have gone through should not be frowned upon but welcomed. Looking healthy does not need to be exclusive from embracing age yet for the most part it is. There isn’t anything wrong with taking care of yourself but the mindset and goal of trying to look healthy and trying to look young often blurs together and looking healthy becomes lost in the fray and the common factor in all of this is the fear of growing older. 

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Being Badass Does Not Equate to Strength and Complexity

By: Ritobrita Mishra

Whether it’s through the medium of television, films, or books, female characters are somehow always represented as being either the badass bitch or the naive innocent beauty. Sometimes both are combined to form a hybrid of the two. Often these characteristics define the character and woman itself making it their whole identity. Their actions and decisions are in tune with their identity being either of the two which becomes the entirety of their character. The badass persona in particular is something that has become a popular trope in recent media adding to a narrative that there is only one form of strength that women should aspire to. This becomes problematic as it never gives women any real development in their character but instead simplifies  them into a version where they become stagnant characters without any real complexity or growth. 

The trope of the badass female character usually embodies the energy of what society has deemed being masculine. This character usually takes charge of the situation, never shows their true emotions, and always asserts the fact that they are dangerous.  

They take on the more masculine role while maintaining their feminine appeal through their beauty and physique, while never showing how they truly feel. This combination of beauty and danger  is there to attract the male character and the male audience, therefore diminishing the female character and trope altogether as they wholey exist because of the man. Another problem with this trope is that it associates strength with physical strength. These characters are always able to handle themselves in fight scenes and while that is amazing to watch, the concept of what strength is becomes simplified and there is no added complexity to the character itself. Thus making them less relatable to watch. 

The main problem of this trope is that it isn’t until the badass woman meets the man in which they start to discover their femininity. They become a lot more emotional  afterwards and start to grow more as character through their feminine side. Though that is not always the case with all the women that are written into this trope, the man however always seems to play a part that later adds to their journey and growth as a character. This therefore misleads the viewer into thinking that physicality is what defines the woman to be a strong and meeting a man will solve everything, therefore misdirecting what is strength is to the viewer itself. 

Another downside of this  trope is that it stunts the development and growth within the female character and makes them an accessory of the man altogether.  Examples of characters that embody this trope throughout the narratives and stories they are in are Letty Ortiz (Fast and Furious), Captain Marvel (Captain Marvel), Wasp (Ant Man) and Lara Croft (Tomb Raider). All of these characters can be better developed and given more complexity without a man feeding it to them or having their physical strength and beauty be what defines them. They all fall under the trope of badass women who have had to reject or succumb to their femininity. The Wasp and Lara Croft both choose to embody the hypersexual portrayal of women and as a result they don’t strive for any further complexity.   They become stagnant characters as they realize the only way they can attain the most power in society is through their hypersexuality. Captain Marvel and Letty Ortiz strongly reject the notion of femininity and fight against the norms placed upon them but in the end only become static characters with no significant changes to their personality. Just because they are hypermasculine does not mean they are any more complex than the first two as there is no noteworthy character development that is separated from their masculine personality. 

All of these characters lack a certain amount of  depth and therefore become uninteresting to watch.  They only display one emotion until the man provokes them to act out and reach their feminine side which again speaks to how their character progression depends entirely on the man. Their sense of individuality is overtaken by this trope and essentially limits these characters to be more of a black and white without any shades of grey. This trope altogether implies that badass women like the examples given previously are rebellious who reject the norms that are placed upon them, but in reality these characters are just one-dimensional who have no real sense of agency as their purpose lies solely for the man.