Am I enough for you now?

Am I enough for you now?

These are the words that went through my head for most of my teenage years and early 20s. They sometimes still do, and I have to remember that I am not pathetic because of my thought patterns. I have to remind myself that sharing this level of vulnerability will only irk those who do not matter.

I have never been racially pure enough for any of my claimed communities. I feel like an Indian fraud, desperate for acceptance, with memories of “but she’s not Indian” when I took part in Desi beauty contests (which are another problematic tale). I’m too brown for my white people, who call me exotic and say that I speak surprisingly good Dutch — while I tense up in white stores and feel guilty whenever I have to fish for something in my bag. I am never ever African enough, despite it being the only place three generations of my family have ever been able to call home. All of this is part of a larger pattern that matches the inherent pandemic of “not enough” that plagues the human race.

This photograph is difficult for me to stomach. Even though I took it. Even though I’m in it.

It looks like an image of beauty, but I don’t see that.

I see visual echoes of a moustache that had the Dutch kids taunting me, and caused childhood worries of secretly being a boy without knowing it — despite my 20 year undercover friendship with a shaver and thread.

I see an image that may evoke sexualised feelings that I cannot control. I feel the realisation that strangers will now know the form and view of my naked body — a concept that has been sacred to me for 20 years. I feel the conflict between my Indian desire to hide my skin, and my Westernised logic that I should be able to do whatever I wish with my body without fear. I feel worried “aunty” musings — that my future husband, whoever he is, will lose respect for me because my vessel has now been tainted and corrupted by the filth of the public gaze.

I hear whispers on the internet about my privilege, along with the idea that I don’t have a say in the body positivity conversation — because of my privilege as someone who externally fits into Western beauty standards. Whataboutism disguised as social justice. But that narrative denies the very human concept of body dysmorphia in its various forms. We must be able to create space for all cries of pain caused by social conditioning. I am aware of the thin privilege and pretty privilege that I possess — but, please, allow me to also grieve and mourn my own internal deaths.

On top of all these things, when I see this image, I note the deliberate lack of nipples — Photoshopped out to appease social media censorship — but also, to reflect the fakeness of my silicone breasts. Breasts that the majority of the world think are real. Breasts that have had surgery forum members asking whether this is my “before” picture. Breasts that have me blurt out the truth in a panic during romantic nights, out of fear that I’ll be rejected when a man feels that they aren’t real. Breasts which have had me simultaneously feeling like enough of a woman — but also, like less of a real woman.

But what is a real woman?

If you ask my white side, the answer will differ from my African-Indian side.

We speak about decolonising, but let’s also focus on removing beauty destined for the (predominantly) male gaze from our vocabulary and our ideals of gender — in all our cultural influences. My lack of curves meant that I wasn’t woman enough for my brown side. I wasn’t “well developed” — a disgusting phrase in itself — enough. I was a woman according to archaic white textbooks, hiding my blood-stained clothing during primary school gym class, while simultaneously having to pretend I was ok with being nude as a 10 year old. My white ex-army gym teacher had me do athletic movements for an hour in my underwear — the punishment for forgetting one’s kit — and laughed at me when I tried to cover my nipples. After all — I was 10 and I had no breasts. According to my European textbooks, those would develop at puberty between the age of 13 and 18.

But they never grew.

At 18, I did a classic teenage thing with my “new Dad” — a father who had never been allowed into my life but suddenly had full responsibility, at a distance, over a teenager with trauma. I manipulated him into getting my way. I was so clever, I thought. I would ask him whether I could have a piercing…. or a boob job. No way he’d say no to a piercing now!

Except he did.

And he said he understood if a woman with no breasts felt uncomfortable, or like less of a woman. Like any dad who had never been a dad before, in a time when the conversation on gender was merely a whisper, he reluctantly agreed when my immature self yelled out that I’d do more research on breast surgery — K THANKS BYE! — before I hung up and obsessively did my research.

Oh, how I wish I could time travel back to that girl. How I wish I could tell her that we would reach an age where people would be creating hashtags about small breasts, and that there is such a thing as body positivity. How I’d love to teach her that gender is a spectrum, that your body does not make you more or less feminine, that her standards of what a woman should be — which came from a place of pain — were imprinted on her by boys who didn’t matter anyway. How I wish I could’ve held her hand when she sat with the most beautiful surgeon she had ever met after the first one almost destroyed her, and pointed out that she, too, didn’t have breasts. Most of all, I yearn to let her know that at the lowest point of her depression — the most important thing to cut into was her poor health, deep self-hatred, and low self-esteem — but not her physical form.

Those wishes would be futile. I had zero breast tissue, my first surgeon said, and therefore a drastic enlargement was going to be difficult. He emphasised the zero, which made 18 year old me even more adamant that this was necessary. I would have curves, and I would be a real woman. I would be enough for the male gaze, even if it killed me. I almost got my wish when my first breasts oozed with yellow, deep into my chest.

I distinctly remember weeping after my first surgery, because my breasts were still invisible. I remember looking at curvier women of colour and wondering how I could be enough, just like them. I recall forcing myself to please my man mere days after surgery while still on painkillers, and smiling to myself about how “enough” I now was, praying that this man’s gaze would not turn from me, once my offering of agony and sacrifice didn’t match up to the realness of the women I constantly compared myself to. I remember obsessively spending hours disguising my comparison as “admiration” as I trawled through images of “ideal beauty” on display — much like many of us now do with influencers on Instagram today. The ideals may shift with time — but the disease that rots at the roots of our behaviour does not.

I am now 29, and I love my breasts just as much as every man who has had the honour of witnessing them. They are somehow still members of the itty bitty titty committee after all that agony… but they are a part of me now. They are my first experience with breasts, my only experience with puberty, and a badge I got to wear to prove to myself that I deserved to call myself a woman — back when I had zero awareness that my gender had nothing to do with my physical form. Before I discovered that my beauty had nothing to do with what others thought of me.

But I write this today, despite my discomfort and growing nausea, for others who don’t feel “gender” enough. Colonial beauty standards are a problem, but so are our cultural standards — on all sides — of what is good enough to fit into our idea of what it means to be a certain gender. I write this today, in full discomfort, to let you know that our brown culture, as well as that of the colonisers, should have zero say in whether our physical form matches the form our gender takes. We are not here to please anyone’s gaze but our own. Our bodies match whatever label we identify with (or don’t) from the gender spectrum — regardless of what we change, or don’t change.

Would I have had breast surgery if I had known all this?

That’s a difficult question to unpack. I wouldn’t know a definite answer unless I had a time machine.

But I do know this: I now believe in having surgery for the sole purpose of making myself happy — not because I want to be enough in someone else’s eyes.

Because I was enough all along. Indian enough, feminine enough, white enough, mixed enough, woman enough, beautiful enough, and most importantly — good enough.

I was enough, I will always be enough, and I am enough for every label I identify with, in whatever form my body manifests, through choice or through circumstance.

I. Am. Enough.

And so, dear reader, are you.


I now use my work to help others feel like they’re enough with my photography experiences. To find out more, click here.

Why you succeed at failing

Why you succeed at failing

Here’s a picture of me at my worst.

I had spiralled down into absolute failure.
Being self-aware meant that I KNEW I could be doing better — but had to watch, seemingly helpless, as I destroyed myself more and more every day.

This image was part of one of my many failed projects.

I had decided to do a daily self-portrait. I did 6 (including this one).
I can’t tell you how many plans I’ve made, that have failed and never come to fruition.
I didn’t even complete my degree!
I was a failure, destined to never complete anything.

Fast-forward to now.

I’m not perfect.
I still slip up.
But the difference is that I now understand a very important idea that I think may help you too:

Whatever you’re doing every day is what you’re succeeding at.

Whether it’s being unreliable, or being consistent.

Whether it’s eating healthy, or giving in to things that affect you negatively (hi, processed sugar).

Do you really think that the successful consistent people out there were always that way?

Do you think you were always bad at whatever it is you currently feel you are bad at?

I’m pretty sure there was a time you weren’t.
Just like there was a time that many successful and happy people were once in your shoes, if you’re struggling with consistency.

So look at the things you’ve been doing every day.
Zoom in.
Look at the types of thoughts you’ve been giving in to, the types of people you’ve been spending time with, the types of things you’ve been saying.

Just like drugs, “just this one time” is a slippery slope.
Just like sugar, “just this one time” is a path you don’t want to go down.
Anyone who has managed to eat clean for sometime and then suddenly had sugar knows exactly what I’m talking about.
Sugar can sometimes be the devil.

But so can your thoughts.
And your actions.

Are you constantly letting yourself down?
Well, bravo!
That’s what you’ve become good at!
You’ve been practicing so long, that it’s become a part of you.
And it started with that “one time” you thought it would be ok to let yourself down.
A few days in a row.

It’s not that everyone is improving while you aren’t…
It’s that you actually improved skills that harm you, while others made a daily conscious choice to choose habits/skills that served them.

And while it may look like some have it easy, you’re never really going to have the right to say others have it easier than you do, unless you literally live inside their heads for a week.

So wake up…
And stop becoming really good at skills that are only going to hurt you.

I want you to know another very important principle:
Whenever you feel bad or good, the opposite side of the spectrum always feels SO far away.
But it never is.
All it takes is consistent action in the direction you want to go.
Not for 10 years.
Just a few days of consistent action could already have you feeling better than you did yesterday.

Because that’s what matters.
Not the longterm plan.
Not the massive goals.
But the question that we forget to ask:
Is today better than yesterday?

If it is, keep going like this.
If it isn’t, make a small change.

And then one day, you’ll look back and realise that you’ve practiced good habits so much, that they are now an effortless part of you.
All it takes is that first step.

A Letter to my Body

A Letter to my Body

Dear Body:

Today you decided that you have had enough of my abuse. I recently said to Laura Brown that I have been neglecting you, but that’s not true, is it? No, I’ve been hearing your screams begging me to stop certain things — but continued to do them anyway.

You tried to tell me once before. You had been asking me for a conversation when I got into an abusive relationship, but I ignored you — even though you had shut down my womanhood — until you screamed into my brain for me to literally, stop — with a stroke.

Today I had 8 cups of coffee. Even though you don’t like coffee. And then I added in some natural stuff to calm you down. I figured, instead of confronting the root of the issue — my abuse — I would do another quick fix to shut you up.

But you’re tired of my quick fixes, aren’t you?

Now, as I write this from my bed, feeling your discomfort, unable to move, tears streaming down my face — half your relief and half my shame — I remember. I remember the times you’ve begged for sleep and I’ve prioritized others’ opinions of me. I remember the times you’ve begged for water and I’ve sadistically taken dehydrating substances. I remember the times you’ve begged for mercy as I dealt blow, after blow, after blow.

But most of all: I remember that you are the best friend I’ve ever had. The type of friend I’ve been looking for, but who was with me all along. You carried me and held me when I hated you for not being beautiful enough, for not being strong enough. You moved gracefully despite the drone of my incessant criticism at how your movements weren’t the way I wanted them to be. You supported me when I showed nothing but anger and meanness to you.

I spend so much time trying to be good to the world but I forgot to be good to the one who needs me most.

I’m sorry. I love you. I need you.
Thank you for showing me how to be a friend. Now, it’s my turn.

Confession from an Ostrich

Confession from an Ostrich

I have a bad habit of running away and hiding from the people who mean the most to me when I am at my worst, because being an ostrich is my go-to response. Seriously. I’m like “THIS PERSON DESERVES MY BEST – THEREFORE I WILL NOT REPLY UNTIL I AM AT MY BEST”….. you can guess what ends up happening.

I keep logically telling myself: Hello, hi, they would prefer a small dose of replies than complete ghosting….

But my fear gets the best of me. And suddenly I haven’t replied in weeks, or months. Sometimes years.

To be fair, it’s not just one person, but multiple people. And to be fair, I sacrifice self-care as well as friend-care when I’m anxious about work-related deadlines.

But it still sucks to know you adore people, but somehow your actions say otherwise.

I’m learning.

When you find yourself avoiding creativity

When you find yourself avoiding creativity

“I get this feeling that you’re lying about something, Melissa. Like you’re just not telling me something.”

I sighed deeply on the phone.

“You’re right,” I slowly admitted, “you’re right, Daddy.”

It had been over a year of me making up excuse after excuse on why my website wasn’t up. I was starting to worry my friends, my acquaintances — and now my family.

Somehow, it had been over 5 years since I had written just to write. I could rattle out copy for other people with zero effort, and I could create an emotionally honest Instagram/Facebook post while half asleep. But the blogging I had done for years with the ease of a baby dolphin in water — well, that had somehow become so difficult that I had found every excuse under the sun.

But the truth was that I was scared.

“Why?” asked my ever-patient dad.
“Is it failure you’re afraid of?”

I started crying. It wasn’t any old future failure I was afraid of, but confirmation of my current failure.

“I’m afraid that I’m not good enough,” I began.
“I’m afraid that I’ve lost what I once had, and that I’m no longer a writer.”

Saying those words out loud was like a release, if only because they sounded so ridiculous to my ears. My father seemed to think the same thing, because he chuckled and told me not to be silly.

“You can’t lose things like that, Melissa.”
I rolled my eyes, thinking he didn’t understand, as I listened to him continue.
“I may not be in the same industry, but I have this sometimes, too. The trick is this: You just have to start.”

His last words rung in my ears, with a familiarity that only a lesson you already know could have.
“Just begin — let it fail, even. You’ll figure it out. You’ve read so much. It’s in there already — it’s just a matter of it coming out.”

Little did my father know just how much truth he had just spoken. Was he aware, that day, that he had saved me? Probably not.

Because here is the truth, dear reader:

After the marketing industry had just about killed my inner artist, whenever I thought about writing, I was filled with inner-critic thoughts about the final product that I needed to create. I had forgotten that my best work was created by simply starting, and letting my trust in myself take me over. No great work has ever been conceived in its entirety before it was started. The point of art is in the journey, to different degrees, and stopping that flow is what is killing artists and stopping their success before it even gets a chance to become.

So today I’d like to challenge you to start that thing you have been putting off — and remember that your only two tasks are as follows:

  1. Begin anywhere.
  2. Trust yourself to do what is right — whether that is continuing with it, or quitting prematurely. There is no wrong answer.

I wrote this in honour of Father’s Day. My father had an 18 year old rebel dumped on him after having been denied the experience of being a father for most of my life. Despite our massive differences — he is a logical engineer, I am an artist who lives in a fantasy world — he has shown patience, growth, and understanding that can only be matched by some of the best people in the world. He is a simple man in some ways, and yet has guided me better than any person with my complexity ever could have. While many men choose to run and hide from what they fear, my father chose to take on the baggage of an adult he couldn’t raise as a child, with all the problems that could come with someone who (at the time) suffered from chronic physical and mental illness. I owe him gratitude and love, as much of who I am today is thanks to a man who chose to do the right thing — every day — even when he could’ve chosen otherwise. I am glad I got to witness what it means to be a good father.

Enough

Enough

I was always that little girl who just… couldn’t… reach.
Never tall enough. Never cool enough. Never rich enough. Never… enough.

And it continued, as these things do. Man after man who claimed I loved “too much” but somehow never enough to hold their gaze, time after time of lying frozen in bed because I was uncertain how I’d be able to afford food for the day, moment after moment of watching new wings receive recognition while my tired old ones were forgetting how to fly…

Yes, that little girl is still alive inside.

But there comes a point of sinking into this perception, where you realise that that perception could be a lie. That limitations are sometimes self-imposed, and that sometimes, we are bound to the ground by shackles we created from echoes that we could’ve released.

These thoughts of limitation, are they truly yours? Or are they mum’s, or dad’s, or some other influential figure who chose to let their blindness to themselves deter you from your dreams?

I ask you now, one never-enough child to another, heart to heart:

Is it that you are not enough, or is that you can only be enough when you learn to say… “Enough”…?

The Paradox of We

The Paradox of We

And we speak of fire, in the context of having lost it. 
We speak of a spark that once was, and we mourn a force we once were.

But we repress anger, we cover up sadness, and we chase the stuff that we think we are aiming for.

We forget that sadness can shatter a heart in pieces, and anger can destroy lives, homes, and communities as a whole.

What if the very force we fear will destroy us, is the one that could be fuel for the things that remain so elusive?

What if anger wasn’t wrong? What if sadness, when channelled well, can become your very best friend?

What if the darkness is a better friend than the light that runs away?
What if the only loyal presence in your life is the very path you seek?