“On My Tallest Tiptoes”
“I’m a mirrorball / I can change everything about me to fit in.”
When I try to think of words or phrases to describe what makes me me, quite a few come to mind: writer, poet, raconteur, bibliophile, music-lover, chocolate addict, et cetera. However, these facets of my identity rarely ever take center stage. The world has stamped on a label that defines me by my race, ethnicity, and religion. The many different aspects of who I am will always be overshadowed by my outward appearance, the crises of my homeland, and my misunderstood faith. It’s fate. I have spent my entire life attempting to deconstruct the monochrome paintbrush that coats over who I really am. It is predestined that I will continue to do so for the rest of it.
It took me too many years to embrace these identities. I paid for it. I stayed out of the sun to ensure that my skin wouldn’t darken, which rewarded me with a vitamin D deficiency. I refused to speak my native language of Urdu. Now, I can feel it slipping away from me with every word, every regret serving as a blockade of communication for me with my grandparents. I shied away from wearing a headscarf until high school. I pushed away from something that made me feel at home with my own self, choosing to remain lost in order to fit in.
There wasn’t ever an “aha” moment, that lightbulb that instantaneously flickers on in your brain, clicking everything into place. It was simply the gradual realization that I was tired. I was tired of being overly considerate of the people around me, refusing to pop their self-imposed bubbles. I was tired of masquerading around to hide my defining qualities, which, despite my frustration about their conventional perception, have always been a source of immense pride for me.
One night in late July, after I graduated from high school and spent twelve years detaching myself from my true identity, I listened to the new Taylor Swift album, folklore. Lying in my bed, feeling the soft breeze against my skin, I soaked up each new lyric with unsurprising yet enthusiastic vigor. Upon hearing Track 6, “mirrorball,” I felt indescribably uncomfortable with how much it applied to my feelings. Taylor compares herself to a “mirrorball,” an overactive human disco, amplifying facets of herself that did not exist for the sake of what others expected her to be. For her, it’s a metaphor for fame — at least until she finds someone who accepts who she really is, under the shards that reflect the realities around her — “I’ll show you every version of yourself tonight” — realities that were not hers.
On the outside, Taylor Swift and I are polar opposites. She is bubbly, famous, and blonde. I am an introvert, not famous, and definitely not a blonde. And yet, we share something important in common — a profound love of words and, apparently, a tendency to pretend. She just gets it. That circus-freak feeling you get when you aren’t being true to yourself — “I’m still on that trapeze / I’m still trying everything to keep you looking at me.” Perhaps, for the two of us, it’s a safety net. It’s too dangerous to be different. Perhaps, it’s because we’re intense people-pleasers or intrinsically afraid of sharing even a glimpse of our complete selves. “I’ve never been a natural/All I do is try, try, try.”
The little factoids that make me who I am don’t always register for the people around me. I didn’t grow up in a patriarchal, conservative family. I try to live a modest lifestyle, but it’s just as colorful and effervescent as anyone else’s. It’s who I am, and what it means to me is impossible to understand completely.
Kanita: writer, poet, raconteur, bibliophile, music-lover, chocolate addict, et cetera. Muslim. Karachi-born, American-raised. Raging Swiftie. On the hunt for a foundation shade that matches her skin tone. Dancing. Praying. Mirrorball.