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This story was written by Nurul Nadhira from MALAYSIA.

Back when I was younger, I used to have trouble wearing hijab. I was quite young when I hit puberty and although I have been explained about my duty to cover hair, I still had difficulties wearing it.

It wasn't rare to see a girl wearing hijab in schools. In fact from where I come from, wearing hijab in some schools are compulsory. But I looked around at society and I thought wearing hijab prevented me to be part of society, to do the things most girls do at my age. I got rebellious, taking off my hijab every now and then so I could flick my hair like other girls and feel appreciated when boys talk to me. I wanted to be like one of the popular girls in school, be part of the group that every single person adores.

That phase was challenging and difficult for me.

I browsed through magazines, looking at the beautiful outfits women wear and I was very unhappy the fact that I can never wear clothes like them. From what I see, my religion was at fault because instead of allowing me to be accepted by society it is like a barrier that keeps me away from reaching out and be like other people.

Of course it was very silly of me to think of it that way. I am in no way degrading my religion and I know religion is personal to everyone. That was a thought I had when I was younger, but I grew up and learned and I love my religion now. My parents knew how vulnerable I was back then as I was in that teen phase so they allowed me to take off my hijab with the promise that I will wear it permanently one day. For some reason I was glad that my parents did not force me because that would have just made me rebel even more but at the same time they knew where to draw the lines and pull me back when I drifted too far. Little did I know back then that you do not have to change who you are just to be accepted by society. Just because I was not wearing a hijab that does not mean the society would love and adore me.

Little did I know back then that you do not have to change who you are just to be accepted by society.

There is always something wrong with me where society is concerned.

I am too short, I should not take off my hijab, I should be skinny, I should have longer hair, I should be this I should be that.

There are friends who love me regardless of what I wear and friends who judge me when I take it off saying that I am a disgrace to my religion. There are also friends who praised me for taking off my hijab, comforting me by saying that I look prettier without hijab. Instead of feeling like I finally belong, I actually got more confused. I started feeling insecure with myself more often.

When you are just growing up and the world is not about Barbie and cartoons anymore, you will be desperate to find anything or anywhere that you belong to, to find a pack on your own and feel wanted. I thought I should be a certain size to be pretty, talk and act in a certain manner to be loved and do things that put me at risk just because I wanted to be that cool kid everyone likes. I even tried wearing makeup which only made my skin worst because I have a sensitive skin because it is what society did so I had to do it too. Being accepted by society was more important than what my parents’ opinions are. It was not a pretty phase for me honestly.

I regretted some of the mistakes I made but I was thankful that after going through that phase I realized certain things.

What you wear is not significant but how you are as a person is.

My true friends love me because of my personality not because of other reasons. You should never lose yourself just to belong somewhere. When we become older, everything in this world seem like a wide canvas ready for us to explore and paint it as how we like it. Some of us had smooth sailing while some went through rough experiences before they found answers to their questions.

You should never lose yourself just to belong somewhere.

So I want to let you girls out there today know that it is alright to be different. You don't have to be someone else just to fit in. What truly matters is how you value, respect and love yourself.

Everyone is different in their own way and a person shouldn't be judged based on what they wear, their beliefs, gender or their skin color.

If you feel that you are alone and you don’t have anywhere to belong, you should know that there is always one place where you belong and that place is your heart. It is the only place that matters and it is why you should always cherish and love yourself. We all are different but that is what makes us unique.

Today, I can say that I am comfortable being me and what I wear does not prevent me from doing anything. Wearing a hijab does not make me feel oppressed. I don’t feel insecure with my appearance and I eat like a champion. I exercise because I want to be healthy and I take good care of myself because that is how I appreciate my body. I do the things that I love even if that means it is not cool for society’s standard. In fact I am happier now because I have truly come to love and respect myself.

So never be ashamed of who you are.

You do you and be awesome.

This story was part of Safety First for Girls (SAFIGIs) #SharingNotShaming campaign.

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