By: Cindy Hsieh
The definition of conformity is “to shape, form, or modify”, suggesting that what is already in existence is meant to change. Yet while conformity goes against the idea of confidence, it also suggests the presence of self-awareness. Without individuality and awareness, confidence would not be able to shine through. To be confident, the energy into conforming needs to be slowly redirected into acceptance.
Societal pressure is difficult to avoid, especially when the whole world is at our fingertips. In Asian culture, the stereotypes that cloud women are enormous. Media has perpetuated ideas of submissiveness and beauty standards in Asian women for years now. Furthermore, Asian culture adds on the pressure of collective and hierarchical stress from family. The culture inherently emphasizes community over individuality. Though the idea of outward harmony is alluring, achieving it by shutting out the inner symphony of individual needs is cacophonous.
Understanding individuality means to be curious and go against the mold others set for you. However, as a non-conforming Asian woman, it can be difficult to achieve discovery in self when “nonstandard” thoughts are constantly invalidated. While some other cultures may encourage individuality, the communal nature in Asian culture may trigger inner voices to guilt trip us into feeling bad for wanting self exploration. The process of being an individual isn’t solely about making an individual decision. It is about accepting direct confrontation combined with deep disapproval of family members and loved ones. It is about accepting that you may temporarily be regarded as a disgrace and selfish human. This dilemma causes a deep rift between what our hearts truly want and what our minds want us to think. Normally when the rift becomes so large, a choice is inevitably made. And sometimes this choice forces leap of faith towards positive, personal growth. While I have personally experienced this stressful turmoil, I am thankful for it. I think in many ways the rift I was in made me really question myself and what I wanted. Even though the process of self-discovery is painful, it is also one that is deeply rewarding.
It is no doubt that the decision to “unconform” is a difficult one. A piece of self-growth that I continue to work on is understanding how to give and gain affection and acceptance for myself. However, the emotional barrier of my childhood experiences have risen through the cracks and wrapped itself around my growth at times. Though a generalization, Asian parenting can be described as “tough love” and lacking in the affection department. The parenting type is qualified as an “authoritative” style. This means that there is a larger emphasis on high standards by the parent than on emotional warmth. Asian parenting has gotten its fair share of attention since the debut of “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” by Amy Chua in 2011. In the novel, Chua describes her childhood in detail to the audience, from no playdates and TV to criticisms and pressure to become the best at everything she did. While Chua supports the “Tiger Mother” way of parenting as effective, many researchers suggest otherwise. Often times, the perfectionist parenting method undermines a child’s self-confidence and social skills. This is specifically detrimental in Asian households when parents turn a blind eye to these outcomes and defend the parenting as necessary means ‘for the child’s own good’.
Even with these consequences, giving parental critique isn’t helpful toward personal growth, but understanding how it affects an individual is helpful. Additionally, it is important to keep in mind that most parents have their child’s best interest at heart and act from a place of love. So it goes without saying that by no means do I think that Asian parenting is wrong. It is just that personal experience has taught me to recognize difficulties I have faced as a result of an upbringing and ergo how to address them. Addressing what those difficulties are provide a map to becoming a better version of yourself. Parents love their children and even if they do not outwardly express their affection, initiating communication can go a long way. For a long time, the lack of outward affection I received as a child made a strong impact on me mentally. However, I didn’t know how to express it because I was too afraid to come out and talk to my parents about feelings and thoughts. As I slowly learned to express myself, I also saw that my parents were not barriers preventing me from growing. They were shields preventing me from the difficulties of the outside world.
This self-expression discovery began in elementary school and bled into middle school when I noticed that when my friends would call their parents (to bring something in they had forgotten to school) the end of the conversation always sounded something like this:
Friend: *sighs* Okkkayyy, thanks Mom. I know. Ok. Love you, too.
‘Love you, too’. These were words that I rarely heard uttered by my parents. I became curious as to why, but also a bit saddened on the inside. To my ears, those words were a gentle reminder of affection. Even though I knew my parents had for me, I wish I were able to hear those words from their mouths. I remember asking my parents about why we didn’t say “love” in the house, and they explained to me that they didn’t need to say it to show that they loved me. They said that words paled in comparison to action. I processed and accepted their explanation, because I understood what they meant. Of course, I would rather my parents show their love, than give me empty promises of affection. However, the more I heard my friends talk to their parents, the more I wanted that relationship with my own parents. Why couldn’t I have that? Just a few simple words would be okay, right? So, I decided to talk to my mother about these feelings, as she was more emotional and sensitive than my father was. I told her how I felt and that, to be candid, I was a bit jealous of my friends. I wanted to try to voice my love to her and maybe, if she felt comfortable, she would be able to voice it back. She was extremely sympathetic and understood that I sought out verbal affection that had lacked from my childhood. And so there it began, a new habit between her and I. This habit has sprouted to become a norm for the both of us and has even translated to how we text as well, from me teaching her how to insert emojis in text messages and exchanging texts with hearts and flowers attached. It seems small, but this action meant so much to me. My vulnerability and acceptance of emotions by her truly let me embrace how I felt and grow even more.
Though working on yourself is an endless goal, I have learned to gain confidence in accepting breaks to further get to know myself. These pauses have allowed me to look inwards in order to express myself and let out my emotions in a healthy way. Being able to be in tune with myself, through mediums like art or music, is such a relief in ways I do not know how to describe. The feelings I gain from playing a piece on the piano, writing, or drawing release so much tension for me. The beauty about outlets is that they allow a person to open in a way that is vulnerable, but still comfortable and safe. I think finding my own outlets is what has helped me grow and embrace myself the most. If you don’t have an outlet like this, then think about starting a hobby you’ve always wanted to try. If that is too much or too stressful, then I would suggest doing small actions like listening to music that fits the mood or listening to podcasts. Music has always helped to center me with my own emotions, while reminding me that I am not alone in feeling whatever it is that I am struggling with. This has helped me to embrace who I am even more. But sometimes emotions are too much to process and that is completely fine! This is where podcasts shine. They little shots of energy and knowledge that leave you with something new, but also help to provide comfort of voices and company. If you are someone who prefers the quiet, then books can be extremely helpful. “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie is a wonderful read that I would highly recommend. It is a book that can be read over and over again, with more hidden tidbits discovered with each re-read. Making use of social media to your advantage can also make a huge difference in what you are exposed to and absorb from the outside world. Following inspirational pages that align with your goals or provide a boost of motivation makes a larger difference than you would expect. Some suggestions for pages I have are: @girlboss and @girlsbuildingempires.
No matter how you feel in the process of growing self-confidence, as long as you are mindful of your own emotions, embracing them is just one tiny step away. As Carl Jung says, part of being able to achieve self-actualization is to go through individualization. Each step, no matter how small it may seem in your head, is still progress in achieving confidence. Often times it isn’t until we do something that we are afraid of that we realize how little reason we have to even fear it. So, move at your own pace, but never stop pushing. You are radiant and the world is lucky to see you shine.
Cindy Hsieh is a proponent for minorities in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). She has been involved in advocacy and entrepreneurship groups on university campuses, as well as American Mensa Leadership workshops to foster new ideas and growth for equality. Her love for the arts has continued to shine through her volunteer work as a piano performer in hospitals and on a daily basis through drawing and writing. Cindy is working towards further connecting with her Asian-American identity and share her experiences with others.