Through Her Eyes by Maheen Mazhar

Since I have been old enough to understand myself, I have always thought too deeply about everything in life. Always found myself questioning standards and the status quo, intrigued about why do we always follow norms that are set for us by society? Culture? Or others? Even in this generation of social media, everyone is so obsessed with following the so called “trend” or whatever is considered “popular.” Why are we so conditioned to follow the crowd? Instead of following our own hearts. Sometimes our consciousness doesn’t agree with something, but we go along with it anyway, why? Just because the crowd or the world we live in agrees with it. Or because we fear rejection or voicing our opinion just because it differs from the crowd? Why? Why wouldn’t you want to listen to your own voice, your own heart, instead of listening to the noise of the world?  As I got into my teenage years, I began to question all these things. My family moved from one city to another, and I became the new girl at middle school, while all my elementary school friends went to a different middle school. At my new school, I quite didn’t fit in to any friend group, so I began spending more time by myself and observing everything. The social atmosphere at school felt very pre-defined, everyone hung out in groups and those groups had been pre-formed since elementary school. Being the new girl. I wasn’t bothered by being left out or not having a group, this gave me the chance to learn more deeply about my own self. What I believed in and didn’t believe. Being alone in middle school made my sense of self stronger. It made me question things like, why do people think they need to be part of a social group to feel valued or to feel like they belong? And being part of a group meant, thinking like them, acting like them, and giving importance to popular things that they gave importance to, such as dating, hookups and middle school gossip. Why would you want to go along with what everyone else thinks is “cool “or the “it” thing, when you can have a thought process of your own. This was the beginning of my sense of self-becoming stronger.

As I got into high school, this concept of popularity became even stronger, and everyone started falling into it. Certain people that I knew in middle school, were now so called “the popular kids” and I didn’t even what defined popularity? Playing a sport? Being a cheerleader? To me, we were all just sixteen- to seventeen-year-old kids trying to get through higher education and make it to a good college, but the social scene at high school was a completely different story. Having good grades or being the smartest kid in class did not mean popularity, in fact those kids were called “nerds “ and those kids actually had less of a social life because they spent more of their time studying, rather than engaging in high school popularity or dating culture. That’s what drove me to writing. Things that I couldn’t understand or didn’t see myself fitting into, I started writing about to express my own self. For example, how come the kids who had multiple relationships, drank alcohol, engaged in hook-up culture were considered more popular than those kids who focused on grades, and post high school goals. How come hookup culture where having multiple partners were considered the “norm” but as soon as you would say you have never been in a relationship and you are waiting for the “one” in your life, people made fun of you? They looked at you as if you have no experience or you aren’t cool enough just because you are not a part of the hook-up culture? Why? Isn’t it a quality that should be respected, if you are waiting for the right person instead of hooking up with everyone and breaking off that relationship months later? I didn’t care whether someone was a part of this “hook up” culture or not, what led me to write about it was the fact that I used to be bashed for not being part of the hook-up culture. Why should I do it just because every other kid my age was doing? I was old school, I believed in loving one man and one man only and I was willing to wait for that , even if that meant not being in a relationship in high school. I felt like temporary pleasures were given more importance in high school than real meaningful connections were. Everyone wanted to know about how many guys you have dated but nobody believed in a soul-deep connection with anyone. It was all so superficial. I began writing about all these topics that bothered me or things I wanted to change in the world because coming from two cultures, I always felt misunderstood in the mainstream American High School culture. But these writings were more for me than they were for anyone else. It was my way of expressing myself as I constantly found my Pakistani roots clashing with my American Identity.

When I got to college, more or less the same culture continued, and I began to question even more things in my life.  How come everyone was always obsessed with frat parties and drinking and hookups and not enough people ever talked about their passions, hopes and dreams. Fine, college was a time to experience freedom for the first time, most of us were away from home for the first time, making our own decisions but it bothered me that people were okay with completely wasting themselves because of social norms but they never spoke about the important things like your passions, dreams and the things you want to achieve. I am not saying I never wanted to party or enjoy my college life, but I never agreed with partying to the extent that I completely neglected my future goals. Once again, I began feeling like a misfit so I turned to write my thoughts to express myself. I wrote an essay for my Introduction to Literature class on my life’s struggles and growing up as a Pakistani American in trying to balance both my identities, but also my hopes and dreams. Both my cultures were very close to my heart but more often than not at clash with each other. And I always found myself somewhere in the middle, trying to hold on to my Pakistani values and also my American identity which I had grown up with. This clash of two cultures, always made me feel misunderstood in both cultures because I was trying to carry values from both my identities rather than fully becoming American or fully becoming Pakistani. My professor loved the essay and she encouraged me to write more. That is where the idea of Through Her Eyes came from because this was the first time that I had shared my personal story on a bigger platform. Sharing my story with my English class, made me want to share my story with the world. But my writings were more personal essays of my thoughts and philosophies rather than scene-by-scene stories that readers could indulge in. My college classes helped me significantly in writing my story as if I was re-experiencing everything because I learned that I can’t just tell the reader what happened in my life, I have to take them on the journey that I went on, in order for them to connect to me and my story on an emotional level. So as a writer I began to rewrite my story as If I was reliving all the scenes myself because I wanted my reader to feel a connection to the book.

Through Her Eyes, is a young girl’s journey on faith, belonging, life and believes, god, love, friendships and struggles. Struggles exist in everyone’s lives in some form or another but they serve a purpose, struggles are there to make you not to break you. The main character never conforms to what the American or the Pakistani mainstream society expects of her. Rather she chooses to listen to her own inner voice and makes her decisions in life without compromising her core values which she holds extremely close to her heart! This book is not just about comparing or contrasting two very different cultures that are almost always completely at odds with each other, this book is a story of how one young girl manages her journey of self-discovery and follows her own true voice despite being constantly questioned by the world around her. The protagonist’s ability to value her own thinking as an individual over what society or the world expects of her throughout her life journey is the most interesting part of the book! She’s always challenging the status quo and going through life without compromising her own personal standards. The book explores the topic of self-discovery and society on many levels, culturally but also on a subconscious personal level! Why do we always follow the crowd? Why do we always try to fit into standards that are created by others for us to follow? Why do we listen to the world more than we listen to our own hearts? And even if we disagree with the standards or expectations a certain culture or society puts on us, why are we so afraid to admit it out loud? Definitely, something that will question and challenge the way people look at life.

There is so much I want people to take away from this book. Firstly, I want to say struggles and challenges in life whether they be medical, financial or of any kind, are not to be scared of or worried about. Everyone goes through their share of struggles, and they are essential to life. Struggles are a blessing in disguise because once you come out of those struggles, you are a completely different person. You come out so much stronger than you were before. I think struggles, scars, trauma, pain—everything is beautiful because it makes you the person you are. There is a reason why God puts those struggles in your life because he wants you to discover your full potential and became that person who comes out of those struggles much stronger and wiser. Pain in life is never for no reason, it always serves a purpose. In my case, my traumas in life turned into wisdom and led towards me developing a strong belief in God. When you have gone through a lot at a young age it leads to you maturing a lot earlier in life and sort of sets the tone for how you view the world for the rest of your life. My pain in life taught me that for me to include anything in life, it had to have a meaning or a purpose, and anything that did not mean anything or added no value in my life I saw as a waste of time. Maybe that’s also the reason why growing up in America, I never wanted to be part of this random hook-up/dating culture around me because if I were to get into a relationship or do anything in my life for that matter, it had to have meaning or a purpose. It couldn’t be just random or because everyone else was doing it. I could never jump on the bandwagon. I think that’s the most beautiful part about growing through trauma at a young age. It gives you a perspective to look at the world. It encourages you to find meaning and purpose in every aspect of life. And the smaller things that have no bigger meaning or purpose in life don’t phase you anymore.

Also, so many people in my generation engage in this random hook-up culture that it often feels like old-school love is dead. Let me tell you something, it’s not. Old souls like me still exist, who believe in loving and wanting to be with one man only for the rest of their lives. I don’t know if I will find that in this generation but if you can jump around from one person to another so easily, that to me is not love. When you truly love someone, it’s hard to get over them. When you truly love someone it’s not even about physical intimacy anymore. It’s all about that one person and you always want the best for them. Love is just so much deeper than what I saw happening in my generation while growing up. I still believe in a kind of love that fuels your fire, one that encourages you to become a better version of yourself. A love that nurtures your soul instead of looking at your body. To me, physical intimacy can only happen with the love of your life and without love, it makes no sense to me at all. I still believe in loving and staying loyal to one person and I won’t let this generation take that away from me. Nor will I settle for anything less than a soul-deep connection.

Another thing I want people to take away from this story is believing in and staying true to your own voice. A lot of times in this world and especially in South Asian society, we get lost in trying to meet the expectations that are already set in place for us. Get married by a certain age, get a job, and have kids at a certain age. On the other hand, in western culture if you haven’t dated ten different men by the age of twenty-five, as a woman there is definitely something wrong with you. No matter what culture we are a part of, there always will be expectations from the world that we are expected to meet. But rather than trying to fit into someone’s expectations or standards, try to find your own voice, try to find what you believe in and use that as the moral basis to live your life. Don’t give in to the noise of the world, it will always tell you what you should or shouldn’t be doing but at the end of the day, this is your life, and you might as well live it by staying true to you, instead of pleasing the world.  Don’t drink or have ten hookups because that’s what everyone else around you is doing, if everyone around you decides to jump into the sea and give up their life, will you do it too because it’s a trend? Obviously not.  So, own your beliefs and decisions in life and know that it’s cool to not fit in with the crowd all the time. Dare to be yourself. Dare to be different. What are you even going to do by just being like everyone else? Find your soul’s calling and stay true to it. Forget the noise of the world. And this isn’t my message to just the girls out there, it’s to everyone, we are so conditioned to fit into the pre-existing standards of this world, we forgot to even listen to ourselves, to our own hearts.

Last but not least, I want people to learn how important faith is by reading this book. Believe in your dreams and in God and his timing, I am not the most religious person in the world but one thing I have realized through my experiences in life is that you cannot navigate the life of this world without being connected with the higher power. Whether that is through believing, praying, or whatever, that connection with the higher power is super important in life. Because not every situation in life is in your hands. And the more you pray to God and leave things in his hands the more you see him helping and guiding you through life. I have literally seen my prayers become reality. Yes, nothing happens without hard work, but hard work backed up by faith is the ultimate key to success in life.

Just believe in your dreams, never give up, and remember there is not only one way to get somewhere in life. Even when you are on the road travelling, you can always take a detour and reach the same destination through a different road. Sure, the time it takes you to get there may change but maybe the scenery you experience along the way was worth the ride. Similarly, in life, there is more than one way to get somewhere and it’s okay if your way is unconventional. When you do reach your destination, the insight you will have by going through the experiences you went through will be worth every bit of it.

This is not just a story of a Pakistani -American or a compare and contrast of two cultures, this is a story of finding your true self amongst the noise of the world and truly embracing and accepting every part of who you are and what you believe in, without the fear of what culture, or society or the world thinks of you. This is a journey of you finding out what you think of yourself and staying true to it. We talk about cultures, societies, status quo. The norms of society. We spend our whole lives trying to fit into standards that were created for us by others, but we forgot that standards or norms were once created by humans too. So why follow someone else’s way of being, why not follow your own? Why not follow your own beliefs and standards, instead of the pre-existing ones in this world? I hope this book “Through Her Eyes” encourages you to break boundaries and be more of who you truly want to be, instead of what the world wants or expects you to be. Discover who you are, before settling into the definitions of you, created by this world.

Our Book: “Through Her Eyes” Available on Amazon

Maheen Mazhar was born in Lahore, Pakistan and moved to New York with her parents at the age of three. Growing up as Pakistani-American there was always a clash between both of her identities. She graduated from New York University in 2019 and currently calls New York home.