I was and still am oppressed by society. Society tells me I have to conform to its standards of beauty, or else I’ll be body-shamed, no guy will like me, or life won’t be any easier because I won’t get the free pass that hot, pretty girls get all the time. But conforming to me means time and money wasted on things I shouldn’t be needing, and it means constantly feeling like I don’t look good enough.
I am not white. And we all know how Caucasians here are excused, pampered, and privileged over Filipinos. They get higher-paying jobs, they can cut in line if they wanted to; other Pinoys are much nicer to them, too.
I get cat-called like practically every Pinay who walks alone, and being viewed as a piece of meat makes me feel so dirty and vulnerable.
I used to whine about those a lot, and when I felt that I was whining too much, I just sat down and brewed envy and resentment.
There were specific things apart from what I stated that really filled me with contempt for life, like the fact that I wasn’t born into a wealthier family so I couldn’t have the things I wanted or needed to learn or develop my skills and talents; my parents weren’t supportive of me when they should have been because isn’t that what parents do? I felt that if I had been more privileged, my life would be better; success would be easy.
I was way down the rabbit hole, as I was absorbed in thinking about how my life should have been and how it would have been by now.
Three main things came together that compelled me to quit whining and finally take control of my life. For one, there was that voice in my head: “If you’re not going to do anything about your life, stop complaining,” it said sharply. Then the second: I watched an interview of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born human rights activist. I learned that Hirsi Ali grew up in a Muslim household and in a tribal society. Her grandmother had her genitals cut when she was five years old “to purify her” so she could have a husband. She was arranged to be married to her cousin, but managed to escape that by fleeing the country for the Netherlands. As a critic of Islam, especially its treatment of women, Hirsi Ali has received multiple death threats—her friend was even murdered as part of the threat. But she came out of those hardships alive and well. In her adulthood, she has founded organizations that defend women’s rights, and she even became a member of the Dutch parliament. I was awed not only by her professional accomplishments, but also by her gentle demeanor. She was calm, collected, and not hateful at all. Her whole person made me realize just how important attitude is—especially a fighting spirit—not just for one’s own happiness but also for one’s survival and even success.
And the third: I read the Atlantic piece “My Family’s Slave,” a personal essay profiling the writer’s family’s unpaid, badly treated household helper called Lola. It moved me in two ways. One, it filled me with admiration for Lola’s attitude. When she became a free woman in her last years, she learned to read on her own, hence achieving something she had hoped to do when she was younger. She had hobbies like gardening and cooking that let her express herself, and she often expressed love. She was cheerful and not bitter about she was beaten, disrespected, and taken advantage of practically all her life.
Two, it made me research on human trafficking in the Philippines—human trafficking is slavery after all. It hit me hard that many of our women and children are still being trafficked to different countries for prostitution, forced labor, or to have their organs sold—which means there’s a high-paying market and it’s composed of heartless, soulless people out there who delight in or simply don’t care about other people’s suffering. Not being a victim of that in any way made me realize how lucky I was.
It made me think, “If those victims would trade places with me, they would. And they would be happy to live my life to the fullest.”
So I resolved to earn this fairly lucky spot I have in this universe. I was going to live my life in the way they would if they could—I was going to live it well, which meant I was going to take responsibility for it and be kind. This was the least I could do, and it’s fundamental in making the world a better a place to live in.
Because I didn’t feel smart enough, I’ve begun educating myself by reading more, watching informative videos on YouTube, and listening to podcasts on topics I’m unfamiliar with. Since I didn’t feel talented or creative, I’ve started using my free time to polish my skills and seek out new hobbies—never mind that I struggle, make mistakes, and occasionally get confused; I plunged in and I know I’m growing along the way, no matter how gradual.
Picking myself up and taking control of my direction in life is by far one of the best decisions I’ve made. It has made me more productive and creative, hence happier. Setting goals used to intimidate me so I was hesitant to do it. But now I have a good number of them I’m excitedly working towards. It’s made me more open too, and it feels like there’s truly so much I can do; I just have to stretch out my fingers. I’ve never felt stronger.
Choosing to overcome the victim mentality makes me feel like a good force in society. Not burdened by hatred and jealousy, I’ve improved my relationships with people, from friends, to family, and to acquaintances. After all, it’s easier to think about other people and care for them when you’re not self-absorbed. Without the jealousy, I’m not competing against them, either. I’m more inclined to be kind and loving, and that’s so important because other people are oppressed too—and that could even be because of myself.
If you’re in the early stages of dropping the victim mentality—which is to say you haven’t gotten rid of it 100 percent—it’s easy to think that nothing will come out of your teeny tiny efforts.
To listen to the negative voice in you is a mistake, because listening to it and succumbing to the cycle of misery and blame will just bring you unhappiness in the present and in the long run.
It sets you up to becoming destructive to yourself and those around you. Aside from that, it’ll make you depend on others for a full life, which is something you make yourself (and no one else).
What I feel now does not change the fact that life is tough, unfair, and unjust. Come to think of it, life will probably always be tough, unfair, and unjust, because that’s just how life is. We’re all just thrown into the chaos; some of us land where the grass is green, while the others drop on a rough, dirty pavement. It doesn’t change the fact that I have the same setbacks or disadvantages. I can spend my days depressed and brainwash myself to believing I’m powerless over my own life, and that there’s no point in trying anything out. But because I’m being proactive—and choosing to be proactive to get used to it—chances are, I’ll be the person I’ve always wanted to be and ease my own and other people’s sufferings. That other people like Hirsi Ali or Lola are able to make a gift out of their lives shows that life is also wonderful and precious, that it’s possible to be the master of one’s fate.
I’m still no one: I haven’t done anything big for society. But I’m alive and I’m improving myself. For now, that’s more than enough.