About a year ago, one of my Twitter friends, Tanveer Naseer shared that his 14 year-old daughter Alya had written a book titled Don't Change, A Mother's Letter of Love for Her Daughter. Wanting to support Alya in her dream, I purchased a copy, and subsequently asked if she'd be interested in guest posting and being interviewed. I especially love her line in the interview — “Who said you have to call me mom rather than mommy?” Enjoy.
Women from all around the world worry about their looks every morning before going to work, or even going to school. They think that their hair has to be perfect so they use curling irons, straighteners and crimping irons to curl, straighten or create crimps in their hair. However, some women only pass a brush through their hair to take out the knots. Makeup is also another creation meant to perfect facial details. Certain women put a little bit, something discreet and others put tons of makeup it is so hard to go unnoticed.
Clearly, women and girls feel the need to look perfect. For example, many girls in my school worry about their appearance all the time and they wouldn't come to school a single day without makeup on. Some people may think that it is okay that they do this at such a young age because they are just “children” which leads to my point. They are just children so they shouldn't feel uncomfortable in their skin at their age. What is worse is that they will not be confident in their skin as they grow older and this can lead to serious low self-esteem issues. Women feel the need to look pretty and perfect, as in skinny and gorgeous, to make friends and to be able to socialize, despite the fact that your physical appearance should not be relevant in your social life. A true friend sees who you are on the inside and that is all that matters to them. No girl or woman should feel excluded from people or activities she wants to participate in because of what she looks like. Appearances mean nothing to most people, who you are on the inside dominates everything else.
I believe the hardest time in a woman's life is when she is a teenager. At that point in time, you feel pressured to do well in school but also in your social life. You feel like you need to look a certain way to be able to communicate with others but who are you comparing yourself to? Models that get plastic surgery, wear the most expensive makeup available, magazine celebrities that are edited on Photoshop?
Another problem is that some girls might be teased about their weight, their clothes or their facial features and they don't always know how to deal with the situation. It isn't always easy, not everybody is going to adore you. Women and girls need to know how to ignore the nasty comments and just be themselves. Some people might be tempted to change their likes and dislikes to feel like they belong with a certain group or person. Others might even change who they are, just to feel included in a certain group or activity. Be that as it may, girls need to learn that it is better to be disliked for who you are then loved for who you are not. It might be hard to live by this but it will make your life so much better and you will enjoy being yourself.
Of course, there are girls and women out there who do not care what people think of them. They are who they are. They don't change themselves for anybody. If somebody doesn't appreciate you for who you are, then it is their loss. You should believe in yourself. Don't try to be someone who you are not. Everybody is special and unique in their own way and nobody should change that.
1. How did the idea come to you?
In my first year of high school, my English teacher assigned a project, “slam poetry” in which we had to create our own poem and present it in front of the class as an oral presentation. She gave many examples such as bullying, relationships and then she said the one that inspired me the most – when you are young, you call your parents a certain way, you act a certain way but when you get older, you feel the need to change those habits.
Then, almost instantaneously, I got one of the first lines in my head: who said you have to call me mother or mom instead of mommy like you used to when you were little?
I knew what point of view I wanted to use for my poem but I still had to find a bigger theme to be able to write a poem that would last at least 3 minutes. I had to think of a common issue that many people could relate to. It was then that I decided to write about a girl's appearance; how she sees herself and how others see her. This was something that I could easily relate to.
Once I thought of this very common issue, I decided that my poem would be about this and that I would try to change the lives of girls by teaching them how important it is to be yourself.
For instance, women from different countries will always struggle to fit in society if they feel uncomfortable with who they are. They need to feel proud and happy to be who they are. No matter how hard you try, you can never be someone else because everybody is different. Why not just accept who you are and learn to be happy with your appearance and your personality traits?
2. Why did you decide to write a book?
Actually, I never really planned on writing a book. This idea came along when I first practised for my oral presentation. I performed the poem in front of my parents and they were amazed at how powerful my message was and how well I presented it. My dad shared it on his blog and many people asked if I was going to make a book out of this poem.
After seeing that many people had enjoyed reading my poem and thought it was very impressive that a girl my age thinks this way, I decided I was going to publish my first book. This way, I could spread my message to a wider audience and more girls will learn to appreciate everything that they have and every part of themselves.
I drew some sketches to figure out how to illustrate the poem, and then created the drawings that are in my book. I also used Photoshop to create a customized text design to really make the book looks special and draw attention to the message. With lots of time and patience, I had put together my first book.
3. Why did you create an illustrated book? Why did you choose to make the drawings you did?
I decided to make an illustrated book so that parents can read this book to their younger children. Also, when girls and women read this book, it will remind them of their childhood and how they used to see themselves. Finally, I made illustrations for my book because I love to draw as it is a way to express feelings and messages, which can make reading my book even more easy to relate to.
I chose the illustrations I drew for my book because they represented the part of my poem the best. Sometimes, my drawings would represent literally what was written. For example, when the mother compares her daughter to so many sweet things like honey, I basically drew what was written. Other times, I drew images that reflected the emotions I write about in my poem. For instance, when her mom says she will crush the hearts of those who hurt her, I drew a girl who was crying, which is not directly mentioned in that part of the poem.
4. If you could have any super power, what would it be?
I don't know what I would want as a super power since they are all unique and different. Flying would be fun so I could get to places faster. Having the power of being invisible would be amazing so I could sneak around to get things or scare my friends and family! If I had the power of speed, it would be great so I can get things done faster.
So overall, I wouldn't want just one power but all of them since it would be close to impossible to choose only one!
5. What advice would you give to others for how they can achieve their dreams or goals?
I would tell people that to reach your goal you need to be determined, have perseverance, be patient, and to be self-confident about your decisions and to make sure you are enjoying the hard-work you are putting into achieving your goals. You need to be motivated and to trust yourself.
Most importantly, you need to believe in yourself; you need to believe that what you are doing is right. It may not be easy at first but you'll get through it. The day that you accomplish your dreams, you'll be proud of all the time, patience and effort you have put to get to where you are now. I've been able to do things I dreamed would be fun to do. So why not you?
Alya Naseer is a 15 year old girl who enjoys learning new things in high school and always loves a challenge. Alya is an Academic Distinction award-winning student at Heritage Regional High School in the International Baccalaureate program. You can follow Alya on Twitter and Google+.