Shakti stories: Vithya Brown boss babes
Whats it like growing up with a South Asian background in Sydney?
Growing up I did not realise how much I had missed out on till I was older. A lot of my other friends were allowed to play sport especially in teams, they all had play dates or they were allowed to hang out with their friends outside of school, like during the holidays also. As a twin, I wasn’t allowed to. We had to go to tuition or piano practice. I didn’t even go to timezone (games arcade) till I was a teenager o this day, I have not been bowling either.
The other hard part was I went to school with very few south Asians.
As a result, I got bullied because I was a chubby kid and I was very dark skinned compared to everyone else. It was hard. I remember once I did stand up for myself when I was getting bullied and that ended in a violent hit in the head. The person that committed the attack also happened to live on my street. I was no longer allowed to go on my bike around the street by myself after that. This obviously became an issue and to this day, I am very reserved in letting people in.
I think the hardest part of growing up, was the constant comparison to cousins and family friends. I knew my parents would have thought, it was a good way of motivating me. But I took it as I was not good enough to be their child and I was an embarrassment. This made me want to work harder, but even now the comparison is still happening.
Have you ever dealt with personal mental health concerns?
I went to a school where there weren’t a lot of south Asians. During both primary and high school, I was bullied about the colour of my skin. I remember in years 8-10, there was one of my peers that called me Burnt Sausage over and over in front of the class. This got me to the point I stopped going outside and started using all the creams imaginable to lighten my skin to actually feel accepted and fit in with the group. I did not feel accepted, up until year 11 and 12 when I started hanging out with a lot of more South Asian people. Only till then, did my confidence grow.
What challenges do women of color face growing up as a minority?
We had to be perfect and nice to everyone at all times. That was how I was raised. Many people may say yes, you have very polite children to my parents, but my parents did that so we would be accepted into the environment and not cause conflict. My mum eventually started cooking outside, so the entire house and our clothes would not smell when we left the house. This particularly hard especially in winter. And it was all so no one would tease us and say we smell like curry. At school we had to work hard and so we went to tution. We were told that we had to work harder than the white children because opportunities are not easy for us to get we had to be exceptional.
Running my business was a huge eye opener. I have a very strong Australian accent. I even go by Vicky instead of Vithyaa for all things professionally. This was because it was easier than correcting people each time. However, now when they meet me they always ask, so what is your background or where are you from. Only on one occasion have I ever had someone ask why are you brown.
What message of support would you like to say for young South Asians growing up with Mental health pressures?
We age and as we age, we get wiser and smarter, Things you thought you knew about life will change as you get older. The big things now will be the small things later on.
Do not let whatever anyone says get you down, that is their opinion. Even if it is your parents, they do not even know your real potential. The only person that does know, is you. You are the powerful force that is on this planet, and your thoughts, will become the drive and passion you need to be able to execute anything you set your mind on. No one else’s thoughts matter except your own!
What inspired the creation of BBB?
When I told my parents, I was doing Forensics at Uni, they were not happy or supportive. They asked me to rethink my options. But I argued with them and followed my passion. It took over 3 years of hard work whilst also listening to constant criticism from friends and family to get where I am today. I did not have the support at home and in my circles but somehow, I managed to become one of only a handful of female forensic fire investigators. This is what inspired the creation of BBB. I wanted to create a safe space for all women, to engage, network and build relationships where they feel supported by their like-minded peers.
When I started my side business flowerwalls.syd 6 months ago, I received a lot of criticism that was really focused on your background isn’t in that, you aren’t trained, you don’t know how to run a business etc. I am a strong, driven and stubborn person that did not allow what those people had said to bring me down. I am thankful I had my fiancé that supported me through the entire process, and he is the reason why the business is where it is today. This is when I had the second moment that BBB needed to be created. I know there are probably a lot of women who do not have the power and strength to stand up and say I can do it and I can do it on my own like I did. I was driving to meet Suki and Vano for an unrelated matter, where I thought I should bring the idea of BBB to them and see what they think. And they both had agreed with me and that was how we started BBB, a community organisation where women can be empowered to do what they think is impossible regardless of the colour of their skin.