noun: a group or member of a group that is perceived as different, foreign, strange, etc:
Prejudice comes from fear of the other.
verb: to perceive or treat (a group or member of a group) as different, foreign, strange, etc.
--"other". Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 28 Jun. 2017.<Dictionary.com http://www.dictionary.com/browse/other>.
(AKA, THAT KID)
Reasons people are othered: race, gender, color, sexual orientation, religion, politics, socio-economics, appearance (weight, height, development/lack of development, etc), clothing, alcoholic parents, disabilities, speech impediments, intelligence/lack of intelligence...no real reason at all.
GOOD reasons people are othered: ZERO.
Sahar Saidi is an immigrant. She's a woman.
She's an entrepreneur. She's an inventor. And
she's the powerhouse behind LUS (Love Ur Self)
She's also a former THAT Kid turned bad-ass
(and gorgeous) inspiration, and I'm absolutely
thrilled that she stopped by to share her story.
KC) Nowadays, you're a successful and poised inventor/entrepreneur, but can you tell me a little about your childhood, when things weren't so fabulous?
Sahar) Well, I was born in Iran during the 8-year Iran-Iraq war, so I spent the first seven years of my life in turmoil. There were only two channels on our TV and 99% of the time it was all news about the war. But Fridays at 6pm there was a half hour of cartoons (yup, half hour a week, that's it)...and every single week, as soon as the cartoons would start, the bomb sirens would go off, and we'd have to go into hiding, which was an underground hiding spot out in the yard. Sometimes there would be city-wide blackouts and we would spend hours in darkness, sitting around an oil lamp with family, telling stories and laughing. I remember life still going on as normal, despite the chaos going on around us.
Like so many other fed up Iranians, my family decided to leave our country in search for peace. My family (mom, dad and younger brother) moved to Canada as refugees in the late 80's. Being torn away from everyone else in our family whom we were all very close to (aunts, uncles, grandparents) was very hard. As an adult, I can't imagine how my parents (both in their early 30s at the time) did what they did: leave everything and everyone they knew behind, and travel to the other side of the world where they didn't speak the language, didn’t have jobs, or even know a single soul, just for the HOPE of a better future.
KC) Did you ever wish you could return to Iran, where things and loved ones were familiar, even though war-torn?
Sahar) Yes, definitely. I was very close to my aunt (my mom's sister), and I had major separation anxiety from her in particular. I used to cry and beg my parents to take us home. But kids are resilient and they adapt quickly to change, and I was no exception. Pretty soon though, I was loving my new life in Canada. I'm very grateful that my parents took the massive risk that they did. I wouldn't be where I am (or who I am) today, had they not moved us to the other side of the world.
KC) How was your Iranian school experience different from school in Canada?
Sahar) I only completed kindergarten and grade one [in Iran], so my memory is faint, but it was an all-girls' school (all schools were segregated at that time in Iran). I didn't speak a word of English on the first day of school [in Canada] (grade 2), and I remember feeling like an outsider. It didn't help that my mom used to send my brother and I to school with packed Persian lunches, and the other kids even teased us for that. I'm so proud of my heritage & culture now, but as a kid, I just wanted to fit in and I remember feeling embarrassed that while other kids had sandwiches, we had rice and stew or kabobs. I went to ESL along with all the other refugee/immigrant kids. They would put us on a bus and take us to a whole other school for half a day. It was a pretty brutal time in my life.
KC) How did things change once you were in high school?
Sahar) I've always enjoyed learning and reading, so of course I was always teased for that too (brainer, nerd, geek, etc.) As I've stated on our [LUS] site: high marks in school + geeky clothes + pouffy/frizzy hair = nobody's date to the dance. I was teased as such up until the 10thgrade. That's when I discovered hair gel (and realized I actually have "nice" curls) and started dressing differently. That's when the boys started noticing, and that's when I was no longer worried about being teased for being uncool. Somehow society has taught us that pretty + smart = cool, but ugly + smart = nerd. I was the exact same person, just dressing differently, wearing a little makeup and styling my hair, yet I had gone from being "ugly" to "pretty" almost overnight.
KC) Was there a particular instance of being "othered"/teased that you remember above others? Or a person (we won't name names) who lived to make you miserable?
Sahar) My first year of high school was the worst. Though I'd never really considered myself a "person of color," I think entering high school was the first time that I felt truly like an outsider, and that the olive tone of my skin was actually [perceived as] an inferiority. Add to that the fact that my family didn't have a lot of money (meaning my fashion was definitely nowhere near par with the other kids in that school) and everything else about my physical appearance that made me feel ugly. There was one particular girl in grade 9 who was way more developed then the rest of us, and she used to wear the tightest jeans and short tight cropped tops. She also had long, pin straight blonde hair, which of course I envied. All the boys drooled over her. One day during gym class, someone stole her MAC makeup out of her locker. She was furious and turned around and accused me in front of everyone--the only girl who didn't even wear makeup AND clearly didn't even have the same skin tone. I was mortified. When I denied it, she said (and I will never forget, to this day), "Why don't you go back to your own country, you dirty Paki." (Paki = Pakistani, cuz apparently all brown people are the same?) I was enraged and hurled toward her to fight. The other girls physically held me back and broke up what would have been my first girl fight. I told her to meet me after school in the yard. She never showed and from that day on, she kept a safe distance from me, and we literally never spoke again. I don't condone fighting, but I think the mere fact that I was willing to defend myself put her in her place. Kids are cruel; that will never change, but I believe we need to instill self-confidence in our youth at a young age, and teach them how to stand up for themselves (without fighting of course). :)
KC) If you had stayed in Iran, do you imagine your teenage-hood would have been vastly different, or similar?
Sahar) Absolutely, I imagine my teenage years to have been vastly different had we remained in Iran. I have some cousins my age so I know what their adolescence was like. They obviously had stricter upbringings given the Islamic law in the country (i.e. boys and girls can't just openly date, at least back in those days). But there are pros and cons. I would have been closer to all my family members and relatives there. Here, it was just my mom, dad and I. We felt pretty isolated at times.
KC) What happened after high school?
Sahar) Growing up, I got used to my parents fighting. Chaos was normal in my house. They eventually separated when I was 18. Being the eldest child of immigrant parents meant I was caught up in their messy divorce case, translating legal documents for each of them and literally going back and forth between them in court. Not fun.
At around the same time, I took a door-to-door commission-based sales job (knowing I would probably need to start supporting myself soon, given my parents' situation and our home falling apart); that job helped me overcome my shyness. You can't sell anything if you're a shy salesperson. I saved some money over the summer between high school and university. I did the first year of my undergrad studies--I was studying international business at York University in Toronto--only because I had obtained a scholarship, and that's what you're “supposed” to do. But I quickly realized that I didn't need a degree to succeed in business and that I could make a lot more money in the sales job I had worked after high school. So at nineteen, I dropped out of school (much to the disappointment of my immigrant parents), started working full time, and moved out on my own.
From ages 19-34, I worked hard, partied harder, made some money, lost lots of money, progressed fast in my career, quit and gave it all up to relocate to the Caribbean for a few years, travelled (looooooots of traveling), got engaged, called that engagement off, and instead decided to go back to school to finish what I had started all those years back. That pretty much sums up those [fifteen] years. :)
KC) Being shy and coming from a lifetime of doing what was expected of you, deciding to put your foot down and pursue your own plans, goals and dreams is HUGE. Yet you did it in a big, brave leap! What made you realize you were strong enough to do that? Was it scary as hell? Did you land on your feet right out of the proverbial gate, or did it take a few tries to get it right?
Sahar) I think when you don't have a safety net, you just make it happen. No matter what. My parents' messy divorce right around the time that I was entering adulthood forced me to stand on my own two feet, and it's just been like that ever since. It IS scary as hell--every time you make a big move, there is risk involved--but I'm Ok with the notion of failure. I know it's not the end of the world. When I started LUS, it was either success or bankruptcy. The latter is SUPER scary, and that fear motivated me to work harder than I've ever worked before, but I was also OK with the thought of losing everything and starting over again. We've been given the ability to DECIDE, and so we all have to consciously look at the pros and cons of our decisions (big and small) and weigh the wins against the risks and proceed from that. And we have to be willing to live with the consequences. We also have to stop obsessing with making the right decision. Or being afraid of making the wrong ones. I don't believe in that (that there is a "right" or “wrong” decision), so it doesn't scare me as much as it scares most others. It's just a decision, and as long as I own it, I'm OK with whatever might unfold from it.
After graduating from my MBA program (and making my mama proud, lol) I thought about going back to the corporate world but I couldn't get a job if my life depended on it (going from being a sole proprietor all those years back to employee is apparently not an easy feat). I decided to start LUS because I saw the changes taking place in this sector, and I knew that LOTS of companies would profit by taking advantage of consumers who were desperately trying to find a solution to their "problem hair." My mission with LUS was to prove that it's possible to build a successful business while adhering to strong values of honesty and transparency with consumers. This has been one of the hardest things I've ever had to do in my life, but also one of the most rewarding.
And we're just getting started. :)
Sahar Saidi's Story
What Younger Me Would Tell Adult Me:
Don't forget to have fun too, in the middle of all that hard work! And...don't give up on love. :)
What Adult Me Would Tell Younger Me:
Don't worry about what anyone else thinks or says about you. Focus on figuring out who you really are, what you really enjoy doing, and what makes you happy. Also, don't worry so much about the future, enjoy these years cuz life gets hard, and you will miss these "simple" times.
My Secret Talent:
I can move my ears. Really…I can! Does that count? :-P
5 Random Facts About Me:
1- I used to be an obsessed figure skater when I was a kid/pre-teen (hello Elvis Stojko).
2- I LOVE food...like truly, I love to eat. You can't tell looking at me, cuz I'm pretty petite (5'2") but yea, I love food.
3- I love animals but I'm allergic to most. :(
4- I used to ride motorcycles (had a Ninja), and I still have an "itch" to get a bike again.
5- I have a passion for travel. If I didn't have to work or do anything, I would just travel the world and visit each and every single country!