International Women's Day interview with Puja S. Goel, O.D., F.A.A.O., R.Y.T.
I came to the western part of the world as a young girl from northern India. As most immigrant families do, mine tried to assimilate me to western culture to fit it. At home we lived another life with a different set of rules, language, and expectations. In a western school we were expected to be outspoken and competitive. In the traditions of my family, I was expected to be quiet and submissive, especially as a girl.
This was always an internal battle, particularly as I became a young woman. What was considered attractive in females by western standards was the opposite in eastern standards. In the west it was more appealing to be open with your body, expressive, and outgoing. In the east it was more appealing to be subdued, timid, and obedient. I observed both sides had lost the true essence of femininity. These characteristics were masks to cover up something. My search for what it means to be a woman, especially a woman of colored skin, has been an enduring one.
I became a doctor, a model, a yoga instructor, humanitarian, and an entrepreneur. On the surface, these are the labels I play. Underneath the surface, they are experiences my soul chose to understand. As an eye doctor, I utilized my time with patients to connect to individuals from all walks of life. I threw myself into hospitals, clinics, nonprofit groups all over the world. Whether it was the rich, the poor, drug addicts, convicts, military veterans, to pediatrics to geriatrics, teaching English to children in developing countries, or working with sexual assault survivors in urban cities, all these people were my teachers. I felt like I was on a one on one interview with humanity. This pushed me to face my own insecurities and embrace my own strengths.
As a colored female doctor, I forced myself to pick colleagues that were primarily white male. In my nervous system I needed to know what it felt like to be an equal. The equality was not earned from a degree or education, it’s a belief in our bodies. Even if we say all women and races are considered equal, it’s what we feel at our bodies that is our truth. The feeling of being inferior because of my gender and color of skin was ingrained in me and no one could talk me out of it. Being a knowledgable doctor with good bedside manners was easy for me. Feeling as valuable as my male counterparts was my challenge. I had to dress down my femininity to be taken seriously for my intellect and it took me years to understand my worth in pay. It took constant dedication to dismantle these beliefs and eventually feel the truth that I am the same as anyone else, even a white male.
Modeling has been another side to this story. You face degrading and objectifying behavior in this line of work. At first, I went into it for validation. I needed approval that as a woman I was accepted by society. I played into the lie that women have to look a certain way to have a place in this world. My relationship with beauty needed to change. When I eventually saw my own inner and outer beauty as a work of art, I began attracting photographers and agencies that valued me for being me. Modeling simply became a form of self-expression and something I believe every woman should do.
Being in front of a camera, or in front of anyone or anything, takes a sense of safety for a woman. In our hearts and bodies, we hold the deepest emotions. In my nervous system, I hold wounds of childhood sexual abuse, abandonment, and my deepest wound, the loss of my own child. When you feel pain this deep, you have no choice but to surrender. Only a woman knows from this penetrating wound, even more love can flow forth. A bond between a mother and child is divinity in its purest form.
From the east to the west I have seen women hide behind many masks in the forms of self-assertiveness, obedience, being overly sexual, not being sexual enough, rebelliousness, timidness, and many more masks. I have worn all these masks.
These masks protect a women’s most precious jewel, her delicate and vulnerable feminine essence. We are designed to be compassionate, nurturing, and forgiving. These qualities have been taken as a weakness but are qualities mankind cannot live without. We protect ourselves not knowing we are protecting our sacredness.
Look into a woman’s eyes and allow yourself to melt into her. You will see the truth and you will feel what love is. When I see another woman, I bow my head in respect to her sweetness and strength. She is a queen. I am blessed to have been born into such a beautiful incarnation of the Divine.