Sarah Malik’s Desi Girl Is A Love Letter To Aussie WOC Trying To Find Their Place In The World

Photo by Zahrah Habibullah
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Sarah Malik has been writing professionally for over 15 years, but her debut book, Desi Girl is a departure from her usual journalism that centres the voices of others. Looking inward, the first generation Pakistani Australian explores the nuances of growing up in the shadow of September 11, navigating a career in media as a woman of colour (WOC), and finding a sense of home when you're caught between two cultures.
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"This book is about finding yourself and it's about searching for who you are," Malik tells Refinery29 Australia over the phone. "I think it will resonate with anyone who's trying to do that, whatever background you're from.
"I think it was accelerated for me, being a young Muslim woman in a post 9/11 world where who you are is suddenly in the spotlight in a really caricatured way and it almost forces this process of inward reflection — who am I? What do I want? What do I believe in?"
The book starts off detailing Malik's experience with what's often seen as a rite of passage for many young Aussies: moving out of home. Finding your new community or 'family' can be daunting, and even more so when your South Asian parents aren't the biggest advocates of you going against the cultural norm of living at home until you get an arranged marriage. Subsequent chapters delve into Malik exploring her faith and wearing a hijab, learning to swim, dating and her unapologetic love for Jane Austen.
The chapters about being a woman of colour in the workplace, and going to therapy, were honest, powerful and truly resonated with me. Imposter syndrome and second-guessing yourself at work is all too common as a woman, and often even more so as a woman of colour.
"These issues do send us to the therapist's office because they impact us so much," says Malik. "These feelings of exclusion and being the only person [of colour] and feeling gaslighted. Feeling like you don't really have a place or wondering why you are trying to climb this mountain that everyone else has the ropes for, that you keep slipping down.
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"It was nerve-racking writing that chapter," she then laughs. "But I do think that there's an appetite now for these conversations, and we need to be open and honest about the fact that certain people inhabit and experience spaces differently from others and that race and class have a lot to do with that."

"These issues do send us to the therapist's office because they impact us so much. These feelings of exclusion and being the only person [of colour] and feeling gaslighted."

sarah malik
She was "really nervous" writing about therapy because of the stigmas attached to seeking mental health support, particularly within South Asian communities like hers and mine.
"I feel like mental health is something that we are talking about more openly now as a society, and I am proud to add to that conversation and add to that destigmatisation of mental health," says Malik.
"If you are made to feel invisible in the culture, if your identity is not reflected in the public sphere, that does impact how you move and interact in the world. It does impact your self-esteem, it does impact your mental health.
"I hope that that chapter was nuanced and complicated in exploring my own personal experience as a Muslim woman of colour and my journey with therapy and how much it's helped me."

But Malik is quick to highlight that with struggles and adversity can also come immense growth and the opportunity to find and embrace moments of joy. It's the message she ultimately wants to drive home in the book.

"That's really important too, because you can sometimes build up an identity of struggle, and it's hard to let go of that 'fight' instinct," she reflects.
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"Now that I feel like I've acquired certain things that I'm really proud of, I can just relax into it and feel like, 'Yes, you're doing well, you deserve it. You deserve joy, you deserve relaxation, and you deserve abundance.'
"I think it's really important to share those struggles and be honest about them, but also share the joys."
Desi Girl is now available to purchase here.
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