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  • Writer's pictureMathuza Senthivel

Rolling Away From Labels: Finding Freedom from Restrictive Labels through Rollerblading

For as long as I can remember I’ve been stuck floating in limbo, no sense of self or idea of how I fit into the world. I've always just sort of...existed.

I'm Tamil, but I can't speak it. I can understand it perfectly fine, but when it comes to forming a sentence my mind blanks— leaving me trying to fish for the right words that aren't even there. While most people learn it by picking it up from their parents, I was never really encouraged, and was even mocked when I tried. Apart from not speaking Tamil, I never played the Veena or danced Bharatanatyam, and wasn’t interested in keeping up with Tamil cinema and music.

It feels like everyone knows their place in the world, but there just wasn't much in the way of connecting me to my culture or to my peers. I was hesitant and ashamed to try and learn, concluding that I don't deserve to occupy space in a community in which I didn't contribute anything.

Being a South Asian woman, I'm all too aware of the expectations thrust upon us by our culture: putting a hypothetical marriage and kids first, ignoring our own dreams and desires, meeting socially accepted beauty standards, and putting public image above all else. But I cannot keep up with these expectations. Sometimes I don’t want to.

So then what else have I got? Most people seem to identify strongly with their hobbies and interests. My friends are artists, bakers, gamers, athletes and so much more. They all have so much talent to their names, so much presence, while I'm just…existing. If someone were to point me out in a crowd, what would they say to describe me? Nothing specific comes to mind.

In order to have something to say about myself, I decided to find a hobby .

I tried drawing – I wasn’t very good at it. Then I moved to baking – I was pretty average. Embroidery seemed appealing – in the end I found it fiddly and frustrating.

It got to a point where I was so desperate, trying to find something that other people could use to define me, that I felt miserable and burnt out. Eventually, I’d resigned myself to the fact that I'm not one of those people who's allowed to take up space. I should just focus on getting through life.

Not having many leisure pursuits meant that I spent most of my time mindlessly scrolling through social media or virtual window shopping on Facebook marketplace.

Then, I stumbled across some roller-skates.

Someone was trying to get rid of their barely used pair, safety gear and all. Almost instantly, my mind painted a picture: cruising along the street, hair blowing back in the breeze, music blasting through my headphones. That must feel… liberating.

I could try it out, but I now had a history of not sticking to hobbies, and I probably wouldn't be very good at it anyways. So, I closed the tab and went back to lounging about.

Yet, I found myself thinking about it a couple hours later. “Roller-skating does look really fun,” I thought. “I'll just research about it a little since I'm curious, it'll give me something to do.”

I spent the next week reading about skate maintenance, watching Tiktoks and Youtube videos for tricks to learn, and pouring over Reddit threads about other people's skating journeys. I couldn't not think about roller-skating. But something was holding me back.

I didn't want to be mocked. It'd be embarrassing if people saw me trying only to eventually abandon it. What would they think of me then? It'd probably be a waste of time too, time I should be investing towards something actually "productive."

But my heart sang a different tune. Roller-skating was something I've always wanted to do. The fact that I couldn’t shake the thought of it all week proved that. Moreover, a new pair of skates along with the required equipment would undoubtedly be expensive. The fact that I’d found a listing that was selling both for a lower price confirmed that now was the perfect opportunity to give it a try. If not now, when? I knew I’d probably regret forsaking this experience later.

In a moment of impulsivity, I bought them.

I was now the proud owner of a pair of rollerskates…which collected dust for the next 6 months.

I was too stressed out to put them on. Skating just seemed a lot better in my head. Over the next 6 months, while a part of me was too anxious to try, the rest screamed to give it a go. Just buying skates didn't appease my thoughts. I was desperate to be out there cruising the streets.

Term ended, summer hit, and I was mindlessly scrolling through social media. When a video of a girl dancing in her skates came up on my TikTok, I desperately wanted to be that girl. I could be; the only thing standing in my way were my inhibitions.

Inspired, I went into the garden and got my skates on. I tried to get onto my feet, as steadily as possible, and fell flat on my face.

It was painful, but I got up again. After 45 minutes of struggling, I was balancing on one leg, if only for 2 seconds. It was progress. That’s what mattered.

I tried again the next day and I was getting better – I could balance on each leg for longer! – and I was enjoying the process of just learning something. I decided to document my thoughts on a throwaway Twitter account. Any time I threw on my skates—even if it was for 5 mins— I wrote about what I did, how I felt, and what I wanted to do next.

There was no pressure to perform here. I wasn't stressing about what other people would think of me or wondering if I could call myself a roller-skater, I was just doing. On my first day I could barely stand without falling but a week later I was rolling forward. Three weeks after that I was skating in public with new friends I'd made, doing laps of the Emirates stadium and dancing to music on our skates together.

For so long, I was trying to find a label for myself in everything I did, which meant that I was more concerned with proficiency or the value of my contributions, than about savouring momentous life experiences. I was holding myself back.

Not thinking about finding a label but instead finding fun in learning, failing, falling, and succeeding allowed me to just exist, in a way that I'd struggled to do before.

Identity doesn't have to be tied to the things you do well, or what you can contribute. You're allowed to do things just for the sake of doing them, and having fun. Sometimes, happiness comes simply from existing.


Mathuza is a first generation British-Tamil living in the UK. She, like many others, struggled to connect with her heritage but is attempting to learn more. She enjoys finding ways to get involved with the community around her and is interested in learning with and from with other women of the South Asain diaspora. As of recently she spends most of her time teaching herself to rollerskate. You can follow her rollerskating journey on her instagram @tooztriestoskat


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