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Maya Bhogal: Lifting away social pressures

Maya Bhogal: Lifting away social pressures


The South Asian families want their kids to opt for a career that gives them job secuiry, makes them financially independent, offers social status and upword mobility. However, with changing time, many South Asian kids are opting for out-of-the-box career choices. But they have to deal with parental pressure when it comes to going for something that does not fit the definition of a well defined mainstream career. Maya Bhogal works with Safe Schools department to support youth in dealing with their everyday struggles with social pressures. She encourages youth to find a passion that will give them internal satisfaction and positively impact their lives. She is an inspiration herself, since she follows what she preaches. She herself went off the beaten path and opted to pursue body-building. In her article she writes how important it is support kids in what they want to follow. She says a happy generation is the foundation of a happy society. A career of choice and right support by parents can make a positive impact in today’s generation

  By Maya Bhogal


The age old question that, as kids growing up, we are so accustom to being asked: What do you want to be when you grow up? We are taught by our society to get a good education, work hard, get married, have a family and have a home. To me, these are some of the boxes that we are pressured to fit into. When choosing a career, there seems to be a lot of external pressure around choosing the right one that will make our parents happy and proud. However, with my persona experience I have always found it is important to follow activities and interests that are personally engaging. A career of choice, eventually leads towards a positive direction in life. It is something that happened with me.

Coming from a family that had its roots in East Afric, my parents moved to India for a short period before migrating and settling down in B.C. in the 70’s. Hearing my family’s struggles and learning about their resiliency always motivated me to work hard, and find my passion.

Once I graduated, I moved away from home at the age of 17 and completed my undergraduate degree in Sociology. I remember the confusion when my family learned about my degree and I was always getting pegged with questions like What will you do with this degree? Will you still become a lawyer? How much money can you make? and some of the unwelcoming tones I received. Even when I graduated, the first question I heard was When are you getting your Master’s degree? I was constantly plagued with pressures from the family and their wish to fit me into this perfect box that would make me successful.

After I graduated, of course I was happy and proud of myself, but I didn’t know who I was anymore or what I wanted for my future. At the time, there was a lot of change in my life and I was stressed out with the separation of my parents and feeling unsure of what to do or how to feel about things. I was working part-time in a gym at the age of 22 and found myself staying at the gym after work where I would work out for hours on end. I finally realized that working out had become my outlet where I was able to lift away the pain and be in my own thoughts.

After a few years of working out, I decided to take the plunge and compete in my first bodybuilding competition. Having the conversation about bodybuilding with my family about flaunting my body in a bikini on a stage for the world to see, was certainly a difficult one. Telling my mom and sister was easier than I expected, after finding the courage, the conversation ended up simple and easy; they just wanted to see me happy and was proud of the fact that I was finding my way again and on some sort of positive life path.

At first, my grandparents were confused with my new pursuit of happiness, because being an Indian woman, how was I representing our culture? And how would I ever find a man who would love my muscles? I had felt like I was disappointing my grandparents, as they expected me to be settled in my career  and on my way to marriage, a landmark of the Indian culture. However, I still continued with my bodybuilding, because I knew in my heart, if they saw me happy, healthy and not harming anyone, they would eventually accept this.

In November, 2015, I finally made it to my first show, the Popeye’s Fall Classic. My most vivid memory, while I was standing on stage, nervous and unsure, was having my entire family and group of friends screaming my name from the audience as they watched me at my first show and giving me a sense of comfort and the support I needed.

I was elated, and shocked that I had accomplished this goal of walking on stage and on top of that, winning! It was just then after my first show, where my grandparents had accepted this new path that I had chosen. They were so supportive through my second show preparation. Hearing my grandpa’s voice constantly encouraging me, telling me I would do great, made this process so much more motivating. I went on to provincials in 2017 and will be competing in the nationals in the summer of 2019.

Challenging the cultural norm and the gender roles in my community has been a huge passion of mine and through this sport, I have found purpose and the means to motivate positive social change. At many times through my training and even in off-season, I was asked by family members to remove my bikni photos off social media, but instead, I have embraced the photo postings.

Being in a bikini as an Indian woman should not be an objectifying experience as bodybuilding is a world-renown sport for many cultures around the world. There have been obstacles along the way and these will continue, but having confidence in my own abilties and being commited to my values have certainly allowed me to work through the pressures of adhering to social norms.

Just before my first show, I began a job with the Safe Schools Department in the Surrey School District, supporting vulnerable youth through the Surrey Wraparound program, and I have never looked back. I work one-on-one with youth, working through some of their struggles, and supporting them in making positive changes in their lives. With the strong connections the district has with community partners such as the Surrey RCMP and the City of Surrey, we work collaboratively with our youth to help them create new and healthy goals. I finally feel like I have more purpose in my life helping youth. In my role with the Safe Schools department, I support youth and their parents, offering education and prevention relating to youth safety and overall well-being.

Key to my work is creating strong relationships with the youth I support; one that is built on honesty and openness. As part of this, I talk with some of our South Asian youth around career goals. A struggle for many South Asian youth is having the approval of their parents when it comes to choosing a career. I encourage youth to have conversations with their parents around why they are choosing a career path that may deviate from what their parents want.

My advice for youth who are looking for a career path, let your true interests and your personal values guide you. Money and material objects do not make anyone happy.  It’s the purpose that you aim to serve in the world that will give you happiness. At the end of the day, your family wants to see you happy, even if it means you aren’t a doctor or a lawyer. Being happy and healthy, both physically and mentally will contribute to overall happiness.

Through this journey of bodybuilding, I have found my identity again, and I know who Maya really is. I have come to full acceptance that it is okay to not fit yourself into a box, but instead, jump out of your comfort zone to have new experiences and adventures, enjoy life and be confident in the decisions you are making. A huge pressure from our society is completing things by a certain age. Instead of feeling these pressures, understanding that there is a time and place for everything and believing in yourself that things will fall into place over time.

With the support of the district, I began my endeavour to complete my master’s degree in Counselling Psychology. I am now 27 and still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, but I definitely know I want to be Maya.



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