Last Updated Mar 14, 2019 12:54 PM EDT
In our series, Note To Self, "Top Chef" host Padma Lakshmi shares her personal journey in a letter to her five-year-old self. As a young girl, she emigrated to the U.S. from southern India. She later studied at Clark University, earning a degree in theater arts and eventually becoming a supermodel and actor. Lakshmi is also an activist with a newly announced role as a Goodwill Ambassador in the United Nations Development Program. She's also served as an ACLU ambassador and started a foundation for women with endometriosis. In her note, Lakshmi opens up about the deeply personal challenges she faced from adolescence to adulthood.
You're smiling but I know you're scared. You haven't seen your parents for half of your young life and you're five. You've already crossed continents by yourself, coming to America to rejoin mom and make a new life here. Don't worry, you'll make it. You will get to college, in spite of a car wreck that leaves your body badly broken and scarred. Freshman year, you'll be told you don't belong. Because, after months of being together, your first real boyfriend tells you his parents won't approve of you. You'll be devastated. It's his failing. Not yours.
You'll find your way to Europe. For the first time you'll feel that being "other" is okay. A good thing even. You'll see that brown is beautiful. Scars and all. Back in America, there are many brown and black faces, yet you'll always feel like an outsider looking in. For years, you'll try to fit into the standards others set for you, because you want to belong. Belonging or finding some haven, this will be the theme of your life, girl. You'll be a nomad. And while this may feel like exile, it'll gain you the knowledge for your life's work. You'll seek shelter, girl, in the most unlikely places, until you realize that the best roof over your head is the one you build with your own convictions.
Your voice won't be heard by those who are supposed to love and protect you. At age seven, you will be molested. You will use words to call it out, but you'll think those words don't matter because life will go on as if nothing happened. The sovereignty of your body will be violated again. You will be raped at 16. By then, you'll be silenced into submission and it will take you decades to find your voice. But you, you bury all that, somewhere deep. You'll chisel a life for yourself, out of thin air and carry on as if nothing ever happened. You're resilient, though I know you're hurting inside. Just like your mother before you. But watching her you learn a lot.
For comfort, you will cook. It comes really easily to you, and the kitchen has always been your happy place. In fact, you don't know it yet, but your actual career will be about tasting the world. You'll write books about food and how to be wholly nourished. You'll have various TV shows all over the world. And one show called "Top Chef" will change the way Americans think about food. This show will be a success. You'll realize along the way you are of value. Pads, you won't just survive, you'll flourish.
But there are some serious bumps in the road. Womanhood comes with a handicap you won't understand. The uterine disorder, endometriosis, affects every aspect of your life. But you meet a doctor and he saves you. He'll encourage you to use your words and together you'll start a women's health foundation, changing the way the illness is known globally. When the pain has finally receded, you begin to understand. Your voice matters.
Life has a plan for you. One day a songbird will flutter in your belly. And life begins anew. You'll be a mom and your heart will burst with a happiness you've never known or thought possible. You'll see that this is the belonging that you've always searched for all your life. You will finally know peace. You will finally exhale. You'll have many lives little one. And though the journey feels long, it's really just begun. Everything will be alright.