As far as I can remember, I've always looked different.
In elementary school, my classmates called me a girl, a genie and Aladdin.
In middle school, I was a raghead, a diaperhead and Sadam Hussein.
And in high school, some kids were convinced that I was Osama bin Laden.
These sorts of challenges come with looking different.
On the other hand, looking different has its advantages.
People pay attention when I walk into a room. I'm noticeable and memorable. In fact, people don't forget meeting me. This is a huge benefit that comes with having a distinctive appearance.
And in my experiences, the benefits of looking different outweigh the challenges.
For example, "looking different" has led me to "look differently." My Sikh identity has been linked to major moments in my life, and these unique experiences have shaped the way in which I view the world.
Like too many others, I've been discriminated against because of my unique appearance. While I wouldn't wish it on anyone else, being the target of discrimination has helped open my eyes to various types of inequalities in our world.
These experiences have taught me to identify with the struggles faced by others from diverse backgrounds and worldviews, and the resulting empathy keeps me from drawing assumptions or judgments about others.
Discrimination has also helped me build character and discipline. It's always tough to stay cool while others shout obscenities and racial slurs. But at the same time, accounting for ignorance and reacting with compassion and love have come to feature prominently in my interactions with society.
At the same time, the benefits of "looking different" do not only emerge from alienation; in fact, I've received far more support and encouragement from strangers than hate and animosity, and these interactions constantly inspire me to view the world more positively.
While it's easy to focus on the negative, I can't help but be constantly amazed by the bombardment of love and support I receive from people who appreciate the values represented by my Sikh identity.
It's this sort of optimism that makes me believe that "looking different" has played a significant role in my way of "looking differently."
Follow Simran Jeet Singh on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@SimranColumbia