I was born with red hair, and it took me a few years to love it. I was the only one in my immediate family who was a ginger, so I was convinced that I was adopted. I didn't understand genetics so I figured if I didn't look like my parents, then I must have come from another family.
Of course, I later learned that it was all in my genes. My grandfather had red hair, and we come from a Scottish heritage, so it all makes sense. But the feeling of not belonging and being outcast at school is something I wouldn't wish on anyone.
Pooja Ganatra knows that struggle one million times more than I do, because she looked so different her community thought she was diseased.
In 1991, Pooja was born to "typically Indian" parents, who had dark skin, dark hair, and dark eyes. Before long, it became obvious that their little daughter was unlike anything they had ever seen. With bright red hair, emerald eyes, and white skin, it looked like Pooja had come from Gaelic roots.
"When I was born, my family had never seen anyone who looked like me before because they all have brown skin, black hair and brown eyes, like most Indians," Pooja said.
By the time she was three years old, Pooja began developing freckles. It was so foreign to her parents, that she was rushed to the hospital for fear of Pooja having a skin disease.
"When my freckles started appearing everywhere when I was three, because none of my relatives had ever gotten freckles before they didn't know what they were," she told The Sun. "I was rushed to the doctors because everyone thought it was a birth defect or skin disease."
Things only got worse as Pooja got older.
Being different when you're at school is hard, especially when you're the only person in your culture to look wildly different than all the rest. Pooja endured years of bullying as she grew up. And if you thought that ended after grade school, you'd be wrong. According to Pooja, she experienced discrimination all throughout her university years.
"I was always the odd-one-out at school and was routinely bullied," the recalled. "People would always come up and ask 'what are those spots on your face? Why do you have so many marks?' It was a real mental challenge. Even in my first year of university, I was pulled aside and told not to wear sleeveless shirts because they were 'too eye catching' with my white skin. There was no rule against sleeveless clothing and every other girl dressed like me, yet I was singled out."
And if you thought it was just kids who treated Pooja differently, you'd be wrong.
Despite being a native of India and coming from an Indian family, people treated Pooja like a tourist in her own country.
"Indians love to pose for photos with different-looking people from overseas, so I often get people coming up to me asking for pictures," she said. "It's happened more than 100 times in my life - I have to tell the, 'relax, I'm Indian too'. When I get into taxis, cab drivers start speaking to me in English and are shocked when I answer them in Hindi. The funniest one is when I'm charged the foreigner price for public attractions because they think I'm a backpacker, so I have to prove I'm Indian. When I was in America people wouldn't believe me when I told them I'm Indian."
Pooja also says that in Indian culture, the clarity of your skin is what measures your beauty, so people would comment on her freckles.
"Indians are obsessed with pale skin but it has to be clear - any pimples, blackheads or blemishes of any kind are considered really ugly," she said. "So, while people were in awe of my white skin, they kept telling me that I'd look better if I just got rid of my freckles. They were perceived as this huge flaw. Freckles worsen in the sun and in Mumbai it's always incredibly hot, so my freckles have just kept appearing. I've tried different skin creams and medications to get rid of them, but nothing ever worked."
But if Pooja really is from Indian parents, where did these looks come from?
Pooja has always been curious about where her red hair and freckles come from. Her father is a "typically" darker skinned Indian man, and her mother, though admittedly has lighter skin, is also of Indian background.
"I'd love to get a DNA test one day to discover more about my ancestry because I don't know anything about it," Pooja said. "I have no idea why I look the way that I do but a test into my genes could explain a lot. My grandmother died when my mum was very young, so I was never able to ask her about it but I'm very curious."
Until she gets the answers she's looking for, Pooja has said that she feels more comfortable in Europe and America, because she's sees people who look like her and realizes she's not an outcast.
Pooja has also learned to accept her unique looks and to not let anyone change her perception of beauty.
"After a while I just got sick of trying to change myself and eventually I just decided to accept it," she said. "People tell me to wear foundation and powders to cover my freckles but I'm just not that type of person and I feel beautiful the way I am. Natural beauty is the most gorgeous thing a woman can wear. It took a while to learn how to love myself but now that I do, I always dress my best and bring out my biggest smile for anyone who stares at me. I don't care anymore if people stare at me or judge me because of how I look. I'm too busy loving myself to notice."
There's been no update as to whether or not Pooja has actually undergone the DNA test, but I hope she finds the answers she's looking for. Even though it doesn't change who she is as a person, knowing where her looks come from is sure to give Pooja some closure.