Happy International Women’s Day…! 2018

Today we celebrate International Women’s Day – a day which honours women’s achievements, their lives and the struggle for equality in this post-modern world. I’ve already heard criticism and grumblings though – some from women saying this day is full of hypocrisy, where companies cash in on a cheesy holiday, before going back to the uncomfortable reality where women aren’t all equal. I’ve also heard some from the men, who feel targeted, pushed out, marginalised and feel that it is unfair (to be honest, there is a International Men’s Day in November, but I’ve never seen it be celebrated.)

One of the reasons why I always like to talk about this day is because I know how much the women in my family have struggled in order for me to have the position, and privilege, that I enjoy today. My paternal grandmother spent her life looking after her husband, then her children, and then her last few years with her sons and grandchildren – but we all saw her as the matriarch, the Queen Bee of the family, and have such fond memories of her. We never knew our maternal grandmother as she died very young, but we have always held her in such high respect – the stories we grew up with about her focused on her being the jewel of her family, a much-wanted daughter and sister. One of the stories I remember being told was about her travelling in her ‘doli’ on her wedding day, and asking to stop so she could pray her salah – this for me was such a humble, awe-inspiring thing to do in the midst of a special day, and a reminder to not get too big for our boots.

And my mother. I could write pages about her. Whenever I read poetry about our roots, our struggles, our blessings, (“Our backs/Tell stories/No books have/The spine to/Hold” – Rupi Kaur), I always think of my mum and what she has taught us while she raised us, as well as what she has endured. My mother married young, and spent her life caring for others, where she never came first – her younger siblings, her husband, her children, her in-laws. I’ve heard a lot of stories from friends, colleagues, bloggers and many more about the relationships they’ve had with their parents, difficult or otherwise which all talk about how they impacted them as adults.

It’s harder to explain the more complex things someone who may not have the same upbringing as us – the emotional-blackmail, the cultural-family politics, the superstitions and the ingrained racism, misogyny and general random weirdness that seems to come part-and-parcel with Asian society. One of the things I was always grateful for was that my mother spared my sisters and I a lot of this headache – she realised the value of letting us be ourselves without forcing us to follow the route she had gone through. We spent our childhood running to the parks, riding bikes, dressing in boy-jeans (well, one of my sisters did anyway), wearing princess dresses (me), devouring books and jumping up and down to Bollywood songs (me again). Our parents were not well off, but my mother spent most of her spare time tailoring, and saved money carefully so that when we needed (or usually just wanted) something frivolous, we always got it.

And shall I tell you about my sisters? One is literally Superwoman – she blogs, works full time, raises five children and still has time for a good natter, to cook, to take her children somewhere fun or find something interesting to do, watch or read. Almost every person I know who also knows her ask me how she does it – I’m a little baffled myself. Then there’s another sister of mine – possibly the most humble person I know, and also the most reliable. I always take her shopping with me (because she lets me be rude to her when she picks out clothes) and she’s always my go-to person for taking photos, organising events or just generally random bits of handy-man advice. And lastly there’s the baker in the family – when we were younger we used to get asked if we twins (we look nothing alike but used to be the same height as kids), and she’s probably one of the few people who loves horror movies way more than I do. I often find that she’ll say something I was thinking, usually the more stupid the more likely! When I was in school, I got told by one of my friends that I talked about my sisters ‘too much’, which I found weird – I always thought I was lucky to have sisters and have always felt sorry for those who don’t.

Having said that, as much as I understand how important it is to recognise and acknowledge the bounds and leaps that women have taken over the years, I feel that it is just as important to understand the issues that women still have. In my workplace I’ve often come across women who have problems, and still have them now. I met a very sweet Afghani women a couple of days ago who broke my heart with her story – she was a teacher in Afghanistan who taught at a girl’s schools, but received many threats for doing so. Her son was abducted, his body found a year later. Her husband was injured in an explosion while driving to work, and she fled the country to Britain in fear of her life. When I went to visit her, her landlord took me aside and quietly asked me to be gentle with her – she had just found out her husband died the day before. Yet when I spoke to her I found her incredibly sweet, thoughtfully asking me if I wanted to sit, to drink anything. I found her strength of character amazing – she was in the middle of grieving yet had time to think of others. There are still countries where women do not have access to basic necessities – clean underwear, sanitary items, clean toilets and even basic rights and freedom. It’s things like this which make us realise how much we take for granted, and how far the world still needs to go before we can consider ourselves equal or fair.

Lastly, I also wanted to share some links for some campaigns and projects that have been brewing recently, in celebration of International Women’s Day:

I’m very proud to say that I know these two wonderful women – Zainab Khan and Maariya Lohar, who with their #trailblazingmuslimwomen campaign put a list of 21 successful women who aimed to make a difference to the world. Their aim, Zainab explained, was motivated by looking at Forbes ‘Under 30’ list and seeing that there weren’t many women of colour, and decided to show the younger generation that there are goals like this which can be reached.

Another campaign close to my heart is run by a close friend who has been showcasing for years a’Modest Fashion Pakistan‘ – the modest lifestyle of Pakistani women, both in Pakistan and around the world. As much as I love Pakistani fashion (and I have a whole blog dedicated to it!), we all agree that the media in Pakistan really doesn’t reflect the ordinary women, and that hijab is not represented as much as it should be. Pakistani fashion in the media is glamorous, exotic, beautiful but not always modest, and it rarely, if never has women in hijabs, and many socialites and bloggers would rather not go for the modest look. Thus the #modestfashionrevolution was born – a campaign to show modest, hijab-wearing Pakistani women around the world, to show beautiful, modest and stylish women who don’t compromise their values.

Finally is The Other Box, a friend’s company which is an award-winning organisation which promotes and supports creative people of colour. It’s a really great initiative, and their latest campaign is with the Skinnydip Sisterhood which showcases 12 amazing women.

This post turned out a little longer than I expected! But I’m glad that I’ve seen so many positive messages out there – one of the things I am glad about it that it gives women a chance to support each other rather than judge and compete with each other. The sad thing is, sometimes our biggest critics are our fellow women, and if International Women’s Day help to combat that then I will always celebrate : )

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Why I Am A Faceless Blogger

Some of you may read my other blog, which is a fashion/beauty blog about all things to do with Pakistani and Indian fashion trends, modest fashion, makeup and random ramblings (and some of you probably found this blog via that one!) I have been blogging for about six or seven years now, and have noticed that as my priorities and interests have changed, my posts and articles have accordingly adapted over time as well.

One of the things I have had some conflicts with as a fashion blogger (or is it influencer now? I’m still undecided about that word) is the fact that I don’t show my face, whether it’s for outfit posts, or pictures from weddings, events or makeup swatches.  My concerns are this – as I’ve been writing for some time and I have been getting more public interest in the couple of years because of my clothes, wedding posts and experiences which I have blogged about, I have had more exposure which means more opportunities to work with new brands. However I feel that a lot of the bigger bloggers I follow or who have successful businesses, have become successful because they themselves are the brand – they are recognisable, easy to relate to and trust, and because of this they are able to fit into a market who are comfortable with them.

Initially I never used to show my face in blog posts (I used to just cut my head off my pictures before I posted) for several reasons: firstly, I liked the anonymity, you can get away with a LOT more when people don’t know you. Secondly, I never showed my face for kind-of religious reasons – I don’t blog because I’m fishing for compliments or want someone to say I’m good-looking (that’s what Facebook and my husband are for), but because I want to show how fashion can be modest, stylish and wearable. The whole point of my fashion blog is about what I wear, and what I have in my wardrobe, rather than what I look like. I wear a hijab and the concept of it also includes having some modesty both in behavior and physical appearance, so why not incorporate that in my blog? Thirdly, I was also a little self-conscious because a lot of my personal friends and colleagues don’t know I blog – call it silly but I find it easier to write if I’m less self-conscious about who is reading it!

I have thought about it for a while, because as much as I’d like to protect my anonymity and modesty, there are still some pros which you can’t argue with. I am a bit of a risk-taker at times, and I can see the appeal in the idea of myself and my identity as a brand. It’s not that I’m shy, or that my identity is a big secret (even though I do fight crime at night sometimes), and really, it’s not even about whether I have a problem showing my face. But I have often found that a lot of blog readers and followers feel more connected to Instagrammers and bloggers that they can recognise, especially when there’s a lot of personal issues being shared. A big part of blogging is being transparent not just about who sponsors your posts or whom you collaborate with but also who you are. The most successful blogs are the ones where the bloggers are open about sharing opinions and parts of their lives.

The real issue is that if I decided to show what I look like, the pictures are out there, and it’s hard to go back. In today’s digital age, pictures can be shared faster than WhatsApp rumours, and I like the fact that right now, I have control over my images and my identity.

There’s also the fact that a lot of girls (and guys) can be pretty awful to bloggers, you have to pretty emotionally strong to be able to not let negative comments affect you, ruin your day or even influence your behavior. I’ve been lucky enough not to get many negative comments, but it can still be pretty tempting to lose your way by trying to please your audience or maintain popularity. The other issue is that I am in a place in my life where I am pretty confident in myself, my self-image and my place in life – and I can imagine that the struggle to maintain a ‘pretty face’ for a blog, or the psychological impact it could have.

You could even say that the issue isn’t showing my face exactly, since even if I did, I’d still dress modestly and would still wear hijab. Another thing I have always considered is the idea of ‘nazar’ (or the ‘evil eye’ which might intentionally or unintentionally come from envy), which is something I do believe in, which could arise once I lose that anonymity.

There are, fortunately a few ‘big’ bloggers who I do follow, that have managed to remain faceless, and quite successfully so. One blogger I’ve always been a fan of has complained in the past that it’s amazing how some people just don’t get that they want to remain ‘faceless bloggers’. She described a fashion event just last week (which I also attended) where a few of her followers took pictures of her when she was walking around, even when she went to the restroom; when she confronted them to ask them to delete the pictures, they told her she should expect this kind of thing to happen and shouldn’t have become a blogger if she didn’t want pictures taken of her. While I can understand that if you’re successful and on the fashion scene, you can’t really stop other people for taking your pics and posting them on social media or magazines – I also think there should be a line drawn for respecting privacy.

In the past my ‘facelessness’ has affected me in that one or two fashion brands who wanted to promote their brands have wanted to work with me, and in the end I have turned them down because they did not want to crop my face out. At the time it was a little upsetting, as it made me feel that I had ruined my prospects a little if I wanted to work with future companies, and also I had noticed difference in the way that bloggers who did choose to work with those company treated me. However, in the long run, I don’t regret my decision – I like the fact that I kept control over the content and photos of me, and if a company isn’t able to respect that, then perhaps they are not for me.

There have been times when I have debated for some time about showing my face, especially as I never have done in the past with my blogs. I spoke to a few friends about it, my sisters and even on blogger forums, and in the end I decided not to because I don’t want my posts and articles to be about how I look, as much as what I’m wearing, what I am doing and even who I am. In the long run, I’m pretty happy with my decision because although I’m not shy or have a secret identity (apart from the night-time crime-fighting stuff), I like having control over my privacy, and I think it also keeps me pretty humble.

The way I think of it, as Islamic as I try to be and however I try to live my life as modestly and well as possible, I will always, always love fashion and makeup, which I think I’ll always be channeling through my blogs and social media. This isn’t a bad thing, and I love that I can work with new ideas and different companies, and as I am a pretty visual person and will always want pictures to be a part of my posts, I think I can do this without compromising my values. I understand  that readers might identify with me more if they know what I look like and can visualise me, I think that I will be able to engage better when I show who I am in a more relatable level (like this post, for example!)

Some people have suggested using body doubles or models – this would work for a company but not for something personal like my own blog – when I go on holidays and days out, do I take a body double with me? I think not. In all honestly, this is something which has bothered me less and less over the years, as I have seen a lot of fellow bloggers follow the lead in ‘faceless blogging’ (like my elder two sisters here and here!) – influencing without making it about the way we look or how beautiful we are. I’m also at a pretty good comfort level right now, and am enjoying the things I do blog about, the events I go to and the pictures I post of myself. At the end of it, it’s not because I’m paranoid about how gorgeous I am or not, it’s the concept of hijab for me, and the principles that come with it.

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Nigella Lawson in a burqini… something to applaud I say

Nigella Lawson’s recent small wave of excitement caused by her wearing a burqini purchased from Islamic Swimwear website Modestly Active is, as I interpret it, a bold feminist move. Many have questioned her motives for wearing an extremely unflattering garment, as it is definitely deviating from her usual sultry and carefully put together dress style, a signature fashion that is certainly a la mode. There have been theories ranging from Nigella having converted to Islam, to Nigella wanting to protect her delicate English Rose skin from sunburn, to the fact that she was even feeling cold.

Personally, I believe it can be deduced that it may not be any of these, but a much more cheekier reason, and definitely something to cheer. Who would not, after seeing in the media time and time again, be it the entertainment news writers or various magazines like Heat or OK!, as well as many, many more women’s ‘guides’ who are quick to point out the ‘flab’ on so many ‘slebs, want to avoid a similar fate? It can be agreed that while Nigella Lawson is a beautiful woman, she is not a size zero, and she is perfectly comfortable not being one.

The issue at hand here, is not women’s weight, but rather the idealised body image that the media is constantly bombarding us with. By not wearing the typical skimpy two-piece bikini, Nigella boldly and deliberately is flying in the face of usual conventions. Rather than submit her body to the usual and inevitable scrutiny imposed on other celebrities, Nigella has taken this out of the media’s control and instead played a joke on them.

As a young Muslim woman in today’s Britain, I am conscious of the changing fashions and trends around, and the fact that like it or not, we are always going to be bombarded with the attitude that we need to look, follow or have a certain way in order to feel successful or beautiful. Personally I am quite comfortable in the way I dress, I can keep it an eclectic style while being  able to keep myself covered up in a way that I feel is appropriate for myself, without feeling as if I have to compromise on certain trends that I like to follow. So while Nigella may not be specifically promoting Islam and hijabed-women here, I think that the ideal she is showing fits with the modesty that many young women today would like to imbibe in their dress sense.

There has been several comments and judgements assessing Nigella’s choice of dress, concluding that this is one dress that won’t make the fashion rage, and this may be the case, certainly. But let us hope that Nigella’s attitude becomes more fashionable, and that more women, especially those in the media’s eye, follow the attitude that less does not always need to be more.

For those of you who are interested in looking at similar burqinis, Nigella Lawson purchased from this company:
http://www.modestlyactive.com/