I’ve spent my whole life idolising people who don’t look like me, from Britney to Beyoncé. And hey, who wouldn’t? They’re beautiful, successful women. But as I grew older, so did my craving to see successful – in every sense of the word – women who looked like me; representation matters and all that. And as unbelievable as it may sound to some, where I was brought up, I hardly knew women who looked like me existed.
In no particular order…
I first heard of Rupi Kaur via an Instagram post that had caused somewhat of a stir among the internet population of smaller minds – an image of a Rupi lying in bed with a small period stain on her trousers and bed sheet. Instagram removed it twice, so she released this statement directed at them:
“I will not apologize for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in underwear but not be okay with a small leak. When your pages are filled with countless photos/accounts where women (so many who are underage) are objectified, pornified. and treated less than human.”
Of course, I then read her book – the no.1 New York Times bestseller ‘Milk and Honey’ – a book of poetry that spoke to me as not only a Pakistani, but as a woman, on levels I’d never felt from words on a page in my life.
“What is stronger than the human heart which shatters over and over and still lives?”
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan was the first South Asian celebrity who ever grasped my attention; I was 5 years old when she won the title of Miss World in 1994. An Indian woman with light eyes, I’d never seen anyone who looked as similar to me as that – I was obsessed and wanted to grow up to be just as pretty as her. Insane beauty aside though – she’s the epitome of grace, a philanthropist, and has worked her way to undisputed Icon status.
“Right now, I’m following the Buddhist principle: Smile as abuse is hurled your way and this too shall pass.”
Lilly Singh a.k.a iiSuperwomanii
The first time I saw Lilly Singh aka iiSuperwomanii, it was in her YouTube video titled ‘Draw My Life’. She talked about times of intense sadness and how she managed to turn it around – and boy, did she. The Toronto born Indian is known as one of the largest YouTube stars on the planet and has recently added best-selling author to her list of accomplishments with her 2017 self-help book ‘How To Be A Bawse’.
“Rejection can happen. But the worst thing that will happen is someone saying no. That cliché about “keep trying, because usually when you’re about to give up, the next hurdle would have been a success” is 100% true. I’ve been rejected so many times; I’ve not got roles, I’ve failed auditions, but I think that still feels better than not trying. I could never live with never trying.”
Benazir Bhutto was the first woman to rule a Muslim state, becoming Pakistan’s Prime Minister in 1988. She remains the only woman to hold a Muslim office twice, being re-elected for a second term in 1993. Around nine years ago, she was assassinated.
When she got married, she kept her surname. “Benazir Bhutto doesn’t cease to exist the moment she gets married. I am not giving myself away. I belong to myself and I always shall.”
“Pursuing peace means rising above one’s own wants, needs, and emotions.”
I mean, come on. At 19 years old, Malala is a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Born in Pakistan, she was shot in the head at the age of 15 by the Taliban after voicing the opinion that girls entitled to get an education just as boys are. She survived and after a lengthy and somewhat miraculous recovery, she now resides in Birmingham, UK. She continues to be the political activist and feminist we need in this world; on her 18th birthday she opened a school for Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.”
Maria Qamar is a Toronto-based artist who has gained worldwide popularity for her art, going under the name of Hate Copy. Her work manages the difficult task of summing up the complexities of a first (or second) generation South Asian woman living in the Western world in a witty way, and looks damn good doing it.
Someone also told me, “Your father saw the pictures that you drew of two guys kissing, and he’s not very happy about it,” and I was like, “Shit, tough luck.”
M.I.A’s unapologetic with everything she does, and that kind of freedom takes real courage. She isn’t perfect, she knows it, and she’s not trying to be. She first caught my attention with her Sunshowers video – a Sri Lankan girl, not trying to lighten herself with make up and with no straightener in sight – oh, and have I mentioned that she is a major style icon of mine? M.I.A is more than just an entertainer; she’s a visual artist, activist and an innovator – never before had I heard a sound like hers. Whether she’s talking about the diaspora experience, refugees or women, she says what she means and she means what she says and she doesn’t give a shit about sugarcoating it.
“As a Sri Lankan that fled war and bombings, my music is the voice of the civilian refugee.”
Which South Asian women inspire you?