Modesty Empowers Others

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“Let Muslims play Muslims, let us write our own roles, let us be portrayed in the way that we, would like to be portrayed.” – Ayesha Tape

When you think of a Muslim woman, you probably picture the headscarf and the modest attire. Depending on where you’re from and your views on the world, the preconceived ideas associated with this image will be different. For those who don’t know any Muslim women, their only ideas may stem from the media, but this could be problematic due to the poor representation they’ve received. Recently, the media coverage that they’ve been getting gravitates around violence, and conservatism. Looking to the media I gained the notion that they were oppressed. Yet, as a Muslim Woman, I found myself confused, angered, and distanced as I am unable to relate to these media produced Muslims, and this may have to do with the fact that I’m not the women you’ve pictured with the headscarf and modest attire.

I decided to interview someone who isn’t afraid to critique the Muslim community, Ayesha Tape. Ayesha is a Coloured-Indian, Muslim woman studying Humanities at the University of Cape Town, who chose her degree on a single fact “I can’t comprehend why an Apartheid state like Israel can still exist in the modern world.”. I interviewed Ayesha with the intention of gaining her insight on some of the issues, to shut down the negative stigma attached to Muslim Women. 

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Photograph taken by Fadiyah Rabin

To start, let me introduce the hijab. Hijab is Arabic for “The Veil”, worn with the intention of “Protecting their modesty and not displaying their beauty”, according to the Quran. This is where the notion of Muslim women being modest stems from, as it is of religious motivation, yet the ideologies that accompany the reasoning and results of Muslim women being “modest” are presented very poorly.

After we touched on the concept of modesty, I started with a misconception that’s passed around within the Muslim community. Infamously spread around through online lectures – The “Lollipop” explanation; it goes along the lines of “If you were to choose between two lollipops that have fallen into dust, one with and without the wrapper. Would you not prefer the covered lollipop?”. This metaphor is referring to women as the lollipop and the wrapper as hijab. This explanation is contradictory to the reasoning for women wearing hijab as it implies that their modesty is for the benefit men. I asked Ayesha what she thought of the “Uncovered Lollipop” explanation.

She responded from her own experiences with a similar analogy, explaining how her father used a similar concept by comparing her to a diamond that needed to be kept safe. “The older I got, the less sense it made…I still struggle to understand the physical hijab, just because the way we’ve been taught has been completely twisted and turned.” She refers back to the “Lollipop” explanation, “for me, that analogy is so flawed, and it continually perpetuation that we are just objects.”

Society has misinterpreted the ideology of hijab through this explanation. I think once we become more aware of the fact that hijab isn’t something meant to oppress and prevent women from expressing themselves, we’ll break down this notion of it being oppressive, with that I was brought to my next question, “What is your take on Hijab being labelled as “oppressive”?”

“I don’t think it’s for anybody to decide what’s oppressive to who. I don’t think that that’s a thing.” She begins to explain what she sees as “oppressive”, “In Iran for example, Hijab is compulsory, it’s a law. I see that as inherently oppressive as it takes away from choice.”. This statement lead to a discussion of what elements are considered oppressors when it comes to women wearing hijab, “When you have non-Muslims come at you, and tell you how to feel…when you are intentionally excluded from work things, when you can’t even get a job, when you go into a work place and the first thing the person there sees what’s on your head – that’s inherently oppressive. It stops a lot of women from actually wearing hijab and wanting to do it because of the circumstances behind that.”

Ayesha explained that although she understands the context of people relating hijab with oppression, she doesn’t think hijab itself is oppressive, “While we have an instance like Iran, we also an instance where 90% of Muslim women living in western countries decide to wear the hijab, so it’s very contextually based.”.

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“There’s like 1.6 Billion Muslim’s in the world and we’re not a homogenous group of people. We fill additional cultures and national identities and there is no way that we will ever perfectly execute the “stereotypical Muslim” because there is no such thing.”.  When it comes to entertainment and pop-culture in the form of movies and TV shows, Female Muslim characters are very scarce. Ayesha goes on to explain the importance of the portrayal of Muslim women in the media – in order to normalise the image and allow people with misconceptions to understand that there is nothing wrong with a woman in hijab, “Let Muslims play Muslims, let us write our own roles, let us be portrayed in the way that we, would like to be portrayed.”.

She concluded on the note, “As Muslim women we will always be looked at, people are always fascinated by us or inquisitive…people think that we can give simple answers to nuanced issues. Modesty itself is a nuanced thing, as it’s understood differently by different people.” 

There’s a vast variety of complex and beautiful Muslim women in the world, all holding different opinions and views and all presenting themselves in different ways. In order to detach the negative stigma that comes with wearing hijab, we need to empower and celebrate all Muslim women.

Good things come to those who wait

I’m a strong advocate for the portrayal and acceptance of all body types. Body positivity is one of the core building blocks of this blog. However, although I advocate for people to “love themselves” I need to acknowledge that it’s easier said than done.

Around a year ago, Dove conducted a study in which they interviewed 10500 women across 13 countries. The results of this study showed that there was a dramatic incline of self-esteem in young girls ages 10-17 and women between the ages of 18-64, yet a strong percentage of these women also desire to challenge beauty norms. Results also show that this lack of self-esteem withholds the majority of them (85% of Women and 79% of Girls) from partaking in important life activities. The study acknowledges the pressures that the media place on both women and girls as it tends to portray the hegemonic ideal of beauty with little variation – the standard of beauty changes through the years, but there is the constant of women striving for that ideal of beauty.

It isn’t easy to ignore the desire to conform to these ideals, and convincing yourself that self-love is the better route is not something that happens overnight, but the first step is acknowledging the impact it has on your life. Do you have increased anxiety because of your physical appearance? Does your lack of self-confidence affect important life decisions you make? At some point, you’ll come to realise that it’s not enjoyable to live in this perceptual state of self-judgement. Saying the problem out loud won’t fix it, but it makes you more self-aware.

When it comes to self-love, patience is a virtue and even the journey itself can make you feel pressured – you may rush yourself and wonder why you still aren’t happy with your appearance or have a series of very positive days, but a comment from someone may cause you to spiral back to square one. Remember that you’re the one who decides what makes you feel beautiful and if you feel the urge to change something about yourself to feel more beautiful, so be it. If you prefer the way you look with makeup on or are considering changing some aspect in order of yourself to feel more confident, the only person who’s decision it is yours.

The media is stagnant with the body types they portray, with some variations here and there. Yes, it’s progress, but it doesn’t make up for the generations of women who have been made unhappy with themselves because of it. We, as a collective, should take it upon ourselves to provide support for each other in our journies to love our bodies.

 

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Dove Real Beauty Campaign – Source: https://za.pinterest.com/pin/488148047087063328/ 

 

Stay healthy, stay positive, good things take time.

 

The Coloured Continuum

 

I am but a dot on a Monet, a brown girl in Cape Town – more fondly known as “Little Brown One” by a close friend of mine. The colour of my skin has morphed into a large part of my identity. I’ve faced queries of whether I was adopted (“But your family is so much lighter than you are!”), assumptions of my ethnicity (“I’m positive that you’re Indian, you MUST be!”), and a particularly strange encounter when meeting a friend of a friend who told me, (“From what I’ve heard about you, I had this idea in my head that you were white.”). With such a large coloured population in Cape Town, you’d assume I wouldn’t face so many strange interactions for falling on the darker side of the spectrum. However, I’m still presented with offhanded commentary that perplex me, the latest being “Could you not tell people I’m coloured?”.

44,57% of Cape Town’s population identify as coloured and 51,79% identify as female (give or take, since the last census*  took place in 2011)   – there’s a lot of us. I feel like if we tried, we could overthrow the city. A coloured woman walks the fine line between Westernised and Middle-eastern beauty ideals, and those who fall on the ends of the colour continuum can adopt an entirely new ethnic identity based on their phenotype. In post-apartheid, South Africa, citizens take pride in their new-found freedom to express their ethnicities and identities – but with a vast and complex variety of shapes and faces that form the coloured population, comes unfortunate, and inevitable critiques within them.

Her mannerisms; Coloured women are stereotyped as either being loud and rowdy or being -arrogant and stuck-up. And her choice of diction and pronunciation; it seems that although the coloured community is a mecca of slang and unique phrases that we’ve either grown up with or has grown on us through peers. If a woman makes excessive use of these words, it’s seen as unappealing and if she reserves herself from using slang she’s said to have lost touch with her coloured roots. Notice how with both these factors, there are two drastically opposing expectations?

The diction and mannerism part of expressing your identity as a coloured woman means you either fall into the category of being “gham” or “keeping you white”, both classifications being shameful. “Gham” is a derogatory term for the lower class of the coloured community and although it’s a term that’s thrown around quite a bit – it isn’t something you want to be called. From my understanding “keeping you white” is usually used to categorise someone who tries to distance themselves from coloured culture. It’s exhausting to attempt to maintain the halfway point between these two classifications and even if you do – you’re still going to manage to displease people somehow, most likely with your appearance.

The entirety of your ancestry is present in the form of your features, skin tone, hair, and body type yet is so harshly criticised. What a crazy concept it is, to receive belittlement and backlash from women in your own race for inheriting a gene that makes your hair wavy and your skin darker. The motivation behind so many coloured women straightening their hair and using skin lightening products. This is where the internalised “shame” of being coloured stems from. I took to social media to see if I was the only one who noticed this “hierarchy of beauty”.

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I received many responses, and the common trend I noticed was that many coloured women seem to believe that beauty correlates with whiteness within the coloured community. It’s a matter of both features and hues. Tara Claire Edem, a student at the University of the Western Cape and resident of Mitchell’s Plain provided insight on her experiences within her community, “The more “White/European” features you have the more attractive you are in a coloured community”. Caroline Petersen, a student at the University of Cape Town, shared an interaction with a former friend “He used to click at me because of how dark I was and say how beautiful I used to look in old photos when I was a lighter shade of coloured.”

These ideologies are so normalised, although many are in great denial of their internalised aspirations to attain whiteness. This isn’t to say that it should be accepted as such. Coloured individuals have such a strong and rich sense of community and culture. However, there was a struggle in finding women who saw this community as uplifting and accepting of their natural appearance. This issue is one that isn’t spoken out about very often, but is one that affects Cape Town’s largest population. Sometimes I find myself wondering; if given the opportunity, would I bask in the façade of whiteness? I’d rest assured that I’m striving to be my best self and advocating for the ability to express my darker side of the spectrum. Rolling my eyes at those who hide their true colours, not realising the irony in my own actions and firmly believing that much like dots on a Monet, we’re a damn beautiful collection of colours

* https://census2011.adrianfrith.com/place/199041

 

Let’s Get Down to Business!

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Mulan.

Live Action.

The live action remake of the 1998 Disney Animation to be released in 2018 has caused an uproar of excitement, nostalgia and concern among Disney fanatics and the general public alike. Partially because it will not be a musical.

Although that on it’s own can be considered an total abomination to the film industry, the secondary public concern is the cast.

A few months ago, when Disney first announced the remake, twitter immediately reacted with the #MakeMulanRight hashtag. Why? According to the Angry Asian Man blog, the live action movie was completely written. The new story entails a new character, a white European tradesman, who is Mulan’s saviour/love interest.

Not only was their outrage over the fact that the entire notion of women empower was wiped out, but there was also great concern due to the fact that the lead character would not be Asian, the rest of the cast would be white-washed.What is white washing you may ask? White washing is when white actors take on the roles of people of colour in films. In relation to Asian characters, a common practice in the early film industry was “Yellow Face”, this is when white actors would wear makeup in order to portray themselves as Asian. White washing involves changing the character from the original source, allowing them to be played by white actors. Some examples of white washing of Asian characters include;  Ghost in the Shell (2017), Dr Strange (2016) and The Last Airbender (2010)

The Hollywood excuses for white washing are usually along the lines of “we hired the best person for the job”, but the excuse that I find the most problematic is, “This is actually quite a diverse cast”. In Hollywood, a “diverse” cast usually means one or two POC characters, and it presents this notion that POC characters aren’t required to make a film successful, they’re just added as a courtesy.

There are many talented Asian actors out there looking to fulfill these roles meant for Asian actors, and white washing in 2017 brings the public to question the underlying reasons for this modern day “Yellow Face”, because there definitely isn’t a lack of Asian actors, check out this list of 40 Under 40 Asian actors to watch for in Hollywood.

Disney responded to the hashtag by allegedly hiring new writers and promising an Asian love interest.

Disney, we’re counting in you not to mess this up. Until 2018.

“This is the reason I have trust issues.”

I feel like you already know where I’m going with this.

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Make-Up Artist and Beauty Influencer Huda Kattan. Source: http://hudabeauty.com/huda-kattan/ 

It’s a Saturday night and you’re sitting in a darkened room, the only light coming from your cell phone as you scroll through Instagram. You watch a Huda Beauty video in awe and determination.

Lost in your feed full of selfies and beauty guru’s you remain un-phased, snuggling deeper into your nest of blankets and jealousy.

Then you see it.

It’s one of 14567 comments, so you’re surprised that it caught your eye, yet it does.

“This is the reason I have trust issues.”

Recently there’s been a massive increase in make-up related content plastering my social media. From influencers, such as Huda Kattan (@HudaBeautyand Kylie Jenner setting the latest make-up trends and growing their name brands, to the progression of representation in the make-up industry, such as James Charles being CoverGirl’s first male model – it’s opened up discussions on the topic of makeup as a whole.

As much as I’d like to rant about the fact that it’s 2017 and if someone wears makeup it’s more for fellow make-up fanatics to admire rather than deceive some poor, random soul, it’s important not to assume. There are certain makeup practices that specialize in making someone look completely different, like special effects make-up (SFX), and others that focus on just the enhancement of natural features. There is also a crossover of the two, apparently, as seen in this Daily Mail article Groom sues his bride for damages one day after their wedding after seeing her without make-up for the first time and feeling ‘cheated’. The title is pretty self-explanatory, which brings me to the question; where is the line drawn between deception and enhancement? And does the intention behind the practice make a difference?

I wanted to gather information from some casual makeup wearers, make-up fanatics and those who choose that make-up isn’t for them to find out what their perceptions are regarding make-up and why they choose to wear/ not wear it. (As a quick disclaimer; I’ve formulated these questions in relation to the heteronormative expectations of beauty in relation to cisgender women.)

I interviewed three lovely women;

Sahaar Takay 

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Self-taught makeup artist and blogger (@everythingsah). Currently studying Occupational Therapy at The University Of Cape Town

Julia Kay Naidoo

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Has only worn makeup twice in the last year (@juliakay_naidoo). Currently pursuing a BA Majoring in Linguistics and English at The University of Cape Town. Aspiring Teacher.

Naeelah Ismail 

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Dabbler in SFX make-up, and eyeliner and highlighter enthusiast (@naeelah_ism). Currently studying BCom Law at the University of The Western Cape.

1. How do you view the practice of wearing makeup in relation to your identity? 

Sahaar: I think make-up is an art and a way of expressing yourself. I have always been into art and wanted to do art in high school as well as go into the cosmetology field which I plan to do after I get this degree. It’s a way of expressing yourself at the end of the day and since I can’t go into the cosmetology field as yet I find it to be a way to express my artsy side.

Julia: I don’t wear make-up, but I don’t see anything wrong with other people wearing it. My identity is mostly characterised by my belief that you should do what makes you happy and if you believe something is right for you, you should do it (provided you don’t hurt others). That said, I think if anyone wants to wear make-up for whatever reason they have, they should feel free to. I personally don’t like certain styles of make-up but that’s my preference for myself if I had to wear make up

Naeelah: In my opinion make-up is an art, so it’s like your way of expressing yourself. It’s the same way your style can tell someone a little bit about your personality, make up is the same. 

2. Do you perceive women who wear make up in a non-traditional manner differently?                                                                                                                       

Sahaar: No, everyone has different preferences and you can’t expect everyone to do their make-up exactly the same or else we’ll all look like Kim K clones. Like I said, makeup is a form of art and everyone perceives art differently.

Julia: Women who wear non-traditional make-up strike me as wanting to portray an identity or image, for example goth make up to show that they are goth. It’s a personal statement and I sometimes find it admirable that people have found their identity and feel confident enough to express it. There are cases, however, where I feel a person is not trying to portray their identity but perhaps trying to draw attention to themselves for whatever reason and I don’t respond well to that. I personally don’t appreciate being boisterous for public attention, rather I believe in doing things because they are what you want to do instead of doing it to impress others or receive attention.

Naeelah: No. Like I said, it’s a way of expressing yourself and in whichever way someone chooses to do that, it should be respected.

3. What would your hypothetical response be to someone who relates you wearing make-up to attract people? (Example: When elderly people are saying, “Boys like it when you wear lipstick” or if someone said, “Boys don’t find it attractive if you wear so much make-up”)  

Sahaar: I don’t wear make-up to impress anyone let alone a boy who doesn’t know the difference between concealer and foundation. I don’t care what anyone else thinks especially not a boy who won’t appreciate a good highlight. 

Julia: I don’t appreciate being told to wear make-up to be perceived differently by others. I feel it is sexist to both men and women to say that men prefer women who wear make-up. Not all people think that way and it it not being true to yourself if you wear make up for the benefit of others. It is also not right to not wear make-up in case someone else thinks badly of you. I would say that my choice to wear make-up or not wear make-up should be because of my personal desire and no one else’s.

Naeelah: My response would be that I don’t wear make-up to impress boys, I wear it for myself and why should I be bothered if they’re unhappy. That’s a them problem.

4. What would be your hypothetical response if someone commented on Instagram/Facebook photo of you saying something along the lines of “This is why I have trust issues?”    

Sahaar: I’m comfortable in my own skin and my boyfriend has seen me without makeup and prefers it at the end of the day but knows it’s my passion and understands that it’s what I enjoy doing so he has no problem with me wearing it. Plus, it’s not my fault if someone is dumb enough to think that I was born with a black line on my eyelid or red lips. It’s kind of like the same thing with boys and beards. A boy can go looking from a 10 to -2 once he shaves. As long as you’re comfortable in your own skin I don’t see any problem. The makeup industry is quite tough and there will always be people who criticize your work but I’ve learnt to not care what other people think

Julia: Most of the time, one can assume that a woman does not have naturally lined eyelids or purple lips and it seems ignorant for people not to realise that this person is wearing make-up. However, it is understandable that some men feel deceived when he sees that a woman looks completely different when not wearing make-up. Physical attraction does play an important role in relationships and if a man finds out at a later stage that the woman he has been seeing doesn’t look similar without make up, he might not be attracted to her and feel that the woman has purposefully hid her natural face from him. If I were to respond to the comment, I would probably say that highlighting my natural features doesn’t change the way I look and that unlike if I were to contour my face dramatically, wear fake contacts, etc. I still look like myself

Naeelah: This was actually a really tricky question because initially I didn’t know how to answer it, but in all honesty, I believe that we live in a society that enforces this idea that women have to meet a certain standard or beauty ideal because it is “gross” if we don’t. Then they don’t accept us for how we look when we don’t meet those standards, yet when we try, then statements like “This is why I have trust issues” arise. 
Yes, it’s possible for you to make yourself look different with makeup, but it isn’t plastic surgery. It is still your face, your features, your personality, and your body. If a man can’t get to grips with the fact that women do in fact have flaws, he needs to wake up, smell the setting spray and stop being so naive.

Looking at the responses from these interviews we that there’s some variation in opinion – and obviously, I can’t generalize a conclusion based on these women alone. Personally, I believe that this controversy of people having “Trust issues” is an unnecessary one. People should be able to express themselves through their make-up without worry that their intention will be perceived as wanting to deceive someone.

Outer beauty is subjective, and you can’t please everyone, so you might as well do what makes you happy, be it through wearing make-up or not.

THE CITY OF CAPE TOWN; The Powerpuff Girls Launch in Loop Street

6th April – In collaboration with First Thursdays Cape Town, Cartoon Network and with 10 local South African artists to create the Powerpuff Girls Art Factory exhibited at 91 Loop Street, the first ever Cartoon Network gallery event held in South Africa.

The 90’s nostalgia was in the air at the interactive exhibition with an interesting spin on the iconic characters. The exhibition was a series of screen print’s depicting an African Powerpuff girl, portrayed by various artists. As told by Cape Town Magazine’s website, the artists were told to reinvent the iconic Powerpuff girl image. Some of the artists featured in the exhibition are; Tandiwe Tsabala, Jeanne Fourie, Karabo Poppy Moletsane Kgabo Mametja, Ello Xray Eyez, Jade Klara, Anja Nanna, Quondile Dlamini, Venter, Tyla Mason and Ndumiso Nyoni.

The exhibition launched on the 6th of April as part of First Thursday’s; a cultural experience where Cape Town art galleries stay open late at night on the first Thursday of every month, creating a vibrant ambiance in Cape Town’s CBD. The opening included a screen printing bar, printing Powerpuff Girl tote bags that were available for purchase. Along with as the screen prints of various interpretations of the Powerpuff Girl figure, a mosaic-styled bench was also displayed. These features were part of the Powerpuff Girls factory’s partnership with a charity beneficiary known as Rock Girl. DSTV reported Pierre Branco, Vice President and General Manager of Southern Europe and Africa for Turner Africa, the company that runs Cartoon Network, in saying, “The PPG Art Factory is not just about fun – proceeds raised from the sale of the artwork will be donated to Rock Girl South Africa, a local girl-led NGO that advocates for the rights of girls and women.” 50% of proceeds for artwork sold at the Powerpuff Girl Factory go towards Rock Girl.

Rock Girl was founded in 2010 and describe themselves as “a grassroots movement to inspire, encourage and invest in women and girls.” The organisation invests and contributes towards girl-initiated and girl-focused projects. The organisation has created a public art and education campaign known as “Safe-Space” where they collaborate with artists and designers in order to produce uniquely decorated benches, symbolic of a safe space. Through the creation of these safe spaces, the initiative aims to reduce violence against women. More than 50 Safe Space benches have been installed throughout South Africa and the newest addition displayed at the Powerpuff Girl Factory will be placed at the V&A Waterfront.

 

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Safe Space Bench, Photograph was taken by Fadiyah Rabin

 

The exhibition runs until the 2nd May and is open between 9 am and 5 pm with free entry.

The Watercolour Effect

Once upon a time I was an Art student, specifically a photography student. Although I feel like I’m not an expert on the subject, I know enough phrases and keywords to awkwardly blurt out in a pretentious manner whilst admiring a Jane Alexander sculpture to impress a stranger. I don’t think I was the greatest art student, but I did thoroughly enjoy the subject and learned a lot from it.

As a photography student, painting is not my forte, but I must admit I have a great appreciation for it, particularly watercolour paint. I love the tonal variations and light layering effect that comes from it and how unpredictable it can be when left to bleed all over the paper. Although beautiful, I’m not skilled enough at mixed media art to do it justice, so when my teacher suggested one afternoon that we do some activities that weren’t photography related, you can imagine my dismay. However, this one activity has stuck with me through the years, it was a small insignificant filler piece my teacher showed us one lesson to add more to our visual diaries. The activity was so simple; using some water, a thin paintbrush, brown paper, and a back fine-liner pen. Basically, if you draw something on the brown paper then paint over it with water, the ink bleeds to whatever part of the paper surrounding it gets wet, creating a variation of grey shades across the paper in a watercolour paint effect.

The act of taking something so simple as an outline on some textured brown paper and adding depth and tonal variation with water alone fascinated me so much. Instantly make a simplistic ink drawing more intricate and wholesome – just add water!

Looking at it now, there’s two things that this process reminds me of;

  1. When I wash my hair after it’s been blown out and it goes from straight and sleek to the chaotic, playful, fluff ball I’ve grown to tolerate and I simultaneously take comfort and plummet into a deep sadness thinking of all the maintenance I must go through having a somewhat literal dark cloud on my head.
  2. People at first glance.

At first glance it might be boring, an outline, a shell, but as you paint some body forms, some depth is given. You may not know much about them, but everyone will have a different set of interesting intricate layers. Yes, art is subjective so not everyone will find it pretty, but to paraphrase Rainbow Rowell, Art isn’t supposed to look nice, it’s supposed to make you feel something.

Before I go on a cliché tangent and start quoting more authors of young adult fiction I’ll just explain what my aim for this blog is. Like watercolour paint, we as people all vary in terms of appearance, and although there is obviously more than meets the eye, it’s important to note that many people come in different strokes and splatters express their individuality in different colours and tones and unfortunately see themselves as an ink outline, not realizing their potential to flourish. With this blog, I aim to tackle the notion of self-image of individuals, not by comparison to others but through celebration of oneself. I will also be attempting to tackle representation of individuals who are the outliers when it comes to the media.

Because surely if everyone looked the same, this world would be rather boring, right?