They say you should be the woman you needed to see growing up. I think that’s really what I’ve become; constantly seeing gaps and finding ways to fill them.
When I was younger, the only brown girls you saw on magazine covers were either soapie stars, Miss SA, or scantily-clad/Sports Illustrated. There was never a Muslim girl who looked like me, or who was raised like me. From age 13, being almost 6 feet tall and super skinny, I’d get scouted by modeling agencies all the time, only to go to castings and be criticized for my appearance (“not quite ‘cappuccino-looking’ enough for a coloured girl”) and I barely booked jobs. And when I did book some, I didn’t have much choice in how much skin I was willing to show.
When I got older I was told in not-so-many words I should lose weight (15kg lighter than I am right now), plus I only got really crappy jobs on and off over the years. I started covering up my body again when I got married, and I was told not baring my skin would hold me back. Later, multiple brands wanted to make me the face of their campaign if I wore in hijab in the shoot because it was “trendy” and I always declined because I didn’t want to be someone’s prop so they could fake inclusivity. Like the Canal Walk billboards, my cover shoot was more than just another shoot, not because of who sees it, but because of how I was portrayed. Because I could be myself and be treated with respect as I am. I’m covered in a way that makes sense to me. On the cover my smile lines/wrinkles are looking cute and there’s an old pimple peaking through my make up. No one photoshopped my body so they could be sneaky and pass me off as a fashion model. I’m a 31 year old, size 14, fully-dressed woman, staying booked and busy because of who I am. No one gets to tell me what to wear, how to look, or gets to expect me to squeeze into sample sizes anymore.
And to my younger self – you are enough and just going to get better with age!