I’ve got a Friend in Me: The diaries of my journey to self-loving

***It’s a Saturday night. I’m at my friend’s house and we’re getting ready to go out. “Aaah I look so fat and ugly!” my friend suddenly blurts out, her arms flailing frantically in the air as she wrestles with her dress in a desperate attempt to get it off her decidedly ‘too fat’ body. “There is no way I can wear this dress out tonight, I look like a fat old frump,” she exclaims, flinging the dress onto a heaped pile of clothing that she’s already deemed unfit. 

“Yes, you’re too fat,” I encouragingly egg her on. “You’re probably better off just wearing a tent or an XXXL t-shirt to cover that blob of a body. You shouldn’t have eaten that second slice of cake at lunch. Why the hell did you have a second helping? As if one piece wasn’t already pushing it. Can’t you just learn some self-control, other people can say no. Why can’t you? No wonder you look so fat and ugly,” I add, just to make her feel better about herself knowing that I share her same sentiments regarding her body image, because don’t we all want to feel understood and accepted?***

The above scenario never actually happened. Well, of course, it didn’t! Because any half decent friend with half a brain would NEVER respond like that to someone they care about.

In real life if I happened to be the friend on the receiving end of one of my friend’s verbally violent self-loathings I would physically fly across the room, shake her back to reality and knock all those nonsensical thoughts out of her head.

It does happen in real life. I’ve had countless experiences of witnessing similar ‘self-depreciating’ dialogues, and more often than not, I’ve been the subject of my own self-destructive criticisms, as I’m sure almost everyone has.

The only difference I’ve noticed is the way I respond depends largely on who the subject is. When the subject is a friend (or anyone other than myself for that matter) my reaction is characteristically one you would expect from a friend: to exert every inch of my power to counteract her negativity with reaffirming positive statements.

“Nonsense! You’re beautiful, don’t say such rubbish about yourself!”

That is the most likely response to fall out of my mouth before my brain has time to catch on to the words I’ve just spoken. It’s the most natural counteraction I know. As a friend, my main objective is to remedy her blatant attempt at self-harm; to defend her against herself, the same way I would stand up for her against a bully.

But when I am the one hurling verbal abuse at the face staring back at me in the mirror, I have to confess to possessing double standard. I guess you can call me a hypocrite because I’m not the same friend to myself that I would be to someone else.

It dawned on me one morning while I was enacting this exact scene; a show-stopping performance of my internalized, angry soliloquy addressed to the self that had failed again:

Failed to look a million dollars on a student budget; Failed to stay away from the junk food, so now I have a big fat pimple on my chin, plus a desperate need of a new full-piece swimsuit because I’ve failed to make it to the gym and therefore flunked all prospects of that ‘summer-ready-bikini-body that is being flashed in front of my eyes from every direction and every second page of every women’s magazine.

Oh, and on top of all that here I am hating myself, so I’ve clearly failed dismally at that ‘self-love’ concept that is preached through the pages of the same magazines (usually on the opposite page of the “three easy steps to a bikini-body” guide, because you know, that really helps hit the message home harder.)

Eventually, I stopped my taunting tantrum to take a breath while thinking up more ammunition to (figuratively) slap me in the face with. But then I noticed those eyes; my eyes, staring back at me, had a human quality that didn’t match my demonic utterings.

“Why are you trying so hard to tear yourself down?” I finally let the vulnerable voice inside me speak. I realised in that moment that if my inner voice had belonged to anyone outside my body, I would never dream of entertaining such soul-crushing comments.

Why can’t I show the same amount of respect, patience, and understanding to myself that I so easily offer to others?  This simple act of self-reflection exposed my transgressions in transparency.

We are raised up on the mantra of “treating others the way you would like to be treated.” But perhaps it’s time to revisit the teaching that slides so easily off our tongue without a second thought. What would happen if we dared to play the motivational tape backward:

What if we dared to treat ourselves the way we treat others?

When phrased like that the meaning largely stays the same, but it opens up a new lens for interpretation.  We are forced to first reflect on how exactly we treat ourselves. I would argue that if there is an imbalance between the way we treat ourselves in relation to others, we risk being categorized as either narcissistic or self-abusive.

I decided I didn’t want to be either. So, I started to monitor my interactions with myself and others.  The results of my self-regulatory experiment confirmed what I already suspected: I have a tendency to treat others better than myself. Moreover, I’ve developed this bad habit of constantly comparing myself to others, and no surprise once again, I always come out second best.

Now while this was great news for everyone else I interact with, it wasn’t such great news for me.

How can I expect others to respect me and love me if I can’t even get it right myself? It started to seem a little unfair to expect others to treat me fairly when I didn’t even deem it necessary to treat myself that way.

How come could I encourage all my girlfriends to stop comparing themselves to others; tell them to stop running in search of unattainable perfection the media imposes on us, while I deemed it perfectly practical to place my happiness in the hands of photoshopped mannequins?

Okay, so the answer is simple right? and it’s already out there! Just start loving yourself? Right??

Wrong.

Trust me, I’ve tried. This whole concept of self-love that is preached to us from every platform of society only works in theory. It’s a perfect example of something I find myself saying over and over again on a daily basis: Easier said than done. Sometimes life feels like one long list of things that are easier said than done.

Everyone’s forever talking. Talking over everyone else. And above all this constant noise of unsolicited advice and instructions that aren’t user-friendly, there’s my inner voice screaming “practice what you preach.” But ‘practicing what you preach’ is a theory too. And I’m done talking, especially when I have nothing nice to say to myself.

So the next step in the hypothesis of this self-love experiment is to take action. Just, not the same action that’s been shoved down all our throats in the form of that pathetically ambivalent universal “Learn to love yourself in three easy steps!” that reads something like this:

Step number 1. Love yourself.

Step 2. Repeat Step one. Every day.

Step 3. Repeat step 2 or go back to step 1 if you get stuck. 

Oh please no. Like I said, I’ve tried, tested and failed, AGAIN!

I finally figured that the only common denominator in all these ‘body confidence’ buzz words is self. Self-love; self-acceptance; self-confidence; they all require an action of the self. Why then am I constantly looking to other sources for inspiration on how to love myself, shouldn’t I just consult myself?

After a lot of soul-searching, I finally came to the conclusion that perhaps what I needed was to stop being my own worst enemy. Don’t we all!?!?

So that is exactly what I’m going to do. From this moment forward, I am going to practice being friendly, to everyone around me, including me. I’m going to try and invite the friend that lives within my heart, to inhabit my head. I say try because I know at times, I’m bound to fail, but from this moment forward, I am going to focus my energy on dealing with my failures as a friend and not a foe.

And, I’m going to keep a diary to myself and record the entries here, to hold me accountable (because sometimes we all need a little nudge) as well as to (hopefully) inspire you to write yourself some friendly letters too.

I’m not asking us to perfect the near-impossible task of always loving ourselves, I’m proposing that we start exercising our friendly voice’s vocal chords so that when we do find it hard to love ourselves, our inner friend shouts louder than our inner enemy.

Then maybe we can all unite in the reassurance that we’ve all got friends in both ourselves and in others.

 

Why are we so afraid of the F-word?

(And by F word, I’m referring to Fashion, just in case you were wondering.)

In High School, I was the most interested in fashion, out of all my friends.  We would make plans to meet up over the weekend, going to parties, movies or shopping dates and a few hours before, I would phone them up and ask them “what are you wearing tonight?” To which they would casually reply, “Aah probably just jeans and a tee-shirt or something, I haven’t decided yet.”

I could never relate because there I was, at 2 pm, with the aftermath of hurricane ‘I-have-nothing-to-wear’ clearly visible in my ransacked closet.

I soon became aware that in the company of my friends, I was more often than not, ever so slightly overdressed. They noticed it too, and once or twice a friend even messaged me beforehand asking me to “please not dress up too much” because she was only planning on wearing shorts and a tee-shirt. Shorts and a tee shirt??? I had to use every inch of my near-non-existent self-control to stop myself from revealing my dismay.

The truth was I couldn’t bring myself to be seen in public wearing plain old shorts. I grew up under the influence of a clothing-designer mother who did not hold back on her opinion that “shorts were made for painting the house or going to the beach, not for wearing out.” In short, shorts were just simply short of fabulous, in my vocabulary at least.

Initially, my friends probably thought I was trying to show them up, turning dressing into a competition; taking a page from Gossip Girl and acting like a typical Blair Waldorf wannabe. But in time, they got to know and understand me and accepted that paying attention to what I wear and how I look, boils down to me simply being me. It’s just who I am. And I guess they figured they could learn to love and put up with that person because, almost a decade later, we’re all still best friends.

Yet although my style of dress has changed since my high school days, my new style of dressing is still constantly met with “ooh you look nice” and in recent years, the more aggravating “who are you dressing up for?”

As a feminist, you can understand that I do not take kindly to the latter remark at all. I have always remained firm on the stance that I dress for me and no one else and I get annoyed by the small minded implication that the effort I put into my appearance is purely to attract male attention.

However, what annoys me more than this is the largely accepted association with fashion and frivolity. The judgement passed on people who overtly embrace and showcase their interest in the taboo topic of outward adornment.

Perhaps it is this same reason that has caused me to conveniently refrain from bringing up my interest and love of fashion when questioned about my interests and hobbies in social circles.

Or in the name of discretion, avoid disclosing the name of the magazine from which the article I am quoting comes from, because society dictates that fashion and science don’t mix and therefore, in certain social circles, regardless of how well researched and scientific the facts, if people knew it came from a fashion magazine, the information would immediately be discredited and furthermore, I as the messenger may suffer brutal wounds to my esteemed intelligence in the scrutinizing eyes of my listeners.

Deemed as ‘shallow’, I would be silently criticised for wasting my precious time reading fashion magazines instead of investing my focus on more prevalent matters inside the Times or National Geographic.

Perhaps this is also the reason why sometimes, when I meet friends for coffee or dinner, or anything really, I catch myself feeling an impulse to dismiss their “Wow, you look great” with an evasive response such as “I was in such a hurry, I literally just threw on the first thing I found;” because you know, spending more than five minutes at the mirror, and more than three minutes negotiating with your wardrobe is a sin.

The Vanity of all Vanities. The ultimate faux pas.

I am tired of hearing that societal voice in my ear guilt trip me every time I open a fashion magazine or get excited over a new pair of shoes. I am tired of feeling like a feminist locked in a room with a bunch of male chauvinists every time I dare to express my love of fashion. I am sick of constantly feeling the need to justify, excuse or subdue a part of myself in an attempt to be seen as a whole person.

Is it too much to believe that I can care about my appearance while still remaining modest and humble?

In a world so centered on the self, with the social media trend of the ‘selfie’ fast becoming one’s societal ID,  (only with a constant need of updating);  juxtaposed with the equally popular hash tag #iWokeUpLikeThis, the balance, if it exists, is terribly blurred.

We must look good, but not too good. We must take time on our appearance, but just not too much time. We must try, but without appearing to have tried. We must be natural, but not too natural. We must look like we “woke up like this,” even if we didn’t- because we dare not admit that we didn’t because God forbid we appear to love ourselves enough to make ourselves look beautiful.

If fashion is false, maybe it’s because we don’t care enough to take the time to be real.

When I first started this blog, I wanted to talk about fashion because that is something I am passionate about, along with gender equality and women’s rights, of course. I wanted to write about fashion, but in a way that is meaningful, in a way that matters. I didn’t want my discourse to get lost in a wave of one-dimensional, superficial dictations that I am aware is too often associated with the namesake.

For me, fashion isn’t about the latest trends; who wore what to where and when; black is in and blue is out and velvet is making a comeback. Rather, it’s the phenomenon of fashion, its aesthetical quality: the artistry, the colour, the design, and the mood and emotions it evokes.

That feeling of the fabric between your fingers, the different textures and the layers; how it all comes together and the way it makes you feel inside when you put on a dress that speaks to your soul and reminds you of who you are and makes you feel like you can conquer the world, even if you’re four foot tall.

I felt a need to create a dialogue about the facet of fashion we can’t seem to escape. That fact that what we wear speaks to a part of who we are. We care about what we wear. We may not realise the extent to which we do, we may try not to, or we may pretend that we don’t but on some level, we do.

Take Hipsterism for example, as my first year Art History lecturer pointed out in a lecture series on popular/counter culture I will never forget: she said that hipsters put a great deal of effort into carefully curating their image to look unkempt. In essence, Hipster fashion is just that: Fashion. In the same way, the counterculture it belongs to is still a culture. It’s pretty postmodern if you really dissect the notion of using a medium to escape that exact medium and it speaks directly to our lifelong pursuit for self-expression.

Beckett did it with language in his literary works where he details his search of a self, devoid of language, through the medium of language.

We do it all the time ourselves when we allow ourselves to connote fashion with frivolity; deem it superficial and irrelevant but then proceed to judge others’ characters, intentions, personalities and even societal and economic status based on their apparent relationship with the exact phenomenon we’ve deemed superficial.

Since that revelation in my first year Art History lecture, I have become hyper aware of the presence of this hypocritical double standard at war with the underlying subliminal intentions found in the act of dressing.

It’s never just clothing. It’s an ideology; meaning encoded through colours, fabric, design, and patterns shout louder than a voice and say more than words can express.

It was during this time, while I was racking my brain for a way to tactfully bring up the runway without causing people to literally run away, that I found a kindred spirit in the form of an author, who had braved the battle field and successfully articulated in words, all my jumbled thoughts on the relevance of fashion.

In her book, The Thoughtful Dresser, Linda Grant debunks the stigma that fashion is superficial, by exploring its purpose amidst the perils of war. She starts the book by focusing on a pair of red high heels found at the Auschwitz concentration camp at the end of World War 2 that form part of an exhibition at the Auschwitz Museum in Poland.

This powerful imagery of these vintage haute couture red heels- an artifact of war and inhumane mass murder, becomes a central symbol to her dialogue on fashion’s interconnectedness with history and its ability to tell a story.

Grant starts to pose questions around the presence of these fancy, expensive high heels in a concentration camp. How did they end up in a concentration camp surrounded by rubble and the smell of death? Who did these shoes belong to? And was their owner wearing them before she died?

And thus by connecting the object to the identity of a person, she establishes her argument that “fashion exists, whatever you think about it. It’s everywhere, even in the gruesome relics of a concentration camp.”

Grant then goes on to give countless examples of how clothes are closely linked to and form a large part of our identities. One of the most compelling stories she includes is taken from a diary entry of Lieutenant Colonel Mervin Willet Gonin, one of the British soldiers who liberated the German concentration camp Bergen Belsen in World War 2.

He recalls dealing with raped and vanquished women in the concentration camp, who were so broken and soul-destroyed, nothing seemed to be able to revive a spark of light in them. That was until a package containing a large quantity of lipsticks mysteriously arrived.

“This was not at all what we men wanted. We were screaming for hundreds and thousands of other things and I don’t know who asked for lipstick” the Lieutenant wrote but then admits that the lipstick turned out to be an act of pure genius:

“Someone had done something to make [these women] individuals again. They were someone, no longer merely a number tattooed on the arm. At last, they could take an interest in their appearance. That lipstick started to give them back their humanity.”

There you have it, from the soldier’s mouth. Through the darkest, most hopeless and inhumane experiences, humankind can’t help but search for colour.

Be it a red shoe carrying the memory of a life from which it became estranged, or simply a shade of rouge on the lips of the down trodden, fashion has the power to not only tell a story but empower us to continue to live out ours.

And that is largely what Grant’s (and my) argument seeks to establish: that fashion and the desire for beauty transcends into every sphere of our lives. Even in unbearable situations, it begs to serve a purpose as Grant so aptly sums it up:

“The defeated women of Berlin, the liberated women of Bergen-Belson and of the French Resistance all had in common this collective desire to look pretty. It survived intact when the rest of their humanity had been assaulted beyond repair. I cannot see how such an instinct could be described as superficial if it can withstand the almost total destruction of the personality.”

Yes, there are more important things, more prevalent problems that beg for our attention. Amidst the perils of famine, drought and poverty, countries ridden with war and natural disasters on the perimeter of my existence, here I am, facing what I call a crisis of “epidemic proportions”: What can I wear?

That I admit does sound like a terribly frivolous first world problem.

I am definitely not about to trivialise the magnitude of real problems our global community faces. I am not in the slightest attempting to justify self-absorption and superficial emphasis society places on appearance, but what I am proposing, is that we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

I am asking if perhaps, I can love and appreciate fashion without the label that comes along with it, the scarlet letter that gets placed around my neck when I dare to admit that I swoon over beautifully designed garments and love wearing and celebrating this art in fabric form.

That perhaps I may be granted permission to read and appreciate a fashion magazine with the same enthusiasm and intrigue that I would a novel, an autobiography or even a National Geographic, without being thought of as an airhead.

I am asking if maybe, just maybe, I can be given the opportunity to dress fashionably while still being taken seriously, and do my bit to make the world a better place in five-inch heels if I so choose. Without being met with judgement.

All I am asking is that we strip away our pretentious prudence and consider fashion to be as much of a creation as we are both the creators and contributors of it.

 

 

 

 

Met Gala 2017: A penny for the peanut gallery’s thoughts.

After the ball was over, all the wannabes and fashionistas who were unfortunate enough to not be invited to one of the most prestigious fashion events of the year, swarmed onto social media to ooh and aah over the glorious gowns worn by only the best in the West.

Or, perhaps we didn’t ooh and aah over all of them. While some left us breathless, others left us speechless, and still a few more left us utterly confused as we passed scrutinizing judgements such as: “what is she even wearing?” and “she may as well not have worn anything at all!” But that’s what makes this glamourous evening so enjoyable for the remainder of us not-yet-famous social rejects.

The 2017 Met Gala (the event I am referring to) took place on the first of May, celebrating the opening of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute’s spring exhibition: Art of the In-Between by fashion (aka anti-fashion) designer Rei Kawakubo and head of the Japanese Fashion label Comme des Garçons.

Kawakubo is notoriously known for emphasizing fashion as an art form, and all the celebrity guests followed suit dressing up perfectly for the occasion in the most artistic avant-guard outfits imaginable. Forget about the runway, the garments produced for this year’s Met Ball was like viewing artworks on walking mannequins. And just like in art,  some outfits leaned strongly to towards the shock factor, while others epitomized timeless elegance.

Here’s my list of the best, worst and most outrages outfits of the night. In no particular order, because, in the end, if beauty is in the eye of the beholder then we’re all winners.

Locked in language: A letter to my mother tongue

Language is embodied in everything around us. As human beings, we are constantly imparting meaning onto everything and everyone. We are walking representations of language. The clothes we wear; the music we listen to; the books we read; the ideologies we adopt, are all symptoms of the cause.

Language is the medium in which we think, speak and act and make sense of the world and ourselves. However, this doesn’t by any means make it an easy relationship to maintain. On the contrary, our relationship with Language has potential to be the most conflicted, love-hate relationships we’ll ever experience. 

This personal piece of writing is an exploration of language, monolingualism and my relationship with my mother tongue. 

Dear English,

I fear that I’ve taken you for granted for quite some time now, and as a result, I may have abused your power, so for that, I apologize profusely.

But before you think I’m going to leave you hovering over me while I lie prostrate at your feet, I’ve got news for you: You’re partly to blame for all of this. You, yes you, Lord of all languages.

The truth is you’ve coddled me. Suffocated me; killed me with kindness and partiality. Since the moment of my birth, you have established yourself as my crutch. You wrapped yourself around my finger and forced me into a partnership with you. I had no choice but to use you as my right-hand man, my magic wand that, when I waved artfully around, doors opened. The tragedy of it all is that I ended up relying on you far too much.

You were supposed to be like the training wheels on a fahrrad (bicycle) which are taken off when the child finally masters the balancing act, but you (or I, I’m too sure who) had separation anxiety and so you stayed. And I got so comfortable with your presence, that I started to forget you were still there, so it never crossed my mind to ask you to leave.

But in hindsight, I’m afraid you overstayed your welcome. I regarded you as my parent- my mother tongue and much like an over-bearing unyoko (mother), you took away my wings. And I felt so safe, that although I did try countless times, I had no real desire to fly and so I never left your nest.

Despite it all, I still owe you a lot. I owe my entire being to you, because in essence, you created me. My identity was constructed by you, through you. I am made up of words, and those words are written in English. English is the medium that enables me to exist. It is the language in which I think and speak and make sense of the world. Jy is my hart se punt. Ndiyakuthanda (I love you).

  I can’t help but love you, for you’re all I know.

Well, not all I know, but what I’ve chosen to know based on the security you give me in exchange for my loyalty. I became lethargic at the thought of wondering from the safety of your flock. It was too much effort; too scary, uncomfortable, and I was too vulnerable out there. I always felt safer in your loving care.

You were my gesondheid (health). As long as I stuck with you, you promised to elevate me higher, allowing me to reach new levels in life. You’ve been faithful to your promise because I have up until now been prosperous in your presence. I’ve made it to my third year in University, all thanks to my knowledge and application of your complex, ambiguous and at times, nonsensical teachings.

Like why is orange both a fruit and a colour? And why do words that sound exactly the same have different meanings? Why can’t ‘conflictuous’ be a word? Why do some words just sound right, but I can’t use them because they’re ‘grammatically incorrect’? Why all the rigid rules, that are full of leap holes and exceptions?

“Because I said so,” you reply, like a controlling parent and I, the subdued child am put back in my place. I know what’s best for me, so I don’t ask questions, I just do as I’m told. I’m starting to realize, that as much as you are freeing, you’re just as restricting.

Here, in this culturally diverse space of the university that you lead me to, I have encountered other people who regard you as ‘frivolous’; unimportant; irrelevant. And I know you’re probably falling off your chair laughing at the thought of people daring to live without you, because you’ve established yourself as this inextinguishable empire, brainwashing society into believing that your way is the highway to heaven.

For a long time, I used to judge those who did not understand you or express themselves using your eloquent terms. I used to think their lack of understanding could only mean they were uneducated, illiterate.

But my experiences in recent years have all built up to this epiphany moment and my eyes have been opened. I have been exposed to new ideas that are formulated from new words that I don’t know because they come from unknown horizons, and my desire to delve into this new knowledge burns through me like the langalibalele (hot sun) on my skin.

I have come to realize that just because other people do not acknowledge you as their source of knowledge, doesn’t make them any less knowledgeable, they are sometimes even more knowledgeable than I am, they just have different ways of expressing it. And I’m starting to appreciate the beauty of difference, and I have a newfound appreciation for the variation of life that exists down these different roads.

I need you to understand that while there are other worlds out there that I am dying to visit, you will always be my home. You will always be the rocket that launches my thoughts and the planet to which I will inevitably always retreat back to.

It is cathartic for me to finally get my feelings towards you off my chest. All I ask of you is to please let me go. To loosen your hold on me and undo the training wheels of my fahrrad (bicycle) so that I can finally fly. The bicycle will always be the instrument that carries me forward, in every direction I choose to go. I just need to be given the freedom and responsibility to travel at my own pace, in my own time and to my own destinations.

I want to experience the world through different eyes, using different tongues and get to know the millions of njamme (brothers and sisters) that up until now, you have isolated me from.

You will always be the ubuchi (honey) to my tea, but I’m just dying to know how tea tastes with sugar.

I hope you will understand where I am coming from, and support me on my journey. I don’t need you anymore, but you’re still a part of me I want to keep.

Yours sincerely,

Jade-Eden le Roux

Borrowed time

My mother’s fiance died when I was nine years old and for years after that, we would commemorate the anniversary of his death by sharing a box of Ferrero Rochers, his and our favourite chocolates. I don’t remember exactly how long we upheld this ritual before, gradually, year after year grief began to slowly loosen its grasp and now the day passes without me even registering its historical significance.

I don’t want that to be the case with the memory of my grandmother’s last days. In fact, I have a vivid fear of letting the memory slip away into a blur, especially since the memory is already so blurred over with overwhelming emotion and regret.

It hit me in the face the other day when the first anniversary of her death came and went and I nearly passed the day by, blissfully unaware of its bitter undertones. My mother brought me back to reality when she phoned and mentioned that the rest of my family back home would be going out for breakfast to commemorate the day and “just be together.” I felt guilty for forgetting, and my heart stiffened into a knot, tangled with a mixture of warmth, longing, and regret at the sudden conjuring up of the last memory I have of her.

On her death bed, holding my hand and looking intently into my eyes, she added a few more inches to the incredibly large shoes she was leaving for me to fill by imparting on me this profound purpose:

“Be everything to everyone,” she said.

That phrase clouds every memory I have of her now, because only after her death did I discover what she really meant and the great extent to which she embodied that phrase throughout her life. People of all different ages would come to me and tell me how my beloved grandmother had touched their lives, and I soon began to realize that although I was an only child, and had no siblings to share my gran with, she wasn’t only my grandmother. She fulfilled the role of mother and grandmother to so many other people that had need of the love she had to give. I inherited a family formed not only by blood but bonded by her love and acceptance.

In her beautifully written memoir, Letters to my daughter, Maya Angelou explains that while she gave birth to one son, she has “thousands of daughters.”

“You are black and white, Jewish and Muslim, spanish-speaking, Native-American and Aleut. You are fat and thin, pretty and plain, gay and straight, educated and unlettered, and I am speaking to you all, here is my offering to you.” -Maya Angelou

This quote reminds me of my grandmother, my very own Maya Angelou.

In her life, she served as a mother, a mayoress, a music teacher, a company director, an excellent cook, a good wife and a treasured friend. The list goes on. She lived out her life being everything to everyone, and she did so with enthusiasm, grace, generosity, and gentleness.  She epitomized the art of being formidable without raising your voice.

How do I commemorate the memory of a life so well lived? Maya Angelou also said that “Life loves the liver of it,” and my grandmother certainly knew how to live life. Boldly and with colour.

So here I am, sitting in a coffee shop, all alone. Sipping my cappuccino and filling the empty chair next to me with all my memories of her. I’m trying to refresh them, to see them clearer; shuffle them around and place them in order, but most importantly I’m trying to reassure myself that the memory of her; all that she means to me, hasn’t slipped away and faded like an old, colourless photograph that no longer captures the life of its subjects.

Three months before my entrance into this world, my grandmother was involved in a life-threatening head-on collision motor accident. The deciding factor of whether or not she would live to meet her only grand-daughter rested on a single heartbeat. Her heart stopped beating at the scene of the accident and if the paramedic hadn’t listened to that ludicrous voice urging him to give ONE more attempt at resuscitation, I would never have been blessed with the experience of knowing and having my grandmother in my life just long enough for her to witness me emerge into the first stage of adulthood.

I’m reminded of that bible story when King Hezekiah’s life was due to come to an end, but he pleaded with God for an extension, and God proved to be more lenient than some of my University Professors and granted him an extra 15 years.

My gran was supposed to die that day. She actually did die. For a few minutes, her heart ceased to beat. But thanks to a persevering paramedic, who went over and above his normal lengths of duty, my grandmother was given a second chance at life, and I was given a chance to have my grandmother around for just as long as it took her to teach me and shape me into the person I am, and into the person her influence and her life constantly inspires me to aspire to become.

I like to think of it as borrowed time. Time leased out to fulfill a purpose. Time, that does not belong to us but is lent to us and the only way to pay it back is to pay it forward.  She was certainly a gift to me, a gift I can only repay and express my gratitude for by aspiring to follow in her footsteps, to continue her legacy.

All of our lives serve a purpose; we are all given ‘borrowed time’- time that one day we will have to give back. We better spend wisely because what we give back, is what we leave behind, and essentially, what we pass on to others.

We are all women, who in some way or another, at some stage of our lives, are called, or expected to be ‘everything to everyone’. Some see it as a curse, others, like Maya Angelou, and my grandmother, use it as a blessing to build others up and leave behind a legacy of love.

My grandmother was an exceptional woman, and I’m not just saying that in an attempt to ‘immortalize the dead’. She had her faults and her failures, but she never allowed herself to be defined by them.

She proved, to me at least, that you can do it all, and have it all, yet not be defined by it all. She was many different things, to many different people, but she is everything to me. And yes, she left very large shoes to fill, and it’s my life-long prayer, that I may never forget, that from her dying lips, she left them to me.

The Retro Revolution

They say the only constant is change, but sometimes change is so consistent you have to blink to see the difference.  To quote the French novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr,

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Ever left a place and returned years later to find that not much about the surrounding is different? New people may have replaced the old familiar faces that are imprinted in your mind, new buildings and structures and ideas may have been adopted, but the general feel, atmosphere, the skeletal structure has remained intact. You look around you and you’re taken back by the surreal familiarity of it all, while still nostalgically aware that the colours have lost their hue, it’s like you’re looking at a faded photograph.

F. Scott Fitzgerald not only knew this feeling all too well, he also was gifted with the ability to capture it in words: 

“Life is a journey, not to a destination but a transformation.”

I’m not exactly sure who said that but what matters most is the truth in it. We’re on a journey, and everything that we encounter has an impact on us, whether we realise it or not. The same can be said about fashion and the clothes we wear.

In her book The Thoughtful Dresser, Linda Grant talks about the power clothes and fashion has on influencing our identities and how it reflects the different stages of our lives. She says that one could literally write an autobiography using the different styles of clothes worn through every stage of life. At every age, we embark on a new stretch of the journey accompanied by fashion, our faithful friend. The clothes we choose are social indicators of who we are and where we place ourselves in relation to the world around us. Whether we choose to fit in or stand out, clothes are bonded at the seams with ideology and we pick and choose what and who we want to embody by what we wear.

The other day in my Writing and Editing class, we were tasked with writing an overview of the year we were born and find a way to fit ourselves somewhere in the equation, because in this journey of life everything has a cause and effect, no matter how insignificantly seeming it is.

So I typed ‘1995’ into the Google search bar (because I’m that ancient you know,) and attempted to over-analyze this idea of predestination based on my subliminal reception to the outer forces at play around the time  I was welcomed into this world.  Could the global events and historical context surrounding my birth, really have that much of a significance on how I turned out as a person, and the course of life I ultimately chose as a result?

At first glance, the whole idea seemed like a somewhat horoscope-type reading of my fate. But interestingly enough, amongst other things I discovered that Amazon sold its first book the year I was born, and seeing I dream of one day being a published writer, perhaps I could see it as a sign that I too will someday sell a book. Or am I reading way too far into everything?

But then I modified my search slightly and typed in ‘fashion in 1995’ and what eventually popped onto my screen, was a classic case of déjà vu. Turns out while my mother was working out hard at the gym to lose her baby bump, the rest of the world was standing in solidarity with her, skipping the fries and piling on salads in order to fit into the ‘latest trend’: crop tops. And slip dresses, velvet, chokers, platform shoes and nude lips.

Ring a bell? Because I’m pretty sure, just the other day I saw a picture of Kendall Jenner rocking a metallic slip dress, with a matching choker. And let’s take a minute to pay a tribute to the tiniest excuse for a t-shirt in history: the crop top. It features everywhere these days. It will take you from the beach to the bar; the gym to a girl’s night out; it’s even made its way onto the red carpet countless times in recent years.

Trust me, IT girl and super model Gigi Hadid, backed by the biggest and the best fashion houses, has got plenty to lose by wearing clothes that are ‘outdated’, so when I see her constantly showing off her killer abs in crop tops, I’m going to instantly assume that this itsy bitsy insignificant piece of cloth must still be pretty significant after all.

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Let’s take a moment to salute the slip dress, for surviving 21 years and finding its way back, not only into the fashion pages but more importantly back onto the streets where it is accessible to everyone and can be dressed up and down in the most creative ways. Recently, I too set off in search of my very own slip dress to wear over a plain t-shirt, and I still remember the sense of accomplishment I felt when I finally found the one (that victorious moment holds another story altogether, but I’ll save it for another day.)

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Platform shoes and nude or brown hued lips are also all the rage these days, just in case you somehow managed to miss them screaming out at you from across the street, shop windows, or even the pages of magazines. (If this is the case, then you must be deaf).

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So it would appear my life in fashion has gone full circle (I guess that means I should be content to die now?) I’m back to where it all began; back to where my life all started. The 1990’s makes a comeback, but this time around I can actually fit into the clothes.

Yet amongst these trends, there are still the few that twenty-one years have failed to make my heart grow fond of. Crop tops, unfortunately, feature high on that list. While I don’t despise the item and admire it on others, it remains one style that has just failed to find a place in my wardrobe.  There was a stage when I was around nine or ten that everyone my age was wearing them, and so based on that premise, I too wanted one. I begged and pleaded with my mother to let me wear them, however being the classy, elegant women she is, and trying oh so very hard to turn her daughter into a ‘lady’ (trust me it was mission impossible those days,) there was no way she was going to have me baring my stomach, even in the name of a floral print. And so the desire passed, and shortly after so did the trend, for a while at least…

Fashion evolves and revolves, like waves crashing onto the shore and then retreating temporarily back into the deep blue. Through all the ebbs and flows of life, there’s one thing we can be certain of: The waves always return to the shore. And amidst this recurring cycle, sometimes we find ourselves revisiting home, watching new faces come and go in crop tops and dungarees, and those psychedelic hippy pants that speak to my eighteen-year-old hippie self. It is then that we realize, that amidst all these ‘constants’, it is us who have changed. Fashion evolves, but so does our style, it’s all part of the journey.

As the late fashion designer Yves Saint Lauren said:

“Fashion fades, but style is eternal.”

The ‘weaker’ voice: What it’s like to be a woman in a Man’s world.

On Wednesday, the world united together to celebrate the Wonder that is Women.

If you weren’t aware it was International Women’s Day, then you either live under the ocean, or the universe has punished you (or rewarded you, whichever way you see it) by sending you to a place that has no internet connection or any links to the real world- and if that were so, you wouldn’t be reading this, so we can dismiss that theory altogether.

For those of you who do live under the ocean, and just came up for some air on Wednesday, I’m sure you were bombarded with the motivational, inspirational, ‘Girl Power’ dialogue that dominated the day.

But then came Thursday, and we woke up to the void of Happy Women’s Day messages and perhaps unwillingly returned to normality- a state that’s forever being promoted as ‘over-rated’ and ‘cliché’ and compelled to be replaced with ‘originality’. “Don’t be normal,” they say, “be you!” -Whatever that means.

How do we ‘be’ ourselves; how do we embody what lies at the core of being when society, is constantly using its subtle tactics and manipulations to choke us into a mold.

Just like men, women are also classified as strong, brave and courageous, but not for the same reasons that men are. No, women are awarded the labels of ‘Bravery’ and ‘Strength’ for overcoming the daily hurdles that men breeze over without a second thought. Men are brave and courageous for fighting off giants and walking head first into battle and defeating their opponents without hesitation.

Women are deemed brave and courageous for daring to enter into a male’s world and succeed. Every step up the corporate ladder is a dagger in the heart of the giant, that is the Patriarchal society. Every woman who attempts to shout louder than society’s redundant voice dictating who we should be and what we should look like is walking head first into battle against a mob of brainwashed opponents.

We’re courageous for trying to break free when in actual fact we should never have been chained in the first place. And by no means does that place a slight on our achievements and strength at all, we’ve earned the title, we deserve it. We’ve undeniably proved that Women as a nation are a formidable force, but it’s a fight we shouldn’t have to continuously relive.

It’s all good and well that we’ve succeeded in standing up for ourselves countless times throughout history, but why do we continuously have to rejustify our case? Why do we constantly have to repeat ourselves in order to be heard? Why do our voices still feel so weak?

I like how Kriti Sanon says it in this video that went viral on Facebook.

This year, on International Women’s Day, while women around the world were for one isolated day, making sure that they were heard, I was interviewing a scientist who told me how on a daily basis she struggles with not being taken seriously in the workplace by her fellow male counterparts.

“It’s really difficult to be a female scientist in a largely male-dominated field. I feel like I’m always having to try a little bit harder to prove to everyone that I can do the tasks. If a man comes along, he is automatically trusted with a project, but the minute you’re female, you always end up having to defend yourself.” said Environmental scientist Puleng Tsie.

Puleng is based at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, where she works as communications manager for Sci Enza, a company that works toward finding interactive ways to make learning science fun and understandable for learners. She said that although the field of female scientists is growing, it is growing at a very slow rate. “Women are still breaking into a field that for centuries has been dominated by mature male scientists,” she explained.

“Happy Women’s Day” didn’t seem like an apt response to that revelation. The worst part was that I wasn’t surprised at her answer when I brought up the topic of gender stigmatization and discrimination in the workplace. I was kind of expecting her response to be more or less on same lines.  Her answer expressed the same underlying truth that we shove in the far out corners of our minds, and we try to flush away with every pro-women motivational pep talk we seem to be constantly dishing out to one another.

Take a moment to consider the ratio of male to female non-fiction writers who win, or get nominated for literary prizes. Majority of the time, male authors walk away with the prize.  What is it about the female voice that makes it more well-received and accepted in fiction, or when women do dare to delve into the non-fiction battlefield, why do they often settle for memoirs?

In an article published on Slate, Kate Waldman questions why the memoir genre is on the rise for women non-fiction writers and links it to the fact that female non-fiction writers fail to feature on the receiving end of book prizes as often as men do.

“Does the relative invisibility of memoir on the nonfiction prize circuit lead to the underrepresentation of women? Or is it the other way around? Perhaps women are drawn to memoir for the same reasons that NBA judges seem to flinch from it: The genre’s goals feel less explicitly grandiose and weighty, more acceptable for us—with our “emotions” and our “fine brushwork”—to strive for,”  Waldman writes.

Do women stick to fiction and memoirs because it’s too treacherous a territory to compete with the loud, overbearing voices of their male counterparts? Is it the tiny societal voice that’s been subliminally engrained in us from infancy: “Blue is for boys, pink is for girls” in the adult world can translate into “stick to what you’re good at.” Who has the right to set parameters around what areas we can excel in?

There are however the few exceptions of female non-fiction writers who braved the deep waters and succeeded. Last year, three of the four writers shortlisted for The Baillie Gifford Prize for non-fiction, were women. So, maybe there is hope, but how long must we wait around to find out?

Women finally make it to the top of the ladder; the plateau of so-called equality, only to find that they “still have a way to go”. I hate those six words, that are repeated so often they’re bordering on cliche, but maybe I hate them more because the truth in them rings out an ineffable defeat: so close, but yet so far. Will we ever find the pot of gold under the rainbow? Does it even exist, or are we all just a bunch of supreme idealists?

Where to from here? I honestly wish I knew. Puleng has some solid advice, which she stands by:

“I know my background, I understand and I’m good at what I do. If people want to check up on me, or question me, it’s their waste of time and energy not mine.” That’s her expert advice on dealing with being second-guessed just because you’re a girl.

And as much as I agree and applaud her attitude, I fear that the day will come when after screaming so loud, for so long, in the vain hope of being heard the first time, our frail voices will finally falter, be reduced to a whisper and we’ll be back at square one. Having come so far, but with so much further still to go.