Can you be body positive while dressing modestly?

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Someone asked this IMPORTANT question to me over the weekend: “Can you be body positive when you’re dressing modestly?”

I can’t help but be reminded by a similar question Sandy Supramaniam of RojakDaily posed to me in a recent interview for the portal and I feel like sharing my full answer with you guys today simply because this needs to be talked about.

Sandy’s question was: Do you feel like you have a bigger challenge to face being body positive while choosing to dress modestly?

My answer:

“Let’s be clear about something: Being body positive and dressing modestly is NOT the issue. The issue is when people in the movement (or so they believe that they are in one) are EXCLUDING modest-dressing women and men, Muslim or others, and especially hijabis, from the conversation.

Often when we look at the type of content or messaging created to describe body positivity, it is almost always surrounding those who can demonstrate the concept in ways where they’re body positivity is celebrated by wearing or doing things that they once weren’t confident enough to do i.e. wearing bikini, posing nude, showing off areas of their body that are seen as ‘ugly’ or unacceptable to society, etc. We see more and more content that are about encouraging men and women to wear whatever they like, that there shouldn’t be any more rules to follow e.g. big girls should wear black, no sheer clothes, etc.

These messaging have empowered many, myself included. I am happy to see imageries of beautiful women all over the world taking control of their body, following their own rules and showing the best version of themselves. I love seeing fat bodies being celebrated as much as the slender ones do. But I noticed that these imageries and ideas of body positivity are one sided. I remember that moment when I began to realize how disconnect I was to these ‘demonstration of the body positive ideals’. Where are the modest women? Those who are body positive or want to be body positive but might not be able to demonstrate it in ways that are seen “liberating” enough to the core crowd.

As a hijabi, when I named my (now-defunct) blog That Fat Tudung Party Girl, the word tudung is there for a reason. It is part of my identity as much as fatness is to me. To be honest, it’s more important. But why don’t I see images of myself of women like me being showcased the way non-hijabis do? Are we not considered body positive? Why aren’t we celebrated too?

Fact of the matter is, wearing the hijab is body positive by itself! The hijab is my way of setting my own beauty ideal and not following others’ standards. Because of my hijab, I am not only expected to dress modestly and cover my body, but I choose to do so by my own willing. And that’s body positive!

In Malaysia, more Muslim women are wearing the hijab and a hijabi is now becoming a norm. Some would say that ‘wearing the hijab is THE beauty standard’ of a Muslim woman, but my argument to that would be, unless that woman is wearing the hijab against her will or because it is ‘what others are doing’, she’s not body positive. Wearing the hijab is a choice, the same with those who choose not to wear hijab. Acknowledging the fact that body positivity is unique to each individual is vital. This is not a one size fits all concept that we can replicate across individuals on planet Earth.

At the end of the day, the movement needs to be more inclusive and not rejecting or dismissing the different layers that’s connected to it like race, gender, class, ability, ethnicity, sexual oritentation, etc. That’s why the challenge is never about ‘dressing’ and acknowledging that is numero uno.”

Read the article ‘You can treat a person’s body with respect even if you don’t find them attractive‘ on Rojak Daily by Sandy Supramaniam that features my girl Ratna Manokaran and myself, here.

#StoriesFromMyTrip – Floyd & Anca

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Stories From My Trip

I told Floyd that I wanted to see him and Anca for dinner on my first day in Amsterdam. We set the time and place to meet up and I remember walking and eventually running towards them when I saw both of them eagerly waiting for me right by the river next to Amsterdam Centraal.

I remember having that emotional but joyful feeling you get when you see familiar faces after over 24hr of flights, layover, train ride, hostel check-in and some walking around a city estranged to you. I could not contain my excitement, I felt like I was about to cry when I embraced them. Three years since I saw them last in KL and I remember telling myself every year since to have to make a trip to Europe happen. I have friends to visit. Floyd and Anca was on top of that list.

Floyd was my boss back in 2014, someone – even to this day – I consider a mentor. A genius who doesn’t like Malaysian food (aha!), speak English with an American accent (I really thought he was American when I had my first Skype interview with him, but no, he’s Dutch), enjoy some good hip hop music and House of Cards series like myself; Floyd was that role model figure I needed in my career – someone I learned a lot from, and most importantly, learned so much about my own self from.

Floyd created a work family for us then. I would work long hours and would still come back early the next morning, always motivated. He would challenged me, taught me leadership skills and how to run my own small team at a young age, but the part I enjoyed most about working with him was discovering my own potential and being empowered in everything I do. We would spend a lot of time as a team outside of work too. I remember when we had that team party joined by our loved ones. We had potluck, wore themed outfit because I wanted a family photo and that miming lip sync battle going on. It was such a good night. That was just one of many but it was Floyd who taught me the idea of a family team and it has always been one of my work goals everywhere I go.

There’s so much I can say about Floyd and my admiration for that man but Floyd without his Anca, is incomplete. I felt like Anca is his rock. Equally smart and talented, Anca has this warmth about her that makes you feel right at home. And ‘home’ I was, in Amsterdam, because of these two.

Thank you Floyd and Anca for the food and drinks, introducing me to Chocomel (which I got addicted to), for the “Amsterdam experience”, and Anca for being that big sister who always make sure things are under control, for welcoming me to your home, for the advice, for the good vibes, for the great conversations we had those two nights, and most importantly, for being you two.

Will see each other soon. I know that.

Written on October 5 in Spreegold Store on Stargarder Straße 82, Berlin; edited in Kuala Lumpur. Floyd & Anca is story #4.

A writing for my brother

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Get Personal

My brother, Adib and I used to be really close when we were both still kids. He was my first brother and my first friend. He’s the reason I am called Along (that’s an endearment term in Malay for the eldest sibling). And we would make the duo that is Along and Adib, daughter and son of Ashari and Anidah.

Only three years apart, Along and Adib would do almost everything together. Like building Lego homes, play NBA games where Adib would play his then favorite team, the Houston Rocket and I on the other hand would became a commentator. We would helped Mak and Abah in the kitchen, both equally well trained by our parents to make sure we both could survive the world with good home cooked food (but I think Adib is a better cook now than I am cause I don’t cook as often as I used to). We would ask Abah to build things for us, like those tree house we got excited over for maybe a week before we moved on to new favourites. I remember when we were living in Johor Bahru for a year, I would go and pick Adib from school when I could. I would walk back to school late in the afternoon, only to walk back home with him. We were the two most privileged among all of our siblings, only cause we existed earlier. We got Mak and Abah to ourselves, and when they were younger parents. We would travel and go on holiday as family. Along and Adib had everything in the world, and each other. Until Hakim came along, and then Yah and then Aiman and then our beautifully special, Aatif.

As we get older, we grew slightly apart just because we both had our own dreams and have slightly different values. We both have our own friends that we hang out with. Our relationship matures into that of an adult siblings. We respect each other. We’re aware of our responsibilities— as daughter and son to our parents, as brother and sister to our siblings —only that I think Adib is more responsible and reliable than I am. We became less involved with each other. We no longer spend as much time as we used to. We don’t confide in each other. We argue at times. Truth be told, over the past years, Adib to me is that one phone call I make whenever I needed real help. Like picking me up at 3am from work when I was working at Bernama. When I needed to move homes. When I want someone to drive me around Penang. Fact of the matter is… I somewhat became his responsibility. He’ve been taking care of me when it should have been the other way around.

Yesterday, Adib entered a new chapter of his life. He became a husband to a pretty young thing whom I learned, is a fellow creative soul the same way Adib is too. And I couldn’t be anymore happier. I couldn’t be any prouder. I cried even before he completed his akad. My first brother, my first friend, my first blood growing into a man. That was the moment when I realized that we never grew apart. Not since that first day Along saw you when Mak came home carrying a baby I would eventually call my brother. It all started with us the duo Along and Adib, daughter and son to Ashari and Anidah. Then we became Along and Adib and Hakim and Yah and Aiman and Aatiff. And now we welcome Ezzah to the fam.

Be a good husband, be just to your wife, be good to her, love her the way you never love before, be a feminist because you now have four women in your life you need to fight for. And then maybe more.

But know that Along have never stopped loving you, Adib. You’re the first brother and my first friend, and nothing will ever take that fact away from me.

Wear it two ways

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Lifestyle / Plus Style

I’ve been going to the gym every Monday for weeks now and there’s one person to thank for that: my colleague Katherine, who in the beginning, constantly pushes me to join her for one of the classes at KOA. I was reluctant at first, saying working out is not for me. Truth be told, I haven’t worked out or get active for so long. I’ll come out with excuses like I’m too busy but I’m mostly just… well, lazy. Since that first class, I’ve been going back weekly, start small and start slow, hoping and trying not to miss any.

But one thing I can’t start small with, are the clothes. I gotta dress the part. I remember having a conversation with another colleague of mine/active lifestyle advisor, Sandy Heung, about what I needed to get – sports bras are essential so I started with that since the old ones were already too small for me. Since, I’ve been adding more workout clothes into my collection and especially excited that one of my favourite plus size brands, MS. READ recently launched its first Activewear collection.

Got my hands on a number of items but I especially like how versatile basic items like the shirts can be. This v-neck grey shirt is one of them. Match it with a jacket, a pair of dark blue jeans and my trusted kick for a casual office look (thankfully, I can wear like this to work!) before I changed to my workout clothes after work.

The fact is, the gym I frequent to – KOA – is located in the same building as my agency’s office. At around 6.15pm, I would be in a rush to change my work clothes to gym clothes in order to join in the class at 6.30pm. I imagine how easy it would be not having to change into too many pieces of clothing and just sweat the shirt out for good.

And that’s exactly what happened every other week. I sweat everything like a pig and every piece that I wear is soaked through. But it feels good though. I feel good, refreshed and always ready to do it all over again next Monday.

 

Outfit details:

Casual look: V-neck Short Sleeved Shirt by Ms. Read, mesh bomber jacket from Ms. Read, denim legging from H&M, white sneakers from Reebok Classic, head scarf from Primark, bandana as accessory from H&M.

Workout look: V-neck Short Sleeved Shirt from Ms. Read, Straight Cut Track Pants from Ms Read, trainers from Nike, head scarf from Primark, bandana as accessory from H&M.

The Tourist

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Stories From My Trip / Travels

I used to hate being called a tourist, even worst, travel like one. Just like when this slightly older German Turkish guy dropped that one word statement-like-question to me, “Tourist?”

The very sound of that word irked me, but I nodded along and said yes. The guy was just being friendly and I appreciated it.

I saw him and his wife (maybe girlfriend, I dunno) walked into this Halal fast food outlet called Risa on Schönhauser Allee, during my first night in Berlin. The restaurant was packed and it was dinner time. About 10 minutes before that — after making my order — I managed to secure a spot at this huge table that could fit about six people.

Truth be told, I would have avoided sitting at the table if I have other choices. It was the only available table inside the restaurant and there’s absolutely no way I’m eating dinner in the cold outside. I even had this thought in my mind then that everyone is giving me the look, ‘greedy girl’ or worse, ‘greedy tourist’ but I tried not to think too much.

This was my first big meal of the day, after travelling by train from Amsterdam to Berlin for six hours, before getting lost when I was trying to get to my AirBnB via the BVG (aka Berlin’s public transport system). I KO-ed the moment I arrived at the flat. I was just exhausted. I had no proper meal all day, only water, Chocomel chocolate milk that I brought with me from Amsterdam and some Dutch snacks.

When I woke up from sleep at about 4.30pm, all I could think about was food. I was starving and decided to hit the street, wander around for a little bit and find a restaurant I could dine at. And there I was at Risa – cold and hungry – and all I cared about was nothing else but those beautifully roasted chicken.

So when the couple approached me to ask about the empty seats, I was more than happy to share it with them. I said, “Come, come, please have a seat!” I was overly friendly, treating the whole situation like I was welcoming people into my house.

They greeted me in German, of course, but such universally understood gesture of ‘can we sit here/are these seats available’ got me to subconsciously blurted out English words and I guess that’s what gave my identity away.

The tourist.

Or could it have been my look? Hmm… I doubt it. There’s a diverse group of people dining in at Risa that night. There were some Caucasian customers, Turkish, some African, even East Asians, so I shouldn’t feel so much like an outsider. But then, I’m pretty sure they were all Germans.

Another one incident that could have given my identity away was when a staff at the counter were calling out order numbers in German. I freaked out a bit when I heard her calling out one number after another. So I stayed near the counter hoping that when she called out my number, I could just showed the receipt to her and quietly ask in English. My trick was to watch out for the tray that looked like what I ordered and I would immediately knew that it was my number she was calling.

But the couple shouldn’t even have any idea that I’m not German, I thought. They arrived later. Fuck, I shouldn’t be overthinking. But I really can’t help it.

I’m sure we all say things like, “I lived like locals when I visit these places and went to places locals go to and eat what they eat.” Is this enough of an indication that you’re not a tourist but more a traveller? A visitor? One who perhaps, eat sinfully good local fast food chicken at Risa just like the locals do but avoid the tourist/shopping heavy areas like Alexanderplatz?

Self expectation when one is travelling is high but the reality might not. The fact, on the other hand remains: these are new things to you and/or you are new to these. And there’s no point acting like there are experiences that will automatically be classified as cliche touristy things-to-do and that you should avoid them, because to be honest there’s none!

It’s so easy to get caught up in these ideas of wanting to assimilate or understand how the locals live or wanting to not doing touristy thing, because they won’t change the fact that you’re a visitor on a mission to explore and experience. What’s important is that in the process, you’re defining and refining your perspectives after any form of experiences because at the end of the day, to others — this couple included — you’re still a visitor, an outsider, a tourist.

All these being said, when I’m back in Los Angeles in future — if that is ever going to happen anytime soon — I’m going to Disneyland. I don’t care.

Written on October 3 at my AirBnB flat on Zionkirschplatz, Berlin; edited in Kuala Lumpur. The Tourist Part 1 is story #2 as part of the #StoriesFromMyTrip series.

When a fat hijabi became Frida Kahlo for Halloween

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Plus Style

“I think that little by little I’ll be able to solve my problems and survive.”  – Frida Kahlo

I’m always excited for Halloween. I don’t celebrate it but the idea of a group of people who get together, making the effort to dress weird together and party together is definitely my kinda thing. So when I found out that today was gonna be the agency’s Halloween party, I knew I had to put in some effort and make a statement. Or maybe not…

So I went on Instagram to ask for Halloween outfit ideas and got myself some interesting suggestions. From Professor McGonagall to popular Netflix series, Stranger Things’ character, Barb, I find it quite surprising to see how my friends and followers on Instagram suggested characters that they feel would suit me best – understanding my personality, personal style and all.

But it was my favourite Nogori-now-New York mami, Melor’s suggestion that stuck with me the most.

Frida Kahlo. Straight up.

I became aware of Frida when I watched her biopic years ago. That’s when I knew of her story. I find Frida to be this super strong, courages woman whose spirit, love, and tenacity I admire and wish I could replicate. Frida might be a Mexican icon but in my eyes she’s an icon for all women whose life story and values we all can learn from.

Melor shared with me screenshots of others rocking Frida’s signature look as Halloween costume, queen Beyonce included,  and gave some ideas on what I needed to get to put the look together and I knew right there and then that I was gonna be Frida.

A fat hijabi Frida.

What do you think?

Details of my look: 

  • Turban & flower crown – plastic flowers that I piece together on top of my turban using pins. My turban is tied using a Hana Tajima for Uniqlo scarf. 
  • Shoulder scarf from Monki.
  • Off shoulder black dress from Marks & Spencer.
  • White inner from Uniqlo. 
  • Necklace from Mango.
  • Striped pants from Marks & Spencer. 
  • Reebok Classic white sneakers from Crossover. 

People who made it happen:

  • Idea: Melor
  • Photos: Najib Salman 
  • Makeup: Sufiah + Nazirah

#StoriesFromMyTrip – Roya

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Stories From My Trip / Travels

The moment Roya walked into my hostel room that first afternoon in Amsterdam, I could already sensed a cool, badass woman I wanted to get to know more of. She had a leather jacket on and a gorgeous red tribal scarf wrapped around her neck and a pair of boots to pair. But it was that side-shaved, upper volume haircut that got my attention… how I wished my recently trimmed short hair is as cool.

She dragged her large black luggage in, said hi and introduced herself — Roya from South Africa. I knew right there and then that we were gonna be friends. I returned her introduction and started chatting from the top of the bunk bed I was assigned to – busy sorting out receipts and other things. I, too, literally just arrived in Amsterdam and checked-in to the hostel only an hour earlier before Roya.

A South African national of Scottish and Iranian descent, Roya is a writer/music journalist who recently worked in student development at a university back home. She was going to stay for a night and before reunited with her musician husband who’s flying into Amsterdam the next day. They would then embark on a train journey to their new home for the next three years, in a different part of Netherlands, Maastricht.

She asked if I’ve made plans for the night -which I did – but I was more than happy to walk around the city with her before my meeting with Floyd and Anca later. Without proper rest, we left the hostel in about an hour after she arrived and walked aimlessly around the city centre until we found a place for her to have dinner, and I, a quick munch.

Within those short hours, I learned another thing or two about Roya. One – she’s a vegan and of the Baha’i faith. What fascinated me about her most was her multi-ethnic (and global) family – Scottish mother, Iranian father, husband from Mozambique, sister-in-law from China and of course, an even more racially mixed niece (or was it nephew?). That’s like four continents’ representatives in a family!

But there’s this warmth and sisterly trait about Roya that I find comforting. She cares. After travelling for more than 24 hours, some friendly faces, kindness and warmth of people, help a lot to ease that exhaustion even for a bit.

After the walk around the city with Roya, I went to have dinner with my two favourite people in Amsterdam — Floyd & Anca (I’ll tell a story about them in my next posts) — before going back to the hostel, ready to get some work done.

When Roya came back, she hung out with me at the common area. She made herself a bowl of healthy thing (some oats and yogurt combo thing, maybe) and got me glasses of water, reminding me to get hydrated. We didn’t talk much that night — just telling each other what we did after we part ways — my dinner and her walking adventure. I was somewhat occupied with work and had a brief to complete so she just sat next to me until she was ready to get upstairs to sleep.

The next morning, I went down to the cafeteria at about 6am to get breakfast. I’ve been awake all night working and definitely could use some freshly brewed coffee, toast and eggs. Roya was already awake at that time too. She had to check-out. I told her to look out for me when she get downstairs. “We need a proper goodbye,” I said.

I waited for Roya. She didn’t come. She must have rushed out or something. So I messaged her on DM saying I was gonna looked for her. Moments later she replied, continue being the caring Roya I’ve learned in less than 24 hours:

“Hey gal yeah I looked upstairs and downstairs for you and couldn’t find you anywhere! I left exactly the time u sent this message. We on the train to Maastricht, husband dearest is going straight to the university when we arrive. Was absolutely smashing meeting you. Keep being epic for the remainder of your trip. Will be keeping myself updated of your progress and I want to start posting on insta daily so maybe you’ll see what we up to as well. Hope u manage to get some sleep this morning! Xxxxx”

I felt a bit sad for not getting to say goodbye to Roya in person but at least there’s the message and those short hours we spent getting to know each other in Amsterdam. About an hour later, I finished my breakfast, sent out an email to the team back in KL and went upstairs to get some sleep. I need my sleep to keep being epic. Thanks for the reminder, Roya. <3

Written on October 2 at Starbucks in Amsterdam Centraal while waiting for another awesome friend whose story will be told in this #StoriesFromMyTrip series. Roya is story #1.

The warm up: My coming of age story

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Get Personal

3 years ago, at a coffee house somewhere in Kuala Lumpur, I was reading the letter my favourite rapper, J Cole wrote to commemorate the fifth anniversary of his second mixtape, The Warm Up.

I couldn’t remember when I heard the mixtape last. I’ve moved on to enjoying his more recent releases (Born Sinner, his second full-length album was released a year before the letter was penned and it was my jam for months); and of other rappers and artists too, of course. I’ve long forgotten about the mixtape that introduced me to Cole – perhaps the only rapper in the game I feel like I’m connected to the most.

I think about all the times over the past few years that one of you has said to me, “you’re the reason I went to college,” “yo, The Warm Up got me through some hard times,” “got me through law school,” “med school,” “high school,” “The Warm Up changed my life.”

I imagine that 5 years ago we all wanted more. The Warm Up was just something that put music and words to what we were feeling.

 

– J. Cole

I remember the year when I discovered Cole – through The Warm Up (“Lights Please” to be specific)– I was this 22 years old college girl from Malaysia with dreams that felt bigger than herself. I remember having this feeling deep down inside – a fear-like consciousness where I felt like I was mediocre at best – but my outlook and my action won’t let them shown. I worked hard, I was determined and I had this tinge of cockiness unfavored by many, yet I couldn’t care less. Nothing and no one could stop me from doing what I need to do to achieve my dreams.

The Warm Up was the mixtape that got me through final year of college (among other specific songs by other artists/bands/rappers. “With Arms Outstretched” by Rilo Kiley is another one that got me through everything then) and off to actually realising the dream that once felt impossible to achieve.

I remember the year I would turn 23, when I tried to chase my dream to become a writer in the land of angels, only to end up coming back home having to refigure my plan because I was mediocre (but definitely was a better writer than I am now, that’s for sure).

And refiguration can be a bitch. At least it was to me, for a couple of years.

I’m wondering where you are today. 5 years later. The Warm Up dropped when some of you were upperclassmen in college. I’m hoping that you’ve found a career doing some shit you love, something that makes you happy. Maybe you needed more time to figure it out. Grad School? Or maybe you’re back in your parents crib trying to regroup. Everything will be OK. Don’t stop dreaming.

 

I remember getting very emotional. I remember that I cried reading his letter, right there and then. I remember going back to DatPiff and streamed The Warm Up for weeks. I remember looping “Grown Simba” for days. I remember printing the letter out and pasted it on my room’s wall. I would have it pasted in my work area at BBDO. I remember the only person who ever made a remark about it was my then colleague and fellow Dreamville devotee, Heshvin.

The letter reminded me of the young Nazirah, when I dared to dream and determined to at least attempt in making things happen. I remember not afraid of failing. I remember that I tried. I remember…

 

5 years ago, I became interested in social media and the digital world. I remember wanting to have a career in those fields and I did. I started over, I grew and I like to think that I’m flourishing. I remember starting my plus size fashion blog, capturing my fat girl style and wanting to inspire others and fill the void in representation of women that look like me. I remember that I didn’t really have everything figured out yet, I just knew that I had to try.

And I did exactly that… try.

Concluding his letter, he wrote: ‘Read this as if these words were yours, because they are:

In 5 years I have come so far. I am grateful to be here today, alive and full of potential. But I am not satisfied. I still want more. I still have dreams, even bigger now than before. I will not settle or conform. I rededicate myself to greatness. I give my time and my passion to my craft, because I realize that the work I put in today affects the life that I live tomorrow. I believe in myself. And to all those that doubt me I say, “Fuck that. I will be Greater. Watch me.

Picture credit: Amirul Halim

My name is Nazirah Ashari, I’m an ad-woman – a strategist to be specific, body positive advocate and an aspiring singer based out of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Over the past couple of months, I’ve been taking on a new role at Malaysian independent creative agency, The Clan. I’ve been planning about writing this first post and refreshing my digital presence. I’ve been thinking a lot about J Cole, obviously. Heck, I never stopped thinking about Cole. I listen to him almost everyday.

In the next couple of months, I’ll be turning 30. Hopefully in the next two weeks, I’ll be soft launching a new project that is very close to my heart. In the past two weeks, I’ve been jamming, performing and writing some music with a bunch of friends, with hope to kickstart a new project band of our own. In about six weeks, I’ll be embarking on a much-needed solo trip. While on this trip —6th of October, to be specific— I’ll be seeing J Cole live for the first time ever in my life, thousand of miles away from home, after being a fan for eight years.

Exciting times, eh? Nah, the future’s gonna get better, inshaAllah. I’m just warming up.

I can’t tell you where I’m going, just know I won’t stop
Goodbye to the bottom, hello to the top.

– J Cole in “Grown Simba”, from the mixtape The Warm Up.