Monthly Archives: November 2015

#WCW: Maryam Ulvants, Afghan-Armenian Law Graduate & Model

 

I can’t quite remember how I stumbled on Maryam jaan, but when I did, I was floored by her beauty. I got even more excited when I found out she was half Afghan and half Armenian! My best friend Ovsanna is Armenian and we wondered how our “love-child” would look like (lol). We hope she’d be half as intelligent and beautiful as Maryam!
Maryam (Maz Ulvants) is a law graduate at Northumbria University in the United Kingdom. She’s enthusiastic about fashion and has been working for a well known British designer Vivienne Westwood for nearly 5 years. Now that she has graduated, she has been offered a legal opportunity as a Paralegal in a national established law firm to progress on with her future legal career goals. She balances this simultaneously with modelling and has a modelling contract with Headline Models. Her work includes fashion, editorial, commercial and beauty. Maryam really does it all!

Were you always interested in fashion and modeling? Can you elaborate on your work as a model?

Yes I have always been enthusiastic about fashion, modeling and anything that involved dressing up and taking photos (lol). I got the idea of modeling because one of my friends was a model and I loved seeing her images so I decided to go for it! Its now been nearly 6 years and I have never looked back. The type of work that I do is mainly fashion, editorial, commercial and beauty shots. I stay away from glamour as that is something I feel may clash with my future legal career goals.

I also understand you studied law at university. Can you give us a background of how you got into this field and what you hope to do with your degree?

I studied Master in Law which is a combined course that includes all the elements of a Legal Practice Course as well as a masters level of a traditional law degree. The reason for choosing law was probably because my parents always wanted me to be successful (and that includes either a lawyer or a doctor). So when it came to me choosing what I wanted to do, it was natural for me to pick law as a subject of study because with a law degree you can go into various different type of job sectors as a plan B. I graduated in July and have now been given a position working as a Paralegal in a law firm within my city. I am hoping to gain that legal experience and go on to apply for a trainee solicitor position.

You have an awesome background, being half Afghan and half Armenian. How has this dual-identity shaped you? How do those two identities interact with each other? And has this impacted your work as a model?

Thank you! The dual-identity is something that I am proud of as you don’t see many Afghan/Armenian ladies out there. The two work together because my mother and father have similar morals and grounds which they believe. However, sometimes certain things clash due to cultural differences. But I believe if you want to make something work, it is most definitely possible. Luckily my father speaks Russian so it is easier for him to interact with my mothers side of family and my mother is self taught Afghan speaker so she also interacts fine with my fathers side of family. My parents are proud of my modelling work and they enjoy seeing the outcome of the images so luckily that has not impacted me and my work as a model.

Whats been your biggest lesson learned as a model?

Think about whether it is something you would like to do as a hobby or full time and prioritize everything based on that. I did not go down the glamour route as I knew that there was a future legal career ahead of me.

Have you met hurdles, from our own community or those outside of it? How have you encountered negative stereotypes?

 Yes I have! People are always unhappy with how I dress and the fact that I want to be independent and always have something negative to say. You sometimes even get it on Instagram too where some Afghan guys comment on my photos in relation to modelling or how I behave on it. Some Afghan guys seem to think that sitting at home and cooking is what we should be doing, yet still they also want you to be educated and have a degree (which doesn’t make sense as to why you would have a degree and not actually use it). I always just do how I please because like I said, someone out there will still have something negative to say about you regardless.

There’s a lot of issues surrounding Afghan-American representation in the media, specifically the representation of young Afghan women. What’s your take on this?

Its inspiring that these women are breaking away from the old-school traditional Afghan views on how women should be like and how they should behave. I think people should be proud that some Afghan young women are going out there and doing what they feel is right and acting independent. It does not make them into bad people, it just makes them different which is what you want be!

What kind of advice do you have for other young Afghan girls who want to do what you’ve done?

If I had to give someone advice I would say just go for what you feel is right. Like I said previously, someone out there will always appreciate your hard work and others will always have something negative to say about what you do. If you don’t give it a try, you might always regret it.

 

Joe Laws Photography

 

The Afghan refugee diaspora is one of the largest in the world. With this fact, comes another: not all Afghans will build families within the community. And out of this reality comes an extremely diverse and beautiful subculture, what I like to call “Halfghanis“. Like Maryam’s family, I have friends and family who have married Armenians, Indians, Mexicans, Sri Lankans, and about every other race on earth. My own niece is half Iranian. Our diaspora-communities need to begin to create spaces for these families. And though diversity is beautiful, there will always be resistance to change. I have seen Afghan families clash fiercely with their non-Afghan in-laws. But I have also seen extremely welcoming and loving Afghan families incorporate their non-Afghan in-laws with such love that it inspires me.

Accepting that being Afghan is not a set construct, and accepting the fluidity that comes with nationalities and cultures, I foresee an immensely beautiful and diverse Afghan diaspora. Supporting women in the media and arts, of all Afghan backgrounds, can expand our reach into other allying communities, to build partnerships and relationships that will benefit us all.

Stuart Henderson Photography

 

 

 

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#WCW: Sara Daoud Does It All: Stanford Graduate & Musical Genius

Sara Daoud is an up and coming artist, but that sentence in itself is an understatement. Sara has been a choreographer, singer-song writer, and musician since she was 8 years old. Sara plays a variety of instruments and actively participated in choir, musical theatre and dance.

 I was so excited to discover Sara Daoud on Instagram this past year. I checked out her music and was impressed by the sound: original, laid-back, music to vibe to. It made me even happier to realize she was Afghan. It took us about three seconds to find out we all attended the same mosque as kids and our families know one another (I’m sure all Afghans can relate).

It’s no surprise that Sara is such an all-around badass: her mother is the original Miss Afghanistan. As a social activist and historical beauty queen icon, it’s easy to see where Sara gets her worldly talents from.

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Zohra Daoud, the original Miss Afghanistan

I absolutely love how Sara has been able to represent herself as an artist, and this is reflected in her overall style as well. Sara seeks to merge old and new sounds, drawing inspiration from soul, R&B, hip-hop, and electronic music. Sara finds great inspiration in her Afghan roots.

Aside from her musical talents, Sara is also a Wellcoaches certified Personal Health and Wellness coach, as well as a graduate from Stanford University, earning her bachelors in Human Bio and a Masters in Religious Studies. Sara is a certified yoga instructor and a Vipasanna meditation practitioner for 3 years.

Sara shared her thought on women in the media:

I sort of miss the 90s where women were independent R&B artists and had their own swag like En Vogue, Sade, TLC, and weren’t dominated by rappers. They carried themselves with dignity and respect and were more modest in general. I miss that naturalness and smoothness. My style is more in-tune with that era and feel, but I also want to re-awaken peoples roots by presenting my own Afghan heritage in my appearance and personality. I don’t see many women today representing their ancestors and their ancient roots, often because they may not be as in touch with it as they would like to. I am fortunate to be directly involved in my culture and proud of the deep history and still existing tribal culture that makes us as individuals so rich. 

I asked Sara where she drew her inspiration from:

Much of my writing and lyrics are inspired by my spirituality that is centered in Islam and has Sufi imagery as well as Buddhist and Taoist concepts engrained in them. These are areas I have heavily studied in my master’s program at Stanford and have tried to live for most of my life.

The importance of supporting talents like Sara is immense! It’s artists like herself that can change the way the general public views our people. Because it is undoubtedly through the medium of media that our images and our narratives will be shaped and represented. I highly encourage you all to check out Sara’s work, and support our Afghan sisters in their journeys. Through each of their stories, our collective image as a whole can be represented; not by big-time Hollywood media execs who push stereotypical caricatures, but by our own people, organically.

You can catch Sara on Instagram at Daoudlife.

You can click here to check out more of Sara’s music, & check out her video for “Go” below:

 

 

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If It Happened To Me, It Can Happen To You

In lieu of the awful tragedies in France, Beirut, and Afghanistan (but really France cuz white people care about that more), I want to share this with you.

If it happened to me, it can happen to you.

Last night, my father knocked on my bedroom door. My dad usually comes to me with reminders about car maintenance, to let me know dinner’s ready, or that I have bills I forgot to pay. My dad is a quiet man who’s taken a pretty lenient approach to raising my sisters and I. So I expected another “maintenance” talk last night. But instead, I got this:

“Listen Madinah. I’ve been watching the news, it’s not good. I’m hearing things and it’s a very scary time right now. Please be careful. This is the worst time to be a Muslim. If they ask what you are, you don’t have to respond. If they ask what you think about the attacks, you say you’re disgusted by them. Make yourself as familiar as you can. I know you are proud of your identity, I know you’re vocal about our people. But please, I just need you to be safe. It is better to be safe now. I don’t want to bury you”.

Normally, when my dad comes at me with a lecture, I give him the “ugh” and “ufffff Aba jaan, baassss” treatment with my eyes rolled. But this time, I nodded. This time, I agreed, and patiently let him finish. Because this time, I am afraid.

I’m here to tell you, that if it happened to me, it can happen to you.

The “it” I’m referring to is an Islamophobic hate crime. Now I wouldn’t go as far to say my experience can be defined as one, but if the security guards didn’t intervene, I might not be here today.

I’ve written about this experience before, on this blog. It is not by any means my only Islamophobic event – no way. As a post-9/11 teenager, I experienced Islamophobia weekly. But this incident was probably the most threatening to my life. It’s one of the first posts, and it’s titled, “Because You’re a Sand Nigger”. In summary, I was on vacation in the Dominican Republic, when a couple I socialized with at a nightclub found out I was Muslim. And when they did, they began to verbally assault me, and came inches away from my face, ready to break their beer bottles over my head. A friend I made at the club had to shield them away from cutting my face open, and finally, the couple was kicked out by security guards. And I was in a dress, speaking fluent English, looking as “Western” as can be.

So if it happened to me, it can happen to you.

Just this week, a Muslim woman was pushed into a train in the UK. Just this week, a Muslim family home was shot at in Florida. Just this week, a friend told me she is afraid to attend class because her classmates have posted Facebook statuses supporting a Muslim genocide. If it happened to them, it can happen to you.

I am not an orthodox Muslim. I am Muslim by birth and because of that I will be lumped into the same demographic as ISIS by the average American. Even though my values, my morals, my lifestyle is worlds apart from that of an Islamic extremist, I will suffer repercussions for their actions. Even though I pay taxes and celebrate the Fourth of July and pledge allegiance and speak fluent English and have never stepped foot in a Middle Eastern country, I will be asked why I am not apologizing for what happens thousands of miles away from me. I will get stopped by the TSA, I will be asked why my name is exotic. When I say I am from California, I will be asked where I’m “really” from.

This is what it is to be Muslim in America. So for my brothers & sisters who are Muslim, by name or by choice, who wear hijab and who don’t, who pray 5x a day or who haven’t stepped foot in a mosque, I am BEGGING you to be careful. I am pleading with you to take preventative measures and to be extremely cautious at this time. I suggest you carry mace, I suggest you stay under the radar. Please educate your babies on how to respond to any Islamophobic remarks. I am not suggesting we disappear or we lie about who we are or we lay down and “take it”. But I do believe, like my father believes, that it’s better to be safe than sorry. So if you’re around a hill-billy confederate flag-touting Tea-Partier, why offer yourself up as target practice?

Today, a coworker asked me what my background was. I hesitated and strategically replied, “Central Asian”. I am reliving the trauma we experienced post-9/11, and tonight, I am sending positive vibes and prayers to you all. For those I have not met, for those I have, for those who look like me and have names like mine and will be subjugated to the same experiences I have. For Sikhs and for Hindus and for Middle Eastern Jews and Christians who, because of how they look, may be victims of Islamophobia as well. Be safe, be healthy, and be smart. We are being vilified in every corner, so I pray you all stay protected.

Ameen.

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#TBT Dreaming of Home

  
Afghan women. Working. Making money for themselves. Being empowered by their government. Given a choice. Holding their heads high. With the recent images after the #ZABULSEVEN, I am nostalgically looking at images of the motherland. The one my mother describes, the one I see in my dreams. My heart is so shattered, nothing hurts more than being so far from home. I wish I could be on the streets with my people, protesting our puppet regime, fighting for the rights of our minorities, carrying the coffins of our martyrs. But instead I lay here, privileged, safe, far away, crying over pictures of our past, wishing it was the same, pining, longing for the homeland. Afghanistan zindabaad ?

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#WCW: Gina Doost of WhatTheDoost.com

 

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Gina Doost is a blogger and journalist I’ve been following closely and can’t get enough of. Her awesome website, WhatTheDoost.com caught my attention because of the wide variety of it’s content. It’s almost like a go-to-guide for everything – there’s no shortage of fun on Gina’s blog, as it covers fashion, inspiration, food&travel, and more. I was even happier to find out Gina was Afghan-American and attended Cal State Northridge, like much of my family. I love love LOVE to see Afghan women putting themselves out there, especially when it comes to the entertainment/media world. Coming from a nation that stifles the voices of women, it’s refreshing to see empowered Afghan women who create their own paths. That was the biggest reason why I chose Gina Doost as my WCW for this week. That, and the Caribbean/Middle Eastern recipes I copped off her site! I am extremely happy to announce I’m an official “Doost” on her awesome blog – be sure to check out more collabs between Gina jaan & I! Here’s what I got to learn about Gina:

How did you enter the entertainment & arts and can you elaborate on your work?

I started working in entertainment when I was in my early teens. My mom thought it would be a good idea (for work-ethic) for me to get an internship while I was in high school so I could get an early start on the whole trying to decide my career path. I started interning for a show on international Persian satellite television that was like a Persian version of TRL and it also aired on cable TV so that was huge for me. I started off assisting the host and on my first week we had a cool outing — the premiere of Coach Carter. Knowing I was going to meet the entire cast and help assist interviewing Samuel L. Jackson and Ashanti, I did the whole “mom take me to the salon” thing. Long story short — the host didn’t show up, the producer freaked out, I convinced him to put me on instead and let me wing it. He really didn’t want to but we were in a jam and bailing on the interviews would have been worse. He put me on and I killed it… it didn’t seem like an interview so much as me hanging out with the cast. Samuel L. Jackson even turned the tables and started interviewing me! I was raw and unfazed by the celebrities — it worked. Maybe a little too well, because ratings went up and shortly after that I replaced the host. She was a bit of a diva anyway.

I loved the whole hosting gig so I decided to pursue journalism at California State University, of Northridge. They have an excellent accredited program and I was able to learn from professors who actually worked the field from CNN to NBC. Right after college I moved to New York. I figured NYC is where media headquarters are at and I want to be working among the bosses. So I did, within my 3rd day here, I managed to get my resume to one of the execs at CBS’s Inside Edition, and on my 5th day I had an interview where I asked most of the questions and told her “I’ll take it” – and was hired on the spot.

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Your blog covers everything! I got my fix of travel, fashion, and culture all in one visit. I love the collaborations from other members of WhatTheDoost.What do you want people to get out of it and what purpose do you aim for it to serve?

I can sum up what I want people to get out of What The Doost and its purpose in one word: ‘inspiration’. I want to be able to inspire others to follow their dreams and learn from others. We cover such broad topics because that’s what life is about. I’ve brought on writers I admire because I’ve found my audience is able to connect with them on different levels that I can’t reach. I love collaborating with these people because I’m a big believer that we win when we’re elevating each other.

How did you like working at CBS? What was your biggest lesson learned?

I loved working for CBS—I met some fascinating and dedicated people. The biggest lesson learned was that it never hurts to ask, whether it’s for a story or in my personal life. At Inside Edition, I definitely grew in both my professional and personal lives. There are just some stories that hit close to home, leave a mark, and teach you things. There were interviews that left me speechless and experiences that changed my outlook on life.

You have a pretty awesome background, ethnically and nationally. Can you tell us more about this? How has it shaped you?

Thank you! I’ve found so much comfort in my ethnically diverse background and especially my nationality. I’ve always been different, and different is awesome. My parents were born in Afghanistan and Iran and met at college in Germany where I grew up before moving to Los Angeles at 10 and then New York City five years ago.

This diverse background of mine has helped shape me in many ways, in good ways and some tough ways. Growing up, being different wasn’t something to be proud of – different was weird. But different is what I knew and ultimately I wouldn’t have it any other way. I carry a piece of culture from every place I’ve been. My parents taught me the importance of good morals and that no matter where I come from or what I believe, the secret to life is being a good person. One who doesn’t lie, cheat, or harm others. I wouldn’t say my parents are religious—they wouldn’t even say that. What we are is traditional, we love our culture – the colors, the music, the elaborated ceremonial traditions – it makes me so happy!

Have you met hurdles, from our own community or those outside of it? How have you encountered negative stereotypes?

I’ve encountered hurdles from all over. When I moved to Los Angeles I was called a ‘Nazi’ by kids because I was German and then 9/11 happened and people at school freaked out because I was Afghan. I’ve been pulled aside by the TSA multiple times and once a TSA worker even yelled out that I had a bomb on me -__- it was a heating pad on my back. But the hurdle that hurt the most was from a Russian manager at The Bowery Hotel’s restaurant Gemma in NYC, he started going off about Afghans and when I asked him to stop because I am, he went off about how happy he is we’ve died and hopes our kind is wiped off the Earth. The staff and general management did nothing about this, that was a wake-up call for me — AS IF THIS WAS NORMAL TO SAY.

When I was younger, my mom did a great job shielding me from these types of comments. I appreciate that, I wasn’t ready until I grew into someone who wasn’t fazed at people’s stupidity and lack of knowledge. Ultimately that’s what it is: ignorance and anger.

There’s a lot of issues surrounding Afghan-American representation in the media, specifically the representation of young Afghan women. What’s your take on this?

The way Afghan-Americans and especially Afghan women have been represented in the media really hurts my heart. But it shows me that now more than ever, people with my background need to have a voice too. The western media has painted us with a dark brush — the brown girl covered with her veil, who is not valued in her community, and married off at a young age against her will. Or one with limited opportunity — I don’t know that stereotype nor have I ever been exposed to that. What I do know is what I’ve experienced, and that is ‘value’. I thank god every single day for the family I’ve been given, one that is the most loving, the most kind hearted, and the most accepting. That is what I know of the Afghan culture — someone who will give you the shirt off his/her back with a smile even if it is their last. I’ve never heard my family bad mouth anyone, but I also know I come from a special clan — one that has always put love above everything else.

The images of our land that the media show are ridiculous. If I took you to Skid Row and told you “this is Los Angeles” you’d be shocked too — I feel like that’s what’s been happening with Afghanistan and the media surrounding the land. A couple years after 9/11 my uncle and cousin went to Afghanistan, my cousin documented the entire experience from the moment they stepped off the plane. The footage was breathtaking, so much greenery! The thing with America is that it’s a baby in terms of a culture and hasn’t had to stand the test of time. The Middle East and Asia have been around for millennia — we’re still discovering new artifacts that show us how advanced our community was.

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What kind of advice do you have for other young Afghan girls who want to do what you’ve done?

My advice for other young Afghan girls is to follow your heart. At times this may be the most difficult thing you’ve had to endure thus far, BUT if anything the struggle only validates that you’re on the right path. Because doing the right thing takes strength and patience. It’s scary to step outside your comfort zone, but it’s also where you can find yourself at your best. I advise people to travel more, experience different cultures, and embrace the unknown. I hope we can learn from these times, to leave judgment behind and embrace acceptance.

I absolutely loved Gina’s insights on Afghan women’s representation in the media. Gina stated something that resonated with me, “I don’t know that stereotype nor have I ever been exposed to that.” In between the poor widows or the jihadi wives or the child brides, the greater media forgot to include average Afghans who don’t fit the stereotypical glove. And that’s where myself and Gina, as Afghan-Americans, fall on the hyphen; not quite fitting in here, but not fitting in there either. Not relating to or understanding the roles that Hollywood regurgitates over and over again. And that’s why it’s so important to tell out stories, to let the world know that we don’t all need saving, that there is humanity within Afghans, that just because someone is Afghan doesn’t mean they can’t be an average Joe. I think that’s another reason why I love Gina’s blog so much. Sure, it’s Afghan owned and operated, but it’s useful for everyone, and is more evidence that Afghans don’t need to pursue careers that fit the cookie-cutter desires of our communities.

It is so vital to support Afghans in the arts and entertainment, because those are the people that will tell our stories to the world. I’m so glad I stumbled upon Gina’s blog, loved hearing her insights, and even more excited to be collaborating with her at WhatTheDoost.com!

You can follow Gina & WhatTheDoost on Twitter

and Instagram

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#WCW: Shabnam Hossine

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I got a chance to sit with (who we kidding she’s my cousin I just texted her) Shabnam Hossine Khawja, a Los Angeles-based makeup artist and wedding planner. Besides these ventures, Shabnam expands her brands on Instagram, where she holds a whopping 104k followers. Because we’re related through marriage, I was able to watch Shabnam’s rise to success throughout the years, all the while maintaing her identity and kindness. Shabnam, like many other Afghan women in the arts/entertainment/fashion industry, has been the subject of scrutiny. I’ve always been immensely impressed by how she’s been able to keep her head high and scoff at the haters. I wanted to know more about how she deals with, and views her multi-faceted identity, as an Afghan woman, as a Muslim woman, and as a makeup and event planning master.

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Shabnam, did you always know you wanted to be a makeup artist and event planner? Give us a little background of how you got to be where you’re at today.

Hi! Well initially, no. I wanted to be a doctor and was seriously pursuing it for a while. After high school, I enrolled in math & science prerequisite classes. Makeup was a hobby I honed in on by watching YouTube videos. I started experimenting with makeup on myself, and quickly my talent was recognized by my friends and family. I was getting asked to do makeup for birthdays, weddings, and other parties. As this was happening, I was also gaining more followers on Instagram, who were recognizing my work. I worked at MAC for 3 years, but I always felt I could do more independently. My plans of pursuing medicine changed as I began to build more clientele and I became honest with myself. I knew in my heart this is what I wanted to do and that I loved waking up every morning to make people feel like their most beautiful selves.

In terms of event planning, my family has always worked in this field. I had experience in it from when I was a child, and I realized I could do it by myself through the networking and connections I made.

Did you always identify Instagram as a platform for your businesses? Or did you just post for the fun of it?

Not for event planning because I had been doing that even before the launch of Instagram. But makeup, most definitely. I think it’s a savvy way to showcase your talent.

Afghan parents usually want their kids to be doctors, lawyers, or engineers. For a while, you pursued the medical profession as well. Did your family believe in your talent, or did they want you to pursue another profession? Do they support your success now?

Initially, my parents didn’t take it seriously and wanted me to pursue medicine. They didn’t think makeup could be a real career. But they’ve seen how far I’ve gone with it and they 100% support me now. I think a huge part of bringing them to that place was showing them how serious I work. I have 10-hour days sometimes, working events and doing makeup back-to-back. Sometimes I don’t even feel like doing my makeup in the morning if I have a shoot at 5am – but a makeup artist always needs to market themselves!

You work in an industry that many Afghans make fun of. “All Afghan girls are makeup artists” is something I’ve heard before. But knowing you and seeing the miracles you perform on faces (lol), what do you think about the negativity your profession receives  Have you met hurdles because of this, from our own community, or from those outside of it? How have you encountered any negative stereotypes, both from Afghans and non-Afghans?

A lot of Afghan and Middle Eastern women have a natural talent for makeup. It’s easy to call oneself a makeup artist, but in reality, a perfect liner and a nude lip doesn’t make you a professional artist. I don’t think a lot of people know the amount of work we put in to actually build a clientele & to perfect our own skills. I’m constantly learning. I want to eventually work on skin discoloration and acne – so many young girls are battling with bullying and pressure to have flawless skin, and if I can give them the tools for fighting that, I’d love to. In terms of the negativity we receive as MUA’s in the Middle Eastern community, of course people make fun of me. People say things like “makeup is fake” or like I’m working in something that tells girls they can’t be their real-selves. I don’t agree with that. People – men and women – alter their bodies for their own reasons. You think I have 14 shades of nude because I wanna impress a guy? No. So what’s wrong with working in something that makes me and other girls feel like the best version of themselves? I’ve been told I’m jumping on a bandwagon, but a lot of people don’t understand how much I’ve put into something I’m good at. Also, I don’t know how it’s a bandwagon when women have been applying makeup for literally thousands of years. It’s sad that many Afghans can’t just appreciate someone who loves what we do. I love what I do! Doesn’t mean you have to love it also.

What’s the relationship between your profession and your identity as an Afghan-American? For instance, young Afghan models or actors may feel they have to compromise their “Afghan-ness” in order to succeed in the entertainment/fashion industry. Is this applicable to you at all? Do you feel that you have to somehow choose between being Afghan and American?

No, I personally don’t feel that compromise. I show my pride all day; from working with Afghans in the industry, to modeling for brands like AFGClassics. I really make the effort to let it be known that I’m Afghan. I do this to encourage other Afghans who wish to pursue this industry. It’s possible, and you don’t have to abandon your background. I absolutely love doing looks for Eid or Nowruz. I love blending fashion from back home with fashion over here. I’m still American but I can call myself Afg-American without feeling conflicted.

There’s a lot of issues surrounding Afghan-American representation in the media, specifically the representation of young Afghan women. What’s your take on this? How do you deal with the haters?

For women it’s tough. I know that it can be hard to be in the fashion and entertainment industry in our community. A lot of people will never be ok with it, for whatever reason. But I don’t think that “bad” representation should allow us to give up our identities. I feel like even though our own community gives us a hard time, we should wear our nationality proudly, because Afghans, Muslims, and Middle Eastern people in general already have such a bad stereotype. Now I’m not saying that everyone should get in the fashion or entertainment industry to fight this stereotype, but I think regardless of what career path you go in to, never hold back who you are or hide it. It’s all the successes we make that will change the way the world sees us. So when I see people comment my pictures with rude things I make light of it, because I’m doing what makes me happy, and I want to be the best at it. I won’t let anyone ruin my future and the potential success I will achieve. I decided I can’t let my community make me feel guilty or wrong for what I love to do, and I won’t let outsiders determine who I am because of my background. I just have to represent myself in an honest way.

You’ve worked hard to gain respect in your field, having the chance to work alongside moguls like Anastacia, Lily Ghalichi and being an ambassador for Bellami Hair Extensions. What pointers do you have for other Afghan girls who want the same type of recognition and success?

It’s cliché, but practice makes perfect. I started doing makeup for free, just to build a portfolio. I used my family and friends to create looks that I’d post on IG. Use social media! It’s the easiest and most accesible way. Besides that, because we’re Afghan, we’re always going to have people telling us we should be engineers or something. So if you’re a young girl and you want to get in my industry, start now! Work hard and teach yourself everything you can. Maybe even find a niche – some artists focus on acne, some focus on wedding makeup, some do contour & highlight, and some work with plastic surgeons for reconstructive surgery. I have friends who work in Hollywood doing cinema makeup and it’s so fun! So learn what you want to do and work towards it.

What’s been your best experience working in the industry? Biggest lesson learned?

Probably doing all of this and being recognized as an Afghan-American. It’s awesome meeting non-Afghans who are curious about the culture, and getting the chance to share it with the world excites me. I like meeting young girls who want the same for themselves. If you know you’re good at something, who’s the world to tell you otherwise? Just follow what you desire. Biggest lesson learned, I’d say I learned the hard way that to be successful, you have to avoid people who like to put you down or be negative about your life. I just focused on my amazing support system and the people that push me everyday.

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After speaking with Shabnam I began to ponder about the makeup and fashion industry in general. I couldn’t help but think of all the people who bash MUA’s for not having “real jobs”. It’s especially bizarre when this hate comes from other women. We live in a society where there’s immense pressure to be perfect, where pictures are photoshopped, where women are constantly policed on how and what they should wear on their bodies and on their faces. It’s not very realistic to me that women collectively would wake up one day and just decide not to be manipulated by mass media, so why all the hate towards MUA’s? They’re working in a profession that we propagate anyways. If the patriarchal systems in order one day decided to change the rules to say, “come as you are”, then sure, makeup would be unnecessary. But that won’t happen. I don’t see the proactivity in bashing women who choose to follow professions that are imposed on us anyways. Does that mean I’m supporting the idea that women have to be painted, superficial beings? No. I guess what I’m trying to say is that these MUA’s have found a way to work within the system that is oppressed on us anyways. If a homegirl can teach me how to contour, then I’ll take it, because I like how it looks – plain and simple. And if a homegirl can make a dollar off doing it, I ain’t mad at it for nothing. I’m all about women making their own cash, and if that means I can get pretty in the process, or that a burn victim can feel better about themselves, or that a woman can feel her most beautiful on her wedding day – paint away.

Shabnams work can be found at:

Instagram: @s_hossine

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