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.
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.