Politics of Fashion

Blending traditional Pakistani jewelry with western clothing

It’s a time of immense political unrest for us in this country—a time that is long overdue.

So much strife has been bubbling under the surface for a countless number of minority communities, just waiting to be validated and acknowledged. Finally, our daily lives are being talked about—the constant shame and pain and fear we experience being minorities in the United States. We are beginning to talk, but just beginning. For some of us, it’s not moving fast enough.

I’ve come to realize in the past few years that everything is political, including my personal choices. In choosing to name myself for what I am—Pakistani-American, a woman of color, a Muslim woman—I am claiming a political identity. In telling people, “No, pronounce my name this way,” I am claiming a political stance. My body and my identity are my political battlegrounds, ones that I can make active changes in even when the world around me is taking too long to keep up. How I dress myself, how I adorn myself, how I carry myself…these are all critical in forcing the world to include me in its dialogue. I am unavoidable. 

Growing up, it was excruciatingly difficult for me to take the strides I am taking now in realizing what it means to be me. I did not know that it was a problem that I hated wearing my traditional clothing or hated having to take time off of school for Eid prayers. I did not know that my shame in my culture was not a unique problem, even though my white peers could not relate to me. I did not know that my bubble of inbetween-ness was not unique to me. There was a context for all of it, there was a reason. And there were others like me.

So many people claim it is a waste of time for social movements to center on social media, but I disagree on every account. The term “slactivism” is a misguided one, one that fails to acknowledge the power of visibility. If It was not for social media, if it was not for women of color creating blogs and Instagrams and Twitters celebrating themselves, sharing themselves, and encouraging others to the same, I do not know if I would be here. I do not know if I would be alive, let alone become someone who hopes to join this generation of powerful, political women in opening the doors for others. 

As a Pakistani-American Muslim woman, my biggest ongoing and probably never-ending struggle is learning to balance my two radically different cultures. I am neither fully American, nor fully Pakistani. I am painfully aware of what makes me different from my Pakistani peers, and what makes me different from my American ones. I have always felt that sooner or later, I would just have to pick between the two. The pressure is exponentially stronger on young women, whose decisions are constantly under the scrutiny of the public eye. Customs for both cultures demand more of women’s bodies and behaviors than they have ever demanded of men.

But there is a unique, untapped well of power for women like me. There is power in biculturalism, in learning to blend two entirely different cultures into one that is so radically different from either on its own. The number of women I have discovered, thanks to social media, who seize this unknown and terrifying space and mold it into their crown are countless. Take, for instance, Noor Tagouri, a hijabi Libyan-American journalist who recently caused an uproar by posing (fully covered, hijab and all) and interviewing with Playboy Magazine. Even less well-known names are gaining traction, too: like Reva Bhatt, creator of Hybrid Hues (hybridhues.com), who uses fashion and photography as her key mode of expressing her hybrid identity of being South Asian and American. 

Women like these, and women like you and me, have the ability to celebrate our identities how we like in our day-to-day lives, and one of the most important ways is in our fashion. During a time when the definition of a “free woman” is debated by politicians who do not know us and who do not truly care about our freedom, we have the choice to take charge of our bodies. Growing up, I was too afraid to make my roots obvious. I hated covering up when all the other girls could wear little prom dresses. I hated my heavy jewels, my abundantly decorative Pakistani clothing. But not I am realizing that these parts of me are key to me reclaiming myself. They are the key to me, in a tiny, tiny way, rebelling against forces who do not want me to be proud of who I am.

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