Yesterday I went into Manhattan with no make up on. Yes, I’m a rebel, a renegade, a warrior in fact!
I was wearing a shirt from Tesco, leggings and a Primark cardigan. Good enough to eat (out - haha)! (Sorry I’m trying to reclaim objectification like the way gay people reclaimed the word ‘queer’, my efforts aren’t really working)
Anyway, I was walking about patting myself on the back, checking my reflection. I had this great feeling like I’d done something rebellious, really cool and ‘out there’. I was going to myself ‘wow aren’t I brave for going out with no make up on, I look hideous, everyone is probably judging me and thinking I’m the kind of person that doesn’t care, what a cool dude.’
Then I thought ‘what are you talking about you idiot, no one has even noticed you aren’t wearing make up and nobody gives a shit. AND the fact you’re not wearing make up really shouldn’t be that much of an issue anyway and this is the attitude that made you spent $28 on a tinted lip balm the other day. God the world has done a good job on you hasn’t it young lady….’
(this conversation with myself happened in the space of about 5 seconds)
And to make matters worse a man came up to me on Fifth Avenue and said ‘I just wanted to tell you you look really good.’ And walked off quickly. Like he was providing a service, he didn’t even try it on with me! Maybe it’s a scheme to help New Yorkers feel good about themselves. It did actually make me do a bit of a sort of girly Jane Austen-esque giggle to myself.
I realised my ‘rebellion’ was completely misplaced and I started thinking about how this might crop up in my art…
Firstly, I don’t think most people realise, as a Muslim, for me to show a part of my body was a massive deal. I wasn’t always as liberal as I am now. I remember wearing a short skirt for the first time when I was nineteen, I remember thinking ‘wow I can feel breeze on my legs!’ So it’s understandable for Muslim people to find it shocking and for me to feel risqué making it. But to most people they don't see the importance of this factor.
My ‘first work’ (the first piece where I thought I’d found my style) was the piece ‘Self portrait with Kate Moss’. I took this picture in January 2007. In this piece I am standing in front of a poster of Kate looking particularly thin. I am wearing my pants and my thighs and hips are on display. In this piece, part of what I was trying to say was ‘fuck you, look at my massive thighs, hips, hair and belly’ (unforts my breasts are not included under the description of ‘massive’ haha!). I’m big and I’m claiming my space, I don’t care.’ I’ve also done this in other pictures and video performances.
But then when this happened the other day I realised how misplaced this body ‘rebellion’ was. Because there’s nowt big about me at all in that pic. And I suppose this is why I’ve become such an active feminist, especially about issues towards advertising, music videos, tv etc. Because I know I started worrying about how I looked at a very young age. I remember in ‘Neighbours’ how the boys would chase these perfect girls who they called ‘babes’ and ‘chicks’. And I just knew that I should aspire to be one of these girls, no idea why, but I was somehow aware that I should want to be wanted by men, so I had to be like these ‘chicks’ and I knew when I was wanted by men, women would want to be like me. And that’s something desirable. It’s so fucked!!
I’ve always had this sort of body dysmorphia, I used to think I was so big (and I don’t just mean weight, I mean my height, my hair etc). I think most girls have this. I’ve always had this weird yo yo relationship with food and fitness and dieting. Until now. Over the past 6 months it has only just OCCURRED to me to be happy with the way I look, just accept my body shape, no – I mean LOVE my body shape. I used to totally hate myself when something didn’t look nice on me, but I’ve just realised, it aint me! It’s the clothes! I think ‘this outfit doesn’t suit MY specific shape’. This idea had never registered, I was always thinking ‘must look like this, must look like that, I’m a failure’. And you know what, the people who have the body you think you should have, they’re thinking exactly the same thing as you. That’s what the advertisers sell you, whatever you are, you should aspire to be something else, you should never be happy with who you are. ‘Make Yourself Amazing.’ Because you can never be naturally. That’s why those ads annoy me so much. And I suppose with the experiences I’ve had in NY, the people I’ve met and the stuff I’ve read, I’ve only just come to this realisation. Most people never have this awakening.
So basically what I’m trying to say is, be happy with how you look because it actually aint as bad as you think it is.