I’ve had a few interviews for different feminist and style blogs recently, and the question that I’m most asked is what it was like for me growing up, before Leah V. was Leah V.
I grew up in the 90’s and early 2000’s, where nothing on my body was considered beautiful or desired. To add to that, I was Muslim and Black. And very much so fat. Triple whammy? So confidence was at an all-time low for the most part.
In my family, my mother was a pretty snazzy dresser and so was my grandmother. Even though they were large women, they still pulled out their sequins blazers, costume jewelry, and furs. My grandmother was into makeup as well. Bright red lips and blue eyeshadow was a must for any special occasion.
That’s when I fell in love, playing in her expensive lippies and shadows. I secretly painted my face, knowing my mother wouldn’t approve, and would make me wipe it off immediately.
Makeup wasn’t in like that for young girls when I was growing up. No overly-contoured Kim K. looks. The most we did was a heavy coating of cheap lip gloss from the beauty supply store and some mascara. Anything else was considered ‘clown face’.
I was a weird, thoughtful, and creative child. I watched a lot of movies, read a lot of books, and immersed myself into rock/pop music. Through these outlets, I began to internalize all the characters that I admired. They were sassy. They were strong. They didn’t take no shit! They were modern and stylish and outrageous. They were different just like me. And I imagined being anything I wanted.
And then it clicked… I was going to wear glitter on my eyelids, smear black lipstick on my lips, and place tiaras on top of my hijab.
Why? Because I was expressing myself and it made me happy.
Others didn’t feel the same way.
“Take that dark lipstick off your face,” Mom told me.
“Why black polish? Why not red?” Another asked.
“Why wear makeup, you already have such pretty skin,” someone commented.
“You look like a clown,” a family member said.
I was obsessed with the Spice Girls, so I bought several pairs of those chunky flip flops. I was into Gwen Stefani from No Doubt and started wearing black nail polish and fingerless lace gloves. Then I went through the goth phase. Everything was pitch black.
I got made fun of for dressing crazy, wearing makeup, being outspoken, being fat, having big feet, pointy teeth, wearing colorful hijabs, covering my body… Blah, blah.
The funny thing about it, I never allowed other people’s criticisms to stop me from dressing the way I wanted or affected how I carried myself. Because it was my body and I loved the expression that makeup and clothes could prompt. I wasn’t the same as the other girls, and that was fine with me.
It’s ironic, because now, I’m the trendsetter and style blogger. People ask my fat, Black Muslim self where do I get my clothes from. They ask me for fashion advice.
Although, it’s a sad thought to think what would’ve happened if I listened to those friends who made fun of my appearance and ensembles.
I wouldn’t be Leah V. I’d be some cardboard cutout. Exactly the same as the rest. Just falling in that straight and narrow line of lameness…
Beyonce said it best: “Tell him boy, bye!”
Keep being your crazy, odd dressing, thin or plump self. Don’t let others dictate how you should or shouldn’t dress. Or that you need or don’t need makeup. Tell them it’s YOUR BODY and you can do with it as you please!