NYFW

Day 1: 30 Days in NYC

Photos Courtesy of  The Travel Critic

Photos Courtesy of The Travel Critic

Last month, I decided to buy a ticket to New York. To live for 30 whole days. To feel what it feels to be a New Yorker. To see if I can “make it” here.

Why? Well, several reasons. Detroit is a dead-end for me. I keep trying to figure out why I’m still there, actually. Also, people never believe that I am from Detroit. It’s like I’m so freakin unicorn. They always guess New York or LA. Anywhere but Detroit. Every time I come to New York on business and see all of my friends, they always end the conversation with “Bitch, would you move here already!” I usually chuckle and say, “It’s not the right time.”

When is the time ever right, though? With the whole “time” thing, I also just don’t have the income. But, when do I ever have the income? LOL.

I am also slightly fibbing. Not like a whole ass lie, but a fib.

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Although, I really don’t have the income to support myself in the Big Apple, I am scared as fuck mostly. Moving to NYC is a whole ass change from Detroit. All of my friends are in Detroit. Like my real-ass-down-for-whatever-type sister friends are there. I also hate the subway system. People just not washing their hands and touching on everything. Ugh! They also put their garbage on the sidewalk! Double ugh.

I might’ve also been in some mental distress during that time of said purchase of the ticket. But before I bought it, I asked myself. Are you really happy here? I also added: Are you truly thriving in Michigan?

My finger hoovered over that final submit button as I made sure to pick that date of February 12th (cuz I wasn’t trying to be in Detroit surrounded by all the lovey-dovey couples on V-Day). I’d rather be alone in New York than in the seemingly relationship capital of the world, Michigan.

Which brings to me why I dropped in (y’all know my blogging is sporadic af). Well, there’s several reasons. All which lead to fear. I’ll explain because I’ve been talking a lot about that lately.

Because in my 31-year-old mind, I feel like I’m anxious about everything. I’m constantly jumping up at the most minor surprises. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve literally screamed when my roommate appears out of nowhere.

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For the last month, I’ve been preparing for New York. With each passing day, more anxiety surfaces. There’s not enough time to get it all done. I’m under deadlines galore. People are texting and emailing and asking for shit, that I may or may not have. On the flipside, bills are like everywhere. On top of my hijab, whispering in my ear, and putting me in headlocks.

What if you fail? I asked myself the night before my flight. I had been packing for two days straight and in a slump because New York is so expensive and for me to be here for a month will cost me too much and I still have to pay for rent and car note back at home. Double the bills!

The morning came and I felt like shit. Like complete and utter shit.

“I’m not going,” I said to myself. “Nope. Imma stay right here. Cuz it’s easier.”

I text my friend. She was like nope. I burst out crying. It was too much to uproot my entire life. What the fuck was I thinking? I can’t compete with the New York crowd. They are the top of the litter. Who was I? Just a Midwest gal trying to level up.

What had I expected to get done in 30 days? I knew I wanted to meet folks and try to get a few gigs, but other than that I hadn’t had a plan.

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No plan at the age of 31 sounds messed up. By this age, I’d thought that I’d have the answers. Or at least most of them. Right now, my gut is telling me to be in New York. That there is something here that I need to discover, uncover. Yet, I have no idea what that is.

I sound crazy. Maybe I am crazy.

I’ve always wanted to be in New York, but I always wanted the glamourized version. The Caucasian movie version. With the income I have I gotta take the thug version, leap, and see what happens.

My insecurities have been heightened. Am I unique enough to break through that ceiling? Is my story worthy of being told here? Will I have the stamina, the perseverance to continue to pitch myself even when I’m told to fuck off?

Right now, I am second guessing my strength because I am in a foreign place. Right now, I am struggling to find—remember my whys. The why now? The who cares?

I don’t give myself enough credit either. I have forgotten how much shit I’ve done, accomplished from little ole Detroit, the almost middle of nowhere. How many people in New York hadn’t even gotten the same opportunities as I had, and I don’t even live here? That says something. That means that I’m valuable enough that folks have sought me out and would spend a budget to have me flown in. I still can’t believe people fly me out to give talks and model. That’s nuts!

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I don’t give myself enough credit for continuing to tell my truths, my story even after the way I’ve grown up, how my marriage went, how I fucked myself over by caring what others thought of me. Even after all the shit that has been said and done to me, I am still here. I remain. Just as hardheaded as ever. Although, I have my afraid moments, I do it anyway. Although, I have no idea where I am going, I go anyway. And, that is admirable in my eyes. It means something.

I guess what I am telling you is that at some point you will be scared to do things, you will absolutely not want to do it, but if you want to metaphorically fly at some point, you’ll have to step out of your comfort zone and take the leap. No one is going to make you do it. No one is going to show you the way. You have to pave your own way. You have to be uncomfortable in order to grow. And, I don’t know about you but growth ain’t an option. It’s a necessity. I’m trying to grow beyond my wildest imagination.

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So, here’s to Day 1 in New York.

 

xoxo,

 

Leah V     

 

 

Muslim Women Are Trending, but Some of Us Are Still Invisible

Original Post from REWIRE NEWS

Photos courtesy of  Nicole & Daniela Photography
We are not only Arab or Middle Eastern. We are not only hijabi. We are not only "straight-sized." Or submissive. We are African-American. Woke. Divorced. Fat. And more.

Muslims have become a hot commodity since 9/11—for better and worse. Our rise to “fame” started off rocky when a few bad men committed heinous acts of terrorism in the name of Islam. And some good ol’ Americans tore hijabs from women’s headsbeat and spat on Muslimsvandalized mosques, and left pig heads on porches—all in the name of trying to protect the United States from so-called “foreign invaders.”

Muslim coalitions, bloggers, interfaith organizations, and even celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher have banded together to change stereotypical narratives of Muslims: the bearded man with a curved sword, and veiled women who are either strapped with bombs or subordinated by their male relatives.

Turban/Hijab:  HauteHijab

Turban/Hijab: HauteHijab

Their efforts have paid off in some ways and not in others (clearly, as in the Muslim ban and continued targeting of Muslims and our institutions). And Muslims, and specifically Muslim women, are trending; according to a March 2017 HuffPo article, the keyword search for “Muslim” on Getty Images increased by 107 percent from the year before. “Muslim women” was not far behind at 83 percent.

But what—or who—do people see in their minds when they think of Muslim women? There are notable hijab-wearing authors such as Tahereh Mafi, activists like Linda Sarsour, on-air personality Noor Tagouri, and bloggers including Dina Torkia.

These women have literally become the faces of Muslim women in the United States, the United Kingdom, and social media. And that’s a problem.

They are all what I call “straight-sized”—not plus-sized—Muslim women who appear European or Middle Eastern. And celebrating them—and them only—paints a narrow picture of the majority of Muslim-American women, just as media, the beauty industry, and countless other platforms exclude women of color.

Islam has deep roots in Black history as it swept through North and West Africa centuries ago. According to the Pew Research Center, only 14 percent of U.S. Muslims are from the Middle East. Forty-two percent were born in this country. Twenty percent of U.S. Muslims are Black, with large communities in many major cities such as Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, and Philadelphia. 

Jacket:  Eloquii

Jacket: Eloquii

One day, I decided to Google “Muslim women.” Since Islam is such a diverse religion, I just knew the search would reflect that. On the first page, out of about 100 photos, there are only three African-American hijabis and one African hijabi among dozens of Middle Eastern or Arab women. I had a similar experience searching for articles on Muslim women, finding the blatant erasure of Muslims of color, too. Photos and quotes were from predominantly white or light-skinned Middle Eastern women. Even when HuffPo noted the growing online interest in Muslim women in one article, another featured seven women talking about faith, modesty, and fashion—and all of them were straight-sized women and most were fair-skinned.

The media and many Muslims love to focus on certain kinds of Muslims. Acceptable Muslimahs, I like to call them. For the media, it’s often the “oppressed Muslim.” She’s the Middle Eastern girl who is forced into an arranged marriage, isn’t allowed to drive, and covers in all-black with gloves. They also adore us the “good” and wholesome hijabi blogger. She’s usually a size small, wears pastels, and has about a million followers online. Her photos are perfect, and her husband makes fashionable cameos on her feed. The activist Muslim is usually draped in an abaya or loose-fitting clothes and always with hijab. She can be found making salat or praying on the grass at a rally for Trump’s latest Muslim ban. And, let’s not forget, she’s a fair-skinned woman with roots in the Middle East.

Prejudice and racism are a problem within Muslim communities. No one likes to talk about that because they don’t want to add to the rising Islamophobia since 9/11 and the Trump era. But it’s a sad truth.

Although it is totally against Islam to judge someone based on the color of their skin, it happens more than you think. I’ve experienced racism from Muslims. One time, I went into a hijab store in Dearborn, Michigan, and the owner completely ignored me; when a woman of Middle Eastern descent came in the store, he immediately greeted and assisted her. I’ve also gone to pray at predominantly Middle Eastern mosques and been stared at as if I didn’t belong. There are also countless stories of Muslims not allowing their children to marry a Black or African-descent Muslim solely based on their heritage.

Dress:  Society +

Dress: Society +

As a Black Muslim woman, I have to fight for accurate representations of Muslim Americans. And I have to fight within my own religious community to hear the stories of Muslims who are African-American, Latina, or African.

The specific bias against African-American Muslims is evident. Since we are treated like second-class citizens in America by racists and “All Lives Matter” folk, others feel as if they can do the same. There’s a superiority complex that a Middle Eastern Muslim is better, more authentic, and that we are “copies.” In my experience, too many Muslims play into the stereotypes of African-Americans: that we are lazy, less educated, promiscuous, and aggressive.  

Zeba Khan said it well: “Many Middle Eastern and South Asian Muslims view Arab culture as a proxy for Islamic authenticity, thereby denying the legitimate spiritual expressions of others. Against the racial context in the United States, it’s not difficult then to see how this intrafaith racism and implicit bias against Black Muslims persists. After all, as historian Vijay Prashad explains, ‘Since Blackness is reviled in the United States, why would an immigrant, of whatever skin color, want to associate with those who are racially oppressed?’”

We live in such a Eurocentric society that already tells young girls that they aren’t worthy unless they have light or white skin. Our fatphobic society tells us that we aren’t beautiful if we aren’t a certain weight. That if we decide to wear hijab, we are oppressed. We—Muslims and non-Muslims alike—need truthful representation of Muslim women, especially now as others define or denigrate us.

We are not only Arab or Middle Eastern. We are not only hijabi. We are not only straight-sized. Or submissive. We are African-American. White. Asian. African. Latina. Some of us are feminists. Tattoo artists. Queer. Woke. Divorced. Fat. Sexual assault survivors. Mentally ill. And we all have a story to tell.

The Broke Artist

Clothing Courtesy of  Simply Be

Clothing Courtesy of Simply Be

Too many bloggers, writers, models like to pump fake. They don’t want to tell the truth about the ‘process’ in fear of looking bad or not fitting in with the elites of social media.

Lookie, I’ve been flown out to this fancy place.

I have a fancy ass doughnut in front of a colored wall.

I’m really skinny, but I’m enjoying two scoops of fancy ice cream with my very skinny and photogenic friend.

My life is soooooo fancy and amazing.

No mental illness. No cellulite. No acne.  

Do not be fooled by pretty Instagram photos with blurred backgrounds, magical lighting effects, and poetic captions. The majority of us are struggling. Just keepin it real. *Shrugs*

I’ve never been inspired by individuals who don’t tell the truth. Who paint pictures of themselves in a certain light that just ain’t reality. Individuals who showcase the success of their careers and not the actual climb, the grueling process of making it to the top. That’s what inspires me. Your failures. The path you took and how you overcame them.

The paths we all take, artist or non, has failures riddled along them. Catastrophic ones and teeny ones. They are inevitable. Too many artists with large platforms aren’t showcasing that fact. So, their devout followers believe that the way to the top is as simple as copying a feed of someone who is successful.  

Anyone you know who has ever became an icon, most likely hadn’t done this by cutting and pasting someone else’s shit. They were innovative. Ridiculed by others. Outcasts. Weirdos growing up. They never followed trends and did their own thing no matter what others had to say about it.

They paved their own path. Created a niche.  

Obsessed with this  little pink purse

Obsessed with this little pink purse

A lot of us don’t even know where that path leads. We just take that leap and hope we don’t end up smashing into the ground and dying…

I started blogging in 2013. Y’all know the story. Several failed blogs and YouTube channels and years later this one caught on. During all that mess, I worked odd jobs. All of which I hated. None of them were creative or cared a fuck about me. I was just there for the paycheck. I worked on my art on and off. Mostly off. These jobs were sucking my creative juices. I’d found myself at home after work, stuck in a rut. Unable to write.

That rut lasted for five years. The worst years of my entire existence.

Somehow, by divine intervention, I was placed back on the path of art. I used my own money to buy books on editing and literature of the great storytellers of our time. I used my own money to take creative writing classes at the local community college. I joined discussion boards and wrote and read and wrote and read some more.

I worked just to invest money back into my art (and, of course, pay the dreaded adult bills). Money that could’ve went into paying off my student loans or purchasing a house or maybe traveling…

I had read all the books and took all the classes, but I still wasn’t getting anywhere. So, I decided to get my masters in creative writing. I went back and forth about it. I already had about 20,000 worth of debt left from my bachelor’s. More debt! I literally fought myself. I was really gonna spend that much money on another degree. But, my art was on the line. I had to at least see where it could take me. I prayed then took a gamble.

No one will ever invest in you like YOU will.

No one will ever be as invested in your art, your passion like YOU will.

And, with that mentality and stubbornness, I added on another 50,000 worth of debt.

This isn’t a woe-is-me post. I’m just telling you like it is.

But, with the debt I incurred (and still deep in), I gained a wealth of knowledge, two masters, and connections that I would’ve never made otherwise. That large investment opened many doors. One day, I do hope to pay that off.

As a broke artist, I stress out a lot about money on the regular. This entire year (prior to the divorce), I’ve been hanging on by a thread. Paying my major bills like my car and insurance and rent. Sometimes food. But I live a life that most of you don’t care to ask or just don’t know about.

I don’t get paid for 90% of my work.

The photos you see are products of bartering or friends just loaning me their time.

The clothes I wear are sent by companies who don’t even pay for blog posts half the time.

I blog for free.

My social media is free.

I have an agent, but I’m still on government assistance.

Bill collectors call my phone daily.

I’m just getting by and actually had to ask for charity a few times. (And no, I don’t have mommy and daddy or grandparents to back me up).

I’m not the only one. There are many of us out there who are just trying to make it. Trying to stay afloat. Putting $20 here and there on a $1000 medical bill.

But, I’m so close to the finish line that I couldn’t possibly quit now. No matter how many companies ask for their money back, I have this unwavering hope that one day I’ll get paid for my shoots and paid for my work. That one day all the struggles and failures and energy will just work in my favor.

Photos by  Madinah

Photos by Madinah

 

xoxo,

 

Leah V