Feminism, Musings, SAY WHAAA...!

How I Should Think About My Weight (If I Absolutely Must)

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Ah, another day, another chance for you and I, as women, to talk, think, and downright obsess about how much physical space our bodies take up in this big, bad world. At least that’s how it’s felt like for me ever since I came back home from Montreal a year and a half ago and started to steadily gain more and more of a circumference spectrum than I’ve had since at least six years ago. See, for the better part of the last six years of my life I never found myself outside of the healthy-for-my-height (173 cm) range of 64 to 66 KG. At my lowest, I was a spry 63. Today, I am a 72. Not a huge amount by any means, still within a healthy range, and certainly not the heaviest I’ve ever been but still way more than I had become accustomed to for the last several years.

And even for my feminist-defined, thoroughly skeptical, shruggingly blasé self it’s been a struggle. I am a mere mortal after all, not Deepak Chopra. Bu I also think it’s been especially difficult because, in my line of work (the media/magazine industry), you can’t so much as blink without being bombarded with some form of conversation or imagery about the subject of weight. The gaining of weight; the losing of weight; who gained/lost what; how they look; how they did it; how you can too; GODDAMNED ETC. But you know what? Screw that. Here’s how I’m going to personally start thinking about the subject of my own weight from now on (if I do at all).

Try it out for yourself if the idea of owning your own body strikes you.

WEIGHT THOUGHT #1: This Is Some Grade-A Crap Right Here

Okay, coming from someone who is thoroughly embedded within the media bubble system, I’ve gotta tell you that, when the media around you starts pushing the idea of perfect people in your face YOU WOULD BE WISE TO BE EXTREMELY SKEPTICAL. Really, the only correct way to consume images of perfectly tailored human beings in media is with deep, delicious, instant doubt. Saying this is probably hurting my rep as a ‘media-person’ (wait, what?) but, hell, it’s the goddamned truth. It’s advertising, you guys. It’s supposed to make you want something. That fact ALONE makes the whole thing AS FISHY AS THE FREAKING ATLANTIC. So when you see those types of images in your various media outlets (so, basically, anywhere) you really should move forward very cautiously (or better yet: not at all). So, instead of letting yourself feel flawed or even mesmerized by the images that are directly and indirectly telling you to shrink yourself away, I suggest you start seeing it as a sad, slightly hilarious, icky, desperate cash grab. Because that’s what the hell it really is.

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Feminism, Musings, Running In Heels, Uncategorized

Six Lessons Lana Al-Resheed Taught Me Without Even Realizing It

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Mentors are not magic. Your mentor is not your Professor Dumbledore. Your mentor is a human being. They are allowed to have flaws and personality quirks and you are allowed to not like those things about them, and vice versa.

I personally grew up in a family of overachievers and in an environment that inadvertently taught me (or tried to teach me) that I should enter into all things either a) knowing everything or b) pretending to know everything. The more I grew up the more I resented this kind of intimidating and isolated attitude especially when it came to work or school. As a result, I tend to seek out indirect guidance and education from anyone around me who I think is a little extra special, regardless of whether or not they are my superiors in a professional environment. In hindsight, I’ve found that this one trait alone has given me such an overwhelmingly HUGE advantage in my careers as an academic, a writer, and as an editor/publisher. Because I’ve always unconsciously tried to soak up as much professional knowledge as I can from literally every single person around me, I think I can now safely say that I have a very extensive, advanced knowledge base in my chosen fields that most people who are my age don’t have and that usually only develop over a period of much longer, more complex work experiences.

Most recently, I’ve had the crazy lucky fortune of working super closely with known marketing badass and general all around awesome lady-person Lana Al-Resheed who, if you recall, was my debut Running in Heels interview over a year ago. The actual story of how Lana and I met, got in contact with each other, and eventually started working together would have never EVER happened without this humble blog. If you think about it, it’s a pretty strong and beautiful indication of who Lana Al-Resheed is as a person and how much risk and support she is willing to put into someone she believes in and feels a special connection to–even if it was someone she hardly knew like me. The story of how Lana and I came into each other’s lives is one of my favorite stories to ever tell just because it sounds so wonderfully unreal and miraculously fated by God. But it IS real and it’s goddamned beautiful.

Even after having worked with her for almost an entire year now I still don’t know what the exact reasons were for her choosing me and believing in me as much as she did (I don’t even think she knows exactly). All I know is that Lana loves it when she sees things that other people don’t see and she has told me that ‘you are something I saw that no one else saw.’ And, because of that, all I know is that I am lucky and so is she.

From my own experience, mentoring relationships usually end up being some of the most rewarding and meaningful relationships for both the mentor and the mentored, and they almost always develop into lifelong, family-tight bonds, even after the fact.

So, since I think that everyone on Earth needs to, at some point in their professional lives, find their own personal ‘Lana’ (even the Lanas of the world need their own Lanas), here is but a short list of some of the most important lessons that Lana Al-Resheed has taught me without even realizing it. (I actually tried to see if she realized it and asked her to list six of what she thought were her most important lessons for me and she didn’t mention ANY of these, which is, of course, proof that wisdom, authenticity, and versatility are second nature to Lana Al-Resheed.)

Feminism, Musings

When Babies Don’t Happen

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I have a friend who just turned 36 years old. Another friend who is 34 and another 29. My grandmother has a 40 year old niece. We all have Jennifer Aniston. Some of these women are married, some aren’t, and some are interim. All of them, however, are childless. And they probably didn’t know it would turn out this way.

Because here’s the thing: when you’re young you always just think about having children someday. But then you grow older and you realize more and more as the time goes by that this day hasn’t come yet. And the older you get the more you realize the possible likelihood of the fact that it might never come. This is probably one of the weirdest and heaviest feelings that you could ever experience. For most people going through this feeling nowadays is even weirder because today everyone is “younger” for longer. Vibrant, party-going, ladder-climbing, happy go lucky adults of 25 and 45 are the same. And they are. Absolutely.

Except if you’re a woman, the biological, baby bearing potential of your womb at 25 is vastly different than that at 45. Like every other tired female cliche, fertility is a window that will eventually close and a train that will eventually pass.

Any woman who’s ever had to enter her 30s man-less and child-less or had to endure years in a late marriage without bearing any babies will tell you that they know all about closing windows and passing trains. Whether or not you actually want a child (and its totally fine if you don’t), there will come a point where pretty much every single person on the face of the earth will be staring at you, loudly chanting the words: “BAY-BE! BAY-BE! BAY-BE!”

And regardless of where you’re actually at in your own head, that kind of impossible pressure just gets to you. In those moments, your own life plan and your personal choices disappear and, despite your education, your experience, and your confidence, you are endlessly befuddled.

Take, for example, this literal conversation I had with a friend of mine who is 32, childless, and who inspired this post: “Actually, I want a baby. Actually, I don’t want a baby. Actually, I don’t not want a baby. Actually, I want to not want a baby.” And on and on and on. My friend is an accomplished artist, happily married woman, living in a beautiful apartment, with the world’s cutest puppies, pursuing a PhD. She is the personification of all that a cool, sophisticated, kick-ass woman should be. And even she has the ‘Will I? Won’t I?’ debate playing on a loop in her head.

In the end what my friend is left with are persistent feelings of doubt, hesitation, and fear. That’s it. Doubt. Hesitation. Fear. No matter what she may actually want for herself, these feelings are pretty much there all the time. And it’s the same for so many other similarly baby-less but otherwise awesome women in the world.

You’re afraid of choosing to have children early and then being hampered down in your career or in your other worthwhile life experiences. You’re afraid of not picking the right partner and ending up with a horrible parenting situation. You’re afraid of missing out on the incomparable, lifetime connection and endlessly unique memories that only your own child can bring you.

Of course, what you may or may not realize is that, eventually, not making a decision is the decision. And if a woman does decide to not have children she often has to explain that decision to everyone around her. Which I’m sure can be mortifying.

Still, I know there is a clear difference between a woman who actively chooses to not have children and just waking up one day and realizing that its happening to you. Some women just know that they don’t ever want to have babies. And that’s fine. And some other women love, live, work, and grow only to wake up one morning and realize that they’ve crossed a certain checkpoint in their life. They get up and suddenly they’re in some new territory where everything looks exactly the same, except now you’re that woman who never had kids.

Looking back at your life and realizing this reality is a very strange and unsettling feeling. Because now you have to acknowledge what you are. A woman who is not a mother.

(Doubt. Hesitation. Fear.)

As you watch everyone around you pair up, marry up, and baby up, you start to feel more and more like a straggler at the party. Everyone’s gone home, so what the hell are you still doing here?

And, to make matters worse, in the midst of feeling like a freaky straggler you get to be bombarded with all kinds of mommy propaganda all the freaking time. From the Stalkerish Womb Updates of celebrity culture to Facebook feeds of ultrasounds, first steps, baby bumps, report cards, and the whole lot of it. The decade long tabloid story in which Jennifer Aniston is not a person but a soap opera character who, despite being a successful, fit, happy, and freaking fabulous woman, is actually very deeply depressed about the fact that she is still childless at 44 is a story that will never die down. These are all reminders that if you don’t do what’s expected of you–make beau coup babies–you must be doing something wrong.

Or worse actually. There must be something wrong with you.

(Doubt. Hesitation. Fear.)

But, you know what? Screw that.

What if you don’t have a child? What if you don’t try? What if you’re not sure? What if there are extenuating circumstances? What if you don’t have the time/money/health/right partner? How the hell do you go on anyway?

In a perfect world all these confusing and scary questions wouldn’t be such a huge, social issue. It would be like ‘hey, you do you, and I’ll do me, and everything’s going to be cool, tra-la-la-la.’ Right? Whatever. But that’s not the world. The world is crappy. Because you’re supposed to work hard, contribute, support people, make something of yourself and still, in the end, everyone looks at you funny and goes: But, wait, no kids? (It’s probably even worse when they go ‘no man and no kids?’)

Not having babies, having babies, letting life decide for you, what you want, what you need, unfortunate timing, regrets, the freaking Jennifer Aniston headlines–its a lot and it sucks. Y’know, they say that the unexamined life is not a life worth living. Well, I say that an over-analyzed life in which you obsess over every tiny detail and every past choice is a freaking suffocating nightmare wet blanket. Sometimes you just have to be.

And sometimes its important to get some perspective. Remember that even if you end up staying at this party instead of moving on to the next party, its still a freaking party. A party with plenty of love, late nights, late mornings, good times, travel, shopping, joy, independence, accomplishment, and a million other great pleasures that most mothers in this world don’t have nearly enough of. It may not be the story that all the magazines talk about and that everyone in society obsesses over but it’s there. It exists. And if other people aren’t praising you for living an awesome, childless life, then you praise yourself.

And, for what it’s worth: I totally praise you too.

All my love!

Feminism, Musings, SAY WHAAA...!

Screw You, Bigots!

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Look, equality is not complicated. Racial equality, gender equality, social equality are very simple issues, despite what people (who may actually mean well) have always said. Because when people don’t know how to approach sensitive subjects like race or gender they usually chime in (and chime out) with phrases like: “Oh, well, race/gender/social equality is complicated and everyone has a different opinion on it.” Except no. Its not and they don’t.

And you know why? Because racial bias, gender bias, and social bias is some seriously arbitrary and entirely made up nonsense. And imaginary, made up things are, by nature of their deep non-realness, usually not that complicated. I mean, really, they’re about as complicated as goddamn Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny.

Oh, well, that guy’s racial blood lineage is less ‘pure’ than mine so it makes me an inherently better person? Women’s brains are broom-shaped and so they need their own brand of pens and can only operate pink machinery? That dude likes other dudes (or doesn’t believe in God or likes to dress like Darth Vader) and so he deserves to have less rights to privacy, social dignity, or even a hint of human compassion?

Made up. Made up. Made up. Made up and completely messed up.

But, y’know, its not really all that surprising why these messed up things are around and refuse to go away. People benefit from bigotry–hell, I benefit from it every day–and things that benefit people in power don’t just suddenly go away because Halle Berry won an Oscar or whatever. Nope. They lurk around in words like “social background” and “natural-born” or calling every other Indian person “Raju.” Look at where there are deliberate and silent absences of certain kinds of people and there you will find hidden, powerful bigotry.

And the people who watch that bigotry from afar and choose to say nothing about it, or worse purposefully disseminate it and make it grow for their own benefit are The Bigots.

Now, I’m generally a well-intentioned person and so I try my best to give people the benefit of the doubt when they make seemingly unintentional bigoted claims like, “Racism is over! Obama’s president!” So I always ask these kinds of people one simple question: Do you believe that people are born equal? And their answer to this question is usually the deal-breaker.

Because if you claim that you’re not a bigot (or at least that you’re working hard towards not being one, which is the most any of us can really do) then you must at least believe that all people are born equal. And so, if you believe that, then you also believe that things like someone’s race/gender/personal lifestyle choices shouldn’t have anything to do with how successful/socially comfortable they are. Right? And yet you look around and what do you see? Tons of successful traditional men of one specific race who’s success vastly outweighs the people who are otherwise born different than them. And so, if you believe everyone’s born equal, then you also believe that there are external factors that are holding these different, but equal people back. Factors like bigotry. Right? So, then congratulations! You believe in bigotry and you are actively trying to make sure that you are not a bigot. Kudos to you!

Unless of course you believe that all people are NOT born equal in which case you would be a freaking bigot.

See how simple and so not complicated that whole equation was. ALL people are born equal? Not bigot. Maybe not ALL people are born equal? Bigot.

Now, if you think you may be a privileged bigot and you think maybe you wanna try to change your mind about including EVERYONE in the growth and progress of your country/your subcontinent/your world then here’s my humble two cents if you’ll have them:

It’s not easy to swallow your own privilege and to admit your complicity in bigoted actions especially if that’s just what you were born into. Really, I get it and I know how that feels because I, OwlOlive, am in many ways a member of this privileged global class. By sheer randomness I had the good fortune of being born into a white, straight body, in an economically stable family, with ample education opportunities, in a rich, powerful country in a world that implicitly favors powerful, educated, straight, white bodies over all other kinds of bodies. It’d be so easy for me to say ‘Well! That’s just the way it goes, I guess! La-di-da! Thank God for making me so privileged! What’s for dinner!’

So, yeah. I absolutely know that swallowing your privilege is hard but I can promise you that once you do it you’ll be addicted to that feeling. That feeling of opening yourself up to different perspectives, accepting your part in unknowingly helping to build a crappy social structure, and working on making the world a better place for everyone instead of just defending your territory and telling people where their ‘place’ is. It’s something I have to do as a privileged white person and something I still have to work on every single day because it’s the right thing to do. It’s just that: right. And so you have to do it. And that’s it.

Now, to be clear, I’m not saying that you’re a bad person for being born into a privileged life in a privileged body. I’m saying you’re an extremely lucky person and that you should acknowledge that random luck by trying to make life easier for the people who weren’t so lucky. The people who were born with a different skin color, or ethnicity, or ‘lineage.’ The people born as female. The people born wanting to live a different but completely non-harmful lifestyle. You should be trying to make their lives equally privileged and easy as yours not less so. And when you do nothing but stand around and watch (‘What am I supposed to do? That’s the way the world is!’) when you could at least say something, you are making it less equal.

Humans are not complicated. All everyone wants is to feel valued, respected, and to feel like we deserve to exist in the world and all that it offers. So stop pretending like these ‘issues’ are so complicated, because they’re just not.

And, to those horrible specimens of crappy, bigoted people who know and understand all of this but still choose to live their lives at the expense of other people’s safety and livelihood and equality, I have but two words for you: Screw you. Screw you for literally turning the whole freaking planet into a disgusting cesspool of pain and division and a lack of progress just so you can stay the only privileged person in the world. Screw you for holding innocent people back and degrading them just because you’re so afraid of being overpowered and made obsolete by unity and loyalty and respect and equal opportunity.

People like you are garbage monsters who just need to shut up already. So yeah. Screw you, bigots. Please go away and never come back.

Feminism, Kuwait, Running In Heels

Running In Heels: Noaf Hussein (The Kuwaiti Coddington)

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I present to you Running In Heels: a new feature series on the many women in Kuwait who are worthy of our appreciation. Women you may know, women you should know, and women you’ll definitely be hearing more about in the future. All beautiful, vibrant, game-changing women who have caught my attention and that I think definitely deserve yours as well.

Many months ago, I first made mention of Noaf Hussein and her unabashedly quirky yet decadent talents in a post about a show she put on in Al-Sadu House. I compared her to a “Khaleeji cross between Alice in Wonderland, Amelie Poulain, and Marie Antoinette.” (And, yes, I am plagiarizing myself. I don’t mind.) Even before I had ever been given the opportunity to attend one of her extravaganzas, the fact that Noaf Hussein was presenting something entirely new was always astonishingly clear to me.

Now, a lot of you may be quick to jump out and say: What ‘something?‘ Its event planning and art directing and branding. Literally every other person in Kuwait is doing the exact same thing all over Kuwait all day long. Big-freaking-whoop.

And to that I say: true. But few of these people have ever been bold enough to infuse their own identity into their work and, by doing so, re-package marketing and branding as an entirely personal and unique endeavor in a way that has yet to be seen before. And, that right there is where you immediately think: of course, she means Pretty Little Things.

Because in a super short amount of time (little over a year) and through PLT, Noaf Hussein was figuratively able to do just that. Re-configure all that you thought a marketing campaign, an event set-up, or a fashion shoot could do for you as more than just a mere on-looker but also as an active participant in a strange, new experience. An experience where at every turn waits a dainty detail; whimsical expression; and, of course, a dangling fairy-light.

Pretty Little Things is, in itself, a world. A world that Noaf has decided to single-handedly and entirely fashion into a temporary oasis of quirky, whimsical, unusual, and, yes, very pretty things. And that is by no means an easy feat.

It is not at all a far-fetched claim to say that Noaf Hussein has all the makings to be Kuwait’s–indeed, the Arab world’s–version of legendary Vogue fashion editor Grace Coddington (if you haven’t watched ‘The September Issue’ yet THEN WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING WITH YOUR LIFE?). Just like Grace, Noaf is the kind of woman who, through her eye for unusual beauty and supreme self-assurance, is able to transform a rather routine and insignificant space or idea into something wondrous and one-of-a-kind. She’s the woman who sees beauty in the most unlikely way and then has the confidence to re-capture it for the whole world to see and enjoy. She’s setting a precedent for art, for marketing, and for independent women who are more than comfortable exhibiting their own identity and welcoming others into that special world.

Please enjoy this interview and this insight into the wildly wonderful, organic, and sharp-witted Noaf Hussein who, for all you and I know, could very well be the Kuwaiti Coddington.

Why ‘Pretty Little Things?’

I’m literally obsessed with pretty things. Literally. Anything that has nice packaging; anything that looks visually attractive; even things that I don’t need but I find beautiful, I will buy because I just like the way they look. From the grocery store to vintage stores to random emporiums. I love beautiful, whimsical things with a passion.

Your design aesthetic has always come off as a little whimsy and eclectically chic. Any particular inspiration?

I’ve thought about this recently and I’ve traced it back to when I was a kid. I always used to go to books for my escape. Even now, as an adult, I always want to be transported to a different world and I still feel that need for escapism to another place. A place where its prettier, it smells better, things taste better, the air is different. And that’s the vibe I try to pull off. But it’s never one thing, its continually changing. I’m always looking to other inspirations and chances for that wonderful escape. But, yes, it started with books when I was quite young.

Where did the idea to start such a different and, in many ways, untapped approach to event planning and marketing aesthetic come from?

Honestly, it was a little accidental. The first show I did was in December of 2011 and it was only five brands in a house I rented and it started as a way for one of my clients to market her brand without being a part of a generic show. So I created Pretty Little Things just as a way to impress a client and I never thought that I’d do it again. Because before that time I’d never really worked in events let alone done one for myself, so Pretty Little Things came about in a hurry and in just over 3 weeks time. I honestly never thought I would continue with it at all but when I saw people’s reactions to it—people who weren’t my mom and weren’t my friends—and saw the people that would show up, I was surprised and started to see it outside of myself. So when more people started telling me that it was really great and that they were having a lot of fun, I would be like ‘Oh, really? I just had this checklist and I finished it. You think it’s cool? Ok. Thank you. Did my mom send you to say that?’ Then I thought, ‘Maybe this is something really worth pursuing.’ So I did.

Your success has really been astoundingly fast and you’ve grown so quickly over such a short period of time. You’ve got a massive following and an impressive roster of clients, and rightly so. Care to share the magical formula?

You know, every single thing that I’ve done in my career so far has grown organically. Even with Pretty Little Things—it just happened on its own really. And I’ve realized that once you try to turn it into a formula the magic is gone. It is so magical because it’s so spontaneous. It’s like: you walk onto a random street, you hear music, and you just start dancing. It’s like that.

Where do you get the confidence to singularly present a brand and an idea that is, for its setting, quite different and on such a huge scale?

My home is a household of scientists. Both my parents have PhDs in the sciences, my brother is a chemical engineer, and so, even when I went into something completely different—PR—I was always raised with a sense of surrounding achievement. Everyone in my family, including me, was raised as an achiever. And, because I didn’t end up being a science major, perhaps it turned me personally into an over-achiever because I wanted to prove myself even with a PR degree. What I think a lot of households in Kuwait lack is support for what you want to do and my family was very good in that regard. I was never made to feel like I was less important because I wasn’t a scientist. My decision to leave my corporate job was never deeply doubted by my parents. They trusted me and raised me to be fearless.

You know, people are always surprised when they know how much work goes into the shows and they always make the mistake of saying ‘Thank you, PLT team’ when, really, there is no team. It’s just me. But when you think about it, it seems like too much work for one person. And it probably is but I never thought about it. I was always raised with the idea that if you really want to do something you just do it. No fear; just jump.

So I guess that’s my motto. I don’t think, I just do. No fear.

What do you think are the key issues facing branding innovation in Kuwait?

You know, I’ve experienced a lot of it even with agency work. Because then you end up having corporate clients. And one of the main issues with many corporate clients is that they’re very careful and its harder to push boundaries with them because they already have guidelines set. They want things a certain way. I don’t want to talk down to anyone but, really, a lot of people in charge don’t really understand good or innovative design. They just want to do what’s safe and do their job. It’s a mostly traditional approach that we have but Kuwait has been making marketing strides in the last couple of years, but it’s still not easy. We’re still a young country and we’re still trying to get comfortable with all the other aspects of our identity.

Also, marketing is just one of those things that includes a lot of opinions—which is one of the reasons corporate didn’t work for me. It has a deep structure. And structure, by its very form, kills creativity. There has to be at least 5 people’s opinions consulted, the idea gets changed and stripped down because they always want to be safe and want to be a part of the safe structure, and in the end you wind up with a fraction of the original idea. They don’t want to do something until someone else has tried. That’s partly because it’s more difficult for a corporation to take the blame for something going wrong as opposed to an individual. It hits them harder.

But that’s the main issue: a lack of faith in the unusual and the never-been-done.

What are some of the greater challenges of having to navigate around such a huge career title all on your own?

The nature of my work makes it so that every single project poses its own set of challenges, since I do more than one thing. I host events, I art direct for magazines, I do a million things and I’m passionate about them all but ‘Pretty Little Things’ is my own baby. It gives me a different kind of stomach ache. Every project is a challenge because you deal with different people and then you add the dimension of venues so its never really a consistent outcome. It’s a moving show and every show that happens is perfect enough given the circumstances I’ve had but it’s never completely ideal. Every single time I finish a project I sit down and I say ‘had I known what I know now through this experience I would’ve done so-and-so in a different way.’

But I’m lucky that, at this point in my career, I’ve done enough stuff for my clients to really trust me. And I never want to tell someone that I know better than them—because I don’t, I just know what I like. So whenever someone comes to me with an idea I accept it and then I also say, ‘but what do you think of this?’ That’s because when most people go to someone else to market their business, they’re usually open to ideas. So it becomes a conversation and it’s taught me people skills. In the end you might end up with a better idea because you incorporated both your elements and someone else’s. It’s a dance.

If you had to come up with a new Kuwaiti brand what would it be?

We’re innovators. Even on the smallest levels, we’re a nation of enterprisers. We have the freedom and the ability to do a lot. If Kuwait is known for anything, that would be it. Our innovation has created a footprint in the region. We have our issues, but we’re the cool kids. People are really open to innovation here. So if I was going to brand Kuwait somehow I think I would try to make it revolve around that subculture. I would show how alive it is. Kuwait has soul—real, innovative soul—and that’s our brand.

Do you think there are areas where women in Kuwait need to be better represented?

Kuwait is one of those places where any area is yours for the taking. I don’t know if this is very naïve of me to say, but I’ve never experienced it. I’ve never felt held back because I was a woman. My aunt was the under-secretary of the Minister of Education and my mother has always been a very strong figure in my life and she has a PhD and two masters. She had three kids when she got her PhD. She wrote 7 books. She represented Kuwait in all these conferences. No other woman in the region has a PhD in her specialty, actually. So I’ve never felt like I couldn’t do something because I am a woman. I know people go through it all the time and it’s horrible. I’m sure it happens every day and it’s something we all need to discuss. But I just haven’t seen it happen to me and maybe that’s because I work alone for the most part.

What you do in one word.

I can do it in two: capture beauty.

Are you prepared for a day when Pretty Little Things might be over?

Yes, of course! I’m excited about it actually. Because maybe by then I’ll have already done all that I could with Pretty Little Things and it’ll be outdated. Maybe at that point something new will come along and I will have to join a new, exciting world of marketing innovation. Maybe I’ll be the one to create this new innovation! Who knows? What I’ve learned from all my experiences is that nothing is meant to last forever and that’s what’s so beautiful about it. You take what you can from each experience, you give it the time it needs, and then you move on. Change is organic and change is the only constant. You know there’s this quote I can’t exactly recall and it goes something like, “the tree that doesn’t bend with the wind breaks with the storm.” That’s kind of how I see my relationship with every new venture and that’s how I like it.

What are you most passionate about?

My work. Continually striving. Perfect isn’t perfect enough for me. I’m obsessed with finding my next perfect.

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?

I really like when people compliment my work or my work ethic. Even when I’m working all these long hours and I’m exhausted and I hate that I’ve put myself in a position to be so overworked all the time, when somebody praises my work its honestly the highest compliment. I don’t remember any one specific compliment though. Maybe I haven’t heard ‘The One Compliment’ yet, so I don’t know.

Your greatest quality?

Resilience.

Worst quality?

Impatience.

Real life heroes?

My mother! She’s retired now, but all she’s accomplished for the context of Kuwait back then is astonishing and inspiring. She thrived in a male-dominated field in a language that she never learned in school. Every single bit of my work ethic I’ve learned from my mother. She’s really made me the person I am today. She created such a culture of learning and instilled it in us as children. It’s because of her that I apply real work and education in everything I do. She set the path for my success and without her I would’ve never even known this path existed. She produced a winner. Pretty Little Things didn’t just happen; she’s the reason behind its success. She’s a warrior but a very gentle one. She gave me everything.

Your most complete idea of happiness?

In a park, sitting on a mat with a picnic basket filled with good food, with my feet up.

A talent you wish you had?

Sketching or illustrating. I want to be able to move people with illustration but I can’t draw to save my life.

How would you like to be remembered?

As a comfort. As someone who makes people feel welcome and at ease and at home.

I’d like to thank Noaf Hussein for giving me the time to merely peek into her ever-pretty, whimsical world. There are so many other facets of this girl that I didn’t get the chance to include in this interview (not the least of which is her avid love of food, and a particularly life-changing passage in Carol Birch’s ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’), but there’s only so much fabulousness that a humble blog post can take, after all. And Noaf Hussein’s fabulousness is damn-near limitless.

All my love!

Feminism, Kuwait, Musings, SAY WHAAA...!

Basma Sultan Is Funny! (And So Are You!)

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Y’know there’s this overarching myth that’s been following women around since the beginning of jokes, comedy, and possibly even since the first chortling grunt laugh of our Neanderthal ancestors. Y’know, the one that proclaims female, estrogen-makin’, bird brains are just not that funny. Why, you ask? Well, because psychological half-science a’course! I mean, look, according to all kinds of ‘studies’ men are just the funnier gender, okay? Women are just biologically incapable of making you laugh anywhere near as strongly as a dude with an ‘edgy’ joke! It’s fact.

COOL STORY, BROS. TELL IT AGAIN.

Look, I take no issue with these kinds of studies per se. They’re just a collection of data that proves that no one laughs at women’s jokes and no one thinks women are funny. What irks me is the overbearingly sexist insinuation these studies make. Which is that women might just be biologically less funny than men.

Of course, they never go so far as saying that explicitly because they would then be burdened by the need for biological evidence WHICH WOULD PROVE THEY ARE DOWNRIGHT BONKERS. Instead they make light references to pop psychology here and there and say that these findings may have “something” to do with the way women are socialized.

To which I say: No, no. It has EVERYTHING to do with the way all women are socialized everywhere.

I mean, consider it from a local angle and look at how most Arab women are conditioned both within Kuwait and elsewhere. Girls are born into a social environment which is, for the most part, explicitly telling them that if they ever hope to be considered as desirable they have to remain modest (translate: quiet) and pliable no matter what, and that they should never ever bruise a man’s ego by seriously outsmarting or outshining him. If you’re the kind of girl that sits still and smiles at everything everyone says you’re ‘tharba’ (put-together). If you’re the kind of girl who always makes sharp, witty, off-hand remarks and cracks jokes in a confidently unapologetic tone then, more often than not, you’re about the last thing from being “tharba.”

Oh, but psychology says? Well, I guess we’re done here. I mean, it certainly couldn’t be all those ingrained social customs of what constitutes a desirable, potential wife and what constitutes a yucky, she-man telling people how to judge a woman as soon as she so much as attempts to make a knock-knock joke. No? Psychology? ‘Kay.

Fine. You know what? They’re right. Most women are not funny. But that’s because most PEOPLE are not funny. Being a funny person with strong comedic timing is a learned artistic skill. In order to be funny you need to teach yourself to be outspoken, unapologetically honest, very self-confident, and absolutely REFUSE to humor people. And, well, these traits are not exactly the traits we foster in our little girls (and even our adult, women-folk).

Instead, we go with mistrust of other women, a crazy obsession with needlessly expensive junk, and the idea that, when it really comes down to it, being pretty is a lot more important than being smart. The reason no one laughs at women’s jokes is because, to most people, they don’t read as jokes. They read as uncomfortable confessions or socially awkward comments. Because our society teaches girls that they need to always work on attaining perfection 24/7.

A man’s ideas are just as important as his body. A man is encouraged to be bold and speak his mind candidly. A woman is told that, while her ideas may matter on some level, they are not nearly as important as the need to perfect her physical body at all times. A woman is told that she needs to re-re-re-RE-think every step and utterance she makes lest she be considered as anything less than “tharba.”

And all these crazy, unnatural, socially constructed outlines are the very reason why I was nothing short of delighted when I first saw Basma Sultan’s “Dine With Basma” segment on Bel Mokhba’s YouTube channel.

For one thing, Basma Sultan is a very funny woman. She has the kind of raw, candid humor that you really only share among the closest of friends. She doesn’t think twice about embracing the awkward things that everyone is already thinking about and turning them into a joke we can all laugh at (the free food, the passing bus, the self-promotion). Her charm is in her off-beat, bubbly personality that is outspoken and entirely genuine. She laughs at what frustrates her just as much as she laughs at what amuses her. You laugh with Basma Sultan because Basma Sultan knows how to tell the best kind of joke. The kind that naturally and easily rolls of the tongue like that’s how she really talks all the time. And I bet she does. I bet Basma Sultan is just as genuine and carefree and hilariously outspoken in reality as she is in that video.

I don’t know of many women in Arab media who are willing to speak so candidly, embrace their personality so openly, and so confidently and easily navigate from one joke to the next on a public platform as well as she does. In that way, Basma Sultan is a freaking relic. She is extremely rare. And its so awesome to see her in action like that.

But, hey, I know plenty of other funny Arab women. Hell, I’m a funny Arab woman. And I know that if all these comedically gifted ladies take Basma’s route and decide that they actually don’t give a flying dingbat what anyone thinks and just start to confidently embrace their personalities (which happen to be funny as hell) the rest of the world will totally know it too. Even more importantly, they’ll grow to love it.

All my love!

Feminism, Musings

To My Smart, Motivated, Single Friend (or 7 Reasons to NOT Marry)

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So, when I was in college I made a really, really good friend. She was the kind of friend who was so ambitiously motivated about her goals and dreams that, in many ways, she made those around her equally motivated and pumped up about their own lives. Even after we’ve graduated, she’s still resilient about making something of herself and achieving her own set of meaningful life plans.

In under two years she’s learned to fluently read and speak in Russian (because she’s a Russian literature enthusiast and wants to pursue higher education in the field); she’s involved in pretty much every humanitarian and activist volunteer work that Kuwait has to offer (she recently landed a killer gig with the UNDP); and she juggles the toils and pressures that come with working a full-time job. This woman is, by all standards, the personification of girl power. She literally oozes with crazy potential and meaningful ambition.

But, here’s the thing: my friend is in her mid-twenties and she’s unmarried. So, of course, none of her hopes or dreams or personal choices in this world really matter as much as, y’know, finding a fella (preferably with an umbrella). Because, clearly, in the year 2013, Arabs are still talking about a woman and judging her like a carton of skimmed milk with a nearing expiration date. So… progress.

Yep, on a routine and weekly basis I receive a number of heartbreaking texts and phone calls from this damn near superwoman because her family, despite all her pride-worthy achievements and ambitions, will not stop bullying her into feeling like a shriveled up spinster of one hundred and ten. Instead of supporting her and helping her embrace her young, bright, and motivated spirit, my friend has to deal with her closest family members telling her she’s damaged goods on a daily basis and she’s still in her mid-twenties.

The sadder thing is that this isn’t even just about my friend. I have a ton of other friends from all over who are, unfortunately, bagged on (in measures of various subtlety) by their social circles, their families, and, hell, just random ol’ strangers for not hunkering down and popping children out by the time they hit 21. And while I personally have hopped off the ‘Singledom Death Train’ many moons ago and, thankfully, was never surrounded by family or friends who would bring that destructive thinking into my life anyway, I feel for you, sister-friends.

So, in celebration of my friend and all the women (and, hell, even men) like her who are just as smart, passionate, motivated and, yes, single, and who quietly suffer with the age-old Arab notions of ‘marriage deadlines,’ let me lend some support and remind you all of the very good reasons why you are probably NOT married.

1. You Are Focused On Your Career – If you’re a woman, SOME people will call you names and leer at you for doing this because you haven’t apologized for choosing a lifestyle which includes doing something other than being a pretty, quiet (translate: ‘modest’) baby maker. Thankfully, most sane humans in the world call this being alive in 2013, so don’t sweat it.

2. You’ve Got Standards – Sure, you could’ve married Mr. “I just don’t like your siblings.” Or Mr. “I want you to change everything about your lifestyle to suit me and my family.” Or Mr. “I just don’t think women have ever really done anything.” Or even Mr. “I only cheated on you once.” But you realized that you could do better and that you’d much rather be alone and settled in your own skin than be in a lifelong relationship that royally sucks. So you didn’t marry him, even though you probably could have.

3. You (or Your Significant Other) Can’t Afford Marriage – Look, let’s get real: anyone who thinks marriage requires little to no money is living in banana-land. Marriage is the most expensive club membership you will ever pay. And, in many cases, it’s not even that women don’t want to get married as much as it is the guys who don’t think they have enough cash to propose and make other big, adult life commitments. Unfortunately, the magic love potion that can convince a man that you seriously don’t care if he’s broke is yet to be invented. We live in a world where men are still expected to out-earn women, even though the woman might have a great job that can support both people. Plus, I once heard that the average price of a wedding in Kuwait is somewhere in the neighborhood of 30,000 KD. Yes, you read that right.

4. You’ve Got a Full, Wonderful Life, Filled with Equally Wonderful People – If some awesome fella does happen to waltz into your life then that’s totally cool, but you are honestly just not sweating it. Why? Because you’ve already got an awesome life. A life filled with adventures and loving phone calls and hilarious friends and books and shopping sprees and OH MY GOD TRIPLE CHOCOLATE ICE-CREAM. Even when you really are down about something (as does happen to all humans, even the non-single ones), you’ve got a million friends and family members you can call to cheer you up. This is because you’ve spent time and energy nurturing all of your relationships, not just the potentially matrimonial kind. Kudos to you!

5. Monogamy Is Not Your Thing – I know, I know. I’m going into dangerously taboo territory here. But hear me out. As it turns out, there are people (both men and women) who really don’t have the genetic make-up to withstand monogamy for sustained periods of time and that’s some legit, DNA, honest-to-God science talk. There really are men and women in this world who are biologically pre-disposed towards polygamy and I think that people shouldn’t be judged for being whatever way they were created. The reason we don’t have many respectable models of these kinds of people is because, really, cheaters are complete and utter jerks. Cheating on someone is a truly despicable thing to do no matter what. But, either way, if you feel like you might have a polygamous tendency it might be something worth taking into consideration when it comes to marriage.

6. You Have Unresolved, Personal Issues – Hey, look, it’s fine. We all have our own personal hang-ups. I mean, if you’re actually taking the time to deal with your personal problems and your trouble-spots before embarking on a super serious relationship, then you’re actually doing the responsible thing. If you just shovel your issues under the rug and put on a fake Mrs. Perfect face then you are not doing yourself or your partner any favors. Getting through your own set of baggage is no easy feat and will definitely not happen overnight, so make sure you take the necessary time to completely move past whatever it is you think is hanging you up in your own head. Don’t rush it because of some invented standard age by which everyone keeps saying you should be married.

7. You Honestly Just Don’t Want To Get Married – KA-BOOM! TRUTH BOMB! Anyone alive out there? I know that this statement might have felt like a bucket of ice cold slush falling on your head, but I can promise you it’s totally real. I know our society can’t even fathom the notion of a woman who, for whatever reason, is legitimately disinterested in the idea of married life but please try to get past that. I mean, sure, society will totally let you do whatever you wanna do, but only provided that ‘whatever you wanna do’ will eventually lead to marriage, obviously. But, look! I have at least three Arab, Muslim, completely sound-minded female friends who have expressed to me their complete certainty in NOT wanting to get married. Like, never ever. And no they’re not lying to themselves; they simply just don’t choose that life. They’ve been to lots of weddings, they appreciate the idea, they were happy for everyone, but they didn’t walk out with a feeling of longing for marriage or even weddings. In fact, one of my friends told me that the idea of even wearing a wedding dress makes her want to break out in a cold sweat. Another friend of mine told me that she doesn’t want it because she legitimately believes that the idea of forever is a total crackpot and that marriage creates a weird social complex that she’s not interested in being a part of. I mean, even if I personally don’t share or agree with these notions (and I actually don’t), I have to respect them and the women who are saying them. Some women just don’t want to get married. Ever. And that’s a legitimate choice. Which is fine. If you’re still in shock over this news, I suggest you dunk your head in some salt water and move on with your day.

So there. To all of my single (and maybe ready to mingle) lady friends, this one’s for you. This one’s for all the pointless crap that society or family throws at you for not having hitched your wagon to a dude yet (any dude! JUST FIND A DUDE.). I know it hurts and it’s distracting and it makes you feel like there’s something truly wrong with you. But, there isn’t. Really. YOU’RE ABSOLUTELY AND TOTALLY COOL. I swear.

All my love!