Modest Fashion for the Soul

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Muslimah on We Heart It

This is officially the first year that I haven’t been able to fast for the month of Ramadan and it’s been a hard learned lesson in both humility and faith. In being denied participation in the one genuine act of Islamic practice that I’m committed to wholeheartedly, I found myself reminiscing about the days when it was much easier to be Muslim in this world. Easier because extremism wasn’t so pervasive, because stereotypes were less biting, and because – frankly – people couldn’t tell a Muslim from a Persian from a Sikh and, so, there was a certain peace in being able to be ignored by default. But now, things have changed, and not for the better for anyone. It feels scarier to be a Muslim now more than ever and I’m sure it also feels scarier to not be.

While everyone all over the world is worried about terrorists in Orlando and in Dhaka and in Istanbul there are other movements coming from the Islamic world’s women that should be taken just as seriously. The #modestfashion movement is something I stumbled on while trying to get my Ramadanian dose of Muslimah love via the internet. And love I found…

When most people think of Muslim women, they think of hijabs (head scarf) and burqa/burkahs (and I won’t even start on a niqab). The debate around these two articles of clothing seem to be the majority of what you might find on Muslim women – period. But, Islam is the world’s second largest religion and is estimated to have about 1.7 billion believers. Trust me, they don’t all dress the same, much less share the same beliefs about religion or religiouswear. As #blackandMuslim will tell you, most people have stereotypes in their heads of Muslims that subscribe to the belief that all Muslims look like they are Arabs or Middle Easterners. But actually Indonesia is the country with the largest Muslim population and there are even videos about the growing population in places like Chiapas, Mexico. Needless to say, there are variations in faith, practice, and aesthetic.

Most people believe that Muslim women are wearing the equivalent of a brown paper bag. There are no curves, there is very little femininity in the idea of a burqa/burkah. Yet, there are many brands that are bringing color and joy to clothing that bears less skin. For women who actually observe covering, there are subtle differences in how much hair is shown, how much ankle is shown, how much of the face is seen that can typically help you identify which country she might hail from. Many, like me, don’t cover at all. In any case, there’s a whole body of fashion that goes forgotten, like abayas and fabulous shoes, that are both standard fare and fashion statement. Rather than debate about how much of a woman’s body is shown as an indication of her liberties or lack there of, there are many women who are owning the decision to wear what they choose and owning the choice to wear more.

Mormons, Muslims, Jews, Atheists and a variation of women all over the world, of various religious and ethnic backgrounds, have been uniting around the idea of being covered. There’s something appealing about gravitating away from the fatshaming  that’s so common in the London Tube and all around us, and embracing our capacity to be beautiful, mysterious, appealing, and amazing with a less (skin) is more aesthetic to match our attitude. Rather than continue to sing the praises of a movement you may not have seen, I’ll show you what it looks like and maybe, you too, will find a reason to get on board with embracing the freedom of femme that comes with bearing less skin. All of you with maxi dresses in your closets are halfway there already…

The (hijabi) American fencer, Ibtihaj Muhammad, is perhaps the most prominent example in the U.S. at the moment (woo hoo and she’s from the great state of New Jersey!) through her brand LouElla , which focuses on being covered AND fashionable. The idea is that you don’t have to be Muslim to enjoy not showing every inch of skin you own… Not that there’s a problem with showing all that skin… but hey, it’s not everybody’s thing.

For more ideas: London just had a Modest Fashion Show in Feb & so did Istanbul. The fabrics, the textures, man… I’m having a #fashiongasm over here. And if hijabs aren’t your thing, imagine yourself in the rest of the outfit. Use a lil’ imagination people!

 

 

 

Cult Movie Classics

I am not what you might call a “movie person.” The thought of a theatre experience reminds me of paying goo gobs of cash to sit in a cushy seat probably infested with bodily fluids from strangers. Needless to say, I’m not often moved by the images on the big screen, unless there are a lot of things blowing up. Yet Netflix has been my homeboy for some years now, shipping cult classics and obscure foreign titles to wherever in the world I may be. In honor of the 28 year anniversary of one of my absolute faves, “She’s Gotta Have It,” here’s my top ten list of must-see movies that you probably haven’t seen (or at least not in a long time):

1.

Gomorrah is a 2008 film from Italy, based on a Robert Saviano book. This is not your typical mafia movie. In every form and fashion, it’s better.  It weaves five individual stories of people trying to make their own connections with the Casalesi clan, a crime syndicate within the Camorra.

2.  Borders Frontieres is a 2002 film from France/ Algeria that focuses on African clandestine immigration to southern Europe. Comedic and tragic, the film charts the journey of seven people traveling from Senegal through Algeria and onward to Spain.

3. Woody Allen’s 1977 classic Annie Hall is the pre and post-mortem tale of a relationship between two seemingly incompatible people, who once fell in love. It’s romantic and whimsical, and also shows scenes of back when NYC was gritty.

images-44. First of all, “Dilwale Dulhania le Jeyenge” stars my absolute fave Bollywood actress, Kajol and, second, it involves a young woman traveling on her own. What’s not to love (maybe SRK’s hair cut)?

This is the story of two kids who, against their own wishes, fall in love while taking the Eurorail. Both are non-resident Indians, raised in Britain, and both are struggling to meet their parents’ expectations for adulthood. But, when they first meet, neither knows this about the other… and hence, the comedic elements of this 1995 romantic comedy.

5.

In the 2003 drama, 21 Grams, an accident brings together three people who couldn’t be more unrelated or disconnected. The words love, faith, guilt and revenge all crop up, a lot. The movie stars Benicio del Torro, Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, and is directed by the Mexico City native Alejandro González Iñárritu.

6. Mexico’s 2008 Sleep Dealer has to be one of the most engaging sci-fi movies I’ve ever seen. (Sci-fi is not my genre of choice.) The plot is not as blatantly transparent in its allusion to specific political events as South Africa’s District 9, but it definitely made me think – how far away are we from this being a reality? The long and short of it is that technology has developed such that people’s bodies can be in one place and through the use of a physical attachment, they can use robotics to operate machinery and perform tasks that are actually located in another place. The dynamics of immigration being the same, this dynamic interestingly means that there is migrant work with no workers, but at what cost?

7.

Leon is probably one of the most gangster movies I’ve ever watched and enjoyed. A hitman teams up with a little girl, and they start whooping ass! Natalie Portman + Jean Reno / circa 1994 = You’ll have to just watch it.

8. Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, made me appreciate that Hitchcock isn’t only about scare and gore. In this mid-century tale, an American family travel to Morocco, only to get caught up in a murder mystery, an assassination attempt, and a kidnapping. There’s drama and travel, mixed in with politics and music. Apparently there are two versions of the film, from 1934 and 1956, and I don’t remember which version I saw.  So, have your pick!

9. Dirty Pretty Things is based in modern-day UK, and tells the story of a clandestine African immigrant who is a trained doctor by profession and a Turkish woman whose visa to the UK allows her to stay, but not work. Both are tied by mutual interest and genuine affection, and they are only brought closer together when Senay considers harvesting an organ on the black market in order to get a fake passport to travel to the U.S.A.

10.

The Gods Must be Crazy is to South Africa what Coming to America is to the United States. Released in 1980, it is said to be the most commercially successful film from South Africa (but maybe that’s changed since the release of District 9). The movie is set in the desert of Botswana, where Xi, a Sho of the Kalahari Desert (played by Namibian San farmer Nǃxau) lives with his tribesmen. None of them are conscious of the world outside of or different from the desert they know, until Xi stumbles upon a Coca Cola bottle.

Out of curiosity, how many of you have actually seen any of these?

The (Seaside) Road Less Traveled

A few weeks ago, I had the awesome honor of creating a document that would guide a Q&A for former Secretary Madeleine K. Albright.  I mean, what kind of task was that, really? …Considering my feeble little mind couldn’t possibly throw her off with some new trick question she hadn’t already been asked in her… uhh… oh, I don’t know… three decades of being awesomely famous, clearly I was writing more for my own satisfaction rather than for her preparation. But, one question struck me as particularly simple and brilliant, if I may say so myself. And, I do. (I do. I doo oohhh.)

In some sick twist of fate, I ended up traveling when she actually spoke, so I didn’t get the satisfaction of hearing her answer my really good question.  So, I was left with a mean question hangover that kept me up at night.  I think this kind of persistent pondering, my friends, can only be soothed by answering my favorite question myself.  Here goes.

“Is there a place in the world that you have not yet visited that you would like to?  If so, where and why?” (Yes, I know I ended that question with a preposition – don’t judge me.)

Since, I’m not famous and I haven’t been traveling that long – comparatively speaking – I have a laundry list:

  1. Where: Milan, Italy Why:  Because I have expensive taste. As I am on the curvier side of shapely, I’ve always admired the Italian taste for accentuating the positive.  For reasons related to a $4,000 Dolce & Gabbana dress I once tried on at the Mall at Short Hills, I am convinced that I am meant to wear Italian crafted mid calf dresses.  Paid for by?  Some unnamed, as yet unknown, poor sucker.  The curves? Well, those are all (African) American.  Call me global #shouldershrug.
  2. Where:  Curaçao Why:  Why not?  A beautiful blue drink has been named after this place, which means the country must share some of this alcoholic beverage’s positive attributes.  The only other country I’ve been to of Dutch patronage is Suriname and I absolutely loved that place.  So, Curaçao can’t fail.  Unless, of course, I have to speak Dutch.
  3. Where: Durban, South Africa Why: I like to read near the beach.  I’ve always been fascinated by Africa, but the longer I studied race and national identity the more interested I became in southern Africa, as a whole, and South Africa, in particular.  Since, I’m demanding enough to want to study culture beachside, Durban just feels right.
  4. Where: São Tomé and Príncipe Why:  Because I would tell the best stories at cocktail parties.  “Hellooooww dahleeng, where ever did you go during your summer holiday?” “Oh just boring ole’ Paris. You know that’s where Frank and I PACSed.” “And you, Sugar Plum, where ever did you go?” “ I went to São Tomé and Príncipe and had a jolly ole time out there frolicking with our dear friends on the beach.  One year, we will have to take you and Frank with us, dahleeng.” Yup, that’s pretty much how I expect the banter at every work cocktail party to go after I come back from one of the most isolated and obscure island nations of the world.  Beat that Pitcairn Islands!
  5. Where: Andaman Islands, India Why? Because I stole this from someone.  This one is a bit of a cheat, but hear me out.  So, a woman arrived here just a few months back and told me about the Jarawa people of the Andaman islands.  I definitely know of the Siddi or Siddhi populations throughout India, but I have only recently learned about the endangered people that are the Jarawa.  Now, I do understand that my visiting them on their native islands (that and in-breeding) may in fact lead to their extinction.  So, we’ll see how long it takes me to get a permit to visit.  Perhaps, by then I may change my mind and go to the Maldives before they sink into the sea.
  6. Where: Swains Island, U.S. Why? I’m convinced this place doesn’t actually exist.  I won’t go into great detail about the lengthy exchange that led to my discovery of this island. “Is a green card holder a U.S. national? What about some one from Guam? Northern Mariana Islands, no? Oh, shizznit! That’s right, Gilligan’s Island was based on Swains Island. Troo dat! Thanks for schooling me, son son. DYNOMIIITTE!” It didn’t quite go like that, but I’ll leave it to you to determine which parts are fiction, including whether or not Swains actually exists.
  7. Where: Monaco Why?  I’m bourgie.  I didn’t realize how stoosh Europe could be until I went to the Arab funded south of Spain and got a whiff of the perfumed exhaust fumes of Mazaratis in Puerto Banus.  I’m expecting Monaco to top that, and that’s a whole lotta toppa topping.
  8. Where: Panama Why?  Honestly? Because I heard reggaeton started there and the country looks really beautiful in pictures.  That is all. (Drop the mic and walk offstage)
  9. Where: Oaxaca, Mexico Why?  I’ve been to the annexed territory of Oaxaca that is Brooklyn, and I’m dying to get to the mother ship!  I’ve never been to Mexico – partially because I’m pretty picky about the Iberian descendant countries I frequent.  I’m not sure of my internal criteria, but I do know I have some kind of criteria floating around in there.  Needless to say, once I realized that Cali Mexicans were not actually from the same part of Mexico (a DUH!) as my hometown NYC/NJ Mexicans, I grew a curiosity to get to the root of what I know to be Mexican culture.  And I’d also like to cook better tacos in the future.
  10. Where: Laos  Why? A friend of a friend in college was a hot Laotian guy who apparently could cook very well.  And one thing I like about as much as clothing I don’t pay for is food!  I’m told Laos is less a planned zen tourist attraction than Cambodia, less developed than Vietnam, and so – overall – more “me” than other South East Asian countries.  Did I mention that I heard that their hot guys cook great food?

Now that I’ve spilled my guts, I’m wondering…what about you?