Some of my favourite blogs

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Ever wondered what other people read?

Well here’s a selection, in no particular order, of some of my favourite blogs.

Enjoy!

P.S. Do click on them and take a look- they’re all fab I promise! x

Nail Art

mynailpolish

Image: wwwmynailpolishonline.com 2014

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love manicures, nail polish, nail art and anything to do with nails. My Nail Polish Online was one of the first blogs I ever started following. There are a ton of nail art bloggers out there. Some are truly awful: amateurish photography, visible hang-nails (yuk), messy painting… My Nail Polish Online is incredibly professional, and features innovative nail art designs, the latest products, shades and trends that are all beautifully photographed. Now to just have a steady enough hand to copy the designs!

 

 

 

 

 

Technology

This is fast becoming my favourite site. ShinyShiny features gadgets, apps and wearible technology for women. No, not pink versions of everything. We’re talking about truly innovative technology for women who are early-adopters. Whether it’s intelligent lighting for your home, a review of ‘sleepphones’ (headphones designed to help you sleep) or simply what’s new in at ASOS, this is a really original, always informative read.

 

 

 

Feminism

TheBelleJar2

The Belle Jar

The Belle Jar first caught my eye as I ‘ve always been a fan of Sylvia Plath. And the content never disappoints. Writer Anne Theriault is an unapologetic feminist and staunch women’s rights supporter. I love that she is never afraid to tell it like it is- you’ll get absolutely no bullshit from her. I might not always agree with Anne’s opinions, but The Belle Jar is always a refreshing, informative, challenging, often hilariously funny read. Anne suffers from depression which she writes openly about. This aspect of the blog is an interesting departure from her feminist writing, and I really respect how she rallies people to talk more about mental health issues.

 

 

South Asian issues

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Anushay Hossain on HuffPostLive. 2014

Human rights activist, feminist policy advisor, journalist, commentator, editor, friend to the likes of Hilary Clinton and Sheryl Sandberg- what’s not to love about Anushay’s Point? Bangladeshi-born Anushay Hossain writes on women’s issues, South Asian issues and current affairs. It’s great to see a South Asian woman speaking out so prominently and being taken note of, on some very important topics.

 

 

 

Fashion

 

Everyday around lunchtime, I get this little treat of an email in my inbox. Wearing It Today, or WIT blog as it’s affectionately known showcases some great fashion trends complete with a shopping guide. WIT started life simply capturing the daily outfits of fashion editor and stylist Laura Fantacci. Laura left her day job to work on WIT full time and also launched Wardrobe Icons, a shopping website dedicated to ‘wardrobe essentials’. I love Laura’s ‘grown up’ elegant style, it’s very accessible. Ok so the prices aren’t always- she features a lot of designer pieces but the looks can be translated onto the high street. I’ve picked up many a style tip from WIT blog this year, so you’ll often see me channelling Laura whether it’s with my fur coat, leather look leggings or some other WIT-inspired trend….

 

Parenting

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Masalamommas. 2014

Strictly speaking not a blog, but the articles are mostly blog-style so I’m including it here. I’m a big fan of MasalaMommas, an online community for mums with a South Asian connection- a kind of Netmums for South Asians. It’s written by other South Asian mums and experts on a variety of topics, and edited by the brilliant Anjum Choudary Nayyar. I always find they are ahead of the game in terms of content. A must read for any South Asian mum.

 

 

 

Baking

sallysbakingaddiction

Image: Sally’s Baking Addiction, 2014.

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Image: Sally’s Baking Addiction 2014 http://www.sallysbakingaddiction.com

I don’t really bake as much as I used to, but I love Sally’s Baking Addiction for the
simple, fun, creative recipes. I love the professional photography (it will seriously have you reaching for a brownie)- all of which she does herself, and the fun and pretty layout of the site. Sally’s Baking Addiction went from being a hobby to a professional blog, and Sally shares lots of useful blogging tips, loads of photography tutorials and advice.

Should Asians celebrate Christmas?

 

christmas garland2

I’ve yet to see an English or Western family get really caught up celebrating Eid or Diwali, not even ex-pats who live in India, Pakistan etc. I mean really going all out with the big family meal, presents, decorations and all of the anticipation that comes with it. And yet I know many Asian families who get really carried away with Christmas. And these are devout people who celebrate their own religious festivals at the appropriate times and attend places of worship regularly. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with them celebrating Christmas if they choose to. But as someone I know recently asked, why are Asians celebrating Christmas if they are not Christian?

Ok well the obvious answer is how commercial Christmas has become. With that, it’s become much more accessible too. To the non-Christian world, Christmas is no longer a Christian festival. Most people have bought into the Coca-Cola version of Christmas and any real Christian meaning is put aside. It’s kind of a pick and mix thing: it’s choosing to celebrate the aspects of Christmas that have mass or secular appeal like family, gift-giving, decorations and parties without any of the spiritual meaning.

And it’s fair to say that people everywhere- not just Asians- now celebrate this kind of self-styled Christmas, rather than the Christian holy day that is Christmas.

But it’s when one considers how important religion, religious festivals and religious identity is to most Asians, that it seems contradictory that we would engage in any way with this Christian occasion. Writer and political commentator Sunny Hundal recently described himself as a ‘cultural Sikh’. So for those who see religion as a matter of culture and tradition rather than one of spiritual conviction, I can see that there is no conflict in celebrating Christmas in any form. What’s more, for those of the Eastern religions that believe all paths lead to God, there won’t be an issue.

Indeed, a Hindu friend I was talking to recently was telling me that in their household, Christmas is bigger than Diwali. They have a big family do, complete with turkey, presents and decorations. They whole-heartedly embrace the occasion and don’t have a problem either way that the day marks the birth of Jesus.

Certainly my Muslim friends are not as relaxed on the subject. Many of them won’t have a Christmas tree in the house or even give cards that say “Merry Christmas” on them, opting instead for those that say “Seasons Greetings”; or in keeping with the increasing Americanisation of our society, Happy Holidays. For them, taking Christ out of Christmas really works, because they can still be a part of the festivities, without feeling they have betrayed their religious beliefs in any way. They still have a meal together but argue that this is simply because everyone’s off work and school. I’m not sure I buy that reasoning but there you go.

In the end, it all comes down to personal choice and what works for you and your family. You won’t find any judgement from me! I get that Christmas means different things to different people, whether you choose to embrace it or not. I think if it’s a chance for families to get together, enjoy some good food and hopefully spend some quality time together then Christmas can’t be a bad thing. And if it’s not for you I respect your conviction in taking a stance for what you do believe in.

Either way, I hope the festive season brings some joy your way.

So, Merry Christmas, Seasons Greetings, Shub Naya Baras, Happy Holidays, Feliz Navidad, to you all!

 

Love British Asian Woman x

Is this the end of interfaith marriage?

Closeup of holding hands of stylish wedding couple. Mixed race.

It would be easy to think that the British Asian community is becoming more open to the idea of interfaith and mixed race marriages. We’ve all seen the photos on Facebook of a couple doing the ‘dual ceremony thing': the Indian wedding where one white face is wearing the traditional Indian wedding- getup amongst a sea of Asian family; and conversely, the civil or Church ceremony performed for the English side of the family.

The sad truth though is that young British Asians choosing to marry outside of the community are facing a renewed backlash- and it would seem that the subject is still as taboo as ever amongst Asians. In particular, religious hardliners and religious leaders are taking a stand against interfaith couples who want to have a religious wedding ceremony.

The most notable occurrence of this has been within the British Sikh community. Hardline Sikh groups are vehemently opposing Gurdwaras (Sikh temples) performing the traditional marriage ceremony known as the anand karaj unless the couple are both Sikhs. Protestors have even gone to the lengths of barricading themselves inside Gurdwaras to stop ceremonies taking place, and the homes of inter-faith couples have been attacked. Victims of these attacks have been too afraid to speak to the media for fear of further reprisals.  In response, the Sikh Council UK has just published guidelines for Gurdwaras, reiterating that the anand karaj is strictly reserved for two practising Sikhs.

This new wave of violent persecution amongst British Sikhs is a relatively new phenomenon. But elsewhere in the community British Asians are familiar with the barriers that an inter-faith couple faces: Islam has strict religious laws on marrying outside of the faith, as have some sections of Christianity. Couples who do go down this road face excommunication and often live in isolation of their Asian family.

Certainly in the case of the Sikh community, extremists are arguing that a religious wedding ceremony is null and void unless the faith is shared by the couple. If that’s true, does that mean that the union itself is not legitimate in the eyes of the faith? Would the couple be welcome in the place of worship- or would the ‘believing’ partner be expected to worship there alone? What about when children are born- how would the couple raise them within the faith if religious leaders apparently don’t recognise the marriage in the first place?

Traditionally within our culture, marriage has been a union which preserves wealth, status, where relevant caste, and of course religious identity. With many British Asians now choosing to marry outside of these bounds, extremists are arguing that these elements of our culture are being eroded, even destroyed.  How long will an inter-faith couple persevere with religion if all they get is judgement from the community?

One of two things could happen here: either young British Asians will choose love over faith and move away from religion altogether- which clearly religious leaders don’t want; or they will reject mixed marriages for the sake of their religion and to maintain links within the community and family.

The latter scenario isn’t as unlikely as you might think. Dating sites exclusive to individual religions are swiftly gaining in popularity. Many young Asian daters are becoming more specific in wanting to meet someone from within their own religion.

Sharn Khaira founded the online dating site Indian Connect for this very reason. The site is targeted exclusively at Sikhs and Hindus with an empathy for traditional marriage and culture. It is also carefully monitored to ensure only people living in UK can join. The site clocked up more 30,000 paid subscribers in less than a year. Sharn says: “I’m starting to see young British Asians move away from interfaith marriage because of the heartache and potential damage it can cause to families, not to mention the wider Asian community in their local area. So many now want to keep their culture and heritage in-tact”

I think it will take a generation before we really see the working-out of the issues involved in interfaith marriage. But I do believe where many before used the new found freedom in society at large to marry outside of traditional bounds, others are now holding back as they look at the repercussions.

Or will it be a case of love triumphing over religion and culture? It’s an aspect of our community that is worth watching to find out.

 

You might also like “Are interfaith marriages a mission impossible?”

We have to stop should-ing on ourselves!

lifestyle balance

It’s that time of year when the diary is looking really full- and it’s not even December yet. Deadlines are looming, so are countless parties and social events. Then there are the nativity plays and carol concerts and Christmas school fairs which need time out of your work day. And that’s all before you’ve even thought about presents, shopping and looking your best. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year is also the Most Stressful Time of the Year.

But actually, how different is that to the rest of the year? The festivities sort of step up the pace a bit more, but I’ve had periods over this year where I’ve literally had weeks of going from one thing to the next without any break or down time in between. I’ve juggled childcare and domestic life with meetings and deadlines and volunteering work and family commitments.

It’s the unwritten rule of modern life that we all need to pack in as much as we can in order to feel validated. It gives us a sense of purpose. We look at the woman next to us and think we need to maintain the same pace as her, or we simply feel we have to accept lots of responsibilities…because that’s just what you do.

Margaret Sentamu said: “women carry a disproportionate weight of responsibility in society” and how true that is.

Whether it’s the economic or social climate that we live in, we all feel that we ‘should’ have it all. A great career with a clear path of progression, a social media strategy with Brand Me all worked out, a great figure, a thriving relationship, a foot on the property ladder, an active social life, healthy active kids with their homework all done. All perfectly captured on Facebook and Instagram- on which you have hundreds of followers of course. We all know that none of that ever happens at the same time. None of the pieces of the jigsaw ever fit together that well. But somehow we think they should.

Feminism gave women more choices. No longer are we expected to fit into some patriarchal mould of womanhood. But all that choice has brought with it a lot of pressure to perform. We’ve bought into the lie that we can have it all- and should.

Ladies, we’ve got to stop should-ing on ourselves!

We blame society, the media, Instagram- anyone really, for that pressure, but really it comes from within.

work life balance

When my daughter started nursery at the age of three, I felt I ‘should’ fill the few hours while she was away. My other mum-friends all seemed to be going back to work and I felt I ‘should’ re-invest in my career too, and with that came the pressure to succeed. I spent my few spare hours researching writing and pitching stories. I’d be tired and irritable all the while as I never gave my body or my brain time to reload.

Arianna Huffington is someone who knows all too well the cost of not taking time to reload. In her book this year, Thrive, she talks about the breakdown she suffered seven years ago. She attributes this breakdown partly to not sleeping enough, carrying too much responsibility and too many burdens. I love two of her top tips for maintaining a healthy work- life balance: go to sleep half an hour earlier than you already do, and choose to off-load something everyday that isn’t working for you whether it’s emotional or professional. This coming from a tremendously successful woman who’s been there. She knows.

So here’s a radical thought: how about NOT having it all, take on fewer commitments and do them really really well. Work out what’s essential ‘to being you’- and select the top two priorities and give them your all. And above all, schedule in some down time once a week. It might just be blocking out 45 minutes on a Sunday afternoon to have a nap, or an hour to finish reading your book.

And if off-loading some of the burden just feels impossible at this point in your life then ponder this advice that I was given last week:

“Start by doing what’s necessary, then what’s possible, and before you know it, you’re doing the impossible.”

Is skin whitening any different to hair straightening?

Is skin whitening any different to hair straightening?

What would you say if I challenged you not to wear any make up to work tomorrow? Or to skip your next visit to the beauticians to get your eyebrows threaded? Would you be able to go completely au natural with your looks and be comfortable with it?

I’m guessing for the majority of women the answer would be no. For most of us, attending to beauty routines are as normal as changing clothes in the morning- you’d obviously not leave the house in your pyjamas so it makes sense that you’d put on makeup, style your hair, have your eyebrows threaded; whatever it might be for you and however simple or extensive your routine might be.

Personally I could probably skip wearing makeup for a day or too, but I couldn’t live without my hair dryer and various hair straightening products. I’ve been straightening my hair for more than 15 years. Over this time, I’ve probably spent hundreds of pounds investing in products and haircuts, and countless hours trying to get the frizz out of my hair. My straight, flattened hair is not my natural hair type believe me! On one very rare occasion that I did let my hair dry naturally- no products, no straightening, someone commented that it made me look ‘more ethnic’.

And that’s the thing isn’t it: I’ve spent all these years getting rid of that ‘ethnic look’ and conforming to a model of beauty that says straight, flat hair is the acceptable image of beauty. Even beach curls have to be silky smooth and styled, rather than the random mop of frizz/waves/curls that my natural hair type displays.

Researcher and policy advisor Debbie Weekes-Barnard identified a “hierarchy of beauty” that women of different ethnicities conform to:

“…..there (are) things at work societally which place all women, but certainly black women, on a hierarchy of beauty.

…..the hierarchy of beauty for black women is different from the hierarchy for white women. For white women, it’s about size and shape [thinness] but for black women it’s all of those things, but also the shape of one’s nose and lips, the texture of your hair and all those other things which are bound up within how ‘womanly’ or not you look.”

I’d love to say that that hierarchy doesn’t apply to me, and that I don’t conform to it. But as women we are constantly being judged by the way we look, and because of that we end up conforming to these frankly, Western standards of beauty.

We applaud Bollywood actresses like Aishwaraya Rai Buchchan and Frieda Pinto who have crossed over to mainstream appeal and appeared in Western films and ad campaigns, because we finally see a brown face in the media. But the fact is, they too have been modified to fit a Western mould of beauty before they could get there. Their appearances are very similar to any other white Western celebrity- only they’re a few shades darker.

Colourism in particular- judging others for how dark skinned they are, is ingrained in the Asian culture. We all know an auntiji or two who comments on how dark so and so is and how they will never get married because of it. In India it’s even said to affect your job prospects. Skin whitening and bleaching products are big business globally. Did you know there’s even a vaginal whitening product now available? Last July, Vaseline launched a Facebook app in India that enabled users to make their skin whiter in their profile pictures. The app was to promote their new range of skin-lightening creams for men.

Colourism is abhorrent. The fact that manufacturers promote their products by perpetuating the whole ‘fair is beautiful’ myth is just infuriating. But somewhere along the line, our culture bought into it, too. Whilst some argue that colourism is different to racism- racism being bound up with other factors such as ethnicity as well as skin colour, doesn’t make colourism any better or less damaging. And what’s more, users of skin-lightening products are judged for conforming to the ideal that fair is beautiful and they’re shamed for not accepting their God-given looks.

But then I’ve never accepted my frizzy, wavy hair. I conform to the model that says silky straight hair is beautiful. I also thread my eyebrows, bleach excess facial hair, shave my legs, wear foundation to even out my skin tone, a lightening concealer to eliminate dark circles under my eyes, blusher to contour my cheeks, mascara to thicken my lashes, lipstick to plump my lips…what else….? I do all of these things to alter my appearance and appear more womanly, ultimately trying to rank higher on that hierarchy of beauty. And yet I judge women who want to move themselves up this hierarchy simply because they were born with dark skin and resort to skin-whitening.

I couldn’t put it more simply than this: in 2010 Jamaican dancehall star Vybz Kartel came under fire after apparently lightening his skin. He defended his use of “cake soap”-a skin whitening product, saying:

“I feel comfortable with black people lightening their skin. It’s tantamount to white people getting a suntan. When black women stop straightening their hair and wearing wigs and weaves, when white women stop getting lip and butt injections and implants … then I’ll stop using the ‘cake soap’ and we’ll all live naturally ever after.”

4 Things British Asians should know about UKIP

Political issues series: 'Euro-sceptic' concept, with EU letteri

It’s fair to say there are not many who would simply dismiss UKIP as just “fruitcakes and loonies” any more as David Cameron once did. They are a serious political threat to the three main established parties. With their anti-immigration stance and perceived dislike of foreigners, their policies are of concern for Black and minority ethnic communities.

Here are some things to consider about the rise and rise of UKIP:

  1. They are going for the popularist vote

An overburdened NHS, more jobs for British people, student grants, even keeping GP surgeries open for longer, UKIP have simply identified the things that get us all riled up- and built a shopping list of policies around them.

Though they are yet to fully form the platform on which they will fight next year’s general election, in the past they were really known for a few key political issues, including seeing Britain withdraw from the EU and an end to “mass uncontrolled immigration.” The rest of their policies now seem to be simply picking up on our discontent over a range of socio-economic issues. This is partly why they have been criticised by the main political parties for having no real policies. And interestingly whilst they position themselves as returning to right wing policies, their stance on student grants is a typical left wing policy, showing that they swing from the political right to left to suit public opinion.

 

  1. Some immigrants support them

It’s completely counter-intuitive for someone who has benefited from the UK’s immigration laws to support a party who seeks to seriously curb immigration. And yet those supporters do exist.

UKIP wants all immigrants trying to enter the UK to be able to speak English, have NHS approved, private healthcare in place, and must have a job already in place. It would seem that they are looking to put as many restrictions in place as possible for foreigners to enter the UK. So why would ethnic minorities support their immigration policies?

One theory put forward is that new immigrants entering the UK would threaten the employment prospects of the existing migrant community. Another is the ‘little islander’ mentality: once you’re in, you want to keep others out who would tarnish the reputation of all immigrant communities as well as take jobs and housing and so on. Whatever the reason, don’t be fooled into thinking that UKIP supporters are all Tory, BNP and EDL defectors or any other right wing British people. It seems that UKIP supporters do come in all colours.

 

  1. They could usher in a whole new language

Do you remember in the 80’s when it was acceptable to call disabled people ‘spastics’? There were playground jokes about them, there was even a bona fide charity called the Spastics Society. (They have since changed their name to Scope). The term was discarded in the late 90’s as it was seen as unkind and not politically correct.

UKIP don’t believe in political correctness, arguing that it hinders freedom of speech. They are appealing to those who feel political correctness has gone mad. What does this mean for race relations? What language and terminology around Black and Asian people, women, the disabled, the gay community to name just a few minority groups will once again be acceptable under a UKIP government?

 

  1. The bigger threat is the growing number of UKIP supporters

While their policies are worrying, infuriating, perhaps even offensive to some, the bigger worry I believe is the growing amount of support that UKIP has garnered. I find it hard to believe that there are people I come into contact with every day that would support UKIP. But there are. The party’s appeal is growing, and aside from their grassroots supporters, many of these people are those who have either been swept up by their popularist approach to politics or a dissatisfaction with the main political parties. Whatever we might say about their shopping list of policies there’s no doubt that they’ve tapped into public feeling in our midst- and that worries me more than UKIP itself.

The 5 People You Need to Know  

5 people

 

Do you remember at high school when you had one group of friends that you hung out with- constantly? You did everything together, went everywhere together, dressed the same, used the same lingo. They were your whole world and defined so much about who you were.

Much as I love those friends (who are still in my life) my horizons have broadened since those days! We all pick up friends along the way don’t we? Former work colleagues, school mums, neighbours, gym buddies, friends of our other halves…

But one thing I’ve found with these different friends and even different groups, is that lately they each seem to meet a different need in my life. Whether its professional support or girly chats, here are the five women that we should all have in our lives to help us become well-rounded individuals:

1. The Mum- Figure

This might actually be your mum, or someone else who fills a maternal role in your life. She’s the person who you go to when life is all a bit too much.  She gets your world view and most importantly knows you really well. She’ll make you a cup of tea, bring you tissues and helps you re-focus and see the bigger picture once again. Yes sometimes her advice might cut to the bone, but…..in the end she’s usually right!

2. The Career Mentor

I’m a big believer in mentors both having one and being one.  She will usually be someone from your industry who gets your vision and sees your potential to achieve it. Her industry knowledge and experience are ahead of yours so she can steer you in the right direction when making career decisions. She won’t be a shoulder to cry on- this is a purely professional relationship, but she will be sympathetic to your life challenges and how they hinder you reaching your professional goals. Think of her as the sixth form careers advisor but for real life!

3. The Intellectual Equal

Different from your career mentor, this is a friend who is on an intellectual and academic par with you, and usually shares the same interests and passions. Your coffee dates are made up of sharing new ideas, perhaps specific to your sector or area of interest and you bounce ideas off of each other. The phrase “iron sharpens iron” comes to mind here as she is the one who challenges you on your new ideas and gets you to refine them.

4. The Listener

The next time you’re in a public place, just observe (discreetly!) how effectively people listen to each other, even in a one- on- one scenario. You’ll notice that they don’t. We interrupt each other constantly: to state our opinion or our response, or come in with another line of thinking. In short, we’re talking but not being heard. We all need someone who will not only listen, but hear where we’re coming from-without interrupting you and crucially, without making it about them. This is where the old adage “ a problem shared is a problem halved “ comes into its own here, as The Listener allows you to unburden yourself. She does share some crossover with The Mum-Figure and perhaps will give you some advice too, but really she is someone who will listen to you without judgement.

5. The Girlfriend

This is the friend, or group who you really laugh with. I mean belly laugh, gonna- be- sick, might- wet- yourself laugh with.  What’s most important about them is that they help you connect with a part of yourself that is completely outside of your day to day roles of responsibility. With these women you’re no longer a mum, a wife, a teacher, a recruitment officer….you’re just you. They allow you to let your hair down and just be who you are- without having to play a role or meet any expectations. They’re you’re best friends, sisters, shopping buddy, partners in crime. Enjoy them, hang on to them and invest in them as they’re the friends who will be with you when a relationship ends or someone in the family is diagnosed with cancer. They are your bridesmaids and the first ones to visit you in hospital when you gave birth.They’re the ones who knew you when you had bad eyebrows and bad hair but love you anyway!

***

 Don’t make the mistake of confusing these friends. You can’t go to your Intellectual Equal and expect to let your hair down. Chances are they’re not going to make you laugh or get your sense of fun the way your girlfriends do. Likewise, your Girlfriend isn’t necessarily going to give you the best professional advice in the world, but she’ll meet your need to kick back and have fun.

Of course friendships are not passive- you can’t simply be on the receiving end of these qualities all the time- it’s vital to give back and play these roles yourself.

Have I forgotten anyone in this list? Who are the women that shape your life?