Friday, 27 October 2017

Outfit Post: Why Representation Matters

Fashion Blogger Reena Rai discusses the importance of representation

I have a confession to make. I've fallen off the wagon. Wait, don't worry, I just meant the blogging wagon. I just lost my mojo for a little while, hence the conspicuous absence of last week's post. After a having a brief breather and reminding myself why I'm doing what I do, I'm back with a bumper post so grab a cuppa and get comfy.

Despite being a veteran blogger with 8-9 years under my belt, 2017 has been the most transformative of my blogging career. This is the year that I decided to embrace my own voice. It’s taken me a while to discover it again as the blogosphere has changed so much in the time I’ve been blogging. Back when I first created my little corner of the Internet, blogging was more like a personal diary shared online. My corner was like a little scrapbook of fashion inspiration, news and a touch of my personal style, self-shot in my bedroom. But it’s all different now.

Over the years the blogging landscape has evolved, becoming more polished, curated and editorial. I have to admit, much like a dinosaur, I was slow to adapt. I had tons of blogger pals and PRs urging me to put more of myself on the blog but, well I guess I was shy. Putting yourself out there on the internet for the world to see is nerve-wracking. I knew that it was the way blogging was heading but I just didn’t feel comfortable making it all about me. So I spent the last couple of years straddling the old and new worlds of blogging and writing on and off - like most on/off relationships it's been more off than on. I was frustrated with my content and unsure of where I fitted in.

I struggled with the concept of being my own brand. I guess it goes back to my previous post about confidence. But in spring, I decided to leap. I took a bet on myself and decided to give my voice a chance. Looking at the blogging landscape, it's become so homogenous. It used to be diverse, the antithesis of mainstream media. Anyone with a laptop and internet connection could have a blog; you didn’t need to fit a narrow ideal. But slowly, this has changed. And I figured, if I have an opportunity to shake that up then I should.

London blogger Reena Rai shot at the Tate Modern

While anyone can be a blogger, it seems that there are a couple of prerequisites to being a 'big blogger'. Namely, being white and slim with swishy blonde/bronde hair. Of course, having these attributes doesn't automatically make you a super influencer and I'm not glossing over the hard work successful bloggers have put in at all. I see the years of hard work people have put into their craft and I applaud it. Blogging is a graft and it’s inspiring to see people who work hard win. But at the same time, there are plenty of great bloggers who shoot beautiful images and write wonderful words who don’t seem to get a look in.

As a woman of colour, I’m very aware that we don’t tend to get the campaigns or opportunities. Granted, there are a handful of black and brown bloggers who are successful but brands and agencies tend to work with bloggers with a very similar aesthetic. If you don't fit that ideal, it's much harder to succeed. It seems that blogging and mainstream media aren't that different after all.

Fashion Blogger wearing silver ankle boots AW17

Over the last few years, issues surrounding race and representation have become increasingly important to me. As a woman of Indian heritage, I can't help but feel marginalised and overlooked by the media. There are very women who look like me in the media. I can count the Indian women who get starring roles in TV or movies on one hand - Mindy Kaling, Archie Punjabi, Frieda Pinto and Priyanka Chopra. The only Indian models I’ve seen for more than a couple of seasons are Lakshmi Menon and Neelam Gill. The only examples I have are always the exception and not at all proportionately representative.

So, why does representation matter? For me, the answer to this question is complex and simple at the same time. Seeing a brown person in media makes me feel like I matter. It means what I look like is accepted, that my heritage is accepted. My parents come from two countries which were former colonies, where locals were seen as lesser by the British Empire. This is why relating to someone I see on a screen is quite profound. There is a term known as 'symbolic annihilation' which links what you see in the media to perceived importance - "representation in the fictional world signifies social existence; absence means symbolic annihilation.". Simply put, if I don’t see people who look like me, it means that people like me don’t matter to society.


Growing up, I didn’t really have anyone who looked like me as a point of reference. I watched Bollywood films with my grandma but I lived in the UK, what I saw was unrelatable to me and my life. I grew up playing with Barbies and watching Sweet Valley High. I guess this is why I spent a lot of time wanting to be blonde – long-term readers will remember when my wonderful hairdresser managed to take me from brunette to blonde hair in this post. It’s funny. At the time I enjoyed being blonde but when I look back, I don’t think I looked like me. Visually, I spent years yearning to be what I saw in the media but it was so far from who I am. That’s the danger when there is a lack of representation in the media.

As an aunt to three nieces from 4 months old to late teens, I want better for the next generation. Granted, things are slowly moving in the right direction. But I realised that I have an opportunity, to be the change that I want to see in the world. I’ve been blogging for a while and I’ve built up a modest following. This year, realised that I have a voice and a responsibility to be visible. I’m proud of who I am and what I look like. I want other brown people to feel the same, whether it’s Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi or any other beautiful South Asian country. I feel like it’s my responsibility. Doesn’t everyone deserve to see people who look like them and feel like they matter?

Fashion Blogger Reena Rai discusses the importance of representation for British Asian women

Jumper – Hot Mess
Skirt – Zara (similar)
Boots – Look of the Day


Photography by Adorngirl.

The importance of representation for South Asian women
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