Traveling has taught me that, on this lovely planet, every person that you meet is unique. They have their own thoughts, their own words, their own tastes and ideas. They don’t dress the same, they don’t eat the same, they don’t believe the same either. Traveling has also taught me that, on this glorious planet, every person that you meet is the same. They all know passion, curiosity and love. They all feel fear, despair and pain. Most of all, they all believe in being human.
Human stories are something I really want to work on. Especially on multiculturalism. Multiculturalism is at the center of many people’s lives, and my friend Shina is part of this huge global family. Born Iranian, she and her family left Iran for Australia after she graduated high school. When you quickly think about it, those are two opposite nations but even in those drastically different environments, life is about the similarities.
“To be honest the more I get to know people from different backgrounds and countries I realize how we all have more things in common. I see more similarities than differences. Though in some countries people are more open to accept those differences and in some places they can’t be flexible enough to do so. Also the more you experience new cultures I guess the more you can be welcoming and compromising toward any kind of people.”
That’s it, when you do open your heart to your neighbor, something fabulous called ‘tolerance’ starts appearing. Because ignorance simply cannot help you look further. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about things they’ve never seen, nor did they tried to learn about it. And these are some of the worst moments in a day.
Multiculturalism, once again, created a huge debate in France after the Paris attacks on November 13th. The government was willing to vote a bill that would allow them to deprive bi-national folks of their French nationality should they be suspected of any kind of violence or crime against the Nation. The main reason the government evocates is that some of the terrorists enjoyed the benefits of having two passports. However, wouldn’t the bill (which would have implied a Constitution revision) be detrimental to all the non-terrorist bi-national French dudes out there (i.e 99.999999% of beneficiaries)? The problem, and the defensive arguments in favor of this bill, lay in the fact that in France and in other countries, being raised within two different cultures is still seen as a problem, because people don’t know what it means: “Sometimes when I tell people that I’m Persian, they don’t know where am I referring to and that is sad to see most of the people don’t know about Iranian roots.” Hence incorporating one’s country’s customs into one’s life outside of the said country can be difficult today. But Shina stays positive on this matter and incorporates her own heritage into daily life.
“Being from a country that has a deep culture and history could make part of my identity for sure. I believe that, a country and its people’s lifestyle may go through changes yet the culture is something fixed and consistent. As a Persian that lives out of her country I also try to keep the values of my culture. And of course I enjoy our customs and foods which make me feel closer to my land and childhood.”
I first met Shina when I booked her for a modeling contract in Seoul. I immediately found her beauty striking and as I got to know her through the interview, I could easily notice she had even more brains. Other than booking, I had been told that I would need to accompany her as a kind of Korean-English translator but the girl speaks better than I do! Most of foreign models in South Korea comes with no real understanding of the local language, but she was studying at a prestigious University there and made the effort of learning. Besides her academics, she was introduced to modeling by a friend of hers who owns a salon. Another company saw the pictures and this is how the journey started. We hear it all the time, modeling is an amazing job. More than fame, it’s said to bring improvement opportunities to those who are willing to change. The constant exposure and the work models have to do on themselves can be the best way to learn about self-confidence and self-consciousness: “I should say that I wasn’t a confident kind of person, specially appearance wise. But now while I’m posing for photoshoots, I feel that I am performing some kind of art in front of camera and it satisfies me to be seen more through this career.” But being a model in South Korea can be a very unique experience. The industry, there, is driven by a very precise idea of beauty, and the pursuit of beauty by South Korean women is full of obstacles and impasses. Let’s put the words as they should be put: it revolves around beauty rules that are nearly impossible to follow without resorting to plastic surgery. As a foreign girl who worked there (in the beauty industry and in South Korea) and who used to hang out with a lot of surgery-driven people, I found it hard to adjust at the beginning. I’ve always been thinking that the West has a very more personal vision of beauty; we don’t really prioritize it the way Asians do, and my friend confirmed this idea when she told me that she loves “to take care of [her] health and beauty, but [she] don’t mind the trends and people opinions about [her] look.” She does have an opinion on the surgery business developing in Korea though: “For me taking care of beauty is something like cleaning your room. You need to do it for yourself. It is heart breaking how cosmetic brands and clinics make use of this situation in Korea in their own benefit.”
During the conversation, I was surprised to learn that plastic surgery is a well-practiced activity in modern Iran too. “In my country taking care of beauty is always part of our culture yet these days it has gone a bit over border. We have the most nose surgery in the world and many young girls try to hide their real faces under lots of makeup. I think it’s a social problem that comes from some complexes in people’s identity, that makes them not being satisfied with what they are and try to transform it.” It’s common knowledge in 2016 that Middle East basks in a very sophisticated ambiance, but Iran is unfortunately one of those misunderstood countries that still remain on the map, too often associated with conflict history and repression of liberties. For those whose idea of this area of the world was built by mass media, it’s important to realize that some women might be less oppressed in those regions than in ours. “I was never under discrimination because of my gender. Many believe that in Iran there is a big discrimination for women, but that might be in some special cases and due to the religious effects.” The self-made almighty hand that religion has over women’s body is at the core of many debates until know, and it even reached the fashion industry when the likes of Dolce&Gabbana launched modest fashion lines for Muslims craving for luxury in the Middle East.
“I am so happy to see that this extravagant brand took a step to embrace Muslims. It’s been a while that, the news and media is creating an image of Muslims which is not true or fair about them. I am a Christian but have many Muslim friends and seeing how they follow their religion is always respectful for me. And I guess, the clothes are the hardest part for them. As we have clothes in different sizes to fit any body type I believe it’s time to make clothes not only to fit people’s body but proper for their beliefs and personalities too.”
Shina majored in crafted arts, a discipline that requires a lot of creativity and tolerance, I believe. She has a lot of artists to look up to, but her favorite is Michelangelo. Being a woman who believes in equality, she’s obviously an advocate of women in arts. “By looking at art history we can see that there are not many artists that were women. That to me doesn’t mean that women can’t do art but means they were not provided and allowed to be. Yet these days those boundaries are already broken and I believe that human’s brain was made to dream and imagine therefore, whether you are a man or woman as long as you can turn your imaginations into reality you can be an artist.” And with her background, she will certainly be an inspiring one.
All photos courtesy of Shina.
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