Colourful Woman Wednesday: Charmaine Joseph

This week’s Colourful Woman feature showcases Charmaine Joseph.  Charmaine is an Atlanta-based Marketing & Sales Coordinator for corporate apparel agency, The Gingerich Group.  She is also the co-owner of a socially conscious t-shirt line: Global Warming. Charmaine partnered with Social Media maven, Lauren Shirreffs, and together they created t-shirts that touch on different issues from stereotyping, bullying, racism, body image, etc.

Our concept was to create “walking billboards,” these shirts are text based with pointed messages that are meant to educate, enlighten or provoke dialogue at a glance.

Recently, Global Warming started an initiative called “Global Change.” For this project they team up with different schools and have classes create designs on varied topics and then choose a winning design and have proceeds from the t-shirt sales go towards their charity of choice.

It’s very refreshing to go into classrooms and hear students talk about their visions for their designs and hear the passion that comes from their own life experiences, whether it be racism, bullying, body image etc.

The Global Change initiative’s winning design for Anti-Bullying. On sale at http://www.global-warming.ca from November 1st.
designer: Martin Kondrat / The Academy of Design.


What makes you a “colourful woman”?
I have to take this very literally when you say “colourful woman”!  I actually think it may just be appropriate to insert a photo from my wedding here, the photo really says it all.  I may just be the most colourful person I know (laughs).  I actually gave my bridesmaids little Kate Spade coin purses that said “Live Colourfully”…it’s definitely my life theme.


Who or what are some of your colourful inspirations?
I’m not sure if it is part of my Caribbean roots, but of course it’s a possibility having family from Barbados and growing up seeing the vibrant costumes for carnival, and that rich aspect of our heritage.  Then there are the tropical flowers, the sea etc. Being nurtured in such a vivacious environment has a great impact.


What message would you like to share with our readers today?
Be the best version of you. Don’t get caught up in someone else’s definition of success, beauty, love, or happiness. As Lauryn Hill once said, “God made us all different, on purpose.” I think our differences make us beautiful so just learn to love your shortcomings, your imperfections, your struggle, because they all add to the masterpiece. A painter mixes colours before they touch the canvas, nothing and nobody is perfect.

Colourful Woman Wednesday: Paola Jean

This week marks the return of our “Colourful Woman Wednesday” series, which features stories of colourful women surviving and thriving. If you’d like to share your story, or nominate a colourful woman for this feature, email us or get in touch via TumblrTwitter or Facebook

I had the genuine pleasure of sitting down with singer & songwriter Paola Jean as she shared her story with us, including some of the key experiences that drive her passion in music.  Born and bred in Bern, Switzerland, this Brooklyn-based multilingual singer & songwriter infuses the diversity of her world into the melody and lyrics of her music, accompanied by beats from some of LA’s and NY’s most promising producers.

VM: So from Switzerland, to LA, to Brooklyn.  Can you tell us a bit about your background, and how this journey has been unfolding so far?

PJ: I grew up in Switzerland, and I also have a home base in Los Angeles.  My move from Switzerland to New York though, was definitely focussed towards pursuing my artistry.  I’m in Brooklyn right now and I feel like as an artist, I can be anything I want to be in New York.  There are no limits to how creative or how edgy I can be, and I draw a great amount of inspiration from my environment here.  The last decade has been a very diverse mesh of work, my relationship, and my music.  I’ve made a conscious decision at present, to really focus on my music and devote real attention to my art and the lyrics.  My whole drive behind making music is that I want to leave a legacy when I’m gone.  The lyrics you write today, yes they’re here now but it’s not just about today. What you put out there into the world is going to be a huge representation of who you are and the story that you want to tell, and it will be out there for a long time.

VM: Tell us a bit about your musical style and any of your inspirations.

PJ: Because of my upbringing, I draw from a lot of different fields of inspiration when I am defining my own musical style.  With a Haitian mother and a Swiss father, I grew up listening to a lot of music from the caribbean, zouk, a lot of soul music, as well as traditional swiss music, and folk music.  I like the ability to be a bit of a chameleon with my music, and I think it’s always better when it comes from your own experiences.  For example, a project I am working on right now is my new record Love/Infinity.  It pulls from a lot of personal experiences, as well as those of people around me.  As in the title, it deals with love, but also the other aspects of love.  Love and anger, for one, are part of the same thing if you look at it.  The first single, “Relativity”, talks about separation and divorce – which is a whole other spectrum of being in love.  I’m working on the follow up to that with a song called “Top of the World” where it talks about the metamorphosis of a woman who is no longer going to settle for someone who isn’t worth the sacrifice of taking to the top of the world.  Another song, “You Gotta Be Here” talks about the longing for someone that you miss, yet you’re with that person.  I took inspiration for that premise from the wars plaguing us globally, where men and women are separated because one half has to fulfill some type of duty.  I wanted to acknowledge the sacrifice a lot of men and women have to make.  I took that message, but it’s spun in a reggae style, just to take it out of the box a bit.

VM: How do you relate your upbringing into your music now?

PJ: I grew up in a place called Munsingen, just outside of Bern – Switzerland’s capital – in a predominantly white community.  But I have to be honest, if I think about when I first realized what colour I was, that reckoning hit me when I moved to the US, not when I was living in Switzerland.  In the US it’s almost like these defined cliques and you have to make a choice – a statement – and decide what side you will join.  Often I got the question, “Well do you feel like you are black, or do you see yourself as white?”.  I see myself as All.  In picking a side, you are denying one half of yourself.  How can you do that?  It took time to fully come into my own and work on it, but I think I have a good blend of the two cultures inside my heart.  One of the biggest joys I find in music is the freedom.  You don’t have to fit into a clique.  There are no boundaries to where you can go with music, or what story you want to share.

VM: It seems the diversity in your family helped you nurture a very positive voice and outlook.

PJ: My parents were very, very supportive, especially of my music.  My mom said I was singing before I was walking.  But I think the first time it resonated for me, was when I was eleven and sang with my school choir.  That’s when I knew in my core that this was something I wanted to do.  I expanded into singing and dancing contests.  My father in particular always supported me.  He always wore a suit, so he looked like my manager, always sitting in the back providing steady support.  There were times when he pushed me to enter a competition, and I would say, “I don’t want to conform to anything! I’m a rebel, I don’t want to be commercial…” But he would just reassure me and say, “Hey why not, you never know.  Just check it out.”  Those opportunities would lead to another, and another, and eventually allowed me to perform shows in Germany and Russia, and I really had a chance to expand.  I definitely felt supported by my parents.  But they also told me to get a degree.  They said that you never know what life will bring you, and you want to have all possible options available to you.  They said, “We don’t care what you do, just get a degree.”  And well, I could never commit myself wholly to something I didn’t love, so I became a nurse.

VM: That’s some really solid advice.  But what pulled you to Nursing?

PJ: Nursing draws me in because it’s about the miracle of human beings.  I have a huge respect for our body, for nature, for anything we can’t really 100% explain.  I have a huge fascination with the frailty of the human body, and also its strength in what it’s able to accomplish.  I also really love engaging with all types of people.  I can get bored in a routine quite quickly; Nursing is the perfect job because you meet a lot of different people every day, each with their unique stories.  And every nurse who reads this is going to laugh, but I always say that I’m a nurse, I’m a psychiatrist, I’m a counsellor, I’m a spiritual guide, I’m a nanny, a butler, a maid, everything that you can imagine and more.  In this one role, you really have to pull from so many other roles.

The broad bridge between Nursing and music has been gapped by my ability to really explore and know myself.  My dad has been a huge driving force.  I always had an extremely curious outlook and my parents nurtured that.  They were very careful not to shut it off.  My dad taught me that things are never the way they seem, that you have to really look closely and pay attention to every story and look for yourself.  I think our society, globally, can be amazing.  But we still have a lot of issues and hangups, like skin colour.  And one thing we learn in Nursing is that the skin won’t help you when it boils down to what matters.  It won’t help cure you.  Internally when we are cut open, we all look the same.

VM: Maybe that can be the next song.

PJ: Yes! We are all Red.

VM: Thank you so much for taking the time out of your schedule to sit and talk with us.  Where can our readers find more information on your albums and work?

PJ: The first album is available on iTunes.  You can also buy the hard copy over at CDBaby.  The 2nd full length album Love/Infinity will be coming out soon.  The first single off of that is “Relativity” and that’s also available on iTunes.  We worked with a lot of great producers including James Poyser of the Roots, Kev Brown, Fantasic Machine and Mobius Collective, among others.

VM: In the spirit of our weekly feature, how would you define yourself as a colourful woman?

PJ: I am a colourful woman, because I love colours in the true essence!  You will see me every day in some crazy new colour combination.  I think it represents not only the caribbean flavour and a part of my heritage, but also it represents that aspect of my personality.  I try to hold onto the vibrance of my heritage and hope it shines through my personality.  I take that with me every day, everywhere.  And if it’s grey and black out there, I blast it with my joy.

Take a look at the video for Paola’s single Relativity here, and keep in touch with her through the links after the jump:

Follow Paola Jean on:

Facebook
Twitter
Youtube

The Ominous Hijab Part II

I ventured into this topic a few months ago here, when I visited my boyfriend’s homeland of Turkey, for 2 months.  In that time, my boyfriend became my fiance, hosts became family and, well, the entire trip was pleasantly hijacked.

In the weeks that ensued however, I did manage to do what I set out to do: spend time in Turkey’s capital, drive along the coastal towns, and reaching as far south as the city of Izmir, and ending of my whirlwind tour in Istanbul.  What I found pertaining to the hijab was little short of disappointing.

I still haven’t been able to engage with much of the pro-hijab audience, only with my peers who seem adamant that it not only comes from an archaic mindset, but that it is very much anti-Turkish.  This harmless piece of cloth seems a strong point of contention not only from a feminist perspective, but from a political one as well.  And since being an outsider, I could only go on the sometimes biased opinions of my guides, I had to maintain a polite distance from adopting these beliefs.

However even in my own observations, it was hard to deny that within the intellectual and middle to upper class world, the hijab was truly found few and far between.  Through my exploration of the countryside, stopping in villages to get gas, food etc., I did notice that something as seemingly harmless as knee-length shorts and sleeveless tank tops did gather me stares.  I am not sure if they were simple suspicion or judgement, but when they came from women covered head to toe in 40 degree celsius weather, I couldn’t help feeling guilty of something.

At one point, visiting the market and bazaars of Izmir, a city strongly loyal to the old rule under Ataturk, there was a strong air of modernism and progression.  Muslims were very proud to be Turkish, and were very clear to highlight that the two were not the same.

My personal views on the hijab still have not been swayed, only moreso affirmed, so I am not left with much to say, but I took some photos while I was in the Izmir bazaar.  It shows two clothing stores, side by side.  One is selling current demure clothing for the muslim woman who chooses to cover herself, and the other sells beautiful and vibrant traditional Turkish dress hailing from yesteryear.

I think they describe the state of flux that the hijab has created in Turkey, far better than I ever could.

Modern vs. Traditional attire

Contrasting storefronts in an Izmir bazaar

The Ominous Hijab

I’m in Turkey for 7 weeks.

Among many new cultural experiences, I’ve been curious to witness first-hand the role in society of the ominous hijab.  I’ll be spending time in the capital Ankara, in Istanbul the largest city, and throughout the countryside and smaller villages, as we journey south to the Aegean coast.

There is no official religion here, although 96% of the population is Muslim, it’s a secular state.  Compared to most of their Arab neighbours to the east, they’re more like Islam-Lite.

I have to say though, in the short time I’ve already spent here, I’m pretty disappointed to find maybe… 5 women in a hijab.  There were two in niqabs in the grocery store and that got me pretty excited, but for the most part, I’ve been walking around the city and seeing girls in shorts shorter than mine, and couples making out like pimply teenagers in local pubs.  Damn.  No islamic rigidity here.  Actually most of them seem to be terrible muslims, like my boyfriend, who drinks like a fish, doesn’t know when Ramadan is, and hasn’t been inside a mosque since Allah knows when.  I’m hoping he doesn’t go up in flames when he takes me to Hagia Sofia.

Ask him his opinion of the hijab, and he’ll tell you it’s downright stupid. “Nothing in the Qur’an says you have to wear one, and it’s a stupid tradition perpetuated by idiot men who want to keep women docile.”

“Well what about women who choose to wear it freely of their own accord?”

“Well then they’re stupid too. Why would you want to cover yourself like that? It is hot as shit outside.”

Image

My grandmother was Muslim, though she never wore a hijab, and I don’t really remember ever seeing anything too Islam-y in their home. She married a Christian, and I’m sure somewhere, someone probably thinks that means she’ll roast in hell and won’t get to heaven to receive her 40 virgins (wait… so do women get 40 virgins too in Islamic heaven? Talk about short-changed), but mostly all I remember of her, was that she was a sweet but firm woman, and the most wonderful hugger.  Hijab or no, she was respected and valued all the same.

I’ve never had the opportunity to speak with a fundamentalist or a Shi’ite to understand sharia law or why a woman would choose to veil her identity from an ever-growing visual world.

Western women complain about being objectified all the same, and judged for their looks before anything else, yet here in twisted irony we view the obscurity of the Islamic female face as part of that same distress.

I still haven’t gotten down to the bottom of why the hijab is such a thorn in people’s sides, but I’m hoping my remaining time here will lend me some insight.  At the end of the day though, I feel like women should be able to do and wear whatever the fuck they want, but the hijab to me, feels more like a visual statement of religion in your presence — and that, is something I have an entirely different opinion about.

More soon.

Queen of the Pack

I last discussed the paradoxical relationship between the Female and the Body.  It was very hard to stay focussed on just “the body” however.  The same could arguably be said for hair texture, skin colour, etc.  Women are constantly adjusting and squeezing themselves into a cookie-cutter mold of “the” Woman.  We do so with a far greater sense of urgency than men do, because of this noxious level of competition we instigate with our counterparts.

You hear it in various aphorisms: a woman’s greatest enemy is another woman.  The Times recently wrote an article branching out to a plethora of links regarding why women leave other women out in the cold.

And for the sake of argument, let’s say all this started in a fight to be chosen for procreation, for survival — that no longer needs to happen!  The majority of us are perfectly self-sufficient, and capable of survival – nay, comfort – in the dynamics of modern living.  The other common excuse of “if a woman had to struggle and do it all on her own, she has no sympathy for women after her in need of a helping hand.” Bullshit.  You of all people know how much more productive you could have been with that help.

CUT IT OUT LADIES.

I’ve always compared this phenomenon to similarities in race-rivalry in Trinidad & Tobago.  Colonialists cleverly pitted African descendants against Indian,  knowing that if we keep chasing each other, we would never collectively realize that through cooperation, we pose a greater threat to the established enforcer.

Women are so busy clawing each other’s eyes out in a male-dominated society, but we’re still baffled as to why we can’t achieve gender equity.

Why should we get this from the Patriarchy, when we can’t seem to give it to ourselves?

Kobayashi Maru

“Puffy-faced” Ashley Judd laid the proverbial smack down on critics recently, to which I responded from the other end of the cyberverse with a hearty punch to the air and a resounding “in yo face bitchez!”

From this, was a haunting reminder of a similar issue I have tangoed with all my life.

The female body.

Growing up in the Caribbean, the “coca-cola bottle shape” reigned with sensuous superiority.  As with Latin America, parts of Europe, and other splashes on the global design, curves are synonymous with fertility, vitality, passion and lure. All the things that make a woman womanly right?  Wrong.  All the things that make a woman more of a thing, or a ting and less of the influential woman that she is, atop those sturdy legs of hers.  But it took me a while to learn this.

Cursed with the blessing of a high metabolism, lanky limbs and ectomorphic genes, I have spent the majority of my life being a twig.  Scrawny, “magga”, flat and toothpicky, and generally deemed unattractive by my male counterparts.  Compounded by very short hair, I spent most of my early teen years being mistaken for a boy.  In a society that drilled into me that I just wasn’t “womanly” enough, I ate the fattiest of foods in hopes that I would somehow develop the curves that would ascend me into this private club of bombshells stupifying men with the faintest twist of a hip.

In these years, I migrated to Canada. Now in North American territory, I was surrounded by girls who starved themselves in order to become “sexy.” WHAT? But I– What the hell was going on.  I spent all these years trying to get “thick” and now you tell me I should be thin??  And not just thin! Meatless. Buttless. Thighless.  You show a smidgeon of curvature and you are FAT!

Swimming through the murky waters of the physical female identity, I spent years learning that the checklist of qualities a woman must have changed faster than a stripper working double duty.  Hair this length, this colour. Serum to make eyelashes that much longer.  Boobs big, waist small, the ideal form being presented to us by a Mattel factory belt.  36-18-33.  Do they know that Barbie can’t stand up on her own?  Oh wait, of course they do.  It seems that this is what they want.  Docile, attractive arm candy, that needs support to keep her upright.

In my own quest for Adonis status, I have discovered strength.  Muscle mass, toned physique, abs, hamstrings, biceps.  My relationship with the Body, and the female form, has led me to decide I want to represent myself physically, the way I feel mentally. Which is what we of the fairer sex tend to do anyway, with fashion, with grooming, a first impression is all that much more important for us, than it is them.  I have found a harmonious relationship with fitness, where I can develop curves of a different nature.

Until I hear, “Oh my god, she looks so manly.” More criticism, yay. There are many women who tote the motto that Strong is the new Skinny.  And without fail the critics come running in to bash women with visible muscle definition, calling them “unfeminine” and “manly”.  I didn’t realize men were the only ones with muscles.

If you’re curvy, they’ll find something wrong with you.  If you’re skinny, they’ll find something wrong with you.  If you’re muscular, they’ll find something wrong with you.  We just cannot seem to catch a break.

I have come to realize the only way to win at a game specifically rigged to see you lose, is to walk off the field.  Removing oneself from the equation. I’m going to keep lifting these weights. I will finally feel just as strong outside as I do inside.  And if they have a problem with me, I welcome them to come say something to my face.

I doubt they will.