My identity is something difficult to grasp, something that is constantly morphing and adapting to its context. Sometimes I want to be blend into the social fabric and sometimes I realize that being a brown womyn with Kenyan roots has a lot of weight and impacts on the way I live my life. It can be both empowering and complicated, much like my career, not one thing defines me.
Where were you born and where were you raised?
Toronto, ON - Jane and Finch and Jane and Weston
Do you have any funny coming of age stories?
I lived at Jane and Wilson with my mom while I was in university. I also loved to go out dancing, which could be a trek from our spot to downtown. This was a time where I was experimenting with my own style and was finally allowed, or gave myself permission, to wear all the things I couldn't wear growing up, such as cute skirts, dresses and spaghetti straps. Going on the TTC looking all cute was an experience I did not always appreciate and I was sick of men sliding into the vacant seat next to me and starting a conversation, being extremely aggressive or worse following you off the bus. So I started doing bus face, which involves headphones and looking very angry by having your face all scrunched up. It was very effective in keeping unwanted attention away, in fact all attention. Friends would ask me if I was okay, and the times I was looking at the cute guy on the bus I couldn't switch off bus face.
Do you have any funny dating stories?
On Halloween I went on a date with a white man I had met through Tinder. He showed up at the bar dressed up as Kanye for President. I should have ended the date right there.
Do you see yourself represented in media?
I did not see many brown girls like me represented in the media. The one woman who really helped me with own my style and representation is M.I.A. She embraced her Sri Lankan roots and rapped about political issues while being a badass. Everyone knew her and it made me feel so proud that a brown woman was making these waves and being acknowledged for her beauty. I could finally relate to someone.
What is an album that would sum up your teenage years?
Kid A - Radiohead
What is a piece of advice you would give to your teenage self?
The advice I would give my teenage self would be feel your joy, bask it, roll around it, it is part of you. I think that adolescent period of time for me felt like a yearning to know the person I was to become without being with the person I was in the moment. I made so many things more difficult for myself and wanted to fast forward so much of the uncomfortable parts. When I finally did experience joy and lightness, I would be angry about it, as it was not "right". It took a lot of undoing to change those shame behaviours and there wasn't always a way around the slow and sometimes painful undoing, but not all parts of me had to suffer. There was enough room for joy in all of it and I wish I used that for motivation over shame.
Would you describe yourself as confident or insecure and why?
My confidence came with accepting myself and disregarding the norms that were placed on me for my success. At first it was more of a 'fake it till you make it' and I would go through the act while having a small panic attack. This fake it attitude could be for something professional, dating or even feeling confident in my own skin. I kept going and kept reflecting until it was no longer an act and I began to own it. Confidence to me is true soul beauty. The other day I saw a flamenco dancer doing a performance and her confidence and grace really struck me, she owned the stage and I was in awe.
Find Irem on the internet at: @yungjuan__