Beauty and the east

Launched in April 2009, Beauty and the East TV is an effort by American Muslim Samira Atash to build bridges between both Muslims and the West and between Muslims in America and elsewhere around the world.

Beauty and the East TV is a new online entertainment television show/video blog I created to help offset the unfavorable media stereotypes of Muslims. I wanted to show viewers something other than the tired image of gun-wielding, burqa-wearing, bomb-blowing fanatics who manage 7-11 stores and drive taxi cabs. It’s time to show another side – a creative side – of the Muslim world to the West.

Launched in April 2009, Beauty and the East TV has been 30 years in the making. I was born in Kabul, Afghanistan and lived a lavish lifestyle at a time when the city was cosmopolitan. My mom wore sheath dresses and bouffant hair-dos, which she emulated from Paris runway models, while my grandmother was a stylish socialite who hosted dignitaries and government officials in her home. My memories of Kabul are few and far between, but I do remember when the Soviet bombs dropped near our home in 1979, it was time to leave it all behind.

It wasn’t long after we arrived in America that my sisters and I learned English and began soaking up American pop culture—television, dance, music and movies–and loving it. From a young age, I felt a connection to the performing arts; I was shy and tomboyish when I was “me”, but when I began impersonating someone or dancing a funny jig in front of the family, I would become an entirely different person. My parents enjoyed my “performances” but cautioned me that the performing arts were something I could explore at home but could not pursue in public, “Afghan girls do not become actors or musicians.” I accepted this admonition without fuss, all the while secretly plucking my father’s mandolin or playing his accordion, pretending I was performing to deafening applause.

Along with my father’s passion for music, my mother’s keen sense for fashion and sewing trickled down to me as well. I realized at a young age that how you dress, in part, influences who you are — not in a shallow way, but in a way that a sociologist or anthropologist would understand. I discovered myself through the clothes I wore. The link between my identity and my garb could be traced back to my time in Florida, South Carolina and finally Northern Virginia. Each place brought with it a new culture that left me feeling chronically out of place and inadequate. I was taunted for being “too white” and having “soft hair,” “too dark,” “not Muslim enough,” or I was dismissed as a “skinny Afghan girl with a southern accent who couldn’t speak Dari very well.” The only way I could fit into a culture was to find common ground with my peers through my clothes.

It was during my time working as a marketing analyst in Virginia that I conceded defeat, gave up trying to fit in and started rebelling in my own quiet way. At 24 years old, I enrolled myself in design classes in New York City and before long launched my fashion labels, driving between D.C. and NY to make it all happen. At 27, I finally moved to the Big Apple on my own, and haven’t looked back since. I’ve received some media accolades and award nominations but the most gratifying part is knowing that my designs have been purchased and worn by thousands of women worldwide.

Today, I’m content, self-assured and comfortable in my own skin. I love that I live in two worlds because I can run to, or run from, either one when I need to. I appreciate that my parents were overprotective and try, to this day, to hold on to their culture. They have finally accepted, and are actually proud, of my career choice. I am not bothered anymore when orthodox Muslims send me scathing e-mails about how “non-Muslim” I am because their faultfinding brings me even closer to my faith. I no longer become agitated when strangers ask me, “Where are you from?” Without skipping a beat, I respond, “America” to throw them off!

My own struggles as an American- Muslim woman trying to pursue a career in design and entertainment motivated me to launch Beauty and the East TV. I know that there are many young American-Muslims who, like me, feel torn between cultural traditions and personal ambitions. I hope they will not feel as alienated when they discover positive role models though Beauty and the East TV. I recall that when I was growing up, a celebrity with a Muslim sounding name was cause for celebration (Kareem Abdul Jabar, Paula Abdul, Ahmad Rashad, Muhammed Ali, anyone?).

I realize that changing narrow, negative stereotypes of Muslims and offering positive Muslim role models will likely take decades, but Beauty and the East TV is my effort at one step in that direction. I encourage Muslims, both in the East and the West, to stop sitting lazily in their living rooms, bemoaning the West’s perception of Muslims and DO something about it …and quit judging each other in the process. If we can’t appreciate each other, then what do we expect from the rest of the world? If for one moment, Beauty and the East TV can make two people from two opposite parts of the world feel the same thing, then I have done my job.
Samira Atash is an award-nominated fashion designer, entrepreneur and host/producer who has also appeared in film and television. She played a leading role in the feature film “Firedancer”, Afghanistan’s first entry into the Academy Awards and Tribeca Film Festival. She has also received media coverage from The Washington Post, NBC Nightly News, BBC, Oxygen, National Geographic and more.

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