A few years ago, a very dear friend of mine committed suicide. It tore me to pieces.
For those who haven’t experienced a loss like this, there are no words to describe the feeling. The feeling of knowing that your friend left this world by choice. Later I learned that the main reason for his actions was from being bullied and chastised constantly art school.
Bullying is the biggest epidemic of our generation.
It’s affecting so many young adults across the globe and now more than ever, social media has been a the guiding tool. Social media which was created for us to connect with one another, is now used to humiliate, bully, and bring hatred to people who are different. I’ve always been an advocate of love and after my friends passing, I was devastated beyond repair. I started to think if only I was there that day and how I could’ve helped him. I could’ve told him how much he meant to me and to his friends and family, that we loved him just the was he was, and he shouldn’t be ashamed or afraid. Til this day the thought rings inside my head: If only I was there.
One summer afternoon while sitting in my front porch, I saw the next door neighbor girls on there house steps and decided to join them. The girls were in their early teens and they were telling me about the kids in school. They were repeatedly picked on for being Pakistani. This happened around the time when 9/11 was still fresh in everyone’s hearts and when hate for any Middle Eastern looking person was everywhere. These girls were only thirteen years old and going to school for them felt like going to a war zone. I remember feeling horrible and it was at that moment that I wanted to do something. I wanted to make them feel beautiful and to be proud of their heritage.
And so, the five of us went to a local park and we decided to create their own personal photo shoot. They wore their traditional Sari robes and I snapped image after image of these girls playing in the forest. I wanted them feel like superstars! When I arrived home after the shoot, something happened that I didn’t expect. As I looked through the images, their faces were so striking that you could see the stories through their eyes: the battle between their Pakistani tradition and growing up in American society.They didn’t look afraid or lost. Instead they were present, empowered, and unapologetic. Through their pain and turmoil, they built a strength that is very rare to see in thirteen year old girls. It was as if they experienced the hardships of life regardless of age.
These images became known as the Sari Not Sorry Series.
In May 2013, the Sari Not Sorry Series was chosen to display in an exhibition show at the Long Island City Gallery. So many people congratulated me for my work and how beautiful the series was. I replied “I couldn’t have done it without these girls”. As I explained their story, word got around and I actually started receiving fan mail (which I never ever get) saying how these photos made a difference in there lives! I couldn’t believe it and I felt so grateful because the main focus of why this series was made, actually happened – to make people feel and know that they are not alone.
This series is dedicated to the people who feel like giving up, who are constantly bullied for being different and who feel like they can’t live another day. Your voice is heard and you are not alone.
Now it is time for you to change the world! Leave a comment below on how you stopped a form of bullying?
I would love to hear your story
Till Next Time – With Love,