What is your story of strength?
What makes me strong is empowering others. Often as a child I was alone and I didn’t feel empowered myself. I noticed that when people gave me words of encouragement I felt a little taller, a little bigger, more powerful, more intelligent, and a little stronger. A lot of times when I’m looking for strength, I look for empowerment in others and that gives me my own strength in return.
Growing up with brothers helped me not to see strength as a masculine thing, but to see strength as something that everyone should have. To see strength as something that’s built as a community. We’re always stronger as a team.
Can you tell me about a woman in your life that embodies strength?
I would have to say my mom. She raised three children alone with two jobs. She always took care of us, cooked for us, and had a happy ending for our day. It was really beautiful to see that she never laid down her problems on us. She never blamed us for anything or vented to us. She made sure that we went to bed happy every single day in our childhood. Her family members wouldn’t talk to her for years for decisions she made to be an independent Lebanese woman. I really admire her strength for pushing through those hardships and raising three children by herself.
My mom always put things on hold for us in a way of helping us grow. She opens up a door and lets us walk through. She doesn’t need to hold our hand. It’s really cool to see a mom with so much strength, help three children completely be themselves in this often chaotic and complicated world.
Can you tell me about a time you failed or disappointed yourself?
When I was a teenager and lived in Senegal, I became very defensive. I grew up alone, more so alone than I wanted to be. When I was in the US (until I was nine) I felt very isolated and like I didn’t have friends. When I moved to Senegal at nine years old I went from this shy girl to the complete reverse. I was very obnoxious and full of attitude. I made a lot of bad decisions in the way I answered to people. I reflected a lot of energy, a lot of my own insecurities, onto other people by responding in a negative way. I had a lot of loving and caring people around me and I could have strengthened my relationships. I regret that I broke a lot of them because of my attitude which was a defense mechanism I attributed to myself. I made a mistake there.
As a teenager I got into all kinds of quarrels and fights with girls and guys. Gender never made a difference to me. It was like, ‘you disrespect me if you’re a girl, guy, adult, or child and I’ll react the same way.’ That was totally problematic. You can’t only see things in black in white, you have to see in color. I learned a lot from that time in my life and it’s the reason why I now only see in color. I don’t wish to take that period in my life back. I do wish I gave a little more love and positivity to my teenage years.
How can women better support each other?
I like to think of it like this: try to empower your fellow women without using superficial terms. What I mean is, instead of saying, “that’s a beautiful shirt” I’m going to say, “that’s a beautiful shirt on you.” This makes the compliment about YOU and not the shirt. If you see a woman and you think ‘she is gorgeous’ give her a different compliment than gorgeous. Give her, “you look really confident, you look really strong, you look amazing.” I like to use words like intelligent, strong, powerful, and smart instead of superficial terms that have been given to women for all these centuries.
Attributing the non-physical to what’s really inside is one of the ways we can empower women to grow. We can empower women by taking them out of the stereotype of just being beautiful and sexy and bring them back as a humans with intelligence, smarts, and strength. We are WARRIORS. That’s what I call my mom. I call her warrior because she’s a warrior for what she’s done.