I’m a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. My family is from Bangladesh; I was born in London, and moved to Dhaka a few years later, where I lived until I was 18. Then I moved to Toronto, then the suburbs outside D.C, and then finally New York. I think moving so much from a young age and having to adapt to ever-evolving landscapes has really had an impact on who I am. I went from a place where everyone looked like me to a place where no one looked like me; from having community to feeling quite isolated.
According to my parents, as a child I was a bit of a storyteller. My imagination kept me occupied. In school I was terrible at most things, but I loved the rare moments when we could write creatively. When I was nine, I created a newspaper and wrote my observations. I felt like everything had the potential to be interesting; it was just dependent on how the story was told. I think my love for writing also stemmed from a curiosity within me: I always asked questions, sought answers beyond their surface meaning. I wanted to know the origins and history, and writing was a way for me to process all of this. It has influenced the way I perceive all things.
There have also been key figures throughout my life who have shaped me. My maternal grandmother had a deep reserve of unconditional love for me. She could love me and support me through anything, and I felt a great absence when she passed but her love has still carried me through. My best friend, who I met when I was 18, is similarly unconditional in her love and care—and she holds me accountable and is my mirror when I can’t see myself clearly. My husband, too. He has helped me embrace myself for the better.
To me, nature is beauty. Anything in its truest form—and anyone, too. Water is perhaps most beautiful to me; it’s incredible how it sustains life and can bring so much joy. This summer I learned how to swim, which I have always dreamed of. In Western countries, a lot of people take swimming for granted, like it’s second nature. When you don’t have access to a pool or clean water, it’s not that simple. I’m 31 years old and, for all the years leading up to this moment, I had great difficulty in just trusting my body—in allowing myself to physically and emotionally let go. I was so determined so, in the end, I took a deep breath and started floating and, part panic and part exhilaration compelled me to move my arms, and then I started swimming! It was so strange how may apprehensions just dissipated in that moment and I felt pure joy.
But to come back to beauty, my understanding of beauty when I was younger was predicated on what I saw in the media and by what was socially revered—whiteness or at least proximity to whiteness by means of fairer skin tone, being thin, and so on. I never thought I could possess beauty but now I realize that beauty is an inner concept. Over time, beauty has become for me something more internal; demonstrated through love, kindness and compassion.
It goes without saying that one of the most critical changes required within the beauty industry is representation. Not just casting models from a still-limited spectrum, but to have full representation behind the scenes too. In race, ethnicity, gender, class and ability. There’s a tendency in the beauty industry and most industries to tokenize people of color and to feel threatened by those who don’t fit the prescription. There needs to be better—more inclusive and intentional—representation when it comes to who is behind the lens, making decision and investments.
"My understanding of beauty when I was younger was predicated on what I saw in the media and by what was socially revered—whiteness or at least proximity to whiteness... I never thought I could possess beauty but now I realize that beauty is an inner concept. Over time, beauty has become for me something more internal; demonstrated through love, kindness and compassion."
I feel most beautiful when I’m happy and content. Feeling content, for me, is now less about normative success and more centered on being present; being able to take in whatever is around my and just feeling full from it all. There was a time when I had very limited ability to hope or dream for my future, and the life I have now is truly beyond anything I had ever hoped for. So, for now. I’m just staying in the present and taking each day as it comes.
I’m currently working on letting go of my inability to let people and past experiences go. Some things require resolve, while sometimes others simply demand release. I wish, years ago, I had stopped caring so much about what other think. I spent so much of my life trying to mold myself into people’s versions of how they saw me—or wanted me to be—that I forgot myself along the way. I hope to continue learning learning from the everyday, learning about the world around me and more about who I am. So that a decade from now, I’m at ease and content with who and where I am in life, whether it’s more or less—by whatever measure—than what I have right now. I hope to also be more intentional with the way I live my life.
My greatest hope for humanity is the future, and they’re already demonstrating that. Younger generations are so cognizant and critical of what’s going on in the world today. Far more than I was ever capable of when I was younger. They know how to take action and are extremely vocal about crises like environmental degradation, social justice and capitalism. They’ve motivated me to learn more, be and do better, and they give me constant hope.
TASNIM AHMED photographed by CAROLYNE LORÉE TESTON.