Papow Ponders #5: Why Representation Matters

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about diversity and representation in the world of pin-up and vintage. These issues are very close to my heart and ignoring them is something I simply cannot do. This blog post concerns my PERSONAL views on these matters.

In order to get a better understanding of my position, I’ll take you back to my youth. Outside of my own family circle, I’ve only ever found one other Fijian Asian person living in the UK – thanks to the power of the internet. At primary school, I never felt concerned about the colour of my skin or how people viewed me. This all changed when I went to secondary school after my family moved down south. I went from a diverse area in Birmingham to a majority-white village in Berkshire.

Moving home put me in a place where I was most definitely the minority; I stuck out like a sore thumb. When I think back to this part of my life,  would have given anything not to be me. My teachers were lovely but many of my fellow students made my life a misery. Random people, children not even in my class, would come up and ask me where I’m from (Birmingham was never a good enough answer). I made sure to use the name, ‘Cherie’ rather than my given name, ‘Chereeka’ because it was easier to say and I didn’t have to spell it out all the time. Although I never had abuse hurled at me, there were horrible incidents of racist jokes, mocked accents and foul stereotypes that nipped at my pained heels. I felt so very alone. My mum was and still is an incredibly strong woman – if I’d have told her about any of this, she’d have been straight down to school putting the world to rights. I couldn’t say a word as I was so fearful of being more alienated than I already was.

I did have a group of close friends but they had no experience of what I was going through – I wondered if there was much point in trying to get them to understand my position. Obviously now with hindsight, I know I should have said something sooner but you don’t always make the best decisions as teenager.

Along with my skin colour, my size made me stick out too. I was fifteen stone at the age of fifteen and everyone else around me was tiny. I wore size 18 trousers and had a 38″ waist. Instead of embracing who I was, I retreated from life. I hung out with boys rather than girls so I didn’t have to talk about clothes or looks. I bunked off PE more and more. I went through miserable bouts of diet and binge. It was horrible.

Why is any of this relevant? It’s relevant because during this time of inner turmoil, I found no-one I could relate to. I know that RuPaul says, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” but it’s hard to love yourself when you feel abnormal. The plus-size movement was barely in its infancy and I hadn’t even heard of body positivity. Apart from the women in my family, I didn’t have any other women of colour to talk to. There were always women in Bollywood films and maybe an Asian character or two on TV but I could never relate to them. No-one in my family had worn a sari since the seventies and I spoke (and still speak) more German than Hindi. I felt alien – like I didn’t belong anywhere.

Thankfully, things got better when I went to university in London. I found a place full of people from all corners of the globe and not once was I asked where I ‘actually’ came from during my time there. I found a warm and open-minded group of friends and I stopped feeling like a sore thumb.

Moving into the world of vintage and pin-up has started to bring back some of those alien feelings. When you type the word ‘pin-up’ into Google images, you’ll see images of women who all look very similar in colour, shape and size. If I want to see diversity, I have to actively search  for it – I wish I didn’t have to. Thanks to the power of the internet, I don’t feel so alone; I’ve managed to find pin-ups of colour, body positive advocates and people who have similar views to me.

Times have changed but by no means is the current situation perfect. At the risk of sounding like a Miss World contestant, I’m hoping for a better world for our children. I do not want any person to feel alienated due to their size,  shape,  colour, accent, budget, disability, gender, sexual orientation, location, education or religion. I want every single person to know they matter. No-one should feel that they need to apologise for who they are. The world needs to understand that different doesn’t mean bad and that minorities are not monoliths.

This is easier said than done of course. Stories needs to be shared, voices need to be raised, people need educating, mistakes need to be acknowledged, stereotypes need to be broken down and care needs be taken. We all need to make sure that we treat people the way that we want to be treated. I am not here to create divide and hurt others, I am here to create greater equality and give support. Representation matters.

If you have any questions or thoughts on the matter – feel free to share!




3 thoughts on “Papow Ponders #5: Why Representation Matters

  1. I love this article Chereeka, really personal and powerful. Would have like some of you stunning pictures to go with it. Well said, beautifully written. Deola.


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