Women are strong and powerful, but when they enhance each other they are unbeatable. Simonetta Lein
We live in a world of image, speed, and the constant search of success. We see those images; we admire the constant exploration of beauty and we love it. Sometimes, however, I ask myself if that is all true. What do we see behind those pictures? What are those people going through in their lives? Many things are left unsaid, and Farah Zulaikha is someone who doesn't let on to all that she is.
Farah is a Pakistani woman born and raised in New York City. Her beauty is beyond words, her oriental eyes and long black hair definitely suggest that she could be a model, and she is. Ms. Zulaikha however, is much more than your ordinary model (and never really thought she would have become one). She is a biomedical researcher who helped develop an artificial pancreatic device that has saved countless lives. Farah is also a United Nations Ambassador (NCWUS) and an Award-Winning Humanitarian who has been standing up in defense of disadvantage women for many years. She is currently serving in The National Council of Women of The United States, and is one of the youngest UN ambassadors ever.
When you were a child, did you wish for the career and for the life that you have manifested today?
What a wonderfully insightful question. As we should be aware, childhood and our early memories and dreams are some of the purest and most genuine that have ever existed. It makes perfect sense- as children are free of prejudice, free of malice, free of hatred- they are innocent and with that innocence comes the courage to DREAM BIG. Some may dismiss our childhood dreams as outlandish or juvenile- however that is simply not true. So the fact that you recognize that and promote that personally with The Wishwall Foundation is amazing Simonetta! I know this interview is about me but I had to acknowledge you there because you share an ideal with me! That ideal is to nurture our dreams rather than let them die. That being said Simonetta, I was always a dreamer. I'm happy to say I still am! However glory and success was never really what I dreamed of, I just wanted to help people. I was the type of kid who would feel guilty if I had nicer toys than my friends and I would give them away every time until my mother would ask me what happened to them LOL! I told her I didn't want to play with the pretty dolls unless ALL the girls had them- then it was no fun! I always wished for peace and happiness for ALL people and I always hated to see people suffer. I remember when my father (a prestigious medical doctor and leader in his field) took me to Pakistan for a charity mission when I was seven or eight years old and I saw children who really didn't behave anything like the kids in America... they would work in factories, or even worse be begging on the street for food, and if you looked in their eyes you did not see anything hopeful or childlike in them- and even at that age I could understand that I was no different and we were all just children- so why was it that I had everything and they had nothing? What made me so much better than them that I was born to wealthy educated parents and they were born poor and hungry in a third world country? Forget about childish wishes and being able to dream-these children have very adult problems and are too busy trying to find their next meal or not be beaten by the people who kidnap and traffic them.
I don't mean to be depressing but it is reality and when my heart would break and I would cry bitterly my father would tell me "NO! Don't look away. Don't act like it doesn't exist. LOOK AT THEM. Understand their pain. If you feel that much for them that it brings you to tears, educate yourself, study and use your voice and your talent to help these people. Understand the world is bigger than you and if you are passionate about helping others then REMEMBER THIS FEELING AND DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT." That has stuck with me for my entire life. Therefore, I never really dreamed about a successful career but more about following my passions and I really wished for a world where everyone has the "good toys", a world of prosperity happiness and love, and I didn't exactly know how I would accomplish that, but I knew that everything I did would be in the pursuit of that ideal.
Name a wish that you had for your life or for humanity that finally came true.
I am so very thankful for everything in my life, and have a lot to be happy about. I recognize that I have so much when others have so little, and so I try not to be too proud of the things I have earned. However a wish that finally did come true was to be a representation of shattering prejudicial stereotypes of what a woman should be. Society always tries to put women and girls in a box- we are told look a certain way, think a certain way, behave a certain way. There is the notorious "Madonna-Whore Complex" which is often discussed in psychology and basically describes this damaging idea that women fit into certain profiles and they are mutually exclusive- she can only be pure and virginal or otherwise she is dirty and corrupted. For me I am scholar and also a fashionista which gets me odd looks sometimes but I don't see why as it tells more about the person feeling odd about it than the actual idea.
Why is it so weird that I am a biomedical researcher who helped develop an artificial pancreas device and I also walk the runway at New York Fashion Week and hang out with Donatella Versace? Why do I have to wear spectacles and braces to be considered smart (nothing wrong with glasses and braces I have worn both and still was beautiful no matter what I thought at the time in fact we ALL are), and why does my perceived IQ drop dramatically in proportion to the amount of makeup I am wearing or the length of my skirt? WE CAN BE BOTH INTELLECTUAL AND STYLISH, WE CAN BE ATTRACTIVE AND ALSO OF GOOD CHARACTER, WE CAN AND ARE MULTIFACETED AND MULTI TALENTED! THERE'S NO WRONG WAY TO CELEBRATE YOURSELF AND BE YOURSELF.
Just like there are these damaging beauty standards that have been prejudiced against women of color in the media for so long- we simply were not represented! I also know what it's like to go to a model casting and be the only non-white European and again there's nothing wrong with models of white European descent they are just as beautiful and talented, but often the only visible representation in fashion and modeling and therein lies the problem! We need a broader global view of beauty. I know what it's like to flip through the fashion magazines and see dozens of beautiful supermodels but none that looked like me or anyone from my ethnic background and it's one thing to change your style or your hair- but I cannot change my ethnicity nor would I want to and it is written all over my face and my body! I carry my heritage on me so when a major magazine tells me to bleach blonde and ruin my thick dark middle eastern hair that would take several processes to achieve, or when the modeling agencies are only interested in the Eurocentric looking versions of us with light colored eyes and light skin, or when you tell my beautiful black sisters in fashion that their natural skin color and hair texture is not desirable and that they must chemically straighten their hair or bleach their skin, you are telling us that in order to beautiful or fashionable and keep up with the trends, that we must assimilate or erase what makes us ourselves. You are telling us that we were BORN "unfashionable and un pretty" that our very DNA makes us "off-trend." I have never thought that to be true and always was fascinated by the spectrum of beauty growing up in New York, it's a melting pot of beauty and style from every corner of the world and it is the greatest thing. Therefore I always kept my ethnic look- my long dark hair, my thick dark eyebrows, my olive skin and warm brown eyes- I kept them all whether people liked my look or not.
Once I started as a fashionista I would sometimes feel discouraged as for example I went to cast for a fashion week show and they selected me but then at the last minute they dropped me and said they "only wanted blondes..." Fine, I thought- no problem. I already had booked a full show schedule and as a model you are used to being chosen based upon fitting into a certain aesthetic. However interestingly enough when the show photos came out, there were brunettes too- just the "right" kind of brunette, a white European brunette. Needless to say there were no models of color in that show. This happens still, and has even to some of the best models of color of all time like Tyra Banks and Jourdan Dunn. But what kept me going was the fan letters I would receive from little girls from places like Dubai, India, Kuwait, Pakistan etc. who would say "I always wanted to be a model and loved fashion but I was never allowed to pursue it" or "I never thought they would find someone who looks like me. I look like you and you make me feel beautiful!" I was so touched and realized what we do is bigger than ourselves- especially in this day and age someone is always watching! Our example is much more powerful than we may realize. Therefore, I am really happy and thankful that I have been able to inspire and be a unique role model for many, and to help dispel these damaging and very anti-feminist ideals.
**Thank you Farah for continuing to break cultural barriers. It is also thanks to women like you who make cultural progress (because you did not give up and proved them wrong). In any circumstance, please: DON'T GIVE UP AND PROVE THEM WRONG.
If you were granted one wish for humanity or for our planet, what would it be?
My GREATEST WISH (what I always say would solve so many problems in this world) is for all people to have the ability to empathize with others. Empathy is so rare yet so important and truly is a simple solution to many things. So many people are kind, they are intelligent, they are successful but they do not have the ability to put themselves in someone else's shoes or feel someone else's pain. People sometimes cannot perceive something which does not directly affect them or even worse, don't have an understanding or awareness of how they affect others. It causes an unimaginable amount of misunderstanding and conflict the absence of this concept. I am telling you my dear Simonetta the world would be a much better place if people could simply stop and say "hey how would I feel if that happened to me."
**Being the founder of The Wishwall Foundation I do recognize that as one of the biggest problems of all time. Nobody listens to you anymore; people just need to be heard and reassured. Please take a bit of your time and go to www.thewishwall.org and you will find many beautiful wishes. Stop for a moment to read the posts, and if you can help please write a comment. You can change someone's life just by doing that. Let's help makie meaningful wishes together.
If you could go back in time and ask one question from anyone from history, who would you want to meet and what question would you ask?
WOW amazing question. I would go back to the battlefield in France during the Hundred Years War on the same hill where Joan Of Arc (or as I like to call her affectionately Jeanne D'Arc) stood ready to defend her people against the British assault during The Siege Of Paris as only a teenager dressed as a male warrior. I would ask her what she felt at that moment and what gave her the passion and courage to do what she did. I am obsessed with history, especially iconic female historical figures. There is a statue there of that very scene in Paris today, and whenever I am there I always visit it and pay homage to Saint Joan!
**She is one of my role models too, and there is an amazing sculpture of her in my beloved Philadelphia across from the Art Museum. She used to say: "One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, that is a fate more terrible than dying."
Please tell me what influences your unique sense of style?
Ah well first of all thank you the very kind compliment Simonetta, especially from a fashionista like you! I am truly a style stew, with many random ingredients. My beauty looks are definitely middle eastern and south Asian inspired due to my heritage- I LOVE dramatic Arabian eye makeup. I also take notes from my heritage in my clothes as I love opulent glamorous styles and lots of jewelry and gold which is a very eastern thing LOL! Some people may say it's gaudy but I don't care I love to look like a chandelier if I can LOL! However this is not always possible. If I lived in the Taj Mahal and could languish around in a heavy gold thread banarsi sari and 24k gold all over myself I would but unfortunately I live in reality where I also have to be practical. I am also VERY heavily influenced by NYC street style as I was born and raised in New York. I love fashionable sneakers and boots with luxury touches like my Versace Medusa combat boots or my crystal encrusted Swarovski x Doc Marten boots! Girly can also be edgy and you don't need to be wobbling in 6 inch heels to look great! Although I love my high heels too. I'm a person who does many things and my clothes have to keep me looking great and professional but they also have to move with me, whether I'm at the United Nations defending human rights as a young ambassador for The National Council Of Women Of The United States, or whether I'm working on new research in the medical lab, or whether I am appearing at fashion week I have to be ready at all times!
Who is your favorite fashion designer or brand right now and why?
This is so difficult to answer. I am a fan of them all but particularly Italian designers are my favorite. They were the first to embrace me in the fashion industry and they are just top when it comes to leather, shoes and handbags! The Italians understand fashion and they are beautiful in both appearance, culture, language and personality- it certainly shows in their style. The Italian fashion industry has been so kind to me. Versace, Cavalli, Ferragamo... I have appeared for them all at Milan Fashion Week and I am a bit of a Italia-phile! LOL! When it comes to fashion the saying is true, "Italians do it better."
**Thank you for appreciating my culture. Italy is going through a tough time right now, but working in fashion just makes me happy because nobody can hold a candle to Italian fashion supremacy (with of course French, English, and in certain cases American exceptions). After this answer you are an honorary Italian girl!
What is your fashion mantra?
My fashion mantra is "IF YOU LIKE IT I LOVE IT!" If it makes you happy, more power to you I support anything or anyone who wants to feel great by expressing themselves through fashion. There are no rules, the only rule is to be true to yourself.
**Isn't this AMAZING? This is the first time that someone shares a fashion mantra totally devoted on empowering others. If it makes you feel good, at ease, if you like it I will support you (unless you lose total control of an "Italian" sense of style). In that case, please write us and we will support your fashionista's decisions LOL!
What is your final message for our readers?
First and foremost I would like to thank you so much Simonetta Lein The WISHMAKER for your exceptional questions and talent. She was so patient as I took the time to respond as thoroughly as I could to her insightful questions and I am deeply grateful to her and to The Huffington Post for allowing me this platform to speak. For anyone reading, thank you for taking the time to learn about me as a person! This means more to me than any photo or ad campaign- you chose to take a look at my heart! That is one of the greatest gifts of all so thank you to everyone and positive energy to all!
**It was a true honor. Please go and visit http://fafazforme.com and keep on supporting WOMEN.
As always, make your wishes come true.
From Philadelphia, The Celebrity Wishmaker Simonetta Lein