THE FIFTEENTH INSTALMENT OF THE BELLEBOSS SERIES
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I hoped that with this series, I would find a way to appreciate the incredible South Asian women of our generation, who are breaking boundaries and paving new paths for themselves. Moreover, I would like you to take a little bit of your time to realize how incredible the women around you are.
Especially if you are a woman! I know that at least one woman’s story in my #BelleBoss series will inspire you to follow your dreams, your vision and most importantly your heart. Even if that means breaking a few rules and many societal prejudices along the way.
1) Could you give us an introduction to yourself?
Hi! My name is Pooja Patel but I go by “The Pooja Project” on social media. I am a 22-year-old 2nd generation Gujarati Canadian. I was born in Burnaby, Canada and I currently reside in Surrey BC, Canada. I guess it’s tough to define my childhood. I grew up with my cousins and was raised by my grandparents for the most part because our parents worked so much.
Growing up, I was always curious and adventurous.
I loved learning and would ask my parents and teachers many questions, which often annoyed them. I loved music and singing. I also had many difficult experiences early on such as bullying in elementary school and feeling abnormal because of my ethnic identity. It’s safe to say I have always been very mature from early on.
(2) What do you study/ what is your occupation?
I’m currently finishing up my undergrad degree in psychology with a double minor in gender/sexuality/women’s studies and counselling. I’m also a content creator of social media and model.
(3) What do you love/hate about your culture and how has it influenced you as a person
I love my culture. I think it’s vibrant and vast in so many ways.
But at the same time, there are cultural elements that remain sexist or problematic which has driven me to want to change that.
Sexism is prevalent in South Asian culture even today. There is improvement going on but I believe until we eradicate it completely, sexism and gender inequality will remain a pressing and the valid issue I will continue to advocate for through my work.
4) What do you hope to achieve your degree in the future?
I’ve always been interested in psychology because I feel like psych is relevant in all aspects of life gender studies was something that caught my attention in the 1st year of university. I have always been advocating for gender equality even when I was young.
The only difference was that I wasn’t as vocal, articulate or educated on matters.
Gender studies helped me incorporate my passion for activism into my degree.
I hope my degree has shaped me into an intelligent, knowledgeable and awakened person.
I want to use my degree to help me understand people and my world, and help me question the status quo.
5) Who inspires you and what gives you the strength to want to be an activist? This could be in terms of women empowerment or in life in general.
I would say I’m inspired by the people I meet daily, whether in school, at work, friends, on the bus basically everyday people and the courage they hold when you get to know people, you realize everyone is struggling in some way.
Many of my friends suffer from mental health issues myself included but the strength I see in them to just continue despite how mundane and dark life can be at times is beautiful.
6) You were featured in a short video in collaboration with Visaff Canada. Could you tell us more about this project and how you became involved in it?
Visaff Canada is the Vancouver International South Asian film fest. I got involved in it because my boyfriend was approached by Visaff to film the fest. I recently became a part of my boyfriend’s video team (Rendering Glint Films) and I do a lot of marketing, concepts and production/costume design for them. Through that, RGF filmed a promo vid for Visaff and I had the opportunity to help create that. The short film is about south Asian artists pursuing their dreams. A lot of the times our parents want us to be academics or doctors and lawyers, but the artist is the last thing that comes up on that list.
This short film is about arts and how art and creativity are everywhere. You cant escape it.
7) What has been the best advice you have been given / the mottos that you live by?
My parents always tell me that hard work pays off. I believe working hard and believing in yourself is the number one key put your all into what you do whether it’s a school assignment or a big career move, don’t discriminate.
Give anything with your name on it your all.
8) Your “fuck the patriarchy” henna design got quite a lot of attention on social media including a BuzzFeed article. Could you share your thoughts on this design and why you feel it resonated with so many girls?
I was so happy people loved my #fuckthepatriarchy Mehendi design and that so many people have been commenting/ sharing & recreating it. I‘ve been receiving a lot more positive feedback and encouragement than negativity, which I did not expect considering it’s kind of frowned upon for women to be outspoken or curse.
I grew up being told that the darker the colour of your Mehendi, the more your husband/ mother in law will love you, or that you’re supposed to write the name of your man in your hand as a symbol of your alliance and joint identity with him.
But no one was telling men to hide the name of their brides in the embellishment of their sherwani (would love to see someone do this btw).
To me, my hands are the sculptors of my destiny, and that has everything to do with me and myself, not the man I choose to marry.
It seems to me that a South Asian woman’s identity and life ALWAYS revolves around a man, whether it’s being born the property of her father/family, or the rush to marry once your “of age” so you can quickly belong to another man who will complete your half-empty existence.
I wanted to take this idea and do a thoughtful play on it, critiquing patriarchal forces in the world that suggest my life has to revolve around a man. Rather than basing everything on men, and heterosexual love, let’s spread new explanations for the beauty of dark henna:
“The darker the colour of your Mehendi, the stronger your power to resist the Eurocentric, heteropatriarchal systems that control society” or “The darker the colour of your Mehendi, the more you love yourself”
9) In your opinion, in what ways can we women help empower other women? Do men have a responsibility to empower other women too?
Women can help empower other women by being each other’s fans, cheerleaders, friends! Too often we see women tearing each other down. We need more love. Instead of jealousy and hatred, let’s appreciate each other.
One woman winning doesn’t mean you’re losing. When one woman wins, we’re all uplifted.
I think men hold a big responsibility in women empowerment. Society is still patriarchal. As much as women want to uplift each other, there is some power that’s not in our hands. Men with power and privilege should use it to help anyone who’s facing injustices or inequality
10) What do you feel has been one of your biggest successes up to date?
One of my biggest successes has been finally finding things I love about myself after years of self-hatred and struggling with my image and myself.
Today I can look in the mirror and see what I love about me, I can list my amazing qualities and say that I am somebody who I’ve always wanted to be. A few years ago, I couldn’t do that.
That is all for this interview. But there are so many other inspirational South East Asian Girls who’s interviews can be found on this website. Scroll down to follow