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The hidden Canadian landscapes to explore

When tourists visit Canada, there is a typical route that they follow. From east to west, people visit Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Banff and Vancouver. These are the main cities and they are amazing in their own right. But what about the hidden treasures of our beautiful and vast country? Those are the places that fascinate me and, as a Canadian, I’ve made it my life’s mission to search out as many of these less-popular places as possible.

Take a ride with me on my adventures across Canada:

Beginning in beautiful British Columbia, imagine yourself lying on a secret nude beach resting on the crest of the mountains, surrounded by a midnight black lake. I decided to ditch the tent that night and slept directly on the beach, watched by the rare and beautiful gypsy travellers that populate B.C. I’m looking at the stars, and they are so clear it feels as if I can reach out and touch them.

I’m just outside Nelson, B.C, the unofficial hippie capital of the west. It is a place built entirely on a steep hill, which is absolute hell to climb with a backpack, but is nonetheless worth it once you see the view from the top. Several incense and weed shops line the streets and the town is dedicated to promoting local goods and community, with almost no corporate businesses in the vicinity. The town is nestled deep in the Kootenay mountain pass and is surrounded by large round mountains buried with trees. They look much different from the neighbouring Rockies. Nelson is as close to heaven as you can get. It is an escape from reality, and seems to only exist in a dream where nature and people finally seem to respect one another.

Another one of my favourite spots is in the Okanagan. The hills have grown much smaller, but I’m still awestruck by the contrast between the orange and red rolling desert mountains and the crystal blue lake that snakes through the valley. As you drive on the Coquihalla, the highway through the Okanagan that leads you to Vancouver, you will hit Penticton. It is a town surrounded by hot desert hills and is the home to the deepest lake in Canada.

I have fond memories of driving to Penticton with my boyfriend at the time and our friends to music gigs at rustic bars on the main strip that has since closed. We would climb on the roof while the boys played, and roofhop because the businesses were all connected ( though I don’t condone this behaviour. I had a friend fall of a roof years later). There is nothing better than watching a harvest moon, surrounded by desert hills and listening to B.C folk music, laden with banjos and violins. It is a sound that seems to emit from the very roots of the Okanagan’s heart and I highly recommend seeing one of the local Okanagan bands if you are in the region (Wild Son is a good example).

My next destination takes you on the Trans-Canada highway through the Rogers Pass into Alberta, my home province, the place where my heart rests no matter where I live in this crazy world. A tour of the Rockies will take you to some breathtaking sites and locations, but my absolute favourite town in Alberta is Jasper. Home of black bears, it is the best place for a sighting from a safe distance. Another favourite is Kananaskis, a tiny resort tucked away between Calgary and Banff. Kananaskis is in the entrance to the mountains, also known as the foothills. The vast prairies that rise into rolling hills and then morph into the majestic Rockies is a worthy site to see. Kananaskis has top level climbing, hiking trails and mountain sites.

Both Jasper and Kananaskis remind me of my mother. You haven’t met her, but she is amazing. My mom taught me the worth of driving to the places you love. She taught me to hike,and to respect and appreciate nature. I’ve seen every wild animal in the mountains because of her, from mountain goats to a grizzly bear. As she gets older, I often think of our drives through the Rockies, listening to Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains, and I realize no matter what happens these places will always remind me of her.

As I got older, I began to crave a different kind of Canadian adventure. I wanted to see the cities — the brick and the old stone edifices in the origins of this wonderful country. It was time to venture east. I packed the car, waved goodbye to my family and friends and took off across the prairies, listening to Janis Joplin. I saw the immense and endless splendour of the corn fields, or the yellow ocean as my daughter says. I landed in Brandon, Manitoba to see a friend of mine and it was there that I found this next hidden gem.

Brandon is a small city with a very tight-knit and loving community. I stayed with a friend who lived in the old city hall. The grand building had been converted to a house for people who studied the arts. It had several floors and rooms, and was run by two professors from Brandon University. Walking in the city, I saw my first glances of the historic buildings that helped build this country.

Ontario was next. The first thing I noticed was that the Great Lakes seemed to go on forever. The immensity of these bodies of water nourishes the land, creating a green and vivacious landscape. Kenora, Ont. is on the border between Manitoba and Ontario, and is my secret gem of the north. Surrounded by Lake of the Woods, this body of water winds around the town, which is a series of bushy islands. The Canadian Shield dominates the north as well and massive boulders of rock that jut from the ground create a complex and visceral topography, which is great for hiking and bouldering.

Speaking of history, Quebec City is the oldest city in Canada. I call it the city of all glories, because it has a beautiful waterfront dotted by old shipping boats (who doesn’t love a good boat?), it is built on a hill with narrow and old-fashioned streets, and is the home of the Chateau Frontenac. It is most definitely one of the most beautiful cities in Canada and has a distinctly European flair. Visiting Quebec City, it was exciting to hold my daughter’s hand and explain first-hand how Canada came to be. Plus, ordering a croissant and an Americano in French is always a treat.

Finally, there is the Maritimes. My mother is a born maritimer, and while I may be biased, I stand by this following opinion — people born and raised in the Maritimes are often the sweetest and friendliest people. I often visit Dalhousie, a city that borders Quebec with the Restigouche River between the two provinces. The Restigouche leads into the ocean, and migrating whales stop in the bay annually. My Grandmother has a cottage right on the water that she dubbed “the Hollow”, and I remember hiking with her to pick beach glass and find fossils. Visiting a couple years ago, it is unforgettable to stand at the pier of the lighthouse and listen to Acadians sing French folk songs as sail boats line the bay. You can almost see the ghosts of the first ships to arrive along the Restigouche River hundreds of years ago on ethereal nights such as these.

There are always more stories and more places to share. Canada is a vast and unforgettable country and you never know where the twists and turns will take you. My best advice when traveling Canada is to take the backroads. That is where you will see a proud old man in his electric wheelchair scooting down the street with a Canadian flag on the back, or a wolf standing watch by the roadside. My next stop is the Yukon. I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.

Stay tuned for my photo project of my travels across Canada entitled Shades of Blue: my journey across Canada.

Canadian government finally lets its youth speak

When I was in university, my biggest pet peeve was how politicians completely ignored youth. I was a political science major, and more than anything I wanted the people sitting in Parliament to ask for my opinion — what did I think about the cost of tuition; what did I think about the latest tax increase; what did I think about the democratic process?

But no one ever asked me. This is why young people are so apathetic. They want to speak — if only someone would listen.

Well, it looks like someone finally has. Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that he was spearheading a Youth Council, consisting of 30 people between the ages of 16 and 24. These youth will meet a number of times a year, both in person and online, to discuss important issues and then propose recommendations to the Prime Minister’s office.

According to the government website, the council “will advise the Prime Minister on national issues such as employment, access to education, building stronger communities, climate change and clean growth.”

The council is supposed to be non-partisan.

I would like to give Justin Trudeau a hug — a very big bear hug — for not only coming up with this idea, but for ensuring it is actually put into practice.

During the 2015 federal elections, I went to a debate held in my riding. It was a town-hall style debate, where constituents could ask questions of the candidates. To my surprise, a large number of young people showed up.  They asked about what the candidates could do for them and most could not give them answers. They had all prepared stump speeches that were relevant to working moms, single parents, and old people with a pension. They didn’t know what to do when a 16- or 17-year-old asks about transit or funding for education — despite the fact that most of these young people pay taxes and deserve to be part of the conservation. This type of question-shock shouldn’t be possible in 21st century democracy.

The average young person is informed. They read the news online and they talk about it with their parents and friends. They are involved in school clubs and university groups, and they advocate for freedoms and rights others may not have. They WANT to be active in politics, but they also want to feel as if what they say (or ask) matters.

This Youth Council should, hopefully, provide these young people with a national platform to voice their opinions. They can finally contribute to national policy in a meaningful way. Who knows what kind of results will arise from these council meetings, but if anything it is the first step to altering political stereotypes of apathetic youth. And that is an amazing thing.

Would you hang a Canadian flag in front of your mosque?

What does the Canadian flag mean to you? For Jawad Rathore, it represents all things Canadiana — and he thinks it should be flown in front every mosque in Toronto.

“We see Muslims right now being subjected to harassment. Hate crimes are up, [and] rhetoric publicly and privately is up. There are terrible things happening around the world in the name of Islam,” Rathore said in an interview. “[Putting up Canadian flags is] a wonderful way to remind our neighbours that we are Canadian. There is nothing to fear.”

Rathore, who is also president and CEO of Fortress Real Development, presented the idea to the Canadian Muslim Vote last week and received an overwhelmingly positive response. Rathore says he has already received funding from the community for over 50 flags and he has received messages from mosques across Canada asking to participate.

The Canadian Muslim Vote is a non-partisan organization whose objective is to promote greater community engagement among the Muslim-Canadian population. It was founded last year as a response to low voter turnout with a goal to increase attendance and engagement during the 2015 federal elections. And they did the job. According to Rathore, turnout was close to 79 per cent.

JR
Jawad Rathore

Now, the organization is focusing on integrating communities through a “very simple” campaign. At its core, the campaign is about unity and pride during a time in which people are being marginalized. Hate speech is rampant, even in Canada, a country whose foundation is based on religious freedom. As Rathore says, there is a lot of fear among those who don’t understand the Islam faith and putting up a Canadian flag symbolizes unity in a time of uncertainty.

“It’s a way to let our community know we are their neighbours,” he said.

Rathore may be spearheading this campaign through Canadian Muslim Vote, but he says every corporation and community member should be giving back.

“Give what you can afford — give a little, give often, give once a year,” he said. “Many of us in the corporate world are incredibly blessed and if we turn our minds over to the community. Whether initiative like this or any other benefits – the world would be a better place.”

Rathore is confirming a list of mosques that are willing to participate in the campaign and is working out the physical details for installation. He has also committed to do the first 10 flags himself.

The first flag should be installed by the end of September and, if the campaign goes well, Rathore hopes to be able to install flagpoles in front of mosques across Canada.

If you are interested in contributing to the campaign, email canadaflag@canadianmuslimvote.ca.

Brexit vote causes loonie and pound to plummet

The Brexit vote has caused the loonie to plummet and has left many Canadian stockholders running. Britain’s decision to leave the European Union has upset the global market greatly due to the unprecedented nature of this event.

The Canadian dollar dropped to $76.28 cents US, after initially dropping $1.37 US on Friday and dropping another $0.65 cent US on Monday. This is a substantial currency loss and has put the TSX stock market into a frenzy. The Canadian dollar is expected to continue dropping to approximately $ 0.74 cent US over the next three months due to turmoil in the market over the uncertainty surrounding the Brexit vote. At the same time, many financial experts are expecting the market to re-stabilize because market overreaction is a typical response when a great global shift occurs.

Britain’s vote has left Canada in a precarious economic position as well, as our country has strong trade relations with Britain. Though many financial consultants are stressing that the market will stabilize, others are concerned for the future of the North American market. Canadian and U.S markets rely on Britain as a primary communicator to the EU for trade relations.Without this point of contact, trade relations may become more difficult as the British middle man pulls out of the EU. The free trade agreement between Canada and the EU called CETA has already seen resistance from other European countries since Brexit.  London is also the base for Canadian banking operations and this decision may put them at risk.

Another concern is what will happen to British stock portfolios when the country separates from the EU. The EU passport that accompanies several stock portfolios in the country create higher value when considering trade options. Without unlimited access to the other countries in the EU, people are looking to sell their stocks. When the market falls out of balance with panicked stockholders looking to jump ship, it becomes threatened and could cause further instability to the market.

Before the vote occurred on June 23, the British pound was trading at $1.50 US. The pound now stands at $132.40, a 31-year low for the country. The severe drop of the pound is causing reverberations throughout England and it is unclear whether recovery will be possible once they leave the EU.  There are rumours circulating that the Bank of England will soon cut interest rates to try and help stabilize the market. Cutting interest rates would help lower costs to investors while their stocks plummet, but will not be enough to restore the pound to its pre-Brexit value. The Royal Bank of Scotland had their shares halted after declining 15 per cent, and the Euro dropped six per cent as well.

Other “glass-half-full” investors urge Canadian to buy the cheap stocks while they are hot, as panicked stockholders will sell cheaply when the economy temporarily drops. The TSX market was down a whopping 210 points to 13,681 in the afternoon on Monday, reflecting that Canadian stockholders were panicking. Bank stocks swung the market heavily because they dominate the TSX stock market, and are easily affected by global impacts.

Another potential plus is the impact on the US economy. Wall Street experienced its worst day on the market in the last 10 months and this might push the US Federal Reserve to delay increasing interest rates as previously planned. This would be helpful to the Canadian economy as it would make stock options cheaper in the US, but could potentially continue to drive housing prices upwards due to low interest rates in both countries so it is difficult to foresee if this is positive or not for Canadians. The Brexit vote also creates a more nationalistic tone in global trade relations and could hurt the potential for the Trans-pacific Partnership, an important trade deal for Canada.

One of the reasons that British citizens opted to leave the EU was to help their economy. It was argued by Brexit supporters that the taxes demanded by the EU were too high, and maintaining a private economy would be more profitable for the country. The plummeting pound and unstable British market has clearly proven otherwise. Leaving the EU will weaken the British economy tenfold and leave it without valuable EU trade partners in the global market.

This EU exit is unprecedented in history and its impacts to the future are unknown — but clearly it will be dark days ahead for the British economy.

Sunny ways may be clouded after Trudeau elbows female MP

Sunny ways and sunny days may be over for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after he accidentally elbowed a female MP in the House of Commons Wednesday.

That’s right. He elbowed an MP in the chest and now can’t show his face in the House because politicians and the media made it into such a frenzy that the chances of real work happening on the floor is next to zero.

Here’s what happened:

The House of Commons was about to vote on limiting debate relating to the controversial assisted suicide bill when a group of MPs decided to get up and stand on the floor, blocking Conservative Whip Gord Brown from getting to his seat to start the vote. An impatient Trudeau got up from his seat, crossed the floor, grabbed Brown’s arm, and guided him through the crowd. In doing so, he elbowed NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau in the chest.

According to media reports, Brosseau proceeded to leave the House during the vote because she felt violated and uncomfortable.

It’s pretty obvious that the elbowing of MP Brosseau was an accident, and the opposition parties are definitely milking this opportunity to shame the Liberal government. A yelling match between Mulcair and Trudeau occurred after the incident, in which Trudeau shocked the rest of the House when he dropped an F-bomb — apparently they forgot he wasn’t a schoolboy in disguise.

The opposition and NDP even went so far as to question Trudeau’s feminism. My favourite part of the whole interaction was when when NDP leader Thomas Mulcair screams, “what kind of person elbows a woman? It’s pathetic!”

I’m sorry Mulcair, but that’s a pretty ridiculous question. I can answer it for you: almost every single man (and woman) trying to take public transportation to work. It happened to me this morning. A man was trying to get to the door and he bumped into me with force, physically knocking me over into the lap of another man. He turned around and said, “I’m so sorry” and walked away. I decided not to feel personally offended.

Now, this man wasn’t Prime Minister, but the idea is the same.

The bigger issue, in my opinion, is that Trudeau walked across the floor to guide the whip to his seat in the first place. According to media reports, Brown was not receptive of the Prime Minister’s attempt to get the vote rolling. He told Trudeau to let go of him after he grabbed his arm. I can’t say anything about the amount of force used to “guide” him to his seat, but if he said “let go of me”, then it was wrong of Trudeau to maintain his hold. Actually, it shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

It’s also notable that throughout this whole process the speaker did nothing about the crowd of MPs standing on the House floor and blocking the whip’s path. This may have been the reason why Trudeau felt like he had to personally do something.

Since the incident Trudeau has publicly apologized at least three times, saying that he was not paying attention to his surroundings and that he did not mean to offend or impact anyone.

“I noticed that the whip opposite was being impeded in his progress,” he said. “I took it upon myself to go and assist him forward, which I can now see was unadvisable as a course of actions that resulted in physical contact in this House that we can all accept was unacceptable.”

This incident will take over the news — and the politics — in the House of Commons for the next few days. Trudeau may even get reprimanded for actions. Yes, these actions were obviously unacceptable, but let’s not let it cloud our judgement and our ability to work on the real issues at hand. And let’s not turn it into something it’s not — a jab against liberal feminism.

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Here’s my story on mental health, what’s yours?

Those who know me can confirm that tears rolling down my face is a strong indication that I was laughing too hard – usually at my own jokes – or someone I care deeply about has fallen flat on their face and I caught the whole thing on my iPhone to blackmail them for the rest of their life. Once I start laughing, it’s hard to stop.

Given these small, well-known facts about me, it’s difficult to imagine that back in January, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. And with Mental Health Awareness Week wrapping up, I want to let it be known that everyone should be aware of their mental health. Here’s my story.

Being only 21 — and South Asian — my mental health struggle is something I’ve had to keep under wraps for the past few months. I identify as a perfectionist. I’m always under pressure to be above average, whether that be with my GPA, the way I showcase myself to family, friends, and even strangers on the subway, to my attempt at balancing my Western and South Asian values in midst of a being born and brought up in North America with strong cultural ties to Bangladesh. I was put on a pedestal since the day I was born and I’ve never forgotten the major mistakes I’ve made in my short two decades.
I started 2016 with a list of usual New Year’s Resolutions. However, a series of unfortunate events began to occur, exposing the fact that I wasn’t as perfect as I let everyone perceive me to be. The emotions I’m so used to bottling up began to surface. I started losing valuable things, failing to maintain and be present in relationships, and traded my smile for frequent, frustrated sighs.

I began losing my drive; something that has kept me going from the moment I had my first goals and aspirations. Waking up became an even greater challenge, the sound of my family and friends’ voices made me agitated, and the thought of being a functioning member of society made me want to shut down and move to Alaska. I fell behind on work and school and began to spend a lot of time in the confines of my bedroom. Breathing alone seemed to have taken more effort.

A week later, I couldn’t take it anymore. One question kept arising: “What’s wrong with me?”

Not having anyone to talk to about it without making me feel like a fragile arts student on the verge of a breakdown, I went to a walk-in clinic one morning. My family doctor has known me for years and I wasn’t prepare to watch her eyebrows shoot up while I told her about how I was feeling. Up until the walk-in doctor walked in and sat down, I kept rehearsing the same sentence. ”I was wondering if you can provide me with a referral to a therapist.”

I repeated that to myself for the 10 minutes I was alone in her office, memorizing what I was going to say, word for word.

“I’m just looking for some information on how to deal with, um, mental health… issues.” I replied when a young woman sat down and asked what she can do for me.

Dammit.

I saw a flash of concern on her face appear and then quickly disappear as she pulled up a website and started asking me a list of questions about my feelings and what’s going on in my life to cause these feelings. I answered them one by one, quickly confirming the doubts I had about possibly having depression and anxiety. After 15-20 minutes of talking, she concluded that I was right.

“Great, so I was wondering if you can provide me with a referral to a therapist.”

The pretty doctor and I shared a couple of nervous laughs and awkward stories about things she would probably tell her family about at dinner that night. She told me about the three month wait to see a therapist and how it may not be possible for me to cope with my emotions until my appointment. To help me cope, she prescribed me with 30 days of anti depressants — without a referral to see a therapist. She didn’t tell me about the side effects, but emphasized that she wanted to see me back in two weeks for a progress report.

I smiled and nodded, sort of relieved there was something that can make me feel better and feel a little more like myself. I went home with my bottle of happy pills that night and told my best friend, a health science and psychology student, what happened. I learned about the side effects and the misdiagnosis that occurred in that office. You aren’t supposed to give someone not struggling with clinical depression anti-depressant pills. She encouraged me not to take them and I promised her I wouldn’t.

Being stubborn — and partially curious — I took the pills for a maximum of three days. They took away the difficulty to breathe, but brought on drowsiness, stomach aches, dizziness, and nausea. I decided it would be easier just to come to term with the occurrences that went on in the past four months and learn to find closure. I never went back to follow up with the doctor after two weeks and she never followed up with me. In addition to occasionally popping pills I could’ve easily sold on the black market to my fellow university students on days where I felt really bad, I adopted a ‘screw that’ attitude and brushed everything off.

While others saw me coming back to my old, confident, slightly arrogant self, I will always see myself as selfish; a thought I’m trying to change. Because I find sometimes the best way to take care of your mental health is to, in fact, be selfish. My uncontrollable need to please people has somewhat improved, but the idea of putting myself first still seems unnecessary and undeserving.

Unfortunately, it’s evident that there are a lot of problems in our health care system. While Mental Health Awareness week is a great initiative, it’s important to provide help when the public becomes aware that their mental health may need some TLC. While I am able to manage my anxiety most days by shaking things off – a tactic I would definitely not recommend — not being able to provide mental health patients with therapists and psychiatrists will most likely lead to a larger amount of problems.

As we speak, there are a sea of lost and helpless men and women who probably don’t even know they are struggling with their mental health. They think they’re stuck in a rut; struggling to wake up in the morning, making their way through their 9-5 jobs while somehow coming home by 5:30-6:00 only to go back to bed again.

We shouldn’t have to ‘deal with it’. We shouldn’t have to hide it. I have come to terms with the fact that anyone and everyone can struggle with mental health illnesses. Even people that laugh at their own jokes.

I’m no longer afraid to admit that I’m having anxiety while I’m typing this very sentence, as I conclude my post and wait as my friends and family click on the link and find out that my ‘bad days’ are far worse than that. And while you will all be aware of this fact when you read this, you should also be aware that there is much more we need to do than just “be aware”. Here is my story. What’s yours?

If you or a loved one may be suffering with mental health illnesses, please visit mentalhealthweek.cmha.ca/ for more information on next steps.

Review: “The Heaviness of Things that Float”

Aboriginal culture is a large part of Canadian heritage and has been a heavily discussed issue in current politics. Canadian aboriginals are often misunderstood, and the true ties to their culture can feel remote and forgotten.

The Heaviness of Things that Float by Jennifer Manuel is a narrative set in coastal B.C that discusses each of these issues in a delicate manner through the eyes of main character, Bernadette Perkal. Bernadette is a nurse stationed for 40 years at a fictional remote native reserve, Tawakin. The novel begins with the disappearance of Chase Charlie, an aboriginal man that Bernadette helped raise when he was a young boy. The community creates a search party and the reader is introduced to the small community of 100 people that live at the reserve.

Heaviness of things that float

As the story progresses, we learn of Bernadette’s love affair with local resident, Frank, and its tragic ending. The reader quickly discovers that Bernadette is retiring and leaving the reserve to live out her remaining days in Duncan, B.C. It also becomes clear that Bernadette feels like she is an outsider and worries that her 40 year commitment to the clan does not matter.

When the new nurse, Wren Weatherstone arrives for training, the separation between the people of reserve and the nurses becomes more pronounced. Bernadette begins to understand the meaning of her privileged upbringing and the historical ties leading up to the distinct separation between different Canadian cultures. Wren also introduces more politicized themes into the novel, mentioning her attendance at a protest in Vancouver for the Idle No More movement.

The Heaviness of Things that Float carefully discusses the assumptions that many Canadians attach to aboriginal culture. Manuel displays a compassionate account of the need to detach aboriginal culture from others to protect it, and emphasizes that coastal aboriginals are not looking for a saviour, but respect. The importance and power of stories is intricately woven into the story and the coastal landscape plays a powerful role in the climax of the novel.

Jennifer Manuel has spent many years invested in coastal Aboriginal culture and gives a very truthful account of her own experiences. She was a treaty archivist and then a teacher for the Ktunaxa, Tahltan and Nuuchah-nulth peoples. Manuel talks about her own novel in the introduction, emphasizing the themes of privilege, and “the nature of belonging, the limits of knowing one another and the stories of arrival that tangle with the stories of contact.”

Though Tawakin is a fictional place, Manuel creates a very realistic story for readers and does not give in to a traditional happy ending. The novel becomes heavier as the plot progresses, but the story retains a spiritual acceptance of fate and its consequences. This novel is a great read for any lover of the ocean and coastal aboriginal culture, and it will transport you to a peaceful place where hidden realities lie waiting.

 

#UnfairandLovely Campaign embraces dark-skinned women

Being Bengali, I grew up seeing a large spectrum of skin colours and features across the country my parents grew up in, including that of my family. Whether it’s frizzy hair, a round nose, or having no curves (or too much curves), there is always something to criticize when it comes to women and their genetics. I was always told how lucky I was to have fair skin. It was ‘a sign of beauty which not everyone is blessed with.’

However, living in Canada quickly showed me how untrue that was. Dark-skinned girls are beautiful! I stare in awe whenever my darker friends post on Instagram — many of whom are featured below — taking in their sharp features, not to mention they can contour their face without looking dirty. They can rock the colour orange, pop in yellow, and look amazing in teal. So, when the Unfair and Lovely campaign took off, it was of no surprise to me. Of course unfair girls are lovely. It’s just surprising society tells them they’re not.

The movement was first started a few weeks ago by Pax Jones and a couple of friends.

“My own lived experiences as a black woman inspired me to develop this photo series. Mirusha, who modelled alongside her sister Yanusha, later came up with the title Unfair & Lovely for the series. The series was purely a creative project that I developed to combat under-representation of dark skinned people of colour in media.” stated Jones, in an interview with Women’s Post.

Since then, the movement has blown up. Despite tanning salons and sun bathing being so popular for women in North America, others are putting lightening creams on their face and scrolling through Pinterest, looking for ways to become fair-skinned. From a young age, girls are told to stay out of the sun, taught how to use face masks with lightening properties, and instructed to avoid drinking tea because “it makes your skin darker.” Therefore, when a group women come forward to tell you you’re ‘unfair and lovely’, it’s actually a rare compliment.

The campaign is a grassroots movement that has been fuelled by the leadership and activism of young women all over social media, and it is definitely important that their voices be centered in this conversation.

kavi“I am an Indian woman, I am dark skinned and I am proud. The #UnfairAndLovely campaign to me is a well overdue step forward in certain communities that are mentally 10 decades behind than the people of today’s generation. I have been blessed to have grown up in a family of amazing beings that have taught me to love what’s underneath the skin and to ‘never judge a book by its cover’. It has allowed me to feel comfortable in my own skin and to support this movement whole heartedly in hope for a change that urge both men and women to put down fairness creams and take up the debate for a responsible media that doesn’t attribute success and beauty to skin colour,” said Kavi Anand, currently attending the University of Waterloo.

This isn’t the first campaign to embrace and empower women of colour. Reclaim the Bindi, which is collaborating with Unfair and Lovely, looks to combat cultural appropriation surrounding the bindi, the dot worn on the centre of the forehead of many South Asian women. Young women who grew up being ridiculed for their cultural practices are now being empowered to embrace them, posting powerful selfies of themselves wearing a bindi, which has both cultural and religious significance for South Asian women.

Jones shared her thoughts on working hand in hand with a more diverse range of Women of Colour (WoC) to elevate the platform of the initiative in which she mentioned:

”I’m happy it’s blown up and that many are using it to heal from abuse they’ve faced due to their skin colour. I think the invitation to collaborate with #reclaimthebindi for Reclaim The Bindi Week definitely helped. It’s also devastating how quickly the hashtag picked up steam, because it highlights how desperately our communities needed a space that represents dark-skinned people of colour.”

With thousands of online followers, Reclaim the Bindi has allowed young women to celebrate their skin colour, and the culture that comes with being said skin colour. Women’s Post spoke to founder of Reclaim the Bindi on the phone. While wishing to stay anonymous to avoid taking the spotlight away from the movement, she expressed her appreciation of being able to initiate this movement online, as it allows people to really educate themselves on the subject.

heera”It’s a great initiative.” says Heera Sri, a supporter of Reclaim the Bindi and a student at York University with a large Instagram following herself. ”It’s making a lot of women feel more comfortable and come into their own skin. It’s all about loving yourself. Personally, I went through my own journey of embracing my dark skin and love that there’s women looking to provide a back bone for those who don’t have one yet. We live in a progressive country and there’s so much diversity, so I don’t see why being dark skinned should restrict you from anything. ”

South Asian women often indulge in Bollywood movies, hoping to find their very own prince charming at the GO Station one day. However, even in an industry that can easily embrace darker-skinned women, there is a surge in lightening cream endorsements and ‘dusky’ girls who gradually become less dusky as they excel in their acting careers. The Tamil movie industry, Heera mentions, borrows actresses from Northern Sri Lanka and India to play Tamil characters. In a time when we crave colour on TV screens and movie theatres, most recently with #OscarsSoWhite, how come we’re not asking for the same back at home?

12834876_10153579087697637_1199498983_nOn the topic of cultural norms and harmful beauty standards, Ramisa Tasfia, a student at the University of Toronto Scarborough, says, “Treatments like skin bleaching or products like Fair & Lovely definitely perpetuate shadeism by promoting the idea that lighter is better. I feel that colorism is a result of systemic racism within our own cultures; partly believing that whiter people hold more power and beauty. I’ve never known dark skin to be ugly, or unappealing than light skin—but as I grew older I became more exposed to the obvious signs that lighter skin is favoured over darker skin.”

Jones created the #UnfairandLovely hashtag to encourage all women, with an emphasis on South Asian women, to embrace their natural colour and revel in their own beauty. But,  Jones wants people to know the campaign is for everyone: “Some outlets have falsely reported that #unfairandlovely is only for dark-skinned South Asian women, but this is false. It’s for dark-skinned people of colour who are women, genderqueer, non-binary, etc.”

Amina Mohammed, former editor in chief of The Muslim Voice, shared her take 10734038_10152905141136458_2294525185944902355_non the movement through her perspective as a Somali-Canadian, Muslim woman. ”I’ve watched many of my South Asian friends struggle to come to terms with the dangers of colourism. I’ve seen them turn to whitening cream, lemon and potato peel facial masks, and extra sunscreen; all in an effort to appear fair (and lovely). I’ve also found the majority of anti-blackness from the South Asian community stems from this initial, internal adherence to a colourist social stratification. The Unfair and Lovely movement encourages probing dialogue, self-love, positivity and a re-definition of loveliness. I am all for this campaign, I think it’s great,” she added.

The movement comes in lieu of Reclaim the Bindi Week, which took place from March 8-14. As media got in on the story, we saw the impact that young women have of creating a voice for those who don’t. While movements like Unfair and Lovely are definitely steps towards ending discrimination, there will need to be a complete overhaul of the collective mindset of society to bring about an end to the prejudice that is shown against dark skinned people — not to mention the the superiority factor that is associated with fairness.

How has the Unfair and Lovely campaign affected you? Let us know in the comments below!

Blaze up! Six business looks for the winter

Are you going to a job interview? An important meeting with a client? Maybe even a work party? In this uncertain weather, it’s hard to commit to heels and a pencil skirt. Instead, try a blazer with a patterned or brightly coloured shirt.

But, blazers are a bit boring and dull, aren’t they? Wrong! The blazer is the perfect accessory — it can be incredibly professional, powerful, sexy, and it can have as much personality as the person who wears it. Here are some options for those of you who think the only way you can wear a blazer is with a pencil skirt or a well-tailored power suit.

The free falling blazer: This type of blazer has a classic notch collar and boyfriend styling, making it the perfect accessory for both a business meeting and a night out. It is perfect for women that are petite or who have curves, because there is no need to button it up. Let your blazer hang loosely, and professionally.

Le Chateau, $89.95
Le Chateau, $89.95

The academic: Nerdy is in! Try your hand at some tweed, corduroy, or a blazer with some coloured elbow patches. This look is clean, professional, and adds just a bit of cheek into your wardrobe. Your colleagues will see you as smart, clean, with a little bit of edge.

Zara, $89.90
Zara, $89.90

The vest: Some may say the vest is “out of fashion”, but I say otherwise! Pair it with a blouse or a funky longer shirt. Wear it open for a more relaxed, artsy look, or button it up with a skinny tie for a chic business look. For women with a bit of shape, a blazer can be daunting — the sleeves are either too small, and then if they fit your arms, the shoulders look like they swallowed you whole. The vest is the perfect compromise.

Convey, $258.00
Convey, $258.00

The crop: Not all blazers have to look…well, like blazers. This cropped and zippered jacket works in a business setting or an afternoon with friends. It will make you look chic, elegant, and put together. The best part about these neutral coloured blazers is that you can pair it with a high patterned legging or pant and heels for a more polished look.

Additionelle , $120
Additionelle , $120

The pattern: Luckily, there are a lot of options for those who may not like the traditional blue, black, or brown suit jacket. This type of blazer is a lot more feminine, and features a strong collar and a zipper instead of the typical round buttons. This type of blazer would look amazing with a pair of dark jeans and converse shoes, or a pair of fitted black dress pants and heels.

Judith and Charles, $237,50
Judith and Charles, $237,50

The wild: Need a little more colour in your life? Try one of these multi-coloured blazers. I don’t suggest wearing them with a patterned shirt, but they are the perfect compromise for those with a bit of a wild and fun side. It looks professional, but doesn’t scream “I live in a cubical.”

Aritzia, $90
Aritzia, $90

Do you have a favourite blazer in your closet? Describe it or send in a picture using the comments below!

Lest we Forget: remembering and thinking about the future

Cosmo DeClerq, my grandfather, Canada-Belgian SAS
Cosmo DeClerq, my grandfather, Canada-Belgian SAS

My grandfather was a paratrooper during the Second World War. He never spoke to us about his experiences—and, frankly, we never asked. I was too young to understand what he had gone through. I never really knew he was in the military until he passed away and I met some of his colleagues at the funeral.

That’s why it was refreshing to see so many young faces at this year’s Remembrance Day ceremony.

Queen’s Park was crowded with young students and families with their children. Most were wearing black overcoats and the bright red of their poppy pins could be seen despite the drizzling rain. There were no whispers among this crowd; no snickers or horseplay. It was the most silent and respectful crowd I’ve seen in a while. The exception was the young girl behind me, who was quietly explaining what was happening for three international University of Toronto students who decided to attend the ceremony. Why? They wanted to learn more about Canadian culture and heritage.

These ceremonies are meant to give us time to remember the past—the men and women who served our country both at home and abroad, who died to protect our freedom and our way of life. But, maybe it can do more. Maybe, it can help us look into the future.

I spent a few minutes after the ceremony speaking with groups of students, most of whom weren’t native to this country. They were all fascinated by the ceremony, and all could relate to this idea of “remembrance.” Some came from war-torn countries, others from Europe, South America, or Asia. One young man was from Japan, and he spoke of the atomic bomb. He felt compelled to come to Queen’s Park and listen to the words spoken by our politicians and military leaders.

And really, what better place to learn about what it means to be Canadian? Our military forces—at least our current military forces—are so diverse. There were men, women, and people of various ethnic and religious values, all marching together as one unit. That’s Canada.

When I decided to write a piece about Remembrance Day for Women’s Post, I automatically thought of the women in service. I think Brigadier-General Lowell Thomson, Commander 4th Canadian Division, said it best when he gave homage to his military upbringing. He said his father was a long-time soldier, but then went on to say that he was the son of a woman who had served “during a time when her service wasn’t recognized.” That’s when I noticed there were very few women in uniform sitting in the crowds. About 600 WWII veterans die a day around the world, so this isn’t surprising. Perhaps most of them ventured to Ottawa to partake in their larger ceremony by the War Memorial. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed. As Managing Editor of Women’s Post, I was hoping to speak with them and share their stories.

2015-11-10 16.55.35Instead, looking around the crowds, I noticed the number of young women taking part in the ceremony, specifically a young girl who was leading the cadets through the parade. She was independent, kind, commanding and strong. “If you feel cold, wiggle your toes and fingers. If you feel sick, let me know,” she said slowly while her fellow cadets looked at her nervously. Throughout the ceremony, she addressed her group, told them to stand tall, proud, and smiled when appropriate. She was the prime example of the type of woman younger girls could look up to.

I didn’t understand what Remembrance Day meant until I was a teenager. And even then, I feel like it was my circumstance—the death of a loved one—that suddenly gave me the desire to remember all of those who gave their lives in service. These young people, the cadets, students (international or Canadian native), and children who attended today’s ceremony, are all ahead of the game. I can only hope they truly take away the meaning of remembrance.  Just because the WWII veterans are fading, doesn’t mean their memories should be lost. There will always be war or conflict—it’s the nature of human beings and the sad reality of living in a world where people don’t always agree. But, if we forget where it all began, if we ignore our own history and heritage, there is no way to understand how OUR Canada was shaped. And that understanding is crucial to the future of not only this country, but the world.

And that’s worth a minute of silence, don’t you think?

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