Zara is a 23-year-old Surabaya native based in Jakarta. She runs an online clothing shop, ShopHella, and is the singer of Nonanoskins.
What’s your relationship with your mother like?
It was tumultuous, to say the least. We are both very emotional. The last time I saw her she was crying in bed the night before I moved out of town to work. She has been very kind and supportive in many aspects of my life and I’d like to believe that she’s genuinely proud of me. Conflicts, however, are handled in true Javanese fashion–there’s not a lot going on on the surface level but the passive-aggressive pieces of advice and “suggestions” say otherwise. Sometimes she would just sweep things under the rug.
One of the worst things about growing up is realizing that your parents aren’t perfect and flawless and your mom isn’t always right–she just happens to be a woman who gave birth to you. Sometimes you really do know better. Again, in true Javanese fashion, I would never bring this up so I complied and complied and complied until I occasionally explode. Not to her, of course. I could never get that image of my mom crying out of my head.
Can you tell us a bit about your style? Who/what is your biggest influence?
Fun fact: I’ve been wearing mostly all black since 2011 because at that time I couldn’t really afford to buy clothes so I thought it would be easier to just wear one color so everything matches. What started out as a purely utilitarian choice, however, slowly ends up an aesthetic one. I like the idea of having a uniform–mine usually consists of a dress and my dusty leather jacket or pieces from actual school uniforms I thrifted. The rigidity of the uniform makes it so much more satisfying to deconstruct and re-contextualize for a whole different look. I especially like wearing classic schoolgirl staples like pleated skirts and button-ups with items and textures evocative of sexuality like leather and lingerie. It’s highly sexualized for my own enjoyment and it makes me feel invincible most times.
How is your style different or similar to your mom’s expectations?
Growing up, my parents sent me to Islamic private schools. They made me wear the hijab and I didn’t mind because I only had to wear them to school. At some point during that time, both of my parents started meeting a new group of friends and they became extremely religious. Around the same time, I discovered the internet and social media and fashion as a means of expression. My mom started wearing a hijab daily and forced me to do the same, backed with scriptures and all. When I couldn’t refute, I couldn’t refuse. She makes me wear the hijab outside the house but I always keep spare non-hijabi clothes in the car and change into them when I’m not going out with my family. This has been going on for ten years and counting. I don’t know if I could ever come out.
How do these expectations fit into the larger context of her living/having lived in Indonesia?
I feel like a big part of this “urge” is peer pressure. My mom didn’t even wear a hijab until she met a bunch of like rich, beautiful, and religious moms at my school with seemingly perfect Islamic families. No surprises there because Indonesia is a collectivist society that places higher importance on the group than the individual so maybe fitting in is the only option. What irks me the most is how she doesn’t mind me going out in shorts and t-shirts to run errands around my neighborhood but immediately tells me to cover up inside the house when her friends are coming over. Like, who are you wearing a hijab for? Do you think I will ruin your Perfect Islamic Family charade?
How do these societal/personal expectations affect your identity and behaviour?
Let’s just say that over the years, one piece of square cloth has caused multiple emotional breakdowns, dozens of promises that breaks each time, a week of running away from home, two threats of disownment, and one suicide attempt.
You went on exchange to Japan. How has this experience affected the way you dress and/or present yourself?
I spent six months in Japan and it was the best time of my life. Being in Japan gave me access to all the clothes I’ve dreamed of owning since I was a kid (hello rockinghorse shoes) but I’m still wearing the same stuff I wore in Japan today in Jakarta–my look just didn’t stick out so bad in Osaka!
Is there a perception of femininity that you hope could change in Indonesian society?
Unfortunately, “change” sounds very distant in this current sociopolitical climate so to keep things hopeful I’m just going to hope I can get an answer to this question: Why is it so hard for our people to mind their own business and let other people do their own damn stuff with their own damn body?