Nadya is a 24-year-old visual arts student at Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver, Canada. She will be pursuing a diploma in art therapy.
What’s your relationship with your mother like?
I am fortunate to have a close, loving relationship with my mother. Her love, kindness, and generosity are a model for how I want to conduct myself in my relationship with others. That said, as in many parent-child relationships, we do have our differences, especially in our ideas regarding my future career, religion, and the role of women in partnership and family. In the past, whenever these ideal and moral differences would show up in conversation with my mother, my immediate reaction was to lash out with spiny defensiveness out of a feeling of being misunderstood. In more recent years, I’ve dialled back the reactionary response and taken the time to understand the driving forces behind my mother’s perspective: her upbringing, family structure, education, and the cultural, social, and political values she grew up with. I have a more empathic understanding of my mother and the ways she is different from me as I see more and more that she is doing the best she can with the cards she was dealt with, so to speak.
Can you tell us a bit about your style? Who/what is your biggest influence?
My style frequently slides between two poles of a spectrum: on one end it consists of bold patterns, bright color, and tongue-in-cheek playfulness; on the other end it is more muted and calm, tending towards natural earthy colors and texture straight out of a Scandinavian interior design magazine. Whatever spot on the spectrum my outfit lands on a given day is dependent on season and mood, but always I put comfort and neatness above all. In terms of clothing, I gravitate towards basic pieces that often have unusual, unexpected details that make an impression on you without having to be loud, if that makes sense.
How is your style different or similar to your mom’s expectations?
My mother used to tell me that I should dress more feminine. To her, that meant a-line dresses and skirts (always below the knee), heels, and makeup (sans glasses, replaced with contact lenses). None of which I am against, mind you. It just never felt good when I wore things out of a sense of obligation. But it made her happy when I wore clothes that she chose for me, so I wore them. Now that I have a more solid sense of style and self I’ve been able to say no to my mother when she suggests I wear something I don’t like, which is a small victory to me considering I’ve inherited my mother’s propensity to feel bad for saying ’no’ to people. That said, our styles do have a lot in common, so we do ask each other for advice. I learned from my mother to dress neatly and elegantly, even for casual outfits. To that end, we share a love for turtlenecks, mock necks, long sleeves, and long high waisted. You’ll notice that these are all clothes that cover up the body; modesty is another big thing with my mom.
How do these expectations fit in the larger context of her living/having lived in Indonesia?
My mother always points it out to me whenever she feels like my clothes are “too tight” or “too revealing” (quotation marks because I feel like my clothes rarely actually are — my mother just has a very low threshold for sartorial offences). I don’t fight her over it because it’s not super important to me, and I understand why she does it: she doesn’t want her daughter to get unwanted attention from strangers, men in particular. This is definitely still a problem in Indonesian society, the idea that women’s bodies are free game for unwarranted comments and ogling, and the victim-blaming mentality that dictates that when a woman wearing a short skirt and a low-cut top becomes a victim of gender-based violence, it was clearly her fault for dressing so indecently.
How do these societal/personal expectations affect your identity and behaviour?
I can definitely get pretty self-conscious about how I dress, partially because the way my mom raised me, warning me to always be careful of every possible act of crime out there. I’ve pretty much been conditioned to be fearful of male attention, which I know a lot of girls and women can relate to. It’s led me to unconsciously make myself “smaller”, in the way I dress and behave, to avoid any unwanted attention. My personal experiences haven’t helped either, even close to home: I literally cannot ride my bike in my neighborhood without having strange men hanging out on the sidewalk openly stare, call, or whistle at me. These seemingly small acts of harassment really chip away at you, and you feel violated and afraid because in the back of your mind there’s always the fear that it could lead to further violence and aggression.
If you are living/have lived in a Western country, how has this experience affect the way you dress and/or present yourself?
I live in Vancouver, Canada, and have been for the last 4 years or so. Living here, just by virtue of having some physical distance from my parents, has helped figure out what kind of person I want to shape myself into. I would be remiss to not credit my parents for the support and understanding they’ve given me, that I was able to come here in the first place. And here I’ve found a really great artistic community of friends where we support one another; their friendship and belief in me has given me a chance to face my social anxieties and work on accepting myself. It helps that my friends have really good tastes and sense of style! They’ve influenced me to be more playful in the way I dress, and to not care about what other people might think of it.
As a sidenote, I think it’s so true that the more time you spend away from home, the more you feel appreciation for your cultural roots. I’ve felt the desire to define myself in relation to the sociocultural environment I’ve found myself in. Living in Vancouver has absolutely made me more proud and conscious of my Chinese heritage. This is a city with a very sizeable population of Chinese people, and home to the largest Chinatown in Canada; it has been called, factually and/or derogatorily, the most Chinese city in North America. The US has a long history of anti-Asian racism, but not many people know that Canada does, too. Not surprisingly, Vancouver has historically been witness to anti-Chinese policies and legislations that sought to limit the rights of Chinese people socially, culturally and politically. Reflecting on this, the parallels to Indonesia’s New Order was not lost on me: the effects of Suharto’s Chinese policies and the anti-Chinese riots of 1998 are a part of my family’s history. In Vancouver as it is in Indonesia, anti-Chinese racism still lives in the form of microagressions as well as the larger problem of displacement.
All of this is to say that living in Vancouver has made me more aware of the sociocultural implications of my identity as a Chinese-Indonesian woman, though more so the Chinese part. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve encountered more discrimination against race than I have of gender.
Is there a perception of femininity that you hope could change in Indonesian society?
I wish people could wear whatever they wanted to wear without fear of violence or discrimination. I wish gender identity didn’t have to be so rigidly categorized based on what piece of clothing you wear. While we’re at it, let’s lift the taboo on sex. The socially and culturally conditioned repression of sex— one of the most natural of human processes— has resulted in the most unnatural behaviors of aggression and obsession with sex. This is why catcalling exists, this is probably why rape culture exists, too. This has gone a bit off-topic but, essentially, what I’m trying to say is that everything would be better if people could simply feel safe to be who they are. What a world that would be!