- Edition 9, Chapter 4 -
by Alexander Brebner
Vanity and Verity
News correspondents have a reputation as hard-nosed, restless travellers facing danger daily, and who care only about the story, not how they appear on camera telling it. Not true, according to documentary filmmaker Fazeelat (Faz) Aslam, who has done her share of travelling in dangerous places. “I’ve worked with correspondents; they all care, because it’s reflected on by the audience.” With correspondent work of her own on the horizon with the BBC and Channel 4 UK, Faz has had to examine her own discomfort in front of the camera. “I think the reason is it opens you up to opinion and judgement.” she says. “My work is really about trying to lift judgement and portray people objectively. And when I’m in front of the camera, all of my neuroses float to the top and I think, ‘Oh, my god, what is this or that person thinking?’”
“So much of my life and career is about facts, and how you find the truth,” says Faz. “And what I really learn is there is no truth; everyone is painting with their own opinion and trying to get it across the best way they can.”
Faz was raised between Pakistan, the US, and Europe, and it was travel that led her to a storytelling career. “At a very young age I started to become really curious about the differences and similarities between people’s stories. I realized that I wanted to draw parallels and build bridges. Someone in Pakistan living in a rural village may have a great amount in common with someone in a midwestern American town, but until you find a narrative that allows them to relate to each other, they’re strangers,” she explains. The key to connecting strangers? Empathy. “It is something we really lack in, and something I aspire to create more of in the world.”
Faz manages to demonstrate empathy toward her younger self who she describes as, “A very awkward looking child; it was really hard for me to put on weight, so I looked like a stick.” Glasses and braces contributed to her struggles, as did a very beautiful mother and sister who conformed to the Pakistani norm of long, thick, straight hair. “My hair was never thick, so it was long and straggly,” Faz remembers. “My mother still has stunning, down-to-the-waist hair, and so does my sister. As a woman, you’re criticized if you do anything different,” says Faz. “I have certain female relatives who weren’t allowed to cut it. I thought it was beautiful, but so boring, so I always did different things, and I was always the oddball.”
At a very young age I started to become really curious about the differences and similarities between people’s stories. I realized that I wanted to draw parallels and build bridges.
Faz’ father was the one family member to encourage her difference – “Within reason,” she adds. “I’m 5’9” and he wants me to wear heels, and my mother says, ‘You’re going to be taller than everyone else, and who is going to marry you?’ And I say, ‘You know what? It doesn’t matter who is going to marry me because I really like heels.’” Even though she is a beautiful woman in her own right, Faz is painfully aware of the unrealistic beauty standards, “Pushed onto people in Pakistan as they are all over the world by the media, advertising, by men and women alike, based on a global convention of what beauty is.”
A stranger in a strange land
Faz describes her Hairstory Studio experience as foreign and, ‘A little intimidating because it was very out of what I know and what I understand.” She initially found the idea that her hair has a story quite amusing. “But the more I thought about it, it really does. The way I look has affected so much of how I feel and who I am, that to not take it seriously would be a disservice,” she recalls. “So I find what you’re all trying to do really fascinating – changing the way someone looks and seeing how that affects them as a person, how it makes them interact with a camera, and with someone else. I feel like I’ve been opened up to a lot of perspectives and opinions, and that’s always enriching.”
The way I look has affected so much of how I feel and who I am, that to not take it seriously would be a disservice.
One of those perspectives is accepting imperfection. Faz went home and took a nap on the evening her hair was cut, and the next day she explained, “I woke up and my hair was all weird angles and going out in crazy places – and I really liked it. It’s a bit scary because you don’t recognize yourself at first, but I’m getting used to the different ways my hair is moving and forming, and I’m really excited to have a cut I don’t have to do much with it; it speaks for itself.”
The Power of a Cut
Weeks after her visit, Faz wrote: “Thanks to my new cut and New Wash I worry less about my hair, and it feels healthier. I've realised, like everything else in my life, the less I try to control it, the better it works for me. It feels more natural; it feels easier; it feels right.” She has also had more comments on her hair than ever before. “I have been traveling in France, Holland and Germany, and I felt unique and special everywhere I went,” she reports. Her confidence on both sides of the camera has been magnified, “Because I don't have to rely on a typical style of beauty to stand out. I love that I'm not conforming to any stereotypes. Wes told me when he cut my hair that he wanted to make it powerful, and that is how I feel. I think diverting people from what they expect of you is always a very powerful thing to do.”
Part 2: Rose Gold
After growing out her hair during several months of travel, Faz returned to the studio looking for another change – this time around, she decided to go for a different color. Her thoughts on her new look are below.
"I’ve been toying with the idea of changing my hair color for a really long time, but people always tell me that my natural color is so nice, and it tends to change in the sun. This time I really had an urge to let Roxie do whatever she wanted. At first I thought I should just stay in the natural color sphere, but I’ve been trying to control so many things in my life that I really wanted to relinquish control of my hair. She suggested ‘rose gold’ and I really had no idea what that meant. I didn’t realize how long the whole process would take; I’ve never done anything so involved with my hair. She bleached it blonde, and I imagined that it would feel like straw, but it was so soft.
Then she did the rose gold, and I love the color. I’ve wanted a less serious and softer look, and now I feel like cotton candy, it’s so yummy, but there’s a sophistication to it. In an alternate universe this is how it would grow out of my head. I have a wardrobe that I’ve been building on for quite a while, and the things in my closet that I thought were really boring and I was kind of sick of I now think would be so much fun with pink hair. I feel a lot lighter, it’s much more playful and I’m excited to see what things look like with it.
People would never expect me to do something like this, because I’ve had the same hair color since most people have known me, so I think it will be a fun surprise. Hopefully it’ll be a shift in the season, a shift in my mood, a shift in everything. I’ve wanted to do more fun stuff lately and take a break from work to do something creative and inspiring. So much of my work is about looking and being serious, and I think this will force me to be in a different mindset. I’m excited."