A South Asian perspective on self-care with writer & editor Tahmina Begum
By Samia Abbasi
Taking care of ourselves hasn’t been easy during the pandemic. In the midst of lurching days cooped up at home in May, I subscribed to The Aram newsletter founded by Tahmina Begum. To me, The Aram takes those complex emotions and things we’re thinking about as women of color, brings them to life in bite-sized paragraphs, and makes you feel a little less alone and a little more settled. Reading and listening to empowering media like The Aram has become part of my self-care routine during the pandemic.
Writer, editor, and consultant Tahmina Begum is the conversation-starter behind The Aram. She’s been a journalist for around 8 years now, and her work focuses on the intersection between race, politics, and how it affects macro and micro-cultures. Her work also aims to amplify the voices of women of color and Muslim women. And, might I add, Tahmina has one the most delightful Instagrams, with her colorful eyeshadow looks, vintage outfits, and humorous captions. Read on to learn why Tahmina started The Aram and what self-care means to her — Mom’s food and self-kindness included.
Q1. What inspired you to start The Aram?
I always say, as important as it is to talk about the really difficult things that make existing that little bit harder, as a woman of colour and a Muslim woman, it's crucial we speak about the joyous things.
“The Aram has been purposely created for joyful reading. In a climate where everything can feel rushed and reactionary, this email is supposed to make your mind feel both lighter and wider.” —The Aram by Tahmina Begum
It's easier to sell our trauma and share the stories of our pain across the mainstream media, which I still find very problematic. I want The Aram to be a home for our kinder stories, the stories that make up the rest of us, other than our collective and individual suffering. Where we can talk about food, heritage, histories and what I like to call the 'in-between stories.' The crucial moments that people usually don't think are worth documenting. So, The Aram started off as a space where I could write honestly and joyously centring the women around me.
Q2. How has your South Asian identity played a part in writing The Aram?
My South Asian identity is fluid and is a part of me just as being British is a part of me, just as wearing gold jewellery while I write most days is a part of me, just as prayer is a part of me. Being Bengali is the centre of who I am, not because I feel like it has to be that way, but because I choose it to be, and that's where my roots are.
'Aram' means 'comfort' and 'ease' in Bangla, it's a reflection of where I'm always trying to be and feel, Alhamdullilah.
photo credit: Tahmina Begum
Q3. Growing up, how were you socialized to think about self-care?
Growing up in a British Deshi household, self-care was deeply-rooted in our cultures and how we look after each other, but it didn't and still doesn't look like how the West sees wellness or self-care.
It wasn't long baths or massages, it was making sure we always had my mother's cooking and my aunts and my grandmothers and fathers on the table, too. It was in the community and sharing stories before and after the Partition. It was in the way my hair was always chopped short as a child, so it would grow to be 'thick' when I'm older and always basted in oil. It was in both the different worldly humour and trinkets that were passed on. Whether that's a prayer mat, earrings or even a cooking pot.
Q4. What does self-care look like for you?
My version of self-care now may look more 'selfish' than the women before me — more massages and facials and all the lovely things when I can, but I also have a different working lifestyle to my ancestors, for example. The most key self-care change that's happened in my life is continuing to be kind to myself and learning to forgive myself as I go on. We all have no idea what we're doing and making it up as we go — we're all in the same boat.
“The thing with loving yourself is that it is your life's work. There is no time frame in which you should have been good at this by now. No accolade achieved that can merit a sense of self-completion. Nothing which means you don't have to try with yourself anymore.” —The Aram by Tahmina Begum
Q5. What are some self-care rituals you’ve observed from the women in your life?
In regard to self-care rituals I’ve observed, it’s about honouring women and the different choices we've all made. Being brave and generous with one's personal time and love. Feeding women well when they're good and even more so when it's a difficult time. Knowing, like my aunt says, that the one who loves the most in the room, doesn't lose anything at all and that frankly, is a key way I look after myself and others, especially other women.
photo credit: Tahmina Begum
Q6. What does your everyday beauty routine look like?
Honestly, I'm such a 'feelings' person, so it depends on the day. Somedays, I wake up and I cleanse and oil my face and I might gua-sha away the lymphatic drainage. Half the days I won't wear makeup but I'll pile on my jewellery, Alhamdullilah. Or there will be days, where I'll want to do a tinted moisturiser from Laura Mercier, lots of mascara and pink blushed cheeks. Other days, I feel like washing my lids with three different kinds of blue or I'm in the mood for a sultry 60's eyeliner.
Or maybe raspberry coloured lipstick that looks like I've gone fruit picking or made out with someone cute. It's all in my feeling and mood.
photo credit: Tahmina Begum
However, the one thing that remains the same is because I have very shiny and straight hair (mashallah and that), I always like to put a Jen Atkin kind of wave to make sure it's got some volume. All in the feeling!