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Art + culture

March 19, 2022

By Houda Kerkadi

If you line up all the women in my family, there is seemingly nothing that connects us except for our eyes, identical and lined with kohl. I come from a long line of women, who have never been seen without three or four coats of kohl under their eyes. And most days, all that binds me with them is name and eyes. When a mix of political instability and circumstance broke apart our family tree and scattered us across the ends of this earth, we all ended up living radically different lives, thousands of miles from each other, where I always feel a disconnect to these women.

My kohl wearing family are infamously formidable women. The women in my family are not soft, they kick ass, they speak out of pocket 24/7 spicing up our family gatherings, it’s their way or the highway, they dominate conversations and will never, ever, ever hesitate to give you their opinion. They refuse to be anything less than themselves. In comparison, I always felt a disconnect with how I turned out, since their personalities always contrasted my conflict-avoiding-people-pleasing- I actually prefer to write it in a text- personality. So I spent a significant portion of my life fearing these women, and honestly jealous of their larger-than-life personalities who existed boldly and refused to compromise who they were. It took me a long time, and unfortunately distance to appreciate how they set a precedent for me in recognizing the value of a strong woman. Strength, that is not necessarily in fearlessly overcoming trials and tribulations, but in being yourself and not caring what the world has to say.

As women, we are routinely encouraged to change everything about ourselves from how you speak, to how you look, essentially convincing you to change what you are in the name of ‘fitting in’. For me strength comes from refusing to be anything other than yourself at all times, in a world where women are increasingly convinced to water down their existence. With every call, message, voice note, they challenge me to be more powerful by emulating this strength and resilience for me. And when I moved and saw less and less of them, I unintentionally recreated this dynamic of surrounding myself with complex yet beautiful personalities that make up my friends. When I reflect on what drives me and the roots of my successes, it’s not hard to see that who I am today is largely a result of the women who challenge me, annoy me, love me, take care of me, yell at me (a lot), tell me to apply for things I’m scared to, tell me to ‘JUST SAY IT!’ and it’s through this support that I have no choice but to thrive.

Being a woman in my 20’s and trying to navigate this world, it’s a socially-taught instinct to self betray and change myself. My kohl wearing lineage is one that offers me comfort on days where I shy away from boldness and risk-taking. While we may all be split up by oceans and lifepaths, each morning I wake up, put on my kohl, I carry a piece of them with me and continue their legacy with me. Truth is, everything that I have done and everything I will ever do will simply be evidence of the Kohl-wearing women.

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  • Houda Kerkadi

    Houda Kerkadi


Images credits:

Featured image: Jameela Elfaki (@jameelaelfaki)

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