Meet Our Muse: Mallika

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You currently work for Vice – what drew you to work in media?

I’ve always been curious about social justice and development, I went to school for Political Science and International Development, but I had a flair for storytelling. I got my first Kodak 35mm film camera handed down to me when I was 7, it was my mums and I loved living life behind the lens. Media blended those two passions perfectly for me.

Let’s go back in time, you grew up in India and immigrated to Canada as a preteen. At the time, from your perspective – what was the biggest difference between the two places for you?

Everything! I’d never been to North America before. Everything was unfamiliar, spaced out, desolate and cold (I moved here in October). I’d never had trouble making friends before, but suddenly social norms were completely undefined for me. Even with adults. I had a teacher stop me from joining the school paper because she assumed my first language wasn’t English.

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Looking back, do you think the experience of immigrating and being in a new place has influenced your self-identity?

Definitely. It’s an awkward age to begin with and the early 2000’s were not kind to bushy eyebrows, dark skin, low raspy voices.  I was unhappy with myself not being able to conform to normalized North American beauty standards.

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Were there any struggles with self-identity?

I felt unfairly defined by my culture, having to defensively respond to whatever racial slur thrown my way, whether it was malicious or not. It hurt being called "brown-town", "paki" or putting up with terrible renditions of Apu from the Simpsons, even if it was done by my friends in an endearing way. It wasn't something that I was confident standing up for either, and I felt it was the price I paid being different.

As I grew older that racism turned to racial fetishism, with boys telling me I was exotic, something that I first took as flattery. Intersectional feminism was something I knew nothing about.

Now that you are older – and wiser, how would you define who you are now?

Today I find identity is so much more than gender or descent, especially in 2017, when misrepresentation and prejudice seem so prevalent. On the one hand I am proud of my ethnicity and I want people to understand and learn more, but I don't feel defined by it nor do I feel like it's my job to teach people about it. Instead, by being active and aware I offer a different view and understanding of what it means to be the "other" and maybe over time that will be seen as a representation of an individual rather than a stereotype.

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When do you feel most empowered?

When I’m challenged. Whether that be physically or intellectually, standing up for something I believe in, or having my views challenged, I love that! Good, healthy discussion, and being aware and open to other points of view, it’s inspiring. Recognizing connection to everything around and appreciating each component feels powerful.

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Which of your physical attributes do you love the most?

I love my legs. They're strong and covered in scars and stretch marks from a lifetime of play and growing.

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Mallika wears the Paxton Bra and Mesh Panel Bikini in white.

Photography - Hanna Kim / @haehanna