Was it challenging to work for a magazine that emphasises on looks and body image in a country where many women are covered?
I think for most journalists or editors, especially Western, it is a bit difficult, because it is different. You have to be culturally aware and obviously you don’t want to offend anyone, but at the same time you want to deliver the best product, so it is all about finding the happy medium. We were lucky when I was editor for SHAPE Middle East, because we were given the go ahead with having women showing their mid section and to showing their shoulders and their arms and everything.
That must be hard, because you have to be innovative and put out there something that is going to be eye-catching, but at the same time you have to be low-key because of the culture.
Absolutely and there’s also limitation in the words we use, so, for example, on the front cover we can’t use the word ‘sexy’, which is really difficult.
It is about words as well?
Yes and it is difficult, because you look at the magazines from the US and the UK and that is an eye catching word. If you have something that says: ‘sexier legs now’, women would want to pick that up, so we have to find other ways around that.
So what would you say?
Maybe something like ‘brilliant legs today’ or ‘toned abs’.
How long have you been in Dubai?
What’s the best and worst thing about living in Dubai?
Best thing is the ability to travel to places that you wouldn’t have the ability to do so easily if you were living in the States. You have the Far East on your doorstep, you are living in the Middle East and it is really to get back to Europe, so it almost feels like you are in the center of the world. The cons of living here would have to do with the fact that I am very much a winter person. I am not a sun, sand and surf person. I need seasons, I do miss Europe… I do miss the European architecture as well. Obviously all the buildings here are very new. But if I had to choose one thing, it would be the weather. The weather for me is not good. This time of year is great, it’s really nice, but I love knitted sweaters and hats and scarves and gloves and hot chocolate and going on a long country walk when it’s freezing out. But you obviously don’t get that here.
And you are from the States?
I grew up in the States, but moved to London about 3 months after University. I have always wanted to move to England, so I signed up with a recruitment agency and I worked there as a secondary English teacher. But that wasn’t what I wanted to do, I realised, and teaching is not something you want to be doing unless you absolutely love it. That’s when I met my husband, and he was already into publishing and suggested I get into publishing as well. That’s how my career pretty much started.
You started out in Dubai as the editor for SHAPE magazine. Was that challenging for you?
It wasn’t hard fitness-wise, it was hard because I used to be in a business magazine and the writing I had to do for the one was completely different to the writing I had to do for the other. So it was just getting used to the new writing style. And obviously it is the visual aspect of it as well. It is a Women’s magazine and it is supposed to be light and airy and you have to be careful what kind of photos you chose and it can’t be people frowning or anything like that. It’s a whole different thing.
What are the challenges when it comes to putting women out there on the cover and perhaps setting them as role models? A lot of times there’s excessive air brushing done by magazines, setting a false example for women who usually suffer from low self esteem because of what is ‘praised’ by the media.
When the media is so saturated with the mentality of the whole airbrushing thing, I do think that is when it become an issue, when young girls are looking at these things and they are so overloaded all the time by advertisements that tell them how they should look, what they should be and this and that. Working on a woman’s consumer magazine, it is difficult to find that balance, because in the back of my mind, personally, I am always thinking: ‘ you need to be careful on how you use these things’, because someone’s idea of what a perfect body is, or a perfect face, or the perfect hair, might not necessarily be someone else’s. You can’t fit everyone into a mold, you just can’t do that. That said, in terms of air brushing, I don’t mind air brushing a face to make it to look lighter, not in terms of skin color, but if we have a problem with the picture, we need to light the face in order to see the eyes. I would never, ever ever ever, tell one of my photo editors, or tell someone at the photo desk:’ you need to cut someone in half, because they are too fat’, I just wouldn’t do that at all.
Where you always into fitness and working out?
The fitness aspect came quite easily. When I got to college I was sick of always being the fat friend. I used to weigh 25 pounds more than I do now. So, when I got to college I realised of being the larger friend and I wanted to feel good about myself. So my friend suggested I start running in order to lose weight, because her father is a marathon runner, and it was really difficult at first. I hated running, especially in High School when you had to do the physical test and you had to run a mile. So, in college, I started running, and I really started getting into it. Eventually, one day, I remember my grandparents coming to visit me in college and my grandmother just looked at me and said: ‘you look amazing’ and I just thought it makes me feel good, it clears my head, so why don’t I just keep on doing it? But it wasn’t until I moved to England that I ran my first race. It took a good 4-5 years to build up, to feeling confident enough and strong enough to run a race.
So, in the UK you did the 10k?
Actually my first race was a half marathon! Now that I look back on that, I don’t know why I chose to do it that way, but I just did. I ran a couple 5ks and 10ks after that, but the half marathon just made everything seem easy. And the day before I moved out here I ran the London marathon!
The whole thing?
The whole thing! I have to say that was the most difficult physical activity I have ever done and probably will do in my entire life. It was difficult. Thank God for the crowds, otherwise I wouldn’t have made it.
Personally I run a lot on the treadmill a lot, but that’s so much easier!
Yes, it’s not the same thing as running outside. But you want to know a secret? I hate running on the treadmill. It’s too easy and I get very bored very easily. I like to be able to look around and my mind sort of wander and if I am on the treadmill that doesn’t happen at all, so then you end up falling off! I have actually fell off the treadmill! It could happen to anyone you know!
Have you run the full marathon since that time in London?
No, I have ran the half marathon in San Francisco with Nikky and Nike. That was probably the best race that I have ever run.
Nikki said that the finish line was amazing! She actually cried at the end of the race!
Yes, it was incredible and I didn’t cry! Even after the marathon, I thought I would cry and I am a very emotional persona and I cry very easily, I don’t know what went wrong?
Maybe you were dehydrated?
Probably! But it was really nice and we literally held hands when we crossed the finish line. It was fantastic and it was all women. That’s I think what made it so inspirational, having women of all different ages running for all different reasons, obviously many ran in memory of loved ones whom they had lost to cancer. Actually I did cry, in the middle of the race, because there was this woman saying on the back of her shirt: ‘Missing you everyday daddy’.
You have to address the need of so many different types of women and so many different cultures. That must be really challenging, because for example maybe I believe a cocktail dress is the thing to wear, but that could be something really kitsch for some woman coming from India.
It’s challenging, but it also offers up quite a bit of content. So we are never without content. And you don’t feel like you are doing the same thing day in and day out. You get stories from women who are coming from all over the world and with so many different backgrounds, and that’s one of the perks of making a women’s magazine in this kind of environment. The fashion and the beauty aspect, we do tend to go more towards the Western style. During Ramadan time, we will most definitely go towards the Middle Eastern style.
How about your personal style? Do you mostly go for the sneakers style?
It depends. My style is very much like my concentration ability. It is all over the place. I am really good at multitasking and it’s pretty convenient for my job as well, since if you work in publishing you have to do many things at the same time. but when it comes to my style, I could be in heels and a dress one day and then the next in trainers and jeans. The one thing that I always look for in my style is comfort. Obviously there will also have to be some sort of feminine feel to it. So it’s comfortable and feminine looking.
My friends would tell me: ‘take it easy on the gold in Dubai’, because the style here is much flashier and shinier I guess. Has your style changed since you moved here?
I have become more fashion aware, but my style is very simple and especially with the jewellery I go with something very small. But I always wear red lipstick. I love red lipstick!
Is this where all the fashion money goes?
Fashion wise it would go on make up and beauty products, shoes and handbags. The rest of the stuff can easily be replaced. I am conscious about what kind of clothes I wear, the company it comes from. I will try to do a lot of research on the company and what the ethics are.
What’s the hardest thing about your job? The most challenging?
Meeting deadline. Not because you are unorganised, but because you have so many people you rely on, for an interview or for getting them in the studio, making sure that it is the up most best it can possibly be. The week before is insanity, and it’s long hours, not all the time, but you will be in the office a lot more than normal and it is, again, that lead up to the final day and ensuring that everything is 100% perfect, stellar.