Name: Shyema Azam⠀
Born: Chicago, IL
Lives: New Jersey
I was always writing. From before I even knew how to, I would scribble wavy lines on notebooks and cross some imaginary ‘t’s and dot ‘i’s’
I never knew of other South Asian writers at the time, much less saw women who looked like me on TV. There were the April O’Neals and Lois Lane characters, but that was the extent of it.
When I started my first job at Hearst magazine in New York City at the age of 21, there were no WOC.
Not only was I the only brown girl, I was also wearing hijab at the time. I was so shy to take up any space even in a female-dominating industry.
I didn’t feel anyone cared to hear my stories, and they certainly didn’t want to ‘see’ a hijabi on their beauty pages at the time.
When I decided to not wear a headscarf anymore, I had editors approach me suddenly interested in me writing more about my culture. I’m sure they envisioned an empowering piece about removing my hijab. I certainly didn’t see it that way. I didn’t want them to put me in a box, and the story of hijab was so personal.
I decided to make my mark on my own terms. I didn’t write that piece, but I wrote many more since then about being a minority in the beauty industry.
Whenever I can, I try to give the platform to minorities, especially those with a similar background as me because I know how hard that was for me.
I do that every week with my IG Live interviews, and I try to integrate as many voices as I can now as an editor in the digital space, whether it’s hiring more WOC writers, models, or influencers to work with.
I’ve helped start a beauty company that’s still growing today on that mantra.
It’s inspiring to see more women in powerful, creative spaces, and I feel like it’s my job to tell their story. Being a support to one another is what’s empowering to me.