London-born, Lebanese-bred Karen Wazen Bakhazi addresses one of the most controversial terms of social media at the moment…
Over the weekend, one of Dubai’s darlings, Karen Wazen Bakhazi, jet-setted to the United States to speak at one of the largest pan-Arab conferences in North America. Held at Harvard University, the Arab Conference garnered some of the Middle East’s most prominent figures (including real estate developer Mohamed Hadid – supported by daughters Gigi and Bella Hadid), and luckily, Karen was chosen to speak and discuss current issues surrounding identity and influence.
At the conference, with a theme “(Re)Imagining Home”, it was important for Karen to speak about her social media presence, how to stay authentic and empowered, the importance of being a mother and her Middle Eastern heritage. However, most importantly, it was to explain what it is she actually does.
Considered to be a fairly common question, it’s one that Karen often dreads being asked. At the conference, the eyewear designer and style guru (dressed in a matching suit by Lama Jouni and a pair of mules by her sister’s eponymous brand, Andrea Wazen), explains in full confidence what it is she does. And no, it’s not being an influencer. In fact, the Dubai-based mum personally has an issue with the label and we here at MOJEH, found out why…
Why do you have an issue with the term “influencer”?
I personally have an issue with the label “influencer” because I feel it’s almost like a compliment, and it’s like taking advantage of my position and the power this job gives me which is definitely not how I see my position at work. On the contrary actually, I feel that the power is in the hands of the audience and not in my hands. That’s why, I do not believe that the term influencer describes what I do. I see more of myself as a story teller through images. I tell stories and share personal experiences through images, through talking, and this is personally how I see what it is I do. A lot more than me influencing people. That’s why, I don’t like the question ‘what do you do’ because today, I don’t have a one-sentence answer to that. I just say I’m active on social media (laughs).
You were quite emotional towards the end of your speech at Harvard. Why was that?
When I walked into the campus, I was imagining that the people that were going to be in the crowd were almost going to be people who I had to defend to what I do. It was a preconception and it was very wrong judgement from my part because as I was getting closer and closer to the campus, I was seeing people saying “Hi Karen! We’re here to see you. We love you”. All of these things were already getting me emotional. I felt like my eyes were already watery, even before I got up on stage. When did all of this happen in my life where I’m in Boston and not even in my country and people are actually here to hear me speak about what I do?! It was happiness, being overwhelmed and being surprised that this was happening. As I was talking, it hit me that I’m in Harvard! (Laughs). I’m talking about something that I love so much, that I do day in and day out, and I actually take time away from my family for it to be recognised by such an institution.
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You mentioned that women in the Middle East were often not represented enough. Would you agree that this is currently being addressed and changing?
I definitely think this is changing and I’m so happy this is changing. We have examples like Nadine Labaki and Huda Beauty – these are real success stories that have stemmed out of the region and our speaking very loudly across borders. This is definitely something that shows me that there is so much room for people to actually be inspirational and to speak from our region to the rest of the world, and to actually give a different outlook on what it is actually that is going on in our country and what kind of women can actually come from our region – contrary to what media might portray women in our region as.
Family values are obviously very important to you. How do you manage to balance everything that you’ve accomplished whilst putting your family first?
Family values are definitely very important to me. I have a poster in my house that says ‘Balance’ because to me, this is my ultimate goal of every journey – to find the right balance. I can’t necessarily say that I have found it. But what I can tell you is that I have definitely been in control of finding out what my priorities are and sometimes when I feel that I’ve been given a bit more attention to my work than my family, then I make sure to adjust that and the following day, I make sure to give a lot more attention to my family than I do to my work. It’s basically a constant inward looking at what my life is going through at the moment and I make sure that I balance that out. It’s about evaluating and reevaluating what I’m going through at every point. And of course, I would selfishly say that my family is very important to me because when I spend time with them, this is when I feel best.
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What’s your secret to staying authentic in this industry?
I try obviously to be as authentic as possible. Sometimes, of course, just when you are aware that there is a camera, it’s very easy to get carried away a little bit. But, thankfully I have my family around me all of the time, whom if they feel there is something that kind of looks off in the way I act or in the way I speak, they would point it out. Being authentic has always been a part of my character and I’ve always been unapologetic about who I am and how I am. Even people in my family are always shocked on how much I’m willing to share with people. Sometimes I’ve actually gotten in trouble because of how much I’ve shared (laughs). It’s just a part of my character. Being vocal, being expressive with how I feel and it’s just a very big part of my character. There’s nothing about me that can be wrong and I’m not afraid to tell people how I am, how I feel, even when I’m emotional, I show it. Also, a big part of this is I owe it that fact that I went to therapy for two years and I’ve worked really hard on understanding my emotions, understanding how I feel and being unapologetic about the way I feel.
What does it mean to be beautiful?
As a young girl, I always wanted people to remember me for being a positive energy around them. This to me, is beauty. It’s someone who comes with good vibes, good energy, someone who is confident and respects the people around her. This to me is beautiful and this is what I always try to be.
What does style mean to you?
Style to me is just an expression of who you are, your mood and through the way you wear your clothes. My style is very much a reflection of my personality.
What is the most important piece of advice you can share?
The most important piece of advice is to believe in yourself. Do what you want to do and to not let people’s perspective or impressions of you get in the way because to me, I’m almost sure that everyone that reached where they wanted to reach or even reach things that they never expected they’d reach, Believing in yourself, listening to yourself and yes, maybe taking advice, constructive criticism but not let someone else’s negativity or opinions get in the way of what you truly believe you want to do.
In case you weren’t able to watch Karen’s speech at Harvard’s Arab Conference, watch it below…
- Words by Meeran Mekkaoui