Gold grills, a tapestry of tattoos and Dr Martens finished with an ingeniously fashioned headscarf, Ascia (@ascia) embodies effortless modest swag. The influencer, businessswoman, mother and public figure is a global citizen who marries the east and the west with inimitable cool!
I couldn't stop staring at Ascia the first time I met her. She's a study in contrasts; it's not everyday you see an Arab woman who toes the line between modest and fierce with a much ease. Not in the Middle East at least. "I ruined my teeth because I didn't eat for a few years," Ascia points to her mouth, laughing as I continue stare at her gold plated grills. "My entire mouth is full of veneers." Her raw reveal puctuated the tone of the rest of our conversation. There's no skimming the surface here. Ascia takes you soul deep with one word.
Gold hoop earrings, pack of 2, Dhs69, H&M
Denim dress, Dhs1,195 Wood Wood @American Rag Cie
Tie-dye top and beanie, Ascia's own
And so we dove right into the story behind her jeweled pearly whites. Anorexic and bulimic from when she was 14 till about 18, she would eat as little as she could and when forced by her mum to finish her dinner, a prompt trip to the loo to empty whatever she had dared to ingest, would follow. "It was all about control. I didn't have any say in the way I dressed, who I hung out with, where I went... my dad was pretty conservative." Coupled with a less-than-happy high school experience where she was bullied, things were pretty tough. "When you're half-American people make assumptions about your upbringing in a conservative society, like you're partying or super loose. It was a stereotype." Sounds pretty scarring. "Growing up in Kuwait when you're not completely Kuwaiti, was rough." Was there anything redeeming about high school? "Not really. In high school, you're shoved into the same space with the same people. My graduating class was 36 people. So when some of them had decided that they were done with me, they would actually walk out of a room and leave me alone. It was awful."
White bodysuit, Dhs1,199
Camo print jeans, Dhs1,150
Belt bag, Dhs 1,095, all @ American Rag Cie
Boots, Dr. Martens
With over two-and-a-half million followers on Instagram and almost 200,000 on youtube, the TV star (on the jury for Sadeem) and entrepreneur (she owns a Korean beauty brand Seoul Kool and sustainable kids' line of slings, Desert Baby), is one of the busiest and most in-demand public figures in the region, and for good reason. Likeable, unique and absolutely adorable (that cherubic face!) loving her isn't hard. Everyone does. Ascia having anything less than a perfect life seemed as improbable as a slice of fudge chocolate cake with no takers.
She laughs out loud. "We talk about it in our content a lot... growing up between Kuwait and the US was nice but wasn't easy, you know. I'm actually learning more about my culture now. My dad is a professor of psychology and was super busy teaching. It was really time consuming for him so it was just me, my mum and my brother a lot." Was mental health and her eating disorder an open topic of discussion on the dinner table?
White jacket, Dhs1,925 SJYP, leap print jumpsuit, Dhs1,225 Closed, both @American Rag Cie
Clips pack of 6, Dhs39, Iconic
I turn to Lorey (her mother), who has teared up at this point. "It was so tough. And there was nothing like a counselor in Kuwait those days. Getting good help was impossible. So we did it somehow." The Internet didn't help either. "I used to follow communities on the Internet which promoted anorexia. They're blocked now but there were actual websites that glorified anorexia and pro-bulimia accounts that gave you tips on throwing up correctly... gory stuff, really. At one point, I always had a toothbrush in my bag wherever I went, so I could throw up. It took a lot of patience and work from my family to get my act together. My mum's friends were really involved as well… it was gradual,” Ascia tapers off. I don’t prod for details.
T-shirt, Dhs180, OBEY
Jeans, Dhs225, Siksik
Earrings, Dhs29, Iconic
Hat, Dhs1,550, Super Duper
I’d only spent about an hour with them at this point but it became clear that Lorey is Ascia’s pillar and post. She’s made of tough stuff. “I was the only foreigner in our entire family when I married Ascia’s father and moved to Kuwait. There was no Internet for information then. I had to actually go to the library to read about Kuwait (laughs). My husband’s family was very welcoming, sweet and kind but it was definitely a challenge.”
With a lot of family support and mental health awareness (having a professor of psychology for a father does that) Ascia and her family survived her eating disorder. She went on to study two degrees at Uni, made close friends and became much more comfortable with her cultural identity. Meeting and marrying her husband, Ahmad, who is half Kuwaiti and half Mexican cemented their identity as ‘The Hybrids.’
Nude dress, Dhs2,245, MMG Maison Margiela Belt bag, Dhs1,095 Blow both @American Rag Cie
During her last semester at University, Ascia discovered a love for blogging at a time when no one was doing it. “I spent so much of my life lost between two cultures that it was nice expressing it and finding some commonality with people. I used to write articles and communicate with people online. It was a natural progression… I’ve always loved writing.
When I was blogging as a single person, I called myself ‘A Hybrid in a Headpiece’; after marriage, Ahmad and I positioned ourselves as ‘The Hybrids.’ The amount we collaborate on blogging now has reduced a lot as he’s in the military sector of the government and it’s difficult for him to put large aspects of his life online, but the balance is great.”
Blue gingham trousers, Dhs 2,025, Blue gingham jacket, Dhs 2,375 both SJYP, Surfboard clutch bag, Dhs 1,060, Trainers, Dhs810 all @American Rag Cie
Over the course of seven years, Ascia has amassed a loyal group of followers. “It’s more like a community, some of whom have been with me through my graduation, getting engaged, my marriage, miscarriage, having both my kids and now, starting my businesses. I recognise the names of the people who have been with me since the beginning. And we actually talk. I dedicate certain hours in the day to send them voice notes and speak to them directly. We’ve spent a lot of time inculcating a community that I really enjoy and that we have a proper rapport with.”
The effort has yielded incredible results. Ascia’s influence extends beyond her loyal social media following. From starting her own fashion line in collaboration with Riva (Modest by Ascia), to now running two extremely successful businesses. Presiding over demanding brands, while focusing on the most important role, being a mother and a wife, is a constant lesson in juggling. Having a family that lives close by and a mother at hand whenever she needs help, is the reason she can do as much as she does. Lorey does the busy work, steps in when Ascia needs her to and is her buffer in the big, bad and often demanding world of Influencer-led entrepreneurship. The money must make it worth it. “Honestly, it’s not as much money as people think it is,” Ascia smiles. “We say no to a lot of people,” Lorey adds. “I only work with brands and labels that I believe in. Money is not the most important thing to me,” Ascia finishes with feeling. We believe her.
Khaki shirt, Dhs1,195, Khaki trousers, Dhs795, both Paige, Hat, Dhs375, Beton Cire (patchwork hat), all @American Rag Cie
Slippers and scarf, Ascia's own
I pick them up for shoot day the next morning and it’s pretty much the best few hours I’ve spent on the job with someone in a long time. Ascia needs no direction. She jumps, twirls and lands on her toes with the skill of a ballerina and leaves me, along with the rest of our crew, open mouthed at her moves. I hold my breath, petrified she’ll fall; it’s our very own private Cirque de Soleil starring one. The day ends late but our energy is at its highest with the last shot. “She’s the bomb,” our photographer says as we scroll through one impossibly perfect shot after another. I agree. There’s simply no one like Ascia.
BY KAVITA SRINIVASAN @KAVITASRIN
PHOTOGRAPHY: RAJESH RAGHAV @RAJESH_RAGHAV
STYLING: CHLOE LOUISE BOSHER @SOURCESTYLESHOOT
HAIR: ANGELIQUE TURNER @ANGELIQUETURNER
ALL BEAUTY: PAUL BUENDIA, RIMMEL LONDON MAKE-UP EXPERT @RIMMELLONDONARABIA