There’s something about content that comes from a place no one but the creators themselves choose to reach into.
Sure, there are videos and Instagram posts all dedicated to jumping in out a new trend, or speaking out on a hot topic that has taken over social medias by storm. But rarely do we ever think about whether the content genuinely resonates with the creators themselves.
Did they really want to make that dalgona coffee because they like coffee or was it just for the number of likes? Is so-and-so influencer genuinely passionate about the Black Lives Matter movement or #MeToo or do they just want to be seen as woke – they get attention either way, right?
We had the opportunity to speak to the amazing Shahana Jan recently. She’s an actor, director from Islamabad, Pakistan and a badass content creator whose Instagram has well over 40k followers! Her videos, particularly on IGTV, are mostly comedic and quirky takes on feminism, Desi culture, and tidbits in the world of content creation itself.
Her latest video, “Being a Feminist”, is a hilarious depiction of a client undergoing an evaluation for being a ‘satanic feminist’ with the diagnostician over-enthusiastically suggesting ways to quell the client’s thinking. The video has amassed over 46k views.
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Oh, and did I mention she directed a music video for Walk The Moon’s song “We Are The Kids”? That’s right. She set the music video in Islamabad, showing the resilience of street children, with the theme being about hope and the future being at the hands of all our children regardless of where they hail from. A beautiful piece of work, if I do say so myself.
In our conversation, Shahana talked about how she creates her content based on what she loves personally and what she’s passionate about. However, she clarified that she doesn’t mean to bash content creators who don’t. That’s just how she rolls and her audience seems to love it.
“I don’t enjoy jumping on trends as a creator if the trend itself doesn’t personally speak to me or if I don’t resonate with it.”
“Smart creators will know exactly how to create the moment a trend hits and capitalize on that,” Shahana said. “Because the trend is the current Insta pulse, content created in that window of time will get seen which leads to reach, engagement, ultimately numbers. I get it and I respect people who do it well. But personally I don’t enjoy jumping on trends as a creator if the trend itself doesn’t personally speak to me or if I don’t resonate with it.”
During quarantine, many creators have switched the direction of their content to reflect what most people are looking for, but that’s not what Shahana wants to do: “I could treat creating content around trends such as banana bread or dalgona coffee as a creative challenge for the sake of jumping on the bandwagon and staying relevant. But I feel that in the process of it, I’m losing out on the authenticity of creating.”
“I actually don’t care about banana bread. I could’ve used that moment (it was trending) to explore banana bread as a creative challenge, but I have to ask myself why.”
Not many influencers would be so brave. “Because I actually don’t care about banana bread. I have no personal associations or memories with it. I don’t think I’ve ever ordered it off a menu of delicacies. So we could argue that because banana bread was trending, I could’ve used that moment to explore banana bread as a creative challenge, but I have to ask myself why. I’m not that kind of creator. Not every trend represents me or speaks to me.”
This authenticity is what really speaks to me. One of my personal favorites videos from Shahana is one called “Shaadi Ke Baad” (After Marriage), which shows a Desi girl asking her mother if she could do things that range from travelling and dying her hair to ending world hunger and exploring quantum physics; at each of which, her mother keeps responding “shaadi ke baad.”
It’s something pretty much EVERY Desi girl (including myself) has been told when they ask to live a little freely. Something fuelled by a long-standing patriarchal mindset that might just take a while to undo completely.
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“I wondered if this was inappropriate, whether this might turn people off because of the view a lot of people have of female sexuality, I even gave it thought in terms of engagement ‘Maybe this won’t be shared as much, maybe this video won’t be shared as much’ And for a moment, I thought of removing the part. But then I reminded myself that what I create needs to represent who I am. I am sex positive. And I believe that female sexuality and desire needs to be normalized. We need to stop shaming ourselves for what is innately our right to explore.”
“What I create needs to represent who I am…and humour is one of the greatest ways to slide in some healthy commentary.”
This is what happened next: “Humour is one of the greatest ways to slide in some healthy commentary. So I exhaled and kept the part in the video. And much to my surprise and pleasure, the video did well regardless. Sure it wasn’t shared as much as other videos have been, and I did receive a handful of objections but ultimately it was worth it. And encouraging.”
Oh, it was definitely worth it!
Some of the objections Shahana mentioned included Desi people pointing out that her feminist content may seem fine to her as someone living in the States, but that she should “stop corrupting our women!”
Seeing as Shahana officially moved to the US at the age of 28, her being born and spending 20 years in Pakistan would have actually enabled her to observe how the patriarchal system in the country has worked. And her content is the perfect example of tackling it. However, she knows that while feminism only recently picked up pace in the country, it may be a while before major concrete change is made.
Meanwhile, all we should do is keep pushing until the wall eventually falls down. Through whatever way we can.
Aside from her videos, Shahana has also created her own platform called “Bhainhood” (‘Sister’hood) that welcomes womxn from all over the world, of all backgrounds, ethnicities, religions and the like. Most importantly, it welcomes all kinds of content from them; poetry, illustrations, videos, music, articles and everything in between.“While other places might have a higher standard when it comes to quality control, for Bhainhood all we want is to share content that’s original and comes from a place of truth for the creator. While we skew comedic, we’re not limited in genre.”
All we want is to share content that’s original and comes from a place of truth for the creator…we want to share the experiences of what it is to be in this body. On our terms through what is authentically our own narrative.”
“We are most open to collaborating with other genders but for now, the driving creative force must come from what is essentially womxn energy and that includes transgender women and also the non-binary. We want to share the experiences of what it is to be in this body. On our terms through what is authentically our own narrative.”
As someone who believes in the importance of one’s own passion being present in their creation and creating an inclusive community just as much as we do, she was an absolute pleasure to speak to. Shahana is clearly a witty and wonderful force of nature and she’s sure to leave a lasting impression on you!
People like her prove that while content that is created based on trends ensures more engagement and marketability, there is something inherently special when content comes from what you hold dear in your heart. It may be too much, too harsh or too unrefined for people, and it may not even receive as much love as it should, but it is a piece of you in all its glory.
Even if it touches the hearts of a few and makes them feel seen and understood, you’re doing it right.
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