From London, England, Payzee Mahmod is using her voice to empower women around the world. An activist for charity organization IKWRO, Payzee is fighting to end child marriage and has petitioned with over 108,000 signatures so far. She’s using her platform to do good in every sense of the word and we could not be more excited to have her in our #GOODSQUAD! Read on to hear more of Payzee's story and how she took power back into her own hands to help others.
What is the new beauty ideal to you?
The new beauty ideal to me is being your true authentic self and not trying to fit into a box or stereotype of what is on trend and acceptable at the moment. Just being your true authentic self.
So, I grew up in Iran and I saw beauty as somebody who has blonde hair, light eyes, and light skin. That is what TV and magazines portrayed to me, but everyone around me was the complete opposite. That's what was told to me as being beautiful. That was the aim, that's how you are beautiful if you look that way.
What was your childhood like?
Living in Iran, I never had access to education. None of my sisters did either, so we were basically living within our four walls. Just our home. We weren't able to integrate with society because we weren't supposed to be there in the first place. So, coming to the UK and just being normal children–going to school, having friends, and watching TV, having electricity all the time–those things sound so basic and so simple. Those were things we didn't experience growing up. My sisters and I didn't get to watch TV whenever we wanted, we didn't get to just go in the car and travel somewhere. Those were all things we got to experience for the first time.
It was so surreal just seeing so many people and so many new things for me. I really started to embrace the beauty in everyone and how different everyone looked. Because it was the first time I saw somebody with ginger hair, someone who had curly hair, someone who had straight hair. All the different types of beauty and the lifestyle really was so different, but as a child, it was so exciting. It felt like everyday you were discovering something new. Like music and language, new words, and food. All the things that sound really simple, I never saw those things growing up. I never had them in my life. Having them when I was 10,11 was so amazing. Like, this is so cool! They are the most basic things, but it was a difficult transition–an immigrant child having to learn a whole new language and having to integrate into a society that was so foreign.
Learning traditions and cultural things that were so different from my culture. It was challenging, but so beautiful because we were growing into these new surroundings, or at least trying to grow into these new surroundings.
If you could tell your younger self anything, what would it be?
I would say be happy with what you have, appreciate what you have, and stop looking at comparing yourself to other people. See their beauty, but also see your beauty. Appreciate what you have because we are all different and unique for a reason.
What do you think’s missing from the fashion and beauty industries? What would you like to see more of?
I think that sense of authenticity and not what's on trend. This season it's on trend to have a plus-size model or somebody from an ethnic minority group. I think having everybody and not tokenism is when we will really get to a place in fashion. Anybody and everybody should be something we all enjoy. I think, until we get to that, we haven't really reached the point that everything is acceptable, no matter how you look.
Define Good American in 3 words…
Inclusive, authentic, and it's also a sense of freedom.
Tell us about when you applied for the Open Casting
I remember seeing a post on Instagram. Khloé posted that she was doing an open casting for her brand and I thought, let me find out what it’s about. So, I went online and I saw the previous campaigns and I’m like, that’s so cool! They genuinely want real people and people with real lives, not necessarily models. I thought I'm going to apply and just hope for the best. I had absolutely never ever expected to be here!
And then you got the call back!
To be honest, I thought, no this isn't real. Maybe they send this to everyone, maybe it's some kind of acknowledgment. You think, hundreds of thousands of girls must be applying so are they really going to see my application? When they got back to me and were like, you can come to this now, I was like, oh my god! They actually saw my name, they saw my application. I couldn't believe it for ages. I showed it to my boyfriend and my friend, like, do you think this is real? Do you think this is genuine? They were like, yeah you got picked, you should go!
What made the GA call back special to you?
I think it is amazing they want to meet you in real life, and they actually give you the time and space to tell them about yourself instead of saying, "Send me some pictures so I can see how you look." It's so much more than superficially “This is me and this is my size”, it's more like, tell us about you. What's really unique is they are just chatting with you. It doesn’t feel like you're there to be judged for how you look or who you are. It was more like, talk to us, tell us how you are. I think that is really unique. That was a really unique approach to getting to know people.
I remember meeting Emma and she was so nice and so welcoming. She was like, "Tell me about you and what made you apply." I started telling her about my upbringing, where I grew up, and what it meant for me to actually see someone like myself representing something like this or to be part of a project so empowering. Then I went on to tell her about some of the obstacles I have had in my life, and why it is so important for someone like me to be featured in something like this. There are hundreds and millions of girls who come from where I'm from and don't really have anyone to look to. That’s something I need–as somebody who has the voice and privilege– to push and actually show young girls the example that I never had growing up. So, I started talking to her about that and the challenges that I've faced in my life.
And can you talk about those challenges?
Sure! I grew up in Iran. My parents fled the war in Iraq, so they went to live in Iran as immigrants and they lived there pretty much in hiding and in secret for about 10 years. Then we immigrated to London in 1998, and it was a really challenging experience because as immigrants, it was really hard to be accepted by this Western world and this new culture. It was a bit of a culture shock and my parents really struggled fitting in and finding their way around the new surroundings. So, with those struggles, we had to live in certain standards. My parents expected us to get married at a certain age to people they were happy with, to live a very strict conservative lifestyle.
When I was 16, my father decided to marry me, and my sister who was 17 at the time, to two complete strangers who were much older than us. My sister decided to leave her marriage after two years, and as a result of that happening, my family decided that was a dishonorable thing for her to do. As a result of her leaving her marriage, she actually lost her life, and my dad and his brother ended up going to prison for life. So, that has really empowered me to start using my voice and keep fighting for women who have gone through the same struggles as me or might be going through it.
Thank you for sharing that with us.
After meeting the other new members of the Good Squad, do you feel a sense of sisterhood with everyone?
Yeah, definitely. I think the one thing I found so much comfort in seeing is that there are so many different girls from different backgrounds, and listening to them and hearing why they applied–everyone is going through their own obstacles in life, and their own journeys that have made them the person they are. So, it's made me feel like I'm part of this really empowering movement. I think we’ve really created a little family which is so nice. I'm from London. We have people from Chicago and Australia, it's like all over the world we have come together and are a part of this amazing movement.
How has it been, now that we’re on the day of shooting the campaign?
I think I'm still in a bit of shock! I'm actually here and I feel like there isn't much pressure, but I feel like I'm representing so many people. I feel so blessed and privileged to be able to do that. Because I know where I'm from, and some of the struggles I faced. So many women don't have a voice, but I'm here on behalf of the sister I lost, and all the other women from my background or any background where they face struggles. They don't have a voice to be able to speak from a place of freedom, so I feel really, really blessed, encouraged, and empowered.
Now you’re an activist, and your voice is heard by so many.
It feels so different from what I’m used to because growing up as a woman from my background, I didn't have a voice. I never saw women speaking up or fighting for what they believed in. So, I think that is why I feel such a responsibility to represent the women from my background. It feels like a big privilege to be listened to. It shouldn't feel that way, because we should all be able to express the things we believe in and the things we feel strongly about. But, it's a feeling I'm getting used to and it's amazing to be able to share my truth and what made me the person I am today. I pretty much dedicate my life to changing the things that are in place that result in people going through the same abuses that my sisters and I were going through. I feel really blessed to have the platform and the voice to speak about these things.