Quad Style: Ashvini Kartik-Narayan
The first time I met Ashvini, she performed a spoken-word poem about wearing the color red. I was speechless. Knowing Ashvini means being ready for a lot of moments like that - being left speechless at the way she perceives meaning in totally ordinary things: wearing the color red, a trip to JC Penney to buy shorts, getting a haircut, needing new shoes. That's why I was so happy when she agreed to talk with me about using fashion as a way to be brave, and as an instrument for body-positivity.
A girl in white/ Decided that wasn't right/ Now she wears red/ And chops hair off her head.
1. One of my favorite things about you is how inimitably you own who you are, and that's exemplified in how you champion body positivity with your poetry and fashion. How do you curate your wardrobe to maintain body positivity? What's your advice for people who are striving to do so?
Find pieces that resonate with you. This is your body and you choose what makes you feel amazing. I try to focus on how I feel more than how I look. I'll say to myself, "I love these pants because they are cool, and I don't care how they make my legs look." Believing in what you wear is so important. Let that power guide you if it's hard to find it in yourself.
I try to wear things that scare me, because the more you do it the less scary it becomes. I try not to hide behind baggy sweaters, but I do not always succeed. My wardrobe is full of baggy sweaters, and I rarely buy things with short sleeves. That's a reflection of my personal insecurities, so I want to clarify that I'm not perfect when it comes to following my own advice.
The most important part of any wardrobe is comfort and confidence, but sometimes the way that you achieve comfort and confidence is by going outside of your comfort zone and believing yourself to be worth the things you love.
2. Does what you wear translate directly to how you feel, or do your feelings dictate what you choose to wear?
It's a bit of both. I've battled with body positivity my whole life, so my feelings dictate what I wear in more ways than one. At the same time, if I'm wearing something that I love - my mom's denim jacket, a pin my friend made me with Florence Foster Jenkins' face on it, my glittery shoes - I always feel better. That's the sentimentality of fashion: it can take you to a place in the past, or any place at all where you feel safe and bold.
3. Tell me the story of your glittery shoes:
Oh, this is exciting. I used to only ever get brown or white shoes because I was so afraid of them not matching everything in my closet (because, remember, everything in my closet was mostly brown or white). The "wildest" colored shoes that I ever bought were maroon. So, I was inspired to look for a funky pair of sneakers when my friend got a pair of Converse with the Campbell's tomato soup logo on them.
I came across these glittery, patched, multi-colored shoes that I just couldn't stop thinking about. I read a review of them from a 50-year-old woman who said that she had two pairs because she loved them so much. For the first time, I stopped wondering what I would wear them with, or whether they would match, or anything, and I just ordered them. When I got the email that the package had arrived, literally screamed. I ran outside to get them so quickly that the people in the room assumed I had seen a spider.
The shoes are ridiculous; you either love them or you hate them. But I love them. They sparkle, and they fill me with joy, and they defy the box I used to be in.
4. If you could inherit one person's closet, whose would it be?
Bay Garnett, for sure. Her closet seems so sentimental to me. She can tie every piece to a place and a time and a feeling, something that's beautiful and exciting and crazy. It's so inconsistent and unapologetic, like she's not afraid of anything.
5. You've mentioned that you strive to incite small rebellions with your fashion choices. Who, or what, are you rebelling against?
I'm rebelling against who I used to be. I used to wear the same white cardigan almost every day. I wore a lot of t-shirts. I was a lot less daring, and I certainly never would have gotten my glittery shoes. A lot of how I dressed was governed by my perceptions of what I should be wearing, how I felt about my body, and what type of person I thought I was.
So everything I wear is a rebellion against that - I'm trying to look as little like my past self as possible. Tavi Gevinson said she cut her hair because she would rather become a new person than remain the ghost of a past one. That's something I think about a lot with my approach to fashion, and life in general.
6. How do you view hairstyles as playing into a fashion statement?
I believe in the transformative power of a haircut. For most of my life, I associated long hair with beauty and assumed it just took a certain type of cool, awesome person to pull off short hair (that person was not me). Once I finally made the chop, I felt so much less constricted by who I thought I was. And all I did was cut seven inches. I'm growing out my hair again now just so I can have the thrill of shaving it all off later.
For me, my hairstyle has made fashion less about being beautiful and more about exercising freedom. Changing your hair can allow you to become a new person; it's a way of starting over. When you change your hair, you create contrast, and that drives fashion because you've suddenly landed in an interesting place where you've never been before.
7. Who has inspired you the most to be more colorful and rebellious with what you wear?
My mom. I still remember being in middle school and going to JC Penney to buy shorts, and seeing that the Bermudas I usually wore had gone out of style, leaving shorter shorts in their place. I was so afraid of wearing anything even slightly revealing, but it was my mom who said that if I didn't push my boundaries here, I wasn't getting any shorts.
I don't believe that the only way to work towards body positivity is to wear less (and neither does my mom), but because of my mom, I try to push through the insecurity and discomfort of wearing something that scares me. In my freshman year, she banned me from buying anything white or beige and always tried to get me to wear more color and funkier jewelry. She's always said that I'll only be young once, and that now is the time to like, fuck it.