In the battle for inclusivity and diversity, every group needs leaders. For Asian women, one leader of the future could well be Rehana Paul. A homeschooled high schooler living in Delaware, Rehana started Overachiever Magazine in October 2018 when she saw the need for a space dedicated to Asian women.
Growing up in various different countries, from the United Arab Emirates to France, India to Portugal, Rehana believes travel gave her a deep appreciation and respect for different cultures. Furthermore, her homeschooling helped her develop the keen work ethic and drive that she used to create her own magazine at such a young age. However, she lacked the community that many young people share during school was another motivation to seek an inclusive group. Rehana’s sense of loneliness led her to found Overachiever. This action demonstrates how, with a bit of grit and determination, any consumer can instigate the change they believe the world needs to see.
Overachiever has grown quickly, starting from an intense overnight brainstorm in September 2018. The name pokes fun at the stereotype of Asian people being high achievers, and the topics from various diverse writers continue to break down such socialized ideas. From cultural appropriation in fashion to modern takes on Orientalism, Rehana’s team of talented writers is expanding this space dedicated to representing Asian women. Never claiming to stand for all Asian women, Overachiever simply creates room for each woman to speak for herself about her own experience.
In the future, Rehana wants to develop Overachiever Magazine into the largest, most inclusive platform reporting on and representing Asian women across the globe, in every field. Her eyes are set on seeking other avenues for Overachiever to develop amongst business, entertainment, art, or even all of them. Make Muse had the chance to talk with Rehana about the origins of Overachiever Magazine and how she sees Asian women’s place in society today.
Rachael: Was there a defining moment that you remember inspired you to start Overachiever?
Rehana: A lot of anger had been building up inside me, about the lack of Asian representation in media...many publications I tried to write for told me they weren’t interested in Asian issues. I didn’t think there was a single space where Asian women were celebrated and given a platform; all of that had been stewing in my head for months. Then, one morning on September 30, I was telling my mother I had applied to write for a teen-run magazine, and she said, why can’t you start your own magazine? The next morning, I had set up an email, Instagram, and had a 5-year plan.
Rachael: What do your family/friends/peers think of Overachiever?
Rehana: I’m lucky to have a very supportive family. My sister has always encouraged me, and my parents are my biggest cheerleaders! They’re all great publicists for Overachiever Magazine. My mother, who homeschools me (and moonlights as my best friend and manager), has always been there for me to rant, cry, or celebrate with. Honestly, the staff at Overachiever have become my closest friends- despite having never met any of them. It’s wonderful to be close with people who care so much about what they’re doing, and really believe in you.
Rachael: You have quite a range of writers on the site - how do you go about promoting diversity within your platform?
Rehana: Promoting diversity is far more easy than some corporations and politicians would have you believe. I want Overachiever Magazine to be the most inclusive platform, and by reaching out directly to women from underrepresented parts of Asia, and making it clear through social media that we are looking for all Asian women to write for us, we have been able to get closer to that goal. In the way of strategies: good intentions are not enough. You need to actively seek diverse candidates, keep an open mind when new people apply, and always, always check your privilege. I’ve had to do that more than once, and while it’s never easy, it’s the only way to actually have a diverse platform.
Rachael: Do you have any female Asian role models that you particularly look up to?
Rehana: So, so many! Everyone on my staff, and all the contributors (nearly all of them Asian women) inspire me. I really respect Asian women who have not only held on to their culture, but have used it to build their careers. One of the most popular examples of this is Constance Wu: she got a lot of recognition for her role in Crazy Rich Asians, but I’ll always know her as Jessica Huang from the sitcom Fresh Off The Boat. It was the first time I saw an Asian woman embracing her heritage, and not being shoved into a one-dimensional role. Tiger moms have gotten a bad rap, but I think she showed all the sides of the tiger mom (the loving side, the protective side, the pressuring side, the fun side) so perfectly.
Rachael: What specifically are the issues that you feel are particularly difficult for Asian women?
Rehana: We have expectations heaped on us from the day we are born. There is an insane pressure on us to always be perfect- perfect students, perfect children. There is a very clear idea of what an Asian woman is, and we are told we need to fit it.
And if by chance, we break off, we are stripped of our Asian-ness. I never knew there were Asian women who were actresses, or supermodels, or politicians, because I never saw anyone being allowed to own it. It is very difficult for us to break out of the mold while still holding on to our roots.
Rachael: Do you have any specific instances where you have recognised challenges due to your Asian-American identity?
Rehana: The model minority myth has always affected me a lot. There’s this insane pressure to be the best at what you’re doing: and there are only a few places you’re allowed to work, so to speak. I’ve always felt that we are cut out of creative fields: for example, I have pitched countless stories to publications about Asian issues, only to be told people aren’t interested in them. I think that rather than a lack of interest, there is a lack of willingness to hear what we want to say.
Rachael: What's your favourite thing about your cultural identity?
Rehana: I’m Punjabi-American, and apart from the food (man, do I love the food), I love how upbeat and optimistic Punjabis are. There’s always a reason to have a party, or just have a good time. I think I’ve definitely inherited that from my parents; it keeps me sane when I feel overwhelmed with the magazine.
Rachael: What advice would you give to other young Asian-American women or girls facing such challenges?
Rehana: Don’t let anyone tell you what an Asian woman should be. Breaking out of our traditional role in this country doesn’t invalidate your ethnicity.