Founder of Girl Talk HQ, Asha Dahya (AD) talks to The Asian Destination (TAD) about wanting to create a positive media environment for women and their importance in society.
TAD: Could you tell us where the inspiration came to start GirlTalkHQ.com?
AD: It was a culmination of a few things. After being a TV presenter for 10 years in both Australia and LA, and going through personal experiences in my life, I realized I wasn’t passionate about tabloid gossip, red carpets, fashion, music TV and superficial Hollywood stuff. I realized what was missing, and what I wanted to create, was a media site for women online who were looking for positive stories to read every day. I was sick of all the websites and shows teaching young women to be competitive, tear each other down and hate on each other.
TAD: In your opinion, what are the main issues preventing women from feeling empowered?
Too many shows encouraging superficial and meaningless crap in our daily lives. Fashion tells us beauty is being a size zero. TV tells us success is having your own reality show. The movies tell us being happy is finding a man and falling in love. The media tells us being popular means believing what they tell you, rather than thinking for yourself. The corporate world tells us fulfilment comes from consumerism, not being content with what you have.
Not enough positive role models to balance out the not-so-great ones.
TAD: What response have you had so far?
AD: It’s been so positive and a little overwhelming! Getting such a great response gives me a clear indication that what I am doing is important and much needed by women. Every week I have women asking to blog for me send me resumes from all over the world and ask how they can collaborate with me. It’s really flattering to have this because it’s not about me as an individual person, but about the movement and the message I am promoting which a lot of people want to be part of.
TAD: Have you had many negative comments? How do you deal with these?
AD: Not a lot thank goodness. Although I did get a negative-ish email recently from a male who “warned” me that I am “slut-shaming” certain pop stars. I had posted an article about Taylor Swift and how she said in a Glamour magazine interview that she doesn’t feel the need to get naked in public all the time, and somehow that translated into me slut shaming every girl who does take her clothes off! I thought it was very extreme and kinda funny. I didn’t take much notice of it, because the messages I promote are picked on purpose, because I know what it was like to be a young girl idolizing certain celebrities. And I know the ultimate goal of what I am doing isn’t going to please every single person, but as long as I know my purpose and my motivation I don’t need to crumble every time someone disagrees with me.
TAD: Often those that lash out with negative comments are the ones that need to helped the most. How would you go about reaching out to those who aren’t yet feeling open to being empowered or helped?
AD: Well in the example above I didn’t respond as I didn’t feel I needed to. It was more of an opinion that he was expressing and I left it at that. But I know other bloggers who get some really vile emails from people. It’s so easy to be a cyber bully these days and hide behind the anonymity of the internet. But those who reach out with genuine questions I would have no problem helping. Sometimes it is a matter of using your own discretion when responding to negativity. I try and remember that I am representing my brand, not just myself and the words I say have to be chosen carefully. Trying to put myself in that person’s shoes and reading between the lines can help too.
TAD: With Sheryl Sandberg urging women to Lean In, Beyonce, Salma Hayek and Frida Giannini encouraging us to Chime for Change Malala Yousafzai reminding us to ‘pick up our books and pens [as] they are the most powerful weapons’ – 2013 was the year of the woman. What do you hope 2014 will bring for women?
AD: Yes, 2013 certainly gave a lot of visibility to women from all walks of life across the globe. And it’s about time because most history we are taught at school doesn’t always promote incredible women. But future generations are definitely going to be talking about the women you mentioned in the question, because they had the courage to use their voice. They will serve as a great examples for more women to step up and take the lead. We still need more women in leadership around the world, in all sectors. I think 2014 will be a time of great blossoming for so many women forging their own paths and careers. I see it every day in my own feminist community in Los Angeles. I am lucky enough to know a group of incredible women taking the reigns and making great opportunities for themselves, without being afraid. This I hope will eventually become a more powerful trend than say trashy reality TV and will show the next generation of girls what it really important in life.
TAD: Who are your female role models?
AD: My mum. At the age of 50-something she went back to college and got a masters in education as she never had an opportunity before. Amanda De Cadanet. I met her recently and we had the most wonderful conversation about our lives as TV presenters an now as women creating a female empowerment brand. We laughed at how similar we were in so many ways. She is a huge supporter of my site and is always very encouraging to me personally. Tyra Banks for her entrepreneurship beyond just being a pretty face. Malala Yousafzai. Sarah Blakey the creator of Spanx. She flunked law school twice. Never studied business. She started her billion dollar company with $5000 of her own money, never went into debt, never got out a loan. She created an amazing prototype of the Spanx underwear, had a great pitch and sold her product online. She has never spent a dollar on advertising and today is one of the world’s youngest female billionaires. She also does a lot of work inspiring and speaking to unemployed women in New York and encouraging entrepreneurship.
Bobbie Houston. She is an author, speaker and senior pastor from Australia. She started a huge women’s conference more than 10 years ago where women come from all over the world to hear these amazing women speak. It books out almost a year in advance, and it has grown so big they have one in Australia, London, Kiev and South Africa. Her vision and love for women is inspiring to me.
TAD: Are we right thinking you are a British born Indian, schooled in Australia and now settled in America? How important is your Indian heritage?
AD: Yes! I am Indian, born in Birmingham, raised in Australia and live in Los Angeles. Growing up I hated being Indian. Going to a mostly-white school in suburban Brisbane I hated my brown skin and always wanted to be lighter. It sounds so ridiculous now, especially because Bollywood is such a huge trend and every white person I know would kill for a slice of ethnicity in their genes!
Today my Indian heritage, as well as my social upbringing are important to me because they make me who I am, and they make me thankful for all my blessings.
My dad always used to say to be growing up whenever I would whine and complain “you should be thankful that your great grandfather and grandparents left India so that you could live the life of luxury you are today!” He was right. I hate to admit it!
TAD: How do you think your international exposure has influenced both your attitudes to life, women and empowerment?
AD: I feel being an international woman gives me a unique insight and perception to women’s struggles globally. It’s so important to me that I have a global presence on my site, because that is something my parents exposed me to growing up: how the world lives. Growing up in a western country it is far too easy to be complacent, but part of GirlTalkHQ’s objective is to bring greater visibility to women around the world that, say, a school wouldn’t teach or mainstream media doesn’t care to report on. If I truly want this website to unite women in all walks of life then it has to foster a global mentality. That’s how I see it.
TAD: What’s next for you? What can we expect from you in 2014?
A loaded question indeed! March is a busy month for me and for GirlTalkHQ. I am going to be a keynote speaker at an event for International Women’s day in March. I am hosting an women in film panel in Los Angeles. I am also launching a women’s networking event early March with a colleague of mine called ‘The F Word’ which aims to foster a community of like-minded feminists in Los Angeles. We have 5 speakers lined up, and the chance for everyone to network and build connections with other women in LA. That is what I am working toward in the immediate future!
Every day new opportunities present themselves for GTHQ and I am now at the stage where I don’t like to plan too much, other than to grow the readership, following and the brand visibility amongst women. It’s exciting to be in a place where people are now finding us and presenting opportunities.
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