They go out and about individually, but together, they have formed this unitary collective, a wall of sorts to prevail over the trepidations of life together. Their name, however, is resounding. I suppose Gary Marshall’s 2001 Disney Classic played as much of an impact on their lives as much as it did Anne Hathaway’s and mine.
After all, who doesn’t want their lives to turn around in a blink of an eye? The idea of a rebirth occurring in the best possible ways, and then finding out you’re a Princess! Wait no, Pwincesss. Yes! Need a foolproof recipe to do it? Follow these steps, carefully:
First, you gather your closest girlfriends. Then, you perch a camera before yourselves (the added cameras usually help). Third! You peruse your old CD collection till you come across a movie you like. Fourth, now this one is simple and really straight to the point: you watch the movie. And then, once the credits roll, you pull something from there, give it a little glitz, glam, and coquette-ify your name because keeping that inner child in you is necessary, et voila! You have a name for your girl group. Now, it’s time to prop yourselves in front of a camera, because isn’t that what everyone’s doing?
The year is 2024. A curious blend of nostalgia and innovation permeates the cultural landscape. Here, all things vintage and retro are rejuvenated – brought back to be in vogue and embraced by those occupying online spaces. Here, sentient devices are accompanied by a green indicator, nestled in the corner of our screens, whispering its ever-vigilant presence: “We are watching you”.
The first speaker breaks the tension in the room.“I flit between being someone who’s introverted, extrovert. Or is it the other way around,”. She is in a white satin slip, with a lace décolletage. “Ambivert” the other three girls reply in unison. Khadija Meor is twenty-four this year. She sits alongside her chosen family, her sisters. To her left is Sherry Amin – a prolific figure who made a name for herself in the industry as a content creator in fashion and all lifestyle-related matters. Then to her left is Ofiellia Iskandar.
Thirty-one this year, Ofie, as she has been adorned by her friends and family, has more to tell than she leads on. A savant in finance who seasoned herself at Ernst and Young for three years, she’s now focusing her time on content creation. The final girl on the farthest right is Inarah Sofiya. A true firecracker and [what I personally believe to be the clown of the group], beauty and brains reside in her as it does in her found family. Khadija – or Khady as she prefers to be called – and Inarah are the babies of the group. Both women, working for fashion brands, are trying to scratch the surface and make a name for themselves too. There is a shadow, however, looming over them.
Expectations, scrutiny, watchful eyes from the public, and of course, the notoriety that they’ve received for their upper hand. But fair is fair. These women, as they will come to tell me, have fallen down and scraped their knees to no return in trying to do what is right – and they’ve done this by being true to themselves.
There is rouge on their lips, the hair on their heads styled to suit their faces and chatter seems to escape everyone on set. My palms were wet from the anxiety, the coffee pulsating through my veins, and the lack of sleep. I paced around the house, tying and retying my hair in a tight bun. Fidgeting as I always do to temper the anxiety, I remained waiting for the doorbell to go off before starting the interview. One of the production assistants was running late and I wanted a steady flow of things. No interruptions, no chatter, just a conversation with four girls.
That was all. But nothing, as it seems, is ever perfect. The doorbell goes off seven and a half minutes into the interview. I chuckle and call for a pause. The pacing continues and as the house cats yawn before me from the balcony, and as I drag the last puffs of my cigarette on my short break, I am giddy with the possibilities of how to start this cover story. I look at the four women seated before me. Then I look down at my phone and glance at their Instagram profile picture. Photo dump is how they’ve described it. Curated? Sure, most definitely. Don’t we all perform when the camera is on us, even if we’re placing it on and away from ourselves?
Then the idea waved itself before me. There they were, exactly as their profile picture suggested. Khady makes a perfect Charlotte – the Episcopalian Princess phenotype living and breathing. Sherry was most definitely a “Carrie” – unapologetically, unabashedly herself. Glamorous and stylish through it all. Ofie was the realist – she sets her goals within means but never sells herself short. A “Miranda”. EveryOutfit coined the term in the late 2010s and I wholeheartedly agree, “We Should All Be Mirandas”. Then there’s Inarah. Miss Firecracker extraordinaire. Fun, young, wild, and most certainly free, a “Samantha” is most definitely she.
Khady continues. “We were going through the questions yesterday together. I used to be really shy as a kid and it was hard to get me to open up”. She adds to her explication, sharing that she began to find her voice in her twenties, thus, coming into her own. Her interests are similar to that of her peers, one that is rooted in creativity. Fashion, beauty, health, holistic, healthy, and wealth-related matters are at the top of the list of things she indulges in. Having turned twenty-three at the time of the interview, I was also illuminated by her time studying abroad in Melbourne – a period in her life she regards as being an important precursor to shaping and molding her worldview today.
“I’m feeling rather nervous now. I don’t really know how to answer the question” explains Sherry. The mic finds its way into her hands. Flitting between introspection and being “very emotional”, she explains that she could not find a means to define herself. The reasoning behind this was one that I found to be rather interesting – something along the lines of what Oscar Wilde would have said. “You’re constantly changing, you know?”, she says. “It’s hard to place a singular meaning to yourself when you’re constantly changing”, she affirms. When the question had found its way into her inbox, Sherry pored over them for some time.
“To describe yourself… hmmm. I’m emotional. Soft. I wanted to call myself an introvert, but everyone corrected me. A people person, I love animals. I’m actually smart”, she giggles through this and then asks me, “Are you familiar with weaponized incompetence?”. She explicates how things work better in her favor when people underestimate her, thus giving her an upper hand. As she continued to explain herself, I came to learn how and what makes Sherry Amin tick. “There’s a quiet nerd living in me. That’s my inner child – someone who reads a lot. I tend to shy away from these parts of myself because of how people might perceive me”. Khady cuts through: “Kind of like dissecting you?”, she says.
“Yes!” Sherry agrees. She steers her boat onwards – pouring over the minute details, all hidden away from the light of the public eye of course. Beyond acquiring a degree in history and politics, one that she pursued due to her fascination with governmental bodies and the politics that allow for the function of countries; academic journals, and non-fiction reads are typically devoured like a good sandwich. “I’m at a phase in my life where people my age are expected to get married, settle down. I don’t necessarily relate to that way of function. I’m starting to question the structures of marriage. The purpose of it is so different from what it used to be. Don’t get me wrong, I love my partner. I’m putting that out there!”, and she laughs out loud. There’s more than meets the eye with Sherry. It just unfolds itself throughout the interview.
The microphone gets passed to Ofie and she breathes out a sigh, following it up with, “The deck that you sent over mentioned that the focus of the article was about girls in their twenties. I’m actually not in my twenties anymore. I turn thirty this year ”. Pursuing her degree in finance was not something she envisioned herself doing. This career path was paved way by her father. “Hi Dad!” Sherry whispers, Ofie follows suit. At the completion of her degree, ready to make her segue into fashion, Ofie would come to realize that her desire to do so would be dashed out by other secondary issues. “It just didn’t work out the way I intended it to”, she shares. Rooting herself in financial institutions to give herself a chance to try things out, she finally pulled the plug the year she reached thirty. “I realized I’ve had enough in the financial world. I wanted to pursue something more creative and that’s where I am headed right now”.
The last of the girls – Inarah Sofiya, asks and then affirms to us what she’s going to be talking about. “Okay where do I start? Okay! I’m going to be rambling because I’m nervous”. Ramble, she did not. Drawing allusions to Khady, who explained that she grew up shy, Inarah shares her experiences and what it was like growing up for her. “When I was younger, there would be moments when I couldn’t order my own food, I couldn’t step into malls unless I was certain that my friends were there. There were times they had to pick me up from my car too. When I got to college, I finally decided that it was time for me to piece myself together back into normalcy”. Sherry cuts through, asking Inarah to tell us what her father made her do. “Tell us what your dad made you do”, she says through laughter. Inarah paints a picture of her time at school, citing that she typically failed her in-class presentations due to her anxieties about speaking in public.
“My dad…” she laughs out loud. “We had this conversation about what I wanted to pursue in my career. I had set out to pave a career in marketing and he interjected by asking me how I was going to attempt that when I couldn’t speak candidly in public. He said it way more nicely though. That led to me making presentations on certain topics. I also did my in-class presentations in front of him as well. That helped me get out of my bubble”. The three girls beside her add to her repertoire: “She’s the athlete in the group too!”. It almost slips her introduction, but she affirms that her ardor for ice hockey was something that started in her youth, one that she’s looking forward to seeing take off at the SEA Games in the near future. “My family takes part in it too. I’ve been taking a little break from it since COVID happened, but I’m getting back to it!”
Having known each other since they were kids with their parents being family friends and some through friends of friends, the PwincesssDiaries girls have built an unshakable bond between themselves, intrinsically tying themselves into a sisterhood – a chosen family. “It’s been three years, but it’s felt like forever”, Khady says. Trying to extricate and illuminate the ideation behind the collective on your own would lead to a barrage of convolution. That’s why they’re seated before me, unpacking their friendship, brick by brick, down to the bone. I wondered if I too had turned into the same people who voraciously consumed their content, eager to know more, eager to piece together information so I got to say I knew who they were. But the fact of the matter is, I didn’t know them at all. Not beyond Sherry, whose online presence I became acquainted with in my teens. As the interview progressed, I came to conclude that Sherry – more or less – took on the role of the group’s momager.
“It was Sherry’s idea to start the photo dump account!” Ofie says out loud. All eyes divert to Sherry. I ask them all anyway, “There’s not much information about the collective besides your social presence online. Do you mind walking us through the ideation of the account?”. Sherry pauses and takes a moment to collate her thoughts. She decides where to start and takes us back to the beginning, sharing that she wanted was for a space where the girls and her could unapologetically be themselves. Explaining that their personal accounts were being used for their day-to-day jobs as content creators, the birth of PwincesssDiaries, a page that they regard to being rough around the edges and one that lacks the need to perform, allowed them to just be.
“I recall the days when YouTubers were the pillars of communities. Creators like Michelle Phan was someone I could relate to. But now, with the birth of PwincesssDiaries, we sort of became that for girls of all ages”, Sherry explains. The page took off with Ofie, who at the time was in between roles. Posting content outside of what they shared on their main accounts allowed them to not only share bits of their real selves with the world around them, but it also allowed them to learn things about each other. Recognizing that their platforms, both shared and on their personal accounts had accrued a significant following of young girls, they pushed forward in creating more community-based content. “The launch of our podcast gave way to shaping our group for ourselves and our audiences. It bridged the gap”, explained Khady. “It was like us being big sisters!”, Sherry and Inarah chimed in.
Comments that typically follow suit after posts and podcast episodes air sound like something like this:
- Oh my gosh! I didn’t know you guys felt that way too!
- Okay, so it’s normal to be going through these emotions. I’m not alone!
There was a sense of vindication that they shared, being able to do this for young women.
Having had bad experiences in their past female friendships, the girls set out to change the landscape of how female friendships should be. “The ways in which the media has painted out female friendships to be – catty, mean, and very competitive is not how they really are in real life, and it’s not how it is for us four. Blair and Serena’s friendship in Gossip Girl, for example, is so unhealthy. We set out to change that narrative. Female friendships should be rooted in positivity and community”. The intention to birth PwincesssDiaries was done in line with redefining their relationship with their femininity and relearning ways to navigate their internalized misogyny.
Unpacking their struggles with beauty was a topic that was hard to digest. Family members are where the root of the matter lies. Whisps of comments blown towards them, disguised as backhanded compliments is something so familiar to us all. “You would look better if you were fairer! Stop being under the sun!”, is an example of what the typical conversation sounds like. Familiar? Because it transcends the beauty standards in Asia. “Do you think this beauty standard is rooted in colonialism?” I ask them. “By colonialism, you mean Eurocentric beauty standards. Then, yes. It’s not only from family members you know. It happened a lot in school too.”, one of them answered. Ogled by boys and picked apart by other girls, Khady and Inarah share their experiences in gory detail.
“They called me flat-chested”, one says. “Boys in my school just went on and on about how I looked ‘mature’ for my age. Prime and ready to be picked as they would say. It’s weird to be sexualized at such a formative age like fourteen or fifteen. It made me focus my time on vying for their attention. It didn’t occur to me at the time that it was a terrible way of thinking. But we’re taught at such a young age that when boys or men start ogling at you, you’re supposed to accept it. It’s odd”, chimed in another Pwincesss. Interactions with cis-het men typically end in one of two ways; and this includes those the girls have worked with. “It’s upsetting but work opportunities with photographers or other industry people lead to them staring at my body. It’s off-putting because you know they’re sexualizing you in real-time and all you can do is just stand there and take it”.
It’s one thing to be steadfast and strong despite the challenges faced by these women. It’s another to admit defeat because the ugly head of patriarchy and the beauty standards rooted in it has reared its head toward them. It’s the picking yourself up – the hardest part of being a woman that is the most painful of it all. To do so, again and again, must be exhausting. Despite these challenges that have washed on their shore, the girls recognize the privilege that they’ve been handed. Work opportunities, an education superseding most of their peers, and followers, and above all, the adulation that cycles back into their online presence. It’s almost bitter-sweet; where four young, aspiring women are expected to take it because of what they were born into.
But isn’t it necessary to also ask ourselves: “Would these girls be adulated, celebrated, and welcomed into the online spaces they occupy if it weren’t for the privileges that they have; an upper hand of sorts?” I have been drawling the idea out for some time now, reflecting on the months since the interview took place, and from when I began writing this down. As much as I’ve been wanting to distance myself away from a piece, removing myself entirely from the subject – thus only shedding light on them, I began to realize that it would not be fair to do that. After all, the privileges that these four girls have is something I could only dream about in this one lifetime.
I don’t particularly enjoy pulling this out – but to not do so would be a disservice to people like me. There is in no way that I am shaming these girls for acquiescing their birthright – to exist. But I couldn’t stop asking why they had a foot up the rung on the ladder, and I continually kept scurrying below, jumping as high as I could to get onto the first step. To put it simply, they have rights that I will and may never have – no matter how close in proximity I may be to them, or anyone like them. Where they navigate opportunities by getting it handed to them in the social spaces they co-exist in, people like me crawl through mud to get there – and it’s never meeting the mark either.
To be Bumiputera or not to be Bumiputera? I sat and wondered. Would I have gotten bigger positions in the media sphere if I had been favored for a subsidized education with some of the best educators in the country? What about the connections those in media spaces; where instead of being looked at in contempt, I would be welcomed. No second guesses, no doubts. I see the girls before me. Taking away all that they have would tip their world sideways. But the more I look at them, the more I come to realize that whilst they may have a foot up the ladder, there are spikes on the rung. They bleed, and as I look up to them, my face is soaked – crimson. But together, they stood anyway. I think they will always do so.
There was no other [or easier] way to ask the question. What did I have to lose anyway? I looked to Sherry and blurted it out. “It’s a bit on the nose, but it’s a topic I need to discuss. I don’t want this to be a fluff piece for the sake of it. But the four of you are privileged. Do you acknowledge this? How do you give back to your community as well?”. She sucks her teeth and tells me she doesn’t want to get this taken out of context [something that has happened time and time again]. Her answer comes out after a moment – and it sets me back.
“The opportunities that we’ve received; we understand that we’ve had an upper hand in what we’re able to do. It’s a privilege. But we find ways to give back in whatever way, shape, or form”. Sherry who started her own non-profit SKRLWN has donated both her time and money towards helping the Orang Asal in Pahang, providing them with clean water and electricity. “We’ve lit up an entire village with all the funds that we’ve collected. I’m so very proud of that”, she shares. The other girls volunteer in animal shelters and social causes as well. “We find ways to devote our time to giving back. PwincesssDiaries is a part of that, but we also don’t particularly enjoy sharing these social efforts online. It’s performative. We like it to be an ‘if you know, you know’ kinda situation.”, they explain.
Since the interview took place, the girls’ presence has never been more plastered and made aware to me online. Going in not knowing them, left me amazed and wowed. Like it or hate it, these girls are here to stay. With a strong sense of womanhood thriving above and below the surface, these four women are doing – within their capacity – to change the world, even if it’s one picture or video at a time.
Producer: Alia Soraya & Pravin Nair
Director & Videographer: Jordan Chan, Alia Soraya & Pravin Nair
Make Up: Arinah Bakthiar
Styling: Pravin Nair, Sahadev Chhetri, Alia Soraya, Nazrul Kamsol & PwincesssDiaries
Photography: Alia Soraya, Jordan Chan, Nazrul Kamsol, Sahadev Chhetri & Pravin Nair
Videography: Jordan Chan
Track: Kang Records
Production Assistant: Thaqif Aris