A Letter to Self on the Need for Representation, by Margie Houlston

A Letter to Self on the Need for Representation, by Margie Houlston

Dear whomever this letter falls upon,

I hope it finds you well, in good health and full of creativity. My main reason in writing this letter is to help me with my current project, where I’m looking at representation within magazine front covers. I’m creating my own collection of magazine covers, in hope, to better represent ethnic minorities. In truth, I’ve been running away from this topic of race my entire life. I hope this letter helps me confront my fears of speaking up, both for myself and for others.   

I don’t know when I lost my voice. As a matter of fact, I don’t entirely know when I gained it. I have repeatedly insisted, from my first year of university, that art was my voice. I say that in past tense but truthfully, I still say that today. Art is my voice. I guess what I mean is that I use art to express my opinions. For someone who hates confrontation, I’ve made plenty of confrontational art pieces. I suppose it would be more appropriate to say: I use art to say the things I can’t say. To be brutally transparent, I hide behind my art. I hide behind the art piece that often says things I didn’t even intend for it to say. Art that speaks in its own language, converses in its own native tongue, sparks discussions in topics it’s well-rehearsed in. While I, the artist, go about my day-to-day, falling silent when someone makes a racist remark; biting my tongue when someone passes derogatory comments; laughing nervously at  jokes aimed at marginal communities.

My silence is deafening.  

In writing this, I feel I’m being unfair to myself. I remember the time when I was 12 years old, my school friends made a comment regarding the women who work in the Chinese take-away restaurant. A comment I won’t ever repeat, as the words wound too much. Yet, my 12-year-old self, although extremely nervous of confrontation, didn’t shy away from pulling my two friends up on their racist terms. When I was 19, in my first year of university, my flatmate and his friend were arguing with a girl in another block. They were in the courtyard and she was up in her room, by the window, a few floors up. We lived on the ground floor and a few more of my flatmates were sat by the window spurring it on. I was already feeling uncomfortable as it was several of them antagonising just one person, then they poked their heads through the open window and asked for eggs. As soon as the first egg was thrown, I couldn’t stop shaking with anger. I asked why they were arguing in the first place and they responded, giggling like hyenas, ‘because she’s fat’. I took myself to my room to try and calm myself down. I couldn’t. I was fuming. I marched out of my room, dressed in my Malaysian nightdress and slippers, towards the courtyard where the bullying was happening. I could barely speak coherently, I was so livid. I was disgusted and couldn’t even find the right words to express how angry I was. And that’s what I said to them. They later came to my room to apologise.

I’m telling you these stories because bravery forms itself in different ways. You may shy away from confronting strangers but you are brave in challenging those close to you. And that matters. Remember that when you are feeling lost.

At the moment, I can’t find my way. I feel responsible to do more. We can complain and demand for businesses, fashion, movies, music, magazines etc. to do more to better represent society, but we have to remember we have an obligation to represent those around us too. What I mean by that is, challenge people when they express an ignorant comment and accept that we, too, are ignorant to situations we may not have experienced. Welcome new ways to be inclusive and representative.

I’m trying my best to use my creativity in a way that speaks volumes in representation. I’ve used it for women’s’ issues mainly towards body image, but I’ve often fallen short of representing women of colour. That is why I’m focusing my current project on magazine covers, mainly concentrating on the representation of WoC. Recreating different style magazines, except this time using women of different ethnicities as the cover girl, to highlight the lack of diversity in publications. The problem with representation, or lack of, is its subtly. The world is full of demanding problems, should it matter that this month’s issue, and next month’s issue, and the one after that all feature white women? But it’s easier to say that when you see, reflected back at you, your face in every medium. We often underestimate the power of media. The power to decide what is beautiful, the power to decide what is desirable, the power to decide your own self-worth. It’s difficult to fight something that seems so trivial, yet has such a negative consequence.

So, I hope instead to grow with inclusion and grace. To positively affect those around me. To not only express this in my art but discuss it at the dinner table, in work and at social events. But to also encourage people to use their creativity as their voice; that one line in a song can make you fall in love, that one painting can start a revolution, that one dress can start a trend. Most importantly, to use our creative voices to speak up for those who have been continually overlooked.

You are brave in doing so, remember that, for when you are feeling lost.

Yours truly,



Written by Margie Houlston


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