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Street Smarts

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Sometimes discovering your personal style can come from the most unlikeliest of places—which is what happened to blogger Arooj Aftab. Having a health condition called neurofibromatosis led her to discover her signature look and ultimately what sets her apart in the world of fashion.

Introduce yourself, your personal style and describe a typical day for you

Hey, I’m Arooj. I would say my style is a cross between tomboy and girly. My go-to is smart streetwear which I normally buy oversized. Until recently, a typical day for me would be working a nine-to-six job, five days a week. However, I recently decided to leave my job and focus on my own projects. I’m one week into being self-employed so I’m currently still trying to figure out my routine. But so far, it’s been quite busy, a lot of admin, planning and preparing content.

You discovered your love of style because of your condition neurofibromatosis. Can you tell us a bit about your journey?

I suffer from a condition called neurofibromatosis. It is a condition where tumors grow inside my nerves and skin. I’m lucky that, so far, the tumors I have are benign. The condition has caused the left side of my body to be slightly disfigured, I have a plexiform tumour near my hip and it hangs off, to the point where you can physically hold it. It was about three years ago that the plexiform tumor developed, it began as a new tumor that gradually grew.

As my body changed my wardrobe changed with it. I felt much more comfortable in oversized menswear and baggy clothing; that became my identity somewhat.

How did it shape/change your style?

My ultimate go-to style used to be distressed skinny jeans, Dr Martens and a faux leather jacket, but as my body changed, my wardrobe changed with it. I couldn’t wear fitted clothing as I didn’t feel comfortable at all. I found comfort in menswear and oversized clothing, allowing me to continue being me, but adapting so my disfigurement wouldn’t be on show.

After being nominated for a Cosmopolitan Influencer Award for ‘Best Newcomer, 2018,’ you decided to share your story and be more open about the reasons behind your style. What was the reaction you received? Were you afraid of sharing it in the “perfect world” of fashion / social media?

Being nominated for the Cosmo Award put a lot into perspective for me, it was an ‘influencer award’ but I felt confused about what and how I was influencing. After sharing my story, I felt less like a robot and more like a real person. 

The reaction I received was incredible, I didn’t expect it to reach as many people as it did and for it to be as big as it was. I’m honestly so grateful, there has been so much support. 

I was very scared of sharing my story, my fear was that I would be treated differently, or people would think I’m complaining about something when other people may have it worse. I can’t quite explain the overall fear, but it was just constantly there. 

Now I’m not afraid of speaking about it (not as afraid as I used to be anyway). I still get so nervous, but I think it gets easier with time and the more I speak about it. It’s still difficult because I haven’t overcome what I have, I’ve accepted it though and I’m still on that journey.  

Did sharing your story change your self-confidence?

Absolutely! Without a doubt. I have come a very long way from the person I was before. I feel a little more content in myself every day. I know I still have a long way to go, but right now at this moment I can say that I’m happy where I’m at and with my confidence.

How did you find the style/clothes for you?

A LOT of experimenting. My wardrobe has seen some different styles over the years, but I think it’s just trial and error until you find the perfect fit! Figure-hugging materials are not for me!.

You said you started wearing menswear/oversized clothing as a result of your condition. How did you start introducing both into your wardrobe? How have you found shopping for them?

The whole menswear thing was actually never deliberate, I was just buying new clothing to suit my body. I then realized everything I owned or was buying was just menswear. Every single item.  

My shopping experiences are still a learning curve. I have good days and bad but I learn more about what I like each time. I know what to look for now and rather than wasting time strolling around the shops for ages it’s literally in and out!. 

If you analyzed your wardrobe, what percentage would be menswear? Do you find it easy to combine men's and womenswear?

Ninety percent would be menswear and yes absolutely [I can combine it with womenswear]! I struggled at first but I think I’ve become more confident with my choices now.

Do you have any advice you want to give in regards to finding a style which might be different to what everyone else wears?

I’d say you do you and what makes you happy. If you’re happy wearing something [in particular] wear it. I think with style it needs to represent you and your individuality; everyone is different. Shop your personality always, be as bright or as dark as you want to be.

What is your favourite trend in 2019 and why?

Hair clips! I love how they’ve come back in fashion. Also utility waistcoat jackets— absolutely LOVE. I’m so here for it!