In 2016, UAE-based blogger and content creator Karen Wazen Bakhazi shot to fame as she began blogging about her life raising two children who were then under two years of age. Her voice resonated and she began to amass a following on social media, which today stands at a hefty 5 million on Instagram alone.
While her picture-perfect shots with husband Elias and three children are what the netizens would call #familygoals, Bakhazi has also carved a niche for herself in the world of fashion. Apart from her own eyewear brand, she is Dubai’s hottest export to international red carpet events. From being a mumpreneur to fashionista, her rising influence on social media proves women can wear many hats effortlessly. In an interview with WKND, Bakhazi talks about her life outside the ’gram and why it’s just as beautiful.
What were your formative years like?
I had a very happy childhood. I grew up in Lebanon and can definitely say that I did not possess the confidence I have today. I was shy. I always loved being around people, but I never thought I was heard enough as a child. Today, to be listened to by so many people feels like a great accomplishment. Both my parents were architects and we were always encouraged to follow our dreams. They encouraged us to find our passion in life, which is why all of us siblings are in such different professions.
Your pictures with husband Elias on social media set what the ’grammers would call #couplegoals. How did you two meet?
In 2008, I had just graduated from university. I had a double major in business and psychology. I wanted to go to London and continue with my masters in psychotherapy. I wanted to have a Plan B. My back-up plan was to find a job in Dubai. I did not know my husband at that time, but he knew one of my friends. A friend had recommended me to him, for a job. I did not know who he was. But I ended up getting accepted in London. He happened to come there for Christmas holiday and we met randomly. A long-distance relationship followed, after which we got married.
Did the process of moving to another place daunt you?
(laughs) At the beginning, I thought it was temporary and we’d just live here for a couple of years. But today, I can tell you, it’s home. I don’t see myself going anywhere.
You started with the hugely popular blog, Karen’s Choice. Was that also born out of your desire to be heard?
Initially, when I started my blog, it was more like a personal diary. It was very expressive and came from the heart. I detailed whatever I was going through. It definitely felt good to be heard, but, at the same time, I felt the little things I was talking about made a difference to people’s lives. It enabled me to dig deeper. The one thing that made my purpose very clear on social media was when I shared my journey as someone with vitiligo. The number of messages I received was extremely overwhelming. All of a sudden, there were moms sharing photos of their children with vitiligo. I had girls telling me that all their lives they hated vitiligo, but the fact that I spoke about it made them feel at ease.
When did you first discover you had vitiligo?
Three years ago, I discovered a white patch on my chest. I remember I was at a restaurant, and one of the guests having lunch with us was a doctor. He asked me to check it out. I thought it was a sunburn. The next day I took an appointment with a dermatologist who confirmed it was vitiligo. The real discomfort was in knowing that there was so much uncertainty. Where did it come from? Could it spread? Could it be stopped? We didn’t know. When uncertainty envelops you, the only solution is to deal with the situation. Eventually, I stopped finding answers and accepted it. When you have vitiligo, you realise how incredible skin is. All of a sudden, one day, a patch comes up, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
The pictures you post on Instagram with Elias and the kids further a romantic notion of the idea of a family. Where do you draw the line between the idealised notion of the family and the hushed realities?
Before I was pregnant, I had a fear of having children. My husband and I would often go for these trips and unwind. When I got pregnant, I was afraid that life would cease to exist. I was still very young. I didn’t see myself being completely absorbed by motherhood. Eventually, I realised there was no one way of living life. You can balance family and work. It’s not always easy. I wanted to use my platform to highlight that, because we either have mommy bloggers who are focused only on children-related topics, which is great, or you have singles, who are doing fashion weeks and travelling around the world. I was somewhere in the middle. I like to go online to see things that make me happy. I make sure when I am putting out content, it’s a happy one, but I make it a point to convey it’s not easy. It’s about finding a daily balance.
The pandemic has posed a big challenge to working moms. Has it also redefined parenting?
Even though I do work a lot, at the same time, I feel blessed that I am in control of my working hours. When I had kids, all I could think of was how working mothers are doing it. It is physically and emotionally difficult to juggle it all. The structures and systems they are working in are difficult. I don’t know how it’s going to be in future, but I believe people need to be generally sensitive to the current situation.
From motherhood to becoming a fashion icon, how did the doors open for you?
I was intimidated by the fashion world at the beginning, to be honest. I definitely do not fit into any model standards, though I realise there has been a shift in the industry, and that has enabled someone like me to enter this industry.
When did you walk the red carpet for the first time? What is it about the international red carpets we often miss to see?
It was at the Cannes Film Festival. First of all, I was shocked to see how small it was. When you see it on television, you think it is grand. It’s hard not to get star-struck. I was there with a team from Chopard.
The most memorable moment on the red carpet.
The first one at Cannes, just because I did it with my husband. We were around big celebrities. Next to me were Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid. We were partying in the same places.
What’s the key to getting the red carpet look and the walk right?
Make sure you’re walking in comfortable shoes (laughs). Because mostly, you are not even able to park your car right at the entrance, and have to walk all the way to the red carpet. If your dress has a train, make sure you practise enough because you don’t want to trip on the red carpet.
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