S: Hey there, I’m Sharon.

U: And I’m Umi.

S: And welcome to The Round Table.

U: This is a space dedicated to young women of the Pacific who are trying to figure out life just like we are.

S: And we are going to ask questions that you’ve always wanted to ask to a new guest every episode and lift the veil on unspoken topics.

U: We talk about everything from personal image and relationships to everything in between. Come and join us.

S & U: Ale yumi storian.

S: This project is made possible with the support of the We Rise Coalition and ABC ID.

U: So Sharon, what is our topic for today?

S: Our topic today is on personal image.

U: What does that mean?

S: Personal image is the way people view and give opinions about you. So, how you look, the way you dress, and even how you communicate.

U: So how is that relevant to the Vanuatu context?

S: This topic is relevant because how we embrace our culture is how we portray ourselves and it is our identity. I am proud to be a Ni-Vanuatu woman, born and raised, and we are a nation made up of 83 islands, and each island, each village, and each province have their own diverse kastoms and traditions. So, it plays a major role in how we must act.

U: And how do you think that affects young women?

S: Well there are many expectations of us from our communities and families, for example, how to behave and keep up a respectful image in front of other people depending on where we are like at church, at a cultural event, family gatherings, hanging out with friends or social media. So, we have different versions of ourselves to manage societal and cultural expectations every day.

U: True. And we never speak about how the pressure of living up to these roles affects us.

S: So, this is why we have Justine Pikioune to help us uncover this topic.

U: So yes our guest, Justine, we recently celebrated her in our monthly fashion feature, Sista Gat Style. For those who don’t know, we publish this every month in the Vanuatu Daily Post newspaper. You can also check it out on our website at www.sista.com.vu. So, just a little bit about Sista Gat Style, it’s a feature that provides a playful but powerful platform for Ni-Vanuatu women from all walks of life to be visible, heard, and celebrated. Through fashion, Sista has been able to generate discussions on self-care, gender norms, body positivity, and women’s leadership while promoting the ongoing visibility of strong, diverse women in our society.

S: And Justine is a Ni-Vanuatu woman from Santo and Fiji. She was educated in New Caledonia and Australia and is currently working as a finance manager at Titan Fx.

U: Yeah, so, we have chosen Justine for this particular topic because she embodies what it means to be a modern Pacific woman, a mother, a student, a wife, a professional, and a community leader. She does all of this with grace and style. I would say she’s someone who appreciates kastom and culture but is also very progressive, you know, balancing her family life as well as her work life.

S: So welcome Justine. How are you?

J: Hi Sharon, I’m good thank you, yourself?

S: I am good, thank you so much. Thank you for being with us for The Round Table show today. I am so excited to hear what you have to say about personal image. Honestly, it is a topic that really sticks with my heart and I go through that as well, so I would love to know and I know Umi would love to know what we all have to say, what we all can say about this topic. So, personal image Justine, what are your thoughts on this topic?

J: Well, first of all, thank you for having me at The Round Table. And hi Umi. I’m glad to be here and I’m honored to be part of your episode on personal image. So, for me, personal image, first of all, I would like to say that I’m not an expert, I’m just speaking from my own understanding and knowledge of what personal image is. So, for me, personal image is how you portray yourself, or how you behave, and when you do that, you’re probably thinking of what others see in you, what others think of you, or what others expect you to do or behave, that’s for me, personal image.

S: So, first of all, I want to look at behavior, you know, I want us to talk about behavior, how we portray different versions of ourselves like you said. So, my question to you Justine is how does a Ni-Vanuatu woman behave in different spaces in her life? In your opinion, in your own words, how does a Ni-Vanuatu woman behave in different spaces in her life?

J: Thank you, that’s a great question. So in my opinion, we behave differently, in different spaces like for instance, if I’m at work if I’m with friends I would definitely behave differently because society has expectations of you. I’ll give you an example, for instance, if you’re at work then you shouldn’t be displaying leadership qualities because women are not seen as leaders, you know, that’s what society thinks and society expects us to be like that. You shouldn’t be bravely communicating your opinion because they’ll be seeing you as bossy, you should be always polite and respectful, quiet, not just saying what you think, or what you feel in your heart or what you want to say and not be bold. So those are the things that society expects you to be and they consider them as accepted behaviors. So, for me, that is something that actually goes into how you behave differently in different places. Because at church you have to be respectful, you know, and you would wear an island dress, you would wear a skirt that goes over your knees. And when you should wear an island dress if you wear jeans and people will look at you differently so.

S: True, true.

U: That’s very very true.

S: That’s very true.

J: So, I mean if that can answer your first question.

S: Yeah, definitely definitely, it does. Umi, what do you think about this question?

U: Yeah, that’s definitely how a lot of Ni-Van girls, and I think girls around the Pacific, are as well, you know, you have to sort of conform in these different spaces. You have to be a certain way in this space, at home, but as soon as you step out into say, just the community or to a family gathering like there’s a different version of yourself for everywhere, every people, every place. Some girls it’s like to the extreme, I know a lot of girls who take it to the extreme. I mean, I remember I had this one friend, the first time I went to visit her family was we were all, we would’ve already been like 16, and we got there I saw how she was acting, I did not know who that was, I had no idea who it was. No, I was like “what is this? I’ve never seen her this way before” you know what I’m saying like she was a completely different person. And as time went by, I came to realize she had to be that way, in front of her family, she has to. It was her way of showing respect to them I guess. Do you think there is a fine line between being yourself, progressing as a modern woman, and respecting and upholding your cultural, religious, and family values at the same time, is there a line, and how can we find balance? Is that even possible?

J: Yes, you can find a balance and I totally think it is possible, because, you know, we need to embrace our culture in a certain way as well and we need to express ourselves as well like, I’ll give you an example when I’m in my twenties, I would wear a mini dress and I wouldn’t care what others think. That’s me. You know, I’m going to work, I would wear heels, I’ll wear a mini dress and I’m going to work and that’s me. But, as I grow older, I get to realize that being respectful toward my husband is also a thing that I should be doing. Like when I dress up then I should think about how my husband would feel, but that’s just because I respect him enough to do that.

U: Oh for sure, for sure.

J: But he doesn’t go and say that “you shouldn’t be wearing this, it shows so much skin”. No, he doesn’t do that. But it’s just me being respectful and finding that balance. And I’ll give you another example, for instance at work, you have dress codes. In any workplace, you have dress codes. So, you know, you could be for instance smart or you could be smart and casual. So, you could wear jeans and a pair of T-shirts. But you wouldn’t wear a t-shirt that has a slogan on it that says ‘F you’ or something. Or like wearing jeans that are teen jeans or you know, there are rules in place that you need to respect but that doesn’t stop you to dress up nicely and be comfortable in your own skin. You know, I’m tucked in and I love tucking in but I don’t care if people see me and say “oh she’s a bit –

U: “oh she’s curvy”.

J: Yeah “she’s curvy”, “she’s wearing this” you know. But I love wearing this and I love my body and that’s why I’m wearing this.

U: See, so that in itself, that’s balance. She can still be stylish and look nice the way she wants but also in a respectful way. So that definitely answers the question, because I think that should be the goal for a lot of Pacific Islanders women, is we can progress and move forward as modern women but still hold on to our cultural values. Because at this moment, it’s almost like people have to pick and choose now. It’s either culture or it’s modern, you know like you can’t have both. But yeah, I feel like at the end of this discussion we’ll be able to come to a conclusion to like how these other young women can deal with these little challenges in life. Because as young as we are, I know we all care about our culture as well and want to keep it but not at the expense of not being able to progress and be ourselves at the same time.

S: Thank you Umi for sharing that. So, our next point for today is on the impacts, and the influence that it has on women and young girls. What is the cultural influence that happens to girls and Ni-Vanuatu women when they are expected to maintain these values, these cultural values? And what Justine said, how to dress properly, how to act properly, you need to show up in a way that is not too extra, you know.

U: Not too eye-catching.

S: Yeah because if you do show up with like a mini skirt or like a short top then definitely eyes are all going to be on you. So yeah this is my question, what is the cultural influence, what do you think is the cultural influence that happens to women or young girls when they’re expected to maintain cultural values?

J: So Sharon back to your question, so I was telling you earlier about how when we are kids, small girls, we are taught to not display leadership skills or leadership qualities, to be polite, to be respectful, to not say anything, to just sit there and you know, be respectful. But then, that also affects us, and the impacts that you were talking about, for me, it’s confidence, you know. You doubt in yourself, you have less confidence in what you do. Those are the two main things that I can share with you today actually. And for me, I do experience times where I doubt myself, but then I have girlfriends, I have friends, I have my mum, I have my husband, I have myself. You know you just have to keep telling yourself that why should you be less confident, why should you doubt yourself. If you value something then you know speak out, just tell everyone how you feel and how you think the way forward is. And that doesn’t mean that you’re right, but that just gets the conversation going.

S: True, true. I definitely love what you just said right there. I mean confidence is everything. You grow up in like, a Ni-Vanuatu girl grows up in like a space where you know there is a role for you to follow.

U: You know your place.

S: You know your place, yeah. And then it affects you while growing up as well you get confused, you don’t know if you’re doing the right thing.

U: Yeah it’s almost like you stunned yourself. You could be so much more but because of all of these – 

J: Noises.

S: Yeah.

U: In your head that says you are supposed to be this way, yu fraet, you’re scared to just go for these things that you want to do.

S: And the thing is you already know that you can do these things, you can be better, you can grow and be better than the version that you were before.

J: Exactly.

S: But it’s just like – 

U: You’re just trying to stay in this box because, you know, you’re told this is where you’re supposed to be.

S: Exactly.

U: You will be approved of, you will get everyone’s approval if you stay in this box.

S: Yeah. So those are the few impacts. Did you want to say something?

J: Yeah, because you mentioned about being better than yourself, and I totally agree with this. For me, what I’ve learned throughout my experiences is that, don’t compare yourself to others, just be yourself, do you. Like they say ‘Be unapologetically you’. Just be you, express yourself. Don’t compare yourself to others, I’m just repeating this because for me it is important.

U: That’s very true.

J: Because I face those issues and I feel like the more I talk about it, the more I’m aware and the more I can change.

U: No, that’s really good like the being yourself part, that’s super important because most of the time as a young woman trying to follow the standards set by their elders, they sort of lose themselves in the process. Some you don’t even see their personality, they have one, you just don’t see it because they’re concealing it. Like some are really funny, but you don’t see that because they’re trying to be quiet and you know I’m not saying all girls are like this. But we’re speaking now and discussing this topic for the girls who are, you know, they’re scared, girls who have so much potential and they have so much that they want to do in their life, but feel like they can’t because they have to stay in their place.

S: Yeah definitely. And may I just say, I read what Umi had put on about your photoshoot, I don’t think we can add that in, but may I just say, I love that you have so much love and passion, I saw on your fingers you have the comb and I read about how you stated that it always brings you back to where you come from. And I really love that.

U: Yeah it’s like a reminder for her to embrace her natural hair and I think that’s beautiful.

S: And I think that relates to our topic as like being yourself and loving yourself. And the fact that how you carry yourself right now, how it’s different from how you respect your cultural values as well. So I just wanted to say that.

J: And you know, I was telling Umi last time that you can even take cultural values and just spread messages that you value. Like what I’m saying is that you know I have this dress that has the bumbu shell on it, but for me, it’s a reminder to myself to always speak on issues that matter to me you know.

S: Yeah.

J: To express myself and put myself forward. You know, the shell has a meaning, normally you would use bumbu shell, if I’m correct, to call out a meeting. But for me, it also helps me to think about the fact that I have a voice.

U: Yeah and as I recall, I had goosebumps when you first told me that, how you use the bumbu shell as a way to speak out, as a reminder to always speak out on issues that matter to you. I mean come on, like she’s still following her culture but also using it to her advantage. I don’t know what’s more beautiful than that.

S: It’s unique, it’s unique and it’s beautiful.

J: Thank you. And we all can be unique.

S: Of course. Three different people on The Round Table today, all unique.

U: Wow we could not be any more different.

S: Alright so should we move to our last point? Or did you want to say something?

J: I would like to say something regarding, I think one thing that we should consider as well, it’s probably not in line with your question, but something I think that’s important as well is for others to be aware if they’re judging someone, they should be aware that they’re doing that. I’m just going to give you a simple example, so we’re hiring someone this morning so a girl comes in and confidently speaks about her strengths, her accomplishments and in that panel, there’s a person in the panel, whether it’s a man or a woman that goes out and say how should I say this.

U: Did she think she was too boastful or confident?

J: Yeah, negatively. Some people can take it negatively.

U: Boastful. The word is boastful. You know, I’ve grown up here my whole life and I’ve noticed when a young girl is confident, she displays confidence in herself and isn’t ashamed to portray her strengths and all that is good about her. People see it as like “oh she’s a show-off” or “she thinks she’s better than everyone else”. But that’s not the case.

J: Exactly, that’s not the case, she’s just confident enough to come here to the hiring panel and tell them that “those are my strengths and I am the person for the job”. Then other people in the panel might think like “oh this is too much”. She needs to be humbled, she needs to you know step down.

S: Yeah, you know you come and then you pull that face.

J: Yeah exactly, but if she speaks confidently, who are you to judge her. Like if she shows confidence, then let her show confidence. And that’s where the others should come out, you know, one of us should come out and say “I think she speaks confidently, and I love her interview”. It’s just, you know, this is a simple that I could say but I think we should always not let it go. If we see something like that happening, we should speak out about it and just have a discussion about it. Like “why do you say that? Do you have a certain view?” Maybe you can help them change how they feel or how they behave or how they see other people. And that’s an important thing I wanted to bring up this morning.

U: See that is definitely a girl that is trying to step out of her box and imagine if she heard what those people said. It would send her right back to the box. She will be afraid to step out there again and try and you know.

S: For a very long time.

U: Yeah and so she’ll always feel like “okay so when I’m here I have to be like this. Now I have to get back to those boxes now. I tried to step and it didn’t work out”, yeah.

S: Yeah, definitely. I think we have a few more minutes, but let’s talk about the last point. And this is where I want us to really give advice or encouragement or maybe just look more into this topic. I know you guys have said so much about personal image so far, but my last question is how do we deal with it? This is something that is so normal like I grow and I know that every Saturday I have to clean the house because if I don’t mum is going to whip me. So how do we deal with that?

J: You spoke about how normal it is, so I’ve thought about gender norms, or gender roles, like you as a wife you should be cleaning up, washing dishes, cooking et cetera. I think we should start teaching our boys, that’s it, it starts with our kids. Like I teach my boy to iron his own clothes, to wash his own clothes, make his own breakfast, wash his own dishes even cook. And he also sees that because his dad does it, his granddad does it and I think it starts there.

U: Yeah like don’t just send just the boys to go to technology as in making stools and then send the girls to the baking classes.

J: No, no, yeah my son bakes and he loves baking because he makes money out of it. But you know that’s it like we should just see each other and not judge each other and love each other and just be ourselves, that’s all I can say.

S: I love that. I mean you know talking about how you teach your children and how to change things. I even go through that as well every day I wake up and I know that there are things for me to do at home before I leave my house and when I come back I know I have to do things as well. So that is very, very important. I think parents also while teaching their kids the cultural values that they should portray, they have to teach them the very essence of these basic little things like you said, wash the clothes, you know, so I think that’s very, very important. Alright so Justine before we round up, do you have any advice or any last words that you would love to give, especially on this topic about personal image, to any girl or women that are struggling to portray themselves. What is some advice that you would love to give?

J: Okay thank you, Sharon, thank you Umi. So I think one of my advice would be to just be yourself, like I said, be unapologetically you, express your opinion, put yourself forward and be proud of yourself, be proud of your accomplishments, and talk about your accomplishments. Don’t assert yourself, as they say, because this is a thing that people would normally think that men should assert themselves and women shouldn’t. But no this is not true, assert yourself, promote your accomplishments, talk about them and just stop doubting yourself. That are the main ideas that I would like to share this morning thank you.

S: I love it.

U: That’s lovely.

S: I love it, thank you. So in summary, to round up this topic, Justine has shared with us how we, young women in the Pacific can ease the pressure of cultural and societal expectations by balancing, embracing, and loving your culture as well as progressing at the same time. So, thank you so much Justine for joining us on The Round Table.

U: Guys check us out on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok @sistavanuatu as well as on our website sista.com.vu.

S: And this is Sharon.

U: And this Umi.

S: From The Round Table. If you want to listen to more of The Round Table podcasts, make sure to stay tuned for the next episode. Until next time.