Impactivist Spotlight: Fati Shams on Knocking Out Society's Expectations
By: Lindsey Hahn
“Take the first step, and the second will follow.” This is the advice of Fati, an Iranian woman who for years dreamed of immigrating to the United States.
When Fati was 11 years old, she remembers walking down the street and being ridiculed by an officer about her hair showing through her scarf. Growing up in a traditional, conservative society, she wasn’t afforded many of the rights that women experience in other parts of the world, like showing her hair in public. She lived in fear of breaking any rules and muddying her family’s reputation or being thrown in jail.
As a result, Fati saw her dreams begin to fade into the abyss, but she knew she wanted more. So she set her target on immigrating to the United States where she would have the freedom to cultivate a world that breathed life into her dreams rather than diminishing them. And even though she couldn’t yet see how it would come together, she could imagine creating it. From that point on, she spent every waking hour working feverishly towards that future.
Breaking free from the traditional path was difficult. She was the grit that rubbed against her culture. Because of her dreams, she endured isolation and lack of support from the people closest to her. Naysayers told her it was impossible. She was weak and incapable. She wouldn’t survive. Despite all this, she stayed relentless.
After three years of a grueling immigration process, Fati was allowed to move to the United States. Being in a foreign country and new culture brought a new set of obstacles. But she didn’t let this hold her back. She struggled with English, but always told her friends to let her know when she made mistakes so she could learn. “Asking for help,” she says, “doesn’t make you weak, it makes you smart.”
Fati was always open to change so she could be sculpted into the best version of herself. She wanted to redefine a belief system that was her own. As she started to embrace her newfound confidence, she broke off her debilitating and unhealthy relationships and started acquiring new skills like Muay Thai and Krav Maga. Learning martial arts not only propelled her towards her goals of becoming a strong, independent woman, but reinforced the physical and mental power she always knew she had. She’s been able to reframe what others would consider a failure and instead learn to extract the lessons, trust her decisions, and just DO.
Fati is wildly grateful to have grown up Iran. That upbringing painted her world with perspective as well as the ability to not take anything for granted. When she says she loves the feeling of wind in her hair, she literally loves the feeling of wind blowing through her hair. It’s an expression to most, but for someone who was forced to cover her hair, it is much more. She was never allowed to feel that before moving to the United States.
Since moving, Fati has been a guiding light for others, including her family and friends. They watch her challenge her culture’s boundaries and now feel it may be within their grasp too. And although the road may have been long and difficult, Fati knows she wouldn’t have it any other way. “If you’re living and not happy,” she says, “you’re already dead, so you have nothing to lose.”
Photography and Cinematography by Lindsey Hahn