To wear or not to wear: the battle of the bikinis

By Sneha Gray

In the aftermath of the latest terrorist attacks, the most recent battleground is on the beaches of France. The latest war of the bikinisvsburkinis is the tip of a much deeper and wider iceberg, and was stastock-photo-burkini-vs-bikini-traffic-sign-with-two-options-classical-swimsuit-versus-bathing-clothes-for-469484654rted by the Mayor of Cannes, David Lisnard. It’s a battle of two ideologies; a battle for the meaning of freedom and democracy, and the future of France and western democracy as we know it.

On the one hand we have the French mayors, who, having been affected by multiple terror attacks, think that prohibiting
burkinis (a type of full body swimwear) is a way to put an end to what they view as a symbol of extremism, while those that wear the burkini say that they choose to wear the burkina or a burka as a symbol of their freedom of choice.

Proponents of the ban suggest that the burqa (full-body garment), the face veil, the headscarf, or hijab are signs of oppression against women and had no place in the 21st century world. If one were to think that way though, surely, then, the unrealistic expectation of beauty, bikini-body and image expected of a modern woman can also be considered oppressive to many.

Whatever the case may be, surely banning a piece of costume is in the very least undemocratic and autocratic, and unlikely to curb terrorism.  Like many of you here in New Zealand, come summer, my family and I enjoy our country’s beauty in one of our many beaches. While I look forward to hanging around in shorts, t-shirts, or a bikini, some in my circle of friends and family, especially the older members, choose not to. They can’t think of anything worse than walking along Ohope Beach in a bikini. They are fully attired in their long light coloured leggings, loose white shirts, and a wide brimmed sun-hat. Were we in Cannes, would these lovely ladies be asked to strip down too? Therein lies my dilemma on how these French mayors think they can police this idea and where the boundaries lie.

On the other side of the coin, I have personally observed and disagreed with subtle word associations of “modesty” and “decency”  aligned to burkas and burkinis.  It’s dropped in casually in conversations, interviews or articles by proponents of the burka or a head scarf. In her opinion piece in the Guardian[1], the creator of the burkini, Aheda Zanetti, says that her creation came out of a need to find something practical for the beach or to partake in sports but that was also “modest”. Sh
e says that up until that point, “we didn’t participate in anything because we chose to be modest.” The Dictionary defines modesty as “dressing or behaving so as to avoid impropriety or indecency, especially to avoid attracting sexual attention.”  While I applaud Ms Zanetti’s entrepreneurial spirit for creating a niche and filling a much needed gap in the swimsuit market, reading between the lines, I am not so sure about her implication that those of us not complying with the rules of the burka are i
mmodest or indecent. Besides, I don’t wear shorts and t-shirt to “attract sexual attention,” but because I feel comfortable in them.

Having grown up in Asia, I am aware that there are certain factions of Islam, that my Muslim friends have warned me about who want to Islamify the world by getting the west rid of “immorality” and the “indecent” way in which they perceive Western lifestyles. Many Muslim authors have expressed concerns about the resurgence of head and body coverings. Author Yasmin Alibhai-Brown[2] says, “Like a half-naked woman, a veiled female to me represents an affront to female dignity, autonomy and potential. Both are marionettes, and have internalised messages about femaleness.”

Writers Asra Q. Nomani and Hala Arafa[3] in their Washington Post article pleaded with people not to wear the hijab in the name of interfaith solidarity. According to them, “the ‘hijab’ is a symbol of an interpretation of Islam we reject that believes that women are a sexual distraction to men, who are weak, and thus must not be tempted by the sight of our hair. We don’t buy it. This ideology promotes a social attitude that absolves men of sexually harassing women and puts the onus on the victim to protect herself by covering up.”

It seems like this debate is much larger, wider and deeper than whether one wears a bikini or a burkini. It hits right at the heart of who we are and who we want to be. We’re amateurs in paradise and therefore will never be perfect until paradise is found, but within all our imperfections we can find
common ground if we truly seek it.

Personally, it is my view that people should be allowed to wear what they want. I also think cultures evolve and we should all evolve with it. Take for example, medieval or even Victorian England where women wore scarfs and hat to cover their hair; or the fact that women had to cover their head at church. Most of us have moved on. Likewise, in their time, many Muslims may choose to change their preferences too. However, we can’t force them to do so if they choose to wear a burka or a burkini. Leave them be. It’s their choice. The beginning of the decline of democracy occurs when we take the freedom of choice from one sector of the population. For us to keep our freedom – our freedom of choice in clothing, in education, in marriage, in life – we need to let others have theirs too, even though sometimes we may not understand it.  Focus on the things that unite us, not divide us and this way our sons and daughters can find more common ground than us.

Who’d have thought that the future of our cultures and ideology is determined by what we wear to the beach.



Hey “middle-classer” – Have you finished with that Jealousy?

“My precious”…”Mine”… “Mine” … “Mine”….

Let’s admit it. Be honest. We’re all just jealous.

Trolling through the social media comments in response to the latest saga about British Prime Minister David Cameron’s financial worth I could smell the vicious negative thoughts of our jealous minds.

Oh! You’re not, are you…You’re just thinking about all the poor orphans in the world, is it…Be honest…Or are you thinking about why you deserve a fashion stylist more than the British Prime Minister’s wife; or that you deserved the five-star holiday more than the Kardarshians. Be true. Be honest.

Sure maybe you have philanthropical aspirations (most of us do), but are you sure you have it in you to be the next Mother Teresa and live your life for the poor and needy. If you were, then you can do it now. Mother Teresa did not need millions to do good. She just had a priceless heart.

If we’re true to ourselves, we’d know that we’re just jealous we can’t live that life. We just use poor innocent little children in poverty as an excuse to attack the rich. Don’t get me wrong. I am not a rich-lister and nor am I trying to support the “rich”. To be honest, the only list I probably am on is on the long-term mortgage list of a prominent NZ bank.

Let me be clear. I am not saying that we let the rich get richer at the expense of the rest of us. I think we need rigourous rules and regulations in place so the wider community can live with dignity regardless of their financial status. This may mean that we may need to put further legislation and proper tax laws in place to ensure fairness in finance.

That aside, it amazes me how much jealousy there is in the world. We’re jealous because we don’t have what they have.

In the case of the British Prime Minister some of us are jealous because their ancestors left them with so much wealth. What’s your solution to this then?

Eradicate capitalism! OK! What do we replace it with?

In the past, revolutionaries have tried various ways to make everyone “financially equal”. With all good intentions, some found a loop-hole and ended up lining their pockets. Interesting how socialist and communist USSR had so many millionaires. Or China? Are people truly equal in China? If that were true I am not sure why there are still very poor farmers and very rich “capital(ist) communists.”

I agree with the sentiments of all as to why there needs to be more even distribution of wealth and I for one will live a more comfortable life if this happened. However, this world is yet to find a system that works, where all men and women are equal and have equal opportunities and equal resources and live at peace with one another.

Unfortunately, we are amateurs in paradise and until we reach or create paradise there will always be differences – someone will always be richer than you, and someone will always have more opportunities than you. You & I will always be richer than someone else and we will always have more opportunities than someone else.  It’s all a matter of perspective. Truth be told, ALL of us in New Zealand, are one of the richest people in the world. Would it then be fair for someone who hasn’t got their basic human needs – food, water, clothing and shelter – met to say that we “middle class” New Zealand citizens cannot be paid as much as we are or that we cannot inherit our parents’ $100,000 home because they deserved it more than us? No doubt most of us will have a problem with this.

Sure, it’s vital that we continue to work towards tightening legislation and tax laws to ensure that the rules are fair. It’s important to support a welfare system that’s used (not misused) to support the elderly and those genuinely in need (we all need support at some stage). It’s also important we continue to evolve and find a new way of living where we are all content.

However, jealousy is not the answer. It does not create a truer, cleaner and more beautiful world. It only leads to chaos and destruction.

The next time we see a rich-lister or a celebrity, instead of being jealous, let’s look at the positives, count our blessings and be thankful that we are richer than many others in the world.


#SHARETHIS #comment

Black or White: So long as you are FAIR


In light of the recent Oscars #Ohsowhite campaigns and views, Sneha Gray writes that racism or colourism and perception of beauty in the media is not as clear-cut as black or white and that this trend exists not just in Hollywood but movie industries across the Globe.

 Growing up as a child in Southern India it was made clear to me that I would never be considered exceptionally beautiful or stunning…No one needed to overtly say it…It was just there…the rectangular box at home constantly had moving images of white and/or fair skinned people, fairy tales stories about characters like Snow White, and tips on how to be “fair and lovely”. I remember auditioning for a school play once only to be told by a teacher that another girl that was so “fair and lovely” was chosen for the part.

As a tom-boy child I loved playing cricket and soccer. This also meant that the harsh Indian sun darkened me considerably. I remember being told by well-intentioned people that I would never find a nice guy or be respected if I was dark. To be fair to them, in the world we lived in then (and perhaps now too), it was probably true.  I remember trying to remove the tan by trying to scrub out the dark skin tan under the shower in the hope that scrubbing hard with soap will remove the dark tan. More than racism, I call it colourism. This exists in most media industries, not just in Hollywood but also in Bollywood and other film industries across Asia and the globe.SNEHA GRAY BW

While beauty is only skin deep, its human nature to be the best we can be and that’s a good thing. It’s important to look and feel good and be fit to the best of our ability. But when we’re told either by words or deeds constantly by the film industry that fair or white is the ONLY way to be beautiful or talented and successful, then it becomes an issue.

Following the 88th Oscars just gone two strong thoughts prevail: On the one hand are those that suggest that there needs to be more variety and diversity of actors; the other group think its political correctness gone wrong and that if white actors performed better they should win the award.

While I agree with those with the latter view that the best person should win the award regardless of what their skin colour is, the point this group fails to realise is that if more talented, skilled and just as visually presentable darker skinned actors are given the opportunity to be cast in lead roles then more of them will be able to win the award. Proponents of this view, myself included, are not suggesting that the pendulum should swing the other way to say that ONLY dark-skinned is beautiful or talented, but that there would be balance so people of all skin-tones who are good actors and suit the role can have equal opportunity to be successful.

Hollywood has boldly taken a stance at changing negative perceptions about various social issues. Perhaps it’s time for the Academy to take a stance against racial prejudice or prejudice based on colour. If Hollywood takes a lead then perhaps other film industries like Bollywood will change their biased attitudes towards people that are darker skinned.  For instance, Bollywood and North India is still very biased against darker skinned people. Indian media do not hesitate to put down Hollywood and blame them for bias against Indian actors, but fail to realise that in their own right they put down the darker skinned Indian actors who are equally beautiful and fit and just as talented.

The Indian film industry is just one example of an Asian film industry that is biased against darker skinned people and actors. Many other Asian countries like China, Philippines and Thailand have been criticized about the same issue.

As long as the world exists there will always be some of us that are better looking than average; sing better than average; and act better than average.  For instance, personally, I may never look as aesthetically presentable or elegant as Cate Blanchett or Brie Larsen but there are many darker skinned girls that are just as beautiful and talented and can win the Oscar if they are only given the right opportunity.

Equally, it’s not fair to blame every white actor or singer as being racist or biased. Unless you are in a situation it’s impossible to understand how the other person feels.  Now that the issue is out in the open perhaps Hollywood can take the lead towards making this necessary social change where all men and women regardless of colourtone can have equal opportunity.

It’s easy to brush aside the issue and say it’s not that big a deal. However, Until this happens, there will always be subtle racism or colourism worldwide and girls like me will still be trying to scrub hard under the shower to wipe away our tan.

Come on Hollywood! Take the stand and make a difference.

Stop attacking the Prime Minister; he’s got a choice too

Before you abuse me let me just get it out, I voted for the current flag. While I wasn’t anti change, I needed a reason for the change and I felt that perhaps now was not the right time, and I didn’t feel a connection with the new alternative (especially didn’t quite think the beautiful colour black suited a flag).

In saying that, I am fed up of people abusing the Prime Minister, threatening him and calling the proposed flag “John Key’s flag”. If one were to have an opposing point of view, then do so with respect and have a logical debate.  While everyone is entitled to an opinion, all opinions don’t always become fact. Fact is that the Flag Change debate was started by many prior governments, including the Labour Government.

For those that sing the John Key wasted money mourn, while the suggested amount may seem like a lot of money, in the context of a bigger picture and putting it in perspective of the annual Government expenditure it is minuscule. Finding our true identity is priceless and we cannot put a price on it. To ascertain our identity, it was essential to have a debate and this flag debate has done just that. It has brought to light the passion people have for the country and this is something we cannot put a price on it.

AMERICAN FLAGThere may be many things about America that does not sit right with me, but one thing we can learn from our American brothers and sisters is their patriotism. One only needs to drive around America to see their flag hoisted from schools, homes and other buildings with pride and people actually sing their national anthem regularly.

So I say to you, instead of being negative and throwing stones and abusing the Prime Minister, take pride in the flag, fly her high outside your home and take positive pride in this beautiful land we all call home. This way if or when the time comes for us tnzflag flagpoleo change our flag, we will do so with unity and purpose.


A new look at teenage boredom


In early February this year (2016), media articles and social media sites were flooded with differing views on who’s to blame for the deaths of two teenagers in #Masterton following a police chase. Amongst the varied views, a few opinions that jumped out at me came from those that blamed the police, parents and the community.

Let’s first consider the views of those that blamed the police for the crash. I’d be interested to know what the alternative was? Aside from the fact that the police had stopped their chase prior to the crash, what would have happened if the police had ignored the obviously speeding car and these lads had crashed into an innocent driver on the way to work for an early morning shift? Had the innocent driver been my loved one – father, mother, uncle, aunty, cousin, son, daughter, husband, wife – I certainly would have blamed the police for not stopping these lads when they had the opportunity.

Then there is a core group of social media commentators who have strong views on why they think the parents are to blame. While sometimes that is the case, it will be unfair to speculate and throw hurtful words at the parents, without knowing the facts. Unfortunately we seem to have created a culture where the rights of normal parents to discipline their kids and teenagers seems to have been taken away at the expense of a minority of child beaters and abusers. This sadly means that many parents are “threatened” by their unruly teens that they would call the police and make a complaint if the parent tries to discipline their child. For instance, I know of a normal regular kiwi parent who had a phone call from the school that their teenager had not turned up to school. As a responsible parent, this person had driven around town, found the teenager, held their arm and asked them to get in the car. Another teenager made a complaint to the police that this responsible kiwi parent was abusing their child which led to the police knocking on their door. This parent felt that they had lost their right to even discipline their child. What then is the solution to “disciplining” unruly teenagers?

The third group of commentators felt that it was the community’s fault. Well intentioned social worker Alan Maxwell was “angry” that “these kids have such limited choices and the community is so apathetic to it all.” He went on to say that that they were just “bored” and that if “we” don’t give them things to do they make “stupid choices.” In my view, however well-intentioned and passionate his point of view is, this only instills a kind of quiet arrogance amongst teenagers that they can get away with anything.  I remember once observing a friend who politely spoke to an unruly teenager who was dumping rubbish at a private building and dirtying the walls. A person who called themselves the “elder” suggested to my friend that we had no right to speak harshly or “put down” a young person because that would “hurt” them. !!!!!!!

Kids and teenagers need to be loved, protected and feel secure. However, this is not achieved by providing them freedom without boundaries. Mr Maxwell says that “At some point, as a community, we have to take responsibility, otherwise these kids are not going to be the only ones [to die] this year.”  In a way Mr Maxwell is right. As a community member I do think we need to take responsibility.

We need to take responsibility and change the airy fairy way society is asked to handle teenagers. Let’s work toward creating strong, free, honest, ethical and responsible teens. This means that we are allowed to tell them firmly where their boundaries lie and enforce the boundaries; direct them to the amazing opportunities available to them and encourage them to put their minds to use so they don’t get “bored”; teaching them that stealing (cars or anything else) is not the right thing to do; advising them that the choices they make as teenagers can have a lifelong impact not just on them but their families too.

Let’s get responsible by giving back responsible parents the right to discipline their children in a safe manner. Let’s give them the right to give their teenagers a strict curfew time. Let’s give them the right to make them get their teenagers into the car if they are out past their curfew time. Let’s give parents the right to say No to their teenagers.

Let’s get responsible by not making excuses that the teens were “bored” but point them to the abundant boredom tackling opportunities available in New Zealand’s door step. Let’s train youth workers to teach teens that they can indeed go for a walk, swim in the river, climb trees or go for a push bike ride (things we did when we were kids and when no one needed to keep us from getting “bored”). Perhaps then come 10 pm tiredness will set in and the only place a teenager will want to go to is to bed.

This entire saga is sad in so many ways. Naughty though they may have been, it’s devastating when young people go before their time. I am not suggesting that we become so strict that we create robotic kids that are “perfect”. We have all made mistakes as teenagers but for most of us the kinds of things kids these days think they have the right to get up-to was not tolerated by society. Life had more boundaries. These boundaries kept us safe.

Perhaps, contrary to what Hollywood portrays, teenagers are not “mini–adults” and we need to become more “responsible” and create more boundaries to keep these teenagers safe until they become mature. This way they can have a lifetime of adventure without having their life snuffed out in their prime because of a life lived without boundaries.

Let’s find that middle ground where teenagers can create positive fun filled child-hood memories and live to tell the tale.


TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK – You don’t need to agree with me but happy to encourage positive, healthy, non-abusive debate.

(Sneha Gray is a writer and dream catcher who currently lives in the Sunny Bay of Plenty)


So pleased to have won a toastmasters competition

… and it wasn’t just the unexpected winning that excites me about Toastmasters…Its the fact that attending #toastmasters has opened up my mind to understanding how different people think about the same topic…It has given me more discipline & commitment to complete a task…More importantly, it has helped me meet and get to know many wonderful people.

Why not join us today…Find details on how to in the bottom of this media release…

 Media contact: Andrea Boyed or visit our facebook page


 Area D1 Toastmasters Public Speaking competition a resounding success

Area D1 Toastmasters Clubs (Whakatane, Kawerau as well as two Gisborne clubs) were pleased at the good turnout at our Area Toastmasters speech competition held in Whakatane on Saturday 12th March 2016.
The event had a range of experienced speakers including Mr John Turner and Mr Peter Trevor who wowed the audiences with their respective speeches and evaluations.
A relatively new Toastmaster, Sneha Gray from the Kawerau Club, stunned the audience and other competitors with an excellent speech and a very thorough evaluation. She won both the International Speech and the Evaluation Contests. “There were times I thought I could never speak eloquently in public. My fellow experienced club members have shown me that anyone can speak well with a bit of motivation and support. I encourage anyone wanting to become more successful to join Toastmasters. You won’t regret it.” Said Mrs Gray.
The Chief Judge was Whakatane’s very own Dr John Twaddle.  Ms Susan Smith and Mrs Alison Baker were the other judges.
Speaking at the event, Area D1 Director, Mr Wil Blakeway said, “I am very impressed with the quality of the Speeches and Evaluations at today’s Area Contest, they were of an extremely high standard and Sneha is a very worthy winner of both contests and I am certain that she will do Area D1 proud when she represents the Area at the Division Competitions to be held in Rotorua on the 10th April”.


“Toastmasters is an organization that encourages and teaches people to grow in the art of public speaking and not only gives you the opportunity to speak but also to learn other skills including leadership skills i.e. Chairing the meeting for the evening, evaluating speeches using the CRC (Commend-Recommend -Commend) method etc. Speeches have specific objectives to be met that are laid down by Toastmasters International. There are other wonderful by-products as well, personal and unique to each person, besides the making of good quality friendships with people of all walks of life” he said.
Please visit our Facebook Page for more details.


Toastmasters International is a nonprofit educational organization that teaches communication and leadership skills through a worldwide network of more than 14,650 clubs in 126 countries.


Toastmasters Kawerau meets regularly every fortnight on a Monday night at 6.55 pm at the Catholic Church Hall on Onslow Street;

Toastmasters Whakatane meets at 7pm every fortnight on a Monday at “St George & St John” – Anglican/Methodist Church, 30 Domain Road, Whakatane,

About Toastmasters International

Toastmasters International is a worldwide nonprofit educational organization that empowers individuals to become more effective communicators and leaders. Headquartered in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., the organization’s membership exceeds 332,000 in more than 15,400 clubs in 135 countries. Since 1924, Toastmasters International has helped people from diverse backgrounds become more confident speakers, communicators and leaders. For information about local Toastmasters clubs, please visit Follow @Toastmasters on Twitter.


The child with two home-lands: The flag debate from an immigrant’s perspective


My mind’s been working over-time over where I stand in the flag debate? As a foreign born New Zealand citizen who faithfully took an oath to observe the laws of New Zealand and fulfil my duties as a New Zealand citizen, I decided that it was my duty to seriously consider the flag under which not just me but my descendants will hopefully make a positive difference in this world.

While I do love our current flag, I love the silver fern. If I were to choose a new design, it is my view that Kyle Lockwood’s red triangle with silver design could in future have helped us look back and remember the founding of the Treaty of Waitangi and our Commonwealth connection. To me the red represented both the British and Maori forebearers and the life-giving blood that flows through every New Zealander regardless of what country they originate from; the multiple points of the fern leaf of course representing multicultural society, a single fern spreading upwards represents that we are all one people growing onward into the future.

The black triangle of the same flag brings to mind unfortunate pictures of pirate ships and the ISIS militant group. No matter how hard I want to I don’t feel the colours work well together for a flag. But the democracy has voted and perhaps I will grow to love it, should the flag be chosen.

To have an open mind, I have tossed and turned, researched various viewpoints before coming up with a considered decision. Trolling through several writings and opinions in the media, the battle of the flags (existing or new) is fought on two fronts. Those that do not support a flag change say that the existing flag has meaning and history. Writers like Bruce Logan put this case forward well and explain that the Union Jack in the top left-hand corner recalls our historical and legal origin. It reinforces the meaning of the Treaty of Waitangi. The Southern Cross tells us where we are.

On the other side of the spectrum are those that believe that now is the time for change and as a stronger, newer and more vibrant nation we need to move forward. We are no longer under the roof of Mother England, they say.

Both points of view have their pros and cons; both sides of the argument moving me from one side to the next.

We all know that change for the sake of change is not of use to anyone. Research shows that countries that have changed their flags had a reason to do so. Canada changed her flag at a time of turmoil and threat to unify her nation. India (my birth land) changed her flag to symbolize that she was free of the tyranny and the control of the then British Government.

Unlike Canada, we are not under internal threat; unlike India, Britain is no longer the strong, arrogant and stubborn power she once was. However, if a majority of New Zealanders want to change the flag, then we should get on and move forward.  But let’s do it with a purpose that is stronger than “Because our flag is too similar to Australia” (Why then can’t Australia not change her flag), or “Because we are not under Britain anymore” (Technically we are, should we therefore become a republic first, and is there any benefit for us in doing so at this point in time), or “the All-Blacks represent the Black colour and the fern, and so our flag should change.”

If the current alternate design is the flag that we choose, let’s come up with, and explain to our children the true meaning of the fern and the Southern Cross.

One of the clearest messages of the meaning of a flag, or the need for a flag that represents a land, came from Mahatma Gandhi, a true hero and a peaceful warrior who took on and defeated Mother England.  When India was going through a flag debate he said this: “A flag is a necessity for all nations. Millions have died for it. It is no doubt a kind of idolatry which would be a sin to destroy. For, a flag represents an Ideal: The unfurling of the Union Jack evokes in the English breast sentiments whose strength it is difficult to measure. The Stars and Stripes mean a world to the Americans. The Star and the Crescent will call forth the best bravery in Islam…It will be necessary for us Indians –  Muslims, Christians Jews, Parsis, and all others to whom India is their home-to recognize a common flag to live and to die for.”

Change for the sake of change is not of use to anyone. If we were to change, I say to you New Zealanders, young and old, immigrants or not, black brown or white, religious or non-religious, gay or straight, and to all others to whom New Zealand is or will be their home and the home of their children, let’s recognize a common flag that’s not just a marketing logo, but a flag that will instill in us a sense of positive pride, integrity and strength of character, a flag that we will be proud to live and die for.


(Sneha Gray is a writer, former journalist and dream catcher based in the sunny Bay of Plenty)