I moved to the US really when I was barely a toddler. We were political refugees escaping wartime in Afghanistan. I was raised in the Washington DC area, with a very strict focus on Afghan cultures and practices. I had two very different worlds. My grandfather was a healer, a medicine man and deeply religious. And the world around me was pearls, equestrians, suburbia and politicians. I was olive toned, with thick black hair and dark eyebrows that connected, and my friends were blondes with paled skin and blue eyes. My understanding of beauty, food, and medicine were a vast melting pot. I struggled much of life to feel beautiful, or even like I fit in. I tried blonde with failed sun in, urban with astrology hoop earrings and preppy in polo. None of which rang true for me.
My childhood best friends mother worked in fashion, so her and I would pour over her mother’s Vogues, and raid her hair and makeup pantry. She had Chanel no. 5 and every luxury cream available. And my wrinkle-free Afghan grandmother had Nivea, and never wore a stitch of makeup outside of the occasional kajal eye. Makeup was actually forbidden on us girls, as my childhood was very strict. I grew up a natural beauty disaster. Truth be told a little eyebrow grooming, a focus of vegetables and some braces would have done me a world of good. But alas, my hand in life was meant to be different.
It took me 21 years and a move across the country to finally flourish in my environment and understand who I was, how to be kind to myself and how to thrive instead of merely exist. My life took a somewhat radical holistic approach when I was in LA. Although, meditation, spirituality, nature, and farm to table eating habits were culturally ingrained in me. (My grandfather would only eat blessed meats and home cooked foods. He would often go to farms to sacrifice the meat he would serve his family and then sacrifice another one as a gift to give to the poor who could not afford their own meat). Holistic practice was a necessity since I was on my own and struggling to survive. You become very good at learning how to look after yourself on a budget, and how to not get sick because you can’t afford it. I overhauled my diet, focusing on lean meats, natural foods and vegetables and drastically cut out the alcohol that I drank a little too much of in Virginia. My skin, my weight—everything—kind of leveled off as I began to make smarter choices.
I think most anything can be cured in your home, so I often turn to natural remedies for illnesses before I go to the doctor—even now. I always stock apple cider vinegar, organic honey, lemons, ginger, and turmeric. I get sinus infections easily and I make a mug of apple cider vinegar tea, which immediately opens my sinuses. I take a spoonful of local honey to combat allergies. Use a clay neti pot once a day when I’m congested and take shots of fresh pressed ginger with oregano oil, cayenne and lemon. That shot often looks after any sore throat or illnesses that may come up when I’m run down. Cooking with turmeric is very big in Afghan culture, and its benefits for the skin are amazing. Drinking a turmeric tea, or cold pressed, has wonderful detoxification benefits. I do dislike juice cleanses; however all the enzymes tend to bloat me. And as a runner I prefer to eat real food. I try and eat close to my blood type, which is O, and that has made my life more energetic. In this business, I see a lot of women who don’t have healthy eating habits and it’s really counter productive as you may be 5 pounds thinner but are tired and wrecking havoc on your skins volume and tone. If I need to do a little cleanse before I film, I’ll stick to all vegetables for a day or two at most, but that’s the max. I began taking a daily-refrigerated probiotic for the last 7 years or so, which has changed my skin and gut drastically. I occasionally add a little more Omegas with a supplement, but try and choose foods loaded with natural omegas like nuts, berries and salmon sashimi. Eating vitamin packed foods boosts your skin, your mood and naturally assists in keeping your body at its most optimum.
An avid runner for the last 18 years, I began practicing yoga twelve years ago and felt an immediate connection to it. Hands down a daily ritual of a healthy movement for your body is key. Whether it is a yoga session, a long run, a ballet class or a day hiking through a canyon, moving for an hour a day 5-6x a week keeps my head clear, my toxins releasing and my skin glowing.
As I began to work in TV, I learned a lot about skincare, makeup and what looks best on me. I even managed to get those eyebrows groomed. Makeup was never part of my daily ritual until a few years ago. But when I began to go onto red carpets, I played with makeup artists and made a lot of makeup mistakes. I quickly learned an over made up face does not suit me. Clean, simple and fresh works best for me for all occasions. I do a fifteen-minute face before meetings or auditions. I splurge financially on products, as the makeup will last me a good 6 months to a year. But on days or evenings when I can keep it clean, I like giving my face a break and using minimal concealer and an eyelash curler.
My skin is sensitive and chemicals and I don’t mix. I use a Paraben-free face wash from Mineral Fusion and an Argan Oil for my skin year round. I tone sometimes with Thayer’s Alcohol Free Lavender Witch Hazel and use Shea butter on my lips and skin. I like a nice dry loofah scrub 1-2x a week before the shower and then douse myself in almond and rice oil as it keeps my skin super soft. I do splurge on face serums, Eye cream and facials with Kate Somerville, SkinCeuticals and Shiseido being favorites. I battle hereditary dark circles and have tried all the natural remedies for them, but truly the best thing is drinking loads of water and getting 7-8 hours of sleep. I see my facialist Mandy Martin 4-6x a year and get a red light facial with some oxygen therapy. At home I use a Clarisonic a few times a week an Aztec Clay mask or Fruit Based Enzyme Peel once a week. Sometimes if there’s nothing in the house I’ll use the coffee grinds after my morning coffee, add some organic honey and do a quick 15-20 minute caffeine mask to wake my face up.
I don’t really put any product in my hair. All the women in my family have very healthy thick hair. Afghan tradition is to shave your babies’ head and rim her eyes with kajal so her hair grows clean and healthy and her eyes dark. This is common in South Asia and the women have beautiful hair. Although, I have yet to decide if it’s a tradition I would follow.
For me Holistic is about balance. Which means a little fat, a little fun, and a little decadence is also needed. There are days when you will want to eat vegetables and do a little yoga and there will be days when you want a delicious cabernet and some desert. Honor yourself and do both. Taste everything. Women are too hard on themselves. The expectations are too high. Let that go. I am lucky enough to have escaped a war. Escaped the life of a girl who wouldn’t have been allowed to read books freely or become an actress without life or death consequences. That is never lost on me, and therefore I choose to wake up each day with joy, no matter what twists and turns come my way. That fullness, that grace has been the key for me. Ultimately, I don’t think you can buy beauty. You can be clean, do your best, but it’s the girl with the biggest smile in the room that is always the most radiant.
Photographed by Jamie Arrigo in Azita's West Hollywood home, June 2014.