Jade Thirlwall has spoken out about how bullying about her Arab heritage resulted in her trying to suppress her identity.
The 27-year-old, who is part of popular pop quartet Little Mix, explained how both her and her mother have started connecting with their culture in more recent years.
“I had suppressed who I was because I wasn’t proud,” Thirlwall told Vogue Arabia. “I had been bullied into thinking I should be ashamed of my identity, so I didn’t talk enough about my heritage in interviews. It makes me sad to think about it now.”
The former X Factor winner, who is about to launch her own talent show along with her bandmates titled Little Mix: The Search, said she felt representation of Arabs in Western media and culture was poor when she was growing up.
“When I was younger, I didn’t see enough representation of Arabs in magazines or on TV, and when I saw people who looked like my granddad they were always misrepresented,” she continued.
“I regret now that I didn’t talk about it more, but I was young and scared. I’m trying to make up for it now.”
Thirlwall credited the Black Lives Matter movement, which gained international recognition following the death of George Floyd, and the war in Yemen, that has sparked her to look into her heritage.
“My mam and me have started looking into our culture more and it’s something that is bringing us closer together,” she said. “The BLM movement and the war in Yemen has triggered a lot of trauma for my mam, who I think suppressed who she was for a long time, too.
“The past few months have been very eye-opening for us.
“As an adult I’m connecting more with my Arab side – it’s a shame that it’s taken me until now to understand that. Being Arab is a beautiful thing.”
While she may have grown up struggling with her identity, Thirlwall added that she believes her Arab roots may have been what spurred her on to be a successful musician.
“When I was young, my grandad used to play Arabic songs for me, and I think it did influence me,” Thirlwall explained. “People say they can tell I have Arab heritage because when I do riffs I must subconsciously perform them in an Arabic style, which is lovely.”
Read the full interview on Vogue Arabia here.