Wake up, click on the Instagram icon, scroll. Click on random sponsored link. Add to basket, close tab; scroll a bit more. Read about an old friend’s new job, an influencer’s sponsored post about a new product that will just change. your. life. 5 more minutes and I’ll get up, you tell yourself. Cue an alarming image with a caption detailing a tragedy in Mumbai. Well, that was depressing. Link to an article about a fast-spreading virus from…mink? Shit; not again, please. Okay, to twitter. Trump said… what? People are angry about a Christmas advert? What the- Final alarm goes off. Right, I’m up.
Needless to say, we’re often bombarded before our day even starts. We’re inundated with details about happenings everywhere in the world. We’re overwhelmed with images of other seemingly flawless people, and importantly, how to be them, how their day might be going.
At a time when many of us are isolated from others and rely on social media to feel connected, avoiding digital overload and subsequently, many of its detrimental effects is becoming increasingly difficult. Here, 22 year old Economics graduate and Instagram model Nomsa talks self-care, body positivity and caring for her mental health as a young adult.
Little miss imperfect
What is self love to you?
Self love to me is remembering that you’re only human.
It’s hard as a graduate to not beat yourself up if you don’t have a job straight away or when you see other people getting a mortgage, that kind of thing. That constant comparison, I’ve stopped doing. I’ve stopped that whole thing of not allowing myself to mess up. It’s okay to mess up a few times, you learn from it.
The same kindness that you extend to others, you need to extend to yourself. I used to always do things for other people, putting myself second and them first. I am very maternal by nature, and a lot of my friends feel comfortable speaking to me- which I am grateful for- but I’ve realised that all the advice I give to them, all the compliments, the encouragement, all of it needs to be applied to myself as well. Now I tend to look after myself; I am kind to myself, even when I mess up.
Just being more patient with yourself, that’s what I think self-love is. You have to stop giving power to insecurities. Think of all the nice ways you treat other people, and start applying it to yourself.
What does Body Positivity mean to you?
Body positivity is about destabilising your societally based opinions about what is attractive. We live in patriarchal society, where a lot of women’s opinions of themselves are based on what men think are attractive. You have to distance yourself from that. It’s about destabilising all those outside influences, which can be a painful process. A lot of us don’t realise how much we absorb from the world around us.
At one point I said things like ‘f*ck those skinny bitches’. Even that is counter-productive because everyone goes through their own insecurities. We’re all looking at each other and society has us focusing on what everyone is doing. The comparison is constant. We all need to look inward, not outward. We need to remind ourselves that there’s nothing wrong with having any particular body type, and that you’re worthy of everything, regardless of what you look like. That’s the real body positivity.
Body positivity is looking within, and remembering that you’re human and you’re deserving, and your body is yours completely.
We’ll fix you…for a fee
What are the barriers to body confidence?
Patriarchy, racism, capitalism, misogyny as well as misogynoir
We live in a society that will constantly tell you that you shouldn’t like yourself. Society has you thinking there’s something you need to add to you, to make you ‘better’. We are surrounded by things that are supposed to prick our confidence. So a good self-image is like a protective barrier against all the bullshit- especially being black, a woman and curvy, which makes you maybe triple oppressed.
People, especially companies and businesses don’t want people to feel good about themselves. Although, with the rise of social media, they’re starting to switch because online communities are being built which support one another and make each other feel accepted, so they can’t make you doubt yourself as easily as they used to.
Self esteem is important because your mental health and your happiness is important above anything else. When you have low self-esteem, you leave yourself susceptible to things that can seriously affect your mental health and your happiness. Now I’m so proud to say that it would take a lot to knock my confidence.
Give me Therapy
Why do you think so many young people struggle with self-acceptance?
I think there’s a lack of emphasis on the importance of your mental health from a young age. I don’t understand why it’s not talked about. I didn’t learn about mental health until late high school.
My first encounter with mental health was in primary school, I was extremely frustrated by the constant over-sexualisation of my body, because I had larger breasts than other girls my age, it made me really uncomfortable. The final straw was when I punched a kid in the throat because of the comments he made about my body and he turned blue. I’d just had enough. I didn’t even understand how I was feeling, but they were just like ‘You need anger management.’ Actually learning about mental health for me, came much later than that.
We all need to understand mental health like we understand the need to have our 5 a day, and we need to know ways to improve it if possible.Life isn’t just about making ends meet. You need to place your mental health at the forefront in every decision that you make. When you don’t prioritise it, you end up unhappy.
Are there any steps you’ve taken to improve your mental health?
I was sexually assaulted at university. I was very emotionally removed initially; I thought ‘[get medical help first], cry later’. I automatically looked to place the blame on my body, because I was so constantly over-sexualised. I made the decision to go to therapy and refused to beat myself up about what happened. It took me a minute to realise that my body was not the problem, he was. I know now that there’s nothing wrong with finding yourself sexy, but your body is not built for sex.
I think it’s a little sad that it took that for me to realise that my body is just a body. I was overtly sexual at university (initially) because I was so sexualised before. I wanted to take control of the image that others had placed on me. The intention behind it now, is so different to how it was before. Now, I take complete pride in my sexuality and what that means to me, whereas before, it was kind of a reaction to what others thought.
How did you find the experience of therapy?
It was weird to openly talk about my mental health with a stranger, and just speak freely. It was kinda liberating, but only if you find that kind of thing liberating. I had very good counsellors, so I was lucky. A lot of things came pouring out of me, things that I didn’t even realise that I was holding in and that had nothing to do with the sexual assault.
After therapy, I was able to speak to my parents about SO much more. I never thought I could talk to them about anything. I even hid the sexual assault from my parents, I never thought I would be able to be open to them. I felt like my mum would blame me- just based on the way she talks about things like this. But I recently spoke openly with her, and the conversation went in a very positive direction. So therapy, I think, is a step in the right direction in being more open and honest with yourself and others about things that have happened in your life.
What would you say to younger people working through personal issues?
It would be nice if people could just enjoy being young. But when you get to the point that you’re trying to understand who you are, it’s time for some deep, intense self- reflection. For me, I would say I struggled to accept my sexuality. Not just with being bisexual, but how sexualised I was by other people and my own feelings towards sex. It’s a very uncomfortable process, growing up I mean. It sucks, and no one warns us about it either. I feel like one day you’re a child and the next day, you’re an adult. But you have to be patient with yourself, self-explore, evaluate. You have to consider if your issues are from outside influence, like your relationship with your parents maybe. I think the type of parents you have really has an impact on how you deal with things.
Get to Know You
How do you try to limit the impact of external opinions on your wellbeing?
You need to have a strong sense of self and decide what your principles and core values are. What makes you, you. When you have a strong sense of self, nothing can shake you.
I used to be such a follower when I was younger. My parents were very restrictive about who I could hang about with, so most of my friends were from the church. I just wanted to feel accepted, so I would just try to do what everyone did. My parents were very against that, they just wanted me to be an individual, so I was put in private accommodation throughout university. Living alone for the last 4 years has really made me confront who I am and what I’m about. My beliefs, everything.
Influence isn’t always a bad thing, though. When you have a good sense of your identity, that will bring you in contact with the right people, who are in line with those things and can contribute to your growth, and vice versa.
Also, Self care. Doing things that make you happy- but in a healthy way. I know what things relax me and make me feel happy, and take me away from my current reality, even if it’s for a few minutes. It’s always the little things for me. We need to realise it’s the things we watch, read, listen to and eat that have the biggest impact on our mental health.
Netflix & chill
How do you practise self care?
I love reading, I’ve been reading my whole life. I am so used to immersing myself in another reality. I like choosing the reality I want to immerse myself in, based on my mood. Also, good music and good food, I just treat myself. I love spa days, whether alone or with a friend. I enjoy meditating- I tried yoga and it’s amazing! I love listening to people as well, just talking about their day, it relaxes me.
When online, I filter out who I follow. I didn’t realise until recently, the subconscious effect that certain images on my feed have on me. I follow more women who look like me now, and it’s made me feel happier and so much more motivated. I avoid twitter more, because I’m less able to filter out the content that I see. I prefer Instagram because there’s no retweet option. I also know when to unplug from being online, when it’s enough and when I need to take a break.
What inspires you to be a better version of you
My parents. They were born in a poor village and now they’re at the top of their fields. The things that they’ve been able to do, and how they’ve been able to provide for me really inspires me. I’m in a position of privilege because of them, they’ve given me a jump-start.
My parents have always emphasised to me to first sort myself out, before trying to sort other people out. Hopefully when I’m the billionaire that I dream myself to be, I can make a tangible difference in the lives of people who are less privileged.
Another key one is my Uncle. He’s made so much for himself and life hasn’t been easy for him either. I’ve always bonded with him well, he’s always been another father figure to me. He would always take me and my mum to dinner on my birthdays and talk to me about my future and my goals. He’s one of the reasons that I decided to study economics.
I’m also inspired by my best friends, black women, distant relatives. When I look at all these people who have ‘made it’ even when times were more difficult, I think ‘Why shouldn’t I be a success, why shouldn’t I have everything I deserve in this world?’