Think Piece: Wellness industries and Capitalism

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I must confess that I’m a HUGE fan of all things self help. I often spend my mornings watching Lisa Nicols videos and looking at P’Diddy’s tweets to get me riled up (don’t come for my fav lol). On many occasions reading a self-help book made me feel powerful and installed faith in me that I am the driver of my own destiny. Despite all of the positives that self-help/ wellness industries offer, I can’t seem to turn a blind eye away from the hyper-capitalism and naivety that plagues the industry.

I think that it is necessary to understand that self-manifesting can have its limits based on socio-economic realities and histories. Structural inequalities including classism, racism, gender oppression, transphobia and so forth play a huge role in our inability to self-actualize to our fullest potential.

Under capitalism, especially if you’re poor, being told things like “if you work hard you can manifest anything you want”  can feel like a slap in the face. There’s plenty of ways to dispel this logic  but one problem is that there’s plenty of hard working people with jobs who are still struggling to make ends meat. Conditions under capitalism such as austerity, lack of upward mobility, low paying jobs make the idea of attracting “abundant finances” feel like a fantasy.

Living within a society which is very anti-wellness i.e. climate change, GMO foods, poverty, materialism, the narrative of wellness/ self-care ideologies cannot seek just individual solutions to healing but collective and structural transformations too.

I believe that there needs to be a balance between acknowledging certain histories and structural inequalities whilst understanding that we have agency over the trajectory of our own lives. If we see ourselves as passive victims we begin to impose certain limitations upon ourselves. We are not merely passive victims and I refuse to let that narrative consume my reality. I think we owe it to our predecessors/ancestors and those who constantly fight against the odds to see ourselves as victors not victims. It is truly in personal and collective power that we can transform society into one which values self-actualization. Oh and just before I end, BUN CAPITALISM!!!

Copyright © AshAlves 2018, All Rights Reserved

Feeling Invisible and Overshadowed

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In a world with so many huge personalities, it’s easy to feel overshadowed and invisible. This can cripple us into thinking we aren’t good enough or even worse, that hardly anyone cares about our existence. I just want to remind you that you are not alone.

I believe that living in the shadows gives you a unique vantage point to the rest of the world. It can be used as an opportunity to do a lot of internal work and gain greater awareness of self.  Whilst we shouldn’t accept the narrative of being invisible as our destiny, we can use it as a tool to become better people and most importantly work on validating our own existence. Also, other people’s inability to recognize us never will determine our worth. If people don’t recognize your greatness, it’s always their loss not yours. Being slept on is upsetting, but I always try to remind myself that the people who matter will always pay attention and will never make you feel invisible.

So for those of us who battle with feeling invisible- lets’ try to be an example of someone who will commit to being brave enough to be themselves, regardless of being recognized, to remind the millions of people who feel the exact same way that we are all worthy of existing.

Copyright © AshAlves 2018, All Rights Reserved

Seeking Validation from others

Everyone desires some form of validation. Being validated by others provides us with a  sense of recognition, value, and belonging.  Within a world that constantly reminds us that we aren’t good enough, positive validation helps with our emotional well-being and self-esteem. The lack of approval from our peers can often make us feel undervalued and invisible.

Before I begin, I’ve decided to make a distinction between two types of validation; healthy and unhealthy forms. The first is sought from reciprocal relationships that value and encourage your authentic expression (seek to inspire and push each other). The latter is one where you base your self-esteem and self-worth solely on being validated by others.

With that being said, Validation isn’t just about seeking approval from others. It is also about acceptance of your emotions- thoughts and feelings. For example; acknowledging you’re unhappy about X and then making the necessary shifts in your life to validate those feelings. An unhealthy practice would be to continue doing something you’re unhappy about or denying it altogether.

I’ve experienced both healthy and unhealthy forms validation. I must admit that I’ve battled many times with unhealthy practices, even though I’ve not always been aware of my actions.

It has taken many forms for me over the years. In particular, I often felt the pressure to constantly display how much I know about certain issues relating to my field of study (Intl Politics) in order to feel knowledgeable enough to be within political spaces. In the past, I’ve also relied too heavily on certain friendships for approval of my actions when I should have sought it within myself.

Social media has caused an unhealthy obsession with gaining validation from others. For example, obsessing over likes, buying followers, doing the most to achieve an ‘Insta baddie’ look.  There’s also an obsession with perfection and having to look a certain way i.e. slim thick bodies, immaculate makeup.  I’d like to just add that there’s nothing inherently wrong with having or wanting to attain those things.  This desire for wanting to achieve certain physical aesthetics has existed for centuries and it isn’t new to social media. Instagram is just a hyperbolic representation of these standards of beauty through images. The problem is, when we are constantly being exposed to these types of images, whether consciously or not, we find ourselves conforming to these standards.

Much like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook have become plagued by this need for approval. These sites, in particular, are becoming infamous for people using activism to boost their social status and gain validation from said communities. Activism has, therefore, become voyeuristic with people using social ills as a means to gain a sense of belonging and importance within activist circles.

Unfortunately, I’ve begun to find that certain ‘safe spaces’ weren’t free from this constant desire for approval and validation. I constantly felt pressures to prove my knowledge of feminism and black issues, or having to dress a certain way to makes me look ‘edgy’ enough.

Whether it’s a pressure of having to take an ‘Insta baddie’ photo or show how ‘woke’ you are, it’s essentially the same desire for approval.

When you practice self-validation, it allows us to gain a greater sense of control and understanding of our needs and desires, providing us with a strong sense of identity. It’s the effort to better understand ourselves by validating our feelings, experiences and accepting them. Ultimately it’s about living our lives as an authentic expression of our internal self-validating process.

Reflecting on this topic, I’d like to propose a few questions that we could ask ourselves:

How much do my decisions reflect my authenticity?

How can I meaningfully validate myself in a society with so many expectations?

How can I seek meaningful relationships that value liberation and not superficiality?

How can I work towards validating myself and controlling my expectations of others to build my self-esteem?

I think it’s time to start having more honest and open conversations about this topic.  Part of my own self-reflection has been asking myself questions like this constantly. It’s easy to fall into the trap of doing the things I mentioned above. I can honestly say I’m guilty of probably everything I’ve stated. As uncomfortable as self-reflection may be, it is necessary towards gaining greater self-awareness.

Copyright © AshAlves 2018, All Rights Reserved

The Ugly truth about Self-Love

There were no traumatic events that led me to depression but I felt at more times than once that I wasn’t going to survive my inner turmoil. It was through experiencing constant low moods and overwhelming thoughts of self-doubt that I decided embarked on a self- love journey.

During this constant search I became easily frustrated. Attaining self-love appeared to be so easy for others. Seeing images of people with captions like “self-love//self-care” made me feel even worse. And I know you shouldn’t compare your journey to others but I found it difficult not to whilst drowning in perpetual self loathing. This would often make me wonder whether something was inherently wrong with me or whether I’d even experience genuine self-love.

I’d even try acts of self-care like treating myself to something nice or binge watching Netflix. Although these things were valid and fulfilling at the time, they filled me with temporary gratification and made me feel like crap afterwards.

After feeling constantly beaten up by my inner chaos, I began to think more about self-love as a concept and practice. I had a realisation that my definition of self-love was limiting this whole time.

This realization launched me into a relentless search to attain meaningful self-love.

Self-love is more than just buying yourself nice thing or having a long bath with candles. I found out that there’s so much more to self-love than any material acquisition or gaining external-validation.

I finally realised that self-love is a journey not a destination. It requires practice and patience to unravel its truest potential.

Here are a few things I’ve learnt (and STILL learning) along the way,

1. Brace yourself for crappy days, weeks or even months; Part of the process of self love is acknowledging the fact not everyday will be your best and allowing yourself the space to feel a wide range of emotions. Self love is about finding coping mechanism when you’re feeling low and being capable of acknowledging you are not okay. The most important thing to always bare in mind is despite how many times you might fall on this journey, there’s always an opportunity to rise up and start again.

2. It’s yours to define; Self love doesn’t look any particular way. You have to decide for yourself what it means to you. I tried putting my natural hair in twist outs and wearing more fashionable clothes because I saw those projections of self love. It didn’t take me long to realise that I’m too lazy to do twist outs and plus I find shopping to be a tedious task these days. I must add though that I have nothing against people who do that but it wasn’t authentic to me! My advice is to make moves that are organic to you and cater to your own personal needs and desires. Self love can’t be defined by anyone other than yourself.

3. Not everyone will understand it; It may cause you to loose friends in the process or grow further away from others. But you will also gain people who understand your journey and are willing to support you. Personally I become more introverted at one point and as a result I found myself missing out on a lot of social events. It might not be the best way for everyone but I found it necessary for me to take time away in order to focus on myself. Likewise, only you will know what’s necessary for you to get to where you want to be and you have to trust that your instinct is leading you towards that place.

4. Fundamental self-love work begins and always ends with your mental and emotional well-being; Even though material possessions can make us feel good, it provides us temporary gratification. In the age of social media, it’s easily to put emphasis on the physical “glow up” instead of doing the internal work that really takes a lot of effort. Focus on loving yourself internally without having to find it through external objects & people.

Copyright © AshAlves 2018, All Rights Reserved

My Trip to Haiti

Prior to visiting Haiti, I already had my own preconceived notions of the country. I knew about the history of its revolution, I knew about the earthquake. I had a rough idea that western NGO’s in Haiti have done a terrible job on development. However I did not anticipate that my experiences in Haiti would have such a profound impact upon my return to the UK.

Irrespective of the assumptions I held about Haiti, I made a conscious effort to over-stand my position as an outsider and to learn from the experiences/ perspectives I encounter throughout my stay.

I traveled to Haiti on their election day, January the 3rd. This was not premeditated. Coincidentally my holiday coincided with that date.  Given that information on Haiti is relatively scarce, it was hard to figure out whether the election had finished or not prior to my making traveling plans. Whilst on my journey to Haiti I was informed by my host about potential road blockages and violence that may occur because of the election result. I was extremely anxious when I first heard this because I didn’t know whether my safety was at risk, especially as a foreigner. I quickly realized I came at a pivotal time when I saw posters all over the streets and graffiti on the walls in support (or disdain) for various presidential candidates.

Upon arrival I saw the UN base with around 5 UN trucks drive outside of the building. Next to it was the US embassy. The paradox of having a strongly built embassy in the same country where houses were deeply ravished by the earthquake was very perplexing. I was even more dumb-founded by the audacity to have a huge embassy whilst contributing the bare minimum to Haiti’s development (even covertly contributing to its underdevelopment).  I noticed upon arrival that some people were living it abject poverty, in houses that weren’t made strong enough for harsh weather conditions. I was baffled and confused by their savagery.

I spent the first few days familiarizing myself with the area. The streets of Haiti are so vibrant and I was always received warm greetings. I was often confused with being Haitian which wasn’t much of a surprise given the fact that I am Caribbean. My host, partner and I went to a restaurant at the top of a mountain which oversaw the whole country. The view was astonishing and truly captured Haiti in all its beauty. The afternoon was filled with nice conversation although throughout it took a serious tone. I would ask about Haiti, the culture, its politics and the role of NGO’s. The host told me about American actor Sean Penn’s project that allocated hundreds of thousands of Haitian’s that were displaced by the 2008 earthquake into tents in a mountainous area. He pointed to where the tents were placed and told us how it’s now known as one of Haiti most dangerous communities. The lack of accessibility to the main city means basic necessities are scarce and jobs barely exist which have led to third world poverty conditions. We spoke about the Haitian revolution and how it changed the trajectory of international politics in centuries to come. Our host went onto explain how many countries are quick to forget about the price Haiti paid not only for its liberation but for the oppressed worldwide. It will never leave me when he said “if it wasn’t for Haiti, Obama probably wouldn’t have been made president”. At the point I realized the significance of the Haiti’s independence in marking a paradigm shift in the world.

Each day there was paradoxical. I would be fully immersed in the city’s vibrancy, admiring its beauty and then notice large houses in close proximity to excruciating poverty. What really got to me was seeing a highly gated Marriott Hotel surrounded by street stall sellers and young kids asking for money. I couldn’t comprehend how such inequalities are allowed to exist. The Marriott Hotel symbolized the savagery inherent in free-market capitalism and the inequalities needed to exist in order for it to flourish. I could only imagine the millions spent on making such a luxurious hotel when NGO’s (who most likely raised more than its cost) gave tents to Haitians as a response to the earthquake. It just reinforced what a lot of Haitian’s already know; neocolonialism has/is ravishing the country up until the present day.

The highlight of my trip was visiting the National Museum in Haiti (known as Mupanah). I was astonished by its amazing architecture. I could proudly say that it is the most beautifully designed museums I have been to so far. I was thankful to get a tour of the museum just to gain a deeper insight on what I was seeing. I learnt more about the founding fathers. In fact their boldly remains were preserved within the museum.

The tour guide man taught me about the Taino genocide across the Caribbean orchestrated by Christopher Columbus. He spoke about Haiti’s efforts in helping/inspiring other uprisings and revolutionaries, most prominently Simon Bolivar. I didn’t know that the Haitian government under Alexandre Petion (1815-1816) provided funds and aided him with soldiers during his fight for South America’s liberation from colonialism. After being told this I reflected back upon the stigmas projected on Haiti across the world whilst thinking back to what my host mentioned about Obama. Haiti’s revolution paved the way for oppressed people over the world and I began to feel as though many of us are undeserving of the sacrifices that were made. A prime example of this is their neighbour, Dominican Republic. Haiti liberated Dominican Republic from Spanish colonial rule for them to end up showing affinity/admiration for their colonial masters and to end up playing a huge role in marginalizing Haitians. Haiti set the trajectory for black liberation, only for us to turn around and write off the whole country as being “cursed” because of voodoo.

Another thing that touched me was seeing the actual chains used to bring African slaves during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. I had never seen them physically before. They were so thick and heavy. I was not prepared for the emotions I felt at that moment. The fact that I was in Haiti, a country that helped liberate my own ancestors and seeing the huge repercussions they have faced for their bravery was too emotionally intense.  I realized fully at that moment that all of us that descended from the transatlantic slave trade owe Haiti for our ancestors liberation.

I learnt that day about the King and Queen of Haiti during the 1900’s. I got to see the King’s crown which they were still able to preserve. It was the most sophisticated thing I’ve ever seen filled with the finest diamonds, crystals and gold. I found out that the Queens crown was stolen which still until this day is “lost” (aka stolen) somewhere in France. I could not help but feel intense rage at the idea of a family comfortably living off of an inheritance made from the riches built in Haiti. Just to think that blacks asking for reparations is “living in the past” is infuriating and disrespectful in every way possible. The museum did end on a lighter note when I was able to appreciate the amazing artwork of Mark Brown, an Antigen born painter. Near the end of the Museum was a mood board was various sticky notes. One notes in particular stayed with me “we have to look to the past to move forward”. It reinforced something that I have been thinking for a long time- there’s a lot of work to be done globally for the liberation of all people, particularly for all black people.

I will never forget the street art, the lovely people, vibrancy, picturesque mountainous views I saw in Haiti. All of this made my time there somewhat exceptional. Despite being from a country that had been unfairly treated by the world, the people I met held dignity and pride for their country. They over-stood the price they paid for liberation and that many have been quick to forget the role Haiti played in their liberation. Haiti has experienced decades of corrupt governance and neo-colonial imperialism which are extremely important factors when understanding why Haiti is in the position it is today.

I spent the last few days in Haiti exploring the area and enjoying my apartment that was situated in the woods. Overall Port Au Prince, Haiti is probably one of the most unforgettable travel experiences so far. It’s hard to capture what I learnt and experienced there in writing but what I learned had a profound affect upon me. It made me question my own intentions within activism and just how much it truly means to me. I hope to travel to Haiti again one day, hopefully knowing french creole, and being able to explore different cities in the country.

Copyright © AshAlves 2017, All Rights Reserved