Preparing to shave her head for the second time, Ash Paraskevas is on the ultimate journey to self-acceptance. Having had society define her happiness and success for so long, she is now ready to take back control of her narrative and be her own main character.
I recently sat down with Ash to chat about her decision to share her life on social media. Ask her what it was like growing up mixed race in Australia and the importance of acknowledging and working on your mental health.
When did you start sharing your self-acceptance journey on social media?
It all started with what is known as the 'big chop' in black communities, where you cut off all your straightened hair and allow your natural to grow. For many POC hair is a significant component of what makes you feel different.
So, the first step towards becoming my true authentic self was cutting off all my straight hair. Afterwards I posted a photo comparing the old vs. new hairstyles. Since then, I became more and more in love with the process of becoming my most authentic self.
What was it like growing up and have you always struggled with your identity?
Growing up mixed-raced in Australia meant that there was not much representation or diversity. I always felt like to be beautiful or successful I needed to look like the people in media (Caucasians). Unfortunately, that meant that I was trying to make myself look like something I was not and neglecting an entire half of my existence (my black heritage).
As young as six years old I was straightening my hair and trying to wax my naturally thick eyebrows to look like my peers. I was constantly trying to assimilate because it became apparent to me that my natural features were not accepted as part of mainstream beauty.
I came from low socio-economic circumstances and no one in my family had been to university before. When I went to university, I discovered a whole new world. Many people had grown up in wealthy households and lived lifestyles that I could not even fathom. Not only was I different physically and culturally, but I was also different economically. Once again, I felt that to succeed to prove my worth to these people and become someone I was not to be ''successful''.
How did your desire for societal acceptance shape your life and when did you realise it was not a life you wanted to lead?
During university I did everything within my power to assimilate with my peers. It started with my physical attributes, I would spend lots of money on clothes and chemically straightening my hair to meet western beauty standards.
Eventually I tried emulating them so much that I decided to study law. I knew nothing about law and had to work incredibly hard to transfer into the course. I did it simply because it was a career path that was linked to a type of success and wealth that I thought I needed to feel fulfilled.
However, even after becoming this 'other person', the feeling of depression, stress and anxiety was still there. I was eventually able to acknowledge that living this false life was incredibly unsustainable. No matter what I did, I would still have this empty feeling inside.
When I reached this point, I just had to hit pause and take time to find my true self. My partner supported me during this time of self-realisation and I realised that I needed to accept and love myself in order to fill that void. I needed to search inwards instead of outwards.
Can you share your Miss World beauty pageant experience and what it meant for you to participate in such a beauty-oriented competition?
When I decided to take a break from university, I had intended to dedicate time to focus on my mental health. Instead, I found myself participating in the Miss World beauty pageant. Classic Ash!
Even though I ended up in the top 10 finalists in Australia for 2019, the whole process just taught me what I did not value and want in life. I was consuming very toxic social media and ended up developing an eating disorder. In the end, I realised that the competition emphasises things about women that I do not think are the most critical parts about us, and I was finding myself internalising misogyny, being competitive and critical with other women.
After burning myself out and becoming the girl on a magazine, I still felt empty. I started to ask myself whether I was looking for fulfilment in all the right places. In 2020, I entered Miss Universe commitment to be a more authentic version of myself. Still, after reaching the State Finalists. I quit. I realised that I did not need approval to feel worthy for a space in this world or to be a queen.
How do you think your approach to work and your mindset regarding career has changed over time?
When I was studying law there were many boxes that I felt like I needed to tick and fit into to succeed. Like getting a job at a commercial law firm, achieving specific grades and becoming a character on Suits (the television series)! It was a continuous battle to become what 'they' were looking for.
Now I make sure that what I am doing is authentic to me. If you must completely sacrifice your individuality for a job, eventually, you will lose sight of who you even are.
You should feel so strongly about yourself that you will never feel the need to fit into a societal mould. Even though I am categorised as an influencer, I will not change who I am to fulfil the stereotypes that come with the title. Whatever I do, I am going to do it my own way.
You have always been so open about your mental health on social media. When did you decide this was something you wanted to share with your followers?
When I first started really focusing on my social media career, I grew quite quickly. I signed to a management company that lead to doing paid posts. It was so surreal to be getting paid to post, but it added an extra layer of pressure to appear perfect all the time.
During lockdown last year, my mental health deteriorated. However, I still had an obligation to do paid posts, so I felt the need to make it look like I was 'living my best life'. I barely even left my bed, let alone get all dressed up but for this post I would do my hair, makeup and find some 'goals' location, pose and then edit the photo in my PJs eating snacks on the couch.
I felt really upset with myself as it was a completely inaccurate representation of my life. It was not healthy for the people consuming it or me. That is when I started to share my reality and contribute to social media in a positive way.
Ash wears our Custom Duo Initials Necklace, Cuban Chain Necklace in 16'' + Small Sagittarius Zodiac Pendant and Lunasol Hoops, Medium Latch Hoops + Butterfly Charms and 14K Solid Gold Trinity Single Stud.
What advice or tips would you give to someone ready to discover their true and authentic self?
Firstly, well done for even recognising that you want change in your life. It is the biggest step you could take! We need to give ourselves credit for even wanting to move forward and challenge the position we are currently in. I wish I gave myself more credit along the way for pushing myself to take the leap.
Here are some tips that helped me start heading in the right direction!
- 1. Listen to Yourself and Trust the Process
Keep listening to who you are and start cultivating that life for yourself, slowly and steadily. Do not compare yourself to others and listen to your intuition because that is the most significant thing guiding you!
- 2. Follow Inspirational and Relatable Social Media Accounts
- 3. Let Go of The Things That Are Holding You Down
You might have to let go of a lot of ties to things that may be sticking you in the place you do not want to be and that is okay. This may include friendships and environments that are just no longer positively serving you.
What lifestyle changes you have implemented in your life that has made a huge impact?
Clarify my values and goals. I have been focusing on more outdoor activities that connect me to my body and root me in the present moment, which is amazing! When you spend lots of time on social media, it can be easy to get wrapped up in a fake world and feel disconnected to reality. It has been amazing prioritising real human connection. For me, that includes doing yoga and learning how to surf!
Meditation is also something that I am really into now but if you had asked me a year ago, I would never have dreamed of enjoying meditation.
What is one thing that makes you feel comfortable and confident in your own skin?
Moving my body. Yoga, stretching or going for a nice walk. Or a hot steaming shower with some incense burning and my favourite music on the background- just the best feeling!
In a few words, what do you think is the greatest gift we can give one another as women?
Support and Compassion.
Your favourite TV show right now?
Mixed-ish on Disney +! It is about mixed raced people, and it makes me feel so happy and included!
Top 3 favourite meals
Acai bowls, homemade banana pancakes and burritos!
What is something that you do every day that brings to joy?
Patting my little rabbit, Nala!
What is next for Ash? Do you currently have any goals or projects in the works?
I am doing a yoga teaching course next month, so I would love to teach some classes once qualified. Yoga is just so body empowering and self-confidence invoking!
I am also starting up my YouTube channel where I will be vlogging about my life and talking about mental health and self-confidence. I am also hoping to go back to university to study psychology! Hopefully once I get my qualifications, I will be able to create some coaching resources online to continue helping people to find their authentic selves.
And to finish, what is one word that simply describes and means Ash?
Authentic (and yellow 😁)
You can find Ash on Instagram @ashparaskevas
Thank you to Ash and her bunny, Nala for being this months S-kin Muse! I hope Ash's story inspires you to live your life in the most unapologetic and authentic way possible!