Poet and author Fariha Róisín on the importance of self-care
The Australian-Canadian multi-disciplinary artist is the voice you cannot ignore
Brooklyn-based writer, podcaster and visual artist Fariha Róisín writes about everything that a brown girl navigating her way through life and its curve-balls needs to read. Her focus is often on wellness, pop-culture and representation of queer identity. Her first book, How to Cure A Ghost, was a collection of poems that talk about overcoming past mental and physical traumas. She is now working on her next, a novel called Like A Bird, that is due later this year.
ELLE: You have always emphasised on self-care through your books and columns, how long did it take you to realise its full potential?
Fariha Róisín: Self-care isn’t readily communicated to South Asian folks, from what I’ve seen and gathered through the years. Especially being a child of the diaspora–such niceties are almost non-existent. There was such an emphasis on pure survival in my family, that the idea of caring for yourself, or your body, seemed almost ludicrous to me when I was younger. Or I’d participate in superficial ways, like “eating healthy,” for example. It wasn’t until I attempted suicide in 2015, at the age of 25, where I was forced to really look at myself. I knew I didn’t really want to die, so that meant I had to really reorient myself to focus on not just living, but thriving and being happy. A lot of that actually meant unlearning what I had been taught about my body, or myself, so that I could have a more focused and dedicated healing practice. It meant actually facing myself. Since 2015, I haven’t looked back.
ELLE: Why have you chosen poetry as a medium to talk about the traumas you’ve healed from in How to Cure a Ghost?
FR: Poetry just happened by happenstance. It felt like the most organic medium for me to speak my truth, without it being edited or editorialised. I love the freedom poetry gives you, which is why I think so many young people read poetry… honesty is evident, and performativity less so.
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ELLE: How does humour help in dealing with the more graver, personal topics?
FR: I am such a clown, and I enjoy and embrace being one. I think humour is a great way to navigate sadness or the gravity of the world. I enjoy people trying to find laughter in the face of so much pain. This world is burning, it’s not funny, but how do we create actionable ways of making people see and understand things differently so that they’re activated to do something. The best comedians are great political satirists, and political satire is an excellent way of getting the masses to engage with politics and society, almost subliminally. I always want to make work which will make people laugh, and make them really consider what’s being said, on a deeper level.
ELLE: What does beauty mean to you today?
FR: Feeling sexy and strong in the body that I have.
ELLE: How would you describe your personal sense of style?
FR: A psychedelic maelstrom.
ELLE: What are the books that have inspired you the most through your journey?
FR: Dictée by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Breath of Life by Clarice Lispector, Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith, In Search Of Our Mother’s Gardens by Alice Walker, Bright Lines by Tanwi Nandini Islam, The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi, Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward, The Voyage of Sable Venus by Robin Coste Lewis, Just Kids by Patti Smith, Homefire by Kamla Shamsie, Jane: A Murder by Maggie Nelson, Sea and Fog by Etel Adnan, As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh by Susan Sontag.
ELLE: What is your idea of inclusive fashion?
FR: Inclusive fashion is inclusive bodies. Period. More diversity of race is great, but how about the diversity of bodies? I recently saw my friend Alok Vaid-Menon posted a photo of the book Fearing The Black Body by Sabrina Strings, in which Strings explains that “thinness” was constructed as another way to bridge the difference between white woman’s bodies and black woman’s bodies. As black women were desired across Europe, there had to be a way that white supremacy could prop the desirability of white womanhood–and that’s where thinness was born.
ELLE: Which are your favourite travel destinations? How have they inspired your work?
FR: I haven’t made enough money in my life to openly and actively travel. But as a young person, I went to Italy with my parents and I still think of Florence regularly. If I could live anywhere, I’d live part-time in Florence, and Paris. I hope that that’s in my future. But, I also think of how we’re facing an environmental apocalypse, I really think travel needs to pivot to: How do we protect this beautiful earth we’ve been given?
ELLE: You’ve been very vocal about being a south asian living abroad. How did you manage to find your own space in mainstream culture?
FR: I just had to talk about my specificity… a specificity that I had never seen before. None of us are just one thing. I’m South Asian, I’m a Muslim, I’m queer, I am a survivor. I also love books, I love weird fashion, I love movies, I love jokes! Honing in a space where I could be the purest expression of myself has been really rewarding.
ELLE: What is the one self-care ritual that is underrated according to you?
FR: Gentleness and compassion with yourself are extremely underrated. If we took more time to be kinder to ourselves, there’s no doubt in my mind it would seep into our everyday lives and turn into magic… the way we interacted with other humans and this beautiful, robust planet we live on, would revolutionise. We need to evolve as a species, we need to be kinder to each other and our selves. That’s enlightenment, it’s really that simple.
Photographs: Rebecca Storm