Being young in this industry can be a difficult feat when there are men and women alike who see you as an opportunity to take advantage and use for personal benefit. You fall victim because you don’t know any better, because you’re blinded by passion and a budding spirit. You don’t yet know to handle yourself in a manner that allows you to fully exercise your rights, or have the foresight needed to recognise warning signs.
Being young and female is even harder because our society loves to sexualise and objectify women, everywhere and anywhere. Being young, female and black is even more of a struggle because on top of all this, you’re dealing with racism.
I write this to all young and naïve women because I love you all and I want you to be beautifully aware. I want women to be wise with their time, energy and investments. I want to reassure women and make sure that we are constantly learning from and uplifting each other. If you read this and you can learn something from or simply resonate with my words, then that is all I could ask for.
I write this with genuine passion because I started out in this creative industry aged 16, and I have learnt a lot from my mistakes and my experiences. I also had to learn it all very quickly. So when I see women talk about being hurt, used or manipulated whilst trying to achieve certain goals, it really strikes a chord within me. I have been fortunate enough to have had peers that I can learn from, who have guided, advised and protected me from harm. Regardless, there is a lot I know now, that I wish I knew when I was starting out. So here are a few simple pointers from my experiences. It’s the little things that can help towards being generally more aware:
1. Your favourite artist is a human, not an entity.
Artist, Doctor, Sales Advisor, Student; the one thing that we all have in common is that we are all human. You see your favourite artist’s work and it is without flaw, it represents all of the values that you adore, it speaks volumes to you and you almost think “how could someone that creates something so beautiful be capable of doing any wrong?”. Ahhh. Artists are people, people make mistakes.
If you regard the artist in the same line as his work, perfect and without flaw, you’re already on the road to disappointment and a warped sense of reality. Art can be carefully and meticulously created to inspire and to change lives, whilst the human behind it is egotistical and far from a joy to be around (for example). Always remember that artists are no different to the “everyday human”, we are all the same. We all need water to survive, we all urinate and poo, we all smell if we don’t shower. Don’t allow yourself to be convinced into thinking otherwise, into feeling inferior or “lesser than”. You are not. Don’t justify being negatively affected by telling yourself “they couldn’t have meant it”, “I’ve seen their work, that’s not what they are about”. It really is. Separate the art from the artist.
2. You do not owe anyone anything.
It is so easy to meet someone that you respect and feel like you owe them something or for them to make you feel like they’re entitled to something from you. They aren’t. Anything you do, do willingly and make informed decisions. If you feel under pressure to act a certain way, you have the right to withdraw yourself from any situation you no longer want to be in. You can give consent and then change your mind. Your change of mind is as valid as your initial decision.
No matter a person’s status, calibre, line of achievement or amount of followers, they do not have the right to make you feel pressured into doing anything you don’t feel comfortable with doing. You don’t have to justify yourself, discomfort is justification enough.
3. If it doesn’t feel right, that’s because it probably isn’t.
Trust your gut instinct. Intuition never lies. Don’t second guess yourself. Put yourself first.
4. Never second guess yourself.
Sometimes when you make decisions based on how you feel, you can be directly or indirectly made to feel bad for doing so. You may start to blame yourself for being “too nice”, “not nice enough”, “too stubborn”, “too shy”, “not open enough”, “too introverted”, “irrational” or you think “maybe I’m the problem?” Communication is give and take, you shouldn’t ever feel obliged to step outside of yourself in order to be able to communicate with someone, that sort of communication is one-sided.
If you’re being yourself and it’s not working out, it’s not meant to be. Let it go. There will always be more opportunities, more importantly the right opportunities are yet to come. If you make a connection based on a personality that isn’t true to you, you’ll never be comfortable in that working relationship. It’s not worth it. Also, if you’re anything like me, don’t feel disheartened if not everyone as the same level of heart as you, we can’t all be the same. Continue to be yourself, you may be disappointed by humanity several times but keep good friends and you’ll be fine.
5. Social media is not a representation of character.
It is merely an idea. You follow them on Twitter, you don’t know them. You don’t know who they are offline. They’re still strangers, you’re just a little more familiar with them prior to meeting them (assuming you plan to meet). You don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, social media makes it possible to build an entire lifestyle based on a lie. I always say that social media provides vultures with a place to cotch, humility can be hard to find in the same space.
6. If you can, try to keep business away from dms.
The problem with dms is that they have connotations of being the place where “things” “go down”. The hub of “shooting your shot”. Handling business in the same space can lead to issues with filtering intent and validity. It can blur the lines between professionalism and pleasure. It can result in too much familiarity, which I’m sure you’ve heard breeds contempt.
If you’re approaching someone for a collaboration, for an interview or anything business related; try to use dms to get their email address and handle business via email. Email etiquette is generally a lot more professional and boundaries are less likely to be crossed. It is also much easier to keep records of conversations that way. You never know when you might need to refer back to something that was written, email is the best way.
And vice versa. If you receive a proposal from someone via direct message and you don’t feel comfortable with the approach, ask them to send you an email. You’re not being difficult by requesting that.
7. Be vocal about your discomfort. It’s okay to say NO.
I think this one is self-explanatory. You don’t have to suffer in silence. If someone is making you feel uncomfortable (discomfort is coming up a lot because it is a key issue), tell them. If you can’t tell them directly, express your concerns with an experienced someone that you trust. You don’t have to deal with any sort of issues alone. Speaking up doesn’t make you “irrational”, “crazy” or mean that you have a “bad attitude”. Vocalising concerns is very rational.
It is also perfectly reasonable to turn down opportunities if they don’t fall in line with what you’re looking for. You want to produce the best work possible right? You can’t do that by picking up every project and every opportunity, work out what is most benefical for you and politely turn down what isn’t.
8. Do not allow your time to be wasted.
Know what you want and what you expect before you enter any sort of working environment or brand new venture. If you know what you want, you can get to the point a lot more quickly, you’re less likely to be “finessed” and you don’t have to tolerate someone beating around the bush. Being assertive is not synonymous with being rude. It’s all about preparation. If you’re prepared you’re well equipped, if you’re well equipped you’re not so easy to take advantage of.
9. Be extra cautious when meeting people from the internet.
Go to someplace public; an area that you’re familiar with. Tell someone where you’re going and who you’re meeting. Send your friends your location. If you feel uncomfortable before meeting them, don’t go and if you must, take someone with you. If you’re put in a compromising situation during, you have the right to leave. It’s not rude of you to do so, it’s necessary.
10. Don’t forget your age.
I’m not saying that you should see your age as a limitation, it isn’t. What I am saying is that you may be very mature, but when you’re young in this industry it is important to remember that the majority of the people you work with will be older than you, this means that they are likely to be more experienced than you. Experience is not yet on your side which puts you at a very slight disadvantage, you’re more vulnerable in that sense. So working in safe environments where you’re not patronised, but you’re not pushed towards pretending to be much older than you are either, is important. For your own mental well-being more than anything. Adulthood comes with a lot of pressure, don’t rush to grow up if it doesn’t come naturally, time is still on your side. It’s okay to utilise it.
11. It’s not about how many people you know.
It’s about the value of the people that you do know. Make friends naturally and wisely. Not every connection is beneficial. The industry is not socially limiting, industry cliques are. They may seem like the place to be because within those cliques is “where everything is happening”, but it is important to know that there is a lot of pretentiousness involved in being within certain circles.
There are some amazing people in this world and you will meet them. You will go on all sorts of adventures and explore so much with them. But there are also predators in this world who will enter your life in disguise; the wolves in sheep’s clothing, but don’t worry because your ability to discern character will get better and sharper with time. Be careful with whom you choose to trust and who you give the benefit of the doubt. Stay true to yourself and flourish! You got this.
This open letter is not enough, but it is the start. We need the solidarity that the #SpeakYourStory hashtag has shown. We need panels, discussions and events to raise awareness, protect and empower because as it stands, we only have each other to learn from. To those who have suffered any form of abuse in their industry and suffer in silence, don’t be afraid to tell someone. Tell someone you trust. I assure you, there are people who will have your back. To those who have shared their stories and helped other young women by doing so, thank you. #SpeakYourStory