Musings of a Model: Self-Love in the time of Coronavirus
Shaanti Chaitram comes into focus on Facetime, straight black hair parted down the middle, cheekbones glowing in the afternoon light pouring into her studio in Inwood. A warm smile canvassed in mauve lipstick, she looked as welcoming as the big couch she lounged on. She has been modeling since she was 20 years old and most recently, was a part of EBY’s campaign for our new tiger print underwear.
Within minutes of our introduction, she turns the camera around to show her apartment, a passion project. “In another lifetime, I would have been an interior designer!” Every piece of furniture is intentional, a teal loveseat covering a messy stack of board games, crisp white sheets on an abundantly pillowed bed, all against the backdrop of a stunning, color-coded bookshelf against the far wall. She guides the camera and points out the white tile backsplash for the kitchen wall she did herself, the black edges of her DIY french window frame, and finally rest the lens on her boyfriend, Trevor, who is in the middle of a work call at his desk, fitting like a puzzle piece in the rest of the room.
Shaanti’s Tips for Self-Love
1. Be intentional with your time and mindful of your space
“My boyfriend and I are finally starting to learn how to act like adults,” she says with playful guilt as she looks away from the camera towards him. “We make our own oat milk now and green smoothies, and we clean up the house more often.” For Shaanti, a cluttered physical space inevitably leads to a cluttered mental space. It’s no coincidence that she projects the same calm that her studio apartment invokes, she finds solace in rearranging her bookshelf, organizing her kitchen appliances, replacing her old couch for this comfy new one, and making her bed every morning. “Create a space you want to be in.” In the wake of coronavirus, there is an intrinsic lack of control of the world around us. Our past lifestyles, lifestyles that we may have truly built with love, are permanently restricted to be within the walls of our home, maybe a grocery store, and sometimes, buttressed by trees during a jog. Yet, within these boundaries, we are still in full control of ourselves and our actions. Exercise the control to remind yourself of this fact. The world within a home can be as grand and filled with love as the world out there. Here, you make dinner with your boyfriend, you read your books and people watch out your window, you play board games and cook warm meals. Take the time to discover this space again and again with those who you are lucky enough to have around you.
2. Find ways to stay creative and inspired
When Shaanti says she isn’t really working but she is still modeling, it speaks to the revolution of an industry that relied so much on collaboration. Naomi Campbell recently made Essence history for the 50th Anniversary issue of the magazine. “Specifically, she did her own hair, own makeup, and own styling before turning the lens on herself to do what would become the first-ever ESSENCE magazine cover shot entirely on an iPhone. It would also mark the first time in the brand’s 50-year history that a cover star was her own photographer. ‘We are rooted in knowledge and creativity and continue to take back full control of our narratives’, Campbell said.” Resilience is both our saving grace and call to self-love during this time. Shaanti has had to be her own producer for the photoshoots she creates in her living room and fire escape. “I don’t find it stifling but more like a new challenge. I’m taking my own digitals and doing casting calls on zoom, but so is everyone else. It’s equalizing to see everyone do what they can with the limits they have.” To continuously seek alleys and forgotten roads of creativity keeps us hungry for adventure.
Shaanti also sought out TikTok, a video sharing social network app used to create short dance, lip-sync, comedy and talent videos. She curates looks based on a simple white t-shirt or bike shorts, shares interior design ideas (frame your postcards!), and jokes about missing her boyfriend if he leaves the room for a couple minutes. “Tik Tok feels more authentic than Instagram, less filtered. You really get to be yourself and it gives me an excuse to get dressed. Even standing up and recording myself on camera for these videos makes me feel more comfortable with myself.” Fashionista reports that modeling agencies have taken to Tik Tok to scout for new faces. “You get to see a lot of personality. When you’re looking at a video it’s so different [than a picture]. With video, you see it all. You get to see how somebody is.” said Jeni Rose, SVP at IMG Worldwide. There is a tangible shift in the way we prioritize our lives right now. Authenticity triumphs over airbrushed skin, inner healing overshadows outer beauty, and personal progress, who you are today compared to who you were yesterday, means more now that we have so much time on our own. Self-love, in this case, comes from self-discovery and finding the ways in which you can express all your genuine interests, whether Tiktok or otherwise, to keep this journey exciting. Journal, draw, write, paint, record, edit, dance, sing, design, color, do what you have to do to keep going.
3. Reflect for personal well being, then react for the collective good
“Growing up reading Seventeen magazine, I never really saw anyone that looked like me,” explains Shaanti as she discusses the seeds of her modeling career. “In an ideal world, models should be people you see yourself in, people you can relate to.” As she meditates on the course of her career, Shaanti is very mindful of the role she plays as a Guyanese-American woman of color in an industry that struggles with diversity. More often than not, she is seen as the token minority in a sea of white faces at a casting call. Self-love, then, becomes a trailblazing act of defiance. “Remind yourself you belong there. Know your value before stepping into a room,” she says sternly. To be the change you wish to see, first, question what needs changing. What did the world owe you that, now, you can give to the next girl looking at a magazine, or starting a company, or looking towards her future? Vogue expounds, “Priorities are moving beyond purely personal goals, smoothie bowls, and sweaty selfies. Being well now means taking care of other people and the planet well as we take care of ourselves. The new wave of female empowerment … favors cooperation over competition and altruism over individualism. There is mounting scientific evidence to suggest cultivating kindness could be as important to our wellbeing and longevity as exercising and eating our greens.” Shaanti didn’t always feel confident. “I try to step out of my own head, distance myself from my anxiety, so I can do my job. Smiling at myself in the mirror helps but also, reminding me that it isn’t all about me.” She’s right, her work as a model isn’t all about her. Every time she overcomes her insecurities to step in front of the camera, she is speaking to the girls who will see themselves in her as they flip through EBY’s tiger print campaign or Marc Jacobs’ foundation beauty spread. Self-love is this awareness of how grand your impact can be if you’re conscious. Think about your place in this world and how your actions, your reflection, can create alternate realities for those who come after you. Our well being is tied to the people and places around us, and we have this superpower to shift towards a better world just with small steps made in self-love.
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