People need to see themselves in others: a Q+A w/ Raquél Pérez

What impact do you hope your TEDTalk has on others? 

I hope my talk makes people think. I hope people walk away from it realizing what their biases are so that they may change them. I hope that I am able to empower people to be better in their everyday lives, but I also hope to empower Latin American individuals to stand firm in who they are.

People need to see themselves in others so that life isn’t so lonely, but at the end of the day, if representation isn’t there, how can that be achieved?

I hope my talk can motivate people to bridge that gap.

Tell us about a time you navigated self-doubt in your career? Where did you find support?

I work as a Registered Nurse at my local hospital, and time and time again, self-doubt creeps up at the most inconvenient moments. The thing is, working in healthcare is hard, because it’s a profession that directly interacts with people in their most vulnerable moments.

It can be stressful, it can be emotionally draining, and it can breed a lot of self doubt. I will have days where it feels like everything is going wrong; the patient is upset, the doctor is upset, and a million tasks are my responsibility to complete.

Then there are the really great days – the days where I am reminded why I choose to become an RN. In the moments when I ask myself, “why am I doing this,” I find a lot of comfort and support in the staff I have.

I also reflect back on the bigger picture – I wanted to become an RN so that I could represent a broader group of people. There is a gap in the representation that is seen with healthcare professionals, and that needs to change.

I hope I can be a small part in making the difference. 

What’s something that’s breaking your heart these days? 

I recently learned about the cancellation of the Netflix Original Series One Day at a Time. When I heard this news, I was incredibly upset at the fact that a show portraying the Latinx family experience, would no longer be shown for public viewing. 

One Day at a Time was unique in the sense that it showed real experiences and situations that families go though, specifically Latinx families. Often in television and film, Latinx characters are shown as drug dealer, criminals, or just two-dimensional people. One Day at a Time broke that trend, and for once, gave us characters that are actually relatable.

I’m sad to see that the representation One Day at a Time brought will no longer be available, but based on the uproar from viewers who are angry with the decision, I am confident that the world is ready now, more than ever, to welcome correct and accurate Latinx representation onscreen.  

What cultural customs have you kept from your upbringing?  

Food, music, dancing, football watching. Emphasis on the football! The Uruguayan football team has always been on in my home, which definitely makes me feel closer to my roots just by seeing a reflection of my country.

We also have a phrase “garra charrua,” that emphasizes the importance of not giving up in the face of adversity. My dad always reminds my sisters and I of the “garra charrua” spirit in moments when life gets hard. 

I hope I can be a small part in making the difference.

Raquél Pérez

What’s the most recent thing you did for self-care?

I often find myself in situations where I am doing too much. Attending too many meetings, joining too may organizations, working too hard; you name it, it feels like I’ve done it. I recognized a trend that was beginning to look like burn out, and I knew something needed to change.

I decided I simply needed to start saying no. Instead of compromising my time for the benefit of others, I started keeping my time for myself.

Now I have more time to focus, meditate, and breathe. I go to therapy twice a month to make sure that my head is clear, and that has helped leaps and bounds.

I would also say that presenting my TEDx talk was a form of self-care. I took the time to go after something I’ve wanted for a while, did it for me, and talked about something that hits home for a lot of people. It was a very cathartic moment.

Learn more about Raquél and connect

Cultural representaton based on stereotypes is still active in the media today, says Raquél Pérez. A member of the Latinx community, she believes our society is more than ready for the media to eliminate this misrepresentation. Raquél Peréz graduated cum laude from URI in 2017 as a first generation bachelor’s degree recipient and earned a BSN. After graduating, Raquél spend the next year as an AmeriCorps member, aiding in affordable housing and currently works as a Registered Nurse at Miriam Hospital.
Raquél’s Twitter.

We all deserve to be safe in our jobs: a Q+A w/ Laila Delight

Laila Delight enjoys their life as a travelling sex worker, yoga teacher, and health coach. They are learning the ukelele and how to practice and share universal acceptance. 💎

What does being an intersectional feminist mean to you?

To me, being an intersectional feminist means liberating everyone from white colonial patriarchal capitalism.

It means working to change the dominant paradigm to include the voices and concerns of marginalized people.

It means protecting the earth and the indigenous people who depend on following the cycles of their environment.

To me, there is no difference between a feminist and a permaculturalist; everything is intersectional. Respecting the needs of people in various socioeconomic grounds also means utilizing resources available with sustainable methods. To be intersectional means to fully respect and offer allyship to marginalized groups and vocalize that the struggles of varying/overlapping groups are all different and deserve to be pursued to the great extent of the culpability.

What’s the best part about being a Libra moon?

My eye for detail, love for color, and passion for justice.

What’s something we often get wrong about sex work?

That it’s safer criminalized than decriminalized. Our lives would be so much less stigmatized if there weren’t legal implications for practicing such a vital and virtuous career. The criminalization of sex work conflates sex work with sex trafficking.

Both are illegal and one definitely should be, but keeping sex work illegal masks the issue of trafficking, mainly consent.

Trafficking is not sex work’s fault.

Demand for sex work does not mean there is demand for trafficking. Trafficking happens in multiple fields of work, just as exploitation happens in multiple fields of work. Sex work has proven its longevity, as long as we insist on placing monetary value on things we desire and need, people will pay money for sex.

So we need to make a clear distinction between people who are kidnapped and forced into sex slavery and the cam model giving a blow job to her boyfriend in her bedroom. Right now, a grey area covers everything in between those two scenarios.

Consensual sex work provides a safe space for creative expression, as well as filling a demand! It’s dehumanizing and degrading to insist all sex workers are forced into employment and would be better off doing something else. Full service sex work can be just as much of a therapeutic experience as an erotic one and everyone should be allowed seek services to make themselves feel good -(As long as they aren’t harming others.

The criminalization of sex work puts all sex workers at risk.

Criminalization of sex work also disproportionately targets those workers who are already marginalized. The white cam girls need to stand up and speak in defense of the black trans woman doing full service on the street. The stigma is for all of us, but only some get beaten. Only some die.

But we all deserve to be safe in our jobs.

What is something we often get wrong when talking about sex and sexuality?

I think the next idea that needs to die away is the binary notion of sex, sexuality, and gender. We are much more beautiful and complex that a dual option checkbox.

Your sexuality doesn’t have any bearing on your gender. I identify as a genderfluid, non-binary, trans masculine person. That’s my gender identity and my gender expression changes as it will. My sexuality is open, and I am attracted to people of all genders.

I identified as bisexual until I learned of the term pansexual, meaning to include all/non genders. I am also a slut, which to me, means I am comfortable with my sexual desires and delight in pursuing them.

What’s something you’re currently working on that’s both super challenging and exciting?

Surfing challenges my body and mind. I think it’s pretty exciting. I am also committed to healing my bodily ailments through an Ayurvedic lifestyle, yoga, and meditation. All of those practices both challenge and excite me, my own life is my favorite project.

What’s something you’re working to unlearn?

Raised as an evangelical fundamentalist Christian meant I developed a deep self-loathing as a child.  Sex work has been a wonderful tool in healing those wounds. It is a powerful platform for building self-love. I get to set the standard for how I’m viewed and it just keeps getting higher and higher.

As far as cultural reeducation goes, I am continually learning and appreciating the diversity of cultures on this planet. Indigenous culture is smoothed over by white colonial supremacy. As a fervent fundamentalist, I was hellbent on providing the gospel to people groups who had never heard the word of God.

I was not taught that it was the missionaries that brought so much destruction to the lands they sought to save. I didn’t understand when I was younger what was truly lost in the colonization of the America (or the rest of the world.) I didn’t understand white supremacy. In fact, I thought it was truly right to continue that pattern – all for Jesus, after all.

My ancestors – my very white puritan forebearers – came over on the Mayflower. You know, the boat with the prudes in the boxy hats. They were religious explorers out to practice their shame ridden ideology.

There were thousands of separate indigenous groups already living throughout the continent. Now, people maybe know a handful of tribes. All of rest are dead from genocide. The disease were brought from the European continent and were purposefully spread, which decimated the population.

An estimated 50-100 million natives lived here before white people set up shop along the Atlantic Coast.  And now there are 5 million. While the rest of the world population is growing, native women are being forcibly sterilized.

This is not an ancient issue from times we have left behind; this is practiced in our generation.  It happened over hundreds of years and it still continuing today. There are thousands of murdered and missing indigenous women, currently known in the United States.

When I used to think of genocide, I used to just consider the Holocaust. But millions more indigenous lives have been lost due to white colonial supremacy, probably billions. I am continually learning more accurate history and it only makes me more compassionate.

I am unlearning generations of trauma, entitlement and privilege. I believe the white settlers (everywhere) survived because of the open cooperation of the native inhabitant of the lands they stole. I would not be here today if my ancestors did not receive life saving supplies and information about their new home.  Even if my ancestors weren’t looking for gold and slaves, they came with the ultimate sense of Christian entitlement and saw the natives as people to be converted, not respected.

And 400 years later, I still have to listen to Christian music on the radio, but I’ve never heard a word of native tongue, spoken by an indigenous on those airwaves. That’s genocide.

Who do you go to when you’re needing support and guidance?

I really only reach out when I’m in desperation. I talk to other people about their problems a lot (phone sex operator = sex therapist) and should really reach out more to friends just to chat about what’s going on in my life.

I have a few friends that I know are there for me, but I only really go there when everything is totally falling apart. I’m continually learning to trust my higher self and inner voice of intuition. I’m also hoping to get settled and start cognitive behavioral therapy up again. It’s been too long.  

When was the last time you practiced self-care and why is self-care important to you?

I just stopped working on the computer for 20 minutes and did some yoga and smoked some weed. I love to find whatever pose feels best and just chill out there.

Self-care is essential for me to maintain the healthy inner balance I require both for contentment and providing joy and insight to others.

What’s something that’s been bringing you joy lately?

Meeting other sex workers really makes me happy. Such a diverse and beautiful group of people. I also really like my ukulele. Practicing gratitude for what I already have also brings me a lot of happiness, highly recommended.

I think the next idea that needs to die away is the binary notion of sex, sexuality, and gender. We are much more beautiful and complex that a dual option checkbox.

Laila Delight

What’s something that’s been pissing you off lately?

The past and present genocide of the indigenous people in the occupied lands of North America people makes me sick to my stomach. I think about it a lot, and recently,several news stories passed through my scrolling. I was shown information that was extremely disturbing.

Forced sterilization has been a part of US policy for a long time, but I haven’t heard of it until recently. I’m pissed off at how obliviously I was raised and how careless people consume culture without considering its implications. I’m pissed at how distracted everyone is, including myself. And we’ve been missing the picture because we haven’t had enough marginalized voices telling their piece of the story.

When was a time that self-doubt was at its worst for you while on your career and life journey?

Well…about a year ago I was mostly homeless, stressed out and picked up drinking again, briefly. I’d been sober for several years but it just seemed like this time, I would be able to handle it. As any addict knows, things quickly escalated and I ended up having too much tequila and falling down a slip-n-slide.

My immune system was already shot and my body responded by triggering a shingles outbreak. It made it impossible to work, was extremely painful, and emotionally scarring. I felt disgusting. But luckily, I had a ridiculous amount of love in my recovery period.  

I healed up, with a hardened resolve to leave alcohol behind for good and planned my first trip to do trade scenes in Las Vegas. I still have the scars on my back, but now they are a reminder to honor my body and I’m grateful.

What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone struggling with self-doubt and feeling like giving up on their dreams?

You are utterly unique in your capacity to achieve your destiny. No one else will be able to do what you are able to do.  So don’t give up, no one can replace you. The world needs your dreams as much as you do.

We don’t have time to wait, embrace what you love or we will all perish. We must inspire each other to be our authentic selves, or we will drift into vague monotony (ruled by white imperialist patriarchy).

Your dream is important. And every ounce of struggle will add to the richness of the final tale, your fairy tale.

Imagine that all your life’s work disappeared and you only had 1 minute to tell the world what you truly believe to be true. What would you say?

We only have the present moment in which to act and be aware. The more finely we can tune into the present, the more we experience from life. But it becomes too much to bear, this present moment, do not worry, because the next now brings the same opportunity.

In Sanskrit, Sat Nam mean “I am the Truth, the truth is in me. I experience myself in alignment with my truth.”

We will never know our truth by pushing suppressing what we truly desire. Allow yourself to be present and uncover what this moment has for you.


Learn more about Laila Delight and connect on Twitter. 🎉

Love is my guide and the only thing I value: a Q+A w/ Tyomi Morgan-Najieb

What are the origins of being a sexpert, pleasure coach and a Certified Authentic Tantra® Practitioner? Where you always sexually liberated?

I began my work in sexuality in 2011 by launching my sex education blog and YouTube channel: Glamerotica101.

While doing research in 2009/2010, I recognized that black people didn’t have a leader or someone to turn to for sexual health education. No one was speaking directly to us or speaking up for us.

So, I decided to get into this work to be that representation to empower black women, initially. Most of my earlier work is female-centric. Now, my work expands to all bodies.

I’ve always spoken to anyone who would listen and feel informed and empowered by what I have to share, no matter the pigment of their skin. And as a black woman I’m also representing for Us. As far as Authentic Tantra® is concerned, I recently graduated from The Institute of Authentic Tantra Education in 2018, and I’m excited to bring the knowledge and my practice out into the world.

How does it feel now that you are sexually liberated?

To be sexually liberated feels free. Knowing that I am in control of my body, my sexual expression, my sexual identity and my sexual exploration is healing and most definitely fun!

Knowing that by living my life freely I’m inspiring others to do the same is an added bonus that affirms my purpose on this Earth: extending Love through action.

What’s one way you’ve been seeking to heal?

I choose to heal my perception daily by dissociating myself with ego thoughts. To heal means “to see correctly” according to the spiritual text, A Course In Miracles, and to see correctly is to see all things and treat all things with LOVE.

Every day my mind is flooded with fearful illusions that the ego projects in order to make itself important. And a lot of these thoughts are supported by programming that I’ve experienced from the world.

Every single day I’m using spiritual tools to remember Love and to live in Love by dispelling lies, dropping negative programming, and choosing for truth, which is Love.

Can sex help us heal? If so, how? And how is a Certified Authentic Tantra Practitioner a part of that?

Sex is Form, meaning it takes on whatever meaning you give it. Sex can be used for healing. Sex can also be used to hurt, separate, abuse, attack and control.

Sex in itself isn’t healing.

It’s the intention of experiencing love and healing through sex that catalyzes purification. Healing sex happens when two people are choosing to drop their programmed perceptions about sex and interact with each other in full, conscious acceptance without guilt or judgement. Even if a person has never practiced, Authentic Tantra®, a person changing their mindset about sex and setting a purpose for why they are joining bodies with someone else can be a healing experience.

Authentic Tantra® uses elemental meditation practices from Tibetan Tantra, somatic healing practices and communication to help clients transmute trauma energy and restore full awareness. You can find out more about Authentic Tantra as a modality at

Tyomi Morgan-Najieb

What do we get wrong about sexual health education?

People often conflate personal perceptions about sex with actual sexual health education. There is a lot of information on the internet via sex blogs and social media accounts dedicated to sexuality, and sometimes it’s difficult to sift through what is fact and what is opinion.

The internet is proliferated with fear based sex education, and sometimes it seems that for every post that presents something healthy about sexuality, there are hundreds more that spread damaging messaging about sex.

Likewise, people believe that sexual health education is just about STI prevention and knowing about the genitals. Sexual health education extends into sexual identity, the nature and health of romantic and sexual relationships, pleasure, desire and arousal, mental health, physical health and a plethora of subcategories.

There is a lot to know and many ways to learn it all! But most people are only aware of the “clinical” versions of sexual health education.

Furthermore, in America, only 22 states require for their school districts to have sexual health education programs, and only 13 of those states instruct for those programs to be medically accurate. This is a major issue and the lack of comprehensive sexual health education has led to the epidemic we now face with increasing numbers in STIs, again.

We have a disparity in sexual health education across the board and as a country we have to advocate more for this to be a priority. It begins at home.

What can we do to change the way kids & adults are educated and continue to educate themselves?

Adults need to have the willingness to invest in receiving a comprehensive sex education, and the willingness to practice what they learn. Adults can invest time in doing their own research about sexuality via social media where many sex educators and Sexual Health Organizations deliver their information.

Or they could save time, and learn proper technique by investing financially to receive education from a sexpert, coach, or therapist in one-on-one sessions. Once adults are educated about sexuality, they can pass the information onto their children.

There are books and seminars on how to talk to children of all ages about sex. As children become more mature, adults should allow them to explore and learn for themselves while still guiding them to choose healthy sex practices during their experiences.

Tyomi Morgan-Najieb

You and your husband, Na’Im, started Real Love Church. An online, interactive, non religious church. Where did the idea come from?

Love inspired us.

My husband expressed to me that he has always wanted to have his own church based around Love, and I also shared the same desire. We instantly made the decision to start a non-profit business and began Real Love Church.

You can learn more about Ministers Najieb and read summaries of some of our latest sermons on our website

What’s been the feedback from your congregation?

Our congregation members have been extremely blessed by our work as miracle workers.

We have seen some of our members experience dramatic shifts in their consciousness where they are now manifesting and living out the life of their dreams.

We have members that literally feel like they are missing a dose of medicine if they don’t have the weekly word. We broadcast Live on Instagram on Saturday’s at 11am eastern and on Zoom.

Our church is a spiritual community that focuses on 5 core topics: GOD, LOVE, SEX, RELATIONSHIPS, MONEY. We are helping people heal their perceptions around these topics because the misperception of these 5 things often cause major blocks in people’s lives.

What’s it like working with your husband?

Working with my husband is a dream come true. I love when he takes lead on projects and when he teaching me new things. Working with Na’Im is definitely a learning experience in patience and allowance.

I’m so used to running things on my own, and he helps me to relax into my feminine energy of more which is providing me with a healthy balance. We make a really good team and we get so much done when we work together.

What’s one challenge you face in your work that you’re still working on navigating?

The challenge is within knowing how to deal with the public in advertising what I do as a Pleasure Coach, and knowing how to reach them with the information I have for them. I love to learn and I’m always on a quest to deepen my knowledge.

The challenge is knowing how to deliver this information to the public in a way that is easily digestible and affordable. I have an app that will be launching this spring that is one of my solutions to this challenge, as well as an online tantric community for those who will be working with me using Authentic Tantra®.

Who do you go to when you’re needing support and guidance?

I turn to GOD first and foremost for guidance and support. From GOD’s guidance I then turn to my soul tribe. The tribe includes my parents, friends, husband, mentors, colleagues, my cat and even my social media family and church congregation. Everyone can help in some way.

Even the Lyft and Uber drivers that transport me from place to place have been supports and miracle workers in my life.

I want to make sure that I am receiving the maximum amount of pleasure from every situation in my life.

Tyomi Morgan-Najieb

When was the last time you practiced self-care and why is self-care important to you?

I practice self care every day. Self-care is more than just caring for your physical body by getting massages or taking baths or treating yourself to something nice. Self-care is also checking in with self constantly.

I want to make sure that I am receiving the maximum amount of pleasure from every situation in my life. I check in on my emotions to determine what I am feeling and what I may need in the moment.. I practice being patient with myself and holding space for myself when I’m going through rough times.

It’s important to me to do these self checks and to perform self service because it enriches me as a person and helps me remain focused on my purpose of extending Love.

I can’t pour from an empty cup. Self-care is me pouring back into myself so I can show up for others.

What are your unshakable values and when did you become clear on them?

Love is my guide and the only thing I value. I became clear on that early in my life.

It’s years in the future. You’re on stage to accept an award for your life’s work. What’s your five word acceptance speech?

Grateful For God’s Divine Guidance.

Learn more about Tyomi + connect

Tyomi Morgan-Najieb is a former model-turned-sex-expert who transformed her love for writing and sex into an internationally recognized source for online sex education. Tyomi’s Youtube channel, that represents her sex blog Glamerotica101, reaches over 310,000 subscribers and is viewed by millions of people around the world who seek to improve their sex lives through her “how to” videos. The “Glamazon” has been featured on dozens of outlets including  Comedy Central,, Ebony Magazine,, NY Mag’s The CUT,  Huffington Post, and The NOD Podcast. Tyomi currently serves as the Resident Sexpert for and The Exxxotica Expo. Instagram. Twitter. Glamerotica101. Sexpert Tyomi.

We are still unicorns to the industry: a Q+A w/ Deena McKay

What are the origins of your podcast Black Tech Unplugged?

Originally I was doing another podcast and I decided to leave that opportunity, but I didn’t want to stop interviewing and sharing people’s stories because I am passionate about that.

Now at the time there wasn’t a large Black tech community presence as it is now. Being that I was often in the situation where I would be the only Black person in the room I wanted to connect with other Black techies and grow the community.

So I decided what better way to share stories and highlight the community than to continue with a new podcast and that’s how Black Tech Unplugged was formed.

What’s the biggest challenge being a black woman in Tech?

The biggest challenge of being a black woman in tech is the notion that we are still unicorns to the industry.

That means, when I go into a room or job I still have the potential to be the only Black woman or person there.

Who do you go to when you’re needing support and guidance?

Family and friends. I come from a family of strong Black women so when I need a pep talk I always go to them to get advice. And you know when people say there’s a group text that hypes you up every day? Well I’m blessed to have about 3 of those!

What’s the most rewarding part about being a Tech Storyteller?

The most rewarding part of being a tech storyteller is being able to tell the stories of other people. People underestimate how their stories and experiences can really have an impact on others.

What’s your favorite app on your phone?

Definitely Instagram.

What’s something you wish you could say to your 16 year old self?

I would tell my 16 year old self to not listen to a single thing that anyone is telling you to do and instead do what you think is best.

The only way to grow and learn is from experiencing things in your own way otherwise you might end up living according to someone else’s rules.

What’s something that’s been bringing you joy lately?

Reading books. Because who can resist getting lost in a good storyline?

My unshakable values are: stay in faith, love myself unconditionally, and always speak up.

Deena McKay

What’s something that’s been pissing you off lately?

The lack of sympathy in this world. I don’t know when everyone decided that not considering other people’s feelings or not putting yourself in other people’s shoes was cute, but it’s not.

When was the last time you practiced self-care and why is self-care important to you?

I practice self-care every day because I truly cannot function throughout an entire day if I don’t pour into myself first. I start everyday by writing and just doing a brain dump and meditation.

What are your unshakable values and when did you become clear on them?

My unshakable values are: stay in faith, love myself unconditionally, and always speak up. These are values that were instilled in me at a young age by family and mentors.

It’s years in the future. You’re on stage to accept an award for your life’s work.  What’s your five word acceptance speech

Keep going no matter what!

Learn more about Deena + connect

Deena McKay is the founder and host of the podcast Black Tech Unplugged, a podcast that highlights Blacks who innovate and work in the tech industry. Deena started Black Tech Unplugged as a way for others to hear the authentic stories of Black in tech and to show people that Blacks are indeed in the tech industry. Black Tech Unplugged: IG + Twitter + Website. Deena McKay: IG + Twitter + Website.

We get to be in charge of defining our own worth: a Q+A w/ Jessi Kneeland

What are the origins of your business as it is now, as a writer, speaker and life coach? How does it feel now that you are here?  

I started as a personal trainer in NYC, and discovered that all of my clients were struggling with the same stuff.

They came in wanting to lose weight, tone up, and fix their trouble spots– all with the hope of feeling confident, sexy, and “good enough.” It didn’t seem to matter if they were fat or thin, jacked or soft. Everyone had parts of their body they hated, and I realized: wow, this has nothing to do with the body.

Even the models (including from Victoria’s Secret!) and actresses I trained were complaining about their bodies.

So I decided I wanted to hold better conversations with my clients about their bodies, and stop promising them that the way to feel more confident was to “fix” their bodies.

I went through a year-long life coaching certification program, and then shifted my message and brand to reflect the work I felt called to do: help women feel confident and worthy and good enough WITHOUT changing the way they look.

It feels amazing to be able to write and speak about the stuff that’s most interesting and important to me, and to see my clients completely restructure their self-worth and step into their most expansive and authentic and joy-filled lives.

I’m already thinking about the next thing, the work I still need to create, the products and programs and books that still don’t exist yet, but when I zoom out I’m very struck by gratitude to be where I am.

I followed my gut to take so many big risks, and it’s working.

What do we get wrong when we talk about women’s bodies?

Culturally we’ve all been taught that fat is bad and unhealthy, while thin is good and healthy, but it’s not true. A fat person can be perfectly healthy, and I know PLENTY of thin people who are extremely unhealthy– not to mention the role that mental and emotional health plays in a person’s overall health!

We tend to assume that a woman’s goal is always to get smaller, to shrink and tone and get thinner and tighter. We assume that will make her healthier and happier, but that’s a lie.

The big mistakes we make are in assuming fat = health, and assuming that all women are trying to shrink and fix their bodies. Many women achieve thinness and fitness through self-destructive habits like obsessive dieting and over-exercising, and plenty of women choose to work out and eat healthy because it feels good, not because they’re trying to shrink themselves.

You Instagram says “ I teach women how to love and accept their bodies, by adopting a new self-worth paradigm.” What is the new self-worth paradigm?

The old self-worth paradigm is what society teaches women– to attach our worth to our desirability. This includes weight, beauty, age, femininity, as well as how nurturing and selfless we are.

The idea is that our self-worth should be based on how closely we align with the cultural standard of desirability (to men).

It’s about being most likely to be “chosen.” Thats BS though. What I call the new self-worth paradigm is about attaching our worth to OTHER aspects of ourselves, like our accomplishments, connections, strengths, gifts, intelligence, and personality.

It’s about rejecting the idea that our worth comes from something passive and disempowering (like waiting to “be chosen” or “be approved of” by someone else) and instead defining it as something active, and offering it to ourselves.

I can choose to approve of myself, to feel worthy, and to love and accept everything about myself, EVEN IF society doesn’t approve, and it makes me supposedly less attractive to men. We get to be in charge of defining our own worth, but it requires that we reject the old paradigm, which is hard!

We get to be in charge of defining our own worth, but it requires that we reject the old paradigm, which is hard!

I followed my gut to take so many big risks, and it’s working.

Jessi Kneeland

How can women (or anyone!) begin to transform their relationship with their body?

Recognize that body image issues aren’t actually about your body at all. Your body issue is just covering something up, protecting you from something, or distracting you from something.

Usually that something is shame, fear, trauma, or an unmet emotional need. You’ll never be able to love and accept your body until you pull back the curtain and see what’s really going on.

For example, a woman who wants to be super thin might feel like she’s “too much” for people, and wants to take up less space– she will need to work directly on recognizing that she’s not responsible for “protecting” other people from her, and learning to take up her full space in the world.  

A woman who obsesses over her body to avoid deep feelings of sadness and anger will need to learn how to tolerate those emotions in order to ever let go of the obsession.

There’s always something deeper that your body image issues distract or protect you from.

What are you reading right now? What are some books on your ‘to-read’ list?

OMG so many. Right now I’m finishing a book on female sexuality (Female Ejaculation and the G-Spot by Deborah Sundahl) and also a book on feminism and racial justice, called Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper.

My must-reads are all over the map.

Everyone with a vagina (or anyone who has sex with someone with a vagina) should read Come as You Are by Emily Nagoski. Anyone interested in trauma should read The Body Keeps The Score and Waking the Tiger. For anyone interested in healing their relationship to food should read Women, Food, and God, and Eating In the Light of the Moon.

What’s something you wish you could say to your 16 year old self? Do you think she would be proud of you?

She would think I’m the FUCKING COOLEST. Seriously. One of my strongest reasons for confidence is knowing that my past self at 6 or 16 or any other age would be blown away by me.

I wouldn’t tell her anything– she needs to go through everything by herself, and she wouldn’t have listened to anyone anyway. I might just give her copies of all the books I just listed. 😊

What’s something you’re working to unlearn?

I’m still unlearning that my value comes from how desirable I am to men. I still occasionally find myself self-objectifying, and filtering things about myself in order to seem more appealing to men.

It’s rare nowadays because I have obliterated this idea in both my conscious mind and my unconscious mind, but it still shows up sometimes.

What’s one challenge you face in your work that you’re still working on navigating?

How to market ethically. I don’t believe in manipulating people, making them feel like they “need” what I offer, or making them feel like they’re unworthy as they are, which is the bulk of effective marketing strategies out there.

I take pride in my ability to sell by simply telling stories and sharing my thoughts in an authentic way, but I know I’m leaving a lot of money on the table by doing it that way, and also it’s challenging to scale up my business without more structured marketing.

It’s an ever-evolving practice.

When was the last time you practiced self-care and why is self-care important to you?

I consider self-care to be a 24/7 job. Everything I do stems from self-care. I check in with myself constantly, and notice what I feel, what I want, and what I need.

I check in and notice which tanks are full, and which tanks are empty… and then I move toward whatever feels like an inner YES or move away from an inner NO.

For example, some days I wake up and crave connection and food and sunshine and people.

Other days I wake up and want quiet, and time to process, and hours alone to write.

Some nights I want to watch netflix and text my friends and eat candy.

Other nights I want to go on a date, or go to a party, or write a chapter to my book. ALL of these paths are self-care, because they reflect exactly what I wanted and need in the moment. Nothing I do ISN’T self-care, and that’s something I’m extremely proud of.

It’s years in the future. You’re on stage to accept an award for your life’s work.  What’s your five word acceptance speech?

Always listen to your body.

Who are a few amazing people that we should follow and why?

OMG How do I pick?! There are million accounts I love, but at the top of my IG right now are @bodyposipanda @rachel.cargel @girlsgonestrong @Iamchrissyking

Learn more about Jessi + connect

Jessi is a writer, speaker, and body image coach. She is on a mission to help women break free from body perfectionism, obsession with their perceived “flaws,” and the constant anxiety about food, fat, weight, and exercise. Twitter. Website.

We can only sustain the fight against injustice if we are well: a Q+A w/ Jeff Baker

Jeff, can you talk about how your advocacy & education feeds your counseling work and vice versa?

In a sense, I’ve always been an activist at heart.

I believe a part of me has always known that I’m queer, and also that I’m a free spirit and not the type to stay in my “place” or let others define me.

So, as a child, I suppose I instinctively sensed struggle looming in my future, and thus, instinctively related to those resisting oppression and fighting for freedom. As far back as I can remember, I always saw myself in old pictures of the Civil Rights Movement, on the very front lines, rioting and resisting.

That makes me sound like a warrior, but if anything, I’m an emotional warrior.

My bravery and courage have always come from my empathy, my sensitivity, my imagination and intuition, and my instincts. As I got into activism, I realized that without any experience, I would sometimes just seem to know when to speak up or take action, or to offer what others need. And this explains why I became a counselor, too.

My profession is very much connected to my advocacy work, and I love it that way; I get to show up in both spaces as myself, with the same purpose. I’ve always envisioned a career like that.

What is something we often get wrong when talking about mental health?

A common misconception about mental health is that it’s solely a personal health issue, not a political issue. Yet, I’d argue that mental health is inherently political, as our mental health is tied to our lived experience, and every aspect of our lived experience is political.

Just as much as our brain chemistry impacts  our mental health and wellness, so does the burden of enduring structural trauma, chronic minority stress, multiple isms, etc.

Mental health disparities between majority and minoritized populations prove this. Moreover, the collective healing and liberation of minoritized and marginalized communities is a function of their collective wellness.

We can only sustain the fight against injustice if we are well. This is why I fight so tirelessly for a more equitable mental health system, and also why I integrate mental health into every advocacy issue that I’m aware of.

As a queer person of color, my mental health will always be as political as it is personal.

Can you speak about the importance of counselors educating themselves on intersectional theory?

The exact moment that I set my sights on becoming a counselor, I was researching depression and gay Black men, on Google. That’s when I stumbled across findings from report that revealed 40% of gay Black boys have at least one suicide attempt during their childhood. A decade prior, that was me.

The next thing I did was search for queer Black therapists, and I couldn’t find any.

What’s important about this story is the intentionality of searching for a therapist who identified as I did. I did so primarily because I desperately needed help processing the intersectional oppression that lead to my suicide attempt as a teen, as well as my suicidal thoughts in that moment.

This undertaking necessitated a therapist who understood  intersectionality––the idea that people hold a matrix of identities that are inextricably linked, because of interlocking systems of oppression.

Moreover, this emotional work would require a therapist who could do more than piecemeal together disjointed thoughts on patriarchy, racism, and homophobia. I needed someone with enough sociopolitical awareness to synthesize the convergence of these issues.

Most therapists aren’t very skilled at that, mainly because they see ‘cultural competence’ as enough affirmation of clients from minoritized backgrounds. That’s a different conversation altogether.

But, as I said earlier, mental health is political, and so is therapy, even though most therapists are taught to keep their politics out of their therapeutic relationships. Meanwhile, trans women of color––who have a life expectancy of 35––have the highest suicide rate; and Latina adolescents have the highest rate of depression.

People are literally dying in the absence of therapists who understand intersectionality.

What steps can individuals take, regardless of their mental health state, to begin improving our society’s view of mental health and illness ?

I always say that there’s no substitute for storytelling in mental health advocacy. It’s easy to talk in abstract terms about destigmatizing cultural myths and dismantling structural barriers; but it takes real courage to be vulnerable about mental health, in a society that largely stigmatizes it.  That’s a form of advocacy that doesn’t get enough credit.

At the end of the day, storytelling is an ancient art, and people are moved more by narratives that depict humanity and universal truth, than they are facts and figures.

So I’d tell people to totally stop striving to become the model mental health advocate who’s perfectly healed or recovered, and instead become more secure with their voice and truth.

Healing isn’t linear, and even advocates continue to struggle with mental illness, self-harm and wellness. We need to hear testimonies like this, so that people stop feeling that they’re not yet where an advocate “should be”. Any of us can be an advocate, and the best way to start is by speaking up.

Who do you go to when you’re needing support and guidance?

I turn to poetry; mostly spoken word poetry, but also song lyrics, written poetry, and even quotes. I’ve written poetry since I was a child, and although my writing as of late is mostly journalistic, I’m also still a poet.

Poetry helps me remember that there are no good and bad emotions-–every emotion is a teacher and poetry sort of represents the lessons that we as humans have learned about the struggle of living.

Moreover, in a literal sense, the words on the page are reminder that I can sit with the intensity of my distress, and move through and beyond it––that such tenacity is possible.

People are literally dying in the absence of therapists who understand intersectionality.

Jeff Baker, M.Phil.Ed.

What’s something that’s been bringing you joy lately?

It sounds basic, but Twitter. I really appreciate that over the past 2-3 years or so, Twitter has become a space where people are very political, and unafraid to speak their truth. I consider some of the people I follow to be members of my circle or community, even though we’ve never met in real life.

Some of them bring me joy, every day, without realizing it. If one uses Twitter mindfully, it can serve a great purpose, in terms of fulfilling the needs that one would typically get from a familial or local community. So, Twitter brings me joy, and so does the idea of what it can do for society.

When was the last time you practiced self-care and why is self-care important to you?

I practice self-care almost every day. Doing so enables me continue healing, stay emotionally balanced, and strive toward being high functioning. I typically tend to engage in forms of self-care that push me to balance rejuvenation with deep reflection––activities like contemplative prayer and journaling.

I walk away feeling like I’ve made progress on my personal development, and that makes me feel more centered and aligned with my purpose. However, there are some days when self-care looks like doing nothing else but pampering myself.

What are your unshakable values and when did you become clear on them?

Harm reduction and restorative justice are probably my most unshakable values, and I developed these values while working through trauma that I’ve survived. The very first realization I had is that harm spreads like contagion; abuse, for example, is often passed down intergenerationally, and power struggles and cycles of antagonism between friends, family, lovers, etc. can go on and on.

I knew that engaging in that turmoil didn’t reflect my character, ethics and integrity; so I committed to not harming or wishing harm upon those who have harmed me, even if I felt like my sometimes reactionary defensiveness or self-righteousness was justifiable. I completely let go of ego and pride, in order to practice what I preached.

As a trauma survivor, getting to that point took a lot of forgiveness, which entailed working through bitterness, disappointment, hatred, rage, shame.

But what it allowed me to do was see myself in the people who harmed me. I realized that we’re all byproducts of our environments, shaped by forces largely beyond our control. And in that process of socialization, some of us learned harmful behaviors and relational patterns that have lead to hurtful choices.

That doesn’t mean our humanity is reduced to those choices, though. We all mistakes, and none of us is irredeemable, unsalvageable, unteachable. All of can choose to change, as well.

Once I got that lesson,  I felt so much more centered and aligned with my higher self. I truly began to feel like I was finally equipped to minimize harm in my life and in my community.

That feeling was not only personally empowering, but it also gave me hope for new possibilities, in terms of collective healing in marginalized and minoritized communities. Witnessing my own transformation into a healer, is why I describe these values of harm reduction and restorative justice as unshakable. They’re my core values.

It’s years in the future. You’re on stage to accept an award for your life’s work.  What’s your five word acceptance speech?

Answer: “Stay patient, persistent, grounded, united.”

What’s in the space between where you are and where you want to be?

Answer:  In terms of my advocacy and professional work, the space between where I am and where I want to be is filled with more studying, more risk taking, more “failing”, more forging of my own path; as for personal and spiritual growth, I’ll leave you with a poem by poet ‘nayyirah waheed’:

getting yourself together.

what about undoing yourself?

––the fix

Learn more about Jeff and connect

Jeff Baker, M.Phil.Ed. is queer, Black therapist, educator, writer, and activist, whose work has been featured in Huffington Post, Teen Vogue, Education Post, The Good Men Project, The Mighty, and more. Baker’s writing––which explores advocacy issues of diversity, inclusion and equity––has touched many, and has been appreciated and valued for its thoughtful storytelling, informative analysis, and visionary critique. Jeff holds a M.Phil.Ed. in Professional Counseling from the University of Pennsylvania, and an Ed.M. in Human Development & Psychology from Harvard University. Instagram. Twitter. Website.