Journey To Self-Love: In Conversation With Ash Paraskevas

Ash Paraskevas uplifts everyone around her and is all about unapologetically bringing your whole self to the table (we love to see it!)

We recently caught up with Ash to hear more about her incredible journey to true self-love and how she made the shift from trying to be someone she wasn’t, to truly loving the skin she’s in.

Tell me a bit about yourself

I’m Ash! My full name is Ashira - I changed my name to Ashlyn but now I’m back to my birth name which is Ashira, and I’m very proud of that journey.

I grew up in Melbourne, Australia and I’m a social media influencer (though I prefer to say that I’m an online person) that promotes my messages of self love and authenticity. I love to do yoga and I’m really excited to be going back to uni next year to study psychology!

I have a very diverse background. From my mum’s side I’m Cyprian and Indigenous Australian and on my dad’s side I’ve got Liberian-African-American heritage and Bermudian.

Go-to coffee order: I don't drink coffee because coffee makes my anxiety go crazy. I end up buzzing around the whole time and I can't sleep!  So I drink either a turmeric latte, matcha or chai.

Did you feel represented growing up as a woman of colour in Australia? If not, how did this affect your self-esteem?

This is a meaty question!

I’m quite light skinned for a person of colour and I wasn’t represented at all, let alone people who are darker than me! It just shows how bad it was in Australia.

Growing up I had Beyoncé, or Rihanna - but they’re not totally relatable. Most of my life I was in denial that I was a person of colour, and I was almost ashamed of it. I didn't want to be categorized as that because I didn't really see it around me. Everything that represented my culture and my heritage, I wanted it stripped away - I pretty much just wanted to be a white, skinny girl!

Not seeing myself represented definitely impacted my self-esteem up until the age of 22 where I was just like I've had enough of this!

When did you start your journey of self-acceptance? Was there a specific moment or event that was the catalyst for you starting your journey?

In 2019 I decided to do Miss World after seeing an Instagram ad for it. At the time, I was meant to be taking a break and focus my mental health, but instead I was jumping into something else - which is very me! I was already self-conscious and I wanted to be the girl that won Miss World. So that’s when I took all the things I already did, and took it to the next level (keeping up with eyelash, nail and hair appointments) and my eating disorder escalated. I was really obsessing over my looks, and I always wanted to be perfect.

I got into the top 10 and I was really exhausted from keeping up this facade and keeping up expectations. So I went away to my favourite place in the world (Lorne in Victoria, Australia) to think about everything. I was like okay so I'm a top 10 in Miss World but I still feel really empty and I still feel really ugly. I wasn’t happy. I knew something needed to change.

I started blogging and writing in my journal about my natural hair and what it means, and trying to come to terms with a lot of these concepts like, why do I feel this need to straighten my hair and where does this come from? Over time I’ve peeled away all these little layers of myself.

In 2020 I decided to chop all my straight hair off and then I kind of went full force! Slowly over 2020, I decided to embrace more things about me. I really focussed on what I want to do and who I am, without everyone's bullshit expectations and without all these things that I believed that I needed to be.

You’re also an advocate for mental health/illness awareness. What motivated you to share your mental health journey?

There’s an educational aspect to sharing my journey, especially for people that might be following me and not really experiencing it to understand and have empathy.

The main catalyst was during 2020 I was going to a really, really tough time. But I was posting content on social media that didn't represent that. I was preaching authenticity, but in a very curated way. Of course everyone can choose what they want to do, but it was making me feel not quite right in my own self. You know, I would be sitting on the couch and depressed, but I was posting a photo that I struggled to get ready for and I’d force myself out of the house to take this perfectly manicured photo of me being happy when I was literally depressed.

Then it got to a point where I was I was just like, fuck this I'm going to post my reality and what I’m actually going through. I thought it might motivate some people, or educate some people and more than anything I just wanted to be real and live my message to the core.

I posted something about my eating disorder, and I’ve just kept posting my reality. It’s also therapeutic for me, kind of like a little online journal. I’m sharing things that I wish younger Ash could see and it’s a means of self-expression with the benefit of helping other people.

What are your tips for getting through the bad/tough days?

I have 3 tips:

  1. Live through the emotions. When you try and suppress them they build up and they explode eventually. So, on those days I listen to sad music, I give myself time, I slow down my workload and I really listen to what I need. If you think about when you’ve got a cold for example, you stay home and take time off work. It’s the exact same thing when you aren’t feeling well mentally. It can often come from exhaustion - so listen to those emotions, don’t ignore them.

  2. Make sure you have a supportive environment. When you're listening to your emotions it can get quite dark. So make sure that you've got some sort of support. Someone that you can talk to and feel supported by and be open with. I think a lot of people that don't have support end up being a lot more depressed and a lot more sad and lonely because loneliness is a big contributor to when you're feeling down.

  3. Professional help. When you’re feeling like you can access it, get professional help as much as you possibly can. Even if you feel like you’re functioning ok, getting professional help and some guidance through how you’re feeling is so important.

What’s your advice for loving the skin you're in?

Definitely start with acceptance. I think love is such a strong word and often it takes a long time to get there.

For me it definitely started from challenging the thoughts I had about myself and questioning what I don’t love about myself and why. That shifted to acceptance - this is my reality, this is who I am, I can change it or I can't change it but I need to understand and accept myself for who I am. Then slowly it evolved into love.

When you’re just like okay, this is my body. And then think of things your body does for you and then accept your body as it is. Your body helps you walk, it helps you to move and hug. Really accepting that this is your home helps you to realise the things you love about you. Once you start breaking it down a bit more through this process, you can start diving into why you maybe don’t love your body, or parts of it, and then slowly try to challenge those thoughts and feelings. Then you eventually get into a place where you do love it, or love the things it does.

It’s a process and you definitely need to start slowly. You’re not just going to wake up one day after thinking you hate yourself or your body and suddenly be like oh I LOVE myself!

Image via Ash Paraskevas

January 19, 2023
Shilpa Bhim