While ‘wellness’ has become a loaded buzzword in recent years, and one that is linked to feeling ‘less than’ to keep us on the hamster wheel of buying, we all still want to feel good.
Enter Well and Truly, a column that believes wellness should be a buffet that caters to all rather than a set menu – leave what you don’t like, take what appeals and come back for seconds for the things that work for you. This week, Rebecca talks to Shaneel Lal.
Activist, model, consultant and student Shaneel Lal (they/them) has a lot on. Along with studying a BA LLB at the University of Auckland they’re a respected and committed activist whose work on queer and indigenous rights has won global accolades from the likes of Vogue and Forbes (they were named in Forbes 30 under 30 in Asia list earlier this year, particularly for their work on banning conversion therapy in Aotearoa).
“I got into politics when I was 17 years old”, explains Shaneel. “I started advising the Minister of Education. In 2018 I became the youth MP for Jenny Salesa. In 2019 I did youth parliament and started the movement to ban conversion therapy”.
Shaneel is also a member of the Young Justice Leaders – a group of six people brought together by New York University to create people centred justice systems, who recently met in the Netherlands.
Much of Shaneel’s work is purpose driven and political. However, they work hard to balance it with joy, along with other wellbeing practices.
Do you have set work/life boundaries, or do they merge?
I have not set healthy boundaries between work and life because so much of my work is directly related to my life. The movement to ban conversion therapy was so deeply personal to me so it consistently interfered with my life. Sometimes I would stay up till 3am to write letters and submissions. I also write and speak about issues that I have lived experience of.
My activism reminds me of why I’m alive at all. I think all the way back to when the colonisers came around and our queer ancestors were forced to hide and so they never got to live as their true queer selves and now I am living; I sometimes sense my queer ancestors are living life through me and I have that purpose.
What time do you wake up?
I wake at 5am for 8am lectures. If I get a chance to sleep in I will, but I generally wake up early.
What do you have for breakfast?
I skip breakfast often. When I have 8am lectures I don’t have time for breakfast. On days that I’m home I generally eat after 10am. I’m not a bread and fruits person, I need to eat rice and chicken to fill me up which most people find odd.
Do you have an exercise routine?
I think I was about 10 when I saw Kimberly Wyatt in the Pussycat Dolls doing her splits. Nicole was the lead and everyone's favourite but I liked Kimberly more; she really gave everything. I knew then I wanted to be flexible. I started stretching in 2018; it took me 4 months to sit in my splits. I try to stretch every day from 3pm to 4pm. If I don't do it for two days in a row I become rigid. It’s like a metaphor for life.
Whose advice/influence do you genuinely value and listen to when it comes to taking care of yourself?
I met a former president of Ireland, Mary Robinson in the Netherlands. She told me that when you hang out with your friends, talk about anything but work. I think that’s valuable advice for all young people, especially young POC.
Living in a capitalist society is difficult. But living in a capitalist society while trying to fight for your rights is debilitating. We need moments of joy to sustain ourselves. You’ve got to look after yourself to look after others.
What pillar of life causes you the most stress?
University. It’s not necessarily about ensuring students learn, it rather focuses on measuring the memory of students. When you do four papers a semester with new topics each week there’s hardly any space left to remember. It's also extremely expensive. I guess that’s the curse of coming from brown families. We had no time to develop generational wealth. Many of my friends are the first people from their families to be at university. There are multiple layers of stress that come with being brown and immigrant, from a low socio-economic community if you want to stay at university.
And what do you do to manage it?
By attacking capitalism.
What do you do in the final hour before bed?
Admin for the next day. I need a to-do list for the next day or else I forget most things.
What do you do for fun?
I’m a massive fan of Dancing with the Stars and Strictly Come Dancing; I watch a lot of the old performances on repeat and practice them. If I ever got to do a TV show, it would be Dancing with the Stars. I also love skincare. I love vitamin C and I think everyone should use hyaluronic acid regardless of the kind of skin you have. Dressing up can be a lot of fun, I enjoy clothes. I watch videos of cats. I am obsessed with cats. I feel like I so often get boxed into this really political, serious stuff. And that stuff is just a very tiny percentage of what I'm really interested in.
How do you deal with the stress of failure?
I don’t fail because I redefine success every time things don’t go as planned.
What’s been the biggest change you’ve made when it comes to looking after your health and mental health and wellbeing?
I’ve stopped caring about what other people have to say. I spent my teenage years insecure and worried about what others thought. I guess that's an experience quite common for trans people. Constantly worrying about how others see you and what they think of you can be exhausting. Some people are committed to disliking you. There is power in knowing that.