The Journey to Beautiful Interview Series is a celebration of influential and inspiring African women across the globe. Its aim is to teach every woman to define beauty on her own terms, to live purposefully, to accept what makes her truly unique, and to fall in love with all of who she is.
NAME: Natasha Nyanin
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN/HERITAGE: Ghana
LOCATION: Atlanta, GA – but really, the whole world :)
WHY YOU HAVE TO KNOW HER: I love being a woman, because I adore how complex we are. It’s amazing how seemingly contradictory things can exist side by side in one woman. We are beautiful combinations in ways that can be unexpected, but never ordinary. Natasha, Nyanin, lifestyle blogger at The Ecstatic Flash, is one such combination. A health scientist at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) by day, and a freelance writer, style consultant, and professional dancer at other times, Natasha is a great example that science + art equals a wonderful marriage. With the personal mantra to “live life artfully”, Natasha is all about finding beauty in living and life’s experiences.
WHO DO YOU SAY YOU ARE?
I am woman from Ghana who works in Atlanta and lives in the world. A woman who relishes creativity and the arts, and who believes that love is the most powerful force on earth. I’m an obsessive list-writer, serial photo-taker, a yoga sadhaka, a lover and writer of poetry, a gastronomical explorer, a film buff and a style enthusiast. But do any of these interests define me? I hope not for I do not do well in boxes. To make it easier on myself, here is one of my favourite poems by David Whyte and I will answer some of his questions as they pertain to me:
It doesn’t interest me if there is one God
or many gods.
I want to know if you belong or feel
If you know despair or can see it in others.
I want to know
if you are prepared to live in the world
with its harsh need
to change you. If you can look back
with firm eyes
saying this is where I stand. I want to know
if you know
how to melt into that fierce heat of living
the center of your longing. I want to know
if you are willing
to live, day by day, with the consequence of love
and the bitter
unwanted passion of your sure defeat.
I have heard, in that fierce embrace, even
the gods speak of God.
I feel I belong AND I feel abandoned. I have indeed known soul-deep despair and I hope I can recognize it in others. I only know how to melt into the fierce heat of living. And, am I willing to live day by day with the consequence of love and the bitter unwanted passion of my sure defeat? I see no other reason for living!
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE PHYSICAL FEATURES?
In the gorgeous film, The English Patient, a lot of hoopla is made of the suprasternal notch as an erogenous zone. It is, indeed, beautiful, this chasm, but far superior in my mind is the entire clavicle of a woman. So what’s my favorite physical feature in a woman? Undoubtedly, a pronounced collarbone with, perhaps, well-sculpted arms falling second on my list. In a man, it is always the eyes. Always, the eyes…and sometimes a beard
WHAT NON-PHYSICAL TRAITS DO YOU MOST LOVE ABOUT YOURSELF?
I appreciate my ability to make connections between things: linking a film to a fashion trend, or a favourite chef’s recipe to a book chapter. I suppose I believe that our purpose on the planet is to connect with what makes us happy; one thing that truly does inspire joy in me is finding connections between seemingly unconnected aspects of our world. Finding a thread of linkage between things brings a certain harmony to life and I am glad that I seem to have a knack for doing finding such linkage.
I have been told that I am creative and passionate; if these words are true, then, these are also aspects of my non-physical self for which I am grateful. I am also thankful for a well-developed sense of humour. It is a blessing to be able to laugh at oneself.
WHAT PHYSICAL AND NON-PHYSICAL TRAITS HAVE YOU MOST STRUGGLED TO ACCEPT? HAVE YOU OVERCOME THAT STRUGGLE? HOW?
On the physical side, I’ve struggled with accepting my body. As one with a predilection for (as I like to call it) “bone and sinew” when it comes to body types, I work out extremely hard in an effort to remain lean. Still, I have a naturally more muscular build and so, over time, I am teaching myself to accept that I am not nor will I ever be skinny. I have not, at any point, been so unhappy with my body as to inflict emotional harm on myself, as I believe in the practice of “santosha” (contentment) as my yoga discipline prescribes. It is becoming easier and easier to accept my body as I grow in that practice of contentment and the practice of finding the fine line between pushing my body to its limits and punishing this vessel in which I live.
Then, there is my struggle with accepting the fact that I have zero musical talent and, quite frankly, might be tone deaf. I still have not accepted that and have no intention to. When the opportunity arises, I still sing at the top of my lungs in competition with Renee Fleming and Whitney Houston. Life’s just better that way!
WHAT ARE YOUR GREATEST FEARS?
My most abject fear would be never realising my potential, and not making my mother proud. In the words of Maya Angelou, “she [my mother] deserves a great daughter”.
WHAT ARE YOUR GREATEST JOYS?
Here are a few:
Learning a new word (like “époustouflant(e)” —a word which seems almost onomatopoeic and absolutely perfect to me) tickles me so very much. In general, I derive a lot of pleasure from the literary. So, the discovery of a new poem or poet (like fingerspitzengefühl or komorebi – and the actual experience of both), or the rediscovery of an old one by finding new meaning in it), the perfect use of paradox, or even the most sordidly saccharine of alliterative assertions will make me smile. Keat’s captured this sort of joy best in his On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken; 10
Or like stout Cortez, when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific—and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
In this poem, Keat’s uses the discovery of new lands as allegory for literary discovery. Conversely, if I am not travelling in a literary world, then, traversing the terrain of our physical world is another way in which I milk happiness from the breast of life. Alain de Botton said in his book, The Art of Travel, “it is not necessarily at home that we are most ourselves”; I am inclined to agree. I appreciate any opportunity to pack way too many clothes and shoes into a suitcase, hop on a plane and immerse myself into another way of living [whether it is] as close by as Savannah, Georgia or as far away as Montsalier, France. Travel reminds me of how infinitesimal I am in comparison to this sublimely grand earth. In so doing, paradoxically, it empowers me beyond explication. And travel allows me to excavate my other passion: food.
There is so much joy to be found in a heap of kelewele, bought on the roadside in Accra, as its oils seep into the paper in which it is served, or in conquering Chef Thomas Keller’s recipe for Pave Potatoes in one’s own kitchen. When it comes to the ecstasy of eating, I like it all; from high to low, from complex to simple, from Michelin-starred to market stall. Food is its own poetry that reflects the attention, care and creativity afforded in its preparation succinctly: as the finished product. Every morsel tells a story, and if the morsels are good enough, then, they too become a story to tell.
Fashion also usually tells a story and it is perhaps the occiput of my creative joys. My mother once told me, after a bad breakup, “You must get up and go on and do what you love to do! If you love to eat- eat, if you love to dress- dress!” It resulted in laughter, for which I had been much starved prior to our conversation, and me jocularly accusing her of being shallow. She was right, though.
I am as happy playing around in my own closet as I am poring through books of Richard Avedon’s fashion photography, or reading Diana Vreelan’s memos. Fashion is a world in which beauty is unabashedly celebrated; and if we don’t live for beauty, then what on earth are we here for?
Then, there is dance. Through it all, dance! Pear Primus put it best: “In dance I have confided my most secret thoughts and shared the inner music of all mankind. I have danced across mountains and deserts, ancient rivers and oceans and slipped through the boundaries of time and space.” “Dance is your pulse, your heartbeat, your breathing. It’s the rhythm of your life. It’s the expression in time and movement, in happiness, joy, sadness and envy.” – Jacques d’Amboise
WHAT ARE YOUR GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENTS?
I have surprised myself in quite a few ways.
In high school and even when I danced in college, I would not have been seen anywhere near a treadmill or weight machine. In fact, I came pretty close to failing PE back in my salad days. I now run races regularly and have completed grueling exercise programs like Insanity and P90x.
In high school, I don’t think I ever stood close enough to a stove in the kitchen to feel its warmth. I am now a self-taught amateur chef. My greatest accomplishment, though, is not the 30lbs I lost, or becoming an athletic woman, or learning the difference between a pate brisée and a standard pie crust.
By my definition, my greatest accomplishment is not accomplished; it is not past tense but a work always in progress. That work is understanding that the self is a mutable thing: that who I am will not and should not be calcified until I draw my last breath. I am most proud of blindly feeling my way through the understanding of this notion that I continue to reinvent, fine-tune and learn myself, even when it is unbearably scary to do so.
WHEN DO YOU FEEL MOST BEAUTIFUL?
When I am able to exist in the state of “grace” rather than the state of “nature” (to borrow a dichotomy from the film “The Tree of Life”), I feel at my most beautiful. In other words, when I am able to gracefully and graciously accept whatever life throws at me with equanimity (in sanskrit: upeksha) rather than acrimony, I feel I have connected with the soul of the universe and I am thus at my most beautiful. A touch of red lipstick never hurt anyone though.
HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE YOUR OWN VERSION OF “BEAUTIFUL”?
“Beauty is a feeling and one’s personal truth.
Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
I say: Beauty is a feeling and one’s personal truth.
WHAT DO YOU DO TO STAY BEAUTIFUL, AS YOU’VE DEFINED IT?
In the words of Polonius, the bloviating fool (the fools always are the bearers of wisdom): “to thine ownself be true”. I try to remain true to my ever-evolving self, so that self may flourish and blossom.
WHICH “BEAUTIFUL” WOMEN INSPIRE YOU MOST?
Tilda Swinton, because she is operatic in her existence. Cate Blanchette, because the woman just knows how to wear a dress. Gail O’Neill, because she epitomizes kindess. Wisława Szymborska, because she wrote with such compassion. Chef Anne Sophie Pic, because I love to see a woman be such a force in man’s world. Coco Chanel, because we share a birthday and because she reinvented fashion. Jawole Willa Jo Zollar because she, like her inspiration Pearl Primus, is a woman of such somatic intelligence and because she taught me to “stay in the frying pan”. My 6th grade history teacher, Mrs. Margaret Laryea, because she is a woman of poise and grace, stern and loving and forever my champion. Oh, there are many, but I will end with my mother, because her love is unconditional and her wisdom (in my life) unparalleled.
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