Trigger warning: This piece talks about sexual violence and suicide. If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or PTSD, please consider calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for 24/7 free and confidential support.
“I grew up in Australia to Bangladeshi parents, and I started writing a book when I was 12. The story came to me in a dream. It’s fiction, and it’s about a young biracial girl who is gang-raped and then disowned by her family. But it’s about more than just the gang rape—it’s a story of survival. The main character and I have so many similarities in how we process trauma. My mother was mentally ill, and I was her caretaker for a very long time. And my dad is a deep Marxist in a way that’s not cool—he was very anti-material and anti-establishment, which is not easy to be around as a child. It was also a very, very tough period to be Muslim. But I think being an immigrant, and having parents who didn’t speak the language affected me more. I did have a very good upbringing in terms of spirituality. I sometimes think that my optimism annoys people, but I didn’t have a choice—I didn’t grow up with love at all. Instead of resenting that about my life, I really just wanted to be good—against that hyper-optimism, I can get very low, very quickly. I am very honest about my suicidal ideation and the fact that I can be very depressive. I think that having spirituality in my 20s really gave me stability.
When I was 18, I lost my virginity and became hyper-destructive. I didn’t think that you could be sexual and of faith at the same time, so I threw myself to the other side of the pendulum. I was really bad to my body, really self-punishing, and then I fell pregnant. Everything changed from that point. I did a little pilgrimage to Umrah, and as I was circling the Kaaba, I suddenly felt like I was OK. No matter what happens, no matter how I transgress, if I want to return to myself and God, I can. Faith and sexuality don’t have to be divorced from one another. When I was 19, I got into law school in the US, and that was my reason to leave. A survival instinct just kicked in. I thought I could be a human rights lawyer and a writer on the side, but once I was here, I dropped out to pursue writing fully.
I started working as a freelancer in 2010, and in 2012 I started this podcast with my friend called Two Brown Girls. At that time, a lot of publications were super white—it felt very foreign, and maybe anti-intellectual, to talk about race. There was no articulation of being queer, and Muslim, and brown. We were one of the first podcasts with two women of color talking about race, and pop culture, and film—that space hadn’t been occupied yet. Then, when identity started to become a hot topic in like 2015, I started to get this influx of people wanting me to write about being a queer woman and being Muslim. But I don’t have a sob story about being Muslim. A lot of people think that being Muslim and being a woman comes with such a burden, but really it’s that being a woman always comes with a burden in this world.
I sometimes think that my optimism annoys people, but I didn’t have a choice—I didn’t grow up with love at all.
My book of poetry comes out [today], and it’s called How To Cure A Ghost. This is a book about a woman’s experience healing ancestral trauma while trying to navigate this very heteronormative, patriarchal world. Then, the novel about the gang rape comes out in 2020. Both of them are trying to ask the question, how do we heal? It’s a question that I ask myself often. Outside of making art, the experience of being an artist is really hard. You’re isolated, and you’re alone a lot of time, and so much of your own damage, and your own bad voices take over. I’m a Cancer moon, and the idea of home is very, very central to our identities. The pursuit of one’s home, and the nurturing and generosity that comes with having a home, is something that gives me a lot of excitement for living.
I had a lot of acne growing up, so now I have a lot of acne scars and hyperpigmentation. I walked into a Bloomingdale’s a couple years ago, and the woman was so nasty about my skin—there’s so much judgment in beauty, and it’s always people with bad skin telling you to have better skin. We’re all figuring it out! It’s a journey! I don’t like too many products, and I really just want the three things that will make me feel good. In the morning, I either use Grown Alchemist’s Cream Cleanser or the One Love Botanical B oil cleanser. I really like how that one doesn’t dehydrate my face. Then I use the Indie Lee CoQ-10 Toner. I don’t actually know what toners do, but I do know that my face feels happier when I tone it. Especially in the summer, my favorite thing to use is the Santa Maria Novella Tonic. I love picking at my face, and I won’t ever stop because it’s who I am, so I use the Kakadu Plum Vitamin C Face Serum by Rohr Remedy for scarring. It’s Australian bush medicine. Or I use the Grown Alchemist Detox Antioxidant Complex—I sort of move between them. I finish with Pai Rosehip Oil and Supergoop Sunscreen Oil. If I use moisturizer, it’s only Dr. Hauschka’s Melissa Day Cream.
There’s so much judgment in beauty, and it’s always people with bad skin telling you to have better skin.
At nighttime, I use the Joanna Vargas Vitamin C Face Wash and the same Indie Lee toner. I keep the rest of my stuff by my bed, because I like to get in bed and watch TV while I do it. Aotea Harakeke Seed Oil Night Cream is from New Zealand, and it’s a very, very thick night cream—harikake seed oil is only found in New Zealand, and it’s very fatty. And then I use face oil to seal everything in. I like the Multivitamin Face Oil from Land of Women—if I’m dry, I carry it with me and put on more throughout the day. It’s a really good oil. I make my own face masks—this is something my mom taught me. I use fresh turmeric, honey, chickpea flour, and a little bit of lemon, and I leave it on for about an hour if I can. I try and do that weekly. If I’m breaking out, this Indie Lee Blemish Lotion is so good. I’ll also use Biafine just on the spots. It hurts, but it’s really healing.
I have a little bit of scarring now, and I’m using YSL Touche Éclat. It’s my favorite thing to cover with. When I model, I always hate the way they put makeup on me because I don’t think I look good with a full face of makeup. My day makeup is basically just my Nars Slow Ride lipstick. I really want something that’s super flattering to my skin tone, and I always want to look very French, and undone, and effortless. My favorite red lip is Hi Wildflower—it’s called Dianthus. And I like Firestarter and Rapture from RMS. Rapture is that classic terracotta again. I love Benefit’s Benetint if I want to look fresh and young, and the Drunk Elephant Anti-Pollution Sunshine Drops give me a glow.
I have really long eyelashes, and I just need something that separates and thickens at the root. Chanel Inimitable does exactly what I need a mascara to do. Right now, I’m wearing a burnt orange Inglot eyeshadow, but my goal is to find really beautiful, bright eyeliners—a hyper-pink, lime green, a beautiful blue. I love absurd makeup. For my brows, I have these little Chinese shavers that I buy in bulk, and I just shape them in between and above, and that’s it. When I was 14, my mom told me I had to pluck my brows. I don’t know why, but I knew my brows were amazing, and I never touched them.
I like my hair, but I didn’t always. It’s kind of this weird in-between of curly and very wavy. I don’t put any products in my hair, and I often wonder if I should, just to control it a little more. I will use hair masks, though. I modeled for Verb, and they sent me a bunch of stuff. I use the Ghost Hair Mask which is really, really conditioning—for $16 a bottle, it’s a surprisingly good product. Or I’ll do the Santa Maria Novella Honey Hair Cream. Kevin Murphy, who’s also Australian, is another brand I’ve been using for a couple years. I move between Kevin Murphy and Verb for shampoo, and I wash like once a week. I get my hair cut from my guy Taka at Commune in Brooklyn. Sweet angel.
When I was 14, my mom told me I had to pluck my brows. I don’t know why, but I knew my brows were amazing, and I never touched them.
FRAGRANCE + BODY
I really like nice smells. I have a lot of scents from Abu Dhabi because my dad lives there. One is rose and one is vanilla, and I combine them. I love Byredo Gypsy Water, and Coriander by DS & Durga, and Mondo Mondo’s Doll is currently one of my faves. My friend Tanaïs from Hi Wildflower made a birthday scent for me, which is special. This Ultraflora candle from Overose is so good, and I also like Lower East Side by Boy Smells. I’m also obsessed with Wary Meyers—it’s a couple from Maine, and they make these beautiful soaps. I’ll clean my body with that, or Dr. Bronner’s, but whatever. Austin Austin Neroli Body Soap is my new favorite. It’s so spicy and very herbaceous. Skin Food, Everyday Oil, avocado oil, and the Rohr Remedy Desert Lime moisturizer are the four things I use to moisturize my body.
I’m very lucky to see an acupuncturist twice a week at Garden Acupuncture in Park Slope, and I’ve now been doing that for the past year. I get cupping and gua sha from them as well. I also get a massage twice a month from my masseuse Fabian Fernandez in midtown. He’s really helped heal me—it’s this two-hour, very intense bodywork. Bodywork has helped me return to myself in a way that I really didn’t think was possible. I’ve become really obsessed with this routine—I need to know who I can rely on to get me back to 100 when my battery is low. For exercise, I started pole dancing three months ago at Yoga Pole in Brooklyn Heights, and I never want to stop. It’s a good workout. I do that dancing three to four times a week, and I also do yoga—either at Humming Puppy, which is Australian-owned, or And Yoga.
Also, for masturbation, I like the Nécessaire Sex Gel. I’m very sensitive and I don’t like normal lube—this is all natural. I use it with a crystal dildo. Crystals are supposed to activate energy, but it feels the same as a regular dildo.
Oh, should we talk about pooping? If I could talk about pooping all day, I would. I have a Squatty Potty, and it’s so worth it. Everybody should get things that make you feel powerful about pooping. We all do it, and if you’re not pooping right, something’s off. As women, our mothers tell us not to talk about these things, so we code ourselves and pocket them. Or like—I got really, really bad candida, which is an overgrowth of yeast. It’s very disgusting. My vagina would be itchy all the time. I started having sex with a male partner, and our pH levels were just not synching, and the entire time that we were together I felt a little disconnected. So gut health has become phenomenally important to me—I take a probiotic from Optimal every morning. My friend got cancer last year, and she recently told me that she felt like her body gave her so many signs that it wasn’t working. It was a very sad, real moment. But women are told not to question most things about our bodies, and you’re so cloaked in shame all the time that you just accept it when things are off.
Everybody should get things that make you feel powerful about pooping.
I also have an ayurvedic doctor, Dr. Pratima Raichur. She’s like the old Indian grandma I never had. In Ayurveda there are three body types—pitta, which is fire, vata, which is air, and kapha, which is earth. When you go and see an ayurvedic specialist, they are able to diagnose you, and then tell you the things you should and shouldn’t eat. I grew up eating a lot of spicy food, but I’m a pitta, so she told me not to add more fire to the fire. Since I stopped, it’s changed my life. I also can’t eat nightshades—so no tomatoes, no eggplants—and I’m celiac, and I don’t eat sugar. For me, the only natural sugars I eat are in fruit, maple sugar, honey, and alcohol. I didn’t eat candy growing up, which I resent. And no dairy. I’m pretty strict with how I eat.
I smoke weed a lot throughout the day. I think talking about weed is so important because it’s been criminalized so much. I’m with one service that I like, but whenever I get male dealers I feel slightly uncomfortable. There’s something to be said about living alone in New York and bringing strangers into your house. But weed is my lifeline. It allows me to get a clearer perspective on not just my life, but my work, and zero in on it. It’s is a way of life for me, and I really hope that that never changes. I need more high-functioning stoner visibility. Can I smoke now? Do you mind?”
—as told to ITG
Fariha Róisín photographed by Tom Newton in Brooklyn, New York on July 10, 2019.