Arts + Culture

Shameless Maya on 5 Years of Being Shameless and How to Tackle Self-Doubt

We catch up with Shameless Maya on her five year anniversary on YouTube, what keeps her inspired and more.

If there’s someone to look to as an example of how to be fearless and own your gifts and talents, it’s Maya Washington. Known as Shameless Maya on the internet, Washington is a fierce maven on YouTube, an actor and creative producer.

I first stumbled on her videos four years ago when I began my natural hair journey. YouTube was the place I went to in my many attempts to figure out how to take care of my hair. Her fun, yet super informative tutorial showing how to take care of curly hair featured women who had different curl textures, as well as the products they prefer to use when they wash and style their hair. I was hooked and of course backtracked to her past videos from the year before.

Not only does she go out of her way to put people on and share her wealth of knowledge on beauty, wellness and tech (to name a few), she started the #BESHAMELESS movement—where she shamelessly promoted herself on YouTube for one year to overcome her fears and to gain confidence, as well as calling on everyone watching to do the same.

Washington recently celebrated five years of being shameless. Since then, she’s garnered over 880,000 subscribers on her coveted channel, with a solid following on Instagram (which is gorgeous to look at, btw) and Twitter. She stars in Google’s original series God Complx and feature film, Alaska is a Drag. She even had the opportunity to work with Prince as his photographer and creative director for his album, Art Official Age.

Along with continuing to plan her event celebrating this milestone, which she says is a big production, she’s also looking to make merch available, including her Shameless Manifesto that you can fill out, frame and hang up on your wall.

“We’re looking to sell dad hats, totes, and specifically a Shameless Manifesto—it’s something I’m really passionate about,” Washington says. “It seems really simple, but I feel that words are powerful—and written word is very powerful—so I created a manifesto that asks you to write down what it is that you want, what are you willing to sacrifice to get there, and what are you willing to do to get it. It’s nice to have a constant, inspiring visual reminder that, ‘This is a promise I made to myself and I’m going to see it through.’”

I spoke with Washington via Skype where she touched on her experience working with Prince, what keeps her inspired and how to handle healthy doses of self-doubt. Take a look at the gems she dropped during our conversation below.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

On staying focused

For me it’s a matter of prioritizing tasks and projects. I think for anyone who is running a business or trying to grow and excel, the key to that is time management. A lot of things I used to do as a creative which was to do what feels right—I still do that ‘til this day, but there also is an element of priorities and once you accomplish one task, you can cross it off and go on to the next.

On working with Prince

Working with Prince was great, it was one of those once in a lifetime opportunities that lasted several months—I was working with him as his photographer. He approached me as a creative to [a] creative; he really admired my photography work and not many people know that I was a photographer and I have my photography website still up, roaming around the internet. He found it. We worked together. He was just a dope creative who was inspired by people who were talented.

He always surrounded himself with talented people—so I felt really privileged to be in his circle of talented artists and he always had people around him inspiring him. And that was a good learning lesson for me, just to constantly be surrounded by creatives and constantly be inspired. And he’s just really down to earth—nothing you would probably expect—at least for me I didn’t expect him to be as easy going as he was.

On what keeps her inspired

If you know anything about my channel, I’m very spiritual. For me, it’s my relationship with God that’s my number one inspiration. Beyond that it’s the people and the places around me—I travel a lot. Living in New York was a different energy than it is living in Los Angeles. The content I produced was very different than it is in Los Angeles so, depending on where I am and the people I’m around are my major inspirations. And of course, my viewers who comment in the comments section letting me know what they’re inspired to watch, things they need help with—that definitely inspires the choices I make and the content I produce.

Maya’s three things to know when starting a platform

There is this term used in the YouTube community called the three C’s that every creator should be focusing on—

  1. Content: What kind of content are you producing?
  2. Collaborate: Collaborate with your peers, your friends, your family—or even strangers, but I always say to start first in your network.
  3. Call to Action: Ask whoever is watching to do something—to like your video or to comment; the more specific you can be the better.

And I’m going to throw in one more so there will be four C’s—Consistency: Producing consistent content and staying consistent. I’ve seen a lot of creatives where they didn’t start out strong for them, they just consistently produced content.

I don’t know if there necessarily is a formula for YouTube success, because when you start getting very specific, it can be challenging because what you want and the path that is probably laid out for you may not be in alignment, and it might just be a part of your journey. I hear a lot of, “How come I can’t grow, how come I can’t do this or do that” and I’m not God, but I do know from my own personal experience if something isn’t working, I got to try another way. For me, YouTube was the other way. YouTube was never an end goal—it’s definitely a channel and a means—but for me the bigger picture is to always create and to always inspire while being inspired.

On imposter syndrome and how young women of color can stay confident in their ability and talent

I definitely have experienced imposter syndrome. At the end of the day, it’s all a matter of perspective—if you want to look at it as, ‘you are an imposter,’ then sure, you are an imposter. But I try to always flip my perspective and switch it up.

For me, instead of looking at it as an imposter, I look at it as, “No, I know exactly what I’m doing.” Confidence I feel comes with years of experience, so I feel I can confidently say I’m a creative, I’m an artist, I’m a YouTuber—before it would be uncomfortable to say, but I can confidently say so since I’ve been in the game for 5 years. I think initially in the beginning feeling like an imposter is a very common feeling to have. But [you can build confidence by] just studying your craft—understand and know what you’re doing. So when you’re being tested, you have the confidence to say you know what you’re doing. And even if you don’t know what you’re doing you can figure it out—you should never stop learning.

And I think it’s good to have a bit of questioning and doubt in your skillset because it just forces you to want to do better and to learn more. When you walk into a field and you are uber confident and you have zero doubt and you’ve never questioned whether you’re an imposter or not, if anything I’m more afraid of those people. I think every healthy artist has a healthy amount of self-doubt. And I think that’s good, because it forces us to be better.

Photo: courtesy of Natsai Audrey Chieza

100 Women: Natsai Audrey Chieza is Changing the World One Petri Dish at a Time

Her interdisciplinary approach to biology and fashion has sparked conversation about the future of sustainability and pollution in textile manufacturing.

The bold jewel tones of OkayAfrica 100 Women honoree Natsai Audrey Chieza's silk scarves aren't the product of hazardous chemicals or silkscreen printing. Instead, they are the product of bacteria. Specifically coelicolor, a strain of bacteria found in soil that happens to excellently synthesize organic chemical compounds. Working in the trade for six years, the Zimbabwean materials designer quickly came to understand why the textile industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. Knowing that the most harm occurs during the process of dyeing fabrics, she decided to take action.

Chieza has worked with leading brands such as Microsoft, Nissan, and Unilever to usher in a new approach to science and design. Through her creative R&D; studio Faber Futures, the design innovator uses the process of creating with bacteria to assist in moving mankind away from our fossil fuel dependency. As the biopigment expert put it [last year during her TED talk "Fashion has a pollution problem—can biology fix it?"], in the future we must make sure that we are not "mirroring the destructive legacies of the oil age."

Her interdisciplinary approach to biology and fashion has sparked spirited conversation about the future of sustainability and pollution in textiles. Here, Chieza expounds on her start, the pros and cons of creating something new and the urgency of change.

The following has been edited for length and clarity

Akinyi Ochieng for OkayAfrica: STEM and the arts are often conceptualized as separate worlds. However, in your career, you've managed to find the overlap. How did you, a materials designer, end up dabbling in biotechnology?

Natsai Audrey Chieza: I've always really wanted to work within the creative field. I used to work in architecture where I really enjoyed my education in a systems approach to designs and designing for multiple contexts. But I wanted to explore a different side of the design world, so I began exploring the skill and context of material flows, and how technology and futures fits within this framework of how we design.

For my own work and my practice, not having a scientific background made me try things based on what I understood about materials and what I understood about the interactions in which those materials existed in society. I'm interested in a political lens, an economic lens, and how textiles perform in reality. That's not necessarily the approach that a scientist would have taken. Now that's not to say that science isn't important—it's vital. But innovation can occur in that intersection.

Did you go into this thinking, "Oh, I'll figure it out. There must be a path to make this work"?

To be honest, when I started off, the field was not defined. I think I found something really interesting, which was about how biology was becoming a realm of design, and I just explored that as best as I knew how as a designer and non-scientist. It just so happened that around me there was a context that was imagined but enabled me six years later to say, "That's the industry where this work belongs" and stakeholders who give me a space to further my work in a creative and experimental. The path was never anything clear at all. I learned as I grew.

There's a phrase that is often repeated today: "You can't be what you can't see." But you have really created a niche for yourself. What are the benefits of entering an emerging space?

I think what's amazing is not having anyone or anything telling you that what you think is impossible. If you're carving a new territory then you must trust in your instinct and vision to effectively push where the work can be and where it exists. You're not asking permission to do anything. Of course the flip side of that is you have to bring people with you, and so part of you being able to do the work is convincing people that your vision has legitimacy and it's worth exploring, worth taking a risk to look outside of that box.

It's often quite challenging to figure out how to find the strength to push something that hasn't been done before. There's no precedent or rulebook to my work, but sometimes it's really nice to have a rulebook. [Laughs] However, I think it's made me a person who doesn't see challenges as obstacles that are in the way, but more as problems that can be solved. And I think that's the good thing.

Much of your work is about biopigments. What color excites you?

It's not really the colors that excite me. It's color as a cultural context that really fascinates me. I'm really interested in if a microbe is almost like this living factory that produces this pigment, and the technology can be shared and deployed with people as to how you work with it across the world, then what are the cultural interventions that can happen in South Africa versus in Argentina versus in the United Kingdom, based on this common microbe. I think that's always been what interests me the most, the context in which our materials exist. I think a really good example is indigo, and how from Japan to West Africa, indigo is just this really, really rich material, and the process and the craftsmanship that goes into it. I'm interested to see how the future ecology of making arises in response to biotechnologies across the world.

Where do you see yourself and your work evolving in the near or long term?

I'm sort of going through that growth moment where you've been working toward something and then you've arrived at that and you're like, "Right, what's next?" I think I'm fundamentally somebody that wants to use design as a discursive tool to understand how our technologies proliferate. My focus is really on the imagined life sciences and how they're going to become very much a part of all of our lived experiences, and particularly in the context of really urgent changes that are happening from a local level to a global level. From global warming and climate change to resource scarcity across regions, our response to what I think being able to design with living systems, can afford us in the future. So my work really is about understanding how to engage stakeholders across different sectors to grow a consensus around how we're going to leverage these sorts of technologies so that they can be technologies for good. That's really where this is going.

This article appears as part of OkayAfrica's 100 Women 2018—a project highlighting the impactful work done by African women across the globe. Throughout March, we will be publishing a series of profiles, videos, interviews and feature stories on these inspirational women.

Click here to see the entire list of 2018 honorees.

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