Renée Simone, Model: Grounded in Liberian & US Roots and Pursuing Her Now & Future In South Korea

How time has flown by for us. It seems the opportunity for the beauty of human connection across seas, across cultures, across all imaginable divides is boundless at this time and unrestricted and ripe for beautiful consumption– if we so choose to see and embrace it.

I have had the pleasure of connecting with this Renée Simone on Instagram, no less. Renée had messaged (DMed) in asking if she can buy our skincare as we only shipped out of the US (we still only operate e-comm in the US at the moment, unfortunately). She was impressed by ATEM a “skincare” brand’s hard stance on advocating for holistic wellness, which encompasses by definition not just the physical aspects of wellness (skincare, body positivity, fitness, nutrition), but also the emotional, the mental, and the spiritual). That was the beginning of a wonderful &fruitful relationship between myself, founder, and simply, Susan and Renée, model, also simply human. Fast forward, I asked her to work with us on a modelling campaign; she was a fantastic addition and support in our efforts to be more intentional in adding more beauty and more inclusivity in ATEM’s branding DNA– it’s also generally a fantastic thing to work with individuals completely aligned and fixated on the mission.

We continue to DM each other and support one another on social media to this day. Without further ado, I leave you with a conversation between myself and the great, the sweet: Renée:

1. In your words, who are you?
Renée: From a young age, I saw melodies dance around in my head, saw myself performing on stages, and visioned my happiness in a form that was only alive in my daydreams. Today, I am the same girl who has given herself permission to believe that what she saw for herself at that young age of unconstrained bliss and dreams still exists and is very much alive. What I am: Right now, in this moment I just exist. I am. I am a young woman from New Jersey, USA; Influenced by my roots in American and Liberian cultures, I have been nurtured to see the world as a collage filled with all types of picture shades and sizes. I am Renee Simone. 

2. What is it like living in South Korea as a foreigner?…Have all experiences been positive?

Renée: Living in South Korea as a foreigner has been a journey in self-love. I was interested in South Korea before I came to live here so it made me eager to keep learning about Korean language and culture. This curiosity, openness, and desire to culturally assimilate makes certain things easier in adjustment as a foreigner. But it’s not always easy. There are times I feel like I have to have my teacher hat on– needing to politely correct racially/ethnically ignorant comments, looks, or gestures, but I understand that comes with the territory of being and looking different in a country that has been a reflection of homogeneity for decades.

3. Have you always felt safe exploring mental health from childhood?..what were some barriers to entry with disclosing this to your community? Whether it be due to culture or place?

Renée: Somewhere down my childhood, I learned that being a “strong” woman was a great honor. However, in my world, the virtues people praised in the “strong woman” were things like suffering and carrying on dutifully in self-sacrifice for her family, or the collective. I grew up being taught that the strong woman was defined as one who put others first, always. Always, always, others before oneself. With this in mind, I did not feel I had access to the full understanding of mental health nor the freedom in evaluating, validating, and responding to my needs, which is what I needed as an individual and woman. For a long time I separated myself from pursuing the whole of mental health– it was more of something I read about in textbooks, heard from friends, maybe saw in a few good relationships that surrounded me.

4.Describe your wellness regimen.

Renée: I don’t really have a structured regimen per se. What I do to actionably pursue wellness it that I am intentional about adding in more moments to be still and present throughout day, and more yoga. By nature, I am adventurous, and an always on the move type. On my downtime I prefer to indulge in the arts. I know there are days I need needs days off in which I limit my interactions with others and retreat to my inner quiet space. I also work to improve my digestive system by changing up my eating patterns, go to the gym, and read or fall into watching (studying) good dramas or movies. Doing this supports me in re-centering myself so I can then focus on the things I want and enjoy and be grateful for all the people and experiences that come my way. My wellness regimen incorporates the recognition that no matter what direction or speed I’m heading in my life, my self-love plane should always be flying.

5. Wellness and Happiness…do you think they come hand in hand?

Renée: YES. I don’t want a life just filled with happy moments. I want a life filled with happiness. To me, that means respecting and loving myself holistically and spreading that overflowing love to others. 

6. What are some consumer brands with both strong creative vision and positive impact that you admire?

Renée: ATEM, for overall wellbeing, but particularly its advocation for mental health (snaps for you!). Jola House Shop, for transforming the lives of Liberian women through skill development and entrepreneurship opportunities. While creating social change they are also producing culturally fashionable items! 
H&M Conscious Exclusive Campaign 2019 and the fact that it’s a brand that stands by recycling used fabrics. For South Korea, brand inA for encouraging all to ‘Love You as You Are’ through their underwear/clothing collections. 

Edited by Susan Im

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