Dubai model Ameni Esseibi talks mental health awareness

Ahead of the 'What She Said' expert panel this week, the Middle East's first curvy model talks of struggles before success

by David Light

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Published: Tue 22 Jun 2021, 1:38 PM

Last updated: Wed 1 Feb 2023, 8:42 PM

AS A CONFIRMED ‘third culture kid,’ enjoying Middle East and North African heritage, Ameni Esseibi feels Dubai was the perfect environment in which to grow. An Emirate boasting a confluence of cultures and acceptance, graduating from her French high school in Academic City in 2017, the young woman used the encouragement and positivity garnered to forge an as yet unparalleled career as a model. Though, to state the trajectory to stardom has been plain sailing wouldn’t be entirely correct.

Taking part in ‘What She Said’, W Dubai – The Palm’s exclusive panel featuring the region’s most inspirational women where mental health awareness will take centre stage this Wednesday, we caught up with Esseibi to find out more about her life and the get-together.

What can you tell us about what you have planned for the upcoming discussion? What perspective do you believe you will add to the group?

‘What She Said’ will feature stories of bold women discussing challenges they have faced and most importantly, how they have overcome them in different life situations to achieve their goals. I work and live in such a social media driven world, so I will be sharing my life experiences and thoughts on body positivity, bullying, and the importance of feeling confident and comfortable in your own skin. My goal, as well as that of the other amazing panelists, including Latifa Bin Haider and Nayla Al Khaja, is to raise awareness about the significance of mental health and self-care, which begins with self-acceptance.

How important are discussions on mental health? Do you think enough is done to bring awareness to the issue and what more would you like to see done?

They are essential, especially in communities where mental health is still considered a taboo subject. By raising awareness, with the help of initiatives like this speaker series, we can work together to break down stereotypes and stigmas that are attached to this important topic. Across the region, we have seen a positive shift in people’s attitudes towards mental health. More people feel comfortable and confident to address and discuss the topic, but there is still work to be done. It needs to be discussed among groups of friends, prioritised in workspaces, and viewed as a major step in our overall growth. Many fail to realise how good metal health can lead to so many improvements and positive outcomes in life.

How would you describe your mental health journey?

In my opinion, a person’s mental health can never be always at its best, because life is a rollercoaster with many ups and downs. However, my mental health has improved a lot over the years. I have had many low periods in my life that I have been able to work on and pick myself back up. That is what I do; I work on it gradually and then get back up. It is something I put into practice so that I am stronger each time I confront a difficult situation or mental state.

Being a public personality, comments are always forthcoming. How do you deal with social media reactions in general and what would you say to anyone currently facing difficulty with the issue?

When I first started my career, the hate comments would really bring me down, but they do not anymore. What I later realised is that it is nearly impossible to have everyone like you or appreciate what you accomplish in this world. My advice to anyone currently dealing with this problem is to simply do what they enjoy and continue doing it with passion. No matter what you do, there will always be people who judge and criticise you. But remember, there is no one else in this world who can understand and support you like yourself. So, just keep your head up high and do you!

Being a role model for so many at such a young age, how do you find being given the responsibility?

I’ve always wanted to be a voice for the younger generation. Someone they can relate to and can look up to for reassuring words as they navigate this stressful world. I think of it as an honour to be seen as a role model for this generation. However, I also consider it an important responsibility because saying the wrong thing can have a significant influence on them. Initially, I felt the pressure and it was quite difficult to handle, but that is no longer the case.

At what point in your life did you decide modelling was the career for you? Was there a defining moment where you knew it would become your life?

Growing up, I was constantly bullied for the body I was blessed with, and I knew there were other individuals going through these same experiences. I wanted to show the world that size was irrelevant and beauty standards are simply people’s perceptions. And so, my career began with modelling, but I eventually realised that there are so many other doors and avenues to explore. When I first started my job, I received a lot of mixed reactions and feedback. My friends have always been supportive of me, and I am forever grateful for that. Coming from a big North African family, modelling was not always seen as a “regular” career, but when they understood and saw that I was pursuing a career that I actually loved, everyone was incredibly supportive of me.

Being brought up in Dubai, what changes have you seen in the region over the years regarding body positivity?

In the last year or so, an increasing number of people have attempted to bring this issue to light. Although things have improved, there is still a lot of work to be done. Discussions are always welcomed and encouraged.

What has been your most memorable job/ brand association to date and why?

Working with Vogue Arabia was the most memorable job I have ever had. I have so much love for the brand. Working with them was an incredible experience and I am so grateful for it.

Who are your inspirations and why?

I don’t really have one sole person who inspires me. I respect and admire individuals who started from level-zero and reached the top through hard work and determination. In a way, we should also be our own source of inspiration. Even if we are still on a journey and are yet to reach our goals, we sometimes fail to see everything we have already accomplished along the way.

What: W Hotels Worldwide global speaker series, ‘What She Said’

When: Wednesday, June 23

Time: 4pm-6pm

Where: W Dubai – The Palm, SoBe