ON/OFF/ETC: Saiyak Rakeeb on Digital Wellness

When I heard of Saiyak Rakeeb from my students at the Academy of Art University, I admittedly rolled my eyes. Digital Wellness Coach. “Helping perfectionist content creators break free from painfully high standards.” Nice, but I – me personally – don’t need this. Then my phone informed me how much time I spent on it last week, and I did a double take. How many hours per day on average?! Then I procrastinated through a deadline [instructors procrastinate, too!] and browsed my saved tabs:

How Electronics F*ck Up Your Sleep. Hmmm, guilty.

How Social Media F*cks Up Your Body Image. Ufff, yeah.

How Social Media Makes You F*cking Lonely. Oh, damn.

OK. You got me. What is digital wellness? Saiyak defines it “simply” as the pursuit of an intentional healthy relationship with technology. “It’s a lifestyle and a way of being that honor balance, intentionality, and mindfulness in a digitally distracting era,” she said. I thought well, me personally – I could use more of that! I reached out and we connected over fashion memories, algorithm hacks, and more. Spoiler alert: we both love Japanese Breakfast and libraries. Scroll on!

You quit social media for a year. What is the most surprising thing you learned? 

I thought I’d become disconnected from my friends. Ironically, it deepened our relationship! They’d get curious about my life since my inactive social media account was no longer a reference point. And because life gets busy, we naturally replaced texts and DMs with scheduled phone calls, video chats, or IRL hangouts. That became a normalized practice, and they appreciated the level of presence, attention, and depth I brought to them. That’s much different from what they might get from other people through superficial, fleeting, online interactions.

You do not follow anyone on Instagram which is quite a statement!

I did it for three reasons: 1) it was my personal and radical decision to protect my own digital boundaries; 2) to prevent myself from falling into the comparison trap; and 3) to reap the benefits of “ignorance is bliss”. It’s become much easier to focus on my own journey rather than to compare mine to everyone else’s. 

What is the biggest misconception about being a digital content creator?

I’d say a lot of people underestimate how much work it really takes to be a “successful” content creator… because it requires a lot of production and consistency to gain visibility and relevancy with your followers. Unfortunately, that’s partially a result of the algorithm. That being so, it does not mean you have to churn out new content all the time. It is 100% okay to repost some of your best work or even repurpose it when you’re temporarily out of fresh ideas.

“Perfectionism” is a trigger for many creatives. In the fashion/beauty industry, pursuit of perfection (or image thereof) is often tied to financial goals/gains. How can it be possible to separate “perfectionism” from the current idea of success? 

Overcoming perfectionism is about setting realistic standards and dealing with the discomfort that may come with it. The world expects more from you than you can give and tempts you to give up your boundaries, push past your own capacity, and resort to perfectionism. Allow yourself to let go of who you’re “supposed” to be and embrace who you already are. You’re probably doing much more than you need to be. 

What advice would you give aspiring content creators looking for their niche/audience? 

When you’re first starting out, remember that your niche isn’t the industry (fashion or whatever else you’re into), it is also about your own “who, what, how, and why”. As specific as that seems, it is precisely what helps you attract the right people into your audience and repel the wrong ones. Trying to be “for everyone” won’t help you stand out in the sea of content.

Let’s switch gears from “everyone” to you… How would you describe your personal style?

My friends joke that I dress like a “grandma” which is probably true! I love cardigans, sweaters, and long midi skirts. I love pairing those with Oxfords, Mary Janes, or loafers to add a more trendy, vintage touch to it. I’m in favor of comfort no matter where I go. 

What is your earliest fashion/style memory? A moment you realized that clothes and accessories can be a way to express yourself or convey an important message? 

Definitely when I had my “emo” phase as a teenager! I loved going to concerts and if I loved the band enough, I’d head over to their merch table and buy a T-shirt with their name on it. If I wore it in public, it was not only to express my love for the band, but also in hopes that somebody might recognize it. The best feeling in the world was when strangers would tell me, “I love your shirt”. We both knew that it was really about the shared interest in their music rather than the shirt itself.

Part of digital life is about appearances, and good light. What are your go-to beauty brands and products? (How) do you prepare for on-screen interactions?

I don’t normally prepare for video calls or Lives. I actually feel super comfortable showing up as my authentic self! But whenever needed, my go-to brand would be Glossier: a soft, small touch of eyeshadow, mascara, blush, lipstick, and highlight usually does it for me. 

You are based in New York City. Would you recommend any cool places for content creators to cozy up and work at for a few hours? 

I’d recommend the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library [ed. formerly Mid-Manhattan Library] and the New York Public Library (NYPL) which are within a block of each other! NYPL is so elegant inside, but I love Stavros more because it’s brand new with a cafe and a rooftop terrace.

What’s your favorite “escape” offline? 

Our best memories happen offline. So, normalize offline interactions in your loved ones. I love anything that engages all my senses. Whether that’s going on a nature walk or having a deep conversation with a friend, those are usually my most favorite moments away from the screen.

What are your most listened-to music artists right now? 

Recently, I’ve been enjoying artists like Mitski, Phoebe Bridgers, Snail Mail, Japanese Breakfast, and Faye Webster.

Japanese Breakfast was featured in our Style The Beat series, so we’re on the same page. And Mitski has just released a new music video (styled by Sajida Silva) about a literal and metaphorical burnout. What a fitting way to wrap this interview!

All images of Saiyak Rakeeb in this post where photographed by Bảo Ngô

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