Reading can be a great way to practice Self Love every day. In this new monthly series, we’ll be speaking to a range of celebrities, campaigners, authors and activists to find out what reading means to them, and the books they couldn’t live without.
For this series, we have partnered with Bookshop.org , a socially-conscious way to buy books online with the majority of profits supporting local, independent bookshops and authors. 10% of the sale of any book purchased via the affiliate links on this page will go to our charity partner End Youth Homelessness.
THE JOURNALIST, BROADCASTER AND DIVERSITY ADVOCATE ON HOW LITERATURE CAN UPLIFT, EMPOWER AND HEAL.
“Education is the key to freedom,” says Ateh. “Mic drop!” Speaking ahead of International Day of the Girl on 11 October, when we celebrate girls’ right to education, the award-winning journalist tells our Self Love Book Club: “Reading is fundamental. It’s all about carving out space for yourself. You fill yourself up with every word - and the more you fill yourself up, the more power and peace you have.” If Ateh could invite anyone into Book Club, she says she would have her great great grandmothers, as well as her twin daughters, Ola and Adanna. “Just to listen to my ancestors, their stories and aspirations. I would say: ‘I’m sorry for what you have gone through. But thank you. My daughters are the next generation and it’s going to be ok.’”
It’s hard, especially for mothers, but I’m at that point where I’m putting myself first. It’s that thing where you have to put the life vest on so you can look after others. Now, I think what I’m striving for is more peace.
I had a hectic, traumatic childhood. Reading was, and still is, my saviour. My safe space. Growing up, reading made me feel a lot less lonely and it helped me to understand how people work. Books are healing.
I’m grateful to even have the word. Growing up in the eighties, we didn’t have the language. Like many people, I stepped it up over lockdown. I now take regular walks, have a bath everyday and I use the Calm app. I’m also really sensorial so beauty products are like spiritual hugs for me. I love The Body Shop’s Camomile Sumptuous Cleansing Butter.
1. Emma by Jane Austen Everyone dismisses Austen as being trivial and all about tea parties and marriage, but this woman was a feminist. I really related to Emma because it was the first time anyone identified or spoke about micro aggressions which I had to deal with all the time as a black woman
2. Blood and Sugar by Laura Shepherd Robinson Set in eighteenth century London, it’s all about slavery, the sugar trade and there’s a murder mystery, too. The power dynamics are really interesting. It hits on so many levels and helps you to see situations through a historical lens.
3. The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav Today, many people don’t really like to discuss the soul and the spirit. I’m not talking about religion, I’m talking about that stardust that makes you you. This book is all about that. It inspires me and I think everyone should read it.
AN ENTREPRENEUR, INFLUENCER AND CREATIVE: THE CEO OF BLACK GIRL FEST SAYS BOOKS HAVE HELPED HER FIND HER VOICE.
Nicole has a global platform and is helping to carve out a community through Black Girl Fest. “Reading books, specifically by people who are beyond me in their careers and familyhoods, helps me navigate the next steps in life,” says the change-maker, who earlier this year was named on the Forbes Europe 30 Under 30 list for Art and Culture. But growing up, books were all about escapism. “My older brother bought me the Harry Potter books. My mum disapproved of them so we used to read them late at night, up on his bunk bed with a torch.” Born in Ghana and raised in London, Nicole was bullied at school and recalls finding “comfort” in books with characters that looked like her: “My reality was that I was picked on for being black, so discovering literature that celebrated that was a big turning point for me.”
At school I wasn’t the most confident writer, but I would always find a way to deliver a speech or presentation. I’ve always found power in articulating myself and speaking up. Even to this day, when people say they love journaling, I say that I love talking to myself and creating voice notes. It’s therapeutic.
I love being able to wash my face in the middle of the day. The Body Shop’s Seaweed Cleansing Gel Wash is one of the best. It’s really refreshing and you feel like you’ve had a facial.
Assata Shakur, she’s an activist and her autobiography literally blew me away. And Michelle Obama. She’s a powerhouse.
1. Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur Not only did it open my eyes to the history of the Black movement in the US, it did so from a woman’s perspective. It’s a sad but compelling story. I read it every time I want to feel powerful.
2. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge My copy is absolutely battered from handing it around. There was so much stuff in the first ten pages that I didn’t know about. I was like, this is new information! I didn’t know half of this history.
3. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini It’s a beautiful book. What pushes through is this sense of family and brotherhood. It’s about coming to a country that you know and recognise but it’s changing around you. Although it’s not my culture, I was able to relate to a lot of the story.
For her debut novel, Careless, Kirsty was able to draw on her own experience growing up in foster care. Tapping into her childhood turned out to be a cathartic experience for the author, and ultimately an act of self-love.
From the pages of her teenage diary to penning poetry as a student at university, writing has always been an outlet for 28 year old Kirsty. “For me, it’s about trying to get to the emotional heart of something.” Careless, published earlier this year, is about 15 year old Bess who finds herself pregnant while in the care of a foster family. “Looking back at old diary entries, I realise much of that early writing informed the voice of Bess. I didn’t appreciate how helpful writing the book had been for me in terms of processing my own stuff until I nearly finished it. It’s like I was giving my younger self a hug, saying ‘Don’t worry, it’ll be ok.’”
Like many people, my mental and emotional health has suffered over the last 18 months. So I’ve been trying to prioritise myself and find coping mechanisms. Almost being a little bit selfish, if necessary. I’ve found myself saying ‘no’ a lot more, when normally I’m a people pleaser. I think that has helped me to grow in confidence and understand myself a bit better as well.
To work out what’s going on in your head and put it down on paper in a coherent way, that can be a release. But also basic things, like cleaning. I’ve found that having clutter-free spaces can contribute to a clutter free mind. If I’m feeling overwhelmed, the ceremony and ritual of cleaning can help me to carve out some headspace, in a way that’s also quite productive.
At the moment I’m working on my second book in a vest top and a pair of pyjama shorts, with no make-up on. But if my hands feel dry, I can’t focus. I’m obsessed with The Body Shop’s Coconut Hand Cream.
1. Women Talking by Miriam Toews: It’s about an isolated Mennonite community in North America. A series of sexual assaults take place and the book is like a transcription of the women getting together to decide how they are going to reclaim their power.
2. The Idiot by Elif Batuman: A story of unrequited love, but it’s a lot more than that. Beautifully written. The main character is at college and it’s her first love. It felt so relatable, the feelings she experiences.
3. The Girls by Emma Cline: A fictional account of the girls who were part of the Manson family. It goes into the relationships between the girls, the way they support and uplift each other. But also the tragedy at the centre of that story.
You might know Sara by her Instagram handle, the ‘Millennial Therapist’. Here, to mark International Friendship Day, she weighs up whether the most meaningful friendship you can have is the one with yourself.
For Sara, an existential therapist and coach, being in a book club can be a ‘beautiful commitment’ to yourself and your friends: “Reading is grounding,” she says. “It can reset us and be motivational. And it’s a great way to learn, acquiring knowledge is one of the greatest self-love gifts. Then to discuss what you’re reading with someone else sparks a connection. It deepens our understanding of one another and can nurture a relationship. So showing up to a book club is a very tangible way of fulfilling our needs.” Here, Sara shares her thoughts on friendship and discusses the books that have helped her define her ‘sense of self’.
Firstly, you will never know your friends as well as you know yourself. I also think we set unrealistic expectations for ourselves. And I don’t think society is great at saying, ‘You’re the most important person.’ Society promotes people-pleasing and co-dependent relationships to such an extent that we’re unlikely to love ourselves unconditionally.
Yes because we trust ourselves, we understand ourselves and we can control the things we say to ourselves. We need friends, we’re social creatures. But can we have a beautiful friendship with ourselves? Absolutely.
It’s a process. And there’s no ultimate goal. It’s a lifestyle and it’s holistic. Mindfulness is a key component. It allows us to be intentional about the decisions we make. And people forget that mindfulness is all the senses. Smell plays a huge part. For me, The Body Shop Coconut Body Butter is life-giving!
1. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran Gibran writes about different topics, such as love, joy and sorrow. It’s like poetry and his writing helps me to ask the right questions. You might not agree with all of it, but the way he provokes thought is great.
2. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse Siddhartha is trying to figure out, ‘What’s the point of it all?’ What I love is that he tries to do it through different means - he tries striving for success, he becomes a monk, he encounters different cultures, different religions. He tries so many things before he’s content enough to say, ‘Ok, this is where I find myself.’
3. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl Frankl actually developed logotherapy, the foundation of existential analysis which is what I’m trying to do! He is a Holocaust survivor and in this book he talks about his experience in a concentration camp. The premise is, I still found meaning in life. He maintained a sense of humanity in the most inhumane of circumstances.
The activist and founder of pop up nail salon, Nail Transphobia, says she didn’t fall in love with books until she felt represented on their pages.
Charlie describes herself as, “Loud and unapologetically proud, especially during Pride.” But growing up, life was hard for the Londoner. “Being effeminate living on a council estate and going to an all boys’ school, I wish I could say reading was my escape but it wasn’t. In fact, I remember being bullied at 11 years old for having a Jacqueline Wilson book in class.” In 2017, Charlie released critically-acclaimed anthology To My Trans Sisters, a collection of letters from trans women sharing their hard-won wisdom, in the hope that “young people find a love in literature that they can’t find in their environment.” Here, the author shares some of the inspiring memoirs that have helped her make sense of the world.
I remember reading a piece by Janet Mock in Marie Claire where she came out as trans. I found her book from that article and since then I’ve pretty much read every trans memoir. When you’ve never had anyone to look up to, it’s the best feeling ever when you finally find your people.
Massively. Many trans people hate their bodies and want to change them. It’s dysphoria, that’s the medical term for being transgender. So to go from being someone who can’t look in a mirror to fronting a campaign about self-love is insane.
There’s a difference between wearing make-up because you love it and wearing it because you have to. When I started transitioning, make-up meant I had more chance of being read and respected as female. But now I’m coming back to it as something I love. I’ve always worn The Body Shop lip products and the Matte Lip Butter has been one of my go-tos throughout my transition.
There are four!
1. Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More, by Janet Mock This was transformative for me. I felt seen. It helped my mum, too. She’s always been accepting but it helped her understand the process and it gave us both hope.
The First Lady, By April Ashley: I must have paid about £40 for this because it’s out of print. April was an ‘it’ girl in the 1960s and her husband had their marriage annulled when she was outed as trans.
My Story, by Caroline Cossey Another memoir: Caroline is incredible. She was a Bond Girl before she was outed as trans. She went on to become the first trans woman to appear in Playboy.
What A Time To Be Alone, by Chidera Eggerue: Chidera is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, I’ve spoken on panels with her a few times and each time I wished I was in the audience so I could just watch her and soak up her wisdom. Everything that comes out of her mouth is gold and her book is a collection of that gold.
1. Treasure Yourself: Power Thoughts for My Generation, by Miranda Kerr This came out around the time I got my first big job on I’m A Celebrity. Miranda speaks about a tragedy that happened in her life and it was the first time I found out about affirmations. My mum had books by the likes of Louise Hay in our house growing up, but Miranda’s writing felt more accessible in my twenties.
2. The Girl With The Louding Voice, by Abi Daré. It’s about a Nigerian girl called Adunni who is expected to fade into silence but she’s smart, funny and determined not to settle. It’s beautifully written and makes me realise how privileged I am.
3. No One Can Change Your Life Except For You, by Laura Whitmore. There’s no self-love like giving yourself the space to write a book. It was therapeutic. When I started four years ago, I didn’t want to write a memoir or something solely self-help - I landed on this which is somewhere in between. I’m very proud of it.
Tablet or paperback? Paperback
Colour-coded bookshelves, for or against? In awe of them but I’m not organised enough.
Favourite literary character? Roddy Doyle’s Jimmy Rabbitte in The Commitments
Best biography? Glennon Doyle’s Love Warrior
If you could own any first edition? Roald Dahl’s Matilda.
Well, I read lots of books, from crime fiction to self-help guides. A good book takes me away from my phone. Since lockdown, cooking has also become a bit of a ritual for me. And one of my favourite things to do is have a bath - I apply The Body Shop’s Vitamin E Sleeping Mask while I’m soaking.
My mum because she’s the one who got me into reading. My friend Dee who recommends books that I would never normally pick up. And then the comedian Katherine Ryan because you need someone funny in book club.