Shit you should care about… Maisy Bentley 

Earlier this year I found myself under-dressed (and underage apparently) at what I believed to be a United Nations event, but could have just as easily been a Forbes ’50 over 50’ symposium. In hopes of somehow concealing my “like-a-sore-thumb” conspicuity, I dragged my eyes around the room, longing to find someone, ANYONE, my age.

You can imagine how relieved I was when they landed on Maisy.

After carrying each other through two days of lectures on the ‘Importance of Global Summitry,’ (riveting stuff, I know), Maisy and I fulfilled all the quintessentially millennial customs of consolidating a new friendship: we connected on LinkedIn, followed each other on Instagram and friended each other on Facebook. And that’s how I figured out that this woman was kinda a big deal.

Maisy Bentley. If you haven’t heard of her – you will. We’ve met for coffee at the untimely hour of 8:30am, but you wouldn’t know it. She’s here waiting for me, grinning and tolerating my “coconut flat white” purchasing (she’s already had one of course, she’s probably been here for hours doing important Maisy Bentley things.)

When I eventually get to business, I run her through some of the questions I have for her. I was off to a pretty good start (sarcasm) when she told me she hated being asked what she was currently working on (my first question), because she doesn’t have a simple answer to it. As a do-er of many things, but not one particular thing, Maisy would rather be defined by who she is, rather than what she does. Fair enough.

But I’m gonna tell you what she’s up to anyway.  She’s a bloody champ, basically.  In 2012, Maisy was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, anxiety, and depression, leaving her sick, hospitalised, and with a wearying path ahead. After four years in outpatient treatment, Maisy has emerged as a self-described “force,” and one that shows no signs of slowing down. Since her recovery, Maisy hasn’t just sat back and let her story collect dust on the shelf. She has emanated as an advocate for all things good. Studying a conjoint degree of Law and Arts, writing for the YWCA, working at Inspiring Stories, and undertaking countless speaking events, Maisy has dedicated her time on this planet to empowering women, and the youth of today.

For fear of undercutting her achievements, I’ll list just a few more. In 2016 Maisy was named Most Inspirational Young Person of the year at the New Zealand Parliamentary Pride awards. This year, her calendar is packed with speaking events and mentoring moments with youngsters. She showed me her calendar for the week and she’s got a girl guide panel, followed by a chat alongside Judith Collins, no biggie. And somehow, Maisy still had time to be nominated in the Miss FQ Influencer Awards in the ‘Up and Comer’ category, which again is absolutely no small feat. To familiarise yourself with Maisy further you can watch one of her amazing TED talks here, or read her beautiful ‘tell all,’ here, (and I suggest you do.)

But, before you give her too much credit, Maisy is just like us. Whilst doing “research” on my lovely pal, I stumbled upon her old Reece Mastin fan twitter account. As a fellow twitter fangirl myself, I finally realised she was not some immune-to-all-things-cringe superwoman. So, let’s get into the mind of Maisy Masti- ahhhh- Bentley.

“Stay humble” vs “influencer”

Maisy and I embarked on a journey of tangents from the comfort of our cafe, and one of which was the contradiction of “staying humble” and being an “influencer.” There is no denying Maisy’s role as an “influencer,” and someone who publicises their achievements to create momentum and inspire others. There is also no denying Maisy’s right to privacy, a novelty for someone who has openly shared so much of her life. Where the two identities intercept creates an interesting paradox. Influencers are supposed to flaunt themselves and their lifestyle, but in New Zealand we have such a “stay humble” culture, (cc: tall poppy syndrome), that you can’t be an “influencer” and “stay humble” at the same time, and naturally, I want to pick Maisy’s brains on this.

Seeing herself as less of a typical, “influencer” and more of a “person of influence,” she tries not to let it affect what she puts out there, or how she views herself. “With any of these titles it’s important to remember that they are given to you, and that’s how other people see you. You can’t let it shape how you see yourself,” she says.

“I’ve never wanted to be a one of those huge influencers, where people see one post, or quote from me but have no idea what I stand for. I would much rather be a role model within my community and actually connect with young people.”

Maisy detests the notion of “staying humble,” but is not immune to its wrath. Casually, she mentions that she used to have two instagram accounts: one where she would post photos of her having a good time, being with friends or going to parties, and one where she would post about her achievements, in front of only those who she felt wouldn’t judge her for it. This is fucked up; what kind of world are we living in where it’s more acceptable to broadcast drinking with your mates than it is to broadcast, I don’t know, doing a TED talk? But that’s the world we’ve shaped. “Everything comes back to Tall Poppy Syndrome,” and how we are so used to cutting down those who achieve she says, “social media it’s such a balancing act.”

“It’s really difficult on social media to both be proud of what you’re doing, and acknowledge the pitfalls you have had along the way. And then you’ve also got to safeguard yourself, because you don’t have to share all your stories.”

Today, she boasts only the one account, an amalgamation of everything Maisy, and is laughing with me about how silly all that seems now.

 Mental health

I show up; even when I feel weak. I speak; even though my voice is shaking. I step forward; even though my knees tremble, I hit back even when I have no strength and I continue to walk outside of my comfort zone, every second of every day. And I emerge, a force.

The fact that we are sitting here laughing and candidly reflecting on her past, shows just how far Maisy has come. But, she is still mindful of what she shares with the world. Even as a champion of Mental Health, Maisy decided this year to stay silent during Mental Health Awareness Week. “I’ve put a lot out there, but there are still so many parts of my story that people don’t know. I don’t feel pressure to have to post about it,” she says.

“I don’t want to feel like just because I had, or have, a mental illness and I’ve spoken up about it,  that I have a responsibility to constantly live through it.”

And she’s right.

This comes back to the “influencer” matter, and the pressures that come along with it. In order to be a role model for others, the first person you have to look out for is yourself, which is something Maisy has learnt to do, not least by making “Maisy-for-Maisy” decisions. In her own words, “Maisy-for-Maisy” decisions are about recognising what is truly influencing your choices. “You have to be really aware of what is influencing your decisions, and the pressures coming at you from your family or friends or society, that are making the decision for you,” she tells me.

“Knowing that you made a decision purely for your values takes away so much anxiety and accountability issues.”

An important Maisy-for-Maisy decision is deciding what shit to care about, and to not give a shit about. So, I put her on the spot.

What shit does Maisy care about?

Since I really couldn’t put this any better myself, here’s exactly what she said when I asked her:

My editor for the YWCA always asks, ‘what’s making you angry,’ so that’s probably a good place to start,” she says, before narrowing her list down to 3 things.

Climate change: “In primary school we heard ‘ooh we should probably start recycling, because in your great grand children’s time there might be some issues.’ By the time we got to intermediate/college we heard, ’probably your grandkids, maybe your kids will suffer,’ and now it’s – ‘in your lifetime the world’s gonna end.’ And then we have the president of the most powerful country in the world who doesn’t think it exists.”

Women: “When half the world is left behind we are not going to get anywhere. It’s crazy to me that every single day I experience some type of sexism. It’s scary because it used to be, ‘ok, women can’t vote,’ that’s sexist and everyone can agree on it. But now because it’s so subtle people think that it doesn’t exist.”

Young people: “The world doesn’t look after our young people enough. Whether it’s the mental health issues we are seeing, the mass of challenges that young people face today, or the underrepresentation they face in the decision making that affects them. Our views are so different to those who are in positions of power. Some of the older generations just hold onto “sameness” whereas we are used to living through change.”

And there we have it. Shit you should care about from a person you should care about. 

Stay humble folks (actually no, don’t.)

Luce xx

Banner Photo by Brijana Cato