March 22, 2019

Recently, there’s been a lot of chatter around claiming your “seat at the table.”

Essentially what this means is owning your own abilities and projecting confidence so that you can secure your power and make your voice heard.

After all, as Sheryl Sandberg explained on stage during her now-infamous 2010 Ted Talk, “no one gets to the corner office by sitting on the side, not at the table. And no one gets the promotion if they don’t think they deserve their success, or if they don’t even understand their own success.”

But while many of us are already striving for these things, getting there is often easier said than done—particularly if you’re a woman.

Multiple studies have shown that women who are openly ambitious are frequently labeled with descriptors like “harsh,” “aggressive” and “unlikeable.” And even if you can push past all that, sometimes you get to the table and you’re told here’s no place for you. Or even worse: you realize “your table” doesn’t exist.

What then?

According to Nabela Noor—a first-generation Bangladeshi-American, a digital influencer who’s worked with brands like Sephora and Smashbox and has nearly 1.8 million followers across her social platforms, and an activist for the inclusivity and equality of marginalized communities—you make your own damn table.

In a Shine exclusive, she tells us how.

‘I’m Making My Own Table’

Noor started her YouTube channel in 2013 for a few reasons. Firstly, to share her love of fashion and beauty. But more importantly: Because growing up, she didn’t see anyone who looked like her represented in the media she was consuming.

'If there isn’t a seat at the table for me, I’m making my own table.'
- Nabela Noor

If she wanted content that she and other women and girls could relate to, Noor knew she’d have to make it herself. And that’s exactly what she did.

“If there isn’t a seat at the table for me, I’m making my own table,” Noor tells Shine. “And that’s what my platforms on social media have become for me: my own table.”

Noor’s self-made “table” has evolved into a massive platform where she shares her perspective and experience with millions—but “building your own table” can be a simple endeavor, too. Maybe it’s creating a Twitter account so you can share your point of view with the people close to you, or speaking up in a conversation to offer a counterpoint, or wearing what you want instead of whatever trend magazines say you “should” be wearing this season.

In the end, it’s all about reclaiming your right—and your space—to speak up.

Greet Naysayers With Honesty

Often, the people who push back on your perspective will do so from a place of misinformation or lack of understanding. The way to combat this and make it easier to take up space: Have open and honest conversations.

Noor has made it her mission to promote positivity and self-love on her social platforms, yet that hasn’t stopped online trolls from criticizing everything from her appearance to her relationship. But rather than run from or ignore the haters, she addresses them head-on to ensure her perspective is heard.

“I’ve learned that most people are clinging onto what they’ve always known,” Noor tells Shine about her detractors. “They’ve always believed ‘beauty looks like x, y, z’ because that’s what society has conditioned them to believe. So maybe they haven’t thought to challenge those norms, especially if they happen to fit within those standards. A lot of the opposition I deal with on a day-to-day basis comes from a lack of education or awareness on the issues.”

'Most people are clinging onto what they’ve always known. They’ve always believed 'beauty looks like x, y, z' because that’s what society has conditioned them to believe.'
-Nabela Noor

Ultimately, she says, it’s on each of us to continue sharing our own experiences, and to remain open to hearing about the experiences of other. We’re not all going to agree, but it’s still productive to hear all sides.

“My goal is to always just share my experiences and to learn from others’ experiences,” Noor says. “So let’s discuss. Let’s chat. Let’s have productive conversation about how we can all feel represented and heard. And if we already feel heard, then let’s take the time to listen.

Recognize Representation Burnout

Representation burnout is something I’ve dealt with since I was a little girl,” Noor says. “I belong to so many communities, including the plus-size community, the Muslim community, and the South Asian community. And it can feel very lonely at times when you’re the only one in certain environments.”

Her threefold strategy for coping? Practice plenty of self-care (whatever that means to you), surround yourself with people who accept and embrace you as you are, and only engage in conversations that feel productive.

“It is important that you don’t exert all of your energy on conversations with people who are committed to misunderstanding you,” she explains.

'It is important that you don’t exert all of your energy on conversations with people who are committed to misunderstanding you.'
- Nabela Noor

When You Can: Help Others Take Up Space, Too

Allies are important members of any movement. Whether it’s offering a peer a spot at your table, or encouraging them to manifest their own power, using your platform to help elevate marginalized voices and leaders from various communities will make it easier for everyone to claim their spot.

There’s just one caveat: “My biggest advice for being a good ally is making sure you understand the difference between supporting a movement and centering yourself into a movement you support,” Noor explains.

The goal here shouldn’t be to share another person’s story on their behalf; good allyship is about using your privilege to help clear the way for other people to take up space and tell their own stories.

Good allyship is about using your privilege to help clear the way for other people to take up space and tell their own stories.

“Change is powerful when the underrepresented are heard and uplifted,” Noor continues. “So uplift leaders and voices in communities you support. Listen, engage, learn, and participate! Change is possible when we collaborate!”

Photo by Jon Sams

Read next: How to Create Change With 'Radical Listening'

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