Former ABC presenter, engineer and activist Yassmin Abdel-Magied has spoken out about the grief she experienced after losing her job in the wake of social media controversy, as a kind of "lost innocence".
"It was not just my career I was grieving. I was grieving my past self. It was the baby Yassmina I had lost, a resolutely positive and perhaps blindly optimistic young person, a soul unburdened by the knowledge of what the world does to people who don’t quite fit the mould and who want us all to be a little better. I had lost an innocence I didn’t even know I had," she said in an address at the Melbourne Writers' festival.
Abdel-Magied made national headlines last year after posting a Facebook comment critiquing Anzac Day, which she took down and later apologised for. In the address, which she describes as a 'eulogy' for her past self, she opens up about the mental health impact the public backlash and internet trolling had on her life, and how it obscured her achievements as an engineer and her dream of working on a Formula One team.
"How was 20-year-old Yassmina to know that five years later, her hard-won engineering degree would be the last thing that people knew about her, not the first? That six years later, she would have walked away from her dream of working on a Formula One team, ushered out of her job on an oil rig, squeezed out of her newfound role as a TV broadcaster, her mental health spiralling, reputation in shambles, and with a Wikipedia page that mostly talked about “controversies”? she says.
"How was 26-year-old Yassmina to know that a year later she would be returning to the country of her citizenship to eulogise a career she didn’t even know was coming to an end?"
She likened her grief to an unwelcome house guest, who overstays their welcome.
"Part of me also doesn’t want this eulogy to be about anything at all, because that would be admitting that those past versions of myself are gone. Done, dusted, finito. I’m not sure I’m ready for that. Are we ever really ready to let go?"
Like so many young women and people of colour, Abdel-Magied's political awakening has been one that has come with bitter experience - and being exposed first hand to how disproportionately society still targets and seeks to crush high profile tall non-white poppies, regardless of how many white flags and peace offerings they come with.
"Bye-bye baby Yassmina. Bye bye, straighty -180 engineer, toothy-smiled TV presenter, giggling Good Muslim Girl who thought that her trio posse of innocence, positivity and optimism were all she needed," she says.
In a Sita-like trial by fire, where a previous more idealistic self has been extinguished to give way to a more politicised and awakened personality, the new Abdel-Magied is unapologetic and determined. Her evolution as a woman more deeply aware of what she has to offer and how to protect herself, is one that has been inspiring to witness.
"My past lives might be dead but I am not. I’m very much still alive, and that is a gift that I cannot bear to waste," she says.