Tan Safi is a video producer, based in LA. But for her 140,000 Instagram followers, she’s a lot more.
She’s also one of the media giant’s most vocal, queer, feminist and Arab voices and everyday, she gets DMs from young people around the world, telling her how she makes them feel more like themselves.
Also (and perhaps, because of this,) she cops constant online abuse from trolls. What advice does she having for living publicly, and expressing yourself online without shame? We made her “Boss of the Week” so we could ask.
What was your very first job?
Technically I was about seven, selling hand made rings and bracelets to kids in school. I also did the whole lemonade stand thing, but no one ever drank it. As in ever. Killed me. I was always coming up with business ideas, forgetting that kids don’t actually have money. I officially started working (before a legal age) in a health food store in Chullora, Sydney. I’d mop the floors and listen to the business owners talk to me about their failed attempts at falling pregnant.
One time this really nice guy came in to the store and asked if he could take a bottle of Horny Goat Weed capsules outside to show his girlfriend. I was all “Totally, dude!” thinking how big of a sale it was and how proud the owners would be. It was like the That’s So Raven zoom-in moment, like, “Fuck. He’s never coming back.” I hope they had fun.
What do you “call yourself” now?
A feminazi SJW, to all my “fans.” To everyone else, a videographer and filmmaker. I used to travel a lot making mini docs and music videos. But I make videos for the internet on BuzzFeed nowadays. If you’re putting your face out there on the internet, you can’t expect everyone to like you or to agree. But if you are doing that and you’re a woman of color and/or have an opinion, it’s an entirely different thing.
There are loads of studies around the psychological profile of “trolls.” Most of them are men, and all of them use a self deprecating, sarcastic angle to camouflage their videos as opinion, rather than calculated harassment that would be illegal IRL. Online life does permeate life offline. Online is IRL. But there’s a lack of adequate laws to protect people from this.
But, despite how taxing it can be, telling stories through film and video is the most fulfilling thing I could be doing. If used correctly, film can generate something in us we never knew existed; empathy for subjects or communities we didn’t know existed or perhaps never would have even considered, earlier.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
The one thing that recently resonated with me came unexpectedly. I’d called my brother and told him about all of the online violence I’d been receiving. I was keeping this harassment to myself because I didn’t want to upset him, but when I let it out, he said (as if he’d prepared it earlier) “Man, all of this hate just shows how afraid of you they really are. Your opinions matter way more than ever and we only know that now because they’re trying so hard to silence them.” Thanks, bro.
What does “success” mean to you?
Success is the day you realize that you’re never going to be fully “successful” in every aspect of your life. You don’t stop growing, changing, having shitty days or scary lulls, and you’re never going to feel completely and consistently grounded or adult. It’s when you realize that everyone is learning every fucking day, and no matter how famous, rich or confident you are, we all still shit and cry. It’s freeing when you realize these things and can really prioritize things that matter to you, and not what’s dictated.
How do you manage stress?
Masturbate, take baths, meditate and try to maintain healthy sleeping patterns. I don’t usually realize I’m in that stressed place until I start getting tell tale signs like stomach aches or night terrors, so I won’t lie and pretend that I’ve worked that part of my life out yet. I used to walk home every day after work, which took about 1.5 hours and gave plenty of time to catch up on music and pretend I’m in music videos, pet street cats, smell flowers.
Lately I watch a lot of stand up comedy. I also fostered a cat and try to cook at home as much as I can. And holy shit I just realized how old I am. That’s not a bad thing, but wow. It feels like only yesterday I would have said “drink heaps and make out with strangers.”