Newsha Syeh (a.k.a. @mewsha) is a 23-year-old Instagrammer based in Sydney, but despite the dreamy, sensual feel of her photos, she hasn’t always lived the life of a laid-back Australian. She was born in Iran, and her family escaped to Turkey as refugees when she was just a kid. A year later, the U.N. granted them a visa to Australia, where they started over. Nowadays, Syeh connects with followers all over the world—she has almost 250k of them—through Instagram, which she uses both to express her own creativity and inspire others.
How much do you remember about leaving Iran?
I was only six or seven years old when we had to escape Iran, but I vividly remember all of it, and I’m really grateful for that. It was a very humbling experience. I feel like so many people don’t actually know any refugees, and people wouldn’t know that I’m a refugee, because they imagine this really far-off, scary concept. I talk about it openly on my Instagram, and I feel like people are always really surprised to hear that that’s the way that my life started, because where my life is at right now is so wonderful. I feel so ‘hashtag blessed,’ but seriously—very blessed. We came to Australia with no money. My family was really rich when I was in Iran, and I was so spoiled, so going from that, to living on the street, and then coming to Australia and building everything from the ground up was really crazy. It was such an important experience for me.
How did you first get started with Instagram?
I didn’t even have Instagram for so long. All of my friends had it, and I was not really into it at all. I got it as a joke, and I just started posting, and it was really organic, and I think people were just interested in the way that I lived my life. I think the role I played for people that followed me is that I’m like a muse for them, which I love. I love being in people’s art, and I love when I get fan mail, and people are like, “Oh, you said this, and it made me want to live this way.” I’m like “Cool, that’s what I want my little corner of the internet to be for. I want to inspire people.”
How would you describe your Instagram feed?
I feel like if you scroll, you can see all of the ways that I change. I change all the time. I change my style, my interests and hobbies… I don’t like to be defined by any one thing for too long. It’s a mix of feel-good content. I want people to feel nice. I don’t like to talk about really horrible shit. I feel like that’s already everywhere. We all know Trump is happening. We all know a bombing is happening. I like to give people a bit of breathing room. It’s really simple, it’s just like, “Oh, I like rainbows, and I like fluffy shit!” You know? I’m happy here, and I want you to be happy here when you’re with me.
Your followers seem to reflect that positivity back at you. Do you have a good relationship with them?
I feel like I’m fortunate, because a lot of my followers are women. Early on, when I first got Instagram, and I was like 18, 19, I was going through the whole nudity-is-empowering thing, and it was exciting because I got to take control of my body. I had a lot of female followers, and it was always really positive. It was like, “Here’s a photo of me naked in a bathtub,” and everyone was like, “Oh, I love your Lush products.” My friend had a lot of male followers, and she’d post the exact same photo and just get a bunch of dick picks. I am so grateful I don’t have that. I don’t get as much harassment. Occasionally someone’s had a shitty day, and they don’t like my face, and they see me in their feed, and they want to say something shitty.
How do you deal with that stuff when it comes up?
I like to put people in their place—I do it politely—because I think people forget that I’m an actual human being. It’s easy to forget that this is a real person, because they’re so far away, and you don’t think they’re reading your comment. They’re like, “This stupid bitch! Put some clothes on!” I always address them, and I try to stay kind, but I don’t really take shit like that. Most of the time, they’ll be like, “Oh, I’m sorry.” It’s like a spell is lifted from them, because they forget that I’ve got feelings.
What’s your typical day like?
I’ve got a pretty ridiculous life. It’s very lovely. I walk my dog—I’ve got this tiny Chihuahua, she’s a rescue dog with one blue eye and one brown eye. I see my friends. I’ve organized my life to reflect my interests and things that make me happy. I don’t ever do jobs that I hate. I do some Instagram stuff, I read, I write. I recently started studying witchcraft, which has been really cool. This year, my day to day has been me doing stuff that I’ve always wanted to do, like learn sign language. Witchcraft kind of fell into that. I love it. It’s so fun. It’s just, like, a lot of naked dancing and reading, which has been a big part of my days right now.
How do you make a living?
I do modeling and stuff. Instagram pays really wonderfully. I only ever really work with people that I like. I’ll never promote something that I wouldn’t actually use. Instagram is amazing. It’s like the next Industrial Revolution. All social media is. It’s incredible, and being able to use that to make money and live a lifestyle that I enjoy, and be able to continue to inspire people and make people feel good, it’s a really wonderful two-way street, a give and take.
Some of your posts seem to combine sexuality and feminism—like the photo of you in mesh underwear, reading a Sylvia Plath book. Can you talk a little about that?
I’m very feminine. I love pink, I love rainbows. I’m also a very strong feminist, and I love reading and I love writing. I love Legally Blonde—you can be covered in pink and be girly, and still be really well-read and fierce and dominating. She doesn’t ever change who she is. She stays super pink, she stays super girly, and she does what she wants to do. She doesn’t have to compromise herself in any way, and I really like that.
What have you been reading lately?
There’s a poet I follow, Venetta Octavia. I love modern female poets. I like the darker things in life, because I’m a very bright and bubbly person. I love reading women who are expressing some rage or lust, or anything that’s considered a sin. I’ve also been rereading Slaughterhouse Five, which is one of my favorite books, and which I recommend everybody to read.
What’s your favorite Instagram account to follow? I love Nadia Lee (@nadialeelee) Have you seen her shit? She’s a photographer. She’s in L.A. She’s so amazing. She’s does very colorful, high-contrast images of like, beauty queens and stuff, but makes it ugly. I love that. She brings this trailer trash kind of aspect to it. I love her work. It’s just visually so appealing.
You seem like such a sunshiny person, but in some of your photos, you’ve got kind of a bad-girl thing happening. Do you see yourself that way, or are you playing a character?
I am that woman some days. It depends what music I’m listening to as well. If my phone is on shuffle, and it’s Pantera, I’m like “Where’s my cigarettes?”
How do your Instagram posts usually come together? Do you plan them, or do you take photos in the moment?
I don’t take Instagram super seriously. I think that’s the key with all social media, to laugh at yourself. My friends roast me all the time for my selfies and my poses, so we can laugh about it. I try to keep it a really small part of my life. My friends say I’ve got a face that I pull when I want them to take a photo of me. They’re like, “Give me the phone.” I love photography. I’m good at it with a phone, and when I’m the subject matter. I’m not a great photographer. It can be anybody. I’ll be like, “Hold the phone at this angle with this lighting.” I don’t need a professional to do it.
What happens when you don’t have any friends around?
A lot of my photos are self-taken, because I’m a very solitary creature. A lot of the time, I’m alone, and I love being alone. In the photos, what you don’t see is the pyramid of household objects that I’ve balanced on top of each other to balance my phone at the perfect angle. You need to be good at balancing stuff. You need to get full zen, and be able to balance a can of beans, and a candle, and, like a broomstick, and perfectly hang your phone there and be like “Candid! So candid!”
I can be awkward, and not know what to do with my hands, so sometimes I just need a cigarette in my hand. I’m a very aesthetic person. I don’t smoke as much as it looks like I smoke. A cigarette that you see in a photo, I probably smoke it over the course of a week.
What’s your favorite photo of yourself?
There’s one: I got this amazing robe, and it’s got red feathers, and it’s see-through, and it’s phenomenal. I was like, “I need this outfit in case I ever murder anybody. This is the perfect outfit to wear.” It’s so glamorous. I’ve got a photo of me the day that it arrived. I got it out of the box, and I was completely naked, and I was smoking a cigarette, and the light was shining. I took a selfie, and it was amazing.
What inspires your personal style?
Rihanna. I can’t ever hold a fucking candle to her, but I love that she takes risks. I’ve started getting into design a little bit. That’s a project I really want to work on. I don’t know much about design, but it’s kind of like, what would Rihanna wear? Would Rihanna wear this? Yes? Alright, it’s gold. If she wouldn’t wear it, throw it out.
What do you have planned for the future? I want to be able to create something that’s a reflection of who I am. A lot of time, when I try to find clothes, I can’t find the right thing for who I am and the mood I’m in, because my mood is never just one thing. It’s such a combination of polar opposites. I want to create something that’s reflective of that. And I want to travel more. I want to move to the United States in a couple of years as well.