Entry #1- “The Gift of Me: A Journey to Self Love”

Maven Viesha “Vi” Andrews (they/them) is an alumnx of our inaugural Maven Leadership Cohort. Born and raised in Miami, Vi Andrews is a community builder, marketing professional, producer and photographer. After losing 200 pounds and transforming their life through health and fitness, they are committed to inspiring others through their own journey of self acceptance and making the most out of life every day. They are most passionate about seeking Black queer liberation through storytelling and supporting storytellers to help get their work to the audiences that need to see it. Vi now calls Miami, Atlanta and Mexico City home.

This is the first entry in a four-part series where Maven Viesha “Vi” Andrews shares their personal journey and the growing insight that has accompanied it through a written narrative and images from their emerging lens-based practice.

I’ve never had a strong connection to my intuition. As a young, Black, queer woman growing up in the South and eager for acceptance, I spent most of my life making decisions based on what I thought others wanted of me. The college I went to, the jobs I took, even down to the clothes I wore. I have countless memories of times I forced myself into dresses, heels and full makeup for social gatherings just because it was the “ladylike” thing to do. For years, I denied myself the ability to search for and attain my own desires, literally and figuratively dressing up to appease everyone (and I have the bunions to prove it). I dressed like I was going to someone else’s party–dancing to everyone else’s favorite songs and never my own. At the time, I didn’t realize the real party was within, my inner “Me” waiting to be set free once and for all. That yearning for a “freedom party” turned into a “fiesta” in 2021, when I bought a one-way ticket to Mexico City. I had never visited before, but felt called to the place after hearing other queer travelers discuss its vibrant culture, food, and proximity to nature. I felt like the more I was looking for might be there, so I said, “why not?” and left the comforts of my life at the time to embark on a journey of self discovery, 2,000 miles away from home. I couldn’t have imagined what awaited me there. The calling for “more” led me to a new life in Mexico, transforming who I am and how I show up in the world. Through a journey of exploration, experimentation and reclamation experienced abroad, I was reintroduced to myself. But to fully understand where I am, I have to first explain where I started.

At 24, I believed that success was sacrificing life’s pleasures for work. My career was my life. It replaced hobbies and any other personal goals I might have had at my age. My identity was tied to my job, managing one of the world’s largest film festivals and the accomplishments that came of it. So, when I lost my job in 2020 during the outbreak of COVID-19, I also lost my purpose. With no job and few other outlets, I started walking…a lot. The only constant in my life became my sunrise and sunset walks around the local parks. I established a daily promise to myself that no matter what, I would get up and go outside. I thought that if I was going to let my mind wander during this period of uncertainty, I would at least do it while breathing in some fresh air and occasionally crossing paths with another human being. During these daily walks, I began questioning everything about the life I was living and whether I was okay with where I was heading. These introspective “walk and talks” went on for so long that I eventually walked off 100 pounds. I noticed that my body was transforming from physical movement alone and it caused me to look more inwardly at my health. I realized that I was ignoring my body. At my heaviest, I was 250 pounds overweight. There were moments where I was terrified that I would suffer a heart attack before the age of 27. So with this physical jumpstart, I decided to also change my eating habits. My daily sunrise and sunset walks were now sandwiched between many experiments in the kitchen. I anxiously tried out plant-based recipes that were foreign to me but ended up being delicious…most of the time. By the end of 2021, I had lost over 200 pounds. What began as an outlet to process my feelings during unemployment ended up being a starting point in turning my health, and life, around.

I eventually landed a full-time, salaried job as a producer in the film and entertainment industry, but something within me had already changed. Losing 200 pounds gave me a renewed sense of life’s possibilities and while I was afraid of falling back into the pre-2020 loop where work dominated my life, I had no direction on where to go. In a society eager to return to “how things were,” I felt I had limited opportunities to explore the new interests awakening within me. I believed a richer life awaited me, but lacked guidance on how to reach it. So, inspired by the spirit energy of those who came before me (notably Audre Lorde and James Baldwin), I decided to embark on a solo journey in a new country and set my sights on Mexico City.

My stomach was in knots leading up to my departure date. I only told a few people about my trip, but kept it mostly under wraps. I didn’t know what I was heading there to do and definitely didn’t feel confident in my ability to articulate that unknowing to others. On July 29, 2021, with a mix of nervousness and optimism, I boarded my plane to Mexico City, ready to embrace the unknown.