She may only be 24, but in the last six years, Yasmin Benoit has made her mark on the world. She’s flourished in her modelling career, risen to become a prominent activist for the asexual community and, amongst it all, completed two degrees.
Today, her activism is all about giving asexual and aromantic people a platform: that is, people who experience no sexual or romantic attraction, respectively (although the two aren’t mutually inclusive). Recently, this included being part of the team that set up International Asexuality Day.
Her activism is also often linked with her modelling. If she gets an interview alongside a photoshoot, she’ll bring the subject up. And, as she explained to me, “if you get to decide which kind of magazine it goes to, I’ll choose a more inclusive one rather than just a basic fashion “stand there and look pretty, don’t talk” magazine.”
She added: “I think it’s quite fun to blend the two things together, especially when people think they’re the antithesis of each other.”
Alternative modelling and finding an activist voice
It wasn’t always that way; however, modelling came first. In 2015 her breakthrough was with alternative Scottish brand CRMC Clothing. At that point, she was already advocating for black women in alternative spaces, where they are often unwelcome. But, with her newfound platform, she began thinking about advocating for asexual people too — particularly for black asexual people.
“I thought, I can’t really sit here and complain about it if I’m going to have a platform and not actively be doing anything about it. I believe in being the change you want to see,” she said.
On focusing on blackness alongside both alternative fashion and asexuality, she added: “I’ve always been about those intersections because that’s my life experience—I’m never just seen as one of those things.”
Her asexuality activism really got started in June 2017, when she got bored and uploaded a video to YouTube called ‘Things Asexual Girls Don’t Want to Hear’.
“I didn’t really think people would care that much,” she said. “But then people did.”
With YouTube views on the rise, she volunteered to help out at the UK Asexuality Conference in 2018 and was invited to be a speaker. From there, everything snowballed and, when she graduated in 2019, she was able to go full-time as an activist.
Making an impact as an asexuality activist
From her perspective, the focus of her activism today —asexuality— was driven by what others were interested in hearing her talk about. Nonetheless, it works for her.
“I like having a job that just involves being myself,” she said. “I don’t think I’d work well in an office in a nine-to-five. I don’t really have the personality or the temperament or the interest to do that kind of job. I like knowing that I’m doing something that’s having a positive impact on people.”
The life of an activist doesn’t, however, necessarily work well in a global pandemic. These days, it involves a lot of Zoom and emails. Before COVID-19, she would regularly be travelling around the country giving talks, attending events and doing photoshoots (sometimes all in the same day).
In terms of the practical difference she makes, Yasmin believes that she makes the most impact on individuals. She’s modest and realistic about her personal impact on the world, but hopeful too.
“I don’t think in the grand scheme of things I’ve shaken the zeitgeist yet,” she said.
Still, she hears from people regularly who’ve encountered her work, and who tell her that it’s helped them come out or understand their sexuality better.
“Whenever you hear that, that’s always very cool,” she said. “No matter who it’s coming from. But I particularly find it fun when it’s from older people.”
She cites her British GQ article from 2020. This article, she said, inspired a lot of men to reach out, after her words helped them realise the reason for past relationship troubles and even divorces.
“It’s cool to reach a different demographic that usually probably wouldn’t be that connected to the youthful goings-on of social media,” she added.
Drawbacks of activism
However, it’s not all heart-warming messages of support. Yasmin gets plenty of hate on social media too, and has to contend with the precarious nature of freelance work.
“Once you’re known for something, especially in the way I am, you can’t really go back from that,” she said. “I’m never going to have a normal job now, I’m never going to have that financial sustainability, I’m never going to have that entire anonymity back.”
Her lack of anonymity affects even how the asexual community treats her. Long-gone is the “comfortable community vibe” now that she’s widely known there. Still, she’s positive about it: “Once you’re in it you’ve kind of got to just keep going with the flow.”
From childhood dreams, to now
Going with the flow does seem to be a speciality for Yasmin, because her life now certainly isn’t how she envisioned her future when she was a child. Back then, she wanted WWE stardom, but even with that dream long gone, she is able to draw parallels with what she does today.
“Modelling allows me to incorporate the cute outfits without actually having to break any bones,” she said brightly. “So it kind of works.”
After she gave up on her WWE dreams, she wasn’t immediately sold on activism. She focused first on sociology, followed by crime science (the subjects of her BSc and MSc respectively). However, she graduated over-qualified and under-experienced for jobs in those fields, and with her growing platform, her path was clear.
“I felt like activism was calling me,” she said.
Asked what she’d say to other women this International Women’s Day, Yasmin was thoughtful for a moment. Then, she said:
“The world is harsh enough on women as it is, so don’t be harsh on each other. Support each other. Lift each other up.”Yasmin Benoit
Words by Naomi Curston
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