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Toxic masculinity, identity and self-acceptance: social activist Ziggy Ramo opens up

Ziggy Ramo

This month, Contiki partnered with Movember to host an event on International Men’s Day. We brought five influential men together and spent time in Australia’s Blue Mountains getting to know each other and sharing their personal experiences of mental health issues. Social activist and musician Ziggy Ramo was one of those brilliant men. Here, we talk to him about the effects of toxic masculinity and the steps towards self-acceptance.

Hey Ziggy, tell us about you and your passions…

I’m Ziggy Ramo and I’m a proud Indigenous man. I’m 25 years old and live in Sydney, Australia. The most important things to me are music, social change, travelling and family. 

I was very lucky to have a father who always encouraged me to be myself. Dad was always really affectionate with me. He always talked to me about what I was feeling or what I was going through. This really impacted my own personal understanding with my own masculinity. 

Because of this, in life I have always just been myself. I block out the noise and just do me. When it comes to my music, I do operate in a space of hyper-masculinity – hip-hop has been really terrible with reinforcing gender stereotypes. So for me, I’ve always tried to show that there’s another way.

Why do you think it’s important to encourage more people to open up?

Growing up, my biggest fear was that people would find out about my mental health issues. I didn’t want people to know what I was going through because I didn’t want to be judged. I felt very alone. When I finally found the courage to share that I was struggling, I was given so much love and support by the people around me. 

No one can read your mind. So if you’re struggling, it’s so important that you reach out. Our mental health is a part of us, but it doesn’t have to define us. The more I’ve talked about my experiences, the more I have connected with people. We’re all going through our own struggles.

What’s your experience with mental health issues?

I’ve had a lot of struggles with my mental health. I have dealt with depression, suicide, disordered eating and body issues. Listing it all out seems like a lot! But for me, being open about it is really important to let people know that they are not alone. 

I had amazing support from my family, friends and medical professionals. Dealing with your health is hard and when you’re in the thick of it you can easily lose hope. I had lost the energy to keeping working so the support of those around me literally saved my life. But nothing lasts forever. Everything can pass. 

You’ve spoken out about toxic masculinity before – what does it mean to you?

It’s a lack of acceptance. We all have a mixture of masculinity and femininity and when we don’t embrace ourselves, we aren’t being true to ourselves. It’s so important to be comfortable in our skin. We should feel free to be individuals.

How do you think it holds men back?

Toxic masculinity is crippling. From a young age we have a lot of outside pressure to conform to this one idea of masculinity. The truth is, there isn’t one way to be a man! For me it’s an ongoing process of self-acceptance and a lot of unlearning. It’s not about perfection. But as men, it’s on us to take responsibility for the work we have to do.

Group of male friends in Blue Mountains

What are the steps we all need to take to start breaking down the concept?

We’re all at different places in our lives but I think the first step is acceptance. As men we are very vulnerable to taking our own lives when we are struggling with our mental health. I think we have grown up not encouraged to talk about our feelings. Learning how to express what we are feeling is a great place to start.

What does a ‘real man’ actually look like?

They look however they want! The whole point is not about all acting the same. It’s not about conforming to an idea or template of masculinity. It’s about being yourself. A real man is comfortable being themselves, whatever that looks like.

Ziggy Ramo and Khan Porter talking

You love making and listening to music – how does it help you de-stress and process things?

For me, music is a space that allows me to process a lot of my thoughts. The thing is it doesn’t have to be music. I think self-reflection is a really crucial thing for positive wellbeing. Whether that’s meditation, exercise, art or whatever. With positive mental health, there’s no one size fits all. It can be trial and error, but putting the time into finding what works for you and what fills your cup is crucial.

Which are the social activism causes closest to your heart?

Everything indigenous – not only in Australia but worldwide. When we look at the impact of colonialism on Indigenous people all over the world, there are a lot of similarities and the impact has been devastating. There’s still so much work to be done in that space and it drives me every day. I do think that all social activism is interconnected. How can you stand for equality for specific groups? It has to be inclusive. 

If you could tell men one thing to remember when it comes to their identity, what would it be?

Your identity is your own. Don’t look at me or anyone else and try and recreate what they do. Take inspiration from other people, but remember that you’re unique. You are yourself, and the sooner you realise that there’s a comfort in that, the better.

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