This month, we spoke to Mia Maugé @miamauge whose passion and drive has made transformational changes at some incredible organisations, including Europe's largest street festival, Notting Hill Carnival, as their Digital & PR Director.
Mia speaks openly about her life, the activism that has played a major part in it and the modelling career she pursued at 55.
Tell us about yourself and what you do
I’m a mother of two young women, I’m a full-time model, blogger and Instagrammer and former Marketing, Digital and PR Director of Notting Hill Carnival. I’m a creative and compassionate person, and I’m happiest when I can combine those two qualities in my activities.
You have had such an incredible career trajectory working for, and making transformational change at some amazing organisations and companies such as Touch Magazine, Choice FM, and for the Notting Hill Carnival as well as modelling and your presence on social media.
It seems that community, at every step — both creating and nurturing it — has been at the heart of your purpose within these roles. What does community mean to you and how important is it to your sense of self?
Yes… it’s funny because I never consciously carved out a career path as such. I’ve very much been led by my values and passion for making positive change. I honestly hadn’t realised I’d done this until I hit midlife. When you realise you have more time behind you than you do in front of you two things happen - you become reflective and more proactive. Reflecting on my career, you’re right, community is at its core. I think community is everything when you exist as a minority in a country, it’s where you can just be, where you are understood, where you fully belong. It provides sanctuary and solidarity, and it will give you a fighting spirit too.
You wrote a guest post for the blog Island Girls Rock in which you talk about being introduced to political consciousness at a young age and talk of your very existence as being a form of protest. Could you talk to us a bit more about what protest/activism has looked like in your lifetime and what protest/activism looks like for you now? If there is any difference between then and now?
Sure. I was taken to demonstrations as a child in the 70s. My best friend’s dad was the prominent activist and broadcaster Darcus Howe and they lived downstairs from us, so I was very much in the thick of the behind-the-scenes activities. This continued into the 80s, then in the 90s I’d say my activism morphed into my career. At Touch Magazine and at The MOBO Awards we built platforms that championed our music, which at the time was widely ignored by the mainstream, our hard work built the foundation for the next generation. At Notting Hill Carnival, I was aiming to change the mainstream perception of the event, which had been tarnished by the negative press coverage it had endured for decades, our strategy was to tell our own story on social media and guide our PR company who pitched all the positive aspects of Carnival to the media…Thankfully they took the bait!
I went to the most recent BLM demos and felt things had improved since the first ones in 2016. I listened to the speakers at those early ones and all of their reference points were America. So urged by my daughter I spontaneously took the megaphone and told the young crowd about the Mangrove 9, and the struggles we have historically faced and continue to face here in the UK. I think that since the Steve McQueen films, young people are more aware of what went before them. It’s wonderful that young people are galvanising at demos and online. They have stepped up and are leading the way now. I will still attend demos, but I mostly support economically, I’m careful about where my pound goes, and I will always support black businesses wherever I can and make donations to worthy causes. I’m also vocal online about all that is important to me. In fact, I consider my new career as a form of activism.
Absolutely! You began a modelling career at 55 which does, in a sense, challenge societal opinion too. You are vocal about the fact that as a woman in her fifties, a size 14 and with natural silver hair you do not fit the stereotypical image of a model and had rarely seen anyone who looked like you in fashion and beauty advertising. Why is it important, do you think, to ensure that people see themselves represented?
My Instagram bio has a call to action “Let’s shake up this youth-obsessed world”. I’m passionate about being in those spaces previously reserved for those that look nothing like me — be that my age, my skin colour, my body type or my hair colour. I’m determined to increase representation in the beauty and fashion industries.
In 2020 I was using Instagram to vent my feelings about being ignored by brands as a midlifer. I found it unacceptable that I was spending my money in shops where I only saw young people looking at me from all the marketing imagery. There was a discomfort in that for me. I was hoping to connect with like-minded women on Instagram, and create a community of vocal and visible women who wanted to create change. I did meet those women, and at the same time, I caught the attention of several model agencies and got scouted. My immediate reaction was — “Me?! I can’t do that!” I’ve always had body image issues (largely due to the lack of midsize models used in marketing when I was becoming a woman). I know how important representation is… so I decided to face my fears and just go for it! I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the change that is going on now.
I’ve discovered that whilst it’s important for my generation to see themselves represented, it’s also important for younger women to see us. When I started, it didn’t occur to me that young women would consider me “goals!”. I get so moved when I get young women say “Finally! I can see what I wanna look like when I’m older.” This is everything to me! We are changing the perception of ageing. Midlife is not to be feared, it is simply another season of life… a new beginning to be cherished. Longevity is a gift! It kinda feels like the afterparty!
You were part of a Vichy campaign in which you, alongside other women, opened up about your experience of menopause. It’s a topic that is so rarely spoken about and one that is, again, so underrepresented in the media. When you posted about the campaign on your Instagram, the relief and respect your followers felt was so evident in their many comments.
Could you share some of your thoughts or advice with our readers?
All I learnt from my mum about menopause was the hot flushes, and I remember thinking - that doesn’t sound too bad, I could deal with feeling hot every now and then. So when I began to get hot flushes in my mid-40s I knew what it was, but I had no idea of what was ahead.
In short, for a year or so — and as my symptoms increased — I fumbled around trying out various natural remedies and freaking out about the scary information I found on Google. I found that most friends felt awkward talking about it, and then by chance one day I stumbled across a community of women on Instagram who were frank and open and informative and supportive. This was my lifeline.
More recently, menopause has had the mainstream media spotlight, which is great. It is all helping to normalise it finally. Today there is so much more dialogue around menopause, and so much more information available.
So my advice would be to speak to other women, your GP may not be the best person as, to date, it’s not compulsory for GPs to cover menopause in their training. Make that your first stop, and If needs be, find a specialist who will be able to work out how to manage it so you can be your best self during this period of your life. Above all… own it, if we are lucky enough to live a long life it is an inevitable part of our journey. Just like the woes of puberty, you gotta ride with it!
When talking about your job at Notting Hill Carnival you described it as ‘the dream job’ and that you ‘see Carnival as a gift from my father, who passed away when I was just 18. What a privilege it is that I get to honour, celebrate, preserve and protect this legacy’.
What an incredible way to celebrate your father’s legacy. In many ways, the Notting Hill Carnival can be seen as a celebration and preservation of the profound, beautiful and important legacy the Windrush generation, and the Caribbean communities of this time, have left on London and the wider UK.
Can you talk to us about what your hopes for the future of the Notting Hill Carnival are?
My role at Notting Hill Carnival was to push for the event to be recognised by the mainstream as the precious cultural gem it is. It had been unfairly trashed by the mainstream media throughout its 50 plus year history and overlooked as something the UK should be proud of.
This event, born out of the Windrush generation, is one of the safest events of its size. It brings people of all walks of life together, it showcases Carnival arts, it
generates over £100 million to London’s economy each year. It celebrates all that is great about London whilst staying true to its Caribbean roots… and if you know the roots of Carnival and its links with emancipation of the enslaved in the Caribbean, you will understand that it deserves all of our respect.
My hopes are that Carnival isn’t seen as just another festival, because for the community that organises the event it carries so much importance. There is a book I would recommend that people read. It will give you an understanding of the magnitude of Carnival’s cultural significance. The book is a photographic testimony from those who were there at its inception. It’s the ‘voice’ of the community who brought it to this country. The book is edited by Ishmahil Blagrove and it’s simply called Carnival.
I would also love to see Carnival valued by brands enough for them to support it financially. It hasn’t had a headline sponsor for going on 20 years. It would be amazing if Carnival didn’t need to rely on any local authority funding. I’m hopeful we are on the right path now that the media are covering Carnival more favourably.
I also hope to see the Carnival arts respected and valued… the art of making traditional mas costumes, steelpan, and traditional Calypso music…. As well as the culture of sound systems.
What was the most rewarding and also the most challenging part of your role with NHC?
There are so many… partnering with Samsung, introducing them to the Carnival community and ensuring an authentic representation of Carnival was displayed on the Piccadilly Circus digital screen; having a well-wishes message to Carnival goers on the BT Tower info band….As I’ve said, when I took on the role at Carnival, I was asked to change the mainstream’s negative perceptions of Carnival, so seeing Carnival in both those spaces was powerfully symbolic.
However, what trumps that, is simply working with a small dedicated team of community-minded people who want the best for our precious Carnival. We all knew we were standing on the shoulders of community giants, and we worked tirelessly to make sure it was intact for the next generation.
The most challenging part was probably having to leave my role last year. I cried. I hope to remain involved in some small way. The only plus to not working on it is that I can be on the road again immersed in the revelry and mele for the post-Covid return of Notting Hill Carnival 2022. It’s gonna be epic! Spiritual!
Text: Rosie Cohen, Frankie Glace, Chelsea Covington
Photography: Carmen Maugé-Tharpe