Entrepreneur Karen Wazen on balancing fame with family life
She is a mother, entrepreneur, and wellbeing advocate. She also happens to be one of the largest social media personalities in the region, having amassed a global audience of over 13 million.
She also has a master’s degree in psychotherapy, her own international eyewear business, and a role as a UNHCR High Profile Supporter. If that wasn’t enough, she is the global face of Roberto Cavalli Fragrance and Middle East Ambassador for Guerlain Skincare.
Despite all her accolades, she protects her ‘family first’ mentality and in doing so continues to showcase a remarkable human side to influencing.
We are, of course, talking about Karen Wazen.
Scott Armstrong, founder of mentl, sat down with this remarkable woman on stage at the Caring for Each Other event in Dubai, which was a partnership between Viatris and Sesame Workshop – the makers of Sesame Street – as they launched a series of resources to help children and parents alike with their wellbeing.
The resources – available in Arabic and English at https://www.sesamestreet.org/caring – include five new videos featuring beloved Sesame characters like Elmo and more, as well as advice from clinical psychologists. Each set of resources is built around a theme that resonates with parents and their children, and which helps them manage ‘big feelings’. These are: Handling Everyday Goodbyes, Big Changes, Managing Screen Time, Mindful Moments and Taking Care.
So, you are a professional who lives on social media, and we hear about the dangers of social media. It’s given us lots of positives but there are negatives. What’s your view? How do you approach social media any in your family?
That’s a great question. And in fact, it’s a question that I ask myself all the time because when I first started posting on that platform, I never imagined that one day my social media platform would actually turn into a business. It was not a thing that anyone had actually experienced at the time, it was very relatively new.
I feel very grateful that I came across this platform when I was already married, already had my master’s degree in psychotherapy, and I was very aware of myself, very aware of what I would want out of this platform. So, I definitely do understand having today’s teenagers exposed, not really understanding what it is that they truly want from this platform.
This is why today, I feel that someone who is existing on this platform has a very big responsibility. And while I believe that I, you know, try and do my part, I definitely do think that there is a lot more than I can do. But as a human, sometimes, you know, we either get carried away or we forget, and we need to remind ourselves constantly.
One thing that I’m obviously very grateful for is the fact that you know, we grew up with an amazing mom who really pushed us to be not just the best version of ourselves, but also to understand what we love, what we’re good at.
And this is what really brought me to do my master’s in psychotherapy, and even study psychotherapy, to begin with. And this is where I discovered the importance of mental health. As part of my course in psychotherapy, I had to undergo hours of therapy myself, and I walked in and I was in London, I walked into the therapy room. I sat in the chair with a therapist who asked me, ‘why are you here? And how would you like to use these sessions?’ And I said, ‘Well, there’s nothing wrong with me. And I just have to get my hours done so that I can graduate.’
Exactly two years later, he reminded me of what I had said, in my first session, we were always made to believe that you have to see a therapist because you are crazy, because you have issues. And I realized that fact how much I needed this as part of who I am today, and how much I discovered who I am today, which is why I believe that social media today can be used as a very important tool to make people understand the benefits of taking care of yourself. Whether it’s going through therapy, whether it’s taking the time you need to exercise, or whether it is truly making people understand how important it is to find something that they love to do every single day.
And this is how I believe that I use my platform. And it’s a process because I evaluate this every single day, every night, literally before going to bed. I think, ‘did I add value today?’. And you know, being a mom, like you said, I’m a mom of three, I spend a lot of time on my phone. I happen to put a very conscious effort into putting my phone away because I don’t come back from the office and switch off, my office is my phone. So, it is with me everywhere I go. So it is a process but one that I am you know, learning from and learning every day.
We’ve had conversations previously, about screen time, how do you approach the concept of screen time with your kids at home?
Again, this is something that’s kind of in the making. So my children are seven and I guess like every family, I and my husband have debates about screen time all the time. And we’ve tried different ways of addressing screen time at home. We’ve tried no screen time during weekdays only on the weekends, but then I found my children waking up at 6 am on the weekends and running to their iPads because now they’re allowed. And then it was not until 8 am and then okay, not until noon.
And then I realized I don’t personally believe that forbidding it during the week as it almost makes it seem like this is rewarding on the weekend. So, I don’t like this association, and I would rather control and have a balance and how much they can use screen time, or at least make sure that you know, ‘did you do all your activities’, or ‘you can get screen time when you’re done doing what you need to do’, this is the kind of approach I prefer.
But, it’s tough, it just takes its toll on us, it’s tough for us to have limits for ourselves so I can only imagine for children, but I think what is most important is what they are consuming, not necessarily how much time. They can be watching 10 minutes, but 10 minutes, excuse my language, of crap and this is what will more negatively impact our children than if they are spending hours watching something that might be quite beneficial to them.
So, this is where for me I kind of draw the line as to what it is that they are watching. And my other concern would be what they are missing out on when they are doing screen time. For our parents, the struggle was how are they going to bring us back into the house from playing outdoors. But today, I have personally struggled with telling my children please go to the park, and go kick a ball because when they would rather be in front of a screen, which I also understand because I get it, it is highly addictive. This is why I think pushing our children to find something that they truly love to do. This is the way that we will very easily drive our children off the screen and technology.
When we talk about ‘comparison’ what’s really interesting about your account is that your life is glamorous, however, you take the time with your platform to talk about the real human aspect. You know, there is fragility, there’s frailty, there is struggle, there is frustration. In a world where often social media is all about perfection, why did you choose to not be perfect on social media?
I’m happy you see that because this is something that I put a conscious effort to portray.
When I first started on social media, I never assumed that people that didn’t know who I am, everyone who knew me knew that I was a very kind person, a very authentic person, and a real person. And, when I started my journey on social media, I just assumed that everyone would know that this is who I am until I realized that they would not know unless I showed this to them.
So, this is when I understood how important it was for me to show the true human I am. And as a consumer of social media myself, even though I know that social media only highlights the highlights, I also fall into the trap of comparing myself to others.
I would not want to be the other person who’s looking at me and thinking, ‘I want to be like her, but I can’t be like her’ and making her feel bad about herself. I want to be the opposite. I want to be someone who sees themselves in me, and sees how I can accept who I am and how I am loving myself for who I am. I’m hoping that will impact them that way. So, this is why I choose to be that person.
And again, I do feel I wish I did more and I want to do more because it’s important, I use social media and I’m a consumer of social media. When I take my son to a football game, for example, I’m probably only going to post the shots where he scores the goal, I’m not going to post the ones where he misses. There’s another mum who is watching and seeing my son scoring goals and probably thinking ‘why does my son not score that many goals?’ This is where it can become painful because there is a whole other side, I don’t. for example, talk about the fact that my son is not perfect at expressing himself and talking about what he’s great at.
This is what social media is, so it is so important for us to understand the limits of how much you can take in, and how much life exists beyond it.
You’re getting quite emotional when you’re talking about that, how do you deal with your emotions? How important it is for us as parents to deal with our own big feelings so we can look after our children?
I think we can only take care of our loved ones, after we, you know, take care of ourselves. And I do get emotional in general talking about these things because, at the end of the day, my purpose beyond anything is to be a good parent.
And, you know, sometimes you question yourself, as a parent, you want to be doing the best you can, but are you really? No one gives you a handbook and tells you this is the perfect family, you almost have to discover this for yourself every single day.
So, I am very grateful, like I said that I went through therapy myself for three years, and I just covered so much about myself, about my feelings, about why I feel a certain way, about how I deal with my feelings. Being in the public eye sometimes can be great, because it comes with a lot of perks, but also it can be very exhausting. It can make you feel very insecure at times, there’s this constant feeling of ‘you’re not doing enough’ or ‘someone else is doing better’. All these feelings, bringing them back home to my children, when they are seeing me as their role model, is very unhealthy. So, understanding the importance of mental health, of taking care of myself first so that I can be a better person is something that I value, and that I try as much as possible to put at the forefront of my lifestyle.
I’ve recently introduced working out as part of my lifestyle. That’s something that I always gave an excuse for, like, ‘I don’t have time to do that’. But now I will find the time to do it. Because I realize how happy it makes me, and when I’m happy my children are happy. And what is it that I want more from this life than to see my children happy? Nothing.
It seems that so many people service their cars, they don’t wait for them to break down, but we only ever seek help when we are in crisis. I think perhaps one of the key takeaways from your conversation is to make time for yourself.
Absolutely. A lot of people ask me, what is the reason for my success? I think it is being authentic and being true to yourself, and loving yourself for who you are, which is so key. And this is something that I think we don’t value enough. We are more comfortable with feeling that we’re not good enough. I think this is super important.
I put myself in the fashion world where honestly very few people looked like me. I’m very short, I didn’t fit any sample sizes when I first started, and it didn’t make me feel very good. And yet I’m here and really, truly believing in being the best version of yourself and being who you are.
An industry doesn’t define me, I define me.