Meet the Instagram Heroes Creator Guest Judge for February, Carissa Cupido

Cape Town-born Carissa Cupido has been honing her creative side since she was young, encouraged by her artistic father in her pursuits of drama, choir and dance. She initially went for a career in radio, believing she wouldn’t make it as a performer, however as the topics of diversity and representation began to gain more awareness she pulled up her seat at the table – and to her surprise, soon found her place in front of the camera. Now, with successful radio and TV presenting stints behind her, Cupido is also making a name for herself as a digital content creator, using platforms like Instagram and YouTube to share both beauty and depth… taking care to reveal the vulnerable, imperfect human being behind the gorgeous, styled shots that populate her feed. As the guest judge in the creator category for the February edition of our Instagram Heroes awards series, we spoke with Cupido to learn more about her love of media, what fuels her creativity and the upcoming collaborations she’s excited for.

Where did you grow up? Tell us about your creative background.

I grew up along the coast in Strandfontein Cape Town. I have a close knit family that encouraged creativity in all forms. While my dad isn’t a formally trained performer he would always be singing, creating his own songs and playing music. If not that, he would be drawing or encouraging us through example as far as the arts are concerned. It came as no surprise that my brother and I tried out and strengthened our artsy sides. 

My earliest memories include singing Michael Jackson’s “Ben” at a talent show when I was nine. It was an awkward experience, like any first experience would be, but definitely lit a fire in me for performance. I continued with drama, choir, dance and won a few talent shows and was part of a few largescale productions.  There would always be a tension within which I’ve now come to accept: being an introvert but great at performance. It’s just the duality of being. If anything I use my extended alone time to refuel my future projects and endeavours.

When did you realise that you’d like to pursue a path in media, particularly radio and television presenting?

It’s funny I used to be obsessed with all forms of media growing up. I’d collect magazines, Free 2 B newspapers and pine over Top Billing and FTV for hours. I’d always aspire to be like the girls I saw but knew it could never transpire because I didn’t look anything like them. I accepted my place in society and realized a life behind the camera was probably best suited. This reality persisted for me until I fell in love with radio and realized there was a middle ground: I could entertain without the pressure of being seen. 
I grew up in a staunch Christian household where secular music would be deeply frowned upon. I remember quietly listening to 5fm on my hi-fi at home while being alert to my mom’s footsteps at my door. Nicole Fox’s late night show was my escape. She got me excited about music across the globe and she was so damn good at presenting. I knew I wanted to do this. I did my job shadowing at a radio station soon after and was affirmed, there. It was a priority when I went to UCT. I did four years of radio there, alongside bagging two degrees, and knew my path was set.

It was only in 2014 that I decided to change my story and push myself into spaces that I thought I didn’t belong. At the time diversity was slowly being brought into the conversation and that nudge encouraged me to pull up a chair at the table. I tried my hand at the Top Billing presenter search and was surprised by how far I got for my first attempt. The trajectory of my career expanded from there where I was unapologetic in pursuing any of my desires without compromising on my uniqueness. It was just the beginning of the pursuit. Since then I’ve had slots on two major radio stations, won a presenter search on an international network, hosted on the stage of a globally recognised and respected brand, and am looking forward to what else there is to walk into.

What might a typical day for you entail?

Every day looks different. If there’s one thing I’ve had to learn it’s to be flexible. I have a big thing about wanting to be in control, stemming from battling with anxiety, and there is very little following this path. A non-typical day might look like:

Writing out a to do list the night before so that I’d wake up looking forward to something. Cultivating hope is huge in managing my mental health. Waking up and meditating for a bit. Taking my dog for a walk while listening to some gospel or a podcast (I love Impact Theory). Flexing my muscles and my mind is vital in gaining momentum for the day. Getting that collagen coffee in my system. Getting into admin (the most Important and least exciting part of it all). This includes responding to emails, creating and shooting out proposals and demos, adult related tasks, planning content, editing etc. Either going to a casting or shooting a self tape. Making time for creating which includes filming videos, shooting photos, putting playlists together, coming up with concepts. I try my best to switch off around 5 or 6pm. Because I am what I do, I need the boundary to make sure I’m getting time to unwind and switch off. Dinner time! Since lockdown I’ve found a love for cooking! 

What inspires you to keep on creating?

Getting the next paycheck? No, I’m just kidding. I can’t not create. I think this is true for every one but maybe to different degrees: we all have divine creation within. I have chosen to pursue a career in it. I definitely experience bouts of depression linked to it, when I encounter blocks or distance from the expression of it all I feel like a failure. It’s a challenge not linking my output to my purpose and replacing those intrusive thoughts with the truth that my worth is invaluable. I have to be extra careful of what I consume and how I spend my energy because of this. If I don’t manage myself well, I spiral.

Unfortunately, society doesn’t affirm artists or creatives the way they do other paths, so many times we have to be our own motivators. There’s always celebration when the art/product is complete but the journey to get there is pretty lonely and not as glamorous. I try my best to place my trust in the process, to prioritise moving my body, reading and listening to encouraging things, connecting with other creatives, allowing myself to mess up, just leaning into creating in it’s entirety! Once all these things are in place, I’m pretty much set up for success. The potential, then, of what lies ahead fuels me.

Are you working on any interesting or exciting collaborations right now?

I am! 2020 was supposed to be my year (like everyone else) but life happened, as it does. In retrospect I think it did turn out to be “my year” in the sense that I pulled myself out of the darkest of slumps and created and executed! I started an IGTV series called “We Were Seeds” and a follow up series called “Her Hair Story” while diving head first into creating digital content. This will continue this year. I’m in pre production for a digital show my agency (Flight Mode Studio) created partnering with an international fashion brand to talk about how we relate to our bodies. I also have some exciting campaigns coming up very soon, so keep an eye out! 

What do you enjoy most about Instagram as a platform?

I have a love/hate relationship with IG. I realise that that fine line is when I use it as a tool versus as a means of an unhealthy coping mechanism of escape. The high consumption of any form of media is not great for your mental health as it informs your opinions and beliefs and often how you relate to yourself. Not everyone has the greatest intention when posting so if you’re not careful, the content you consume could skew your world view. I used my platform very intentionally because I’m also an avid IG consumer. Maybe it’s not that deep to everyone but I know how sensitive and receptive I am, so I’m careful as a creator too. I enjoy it because you can connect with like minded individuals to create your community which I’ve done. While my posts are visually great I try my best to add depth to them by writing captions to provoke thought or encourage vulnerability. I try, where I have the energy and capacity to, to shatter the veneer so easily erected with Instagram’s use. Yes, I’m a successful radio/TV presenter and creator but I’m also a human that’s a work in progress. I try and show that duality to remind people that we’re not just avatars, but breathing, feeling beings. I try to strike moments of sonder in the middle of someone’s scroll.

How would you define an Instagram Hero?

An IG Hero is someone who has intention behind their presence. It is a visual platform, so care taken to producing the frame is important but is there more than that? I value authenticity and connection. Even if you’re a business, there’s a way to use the platform to show your story. I’d be more invested and likely to give you the title if I get to know your “why” through every (other) post. An Instagram Hero is someone who understands the game and uses that to their advantage to further a good agenda. You understand that there are people listening, so you’re careful with your words. Stand out by telling YOUR story well (even if it’s imperfect) and you’ll have my attention.

What will you be looking for as the February guest judge for the Instagram Heroes awards series?

I am looking for business savvy with the keen use of this exact platform. IG is different to Facebook, Twitter and TikTok. Ensure you’re using it correctly. I want to see great visuals that tell your story. I want to see consistency in your messaging and style. I want to know what you’re selling and why I should buy into it (whether is a product, your personal brand or your work). Make use of every feature to stay on top of the algorithm to reach more people and to stay relevant, but don’t lose your voice. Once you get the balance of that, you have a winning recipe. I’m really excited to see what you have to offer/show.

Follow @carissacupido on Instagram.

Are you an Instagram Hero?

If you’re a creator or business owner in Sub-Saharan Africa using IG to grow your practice or build your brand, you qualify to enter our monthly Instagram Heroes awards series. The Creator category includes art, design and craft, as well as creatives and makers across all fields. The Business category is for local entrepreneurs, agencies, start-ups and well-established enterprises. Submit your work here.

Between 10 and 5