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EXTENDED RETURNS FOR CHRISTMAS SHOPPING UNTIL THE END OF JANUARY 2023
WINNER OF THE BEST LUXURY WOMENSWEAR BRAND ENTERPRISE AWARDS 2021 & 2022
Nighat is one of the most passionate ladies I have met, not only a superb Doctor but she is driven to support women's health in particular, using effective education, sharing knowledge with factual and helpful communication. All women should try and follow Dr Nighat and her work as at some point in your life you will want a little 'Nighat advice'.
KIM WINSER, OBE
Dr Nighat Arif is a family practice GP, with a special interest in women’s health and menopause, and a passion for making evidence-based knowledge accessible, especially around menopause, family planning and other health matters that are sometimes considered taboo. As a British Pakistani, she converses fluently in Urdu and Punjabi and has advocated for better understanding and awareness of women’s health, including how it affects different ethnic groups.
As a ‘resident doctor’ on BBC Breakfast and ITV’s This Morning, and medical advisor to midlife women via online platform Noon, Nighat advocates for informed patient choices and access to care. Her candid, authoritative bite-sized posts on medical matters have won her almost 200k followers on TikTok (as well as a loyal fanbase on Instagram and Twitter), winning plaudits from her professional peers for raising awareness of issues around women’s health.
A mother-of three sons, Nighat is based in Buckinghamshire, where she hosts the Sunday Breakfast show on BBC Three Counties Radio, focusing on positive community stories. An active supporter of NHS Blood and Transplant, Nighat campaigns for organ donation, especially in BAME communities which lower uptake. During the pandemic, she has also been helping to spread understanding of the Covid19 vaccination programme through her work with Team Halo, a global organisation that works in partnership with the United Nations (UN) and the Vaccine Positivity Project. Nighat supports many other causes and initiatives including Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity, The Good Grief Trust, The Self Care Forum, Sikh Forgiveness and Her Spirit.
You have done so much to raise awareness of women’s health issues. What drives you?
It’s a conversation that I am so happy to be instigating and involved in. I am representing all women, but it’s ethnic minority women that need to see the diversity to feel that relatability: why shouldn’t you see a woman in a hijab talking about periods and painful sex? So many women in minority groups have worse outcomes in health scenarios, because they don’t have access to evidence-based information or because the clinical knowledge is based on data from majority groups. It doesn’t make my angry it makes me purposeful. I harness the frustration and try to make a change.
One of the biggest issues in medicine is making evidence-based information accessible and relatable. There’s too much innuendo and hearsay: I call body parts by their anatomical names in the context of easy-to-understand language. I just want women to feel comfortable learning about their own bodies and able to make informed choices when it comes to their healthcare. I get grown women come to me who only now understand the menstrual cycle in their 30s or 40s, after having children, because I’ve explained it.
You’ve adopted TikTok as a way to amplify your communications. Why?
Being on TV has been a great platform because representation is important to reach a diverse audience. Five years ago there was a lot of snobbery in the medical profession about social media: but it’s been a game-changer for me as a communications tool. Now we can talk directly to the public and get a million or more hits answering a simple question that people might be embarrassed to ask their GP face to face or don’t know where to find facts in an era of information-overload and misinformation.
Harnessing TikTok has been immensely powerful: I can do a spur-of-the-moment 30 second video on vaginal oestrogen or the importance of testosterone in female health, and it will reach tens of thousands of people. It can be me sitting in my car, or in my GP surgery or out for a walk, chatting, but the key is that it is fact-based, free and understandable.
Who has inspired you most?
There are three women in my life who I constantly look up to. The first is Dr Louise Newson, a GP and women’s health specialist who has led the way in campaigning for menopause training in General Practice and raising public awareness. She has inspired so many health professionals and I now have the honour to call her my friend.
The second person is Louise Minchin, who encouraged me to push out of my comfort zone and pursue broadcasting as a way to share knowledge. Even after three years, I have massive imposter syndrome, but she has encouraged and supported me every step of the way and given me confidence and career advice. She does Iron Man, so she’s physically strong and supports other women emotionally too. She is ‘The Boss’ to me, when I need to turn to someone for wise counsel.
Lastly, the strongest woman I know is my mother. She grew up in a village in Pakistan as one of 12 siblings, and never went to school. She was 26, with three children – I was nine - when we moved to England, and then had two more children living here. My Dad is an Imam, and she had to integrate in the community, send us to school and learn the system and the language.
How has your upbringing shaped you?
With my Dad at the heart of the local Muslim community, there was a lot of cultural pressure on my parents for us, as their children, to conform. When I said I wanted to study medicine, some of the more traditional members of the congregation frowned upon me heading off to university where I would be exposed to boys and drugs. I know that my mum was apprehensive, but she inspired me because she was brave and overcame her own fear to let me pursue my ambitions.
I come from a very conservative community and I am literally the priest’s daughter talking about vaginal dryness. Even today, when I’m showing a Mirena Coil on TV, Mum is worried about what her friends at the Mosque will say, but she respects what I’m doing. I know that I need to keep pushing those boundaries because women’s health shouldn’t be a taboo subject, no matter what your background.
If you hadn’t become a GP, what would you be doing now?
In another life, I would have been an actress. I would love the freedom to do that. I wouldn’t have cared what I appeared in: if I could be the washerwoman in Downton Abbey, I would be so made up!
Ru Paul’s Drag Race is my guilty pleasure. I love the colour, the drama, the fun, the artistry – that kind of exuberant creativity is so undervalued, but it brings so much joy.
You have many different facets to your life: as a practicing GP, as a public personality, a charity ambassador, your family …. How do you dress to meet all those demands?
As a Muslim woman, modesty comes first, so I wear the hijab to cover my head, and my arms and legs are covered. We try not to show the outline of our bodies, which supports my belief that women are sexy and beautiful because of who they are not because they show their body.
Traditionally, I would be expected to wear black, and in some more autocratic Muslim communities around the world, that is strictly imposed on women, but I love bright colours because they are uplifting and give me confidence. I wore a Winser London scarlet silk dress on International Women’s Day and it was empowering. I feel privileged to live in a place where I have that choice. We are colourful characters, and choosing to wear black can be an empowering option, but it can also nullify and anonymise women.
I am a mum to three young boys and have a crazy schedule, so I pick up a lot of my clothes when I’m out and about, and see something on the move. Comfort is vital to me, and as time passes I am trying to make more considered purchases that will last longer. Sustainability has to be a consideration when we spend our money.
You are powerful advocate for women’s health: how do you take care of your own health and wellbeing?
Hand on heart? I am really bad at it. Like many women, I try to balance different elements of my life: being a mum, a wife, my role as a GP, my social media work, my TV and radio work, charitable causes and then ‘being Nighat’. I do struggle. It can be exhausting and we’re all guilty of putting ourselves at the bottom of the list.
There are times when my imposter syndrome drives me crazy, and I have an existential crisis, so I sit in my car and cry. I leave the house, go for a drive, then sit somewhere quiet and let it out. I just need to get it out of my system. We all do it in different ways: that is self care.
When we wear so many hats, there is an assumption that we are really strong and that we can cope all the time. But we are all vulnerable and we have to succumb to that and allow the sadness or the challenges to be. Just be. Then I can move on. Leaning on friends and family at the right time is important too: people are meant to support each other in a community. Louise Minchin and I have self-indulgent chats all the time about the stuff we are dealing with personally and professionally.
I love exercise, and like to run and do lots of walks in the countryside around my home. I try and do a spin class three times a week, and go swimming at the weekend with my family.
Who would you invite to sit around a dream dinner table with you?
Michelle Obama would be first on my list. Who wouldn’t have her? I’m 38 and a proper Fan Girl. I’d also invite Madhuri Dixit, a Bollywood actress who has really influenced the industry and is still playing leads as a mature woman. I have had the pleasure of meeting Dame Lesley Regan, who is Honoroary Secretary of the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Imperial College, who would definitely be included on the guest list. She’s Chair of the Wellbeing of Women charity and I admire her enormously: like so many successful women, she has faced trolling but she says “never explain and never complain. Just listen to what people have to say and focus on what what matters to you.”
Of course, Louise Minchin, because she is such a big part of my life. And Kim Winser, too, because she is great company and another dynamic woman who champions and lifts other women. The role of men is so important in making the world a better place: George Clooney does so much for the UN and humanitarian causes, especially those affected by conflict. If he came as a couple with Amal, that would be great because her human rights work is an incredible inspiration.
You have attracted some great guests and had some interesting conversations on your podcast, The Mid.Point. How did that come about and what’s the thinking behind it?
It started out because I wanted to have more open conversations about the potential to do positive things in mid-life, whether that’s changing direction or simply remaining relevant and optimistic. It’s evolved to cover a range of diverse issues, and it’s been a great outlet for me as a personal project to contrast with my sports broadcasting. I’m loving that this is resonating with a wider female audience than perhaps other areas of my work, and it means a lot when people come up to me and say how much they enjoy the podcast and how they can relate to issues that come up.
I have found that sometimes, especially during the pandemic, speech radio can leave me anxiety-ridden, and podcasts provide a different audio experience. I listen to Josh Widdicombe and Rob Beckett’s Parenting Hell, Matthew Syed’s Sideways and the Desert Island Discs archive at home, in the car or on my walks.
Finally, you have an incredibly demanding work schedule, do lots of hands-on charity work, keep to a demanding exercise regime and you have teenage children. How do you relax?
I’m genuinely happier when I’m busy. I do enjoy those calming countryside walks, immersed in nature, and Kenny loves that watershed in the day when it hits 9pm and he puts his feet up with a box set. However, I am so middle-aged, I find sorting a cupboard therapeutic. There is something about organising a kitchen draw that gives me great pleasure. Is it weird that I admit that sorting stock cubes is very satisfying?