Could you explain a little more about what you mean by women having power in beauty?
Working within the fashion industry, and even living in Manhattan, everything about the script that I’m given about how I’m supposed to look becomes so narrow – but it also is effective. We’re told that if we look a certain way…beauty becomes a ticket to getting into the posh bar or club; getting in the front of the line; getting a free latte at the local coffee shop – the ways that we look open doors, and especially within the fashion industry. This is the ticket to power, right? We’re in some ways told to not only celebrate our beauty but to use it as a power for something else, use it as a tool for something else – usually to achieve success.
What do you think the effect of this attitude is?
If we are getting into this mindset of drawing upon our own beauty – I mean physical beauty, external appearance – for the sake of something else, then that sets all of us up as competitors. Rather than just accepting our own beauty, we become competitors with each other, and everyone else who looks better, who has thinner thighs or flatter abs, is seen as a threat to our own achievement of power, and so there’s a huge landscape of competition there.
What do you think is a better way to understand the power of beauty?
One thing that I’ve learned so much since working in the fashion industry is that beauty resonates deeply within the human heart. It is beauty which inspires us, which inspires all within us, which draws us to want to be better, or to look a certain way, or to act a certain way – beauty really shapes the way that we understand ourselves and our identity and the way we’re supposed to not only look but also act.
Verily is not a faith-based magazine, but you yourself are Catholic. How does this affect your work in the fashion industry?
It can be very easy to want to just ignore or push aside people who are working within the industry. There’s a great skepticism, I think, from very well meaning people who are seeking after modesty, and seeking after holiness, to say that the desire to be beautiful is vain and shallow and the desire to be fashionable is one of these sorts of shallow desires that we should ignore unless they get out of control, and to focus on deeper, more respectable topics. (The attitude is,) “we don’t have time – the world is going through too many things right now to focus on this.”
But I believe it was Pope Benedict who said, “artists are the custodians of beauty.” If we think of fashion, the fashion industry, media – if we think of all of these as art forms, and as giving us the opportunity to tell stories, and to cast a vision about what life could look like, then all of a sudden we’re given the green light to dive in.
I’m thinking of people I work with, even within the industry: models that I’ve worked with on photoshoots, spent the whole afternoon with them, feeding them, laughing, joking – but then at the end for one of them to say to me, “that was such a fun shoot. We don’t usually get to smile on our shoots.” This affects them as well! We are showing them a great service as well, in honoring their own physical beauty, but also letting them be joyful, letting them be radiant.
At fashion week I was watching one of the shows (in which) one of the models was so skinny that she was trembling. I remember going up and standing right in front of her and just smiling at her, and as soon as she made eye contact with me, her whole face lit up. It was as if at once she was being seen as a whole person, and not just as a clothes rack.
That was such a small instance, but it was so powerful for me that so many models and so many young girls go into this industry because they want to be seen. But if we really can see them, and showcase them, and celebrate the beauty and really the art, and communicate the powerful message about what life could look like, then we’re on the path to really humanizing society in this industry.
It’s very easy for people within the Catholic realm to want to herald goodness, truth, and beauty, but beauty is seen like the unfortunate sister. Goodness and truth are the primary goals: we need to be talking about goodness and truth all the time. But beauty is a third way, it’s a very powerful way, and I think it’s going to be one of the most powerful ways of approaching the culture and of making the faith attractive to people.
Rather than approaching (the fashion industry) with skepticism or desiring to bracket it all, to march forward boldly and to be a storyteller using this medium that people can understand, that’s what the new evangelization all about. If we can think of innovative ways to show beauty in all these different areas – digital, print, traditional media – (if we can) be storytellers using beauty, then I think we have a bright future.