“Karen is one of those friends who crossed into family territory years ago and I love her to pieces. She is also somebody who has always been brutally and lovingly honest with me and has forever challenged me to leave my comfort zone by leading by example (looking at you sweat lodge trip of 2005!) She is truly beautiful and authentic inside and out and speaking of leading by example, she’s currently killing it in the aging gracefully movement with both epic modeling campaigns and leading honest and poignant conversations about aging through other platforms. If you can’t grab a tea and a walk in the park with her as I love to do, reading this conversation is the next best thing.” – Michaela
You’re a model and a producer, which in their essence, are both really about storytelling. How do you get into the mindset of absorbing a story so that you can authetically do your part to convey it?
When producing, I’m extremely thorough in my prep. I study as much information as possible on the area(s) I’m exploring, and I try to absorb different perspectives. When interviewing anyone, I listen and allow my instincts to guide the conversations. Even when modeling, I listen well and aim to be as truthful and open as possible to best execute what the client wants, what the clothes, makeup, lighting and/or overall mood and my instincts evoke.
These can both be super cutthroat industries, especially for women and especially for women of color. How do you stand your ground and make sure your voice is heard?
Sole credit to my parents for anchoring me with incredible values, ethics and a strong sense of self. Even when I started modeling at age 13, I had no problem expressing myself and having my voice heard.
You were discovered as a teenager to model and were repreented by the iconic FORD Models agency for years before you switched career paths. So many aspiring models these days put themseleves out there on social media platforms in an effort to “get discovered,” what advice do you have for them or any aspiring model out there?
Use the Internet to find legitimate agents, look at their submission requirements, and reach out to them. Until the right ‘yes’ arrives, reach out to creative folks at fashion schools or on I.G. who are often looking for free collaborations. If they can, visit professional shoots even if it’s to observe what’s going on. Actively participating in a dream is so much more fruitful than passively waiting to be selected.
As a modeling industry veteran, you now work passionately to challenge societal mindsets in regards to fear-based associations with aging. It’s funny because now when I see grey hair, I tell myself, it’s actually silver, which just sounds more powerful and speaks to the accomplishment of suriving another year of life. But still, there’s always going to be that little heart skip when one discovers that first grey hair. I know it’s a complex conversation, but what can you tell our circle about how to be empowered about aging rather than fearful of it?
I grew up with abundant examples of women and men rocking grey/silver/white hair as early as their 20s. Like most people from communities of colour, loving, and admiring inter-generational family members was a first-hand experience. I’ve never been afraid of living, which in essence is aging. When others express fear about this normal process, I encourage them to consider the alternative, and to really question, what’s wrong with change? Who wants to be frozen in time? I also remind them that the skincare and pharmaceutical industries are trillion-dollar forces that thrive by reinforcing fear and shame about aging.
We’ve had such a rich friendship for years and you have always inspired me to get outside of my comfort zone and try something new–whether it’s by taking me to a sweat lodge in upstate New York or to try a new hairstyle. One thing you told me years ago that has stuck with me was that: “fear is false evidence appearing real,” and so whenever I’m fearful of or apprehensive about something, I ask myself “is this evidence real?” One thing I’ve never asked you though is, what happens when that evidence is real; how do you stay courageaous when the evidence is there that the fear is real?
I do mindful breathing. Consciously/intentionally breathing into fear or pain helps to ground me; and it also helps me to open or soften areas of physical discomfort.
What advice would you give yourself at a trying time in the past that you’ve since overcome?
I don’t squander time/space for unnecessary “navel gazing”
What traits do you value most in your circle of friends? What traits do you most value in yourself?
And to lighten the conversation, we always end our convos with some rapid fire questions. Where do you stand on:
Prospect Park or Central Park? Both! That’s like asking a parent to pick a fave child! Go to snack on a long shoot day? Almonds Most magical place in New Mexico? In no order, since I don’t believe in absolutes/favourites…Bisti Badlands, White Sands National Monument, Taos Pueblo; Red Rock Park, Cimarron Canyon State Park, Plaza Blanca, Shiprock…Too many to pick! Candles or diffuser? For day-to-day use, diffuser (for my essential oils); if it’s for the aesthetics, then candles Must-have skin product? Water, lip balm
Karen is a breath of fresh air and when we can’t catch up in person or on the phone, I love following along with her on Instagram for a dose of beauty, wellness, travel inspiration and more.