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Gigi Hadid, Ruby Rose, Lena Dunham, And More Explain Why Perfection Is A Lie

Fashion
Photograph by Nina Westervelt.

#PerfectNever

There is no such thing as perfection. Just ask some of the most empowering, trailblazing, and seemingly "perfect" names of today.

Last week we had the opportunity to do just that when Reebok hosted an event aimed at crushing the unrealistic expectations surrounding the unattainable notion of perfection. Empowering attendees to be "more human" and better versions of themselves, not just physically but also mentally, the five-hour #PerfectNever Revolution was led by Reebok's newest campaign spokesperson, supermodel Gigi Hadid. Kicking off with a group self-defense class hosted by Hadid and her trainer and founder of Gotham City Gym, Rob Piela, the event was followed by a panel discussion between Hadid, Girls creator and co-founder of Lenny Letter Lena Dunham, Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, actor Ruby Rose, and musician Zoë Kravitz. During the panel—moderated by baseball commentator Jessica Mendoza, a pioneer in her own right as the first female ESPN MLB game analyst—the power group flipped the conventional definition of perfection on its head and celebrated their own imperfections and the challenges that contributed to making them the strong women they are today.

Rose touched on the impact high school bullying had on her. "I wouldn't take back my childhood for anything because it taught me so much. All the time that I got to spend working on myself, the girls and boys that were spending their time bullying me and giving me all their attention weren't working on themselves," she said. "All the things that everybody teased me about are what have gotten me so far in my career today." Raisman chimed in, revealing that in middle and high school, she was teased about how strong her arms were, with insults ranging from "gross" to "disgusting," something that she was self-conscious of until this summer. "It wasn't until this past August, during these Olympics, that I started loving the way my arms were and how strong they were," she said. "It took me being able to compete two times at the Olympics and being one of the best gymnasts in the world to take a step back and really think about how I have to be confident and how this body has made me into the gymnast that I am."

While Hadid, once again, revealed that she finds her “tranquil place” and drowns out negativity through boxing, it turns out, she isn't the only one who finds her confidence and determination in the sport. Rose said that after high school, her "whole life changed," and she turned to boxing as a way to find strength and something "worth striving for." "It gave me discipline and really focused me on being strong," said Rose, who also credited therapy for getting her to a happy place that she's in now—a comment that prompted Raisman to reveal that she tried out therapy for the first time the day prior to the event. Hadid jumped in, saying, "I think a lot of people are scared to get help. And it’s so inspiring to hear when people say, 'This has really helped me.’" 

Kravitz also pointed to mental inner peace as the pillar of one's strength. "My mom’s taught me that women are so strong, but the most important part of strength is being gentle. It’s so important to be gentle with yourself and with other people," she continued. "You can go down a rabbit hole of being mad at being mad. And what the world right now needs so badly is to be gentle with our self and be gentle with other people, and that’s where I think a woman’s strength lies." Dunham similarly looks to meditation as her coping mechanism: "My mom got me into transcendental meditation when I was nine because I was such an anxious child. That’s where I’m whole." Dunham, who's been vocal about her struggles with anxiety in the past, said, "That’s a place for me where things are just boundless, and there’s no judgment from myself of myself."

The panelists also touched on the double standards they see when it comes to how the public treats women. "We [as women] always have to be happy. If you watch the Super Bowl and the quarterback doesn't win, they're allowed to be in a bad mood," said Raisman, perhaps alluding to the scrutiny that fellow gymnast Gabby Douglas underwent. "I think it's really unfair to us, as women, that we're not allowed to show emotion, but men are allowed to be in a bad mood." Dunham seconded that sentiment, pointing to the stigma surrounding mental health and women as evidence of the double standard: "We see it all the time in Hollywood with men going to rehab and people are like, 'Great, I hope he does well.' When women go to rehab, it's like the beginning of a downward spiral." Dunham emphasized the importance for the "24-hour woman" to take care of herself and seek help when the challenges and pressures of the everyday life feel too great.

All the women agreed that, despite what it might look like from the outside, they are affected by the internet trolls. "I don’t look at my Twitter anymore," said Dunham. "I don’t need to go on there and see a million dudes telling me to go kill myself." While Dunham keeps her "environment safe" and escapes the negativity by ignoring the hateful comments, Rose advised to not take the comments close to heart to begin with. "Don’t take advice from an egg. It’s always an egg that is saying things to you," she said. Kravitz agreed: "It's hard, and it's really difficult, but we have to have compassion for those people who are saying negative things because those people aren't happy."

Nearing the end of the panel, Raisman reinforced the idea of perfection as being problematic when it comes to how people view public figures. "I think that everyone thinks that anyone who is in some sort of the limelight, that they're perfect all the time, they don't have feelings, they don't have emotions, and they don't care if they see a comment that's negative. I don't know why or how it got to that point, but I think it's so unrealistic," she said. "Before you go out to compete, you feel like you're gonna throw up, you feel like you're gonna start crying because you're just so scared, you're so nervous. You have a minute and a half on a four-inch wide beam, and if you make a mistake, then you're done."

Kravitz emphasized that in times like this, you cannot let self-doubt get in the way. "I'm not constantly feeling confident, but I had to find a way to clear that energy away from me for the most part, or as often as I can, because, genuinely, it gets in the way of me being creative," she said."I kind of always have to, over and over again, remind myself I am worthwhile. I am supposed to be here, and I do have something to offer. I do have something to say."

At the end of the panel, Raisman summarized Reebok's ethos—be more human with all the flaws and imperfections—best: "I think it's time that women stop being so hard on themselves and I think that parents, with the next generation, they need to teach their kids to be more accepting, be more loving." Watch the video from the event, below, and click through the slideshow to read about some of the other things Hadid revealed during the event.

Photograph by Nina Westervelt.

On being the face of #PerfectNever: It might kind of seem strange that a model, who's supposed to be perfect, is the face of a Perfect Never campaign, but that was the point to me. Everyone calls me perfect, and I'm just not. I am like everybody else.

On dealing with internet trolls who comment on looks: I think the turn off comments thing is a really good addition to Instagram. Besides that, develop confidence in yourself that doesn't come from how you look. At the end of the day, how someone looks is an opinion. You have to find the other things that you already know about yourself and be confident that that is what you know and that is a fact. When I am at the gym, it feels so much better to hear, "Wow, that was such a good punch," rather than "Wow, she looks so good doing that." You find the little things not based on opinion; that is a good punch because that is a good punch. And you are a good person because you're a good person.

On being comfortable in her body: I am growing up, and my metabolism is changing, and I am becoming older, and I have a thyroid problem, and I am finally learning how to deal with that with hormone medication, and that changes your body. Maybe I am skinnier now, but I am working on my butt; I am eating burgers, and I am doing squats. I am happy with my body, and I am happy with myself, and I am happy with what I am putting out there. Don't waste your time on negativity because I am going to keep working and I am going to keep doing my thing.

On the importance of being nice: I make a conscious effort every day to be someone that people like to work with and that people like to be around, and that has helped me more than I can ever express. I also can't say enough how much more it means to me for people to come up to me at the end of a shoot and say, "We had a great day with you more than we love the pictures." The pictures are what I'm there to do obviously, and I put everything I can into every single picture that I take, but I think it's so important to be kind and to give energy to the people that you work with.

On the fashion industry: I think the world isn't giving the fashion industry the chance. The fashion industry is so much more accepting and revolutionary than people give it the credit to actually be. Because within it, we are very accepting, we are very accepting of different genders, of different cultures, of different things, and so I would say, pay attention to the good people in fashion. I wish people would stop judging fashion in terms of good and bad people and realize that everything we do is in celebration of what we love and what's inspiring us.

On her role model: My mom [Yolanda Hadid] takes on everything for me when I’m not strong enough to.

Nail polish is for novices

Fashion label The Blonds is known for its high-intensity looks that you'd only wear if you wanted to stand out (and who doesn't?). For its runway shows, wild press-on nails are the beauty step that can't be missed. So, since the brand has partnered with CND since it was founded, we thought it best to get prepped for the show with Jan Arnold, CND's co-founder.

See why you should take your nail look from a zero to a 10, in the video above.

Credits:
Shot by Charlotte Prager
Edited by Gretta Wilson
Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Production Assistant: Polina Buchak
Featuring Jan Arnold of CND Nails and The Blonds

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Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

It would've been nice if someone said the word "fat"

Back in November, Rebel Wilson claimed to be the first plus-sized lead in a romantic comedy when she appeared on Ellen to talk about her role in Isn't It Romantic. Wilson was not only wrong, but she was—even if inadvertently—erasing the work of Black plus-size actresses like Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique, both of whom have expansive resumes that include romantic comedies.

Wilson's comment isn't the first example of white women taking up a little too much space in the fat acceptance ethos. It's actually quite common. But there is a reason why women like Wilson—women who are blonde, pretty, successful, and white—get put front and center in calls for body positivity. In the same way that feminism—the movement from which body positivity was born—has often failed to address how gender intersects with other identities like race and class; so, too, has body positivity been championed as a cause for otherwise privileged women. And that's why it's no surprise that Isn't It Romantic, which aspires to be both a spot-on mockery of rom-coms and a celebration of body positivity, is actually a perfect example of how very white both the movie genre and the body positivity movement tend to be.

In the film, Wilson plays Natalie, an architect based in New York, who is single and plus-sized—the archetypal rom-com underdog. Very early on in the movie, she endures the double humiliation of both being hit by a runaway food cart and then accosted by its owner for not stopping it with her "cement truck"-like body. At work, Natalie is similarly disrespected: The office manager hands off troubleshooting tasks to Natalie; another colleague always tasks Natalie to throw out his trash; her assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) won't stop watching movies (rom-coms, naturally) while in the office; and Natalie is so afraid to present her ideas for more innovative parking garage designs that she isn't even widely known in the firm as an architect, and is treated like an intern.

But is Natalie just a doormat? Or is it that she isn't asking for what she wants? And isn't very nice about not getting it? If Natalie's life is any example, the bar on suffering is set pretty low for white women. In her personal life, Natalie lives alone with her dog, and seems to be pretty well-off, financially; her best friend is actually her slacker assistant, Whitney, and she's close with another coworker, Josh (Adam Devine), who gives Natalie constant emotional support. She's decidedly anti-romantic, having been told by her mother from a young age that there's no such thing as real-life fairy tales; she's level-headed and practical. But also, she's filled with self-loathing. This leads her to be crass, sarcastic, and disconnected from people. And it was this last part that was hard for me. As a fat Black woman who grew up broke, does not have an assistant, and would get fired if I didn't do my job well, it was hard, if not impossible, to root for her.

For Natalie, though, everything changes when she bangs her head while fighting off a mugger. Her mundane life is tinted through rosy rom-com glasses. Suddenly, all the things that sucked about her life are gone, and everything is beautiful and perfect. But was her life so bad before? It didn't really seem to be.

And yet, looking around the theater at the mostly white, female audience, I accepted that my feelings didn't seem to be shared. But that almost seems to be by design; this feels like a movie for a white, female audience. There is only one person of color in the movie who even has a name: It's Isabelle (Priyanka Chopra), who shows up about halfway through the film—after everything has been rom-com filtered—as a yoga ambassador and swimsuit model. But a name is all Isabella has. A supporting character at best, she doesn't have any connection to anyone other than her white boyfriend, and is sketchily drawn. We learn nothing of her familial or ethnic background, and, even when she is shown at her wedding, there is nobody from her family celebrating with her. This huge oversight is particularly bizarre, given that Natalie has already bemoaned the lack of diversity in romantic films.

Another huge oversight? The presence of the word "fat." I don't think I heard it used a single time. Natalie only references her weight indirectly, by commenting on the appearance of straight-sized women; when talking about her own body, the word "fat" is replaced with "girl like me." But by ignoring this aspect of herself, and refusing to address it head-on, Natalie is succumbing to the same fatphobia that shapes her world, whether she identifies it as being a problem or not.

Before her life becomes a rom-com, Natalie feels invisible at work and in the world. Some of this is certainly her fault, but fatphobia is also at play. Fatphobia chips away at the humanity of fat people from different angles. It means that Natalie gets used to being dehumanized; she doesn't expect others to have empathy for her when she's physically hurt, because they don't value her body. And it's no coincidence that Natalie's fantasy world includes a magically bigger apartment with unlimited clothing options, because discrimination against fat people isn't just a matter aesthetics and preferences—it affects everything from our ability to dress ourselves to our ability to make and save money, since there's a price to pay for being fat, even if it's just having to pay more to travel. Just as much as gender and race intersect with fat bodies, so, too, do economics and class.

I knew I could count on a plus-sized white comedian to take down a genre of films that prioritized thin women. But I ventured to see if Wilson could go further than that, and challenge what it means to be white and well-off and fat in the process; it isn't just about taking down rom-coms but about doing so in a way that isn't just a mouthpiece for white feminist values. But, in the end, that isn't what happened. Isn't It Romantic is fine, but it needed to do more than target an audience of girls who are 10 to 30 pounds overweight and still too jolted by the word "fat" to ever apply it to themselves, so they go for acceptable alternatives, like curvy, plus-sized—or thicc, if they're hip. But I'm not afraid to say I'm fat, I'm just disappointed I will be waiting even longer to see a realistic reflection of that experience onscreen.

Isn't It Romantic is in theaters now.