Em Odesser, is a seventeen-year-old from New York. She is the Editor in Chief and co-creator ofTeen Eye Magazine, a publication completely run by and for creators under 19, and does about a million other things (activism! Sex ed! writing!) that she will get to explain in this interview.
Tell us a bit about your creative history.
I’ve been writing since before I could really go through the alphabet (I’d dictate stories to my preschool teachers and make them handle the transcribing aspect). I created a bunch of fashion blogs starting in 6th grade and switched later from Wordpress to Tumblr, where, after finishing some cringy fan blogs, everything picked up. There, I met Zak Cannon, who invited me to join a project … this little magazine to give teens a FUBU space. I told him it was a dream job. We started working the next day, and everything else fell into place.
Was there a moment in time when you realized you were a creator/maker/artist aka you?
I’m sure I knew it deep down way earlier, but the first time that label was assigned to me was at my first Capital-S-Serious interview. It was with Broadly, and Linda and Leila were interviewing me, and Diana Tourjee came in (later I would internet-stalk her and swoon heavily). If you’ve never seen her work, she’s very amazing, very smart, and very intense. She was asking me rapid-fire questions, taking me very seriously, which was wonderful and terrifying, and at one point, she just basically asked me the question y’all asked. I just geeked out and felt very humbled and very honored. I was bullied really badly for years, and I was gaslit to believe my work wasn’t anything special. When those three women at Broadly gave me respect and just acknowledged me, it was like 70% of my imposter syndrome flew out the window. I think that was the first time I was able to internalize that my work was a part of my identity, and not just a weird and irregular coping mechanism.
Is there a relationship between your identity (queer/gender/ethnicity/otherwise) and the work you make?
Absolutely! My experiences inform all of my decisions, sometimes subconsciously, sometimes blatantly. I write about what I’m curious about and what I’m having trouble understanding and what I’m not hearing anyone else say. When I was younger I spent months writing about my Jewish heritage. Then I started talking about how I was treated in school. I terrified a lot of my classmates, especially right when I ‘Became Vocal,' because instead of veering away from controversy I would often dive in. I started fights if there was disrespect… so I ended up arguing very often, and I’d go home and cry for a bit then write my little heart out. I’m not sure if there’s a piece of work I’ve made that doesn’t relate to my identity in some way or other, and I sorta think that’s the point.
What do you want the beauty/fashion world to look like in 10 years?
Old school aesthetics, new inclusivity. I think the high fashion world noticed there were huge errors at the beginning of the 2010’s, and instead of fixing those, they went around and started modifying parts that were completely fine to begin with. The ‘aesthetic industry’ should be dramatic, it should have a narrative, it should be exciting. Diana Vreeland once said her goal as an editor was to give people what they never knew they wanted. I hate this new, capitalist realism encroaching on one of the most creative industries. So in ten years, I want all the drama from those past years, but I want it to now actually be inclusive. Foundations for all skin tones! Outfits for all genders and body types! Give me the spectacles, but don’t whitewash them anymore! Let everyone be a part of the fantasy and creativity will flourish and we won’t waste time worrying about potentially ending fashion month or whatever.
What is inspiring to you right now -- other makers/artists/musicians/ideas/cultural trends?
I’ve been studying weaponized femininity and the use of seduction as a way to reclaim misogynistic systems. So I’ve been thinking about everyone from Franceska Mann to Lana Del Rey.
As for makers/artists/musicians etc…. Elyse Fox, India Menuez, Nadya Okamoto, Amanda Southworth, Scarlett Curtis, Grey, Thandie and Kay, the Teen Eye team, Marley Dias, Janaya Khan, Janelle Monae, Rina Sawayama, Jamila Woods, Sza, Destiny Frasqueri…they all work so hard to put the very best into the world, and watching them be vulnerable and conquer the world cancels out all the stressful energy. I’m lucky to have the first half of them of them in my life. They’re the human equivalents of sage!
Makeup has been frowned upon by many people who think that wearing it is salacious. As the most dress-coded student in your high school, we'd love to hear your opinion on makeup being sexualized along with those who wear it.
I don’t understand why it’s seen as something so dangerous. Historically, it’s been connected to sex workers or witches and frowned upon because religious men didn’t like autonomous women. Today, that sentiment lingers. Makeup is an art form and it’s for everyone. Homophobic or cissexist comments swarm around my makeup-wearing friends who aren’t women-identifying, and misogynistic comments swarm around my women-identifying friends who wear any amount of makeup. It doesn’t make sense, but it’s definitely a reality.
And why are you the most dress-coded student in your high school?
A.) I’m conspicuous as hell, so my ‘borderline’ outfits are picked up on far quicker than those of other students. B.) I don’t listen to warnings and I still wear what I’m comfortable in. I’m willing to get suspended over it. I don’t think the outfits I wear should distract grown adults or withhold me from my education.
You're an activist, the creator of Teen Eye Magazine, and a member of Sad Girls Club. You write, you speak, and you can also participate in a good silent protest or two. How did you become such a triple threat? What event took place in your lifetime that made you want to help build a better world through your activism? And what does that better world look like?
I mean… everyone should stay in school, don’t get me wrong, but to be honest, I just separated my academic and social life. I prioritized and I was like “oh, there are real-world things that I have the ability to influence for the better. If there are only a few free hours I have in a day, do I want to study for my trig test, or do I want to speak out?” And it would almost always be the latter. I have an incredible support system that appreciated and encouraged me to take risks. Being a teenage girl is so vulnerable, difficult, and unique and once I was seen as a feminine being, I was put through the wringer. I was told I was an ugly, unlovable, slutty, irresponsible, trash bag human. There were a lot of rape jokes, punishments, and comments that pushed me into a really unhealthy headspace. I don’t want the next generation to have to deal with those experiences. I survived, but it was traumatizing and terrifying.
Because I really believe the patriarchy is the father of all problems and I know the binary is responsiblefor upholding the patriarchy, gender roles and expectations would have to go. I won’t miss them. Also, we need curriculums that encourage more discourse and include more representation STAT.
Who are your fashion/beauty icons? Whose look inspires you?
Right now, I’m feeling very farm girl chic. Old men pay me too much attention so I’m trying to see if I can reclaim Lolita’s aesthetic at all. I want really long Rapunzel, Mermaid-esque hair too. I’m not sure if there are specific figures that inspire my style enough to call them a personal icon. The general mood is renaissance succubus meets prairie girl.
What was your first “makeup moment” and what do you wear today?
I’ve been playing dress-up almost as long as I’ve been writing, so makeup was always nearby. The most distinct moment was when I was maybe ten years old and my best friend and I got hold of those little eyeshadow palettes from Claire's. We tried to make ‘fairy swirls’ down our face with glittery pastels. Not much has changed. I use a lot of sparkles. I wear red lipstick a lot and I’m trying to learn more eyeliner tricks. It fluctuates with my mood, but I tend to gravitate more towards artistic products than those made to “correct” features.
Create a makeup item right now off the top of your head that doesn't exist yet, what would it be?
You’re putting me on the spot Fluide! Hmm... Well, there’s eyelash extensions, lip plumpers, and all these other long-lasting products. It would be cool to have a more permanent highlighter so I could be dewey and golden for weeks without reapplication. Maybe that could be partly achieved by just consistent skin care. I don’t know.
What movie character is most like you?
Emily Lloyd’s Lynda Mansell from Wish You Were Here (1987) is the closest film portrayal of me, though Jessica Barden’s Alyssa from the TV show End Of The Fucking World is the closest from any visual media. People compare me to Manic Pixie Dream Girls a lot, so I’m drawn to characters who actually get the follow-through. I demand a complete storyline!
Tell us about an exciting and/or new work/project/thing you’re working on; how did it originate? How is it related to other work you’ve done? What is next for you? Do you have any hopes, dreams, plans you are excited about?
2018 is my year! I’m claiming it. There’s so much happening. I have some TV and film projects in the work, I’m launching two new zines, and trying to teach myself to re-love learning after high school. Professionally, I’m releasing Teen Eye Issue 7 in June and helping organize a ton of Sad Girls Club events with our national ambassadors over the summer. I’m so excited to work under my mentor and role model Elyse Fox. I’m also proud to be working with my amazing friends from Supportho(s)e to resist SESTA/FOSTQ, which are some of the most restrictive and whorephobic bills to date. We have a bunch up our sleeves forInternational Whores Day, and we have afundraiser on the 22nd (the day before my eighteenth birthday) to prepare. Oh, and yeah! I’m turning eighteen. I want to make this a year of sex positivity and rid the world of misogyny, police violence, and binary vernacular / ideology. That’d be the best birthday present ever.