Karen Elson is a music maker, a cabaret performer, a model, a mother, and sometimes a shoe designer. She is also the kind of friend who listens to your troubles while nodding sagely, dispenses the wisest advice, and makes you feel like a better version of yourself. Here, in the first installment of what will be an occasional treat on Rookie, are her answers to your questions about boys, sex, bodies, and life.
I want to be a strong, independent feminist, but in the face of a square jaw or an Adam’s apple I turn into a simpering sycophant. How can I stop being obsessed with guys and just be happy being me? —Kshemani, Toronto
Oh lord, I understand! I consider myself a very strong, independent woman of the world, and yet a dreamy pair of eyes can leave me in a state of recklessness. I think daydreaming is perfectly fine and healthy—I spent many a day in my 20s reading Anaïs Nin and lusting for my own Henry Miller to come and sweep me away—however, I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep your feet planted on the ground whilst daydreaming (this is an art I have yet to master…but I try). When you get carried away with boy-craziness, ask yourself if the boy you’re attracted to at the moment is really so great, or if you’re transferring your personal hopes and desires onto someone who’s not worth them. And when you’re feeling obsessive, try to distract yourself with the things you love in life (aside from boys): projects, hobbies, friends, etc. Speaking of friends, sometimes talking to them about your crush and getting it off your chest can help you relax. And if you feel really obsessive about a guy, I think it’s a bad sign; move on. My best advice, which I should also follow, is to remind yourself of reality and to remain the badass that you are. If you feel like you have to play down your independence for a guy (or, for that matter, a girl), walk—no, RUN for the hills!
I’ve never had sex, and never even kissed a guy. And I’m 17! I’m the only virgin left out of everyone I know. The problem is that I don’t feel ready for sex AT ALL, but all my friends say that I should have sex as soon as possible, just to get it over with. I’m so confused and scared. Maybe if I don’t have sex now, I’ll never do it, ’cause no one likes an 18-year-old virgin! What’s your advice for me? —J.
Don’t over-think it. So what if you’re an 18-year-old virgin? I was a late bloomer in ALL areas; now I’m 33 and I’m not a virgin anymore, ha! Know that it will happen, if you want it to. Trust your intuition: if you’re not ready, you’re not ready. Why rush? Besides, it can take years for a woman to really discover herself sexually. Having sex is the beginning, but the real treat is figuring out what makes you feel good and connected to your body. (You can start doing that before you have sex, by masturbating.) The key to enjoying sex, in my opinion, is to feel relaxed, adored, and empowered. That’s worth waiting for. Chances are you’ll have sex eventually—wouldn’t you rather do it on your own terms than listen to people who make you feel like you’re doing this wrong? You’ll already be way ahead of the curve if you play it by your rules.
What should I say when my friends say weird, sad stuff like “I have to get my bikini body ready before summer” and “Oh my gosh I am SOOO FAT”? —Anonymous
I’m a model, and I didn’t feel attractive as a teenager or in my early 20s. It takes time for some of us to grow into our skin. I know I’m in an industry that has contributed to this mythical ideal of physical “perfection” (though I do know a lot of positive role models in fashion who have embraced themselves as individuals and certainly don’t conform); but the problem is bigger than one industry. Society has burdened all of us women with the idea that we’ll never be perfect, but that we have to keep striving to be. And on top of it, that same society keeps changing its mind about what “perfect” is. Back in the ’50s the current zero-fat all-muscle ideal would have been seen as too skinny and boyish. If Marilyn Monroe were alive today she’d be told to lose weight before she could be in movies. And there’s always a new diet, a new workout, a new pill that promise to get us closer to where we’re “supposed” to be. I find this really tragic, especially as a mother of a daughter. I tell my children to love themselves for who they are, but that’s probably not enough to tell your friends when they talk negatively about their bodies. I think the most helpful thing you can do is to remind them that they’re great and tell them all of the things you honestly love about them: their intelligence, their sense of humor, their talents, their compassion, their personal style, their unruly curls, their crooked teeth, their birthmarks, etc. And tell them you don’t like hearing them be so harsh about their bodies. Sadly, almost all women, no matter how thin, curvy, short, or tall, have to deal with our own body issues, but having a supportive and truthful friend helps. All this said, if you know someone who dislikes her body so intensely that you’re worried about her, tell her you think she should get help from a school counselor or a therapist. And meanwhile, remind your friends that they can spend their lives trying to fit into someone else’s mold, or they can be themselves, be happy, and let it shine.