You Asked It

Karen Elson Is Your Friend

And it’s a good thing, too, ’cause she’s really good at giving advice.

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.

Love,
Karen

Questions for our You Asked It columns go to youaskedit@rookiemag.com, except style/beauty queries, which go to Marie at beautyandstyle@rookiemag.com.

30 Comments

  • starcollector May 1st, 2012 11:06 PM

    Rookie, how do you get such fantastic, sage, inspirational women for these “Ask” features? Karen Elson is the bomb.

    http://china-lily.blogspot.com/

    • starcollector May 1st, 2012 11:07 PM

      ALSO SHE’S MARRIED TO JACK WHITE. So…

      • Britte May 1st, 2012 11:31 PM

        Not married to him anymore, BUT STILL AMAZINGLY AWESOME. Is it wrong that for a while I just wanted to move out to Nashville in hopes of casually running into her and then becoming best friends forever?

        Also awesome: her album! Listened to it a ton when it first came out :)

  • juliette May 1st, 2012 11:17 PM

    I love Karen Elson!
    Great advice

  • TessAnnesley May 1st, 2012 11:28 PM

    i love karen elson so ridiculously much. she is so creative and amazing and ahhhh. I was genuinely upset when she divorced Jack White, they were the coolest couple everrrr :(

  • Mags May 1st, 2012 11:33 PM

    I didn’t have sex until I was 21. Nobody cared that I was a “21-year-old virgin” or whatever. Believe me, it will be a much better experience if you do it when you’re ready. Nothing good can come out of being forced to do something you’re not ready to do and don’t even want to do. You will only feel a bit weird after all is said and done, and I have to wonder if any of your friends who are telling you to do it to “get it over with” regret doing it themselves. Who knows? Remember, they’re not YOU. They have no real right to tell you what to do or how to do it or when to do it. God, 17 is so young. When you’re in your 20s looking back, you will truly appreciate how young 17 really is. Wait until you’re ready; I promise it will be worth it :)

    • FlaG May 2nd, 2012 12:48 AM

      Same as me! And I only had my first kiss four months before that with a completely different guy.

  • KinuKinu May 1st, 2012 11:50 PM

    Awww, so awesome. She is cool. And so pretty. And she gives good advice. The boy question was extremely relevant to my life right now.

  • Anna F. May 2nd, 2012 12:17 AM

    Help! I’m obsessed with Karen Elson!

  • darksideoftherainbow May 2nd, 2012 12:24 AM

    this was perfect. yet another thing i will look forward to in rookie! that it will be occasional defo makes it a TREAT.

    thanks for all that you do!

  • fairy_grrrl May 2nd, 2012 12:27 AM

    Holy crappp when I saw it was Karen Elson I flipped out! Oh my gosh she’s so great!

  • FlaG May 2nd, 2012 12:47 AM

    J, I was 21 when I had sex for the first time (and 20 when I had my first kiss), so I understand your fear. But I also totally get you when you say you’re not ready. Neither was I, and frankly I wasn’t even bothered about it. Thankfully I wasn’t in a group of friends in high school (or even college) who made me feel pressured to have sex when I wasn’t ready.

    You’ll get there in your own time. Whether it is next week, or when you’re 21 like I was it’s fine as long as you’re comfortable with the idea of doing it, and you’re comfortable with the person you choose to do it with for the first time :) All the best!

  • Susann May 2nd, 2012 1:28 AM

    Great advice! It’s so inspiring and helpful, no matter if you’re in the same situation or not…

    http://fashioninpepperland.blogspot.com

  • bethleeroth May 2nd, 2012 1:29 AM

    I love her so much! And I can’t agree enough with her answer to the second question! I’m 28 and I can definitely say that having sex “just to have it” isn’t the best idea. Do what makes you truly, actually comfortable and happy – not what anyone else thinks!

  • ivoire May 2nd, 2012 2:15 AM

    Wow this Karen seems like an all rounder. Amazing.

  • keavy May 2nd, 2012 2:19 AM

    Dear J,

    I am about to be a senior in college and I know a lot of people older than I am who are still virgins, both girls AND boys. I lost my virginity at 17 and I don’t regret doing it because I was prepared to have sex with the person I had sex with. If you don’t feel ready, wait. Virginity is just a word, not a real state of being — you will be the same person after you have sex as you were before you did, and only YOU can decide what time is right and when you feel ready.

  • aberina1221 May 2nd, 2012 10:46 AM

    When I was 17, I too was the only virgin left of my permiscuous friends.. I hadn’t ever really done anything else and I never dated boys. Frankly I hadn’t meant any boys I thought were interesting enough for me. Unfortunatley I got so fed up with listening to my friends make fun of me for not knowing what a sexual posistion was or telling me that I would never have sex when I went to college because I was a virgin, so I did it. One night I got really drunk at a friends house and slept with one of my friends, to be honest I just wanted to get it over with. After that night I stopped drinking, I didn’t have sex again for at least another year and a half and even after that I still WAS NOT READY. It wasn’t until I was about 19 that I really understood sex or enjoyed it, it wasn’t until I knew who I WAS to be able to pick a partner who respected me and I respected them that it all worked out. I am now 24 and sometimes I still feel that pressure to have sex when I just don’t want to and a younger me would have maybe gave in but when you start to feel that pressure just remember ONLY YOU ARE IN CONTROL of yourself. You can say no at any time and you do not have to give a reason. I don’t regret sleeping with that friend at such a young age but it did directly affect who I am today and how I view sex, it did make me realize how important giving yourself to somebody really was and it did make me realize those friends that were making fun of me for being a virgin were just really jealous that they didn’t have that innocence still in them, that maybe they lost it to young too.

  • mayaautumn May 2nd, 2012 11:13 AM

    why is everything on rookie so good/helpful/convenient/vvvvvvv.brill?!

    that’s a compliment by the way:)

    http://cottonmixblog.blogspot.com

  • WitchesRave May 2nd, 2012 11:31 AM

    wow, i feel like all these questions couldve been sent in by me!

    And karen seems so lovely and strong, definately added to my women idols list!

  • Ellie May 2nd, 2012 11:39 AM

    All these questions and answers are SO GREAT! Completely right. Also, KARENNNNNNN ELSOOONNNNNNNNNN ASDFGHJKL OKAY OKAY

  • 9at May 2nd, 2012 12:15 PM

    Karen’s advice about channeling some of that love obsession into hobbies or sports is a good one.
    Being passionate about things you do helps you develop a strong core and grow as a person; it also makes you more attractive to that object of your desire.
    Young love is a game of economics. It’s about supply and demand: the more you give, the more they take…so just give to yourself first, and share the love!

  • Michelle May 2nd, 2012 2:24 PM

    Another voice to say I was 18 when I first had sex, and then when I arrived at college a few weeks later I realized I was in the minority! (At least in my dorm) I imagine it is the case that the people who actually have sex are the loudest, since they think they have something to prove. I don’t think any of my friends regretted waiting until they were juniors of seniors in college for some of them. So do what you wanna do, be safe, and don’t worry about being branded as a virgin!

  • Laia May 2nd, 2012 3:06 PM

    im gonna print out that first question and put it on my wall. SO REAL. ACK.

  • moonflower May 2nd, 2012 3:35 PM

    J! I have a similar problem. I cannot imagine having sex, and I’m truly terrified of the prospect! All my friends do it with no fuss, and don’t understand my fear but to me it just doesnt seem realistic…

    However I guess it would be WAY cooler for you to be an 18 year old virgin than someone who rushed through sex with a loser!

    http://ultravioletpixiedust.blogspot.com

  • Alexis May 2nd, 2012 4:58 PM

    Whatever happened to that piece on female comedians? I thought there were supposed to be multiple parts?…. Did I just miss them (or forget I read them)?

    • Anaheed May 2nd, 2012 4:59 PM

      We’re gonna do a part two; just got snagged for a minute there.

  • MissKnowItAll May 2nd, 2012 6:16 PM

    Holy Mother of god. Just when I thought rookie couldn’t get any better…

  • Kaetlebugg May 2nd, 2012 8:36 PM

    I love this! And it’s seems so fortuitous to me because just a few days ago I bought a secondhand copy of The Ghost Who Walks and I’ve been listening to it since! What a nice, intelligent, talented woman! love it!

  • See May 4th, 2012 8:50 AM

    J – Sex isn’t about ‘getting it over with’. When it is right you won’t be confused or scared. Like any other good decision, you will feel confident and happy/excited about what you are going to do. A confident, happy, and self assured woman is one that men will be interested in, so, don’t worry about ‘if’ you will have sex – you will- when the time is right! Others telling you you should be having sex?!? Other people should not be telling you what you must do with your body other than your parents and your God. Talking about this with a parent may be your best bet, they know you better than anyone, and they can walk you through this too. Talking about sex with a parent can feel intimidating, but at 17, this is a really great discussion to have, your parents probably think that you know what you need to and they would feel grateful if you brought it up. Oh and another thing, men love virgins – they won’t be compared with someone else plus when the time is right you won’t be bringing a full set of baggage into the relationship. Don’t create regret for yourself, it isn’t worth it.

  • kruisin May 9th, 2012 2:02 AM

    I wanna shout from the top of the world: ROOKIE MAG IS THE BEST MAG! (there are others that are great too), but Rookie offers insight and answers and questions and inspiration on things that aren’t covered anywhere else! It’s so amazing and seriously a blessing in this world that feels so against young girls! :( for society, in its current state. :) for Rookie for making a difference!