You Asked It

Karen Elson Is Your Friend

In which our resident wise person addresses your questions about meddling moms, crooked teeth, oral sex, and whether a model can REALLY be a feminist.

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Karen Elson is a musician, model, mother, and loads of other things that start with M, like Mancunian, muse, magical dreamgirl…and, as she proves in this regular column on Rookie, master of helping all of us deal a bit better with the world.

I have a problem that follows me around, tries to tap into every detail of my life, and tells me that everything about me is wrong. Perhaps you’ve guessed that I’m talking about my mother. (Cue laughter.) (Please don’t laugh.) (Thank you for not laughing.) My mother is a huge problem for me. She does not let me out of her sight when I’m at home, she tries to listen to every conversation I have with my friends, and she berates me for my weight and my acne. I understand that she loves me and that she’s trying to make me the best person I can be, but what is a reasonable amount of intrusion into my life, and how can I tell her I need her to lay off? —Yasmin, 16, Qatar

It is very empathetic and mature of you to apprehend that your mom’s hypervigilance is born of love. She probably thinks she knows what’s best for you, based on her own life experiences, but it’s coming across as controlling. I suggest that you be completely honest with her. Explain calmly that while you understand her concerns, her constant monitoring and criticism are harming rather than helping you. For starters, tell her that her comments about your weight and your skin really hurt your feelings. And that they’re not producing the effects she wants, anyway, so she’s not losing anything by stopping. It might take her a while to break this habit, so practice saying “I’m not talking about this” any time she brings up your looks, then promptly changing the subject to something pleasant/neutral, like, I don’t know, floral arrangements.

Your mother may be worried that if she gives you too much freedom, you’ll make “bad” choices. Let her know that you can be trusted! And provide specific evidence: good grades, doing your chores around the house without complaining, taking care of the family pet, keeping your room clean—any of these kinds of things will help your case. Make the conversation a two-way negotiation: perhaps together you can hammer out some basic rules—e.g., a curfew, having to get your homework done before you can talk on the phone, helping with dinner, etc.—that you promise to abide by; and in return you can ask her to give you some freedom and to watch her words around you.

Mother-daughter relationships are historically challenging, especially when the daughter’s a teenager, on the cusp of adulthood and independence. When I left home at the age of 16 it was very hard for my mother to handle; she was convinced I was up to no good (and honestly sometimes I was!). Thankfully those days are gone, but now that I’m a mother myself, I have more sympathy for the position I put her in. There’s a fine line between guiding your child toward good decisions and trying to control her life; and it’s hard to strike the right balance between protecting your kid and letting her become herself on her own. At the same time, it’s essential that you communicate with your mom about these issues, or you’ll just end up resenting her. If your mother is reasonable, hopefully she’ll understand.

I feel like boys won’t like me because I have crooked teeth. A lot of boys in my grade call me names like “Beaver” because there’s a gap between my two front teeth, or they comment on how crooked the rest of them are. I know that these jerks are just really insecure about themselves, but I keep thinking about finding the “right person” in the future and how I won’t ever find my dream guy because he’ll think I’m ugly! GAH! Help me!! —Crooked Teeth

I’m gonna confess something here. I sucked my thumb till I was 14 years old, and I have a HUGE overbite because of it. In high school I had a gap between my front teeth, which stuck out of my mouth. I was called Goofy Guts, Bucktooth Monkey Bitch (charming), etc., so honey, I hear you! I never got my teeth fixed, and now I’m happy I didn’t. My overbite is part of who I am. My gap eventually closed on its own, which I’m bummed about, because I LOVE gaps in teeth! Some of the world’s most beautiful humans have gappy teeth, and quite frankly they can be very alluring. For example:

Clockwise from top left: Vanessa Paradis, Alek Wek, Lindsey Wixson, Lara Stone.

Clockwise from top left: Vanessa Paradis, Alek Wek, Lindsey Wixson, Lara Stone.

See, crooked teeth are beautiful! But it’s easy for me to say that now that I’m no longer in high school; it’s a lot harder to ignore cruel jibes from your classmates. I know how hurtful it is to hear that kind of thing every day. I wish I had something more helpful to say than “it gets better,” but I don’t. It really does, though. High school is a time when almost everyone around you is insecure and hormonal and confused, and looking for ways to relieve all that anxiety—and so some people will find anything they can bully you about, for that momentary feeling of power. If it’s not your teeth it’s your hair, or your braces, or your accent, or your height, or your name.

But don’t let the bullies win. What they think of your teeth isn’t important. How do you feel about them? Take some time to think about that. If they’re really bothering you long term, make an appointment with an orthodontist to talk about some options. In the meantime, remember that as a teenager, you’re still growing—your face, body, and, yes, teeth will all look different in a few years. It’s an awkward time to go through, I remember well—but the good news is that gapped teeth are AWESOME! (And yes, you will meet someone—lots of someones, actually—who see the beauty in them, and in you. Trust me on this.)

I have identified as a feminist for most of my life, particularly in the past few months, and my feminism is very important to me. A few months ago I began modeling, and as much as I enjoy it, I know that the fashion industry doesn’t always gel with feminism. I feel like a bit of a fraud being both a feminist and a model, but I don’t want to quit either one. How can I still work in the fashion industry whilst maintaining my personal integrity? —P., Sydney

I started modeling when I was 16. In my 20s I started reading a lot about feminism, and that made me uncomfortable with so many aspects of the fashion business, especially the unattainable beauty standards it creates and upholds, and the hypersexualized, totally unrealistic version of women it presents to the world. As a model, wasn’t I contributing to this evil force that was hurting women (including me)? I had a hard time with this question for a long time.

Then I kind of looked around me, toward the examples of models like Kate Moss, Gisele Bundchen, Naomi Campbell, and Milla Jovovich—these women weren’t meek and passive; they were strong, savvy businesswomen who had transcended all the myths about being a model. They were (and are) powerful, and each one probably had (and has) legions of men working for her. They are changing the industry from the inside, which in many ways can be more effective than campaigning for change as an outsider.

Listen, the fashion business is far from perfect—that goes for any industry, of course, but fashion is unusual in that its values leak over into the larger culture, and can make girls and women feel bad about themselves. But it’s a double-edged sword: I’ve met many unconventionally beautiful women who were ridiculed for their looks as teenagers, and went on to find success in the modeling industry. Modeling actually helped them feel beautiful, and was a step toward their own empowerment and self-discovery. Cases in point: all of the women mentioned in the previous answer, and yours truly.

I’m also among the models I know who are proud feminists, so I can tell you that it really is possible to be both. If you assume that models can’t be political, that we can’t have strong opinions and beliefs, you’re just falling prey to the popularly held misogynist view that beautiful women are stupid. You are proof that that isn’t true. If you enjoy modeling and you know who you are and what you believe, there’s no reason not to do it. Go enjoy it! As a feminist, you can help change the industry by challenging beauty ideals, speaking out about the treatment of models, and being a role model for other women. It would be a shame if there were no feminists in fashion. The truth is we need more women like you.

I made out with a guy at a party and he went down on me later that night (consensually). When I told a couple of my friends they said it was bitchy of me not to give him a hand job. That sounded kinda stupid to me, but now I’m confused about what I am expected to “return” when I’m in that situation. I don’t want to do too much and be called a “slut,” but I don’t want to not do enough and be called a “bitch,” either. What the hell am I supposed to do?! —Bec

First of all, you are never obligated to return a sexual favor. That is ridiculous. You received pleasure and it felt good, I assume. End of story! Don’t listen to anyone who says there’s a set “protocol” for your own private sexytimes. What’s important is that you and your partner(s) communicate about what feels good to you and to him/her, and above all that it’s 100% consensual (and if you’re bullied into doing something by your friends, it’s not). Do only what you’re comfortable with and that makes you feel good. Love and respect yourself! You’re not a “bitch” or a “slut” (unless you find power in redefining those words as positive ones). The only person whose approval you need is yours, my darling! ♦

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

  • missblack March 26th, 2013 11:36 PM

    this is totally one of my favorite features on Rookie. Karen Elson is a goddess!!!!!!!!!!!!!! end of story.

    Little&Trivial

  • darksideoftherainbow March 26th, 2013 11:38 PM

    i loved all the questions and their answers but the last one was my very favorite. i’ve struggled a lot with what i “owe” someone and it’s taken me a long time but i’ve finally realized that i don’t owe anyone anything. i don’t have to pay anyone back for anything with any part of me or my body. thank you so much for this!

  • bugaleeto March 26th, 2013 11:47 PM

    I’m supposed to get braces soon and I sort of want to keep my gap and overbite because I like having lips and teeth like Lindsey wixson!

    • Ben March 30th, 2013 12:16 AM

      lindsey is my most favorite model ever! i’m kinda obsessed with her lips/teeth!

  • ivoire March 27th, 2013 6:14 AM

    i have crooked teeth which im so insecure about and it’s not like just a gap it’s all over the place ugh

  • kitafee March 27th, 2013 6:21 AM

    ahh Karen Elson. These answers were all amazing!

  • Mary the freak March 27th, 2013 7:12 AM

    yes karen elson is my hero. <33

    http://birdiewearsatie.blogspot.com/

  • Elspbeth March 27th, 2013 7:22 AM

    I recently signed with a modelling agency and I have to admit I have had the same doubts. I’m also a Gender Studies student and identify as a feminist. It is really tricky to decide whether earning money based on your physical appearance is undermining your beliefs in women’s rights and equality BUT how many successful models have you seen that are timid and self conscious? It doesn’t happen! These girls need to be powerful, independent women. And you know what? WERK IT GURL! If societies going to judge you based on what your face looks like, milk ‘em for all they’re worth.

  • Lily March 27th, 2013 7:36 AM

    Thank you thank you thank you for such a good answer to the sex question! A lot of girls at my school (including myself) get a lot of crap for “not returning the favor” so your answer is perfect and exactly what I needed. (:

  • Laia March 27th, 2013 8:56 AM

    also to the last girl: friends that shame you for things you did/didnt do sexually arent very good friends!

  • LouderBlues March 27th, 2013 9:39 AM

    You forgot BB!

  • spudzine March 27th, 2013 10:43 AM

    I am SO HAPPY the crooked teeth thing was answered. I have crooked teeth, an overbite, AND a gap. My family cannot actually afford braces, which sucks, because I really do need them. Not ONLY to feel better about myself, but to literally feel better, since I have throbbing pain in my gums which can only be fixed with braces. But I don’t really feel THAT bad about my teeth. I just care that they’re clean, heh!

    http://spudzine.tumblr.com/
    http://emotwins.tumblr.com/

  • imogan March 27th, 2013 12:33 PM

    karen elson is wonderful!

  • soretudaaa March 27th, 2013 12:51 PM

    As someone in direct contact with several orthodontists (and who has gone through orthodontic treatment herself) I resent the answer about crooked teeth: it makes orthodontics sound like something vapid and dumb and unnecessary when it’s a vital part of oral health, thus health in general. Sure, crooked teeth can look “pretty” if you think so, but it doesn’t change the fact that an overbite translates to a poor bite, period. Occlusion IS IMPORTANT, PEOPLE.

    • poetess March 27th, 2013 1:51 PM

      I think the answer was from an aesthetic perspective because that’s where the question was coming from. While she certainly COULD need orthodontic work done for medical reasons, she was asking about advice on rocking her smile appearance-wise.

    • Pashupati March 28th, 2013 3:06 AM

      Most orthodontists never talk about the health risks. None of those I ever met in my life did, they just talked about how ugly it looked and don’t I want to be pretty. So I don’t think this article is what cause braces to seem vapid and superficial and unnecessary, rather these being made seen as such caused the question and article (which wouldn’t reinforce the myth if people were informed by their doctors in the first place.)
      Plus when they finally want to inform you (hint: you have to ask them yourself if there is also an health risk, they wouldn’t have told you themselves and since it had always been presented as aesthetic, you wouldn’t have thought of the question before thinking of wearing these for aesthetic reasons since you don’t feel like crooked teeth cause you problems otherwise), prepare to learn that braces can cause you problems if you wear these too late in life, which means /they/ should stress the health risks early in life instead of telling children that they’re butt ugly in more polite ways. It’s simple, really, most of the time they themselves talk about aesthetics and the parents are no better informed that the children and isn’t that the job of the doctor to inform both parents and children? The parents can’t know stuffs from nowhere either.

      • soretudaaa March 28th, 2013 2:11 PM

        I don’t think you know many orthodontists…

        (on a side note, the way orthodontic treatements are handled in the answer is especially funny considering one of the other answers glorifies getting paid tons of money for being conventionally beautiful…. … … .. … …… )

  • Dylan March 27th, 2013 2:48 PM

    I want gap tooth teefs!!!! I LOVE THEM!

  • rivahgirl March 27th, 2013 5:19 PM

    the first thing that came to mind when I saw P., Sydney was finding nemo :)

  • ___ellarose March 27th, 2013 9:19 PM

    I love gap teeth! I think there so beautiful and interesting. There is a Japanese theory about how something can’t truly be beautiful unless it has something “ugly” in it as well. You can’t appreciate beauty with out contrast!

  • Maddy March 27th, 2013 9:37 PM

    The Q&As are always great! It’s also “borne of love” instead of “born” though haha it’s a bit of wordplay if you meant it that way!

    • Anaheed March 27th, 2013 10:17 PM

      Actually, it is supposed to be “born”! http://grammarist.com/spelling/borne-born/

      • Maddy March 28th, 2013 7:57 PM

        No, it’s actually not! Because the hypervigilance is produced by the mother’s love.

        • Anaheed April 27th, 2013 9:57 AM

          See, now I read it as the mom’s love gives birth to the hypervigilance, as in this example from that Grammarist page:

          “It might equally be surmised that his 50-year silence was a ‘holy silence,’ born of the desire to live quietly and out of public view.”

  • pez-darling March 28th, 2013 5:39 AM

    Eeeep! My question got answered! Thanks so much Rookie! I’m cock-a-hoop delirious with joy!

  • julalondon March 28th, 2013 12:02 PM

    The last one was great. Someone needed to tell me that. Thank you!

  • plushy1222 March 28th, 2013 4:24 PM

    Man I Love this!! It’s the first time that i’ve read through questions and answers and I didn’t get completley bored over it! The answeret to these questions were completley original and actually help me, too. CONTINUE THIS PLEASE!!!

  • Resh March 28th, 2013 8:52 PM

    As for the crooked teeth, remember Cher Lloyd used to have one too and literally EVERYBODY thinks she looked better with it than now.

  • maryc March 29th, 2013 4:53 PM

    I think Karen did a really wonderful job on this! However, as a person who has very crooked, overlapping teeth it is upsetting when people sort of make it seem like there is an easy fix. Getting braces costs several thousand dollars. It is easy to go to the orthodontist, but it is not easy to pay for it.

  • ArmyOfRabbits April 1st, 2013 4:58 PM

    I have vampire-like canines and my teeth are slightly crooked, they don’t bother me, but they seem to bother some of my relatives who are really big with perfectly-straight-teeth. I don’t know why they need to worry since it is my teeth and not theirs, lol– especially since it is really not much of a health problem for me. Fact is, I am not rich which means I can’t get my teeth fixed, but I think it is unnecessary anyway. Plus, my boyfriend finds my teeth structure attractive.