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Andreja Pejić Cover Story for C☆ndy Magazine

ANDREJA PEJIC
Andreja Pejic photographed by Terry Richardson, styled by George Cortina, interviewed by Neesha Arter

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Unfiltered Andreja Pejić talks Single Life in NYC, Fascism & Instagram for  C☆ndy Magazine

By Neesha Arter

“The big message has always been “be yourself” — which is a nice message, but the world is more complicated than that,” Andreja Pejić tells me on a Wednesday evening in New York City. Sipping a glass of white wine, the supermodel refuses to sugarcoat her world to her hundreds of thousands of fans around the world, because life is not that simple, especially for any member of the LGBTQ community.

Pejić is just a quarter century old, but the supermodel can tick off more boxes than most people can put on their bucket list. Pejić became the first transgender model to be profiled in American Vogue, the first transgender model to land a major beauty campaign [with Make Up Forever], starred in a music video for David Bowie, and has walked every runway from Marc Jacobs to Jean Paul Gaultier. After being discovered on New Year’s Eve while working at a McDonald’s in Melbourne at 16, she eventually underwent sex reassignment surgery at 23. When it came to being public about the transition, she said, “I just felt like I had to. I felt like there was so much ignorance about it and I feel like there’s a bit of social responsibility on my part. There were all these kids watching what I was doing and got inspired by my story. And before I felt like I revealed only 50%, so I needed to reveal the other half. I needed to let them know about the full T.”

With infinite courage and absolutely no apologies, Pejić sat down with me to expand on that other half.

Neesha Arter: How about we start here with gender. When it comes to gender, you’ve said in the past “the new generation is more fluid,” can you talk about how you perceive gender in 2016?

Andjrea Pejic: I guess that to a certain extent I’ve always perceived gender as being bullshit. In the sense like, why is it even as important as people think it should be? Because ideas don’t have a gender, and I feel like ideas make the human being — the ideas you stand for make whom you are. But, having said that, obviously we’ve gone through a period where gender norms have changed and have broken down or are breaking down. I guess that’s due to the fact that men and women do similar things, we have similar jobs, or are in similar situations/roles. So there doesn’t need to be this huge divide between how a man should act and how a woman should act.

I think it’s like an organic process that you can’t really prevent, and it’s progressive, because at the end of the day: why shouldn’t we all be gender fluid? Or perhaps gender should be simplified and reduced to nothing more then comfort in your own skin.

NA: I completely agree with that, but I feel that so many people aren’t very progressive, but at the same time plenty of things are going backwards.

AP: Culture often moves in an organic way, but there are plenty of forces out there that do want to regress the progress. Some of them can’t, some of them can. We have fascism on the rise on both sides of the Atlantic. The world is disintegrating, there’s a lot of crap being resurrected and a lot of it is coming from politicians. We’re living in a period of economic crisis and there isn’t really a solution to this, or to the huge levels of inequality we face. And when there’s no solution to such things, you have an unstable society. When this happens, you have to find scapegoats, and I feel like immigrants are those. I feel like there’s a lot of poison being thrown at people, there’s a lot of people who are desperate, and some of them are taking in that poison and let it affect their view. It’s impressive that the protests are going on against the president elect, this never happened before. I think young people are starting to wake up and realize that being interested in politics, world politics especially, isn’t an option anymore – you kind of have to be, because the world is moving into a scary place.

NA: You’re right. I find it very interesting how you see gender and the LGBT community on a global scale as well. How was your upbringing, your view on gender and how has that transpired as you’ve grown up and came into the fashion industry?

AP: I guess I had a pretty global upbringing and exposure to the world. I was born in Tulza, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a country that was being torn apart by nationalist forces and imperialist forces, so you could say I was born into a chaos. I experienced being a refugee, then we moved to Australia and there I was an immigrant in the West and on top of that I had my gender issues, so it pushed me become really curious and to Google and learn things about the world. Not just gender, also imperialism and capitalism. It’s easy to just confine yourself to certain politics that affect what you suppose your identity is, for example “I’m a woman, so I only care about gender politics,” you know what I mean? – A lot of people sort of take this stand when they’re starting to get into politics, which is a pity, because you can learn about so many different struggles around the world and you can draw parallels between your struggles and someone else’s. There are a lot of parallels I can draw as a working class refugee and a working class transwoman. The rejection in our society is similar. So yeah, I’ve always tried to look deeper, to look below the surface of things and I feel like I’m starting to be a bit more vocal about my wider political view. In general, people don’t really want models to talk about politics. It’s changing a little bit now, but they rather want you to talk about exercise, or in my case, gender. They often ask me to talk about my personal trans experience, and I’m happy to talk about that, but I just don’t always want to talk about my personal struggles, because there’s just more to the world than that.

NA: Exactly, I think it’s incredible to utilize this voice, because you’re more than a voice of your trans experience or the LGBT community.

AP: Yeah, I have this huge platform where so many people are listening to me, so why confine myself to just one issue? The world is more complicated than that. At the end of the day there’s no unique salvation for trans people, the majority of trans men and women are working class, and their faith cannot be separated from other people in their class. What did we expect? That Hillary Clinton was going to create social programs just for trans people? Inequality is rising around the world; social services are being threatening for everybody. I feel like there needs to be a little bit more unity between these different political struggles and we need to realize that at the end of the day the biggest change and progress has been made with mass movement of people. The mass civil right movement, a mass movement against the Vietnam War – we don’t have mass movements anymore, we have individual based politics, and when you isolate a struggle like that, you’re weakening it too.

NA: When did you know you were transgender and did this affect your decision to become a model?

AP: I knew that I was trans from a young age, I discovered that online, so I started to obtain medication around the age of 13. I was scared if I were to finish a full male puberty, it would be much more difficult for me to transition. Back then, there wasn’t much help for young people, so I kind of took things a little bit into my own hands. I knew that I wanted to transition completely, there was no doubt in my mind, but I just felt like I needed to finish high school before I could to that. My original plan was – finish high school, transition, go to university. But then modeling came up and it was a special sort of opportunity that doesn’t come to an average kid like me, living in an industrial suburb. My mom supported me too, she said “you should take advantage of this, just try it out, take a year off before university”. I ended up doing that, which meant that I had to sort of extend my gender fluid phase for a little bit longer. I didn’t tell my agency that I was planning on fully transitioning, because I didn’t think they would fully understand it. I didn’t even tell my friends, only my mom knew I was taking medication. At the time no one really knew what trans even meant. Being gay was less of a taboo, so I guess a lot of people just perceived me as being gay, like a very feminine gay boy, and I just went along with that. Sometimes I would go to suburban parties with my girlfriends and I would just pretend that I was a girl, to avoid unwanted attention from these macho boys. It was fun; I had a very interesting experience.

NA: Kind of a skip forward, it’s almost 2017, you’ve done so many things in your life already and it’s the age of social media. I can’t imagine how many young boys and girls reach out to you. What is your advice to kids when it comes to gender identity? I know there’s a high suicide rage and kids can be disowned from their families and all these horrible things, I wonder what that experience has been like.

AP: It’s tough. There are a lot of celebrities and people that are getting more into LGBT issues, but the big message has always been “be yourself” — which is a nice message, but the world is more complicated than that. Some kids just can’t. It does depend on class too, if you come from privileged upbringing, your biggest challenge is that you have to come out. You have your parents and your environment that need to accept you, which is a challenge on itself of course, but once you do that, you’re more or less settled.

I know for me, and for a lot of working class kids that come from LGBT minorities, especially if you’re trans, it’s more difficult, because where do you find the money to transition? That’s a very expensive surgery. How are you going to get a job? There are a million things to think about. My advice would be to build a thick skin as much as possible. I educated myself about the world and everything that was going on, what people were going through all around the world and the different struggles they were facing. This helps to put things into perspective, but it’s not easy. Sometimes I feel like I’m expected to sell this fairytale of “you can do it! Anything you put you’re mind to, you can achieve!” but you know, that’s not what society is like, it isn’t that fair, we don’t live in that kind of world. I do think that we can one day, but that’s not the way capitalism works. It’s just that the odds are against you, so you’ll have to work a little harder at the end of the day. You have to know that and fight through it as best you can.

NA: I think that all of those are incredible points. It’s very simple to have someone rise to the top and then give advice and say “oh it was easy” — that’s not true at all.

AP: Exactly, we’re living in a time where there isn’t that much movement up and down. Back in the 60s and 70s most rock stars would come from working class backgrounds. Now, there are Hollywood kids, royalty going into fashion royalty. For me, this is more a lineal movement it’s not horizontal. Things are becoming more sealed, which makes it even harder. Sometimes you feel like you’re expected to “just inspire people”, and I’m like, but what about the reality? Am I not allowed to confront reality? I’ve worked really hard, but at the same time I was kind of at the right time in the right place. I was lucky enough to be born with some physical attributes that the industry found interesting at that time, where there was a cultural shift happening. I feel like if I would have started my career five years ago, it wouldn’t have been the same thing. And there were probably people five years ago that tried, but couldn’t. So I feel like we need to look at the whole context and the bigger picture.

NA: I believe that too, with anything, there’s a little bit of luck.

AP: In modeling it’s even more than with other things. I’ve seen talent involved with modeling as well, most people wouldn’t think that there is, but there is. There is a very creative element and there is a skill that you learn, that you get better at with time. There are models that suck and there are amazing models. However, still, a lot of it is based on your look. And nowadays there’s a shift where it’s more based on your followers and if your mommy and daddy are famous or rich.

NA: How has social media changed from when you were scouted, almost 10 years ago, to now?

AP: Dramatically. A lot of the traditional models feel huge frustration with the social media girls. I’ll tell you where that comes from. When I started out, it was very frowned upon to be a high end model and to be exposed at the same time. I would get a lot of media attention and I would get do a lot of interviews, which actually made me loose jobs. The industry thought it was too cheesy, you shouldn’t talk, you have to be mysterious. They first said that models can’t overexpose themselves, and then suddenly, these girls that are completely overexposed, girls that grew up in fame, are being brought in and become the new supermodels. So in a way fashion is quite oppressive to it’s own good talent. Saying “you can’t do that”, ended up being a complete double standard. For me, the exposure I was getting was very much frowned upon and then it all changed, about 3 years ago, and now it’s the shit. Nowadays clients call agencies and they want to know who the people are with the biggest amount of Instagram followers, they don’t even care what you look like.

NA: Totally switching gears, let’s talk about love. I know you’re recently single, I don’t know if you’ve gone on the record saying that.

AP: I don’t know if anyone has actually printed it, but it’s fine, I can go on the record, I mean there’s no shame in being single, everyone in New York is single.

I’m in NYC and I need to rock it and I need to discover myself. There are plenty of things that I want to do. I want to make new experiences. Dedicating so much to transition also takes up a lot of your life and energy, it consumes your relationships and it consumes everything. Finally I don’t have to worry about that anymore, now I just need to worry about getting married! Lol. I definitely want to use this time wisely or maybe not so wisely and go on road trips, hook up with cowboys and just experience different things and different types of guys. I want to build my confidence and self-esteem. Without being connected to my career, because I grew up in fashion and even though I’m not as famous as many other people, there’s definitely been a public aspect to my career. Sometimes I like to end up having flings with people who don’t even know about my career, who have no idea who I am.

I’ve been single for 3 months now. I guess love is hard for everyone, and in NY it’s a disaster. I feel like NY is where love goes to die, everyone here is obsessed with his or her careers and ‘making it’, and love and friendship take a second place. It’s sad, but it’s true. Being a successful model definitely makes things easier for love. Being a successful trans model is a different story. I feel like most men in NYC want to date a model, but trans models are still an uncharted territory. Maybe it’s my own insecurity sometimes, I think it’s also because I’ve gone on the record and publicly talked about it and there’s something a bit intimidating about that I think, to men. Because they have to not just accept you and your past privately, they also have to become full with everybody knowing publicly. Men are just weak sometimes.

NA: Regarding the fashion industry and pop culture, I feel like it’s become so extreme, the phrase “sex sells” has taken a life of its own these days. I was wondering, how do you view sexuality and the media?

AP: How I see sex? I don’t know, we need better porn for women. We need to have discussions. Men do not purely dominate it; it’s more a certain section of men that think they speak for all men. I think it needs to become a little more democratic. What was controversial in the 80s just isn’t anymore — when Lady Gaga tries to do the same thing as Madonna did back then, it’s just not as controversial, which is a positive thing. I think people are finally starting to talk about sex and sex is healthy. For a long time, people had to pick a category when it came to sexual orientation. Am I a lesbian, am I gay or am I straight? Usually there were just 3 options. There were people that said they were bisexual, but straight people would think these people were just gay and gay people would think they were gay too, so there wasn’t even recognition of that. Nowadays what you like in sex can change at anytime, the type of guy I find attractive has changed over the years as well.

NA: Last year you became part of Taylor Swift her squad, how was that?

AP: It was crazy, we had a mutual friend, we were just going to see her show in Chicago and she found out that I was coming. She had her team contact my best friend in LA that I was with, my publicist, my agency and my mother, just to ask me if I could walk for “Style.” So I was like, shit this is crazy, I was like “fuck this, I’m going to rock this, I’m going to bring on the hair and make up, I’m going to wear a long white dress that I can dance around in”. I just thought, how many times are you going to get a chance to walk for a huge pop star in front of 65.000 screaming people? You might as well go for it and have fun, and it was fun! 

NA: Tell me a little bit more about the documentary; I know you’re working on one.

AP: I’ve been filming for about 3 years now. I’m still trying to raise more money to finish it. I know some of the people that donated initially asked me on my Instagram when the documentary is coming out – I haven’t forgotten about it, I’m still working on it. It’s hard, documentaries are a difficult thing to make, because people don’t put money in it, it’s not profitable. We’re still at it, we’re still pushing and I have no doubt that it will happen. We’re still filming and I don’t think I’ve ever been exposed as much in my life as I have in the footage of this documentary.

NA: One of your big career moments has been becoming one of the first trans women to have a beauty campaign. You just got signed for your second year for Make Up For Ever.

AP: Yes, that contract has been renewed, yay! I’m happy about it. You’ve got to remember, this happened before Caitlyn Jenner. Lea T had a contract with Redken and then immediately after I got signed for a beauty contract as well. They’ve been extremely supportive, I’ve learned a lot about make up. It’s just nice to have recognition. I got recognition in the media, because I was doing something very interesting, but it was hard to make money. And I felt like, even now, there are more people outside of the industry that appreciate what I do. So I never felt extremely acknowledged by the industry. There were of course a lot of people that did support me, but the wide industry I mean. Therefore it’s nice to have a brand that big, to recognize what I do.

NA: You recently spoke at Oxford University about your political views and we touched on it a little bit earlier, but I was wondering what you have to say about the current political climate, the results of this election – to young people that just voted and to the LGBT community as a whole.

AP: You know, we’re entering a darker period. As I said, fascism is growing on both sides of the Atlantic and the official left wing isn’t really doing anything about it. It falls onto people to look at what’s happening in the world, to kind of separate yourself a little bit from believing that high up there politicians will save you, or add something progressive to the situation. We have to take stand. We have to educate ourselves on the history of revolutionary movements and it’s so important that we unite across the divides of gender and racism, and of borders too. We’re living in a very international world, yet we have this huge rise of nationalism that is sort of trying to erect walls and barriers between countries. I think we have to resist that. I feel like we need a god damn revolution.

NA: Where do you see the LGBT community in 10 – 20 years? And in some hypothetical world, if you were to leave the fashion industry, what would you want to do?

AP: Well, I don’t know, it’s hard for me to answer that question because in 10 – 20 years time, will we have a WWIII? We could, we could have a civil war and we could even have many civil wars in many different countries. We could have a WWIII and a civil war at the same time… You know, I want to be out there and I want to be fighting for a better world, because there is a way. I do believe in humanity. I believe that human beings can overcome their prejudices. We don’t live in a world free of discrimination, but if you look, the general public has advanced a lot when it comes to racial acceptance, if you compare Americans in the 1950s to today. I do think the general public can overcome their prejudices, but we need more than just that. We need a truly equal society, because that will lay a strong foundation for a world without prejudice. Otherwise, we will just be dragged back. We’ll make progress, but it’ll be 2 steps forward, 3 steps back.

NA: But you do believe in humanity and you believe it’s possible.

AP: Yeah I do, and I’m not a pessimist in the sense that there are people that dismiss humanity, that humanity is just naturally fluid, that there’s no hope and that it’ll destroy the planet or destroy itself. I do think we have the opportunity to be a multi planetary species and we’ve come so far when it comes to scientific achievements. There are so many reasons to believe in humanity. There are much more examples of love and charity and acceptance around the world than there are of horror. But you know, I think it’s going to take people waking up to start mass revolutionary movements around the world. Also for people in the creative industry, it’s time to look outside of yourself a little bit, outside of your personal struggles and look at the world and what’s happening and put that into your work, because truly progressive art and creativity can have a huge positive influence on the thinking of people, it can bring people together and can expose them to truths on a universal level.

Neesha Arter is a journalist, and author based in New York City. Her memoir, CONTROLLED, was published in August 2015 and she is currently a News Assistant at the New York Times.

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Interview with Neesha Arter: US Department of Health and Human Services, Women’s Health

An Interview About Sexual Assault: Neesha Arter

It’s your body. You have the right to decide what you do and don’t do sexually. When someone takes that power away from you, it is a crime. And no matter the circumstances, it is not your fault.

It took Neesha Arter years to finally accept that what happened to her on New Year’s Eve when she was 14 was not her fault. That night, she was sexually assaulted by two boys she knew and trusted. Now, at 23, she’s speaking out about her experience. She talks about helping other young women realize they’re not alone and that what happened to them isn’t their fault.

Photo of Neesha Arter
Neesha Arter

Neesha Arter is a journalist and author in New York City. Her memoir, Controlled, which recounts her sexual assault at 14, will be published in August 2015. Her work has appeared in The Daily Beast, the New York Observer, and New York Magazine.


Q: Will you tell us a little bit about what happened the night you were sexually assaulted?

A: When I was 14, I was at a New Year’s Eve party and was sexually assaulted by two of my cousin’s friends. I was visiting family in Houston, Texas.

Q: What were some of the emotional effects you experienced?

A: The post-traumatic stress was something that definitely affected me, but I never realized what was going on because I was so young. I spent all of my days going through the motions. I didn’t want to think about what happened, but because my parents pressed charges against the two boys, I was dealing with a legal case. I wanted nothing to do with it. I felt very ashamed of what happened, and I wanted to pretend like everything was fine. Dealing with the case was the most difficult part, because it wouldn’t let me pretend nothing had happened. It was a daily reminder, and my need to regain some control in my life led to my eating disorder.

Q: How did you deal with these feelings??

A: I ended up coping with the trauma by not eating and trying to pretend like nothing happened. Anorexia consumed me. It was the only thing I thought about besides the legal case. I put a great deal of energy into trying not to deal with these feelings. I didn’t deal with them until I wrote my book, Controlled, four years later.

Q: How did being a survivor of sexual assault affect the rest of your high school experience?

A: My friends stuck with me. They were unbelievably supportive. I was able to get through it because my parents and friends believed me after other people didn’t. They’re all heroic to me.

Q: How did you eventually cope with this traumatic event in your past?

A: Writing Controlled during my first year of college helped me reach closure on this part of my life. When I read my story during my book edits, I didn’t even really see my character in the book as me anymore. I think I have made peace with my past because of my book. However, therapy was just as crucial in my healing as the writing. I think the ability to work through the past in any way is very important.

Q: Will you tell us how you found the courage to speak up about your attack?

A: At the time, I had someone in my life who was very inspiring to me. That person made me believe I could do anything at any age, so I wrote the first draft of my book over winter break. I was 18.

No matter how scary it was to write and relive my experience, I knew it was ultimately worth it. I knew I was helping myself.

Q: What do you want other sexual assault survivors to know?

A: You’re not alone, and it’s not your fault. I would also suggest going to therapy when you are ready. I solved problems in therapy that I had held onto for years. The most important thing I learned was how critical it is to forgive. For me, it was especially important to stop blaming myself.

Q: What’s your advice for other women who may feel too scared or ashamed to get help?

A: Tell someone you trust. I think everyone responds to trauma differently, and each case is very different. Not everyone who files charges wins their case. I didn’t, and that was very difficult. You are the most important person in your life, so try to figure out what you need to do to take care of yourself, especially when you’re in such a fragile state.

Q: What advice do you have for women who have a friend who has been assaulted?

A: Compassion is the most important human emotion. If a friend has been sexually assaulted, try to be there for them. Learn more about coping and available resources so you can give them knowledgeable support. Hearing from a friend that this was not my fault helped me in ways I couldn’t see until much more time passed.

Q: What can people do to help put an end to sexual assault?

A: There is great power in discussing something that is so hard to talk about. Helping women learn to protect themselves is important, but what we need to do a lot more of is telling men not to rape. This is not a women’s issue. It is a human issue. I want people to know that.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

A: I’ve always thought that if I could have read about a story like mine when I was assaulted, I wouldn’t have felt so alone. That’s why I’m speaking out. I don’t want other victims of sexual assault to feel alone.

Read more at Office on Women’s Health – U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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Filed under CONTROLLED, Interviews, Memoirs, Neesha Arter

Inside the NO MORE PSA Campaign: An Interview with Maile Zambuto and Rachel Howald

MARCH 16, 2014 | BY NEESHA ARTER | FILED UNDER JHF BLOG >

– By Neesha Arter

The creative team: Joyful Heart CEO Maile Zambuto, Creative Director Rachel Howald and Director Mariska Hargitay pose for campaign photographer Timothy White.The creative team: Joyful Heart CEO Maile Zambuto, Creative Director Rachel Howald and Director Mariska Hargitay pose for campaign photographer Timothy White.

A year ago, NO MORE launched a national campaign to end domestic violence and sexual assault. This courageous movement has garnered attention across the country, from small communities to the Obama Administration. In September of 2013, the Joyful Heart Foundation, as part of the NO MORE movement, launched a captivating PSA campaign to raise national awareness around these pressing issues. Taking on the deeply engrained stigma, shame and victim-blaming culture around these issues, the fearless team behind the PSAs is committed to engaging bystanders and starting the big conversation. I had the chance to sit down with Joyful Heart Foundation’s CEO, Maile Zambuto, and the Creative Director of the NO MORE PSAs, Rachel Howald, to get the behind the scenes look at the campaign.

The Joyful Heart Foundation, as one of the many championing organizations behind the NO MORE movement, took on a leading role in the creation of the PSA campaign. How did you come up with the PSA concept?

Maile Zambuto: For years, it had been a dream of Mariska’s to do a very large-scale PSA campaign at Joyful Heart, so when NO MORE was created and started to gain traction, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for her to get behind it. We knew we wanted to make the message universal and utilize both men and women in the campaign. We also wanted it to be celebrity-driven because we have extraordinary advocates like Mariska. We haven’t seen something like this before, so we knew that it would be even more effective if there were tons of influential people standing with her on this message, and we really wanted to push the envelope.

NO MORE is about changing people’s attitudes and the stigma that comes with them. It recognizes the progress that has been made over the past 40+ years, but has also established where we still need to go, which is moving this conversation from the margins into the mainstream and turning up the volume.

Rachel Howald: The PSA concept came out of this vast network of high-profile supporters from across a spectrum of industries who have always offered their support to this issue space. The PSAs were the perfect chance to tap into that network. The creative work itself came from the simplicity and truth of the entire NO MORE proposition. In meeting with Joyful Heart and NO MORE members, the words and phrases of what they were saying “no more” to really resonated. The work was created to be as honest, simple and universally true as possible. It’s taking what we all say without thinking and playing it back through famous faces and voices to point out—in a non-blaming way—that maybe we should be rethinking the fact that we ignore these issues.

Why do you think people make so many excuses?

MZ: I think these are deeply ingrained, strongly held beliefs that a lot of people have. This is really about people being open to examining their own attitudes and beliefs. It’s not about fault or pointing the finger. I think it’s about what we’re subjected to in the world—in conversations, in socialization, in institutions, in school and in the media. We wanted to challenge people to examine their own attitudes and hold each other accountable.

RH: It’s much easier to deny a problem than try to fix it. And those excuses have been passed down for generations, so they are now ingrained in all of us.

How is this campaign going to change people’s attitudes about sexual assault & domestic violence?

MZ: The goal of this campaign is to start a conversation. These issues survive because of silence. So much of our focus has been, “we could make more progress if victims were courageous and came forward.” As someone who has done that many times, to be received by people in your life and communities that have these deeply entrenched attitudes makes it really, really hard.

We want to put the focus on society-at-large to take responsibility for their beliefs and attitudes. I think change comes with increasing conversation about zero tolerance for this. And at the end of the day, our goal is the visibility of the NO MORE symbol. Our belief is the movement of standing together, in the way that we’ve seen with breast cancer and HIV/AIDS, is what we hope NO MORE will be to these issues.

RH: This campaign will get people to acknowledge that sexual assault and domestic violence exist. We can’t end these problems until we say they are, in fact, real. And this campaign will shed a light on these issues and help draw people’s attention to them.

What made you choose the celebrities that were featured in the PSAs?

MZ: We wanted a really diverse mix of men and women because we wanted the PSAs to be gender-neutral. And honestly, this was a group who were willing to stand with us—show up on a Saturday afternoon, not get paid and were committed to put the weight of their image and celebrity behind us. They’ve all gotten behind this message in a big way, and many of them have in other ways, stood up for these issues and others were very new to this. It was quite a mix but we were specific about choosing people who we admire and respect.

It is a common misconception that sexual assault is exclusively a women’s issue, how can this campaign help men heal as well?

MZ: Much of the campaign, up until this point, has been focused on men as allies to ending violence against women and children. However, we also recognize that men are victims too. We actually have a long history of addressing that with one of our partners called 1in6. Also, we have in development a new series of print PSAs geared toward male survivors and all the specific attitudes and beliefs that people hold about male victimization. We’re in production now and you will see it very, very soon.

The objective of the campaign is to get the conversation going, but what steps should people take after the conversation has begun?

MZ: I think the biggest call to action for us is NOMORE.org. It’s an exceptional resource and online place where people can come together. It’s a great way to stand with NO MORE and “say it, share it and show it.” Everything we ask you to do is on there, and it’s very simple. What I would also say is people are often so surprised when they are brave enough to have these conversations in whatever circle they’re in. So be that listening ear and bear witness to someone and their experience. We often hear from survivors that the response of those around them is even more important for their healing, their well-being and their triumph over this than what happened to them. Without judgment and without having to be the expert, the act of listening to what someone has suffered through is such a powerful thing to do and can literally save or change someone’s life.

President Obama recently launched a new initiative on sexual assault on college campuses. How do you think this will change society’s perception of the issue?

MZ: I think it’s a huge step. We have been blessed to have Vice President Biden and the Obama Administration as incredible advocates for these issues. We’re very grateful for them absolutely standing with us, with NO MORE. And these conversations are being held at a grassroots level in communities all across the country. Whether it’s one person watching the PSAs on the computer monitor or a community discussion, this is being taken seriously. This demonstrates the level of priority and the need for change at the highest level.

As someone who deals with these heavy topics on a daily basis, what motivates you to remain positive? What do you do when it begins to weigh on you?

MZ: I’ve been doing this work for over twenty years because of my personal connection. I was sexually abused for most of my childhood and raped when I was in college. The commitment to my healing and well-being was what kept me in the thick of this work. To be honest with you, what mostly keeps me doing this work is that I have kids. I have a son and a daughter and I’m inspired to make things different for them.

I’m very hopeful and there are so many people that are doing this work and are in the trenches. We’ve also seen such a change in the past year with NO MORE from the President to the Vice President wearing the pin to the NBA getting behind this. I go to the NO MORE website every night and see what beautiful things people share and it all gives me hope. Mariska gives me a lot of hope too. She is probably the most optimistic, fearless, passionate advocate I’ve met and she is full of inspiration. It’s hard not to feel hopeful when you’re around someone who shines so brightly.

Besides PSAs do you have any other projects in the works? What can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?

MZ: This PSA is a three-year commitment. We have shot and have ready to go two other campaigns that will be released over the next two and a half years, and of course, we’re working on the print campaign geared towards the excuses male survivors hear. We will have a series of events this coming week, which marks the one-year anniversary around the launch of NO MORE, so we’re planning another event in D.C.

We invite you to get involved to say NO MORE to domestic violence and sexual assault.

SAY IT.

Learn about these issues and talk openly about them. Break the silence. Speak out. Seek help when you see this problem or harassment of any kind in your family, your community, your workplace or school. Upload your photo to the NO MORE gallery and tell us why you say NO MORE.

SHARE IT.

Help raise awareness about domestic violence and sexual assault by sharing NO MORE. Share the PSAs. Download the Tools to Say NO MORE and share NO MORE with everyone you know. Facebook it. Tweet it. Instagram it. Pin it.

SHOW IT.

Show NO MORE by wearing your NO MORE gear everyday, supporting partner groups working to end domestic violence and sexual assault and volunteering in your community.

– See more at the Joyful Heart Foundation

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