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Newsweek: Author Neesha Arter on Her Memoir, Survival and Self-Love


Q&A: Author Neesha Arter on Her Memoir, Survival and Self-Love

Neesha Arter’s new memoir, “Controlled,” deals with trauma at a young age and the pursuit of bodily perfection.COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR

No band in history has written a lyric that more aptly describes the anxiety for perfection quite like Radiohead, in its first hit, “Creep”: “I want to have control / I want a perfect body / I want a perfect soul.” More than 20 years after Thom Yorke penned this confessional line, the idea of perfection is still fraught: It’s often a goal, an obsession and, in some cases, a coping mechanism for many people.

In her harrowing new memoir, Controlled, 24-year-old author and journalist Neesha Arter (The New York Observer, The New York Times) writes—in poignant detail—how an obsession with achieving bodily perfection was a damaging way that she dealt with trauma at 14. Simmering in blame and confusion after she was raped by two former friends, Arter attempted to push away the horrific experience by focusing on losing weight and tried to disappear completely through anorexia. What ensued speaks volumes about our contemporary image-obsessed culture, one that also wallows in silence and shame.

“There is a common superstition that ‘self-respect’ is a kind of charm against snakes, something that keeps those who have it locked in some unblighted Eden, out of strange beds, ambivalent conversations, and trouble in general,” Joan Didion wrote in her celebrated essay “On Self-Respect.” She continues: “It does not at all. It has nothing to do with the face of things, but concerns instead a separate peace, a private reconciliation.”

This private reconciliation Didion wrote about in 1961 is still something that’s so difficult to grapple with. “On Self-Respect” is a favorite essay of Arter’s; fitting, as Controlled speaks so precisely to how difficult it can be to shed self-loathing and blame, and what happens when one can recognize the need for help and come out the other side stronger and more capable. Upon the release of her memoir Tuesday, Arter spoke with Newsweek about survival and speaking out.

First of all, thank you for writing this memoir. With the Bill Cosby accusations so visible in culture right now, it’s high time for your book to come out.

I know. I agree. I think it’s good timing. I love the New York mag piece. Did you watch the videos? The one where the woman said she was doing it for her daughter and started crying? These people are my heroes.

Your book is super-detailed, down to the specifics of clothes and conversations. Did you keep a diary back then?

The beauty of being young and writing a memoir…. I wrote a draft when I was 18, which was just four years later. And I’m still very close friends with the three friends [Jane, Emma and Brad] I put in the book. The character Brad is my best friend to this day. So when I was writing it, he was reading it along and helping me. But it was hard to forget. To this day I can still remember a lot. Specifically the year 14…. I don’t think I’m going to forget that.

Grappling with what happened is harrowing, of course, but was it also a fight to get this book published?

Here’s a bit of the process: I wrote it when I was 18. I was lucky, I had a phenomenal mentor who was the head of the creative writing department. I was a creative writing major. He always believed in me. I don’t know if this would have been possible without him. So I kept working on it—it was my senior thesis. It’s funny, when I first wrote this book I thought, If I can get this book published, I can get over it. I can move on with my life, because I never thought about it for four years. I was 14. When the legal case ended at 15, I thought, OK, this is done. Pushed it away, pushed it away. Then brought it back up, went to therapy. I was always trying to get a [literary] agent, but I was in L.A. and that’s not really the place for that.

So when I was about to graduate, I came [to New York], had a couple of interviews and was like, OK, I’m going to do it. I moved to New York, but didn’t know anyone here. At one point I worked with an editor who…wasn’t very nice. It’s hard because not everyone is going to believe in you. You have to believe in yourself more than anything. People think that these are so female, women’s issues. No. This is a human issue.

8/11_controlled_coverThe cover of Neesha Arter’s “Controlled.” COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR

He’s been accused for decades, and it took [comedian] Hannibal Buress telling a joke about him to make this visible. 

The shame has got to go, especially when [none of the women] did anything wrong. This is absurd. I was at this photo shoot for something, and this makeup artist was asking me if I was nervous for the book to come out. I said, “Well, yeah, it’s a little nerve-wracking.” And she says, “Do you think guys will think you’re difficult to date because you’re damaged?” I was, like, This is crazy. If you’re sexually assaulted, it’s not your fault. That was upsetting. But if I listened to half the things people said to me, I wouldn’t leave my house in the morning.

Read More at Newsweek.


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New York Times/ Women In The World: An Interview With Katie Ford

Freedom for all

“Eight years ago, I did not know that slavery existed today”

The former CEO of Ford Models wants to end modern day slavery



Despite abundant evidence that it still persists in modern times, many people relegate slavery to the past. But human trafficking could be found in your neighbor’s house, anywhere from downtown Manhattan to Brazil. The human trafficking trade is the second most profitable criminal enterprise after drug trafficking, affecting more than 2.45 million people daily with a total market value of $31.6 billion, according to the United Nations.

Globally, the majority of trafficking victims are women and girls — about 75 percent according to the same study. The victims’ fates range from forced labour to sex slavery. They are often brought to unfamiliar environments where they don’t know anyone or even the language, further isolating them.

Many stories make the news; ISIS has abducted thousands of women and girls, Boko Haram infamously kidnapped 276 Chibok schoolgirls, threatening to traffic them and hundreds of other girls and women they have abducted. But many stories do not make the news.

Katie Ford, a giant in the modeling world, has been working to end modern day slavery. The former CEO of Ford Models will host an annual benefit for her foundation Freedom For All on May 13 where three survivors of human trafficking from the Philippines will share their stories.


Read more 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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The Daily Beast- ‘The Hunting Ground’ Sheds New Light On Campus Rape Epidemic



‘The Hunting Ground’ Sheds New Light On Campus Rape Epidemic

A new documentary follows two activists around the country as they talk to fellow survivors about the trauma of rape and the triumph of survival.
Rape has always been a taboo topic in our society, but lately that seems to be changing thanks to activists like Annie Clark and Andrea Pino.Clark and Pino are leading the crusade for Title IX—a federal legislation most famous for sports equality, but which prohibits all discrimination (including sexual harassment and violence) on the basis of sex in any education program or activity that receives federal funding—and the Clery Act, which grants protections for sexual assault victims on college campuses. They recently made their film debut as activists in the new documentary “The Hunting Ground,” by Oscar-nominated filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering.Pino graduated valedictorian of her high school and was the first of her family to leave her home state of Florida to go to college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Clark, a North Carolina native and high school athlete, wanted to stay in state for college and chose Chapel Hill as well. Having both survived rape while college students, they eventually created End Rape On Campus, a survivor advocacy organization dedicated to ending sexual violence.

The film notes that 16 to 20 percent of undergraduate women are sexually assaulted in college, and 88 percent of women raped on campus do not report.

The documentary follows the two women as they drive cross-country to meet with other sexual assault survivors on college campuses who wish to file complaints against their schools. Clark, who became a campus administrator at the University of Oregon after graduation, reflects in the film, “I basically had to make a choice if I wanted to continue to support survivors or have my actual administrative job at a university. I figured I could do more good this way, so I resigned.”

The film notes that 16 to 20 percent of undergraduate women are sexually assaulted in college, and 88 percent of women raped on campus do not report. Pino details her violent assault as a second year student. She says, “It all happened really quickly. I was actually a virgin, so that adds a bit to it. He just started pulling me towards the bathroom. He grabbed my head by the side of my ear and slammed it against the bathroom tile and it didn’t stop.”

Pino’s traumatic memory has yet to subside. “When you’re scared and you don’t know what’s happening to you, you just stay there and hope that you don’t die. And that’s when I was hoping, that I had more than just 20 years to live.”

Clark mentions receiving many death and rape threats for going public with her assault. A resolute Clark says, “Here is the experience of several hundred survivors. Unless something happens, it’s not going to change.”

Filmmaker Kirby Dick discussed the obstacles of making this film with The Daily Beast. “This is a problem at all of the thousands of colleges and universities in the United States. We wanted to make a film that didn’t just focus on three or four campuses and people would walk away saying that those were the rape campuses. We wanted people to walk away knowing that this is a prolific problem within higher education.”

“I was actually a virgin…He grabbed my head by the side of my ear and slammed it against the bathroom tile and it didn’t stop.”

In order for the filmmakers to accomplish that, they were in contact with hundreds of survivors and did extensive research for many months. Producer Amy Ziering added, “The complexities and the nuances of this issue were also a challenge, and the fact that power in these institutions is not hierarchically ordered is another problem.”

Revisiting UNC, Chapel Hill reignited the feelings of terror and shame Andrea Pino experienced after her assault. She later found out that multiple other women were raped that same weekend. “The worst part for me has been to relive the experiences of everyone else,” Pino recounts.

Through tears, survivors from Florida State, Notre Dame, USC, Yale, and Harvard describe their horrific sexual assaults. Yet in the face of these stories, Pino and Clark are unafraid. “It’s the only way I get up in the morning. I would have given anything to have someone who believed me, someone who supported me,” Pino says.

In the film, an ABC news reporter in Berkeley, California says, “These students went from sexual assault victims to survivors and now activists.” Words could not ring more true for these two heroic women.

The film hits theaters this Friday, February 27th.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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Into The Gloss- Neesha Arter, Writer

Neesha Arter, Writer



“I grew up in Albuquerque and went to college in California, where I studied creative writing and ended up writing a book. While I was in LA for school, I started writing for Angeleno Magazine, which is how I began working in journalism, too. Eventually I moved out to New York to get a book deal, which just happened two weeks ago! It’s called Controlled and it’s a memoir about sexual assault. I really couldn’t be happier that it’s getting published. It’s a really exciting time for me. [Ed note: Controlled (Heliotrope Books) will be available fall 2015.]

When I’m not working on the book, I write for New York Magazineand the New York Observer. I’ve been fortunate enough to interview some of my favorite people in entertainment for stories I’ve worked on—people like David Lynch, Drew Barrymore, Orlando Bloom, Barbara Walters…My conversation with Barbara was definitely one of the most memorable. It was also kind of controversial on a personal level because it was Woody Allen’s opening night of Bullets Over Broadway—not too long after his open letter went out in the New York Times about his relationship with Dylan—and Barbara Walters publicly supports him. I feel very strongly about this kind of thing and I do a lot of activism when it comes to sexual assault awareness. My editor was like, ‘You’re covering this!’ and I just said ‘OK!’ I didn’t think she was going to do interviews, but I just kind of jumped in front of her and said, ‘I’m Neesha Arter from New York Magazine! Can I talk to you for a second?’ and we got to talk, so that was great. I’ve watched The View since I was little and even if we disagree, I still admire her so much.

I also guest write for Mariska Hargitay’s Joyful Heart Foundation about various issues dealing with sexual assault. And I did the social media for this documentary called Brave Miss Worldwhich was written and directed by Cecilia Peck, Gregory Peck’s daughter. It’s about Linor Abargil, an Israeli who won Miss World in 1998 and was raped six weeks before she won the crown, and then later in life speaks out about it and travels around the world to help other victims of sexual assault. It’s really gratifying to be involved with such creative people making a difference. Everyone knows someone that has been affected by these issues. Sexual assault happens every day. I wrote an article for Teen Vogue about this and I had people writing to me from Australia and everywhere else saying, ‘I was raped and I haven’t told anybody except for you…’ and it’s just like, wow, that is a heavy thing. Nobody talks about it, which only makes it more important that the media shines a light on the cause. And if I can help somebody and say, ‘You’re not alone,’ then that’s all I want to do.

For my job and my activism, I go to a lot of black tie events to interview subjects and support causes close to me. But because I’m usually there to work, I don’t worry about if my hair or eye makeup is really ‘working.’ It’s not about being a celebrity, it’s about blending in and finding the story. I’ll do a darker eye—just pencil and mascara though, never shadow—and blow dry my hair. And then I’ll use what I use every day. I found MAC Powder Blush in Breezy because the lady at the store was like, ‘Oh, this one is probably good,’ and I’ve used it ever since [laughs]. I like powder formulas over creams because I find them easier to apply. My favorite mascara is Maybelline The Colossal Volum’ Express. My suitemate used it in college, and she always had pretty eyelashes, so I used hers before eventually buying my own. And I love lip gloss. I have so many! Paul & Joe Lip Color in Pink Ballerina is a good one, Stila Lip Glaze in Grapefruit is always a winner, and MAC Tinted Lipglass in Pink Lemonade is just fun to put on. Anything pink! It gives me that extra boost of confidence when I’m doing red carpet interviews or a one-on-one with someone I admire in the industry, so it’s definitely a product I can’t live without.

When it comes to skincare, I stick to the classics. I’ve been using Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash in Pink Grapefruit for as long as I can remember. I follow that up with their Oil-Free Moisturizer for combination skin. I use it during the day and at night. My mom gave me Clinique All About Eyes Serum because I have a huge issue with insomnia. Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair is also good for calming my eyes when I can’t sleep.

I actually use my favorite lotion, Soap and Glory Butter Yourself Body Cream, in the shower. It’s really good for when the air is dry in the winter. Then I shampoo my hair with Alterna Caviar Clinical Daily Detoxifying Shampoo and their Daily Root & Scalp Stimulator. They’re super fancy products that my friend gave me and I love the way they make my hair smell. I haven’t used Alterna Caviar Working Hair Spray since, like, prom, but I always keep it around just in case I need a little bit of extra volume.

And after a painful trip of eyebrow threading and a few failed pedicures, I swear by eyebrow waxing and painting my own nails. I just couldn’t stop laughing during those foot massages. Am I the only one who’s ticklish? So overall, I’m pretty low maintenance. I don’t have a ton of products, but the ones I do use, I’m very loyal to. I’ve gotten the most guidance from my mom, partially because there aren’t a ton of Indian women in the media—though I think Freida Pinto and I would be great friends.”

—as told to ITG

Photographed by Tom Newton.

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Gotham Magazine- Why Sara Ziff Founded Model Alliance

Why Sara Ziff Founded Model Alliance


Sara Ziff, founder of the Model Alliance, and casting director James Scully discuss how to improve working conditions in a business that isn’t always as glamorous as it seems.

Sara Ziff
James Scully joined forces with Sarah Ziff of Model Alliance to create a better work environment for models.

After Sara Ziff, who began modeling at 14, codirected the film Picture Me, a 2010 documentary about the highs and lows of the modeling business, she was determined to bring awareness to the often less-than-ideal working conditions in the industry—a disregard for child-labor laws, a lack of financial transparency, the encouragement of eating disorders, and instances of sexual abuse.

Ziff founded the Model Alliance in 2012 and immediately drew in big-name supporters like Coco Rocha, Milla Jovovich, and Fordham Law’s Susan Scafidi. The group scored its first big victory last November when child-model legislation went into effect (the law states that child models who live or work in New York State are protected by the Department of Labor, with the same rights and securities afforded to other “child performers”). But Ziff notes there is still tremendous work to be done. Here, she and James Scully, a leading fashion-industry casting director, discuss their ongoing mission to improve working conditions for models of all ages.

What was the impetus for founding Model Alliance?
Along with other models, I wanted to have a voice about our work and address issues, especially concerning the protection of kids in the industry. We got together and thought we would be more powerful as a group.

How did it come into being?
When I was in college, I studied labor and community organizing, and I had it in my head that I wanted to unionize the industry. I realized it would be impossible because models are considered independent contractors, not employees. Under federal law, they can’t unionize. So after some frustration, I met Susan Scafidi, director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham Law School, who wanted to help. We met at a screening of my documentary about the industry. It was because of that film that I was really able to talk about the issues.

Sara Ziff
Elettra Rossellini Wiedemann and Sara Ziff at the White House to mark passage of the Affordable Care Act.

How did you get involved with the Model Alliance, James?
When I began in the industry over 20 years ago, most girls didn’t start modeling until they were 18 and had finished high school. It was so rare for them to be any younger. Back then, a model’s career never really hit [its stride] until she was in her late 20s or early 30s. Christy, Kate, and Naomi were the ones who pushed that boundary. Then the starting age started shifting downward, and it coincided with the Model Alliance trying to make it right. I was definitely on board

Why did the starting age for models get younger?
One of the first factors was the opening of Eastern Europe, where the ages of girls weren’t supervised. Also, there was client preference, which went from wanting a female aesthetic to desiring a very prepubescent body type. Editors would keep demanding these younger girls. By the time models started to go through puberty, the editors mistook that for weight gain. No one was winning at the end of the day.
SZ: When we looked at the law, we saw that child models were the only child performers not covered under the labor laws in New York State. When we spoke to lawmakers, they didn’t seem to be aware [of this loophole]. Even within the industry, they weren’t thinking of these kids as children.
JS: There were just so many children in the industry being taken advantage of.

One of Model Alliance’s initiatives was backstage privacy. Tell us how that came about.
Models were concerned about unauthorized photos being taken of them changing clothes backstage during New York Fashion Week. We needed to raise awareness and introduced a backstage privacy policy that encourages show producers to limit backstage access once “first looks” are called during a show.

Sara Ziff
Model Alliance members celebrate Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signing the child model bill into law.

Have things improved concerning the issue of overly thin models?
 While I was able to maintain a certain body type and eat whatever I wanted, I would hear criticism when doing shows that models were too skinny and anorexic. It wasn’t until years later that models came to me and said that they had gone to extremes to fit into sample sizes. A friend who was on the cover of Italian Vogue when she was about 14, was told by her agency to only eat one rice cake a day as her body started to fill out. This is a model I’ve worked with for years, and it wasn’t until years later that she told me she had been desperately ill.
JS: In Sara’s day, it was more unusual [for models to be anorexic], but then it started to become the norm. No one was doing anything about it. The people who could [do something] were saying they were, but they weren’t.

Part of the Model Alliance mission statement is to educate models about their rights. What do you emphasize?
When we formed our group, we established Model Alliance Support, our discreet grievance reporting and advice service for members. We encourage any model who has been the subject of unwanted sexual attention on the job, or who has experienced any other work related problem to contact us. We also talk to them about finances. Many girls getting into the industry are just excited to shoot with a well-known photographer or get on the runway. They need to treat modeling like a business because it doesn’t last forever, even if you’re one of the lucky ones.

Read more in Gotham.

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Neesha Arter featured on The Women’s Center

Teen Bravely Shares Her Story of Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is a traumatizing experience. For a fourteen-year-old, it can be life-shattering. In her poignant essay in Teen Vogue, Neesha Arter bravely shares her heartbreaking story of sexual assault. She was only fourteen, and her experience that fateful New Year’s Eve marked the loss of her childhood innocence.

stephen-wilson-photography-neesha-10In her own words, Neesha describes her denial and intense shame, two emotions that are far too common after a sexual assault. She also describes her recovery, including her recognition that the assault wasn’t her fault. The healing process is as unique as each individual survivor, and Neesha acknowledges that her recovery didn’t come quickly or painlessly. She was one of the lucky survivors: her parents didn’t blame her for the assault and when she was ready, she was able to access the therapy she needed to find healing and self-acceptance.

Support and acceptance – from family, friends, or professionals at a local rape crisis center – is critical to the healing process after a sexual assault. If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault who is ready to seek help, please call The Women’s Center today: (817) 927-2737. Sexual assault can be devastating. But Neesha Arter proves that survivors can move beyond the pain and the shame to find hope, healing, and freedom.

 Photo of Neesha Arter by Stephen Wilson Photography

Check out the piece HERE

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