Writer: Lauren Fleishman
Launched into Supermodel stardom some 20 years ago, Stacey McKenzie is here and using her story to give back and inspire.
Je Ne Sais Quoi:
Stacey McKenzie is a person you’ll find hard to forget. Perhaps it’s her unique look? Tall, freckles, beautiful complexion and a voice that rivals Justin Bieber in his pubescent prime. Slaying as an International Supermodel for the better part of 20 years, Stacey is stunningly beautiful, but not in a boring, typical way. She’s got that “je ne sais quoi”.
Like any good albatross, the very qualities that make her spectacular are also the same that caused incredible pain. “I got a LOT of negative attention when I was young, it was brutal”, divulges Stacey. When first starting out as a model, every single modeling agency slammed the door on her. Stacey recalls the beginning of her path, “They told me I wasn’t what they were looking for. They all looked at me and said ‘NO’ right away, but I was determined to make them see my potential”.
From Torment To Tribute:
Typically, what’s considered “beautiful” is selected, re-created and then regurgitated to the masses, subtly picked up on by men and women alike, and emulated to no end. Stacey saw this system in place, but what makes Stacey special is that like some sort of modern alchemist, she knows how to push through, turning torment into tribute . Stacey tells the kismet story of seeing Jean Paul Gaultier and Madonna together in a magazine. She was just a a kid, but the initial images spoke to her on a deep level, which inspired her to model. Years later, and scenes that could rival Andrea Sachs’ less than moments in “The Devil Wears Prada”, her dream eventually became a reality. Stacey landed her first campaign with Mr. Gaultier, himself, which is a career highlight and a move that catapulted her into stardom. She shares this along with working closely with iconic photographer, Richard Alvedon for Calvin Klein as major career highlights.
The Parallel of Perseverance:
What makes Stacey so relevant is that in an age of abundant life advice administered via Instagram quotes brimming with “can do” aphorisms, Stacey is the OG. She is the real deal when it comes to authenticity, body positivity and self confidence. “I like to keep it real!” says Stacey and “I don’t sugar coat shit!”. Stacey created “Walk This Way Workshops” in North America and the Caribbean. The workshops include two different sections, one benefiting aspiring models and another, a camp benefitting adolescents 12-17 years old aspiring to get into the fashion, art and entertainment industry. “Walk This Way Workshops are based on my journey, my experiences. Because when I first started out, I didn’t have any guidance or experience. I didn’t have anyone to show me the ropes”. Stacey further explains, “The mission is to empower and educate people by teaching valuable skills, inspiring them to value their uniqueness and find their individual voice”.
What I find interesting about Stacey is her perseverance. Maybe we’ve been there at some point in our lives? Angry or a little resentful that we have to navigate certain paths on our own. But Stacey not only navigates the path, she comes back from the heights of the mountain with a flashlight and helps people just starting out on the foothills to find their way. She does this when most people who’ve reached the top might not bother looking back.
Keeping It Real:
“We should just be genuine and keep it real”, says Stacey. But what does that mean? Amidst an oversaturated consumer culture where marketers estimate we are seeing anywhere between 4,000 – 10,000 advertisements daily. What to buy, what to wear, who to be, what to say? Being real is one of the hardest things to do in our culture, especially for adolescents who’s sense of self is so malleable. At her camps, the adolescents in attendance are fighting to overcome low self esteem, poor body image and lack of confidence. This work is so valuable and important to Stacey, to the adolescents and to their respective communities. So how can someone like Stacey, someone so deeply permeated into the fabric of consumer culture maintain being a part of the fashion/entertainment industry in a positive way while also keeping it real?
Walk This Way:
“Well … there are many ways. One good example is that I don’t have PR!”. You don’t have PR? I asked, respectfully incredulous. “I don’t want to have to be careful about certain things”, she says. “The reason I started my Walk Camp is because when I went to speak at Universities, some students shared with me that I’m the only person out of the community that comes back to see them, and that just breaks my heart”. I asked her to share more about what she teaches the aspiring models at her workshops and the young adults at her camp. “Well, for the aspiring models, I teach them how to have business minds. I also remind them not to give up or take things personally if they’re not chosen. Because you could be “it” now and 6 months from now you could not be that person. Conversely, you could be someone they’re not interested in, but 3 years down the line they’re like okay, we’re into you.”
Asking For Advice:
Stacey seems to be a beacon of good advice, so in the full circle theme of youth, being yourself and success, I asked her what kind of advice she might give to a younger version of herself. “Stop being so hard on yourself, you’re fabulous just the way you are”. Which is perhaps something we could all hear a little bit more of. Stacey sits there, smiling, comfortable, laughing, radiating positivity. “Well, I actually used to be really hard on myself”, she admits. “But now I read and pray. It keeps me confident and self loving. Everyone’s got their own thing that keeps them grounded”.
On the topic of staying grounded, I asked what she thinks about the role people in the spotlight have on society? She said, “The people that have a platform to reach the masses. Those people, we should just be genuine and keep it real and share the truth of our journeys with others. People really do go through ups and downs, why should you pretend otherwise? It’s not genuine.”
At “The Walk” camp, mentors such as Noreen Flannigan, former Editor and Chief of Elle Canada Magazine, Liberty Silver, Junno/Grammy winning singer/songwriter and famed photographer Caitlin Cronenberg have donated their time. “It’s so important to have those mentors from different fields, fields like fashion, art, entertainment, business, finance and education. Because these kids have no idea what’s out there for them. They mistakenly think if they don’t have a lot of money or the right look, they can’t have good opportunities, but that’s just not true.”
What can you do to help them get over limiting thoughts? “I think the problem is that there is too much focus on what the world around them wants them to be. I try to instill this within them, ’this is the one body you have to work with. One look. Everyone has flaws. Remember, not one of us is perfect or the same… not even twins’, The main mission for my camp is to value their uniqueness. And inspire them to find their own individual voice. Don’t try to be like anybody else but you, just be you. Own that voice, own that vessel, own you”, says Stacey.
Own Whoever You Are:
Technology, specifically, Instagram has re-shaped the definition of what it means to be a model. It allows people to do exactly what Stacey suggests, to be unique and to be seen. To own it. For better or for worse, this platform wasn’t around when Stacey began her career. I asked if the platform excites her? “Omg yes, it excites me tremendously…when I open up the magazines and open up the fashion blogs, there’s so many unique people out there just killing it! Freckles and everything. I’m happy to see a lot of diversity on Instagram and also on the runways, in magazines and especially in advertising campaigns, because that’s where models get their money. Seeing models of color, I’m just in heaven and I hope this is not just a trend. I hope this is something here to stay for a long time, forever”.
If the nature of fashion is change, then forever is not likely. However, the more we praise unique looks and attitudes such as Stacey’s, the more those messages of self love, self confidence and valuing uniqueness will reverberate into broader communities. “If I were to give people advice, it’s just… you can do and be whoever you want to be as long as you love and OWN whoever you are. Just work with what you’ve got and go for it!”
Okay, Stacey! We will.
Photographers: Jane and Jane
Stylist: Jaclyn Bonavita (Judy Inc.)
Makeup/Hair: Ronnie Tremblay (Teamm Mgmt./MAC Cosmetics)
Model: Stacey McKenzie