Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Selfie with Sharon Liese

I live in Los Angeles. The one place in the entire world, where some people are considered flawless… perfect. Maybe that’s why they call it the city of Angels. Some of the men and women here are considered to be heavenly, however what Hollywood doesn’t want to remind you is that celebrities are just paid workers with strong jawlines and the ability to remember long phrases for short periods (some with much more skill than others) and Hollywood is just the name of an industry. It’s a job.

Some people blow glass into magnificent pieces of art, others teach pre-school, a brave few become firemen or astronauts.  Here in Hollywood we make movies, and create television series. Our craft is entertaining, but that’s not always our result. For far too many years the entertainment industry has promoted the idea that all women should look like barbies. That we should all have big breasts, a little waist, highlights, and never be caught dead without lip gloss.

Ladies, I hate to tell you but no matter how hard you try, you will never wake up in the morning looking like Jennifer Aniston… I’m sure when she wakes up she doesn’t even look like Jennifer Aniston. The industry uses a multitude of lights, camera lenses, photo shopping softwares, tweaks and tricks to manipulate the outcome of the shots or photos. We make things magical. That’s what the entertainment industry is, a “heightened, more exciting version of real life” to quote model, Jennie Runk.

But over the last few years, something new has begun taking place. Social Media has put more and more power back into the hands of the exceptionally real and unique woman. It has allowed us more exposure to cultural variety, a lot of which is still raw and unfiltered.

Producer Sharon Liese found a way to harness this power, and remind us all of something incredible along the way. I got to catch up with her after her trip to Sundance to learn a little more about her recent project.


Tennessee Martin: Your short film Selfie made it into Sundance this year. That’s so exciting! Can you tell me about the project?

Sharon Liese: I was asked to submit a proposal to produce a 3-7 minute documentary short that captured how women have traditionally defined beauty and how women of this generation are in a unique position to redefine beauty because of social media. The modern day self-portrait seemed to be the obvious storytelling vehicle. So, the pitch was to follow a group of teenage girls and their moms as they embraced a new type of Selfie.  Sixty filmmakers were invited to apply and Selfie was chosen! The award was a partnership between The Sundance Institute and Dove – part of Sundance’s Women Filmmakers Initiative. Dove is using the film to launch their new #BeautyIs campaign.

 TM: You also produced two season’s of High School Confidential, a show depicting the lives of an entire group of young women over their four-year high school experience. I can definitely see where your passions lie. What has motivated you to do these kinds of projects?

SL: I ask myself this question all the time! There is something about the transformative time between 14 and 18 years old for young women that intrigues me. There is something so magical about evolving from that awkward time into a space of confidence and empowerment. Of course I recall my own challenges as a teen and hope I can make it easier for women to emerge from the turbulent teen years with strength.

TM: Your efforts are honorable and appreciated. I think a lot of young women still believe the self in self-mage is silent. How can we encourage them to accept themselves the way that they are? How do we spread a movement like #Selfie?

SL: This was exactly the challenge documented in Selfie, Once we realize that what we perceive to be flaws are really the features that make us unique and beautiful we are on the road to accepting ourselves. Social media now allows us to have the power in our hands. There is also an opportunity for moms to learn a lesson here too. We found that moms who are self-critical teach their daughters to be less accepting of themselves. By embracing our uniqueness we can give ourselves and our daughters a more positive message.

TM: In large, the entertainment and fashion industries have negatively influenced our ideas of what being beautiful is defined by. Most women will never look like runway models or celebrities, yet that is what we as a society strive for. What advice do you have for young women who are battling this mentality?

SL: Through this project, I learned a lot about the research done by Dove that indicates that women are beginning to define beauty differently. Today, women can see all types of women on the Internet so we are not confined to one standard for beauty any more. Women are also broadening the definition of beauty to include “inner” beauty – characteristics like courage and confidence. My advice is for young women to look beyond “looks” and take stock in their intangible features.

TM: I couldn’t agree more! Well, I don’t want to take up too much more of your time. You have many young lives to mold! What can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?

SL: I am working on several new projects. I’m sure its not surprising that I am working on a pilot (with the Jon Kroll) in the teenage space that deals with a very interesting and dramatic transformation process – wish I could tell you more J

TM: Ahhh the fantastic Jon Kroll. Some of my readers might remember him as the Producer who recruited me on Twitter almost a year and a half ago and now write's all of my paychecks. It's hard to believe it's been that long! Whatever the two of you are working on has to be life changing. Speaking of life changing... have you ever seen Push Girls (the Sundance Channel Series?) I'm interviewing Tiphany Adams  later this week. What are your thoughts on the show and how these incredible women are breaking stereotypes and boundaries?

SL: I absolutely LOVE Push Girls. When I first saw it, I thought, “why didn’t I think of that?” It’s a show that definitely shatters stereotypes in a very bold and compelling manner. The women are real and empowered and every young (and older) woman can learn something from them!

TM: I’m sure they’ll be happy to learn they have such an inspiring fan. I love the show too! Thank you again, Sharon. I can’t wait to hear more about that upcoming project! Until then, everyone follow @SharonLiese on twitter and DON'T FORGET to check out “Selfies” on YouTube.

Send it to your mom, post it on your best friends page, tweet it to every woman you know… Because we are all beautiful.

Beauty is ours, and we have every right to take it back. Start with #Selfies.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

All Real Love Is The Same

MY 100th POST! 

"I'd like to thank the academy." Blah, blah, blah. Now, a new poem for you guys… gals. 



Sir, I understand your attraction, but 
this hand that I hold is no side show attraction.
And your reaction is disrespectful, not only to me
But to her, so when you stare please don’t linger.

Look over your shoulder if you have to, but for the sake
Of her insecurities, please wait until she’s passed you.
Because the last guy like you who made a comment
Almost threw a wrench into the girl that I love.

It’s not so easy to be yourself
in a world where you’re told that you're
less than someone else. But I’ve had practice.
Still, this lovely woman is quite new at this.

Being herself. Not ready to come out,
because the world is a scary place.
She’s not ready to tell her friends or family,
They might not let her plead her case.

It was an accident. She didn’t mean
To feel like this, but that’s another story.
Her father, will he love her? Will he
Ever think she’s normal?

All the questions I grew up asking.
And now she asks them to herself.
It pains me to watch her ask them,
Accepting answers from everyone else.

And I know that she’ll get past it, like
she’ll walk right on by you.
Because soon there will be no more asking 
If we deserve love like you do.

Whether or not society thinks we’re fit
To be mothers who can safely love their child.
Or if I’ll ever be allowed by the country I was born in
to walk a woman down the aisle.

Because Sir, I am not damaged,
But I’m afraid your perception is.
Your views are old and dated,
And you’re teaching them to your kids.

Who are picking on other children,
Yelling things like fag and queer,
I know because I heard them
through my tightly covered ears.

I’m absolutely normal,
And she’s absolutely great.
If you’d take just a moment, you
Might see it on her face.

This girl really loves me, in a way
you might never have been.
Which could be half the problem,
Since you’ve never let love in.

My relationship doesn’t scare you.
You’re afraid of the unknown.
If you don’t understand it then it
Certainly must be wrong.

But love at all is beautiful,
A truly remarkable thing.
Someday you should try it,
Because all real love is the same. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Putting the SELF back into Self-Image - Interview with Jennie Runk

There is a lot of attention on self-image right now. What is it? What should it be? I talk about it a lot, because for the most part.. I'm pretty comfortable with mine. However, a lot of people aren't, so I've brought in a few people to inspire us all. Today, we will start with someone I've known for a while...

I spend a lot of time reading articles trying to find what people are interested in… what inspires them. Imagine my surprise when I stumbled across an article on the Huffington Post - “11 Body Image Heroes of 2013”. Right above the incredible Jennifer Lawrence, who came in at number two, was plus-sized (normal-sized) model Jennie Runk, who I actually attended college with at Stephens. Some of you might remember the 5’10, size 10-14 bombshell as the first plus-sized model to be featured in H&M’s swimwear catalogue in 2013.

I had to reach out to her. I had to know how this beautiful, confident woman manages to maintain her healthy body image views in the media and fashion industry. Some of her answers will surprise you. In fact, they have changed the way that I even see myself…

Tennessee Martin: How did you get into modeling? What made you decided to pursue it as a full time career?

Jennie Runk: I was discovered when I was 13, at Petsmart in Chesterfield, MO, while raising money for the Open Door Animal Sanctuary. Mary Clarke, from Mother Model Management, met my mother there and set up a meeting. When my mom told me a modeling agency was interested in me, I told her I wasn’t interested. I think my exact words were, “Mom, I’m so much more than a face and a body, why would I ever want to model? That’s so superficial.” I was pretty active in my high school’s theater department however, so when my mom mentioned that a career in modeling could lead to an acting career, I reluctantly agreed to give it a shot. I stuck with it when I learned that it’s not as superficial as I assumed - most of the people I’ve met throughout my career are really interesting and down-to-earth people. Also, as it turns out, I was pretty good at it.

TM: When did weight/size first become an "issue" in modeling or life?

JR: For me, personally, it was never an issue. I’ve fluctuated between a size 10 to 14 a few times in the past 10 years, and no matter what size I was currently at, I loved it. There are certain things I love about being a size 10, and certain things I love about being a size 14. If I woke up tomorrow and was suddenly a size 2, I’d love that. If I woke up tomorrow and was a size 22, I’d love that too. It’s about perspective. Instead of thinking “my butt is too big,” think “this booty is the best booty because it’s so big.” Since I’ve been a plus size model from the beginning, my size has never been an issue for work. I don’t let the word “plus” mean anything negative. To me, it’s the same as calling me brunette or tall. It makes no difference how other people label me. This is the body I come in. I’m happy to be me, so if I’m labeled as plus sized, then I’m happy to be plus sized

TM: What advice do you have for other women who are facing body issues? 

 JR: You are so much more than your body. You are a unique individual person with her own thoughts, opinions, traits, and passions. You should never limit your sense of self to what you think other people might see when they look at you. Think about your idea of the perfect person, someone you would want to be friends with or fall in love with. Create a person in your mind that you aspire to be like, and then work towards becoming that person. Don’t ever let anyone else tell you who that person should look like, don’t let any outside source define beauty or perfection for you. That’s for you, and only you, to decide.

TM: What do you think makes a woman beautiful? 

 JR: To me, real beauty comes from the effect a woman can have on a room. Being captivating isn’t about glossy hair or a certain waist size, it means you can literally captivate someone by what you have to say and how sincerely you say it. It’s about being open, inviting, and friendly to anyone you converse with. It’s about having a passion, and being able to fiercely defend why you’re passionate about it. It’s about being sincere when you tell someone it was nice to meet them. There is a substantial amount of beauty is in an uninhibited smile.

TM: The fashion industry is a lot like the entertainment industry. There are a lot of smoke and mirrors involved with making women and men appear flawless. How do we remind young women that these expectations aren't realistic? 

JR: I was a girl scout co-leader the year I was in Vogue, Seventeen, and CosmoGirl magazines. I brought these magazines into a meeting with my troop and asked the girls to point out all the differences they saw between the images in the magazines, and the girl they saw standing right in front of them. They pointed out that I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, not expensive designer gowns or clothes. They also noticed that my hair was up in a bun, rather than styled, and that I wasn’t wearing any makeup. Overall, they said I looked more like a real person outside of the images, than in them. This is also why I post pictures to my facebook and instagram of me, just living my life like a normal person. I want my fans, especially young girls and teenagers, to know that I don’t always look like what I do in magazines or catalogues. Creating an image for a magazine or advertisement is just that, an image. It’s not supposed to look like real life. It’s supposed to look like a heightened, more exciting version of real life. I think the fashion and entertainment industries do this for the same reason illustrators create cartoons for kids, and for the same reason authors create novels. Real life can be hard, confusing, or even just boring. Sometimes it’s nice to see a fantasy life - a different version of life where everything is beautiful and anything is possible.       

TM: What is the most incredible thing you've experienced that you were able to do because of your modeling career?

JR: Every year, I volunteer in the Mathews Dickey Boys and Girls club Sheer Elegance show in St Louis. I do everything I can to sell tickets for the show, because the money goes towards funding their program. The club really does amazing things for kids in the area. They not only provide free sports teams and clubs for kids to join, but they also offer free tutoring and homework help. It’s a great way to keep kids from joining street gangs or doing drugs, because they have so many constructive ways to keep them busy and help them realize their full potential, all completely free. The more successful I get, the more I’m able to give back to the community, and that’s what’s so incredible about it. I wouldn’t be able to give back as much as I do if I hadn’t had the kind of career I’ve had.

TM: You have beauty, and brains.  If you were a political leader during this time, what is the number one thing you would change? 

JR: I would be proactive in putting a stop to bullying in schools. Violence in adults is likely to have started in childhood, so why not go to the source? Not only will kids be able to learn more in a safer environment, but children with violent tendencies will learn early that there’s no place in a productive society for that kind of behavior. I just read an article in Popular Science that showed, statistically, how well healthy eating campaigns have affected the obesity rate in kids, and how those kids are more likely to grow into healthier adults because of this. It’s proven that having a positive impact on a child’s physical health will help them grow into healthier adults, so I think we should apply that to mental and emotional health as well. We are more than our bodies, after all.

TM: You have a beautiful figure. How do you maintain a weight where you are comfortable? Do you have a specific "life routine"? (Nutrition/Workout/etc.)

JR: I’m a vegetarian, which helps me maintain healthy eating habits. I need to make sure I get protein and iron from things like beans and vegetables. I don’t beat myself up for indulging in Baked by Melissa cupcakes when I’ve had a long day, or getting cheese fries from Steak n Shake when I go home to Missouri. I only eat when I’m hungry, then when I’m not hungry anymore, I stop. I can tell when my body isn’t happy with what I’m putting into it. When I’m not getting enough iron or protein or vitamins, I get tired and moody, so I act accordingly. If I’m feeling moody, I’ll get a protein salad or some fruit, then I’ll feel better. I walk a lot in New York City, sometimes a few miles a day, and I’m pretty active when I’m shooting, so I don’t worry about hitting the gym. I’m not really a gym person, to be honest. I hate sweating. I love swimming however, I’ll jump at any chance to get active in the water. You can’t tell you’re sweating when you’re in the pool!


TM: What do you hope to leave behind on this earth as your legacy?

 JR: I want to keep communication going about the way women treat each other and the negative effect this can have on society. I think that, if enough people are aware of this and talking about it, then we’ll finally stop fighting this pointless war on our own bodies. It’s a waste of energy we’d be better off using on other, more important things. It’s silly to be fighting each other when we still live in a world where women have yet to earn the same wages for the same amount of work as their male coworkers. Think of all the amazing things women can accomplish if we take the passion we use towards attacking any body type that’s not our own, and apply it to something that really matters. In the end, the question of which bodies are better is not only pointless, but also embarrassingly unimportant. They’re just bodies, we all have one, and they should be as diverse as our thoughts and personalities are. If when I die, people are a little nicer to each other because of something I’ve said or done, then I’ll be happy with the life I’ve led.

TN: Are you happy with the way your life has turned out? What has truly contributed most to your happiness? What would you change? 

JR:  I wake up most days in stunned disbelief of how well my life has turned out. It’s almost like I went to sleep as an awkward 13 year old and woke up in my mid-twenties with an apartment in Manhattan, a degree, an awesome career, a great book collection, and the coolest cat in the world. For most of the past decade, I’ve been so focused on finishing school so I could move to New York and really work on my career that I hadn’t really thought about what I’d do once I got here. All that focus and dedication paid off, but it made those years seem to fly past like a second. If I could change anything, I would have told myself to really slow down once in a while to appreciate the process. Although, if I were to say something like that to my teenage self, my teenage self would have replied, “um, move out of my way, I’m working on stuff, ugh adults are so weird.”

TM: Any advice to those who are hesitant to pursue their dreams, regardless of the reason? 

JR: Go for it. Even if you fail, you’ll always know you had the courage to try. That courage, and knowing you have it, is inspiring.

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Her fingertips inject me like heroine
Rushing through my veins
It feels like fire against my skin,
But I crave her all the same.

Her soft sweet flesh, a deep olive tone,
Against mine, vanilla-caramel blend.
They swirl together intoxicatingly
In too deep, no desire to swim.

So long in this endless withdrawal,
The first hit and I’m breathing in.
Her scent it fills me, I need to taste,
The nectar deep within.

She holds me close, and we melt away
Addicted to this drug.
So many of us call it sex,
But others call it love.