everything you need to know about being a woman, you can learn from kristen mcmenamy

Growing up in Puerto Rico, Kirsten McMenamy represented a different world of beauty for Rookie magazine contributor Laia Garcia. With her severely cropped hair, blunt bangs and no eyebrows, Kristen taught Laia everything she now knows about being a...

|
Aug 4 2014, 10:30am

Juergen Teller

I don't remember when I first became aware of Kristen McMenamy's existence. In a way, it seems like she was always there, staring back at me from the pages of fashion magazines, an enigma I was desperately trying to figure out. She had an odd quality about her, her beauty straddling classic conventions of femininity but also a streak of masculine energy that could turn her androgynous in a minute. Sometimes she didn't have any eyebrows. I wondered what it was like to be her. 

In the mid-90s, I was a gawky kid in school, all long arms and legs and boobs that did not show any signs of coming in any time soon. "Oh no, tell me more about your problems", you're probably thinking by rolling your eyes, but in Puerto Rico, where I grew up, this couldn't have been any further from the ideal of beauty. Our magazines and television shows were populated with sturdy women showing off their copious tits and asses in tiny bikinis, rolling around the sand, dancing around in skin-tight bejeweled ensembles. I may as well have been a boy.

But there was Kristen. Kristen with short back hair and blunt bangs. Kristen with no eyebrows. There's Kristen, immortalised by Steven Meisel, wearing an oversized Nirvana t-shirt, sitting next to Naomi, looking straight into the camera and your soul, like an exotic alien trying to figure out how the human race works. There's naked Kristen, with Versace scribbled on her chest with lipstick and a heart drawn around it. She has a cigarette in her mouth and her hair is disheveled. She is serious, and her nakedness somehow is a weapon. There is a scar on her abdomen, if you stare at her too long, she might come through the page and punch you. 

I am still trying to look that strong when I am naked.

Sometime in the spring of 95 I turned the page of a magazine to see Kristen lounging, alone, in the patio of a fantastic villa, dripping in glamour unlike anything I had ever seen. In one photograph she wears a double-breasted black suit and runs one hand through her hair, she is exasperated but her anger translates into beauty. In another, she is wearing a slinky mint-green dress, bent over a table where a small dog is sitting, looking up as if someone has just called her name. It is this photograph that became forever burned in my ten year old brain; a picture-perfect version of womanhood. I tore off the pages from the magazine and taped them on my walls, I memorized her curves and her angles, graceful like a ballerina, with a similarly lean and muscular body. Kristen instilled a tough edge to her softness. The next season's ad campaign brought an explosion of her toughness. Her hair was red with a blonde streak, she was front and center, wide stance in a red suit, bent over, trying to fit her body inside the page that could barely contain her. How so much dynamism could be contained in a flat image, was beyond me. Once again, I cut out all the images, but this time I collaged them on my school notebooks. When one day a classmate told me the boy I had a crush on thought I was ugly, well, I just had to look down at Kristen on my notebooks, and think if I held on a bit longer, maybe one day I would be somewhere where my weird angles would not be considered ugly. 

Kristen went away for a little bit and I grew older. Now finding myself in "adult" situations, I was thinking of all the little things about her I had memorised before. While it's true that in magazines a model is merely channeling the will of the photographer and the creative director, a great model always manages to inject her personality, whether disappearing completely in character, or adding an undertone of madness and charm. Kristen does all of them, and it's why she became my role model, of sorts, as I traipsed through the motions of performing womanhood. Wearing heels with perfect posture, jacket draped over my shoulders, always with a slight tilt of the pelvis, smoking a cigarette with a perfectly manicured hand, carefully brushing my eyelashes with my fingers after I've applied mascara to make sure they stay as bright and open as possible. These are all things I learned from her, all things that felt a bit like my security blanket.

And then she came back, like a literal goddess-witch that has experienced some incredible supernatural event at the hands of god or satan or both, with long silver hair and a face whose beauty and strength had become even more evident. Like a creature reborn, she is even more enigmatic and powerful in pictures, carving her own path through life and leaving behind a trail of even more iconic images and moments. This is not about "aging gracefully", that's just another term for being quiet and doing what you're told. By completely owning up to who she is, and giving herself completely to the process, she has emerged a force of (human) nature. While I am not that comfortable in my own skin yet, I take comfort in knowing there's a way to beat the system, that I can be tough without forfeiting the feminine, that I can be a weirdo and still be successful, that I still have time to become the ultimate "me". The best part is of course, knowing that I have so many indelible images of Kristen to enjoy while I get there.

Flick through i-D's directory of iconic Kristen McMenamy pictures here! #whattababe!

Credits


Text Laia Garcia, Rookie magazine
Photography Juergen Teller