Edited by Jessica Caplan. Photos by Merrill Moskal.
Jen Steele has a thing for girls. And for finding out what “makes someone move, shake, go.” Put the two together, and you get Girls I Know NYC, the thoughtfully curated website the writer, fashion editor, hobby photographer, and most recently, freelance stylist created to showcase women – whom she knows, or at least somebody knows – doing interesting things. The seed for the site first germinated years ago on shoots for Cosmopolitan Magazine, where the Wisconsin native got snap-happy, capturing mostly women in Polaroid shots. Drawn to the unconventional inner and outer beauty of these gals, the soft-spoken blonde started a Tumblr a couple of years ago, which has since grown into a full-fledged site. Working alongside her is bosom buddy Anna Gray, a Virginia-raised multi-tasker who has worked a host of jobs in fashion, now works at a media company and has a degree in literature. The two say that part of the drive is to bring an honest, more relatable voice to a forum that is largely overwrought with stories of what girls do and what they’re wearing. “I think fashion is important but I also think our stories are even more magical,” says Jen. “So let’s talk about that.” And yes, in case you were wondering…they do watch Girls. We got into it all, touching upon fashion, fiction and even feminism. Find out more in our interview below.
Do you think there are other online platforms that promote a healthy and positive space for an audience interested in real women doing great things?
JS: I definitely do. Do I think they have a far reach? I’m not sure. It’s important to be accessible, relatable and also fun in order to have listeners who return. So, yes, although I do think there are important titles promoting healthy and positive content online, I do not know if I can hear them.
AG: There are a lot of important sites and initiatives dedicated to promoting women’s issues awareness (onebillionrising.com,vitalvoices.com, stopthepity.org) but few platforms are designed to inspire a thoughtful outlook on one’s personal life. By showcasing awesome yet accessible women, Girls I Know hopes to encourage self-confidence in all kinds of people that can then go forth and change the world!
What do you mean by ‘real’ women?
JS: For me, real women means you can reach out and touch them if you wanted. They are relatable and they are open to having an honest conversation about themselves. What you see is what you get.
AG: Flaws or weaknesses make us interesting, and it’s in these details that people can find a place to relate and feel inspired.
What do you mean by ‘great things’?
JS: I loved when my good friend and personal role model, Atoosa Rubenstein, would say, “Jen, you’re going to do great things.” I was like, “What does that mean???” But it was a no bullshit way of saying: “go and figure it out, you’ll get there.” Something you’re proud of accomplishing doesn’t need an adjective that blows it up. Great is great.
Is your audience mostly women-based? Are there men too? Who did you intend the site for?
JS: I think Girls I Know can be for everyone, and I know the readers are across the board, but I designed the site with women in mind, particularly young women. Before I moved to New York and while I was public speaking on behalf of the ONDCP and Seventeen Magazine the response I received from teenage girls was overwhelming. I never forgot that plea for insight, the need to know and the desire they had to ask vital questions about their lives and futures. I built the site thinking about them. I also kept in mind how fortunate I feel to know so many influential women in New York. I wanted to share that knowledge while honoring it.
How do you go about picking your subjects for the site?
JS: I’ve got lists on lists! I’ve made long lists of all the rad girls I’ve met in New York and also LA. I also pose the question to friends and readers, “Who do you look up to?” You can learn a lot about a person when you learn who they admire.
Who have you met through the site that you may not have otherwise?
JS: I recently met with two very smart and young female agents at William Morris Endeavour Agency. We had a conversation about branding and social media. I was surprised not by their intelligence but instead how down to earth and natural they were; it was like speaking with two good friends. Girls I Know has just begun dancing around town and more than ever before I care who exactly I dance with.
Do you think you could have done this idea in any city?
JS: No, I don’t. New York City is how it’s possible.
What makes New York girls special?
JS: Much less extra stuff. I have noticed New York can either turn you into the best version of yourself or the worst. Either way, you’re getting out the kinks, you have to figure it out here; you have no choice. I like seeing the will of people here and the girls who got it.
I recently watched Makers. The series had a lot of interesting points on feminism and how the generation of women who came up in the 60’s and 70’s were loud and proud and fought for their rights and recognition. A lot of these same women feel as though the women who come after them see the word ‘feminist’ as a tainted one, one that means bra-burning and man-hating. They see our generation as one which is placidly sitting back, resting on the laurels that they have forged. Feeling as though we don’t have to fight like they did, and yet there are still so many more injustices for women, still here in America, but gravely so in underdeveloped countries. Do you think that Girls I Know is helping the cause of feminism?
JS: You know, I have thought a lot about this. I think there are many layers built up upon the idea of womanhood and where we stand today in the societal sense. Unfortunately, blame isn’t the point we need to make. I wanted to show the faces and words of women who I considered in one way or another to be important and special, allowing ourselves to feel good about how far we have come as individuals and also as women. A supportive endeavour and a celebration of female success. We should start talking more about the evolution of the female voice rather than denigrate its shifting progress.
AG: I definitely don’t think that our generation is resting on anyone’s laurels. The feminists of our generation might be taking quieter steps for change but it’s definitely still a movement inspired by the original waves. I hope that Girls I Know is helping the cause by highlighting women that make a conscious effort to be good people living good lives that make them happy, regardless of stereotypes and social expectations.
JS: I like when people laugh and I love denim. I like when people give honest hugs and look you in the eye when they shake your hand.
JS: Drugs. I wish I could get down, but I can’t. I’ve seen too many people and families incredibly damaged by the effects of usage.
AG: The ingénue.
What do you read?
JS: French Vogue. The Gentlewoman. New York Magazine. Susan Miller. I try and read the New York Times. Right now I am re-reading the four comedies of Shakespeare, oddly enough. A Midsummer Night’s Dream often reminds me of the summer nights here. I’m picking up a bunch of books from Strand today, Alice Walker, some books on magic, horses, and women in history.
AG: I usually have a few books going at once because one gets left at home and I need something for the subway. I’m in the middle of Updike’s Rabbit Run, Bolano’s The Secret of Evil, Will Self’s Grey Area, and Anna Karenina. I’m pretty all over the place when it comes to fiction but I like people-watching and the best characters are in novels.
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