Words: Mundi Ross
Photos: Genevieve Pierson
I met Genevieve Pierson on the banks of Orcas Island in 2011. We like many, were there for the Doe Bay Festival. It was a magical time of music but also a time to connect with what seemed to be a sea of creatives. She chatted with me about a project or perhaps back then a dream called Project Girl Crush in which Jen Utley and herself would tell stories of women and not just the edited version but the whole messy raw version. We left that weekend and went on with our respective lives running into one another at shows, giving giant hugs, and quick check ins but in 2013, I received a "like my page" on Facebook and was excited to see PGC's launch underway and I have been a fan ever since. Jen Utley is the voice behind the project and does an amazing job evoking emotions because she gives us the opportunity to connect with the women in a pure and honest way. Yes, the woman "crushes" are beautiful and in photos appear to have it all together but deep down they are flawed and not perfect. Surprise, you are not perfect!
Tell me a little about yourself. Are you a Seattle native? Do you have any connections or ties to CO?
I grew up on Bainbridge Island, which is an island just west of Seattle. I was an athlete, and was recruited to play lacrosse in college at a small university in the bay area. During school, I always sought a creative outlet to balance sports, but never really landed on one. I adored music, so I thought that combining my love for writing and music would lead me to something, but as it turns out, listening to music and writing about it are two very different things. I prefer to just listen. After graduating, I got a position at KEXP, an epic public radio station here in Seattle, and eventually, landed at a boutique marketing firm called 206inc until just recently. Over the years, I’ve written for a few publications, but didn’t find an enjoyable outlet for writing until I founded Project Girl Crush in 2013. These days, my partner Genevieve Pierson and I run PGC, and recently founded Common Thread Creative, which produces short video bios for individuals and small businesses looking to tell their story in a more comprehensive way.
As far as my Colorado connection – when I was at 206inc, I managed a project for the Icelandic Consulate that brought Icelandic food, music, and art to cities in the US and Canada. We showcased Icelandic culture through festivals in Seattle and Denver called The Taste of Iceland with live music, tasting menus at local restaurants, and even a ‘yarn bombing’ event in downtown Denver. Also, when I was in college, my team played the University of Denver a handful of times. We got our asses kicked because it’s impossible to breath when you’re in a city that high up!
Your friendship with Genevieve inspired Project Girl Crush? When was the moment of conception?
Genevieve and I met when we were 21 and 22, working at an Irish pub in downtown Seattle. I, like so many early twentysomething women, judged Genevieve when we met. She’s tall and beautiful and talented, and I allowed my insecurities to get in my way. Little did I know, she was doing the same thing to me. Sometimes it feels easier to be childish and make unfounded judgments about people when we’re feeling intimidated. I still do it to this day, often about other women who appear to possess something I want – from a creative and fulfilling career to more superficial elements, like a perfect body. This is the foundation of Project Girl Crush. Our inaccurate judgments about other women cloud who they actually are, and in turn, make us feel bad about ourselves. The cycle perpetuates, and instead of connecting, we build barriers with one another. So we tell a woman’s whole story - complete with the successes and the failures, the perfect and the imperfect.
Why PGC? Why is it important for you to tell woman's stories?
We’re constantly bombarded with versions of pseudo-perfection. It began with the photoshopped images we would see in magazines, but now it’s presented to us in other, sneakier outlets like social media, under the guise of being a realistic portrayal of someone’s life. But the truth is that it’s all choreographed, it’s only one angle of an individual. And yet, when I see that perfectly curated Instagram profile, my life looks a little uglier in comparison. Because what I am comparing myself to is not the full story, it’s the edited version. That’s why we want to tell the whole story - to talk about the times when an incredible, intelligent, successful, beautiful woman have encountered struggle. When she felt insecure and vulnerable. Instead of alienating our readers, we want them to walk away feeling more connected to our features.
When you look for woman to "crush" on, where does the story inspiration come from? Is it based on success, pain, beauty, or the whole package?
This project is as much a way to tell others’ stories as it is to work through my own demons. I am wildly intimidated by every single woman we have featured, that’s why I want to find out more about her. It’s actually rather selfish! Intimidation stems from insecurities, so if I covet something I see in a woman, like a creative occupation, steadfast confidence, or a physical attribute, my instinct is to make a judgment and compare myself to her. I easily become stifled by the belief that she is perfect because she has something I want, and it sparks a particular kind of competitiveness in me. So the way I have chosen to combat those feelings is to learn more about her – it breeds connection rather than competition.
How do you decide what girls will be featured via video, picture or otherwise?
Genevieve and I just started working with video, so the only reason our recent features have been filmed is because it’s a new dimension for us. Our hope is to always have the video element, because it helps viewers get to know the individual in a more intimate way. Hearing the person’s voice, their words, their laugh… it’s such a better representation of who they are.
Your photo essay collaborations with Genevieve are amazing. I know they are outside of PGC but they feature woman so I was curious if your other art forms, the photo essays, poems, short stories derive from PGC? Or are they just another way of expressing yourself as an artist?
I’m obsessed with story in whatever form it takes. As a writer, I’m particularly fascinated by stories that don’t rely on words, because it’s more challenging for a verbose individual like myself to tell a story without a familiar tool. But I’m not a visual artist, so I need help expressing myself through other mediums. Luckily for me, Genevieve is freakishly talented, and we share a similar vision and aesthetic. Our work does tend to focus on women because I just find them to be such an embodiment of opposites, which I find fascinating. A woman can be open and also mysterious, she can be flagrant and also coy. Gentle and tough. I adore exploring the way that duality plays out, and focus a lot of creative energy on realizing that dynamic in different ways.
SO let me turn the tables on you…
What do you love about yourself and why?
I love that I am really, really sensitive. It’s the reason that I can write. It’s the reason that I can create. It’s the reason that I can connect with people pretty immediately.
Explain a time you felt vulnerable or scared.
The last 10 months has brought me more fear, vulnerability, and anxiety than any other time in my life. Last year, my boyfriend and I broke up and I moved out of our home – and back in with my parents. At 28. That sucked. I underwent some painful health issues, and ate through my savings when my insurance turned its back. Then I was laid off from my job. That happened in less than 5 months. Amidst all of that, I met a guy who I adore and admire – we started dating at the most tumultuous time of my life, and he watched me undergo all of this, just as our relationship was forming. That was hugely challenging for a perfectionist like me – it’s really hard to try and impress a guy when it feels like your life is falling apart. But somehow I managed to do so, and this awesome dude stuck by and supported me!
What would you wish to tell your former self?
Despite what it looks like, everyone is insecure. Everyone is questioning themselves ALL THE TIME. You’re not alone! Just relax, stop being so hard on yourself. Just spend more time figuring out who you are, and you’ll find a space where you feel comfortable.
Oh, and don’t worry. Eventually, you’ll grow boobs.
Any parting words of wisdom or advice?
My Grandmother, Honey, is from the south. She has a fabulous accent, she goes to the gym every day (at 92), and she always puts her best foot forward. There’s a saying amongst the women in my family that Honey started: ‘get that lipstick on!’ It began as a literal piece of advice (I mentioned she’s from the south – girlfriend is always dressed to the nines), but has morphed into something metaphorical. Now, my partner Genevieve and I will use this prompt when we’re not feeling our best – it’s a reminder to get up, get the lipstick on, and go do life.