Jenny Shimizu: Model, Actress, LGBT Icon… American Beauty

Originally published at cherrygrrl.com, August 23, 2010 – Read the full text here

Let’s face facts: Jenny Shimizu is an icon among the queer community. But what you may not already know is that she a multifaceted, dynamic, tour de force. She’s more than a champion of the LGBT community, more than the gorgeous and androgynous Asian-American model who challenged archaic interpretations of sexuality and beauty on billboards across the country. She’s more than a motorcycle mechanic and enthusiast, more than an actress, more than a designer, and more than a poster child.

And those are just the parts we got to talk about.

Cherry Grrl (CG): Jenny, you’re an actress, a model, a media personality, a mechanic, and so highly regarded by everyone who has had the pleasure of working with you. With so many accomplishments and essentially your own brand, how picky are you about what you get involved in?

Jenny Shimizu (JS): I only get involved in things that I feel will challenge me. If the first thought I have is, “I’m scared, how will I do that?” it’s a sure sign that I will definitely do it. I’m a “yes” person, and I often find this makes my life bigger in many ways. Saying “no” to things is easy; I know the outcome. Saying “yes” opens up the doors to way more possibilities.

CG: Your life and career are so full of moments that have established the identity for brands like Calvin Klein and Banana Republic. Is there a definitive moment that you consider a favorite or most important in shaping your career?

JS: One of the most quiet and simple moments was when my friend woke me up at 4am to go to Times Square. I was still in my pajamas and no one was around. When I got out of the cab, I saw a billboard of me on top of Times Square and underneath my picture it said “American Beauty.” I never felt like I was beautiful or that I fit in, especially because my images of beauty were Caucasian models with blonde hair and blue eyes. At the time I didn’t really feel anything except “Whoa!”

But in hindsight it was a very big deal to put an image of an Asian-American, lesbian model on the top of Times Square. I always am grateful for that moment.

CG: You were seen on America’s Next Top Model, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Make Me a Supermodel and a few other reality television shows. How and why did you decide to get involved with reality television?

JS: I got involved with reality television because I thought I have a wealth of information about modeling, especially for girls who are trying to break into the business. I also have a different perspective on this world because my story is so different than the typical girl who wants to model. I also had never done this sort of thing and it seemed very interesting to me. Visibility is key. I knew I wasn’t going to be portrayed negatively on any of those shows.

CG: Obviously, that form of the medium is not going anywhere soon, so, do you get to watch any television, and do you see a value in reality TV?

JS: I do not own a TV and I haven’t had one in years. I find it to be very addictive. The value of reality TV might be that we get off on living vicariously through characters we normally would not meet.

CG: Are you still surprised or humbled by the accolades and the appreciation of so many, whether in fashion or media?

JS: I think when I was modeling full-time, I didn’t think of the impact it would have on people. I was just doing a job. Now, as I’m approached by people and they tell me stories of relating to me and feeling accepted by my pictures, it really shows me how important visibility is. You never know who you’re going to affect when you’re in the public eye. I still am humbled by these stories and it makes me so grateful that I could be a part of someone’s story, without really knowing them.

CG: What is art to you? What inspires you?

JS: Art to me is anything that inspires another human being to feel something or do something.  I’m inspired by people, places and things everyday and I respect anyone who puts themselves out there and shares their art with others.

I’m inspired by human spirit. I love watching people do things that they thought they could never do.

CG: What are your creative outlets?

JS: My creative outlets would be writing, being inspired by art in fashion and museums, and always trying something new once a week.

CG: Are there any current models or entertainers that you are impressed by?

JS: I’m impressed by anyone who succeeds in this business and manages to keep sane. I have so much respect for Ellen, Portia and people who generate inspiration and goodness.

CG: Obviously, as a Californian, you experienced Proposition 8 and its recent reversal firsthand. What are your thoughts on the subject? What do you think it’s going to take to move away from the “us vs. them” mentality in the United States?

JS: I’m really happy for the whole Prop 8 situation. It gave us a reason to go out and protest in a peaceful way. It gave our community something to stand for in unity and I believe peaceful protest is something everyone needs to experience at some time in their lives. It will change one’s way of thinking, more of “we” than “me.”

I’m not sure about the “us” vs. “them” mentality changing soon. We are born and bred on differences here. All we can do is be visible, and responsible when we are visible.

CG: Is there anything you haven’t done that you are still hoping to accomplish?

JS: There are so many things I haven’t done yet. Too many to list. I think life is short and it’s all about the journey, so I like to cram in as much as possible and think of things I never thought would be possible to accomplish. It’s hard for me to limit myself.

Here are a few things: create a beautiful lifestyle clothing line. Live in a cabin somewhere far away next to a river. Make art. [There are] so many things.

CG: Do you shop, and do you have any favorite retailers? What do you look for in clothes?

JS: I don’t really shop. I like to buy things online, it’s just easier. I look for quality in clothes. I will definitely pay more for clothes if I know they are made well. I pretty much wear the same stuff everyday, it makes life easier.

CG: What would readers and fans be surprised to know about you?

JS: Readers will be surprised to know that I am in bed by 10 pm almost every night.  Earlier, if I have a lover.

CG: What kind of reaction do you hope you evoke from people, whether through media or in your everyday life?

JS: I don’t really want a reaction from people. All I want to do is be myself and be an inspiration to be comfortable in your own skin.

CG: What are some of the current projects you’re working on?

JS: I’m working on a new t-shirt collaboration with Richardson Magazine. I’m also writing a book about my life and the many highs and lows that have shaped me as a person.

You can find more information about the incredible Jenny Shimizu at:http://www.jennyshimizuonline.com.