Tenley Nordstrom interview

Up-and-coming model Tenley Nordstrom has chosen to walk away from the industry. In an honest and open chat, she talks to Somethingyousaid about why she is giving it all up and what’s next: 

Modelling has been a vehicle for me to travel and experience different sides of the world and people, but it’s not like it has given me a whole lot more than that. I still really love the medium of photography though. For instance, Sally Mann is somebody I think is amazing, and she has nothing to do with fashion. As far as looking at maybe, Italian Vogue, I can see through it all now. I know what goes into it so the glamour has gone. I’m still grateful for everything that has happened – I wouldn’t be the person I am without it –  but I’m at peace with that and I can use what I’ve learned elsewhere now.

The reason, more than any other, that I’m quitting modeling is because of the superficiality. I am not a superficial person and I can no longer live in a completely superficial world. I understand that fashion, clothes, make-up, and so-on, make people feel good but there comes a point where you have to say to yourself, is this what is important to me, really? I’m interested in genuine and intellectual people. People who care about politics, philosophy, human suffering, wars, reading books. Discussing ideas and being informed on what is happening in the world around you. I’m not saying everyone in the fashion industry can be painted as someone who doesn’t care about these things (clearly, because I’m in it and I do), but there are these people who get involved for the ‘cool’ factor. It sounds cool to be a part of the fashion industry. It is an outward status symbol for them. They feel superior and they sell this lifestyle that if you could just be skinnier and have cooler clothes and things, you will be happier. You will be fulfilled. And as a model you play dress-up and do your job and don’t talk too much. I’ve grown into someone who needs more in my life than just things. I don’t really care about money and all of these things we are told to value. I care about people. I care about love. Slavoj Zizek said something beautiful about how we are losing authentic love. And I will loosely quote it to you.

“Love. Did you notice how today brief sexual advances are ok, but people are afraid to fall in love? I read some ads that these dating agencies say time to outsource your dating [ ..] we will help you find yourself in love without having to take the fall. But for me the fall is the authentic moment. The fall is when you are traumatized in a good sense by another person […] That is the beauty of passionate love. We don’t want to take the risk to open ourselves to the neighbour .. love is a fall, but a beautiful fall.”

I’d like to start a journal which could almost be a little book about the journey out of modelling. Everybody always writes about modelling but nobody ever talks about the transition out of it. It’s clearly a hard thing for people, because you kind of get into this lifestyle where you are so insulated from how normal people live. I’ve spoken to a lot of models lately who say they want to get out of it but they don’t know what they would do. So you just keep doing it.

I want to get into music.  As far as modelling goes, it’s creative but it’s always other people’s ideas. You can play off of those but I feel like I need to go to a place where it is my creativity. I played piano, violin, flute and loads of instruments when I was growing up. It was a really classical background. Here’s a song, you read the music. Nobody ever said ‘Go and create something of your own.’ But I’ve always been somebody who writes poetry or free-writes. For me, it’s exciting to take music – which is something I have always done – and try to create it, as opposed to playing what somebody else has written. So that is the challenge now.

I know that there are other things I can do if the music doesn’t work out. I’d like to move into aid work or human rights law. Even if I did have success as a musician, then aid work could still be possible. If you are someone who had a name, you can bring more attention to something. I really respect Angelina Jolie in that way.

I live in the now. I’m good at making things happen but I try not to think about the journey there. I focus on what I’m doing now and eventually things will form. It will all sort of happen. I don’t know where I see myself in the future and I try not to think about it because every time you plan something, it never comes out that way. We’ll see where it goes. It should be interesting.

Interview by Bobby Townsend. Guitar photo courtesy of Oliver Heath.