Four words that sting worse than that dollar store leg wax you and your friend tried one summer: You’re. Not. Pretty. Enough. We’ve all heard it in one form or another and all coped with the aftermath of its bite. Fortunately, author Jennifer Tress is on a mission to reclaim that phrase. Her book, You’re Not Pretty Enough: Extraordinary Stories From An (Un)Ordinary Life, has also sparked a movement to encourage girls and women to share their own stories and commit to changing the perception around beauty and beauty culture. “Girls hear messages about better self-esteem fleetingly,” says Jennifer, “but now we’re starting to have real conversations, real dialogue about this issue.” Jennifer uses warmth and heart to put her own (often hilarious) experiences with self-esteem and self-image in perspective to show that she gets this challenge is universal for women and to underscore the power in coming together as a community to demand more kindness, more compassion, and less criticism. When she speaks to audiences and others begin to open up about their experiences, Jennifer says the effect is inspiring. “I hope they walk away thinking ‘if she made it out, I can too.’”
If you could describe yourself in one hashtag, what would it be?
Tell us about a girl in your life who rocks.
My younger sister. She’s super thoughtful and selfless and wants to make a real impact in the world. She’s a doctor of sociology, a researcher and a full-time project manager at an association, and up until recently an adjunct professor. She’s had to let go of the latter – something she loved and was supremely talented at – because pay equity is staggering low compared to the amount of work being put in and it’s having a huge impact on academic learning environments. Students deserve the best teachers, especially given the cost of tuition, and some of the very best cannot make a living wage, even after years of schooling and training and experience (and mountains of debt to prove it).
What are your dreams/goals/ambitions?
My dream is to be fully in control of how I spend my days so I can fully spend them doing things I enjoy, which includes running the You’re Not Pretty Enough (YNPE) Project.
What are you most proud of?
Starting YNPE. It seemed like a huge leap because it seemed like big idea. I went through a period of self-doubt where I thought who the hell was I to think I could pull this off? I’m not trained in helping people with self-esteem! But I am trained in helping clients making big ideas happen, so I simply applied those skills to myself and got to work.
There’s a great quote from Cory Booker. In an episode of the terrific Sundance Channel series Brick City he said in front of a large crowd: “I’ve got a city that I have unyielding faith that we are going to be the place in America to figure a lot of this stuff out. When you come to the end of all the light, you know, and you’re about to step into the darkness, one of two things will happen: either you’ll find solid ground underneath you, or the universe will send you people who will teach you how to fly.”
It’s easy to be intimidated by big ideas, but they usually get done by someone. Why not you?
What piece of advice changed your life?
To always live up to my potential. It came about in an indirect way in a work situation in my twenties. I turned in a draft brochure for a client to my supervisor and it was not my best work. I did not put a lot of time into it. My supervisor was not happy and contemplated throwing me off the project. It scared me, because who was going to pick me up on another project if I had just gotten kicked off one? I asked her for another chance and she gave it to me. I’ve never gambled with a half-assed effort since then. And if I need more time to deliver it, I’ll ask for it.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Writing and speaking near full-time. My sister running YNPE, which becomes a non-profit with chapters and subgrants for programming and outreach. Spending more time with great people.
What is the number one item on your bucket list?
Getting a photo with Jon Bon Jovi. I am serious. There’s a story in my book about how I had a massive crush on him when I was 15/16 – like I stopped dating for a year because I was saving myself for him and I was sure if we just met he’d feel the same way. I lived in a small town with no connections, but before I turned 17 there I was waiting backstage to meet him. I know! I couldn’t believe it either! My camera broke (because I dropped it) and so I never got a picture. I don’t know why it’s so important to me but I need a picture of him and me together. Maybe it’s because people keep asking, “have you met Jon yet?” and I’m like, “I’ve already met him!” Or maybe it’s because I still have a crush. I don't know.
Who has been the biggest female influence in your life and why?
My mom. She pushed me to do things based on my best (and desired) interests. She’s one of my biggest cheerleaders and she taught me the value of feminism and being open. And reading! I am forever grateful to her for my love of reading. She allows herself to be vulnerable but also always puts one foot in front of the other. Sometimes that alone takes a lot of guts.
What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken and what did you learn from it?
Talking really honestly about my experiences in such a public way (both in the book and when I talk or tell stories live on stage). Because our culture can be so snarky and disaffected sometimes, I feared I would be judged for some of the things that happened to me, or the choices I made. But people judging me hasn’t been the norm. I’m so thrilled and moved that people are getting something out of the messages I’m putting out there. The feedback I’ve gotten is that people need to feel like they’re not alone and that’s it’s nice to know your past doesn’t have to define you. Also, my content is usually full of LOLs so that breaks up the tension that comes with getting though life, that sassy minx.
Why are you THAT GIRL?
Because I love myself and I’m helping others to do the same.
Interview conducted and compiled by Sheila Moeschen, IATG Senior Editor