If sagacious blondie Jen Steele hadn’t founded Girls I Know, a platform dedicated to NYC gals with gumption, smarts, and imagination, there’s no doubt she would have found herself featured on the site.
Case in point: at the age of 17, Steele drove six hours on a whim to Minneapolis to audition for title of Miss Seventeen on the reality television show “Miss Seventeen” on MTV. She won (a cover, a college scholarship, and a paid internship at the mag).
Now 27, Steele works as a freelance stylist and maintains Girls I Know, a “healthy and positive digital space for an audience interested in real women doing great things.” The women on the site range in age and chosen career paths–from young designers to financiers. No doubt, the uniqueness of each girl gives the site an untapped freshness, but it is also Steele’s Q&A approach that effortlessly understands the landscape of the modern woman, insomuch that it can’t be pigeonholed.
She asks the kind of questions you might inquire of a best friend. Or perhaps they are the kind of questions you may never ask anyone–unapologetic, but never brash. There’s no dominant interview paradigm. No worn out style. It’s a genuine inquisitiveness. As she says, “It’s not for me to gauge how special someone is.” She lets them be. And likewise, the ladies’ answers buoy them, but never moor.
Like when she asks Goldman Sachs analyst Victoria Doucette: When you go to work, tell me about what you see there. (Not quite a question, is it?) Or Gina Kelly: How can you tell you like someone when you meet them?
So when we caught up with Ms. Steele, we wanted earnest answers to earnest questions. Like why is it so difficult for women to be happy for other women?
Isn’t it a beautiful thing when girls work together. (Not really a question either.)
Given the amount of cyber bullying and girl-on-girl hate, slut-shaming and beyond, it seems the ripe time for Girls I Know. Was there one inciting incident or a specific moment where you thought, I really want to create a positive environment where women support each other?
No, although this issue has become more apparent to me since starting the website. Originally, Girls I Know was meant to be a photo book, I’ve been working on the project for three years and its entity has taken several different incarnations.
Why do you think it’s so important for women to support each other?
When you give support to another person, you without a doubt get back a similar version of support in return. In a way, I’d call it an investment. Do this and you will see how much good comes. Also, the feeling of helping or giving to others is immeasurable.
Is it easy for you to find new women to feature?
Yes and no. It’s important to me that the women featured on Girls I Know are relatable and can offer up a version of inspiration. They have to be honest, dynamic, resourceful… and truthfully it’s all relative, right? Who or how a person is. It’s not for me to gauge how special someone is but it is important to see fire in the eyes. I like that a lot.
And then again, yes. I have an eye for, or perhaps an interest in women who have something to say, who harbor a certain kind of confidence.
Did/do you feel like your position at Cosmopolitan ever compromised your beliefs as a confident, independent woman?
My position as Associate Fashion Editor was to travel, style, assist on and occasionally produce photo shoots. I would wrangle 10 trunks at a time around the country and occasionally the world. It was the first time in my life I had serious responsibility and liability and was depended on. That feeling to me is one of independence. The content never caught me; I didn’t read the magazine. I had fun working at Cosmopolitan. Hard work, lots of skin, and no time for anything else.
For women who find it difficult to be happy for other women—do you have any advice?
Well, first ask why? Usually it’s because something isn’t going “right” in their own life. Each person has their own aptitude and the energy it takes being angry about something is energy better spent growing, learning, evolving as your person. This would be me pulling an Oprah card?
It’s true though. The better you know yourself–your general strengths and weakness, the further along in cultivating the aspects of your life you will be. Owning your abilities as an individual is the key.
In the same vein, how do you compete and still maintain a healthy relationship with women who work in a similar field?
We end up doing what we are best at. I’ve been told no so many times and secretly I enjoy it. Competition, I think it’s healthy and part of what makes everything interesting. If you aren’t the one to win, get chosen, whatever – well, that is that. Shoulders back, move on, you probably wouldn’t be happy anyway. But learning what you might improve on is a specific talent in itself.
What does success look like for you? Feel like?
The weirdest thing about you?
I write, talk and occasionally think dyslexically… I also have the highest arched foot you’ll ever see.
What’s a role model?
Someone who listens to themselves first.
True Beauty is:
…and someone who is pretty f**king natural.
Respect for yourself.
What scares you most about living in NYC? What excites you most?
Running out of money once scared me. Summertime around 9pm, being outside when it’s that warm and tomorrow is soon.
Toughest question anyone ever asked you?
Why did you say that about your family?
Favorite girl you’ve met to date? Unfair question?
Oh gosh. Beyoncé.
Girl you don’t know yet, but want to?
I wish I would have featured Helen Gurley Brown. I had the chance to but never did, that is a regret!
Is the boss still a blonde?
Funny you ask. I still have the front page of Daily News London.
I was 17, in London on a school trip. I had a huge gap in my teeth then and smiled so huge when I saw Marilyn Monroe on the cover the paper, headline read: The Boss is a Blonde. The man selling the papers, said, “for that smile, keep it!” I still have it and think about that moment. The boss is the boss. Blonde or other. Wink.
photo credit: Ben Shapiro.