(Photo courtesy of Charlotte Parker)
Worth the Risk
A Look at Nicole Weider’s Courageous Campaign to End Sexual Exploitation
By Sarah Komisky
Many of us are bombarded by images of who we should be instead of who we are. Stand at a checkout line at a local chain store and these images will shout with messages from the multiple magazine covers that flood the aisles. For females, these hypersexualized covers bring the instant sting of insecurity, but also pique the interest of our curiosity to find out who we should be in order to be beautiful and attractive. For guys, the instant lure of temptation is set before their eyes. For all us, we are faced with a problem and for Nicole Weider, she has had enough.
As an ex-model, author, and founder of Project Inspired, Nicole, who worked in the industry, decided to courageously take action single-handedly against this mega corporation in order to put a halt to rising sexual exploitation. As a former Maxim model who also worked for Victoria Secret, her experience being exposed to the dangers of Hollywood and the pressures of perfection is what initially promoted a God-guided campaign to pull Cosmopolitan Magazine completely off the shelves.
This work began in 2011 where she collected 22,000 signatures and proposed that the magazine should be sold in a non-transparent wrapper to customers 18 and over. Joining forces with Victoria Hearst (granddaughter of the iconic William Randolph Hearst) as well as Mortality Media, Weider ultimately desired to put an end to Cosmo completely. After a longstanding battle, Nicole recently saw victory in March when Walmart removed Cosmo from 5,000 store checkout lines! Today, I got to sit down with Nicole and talk about the journey to victory, the importance of knowing your identity, the definition of beauty, and her passion for empowering young women.
Sarah: So maybe to start out, give us a little background on who you are with the backstory of how you got into the modeling industry?
Nicole: So, I started modeling when I was pretty young actually. I started when I was six years old, up in Portland, Oregon. I was doing a lot of catalogue jobs there, and one of the bigger jobs there I got was to be on a Billboard for a station called Z100. And it was so exciting and such a dream come true. However, I was only 14-years-old at the time, and I was being marketed as an older, sexier woman. That should have been a warning sign, here I am only in eighth grade, but here I am on a billboard about going on a date with someone. But it was so exciting for me, I didn’t really think about it like that. I wanted to move to Los Angeles to resume modeling and moved down here when I was 16. It was such a dream come true and I loved everything. Well, not everything, but I loved living in Los Angeles. However, I didn’t realize how cut throat and how much competition this industry really is. And I didn’t know the temptations that would soon come at me.
So, my modeling agent soon started pointing out all of my flaws and said that my hair wasn’t thick enough, my hips were too wide, I was not skinny enough to be a model, but that my body was more suited for swim wear and lingerie. That was not originally what I wanted to do, but I needed to make a living and living in Los Angeles is very expensive. So, when you are a young model you kind of take certain jobs. I was doing some swimwear jobs and one of the bigger things I was in was Maxim Magazine. At first, it was such a dream come true and I was so excited but then when I was on set, I felt completely degraded and I was just looked at as a sex object. This was just making me so uncomfortable. I was like, this modeling life style isn’t as glamorous as people think it is. After doing several lingerie jobs, I also was a body double for a Victoria Secret commercial. That was a really exciting thing for me. But again, I was walking around on set just in my lingerie, and I was like, ‘This is really embarrassing. I do not feel comfortable doing this.’ So I came to this realization that being a model is not all it is cracked up to be and was not for me.
So I fell into a depression that lasted several months and I completely did not know what direction I was supposed to go in. And then God was really pursuing me during that time, and I started praying, and I started reading the Bible because my friend Christina introduced me to Jesus. I read “The Purpose Driven Life” and that book really changed my outlook on life and my whole purpose. I gave my life to Jesus when I was 24. After that, I needed to warn young women about the dangers of Hollywood and about what it is like to not be a Christian in this industry and what the temptations are. So, I wanted to create a blog for young women to go to and then that blog sort of grew and grew into the website, Project Inspired, that it is today.
Sarah: I love your passion and just how you use all of those things to be able to do something for good and for God, essentially. That leads me into my next question. With your experience, and with your experience working with men, what would your message be to females of how we can be a part of the solution instead of the problem? Because there is so much on social media even displaying our sexuality and all of that. So how can we take some steps in changing how we portray ourselves so we can help men out?
Nicole: Oh my gosh, that is such a good question, it is such a big question. It is so hard, because like you said it used to just be the magazines that would objectify women as sex objects or in movies or TV. But now, and I am not trying to look down on any woman that does this, but the problem with social media though is that everyone has a big platform to showcase their body. The problem with social media now is that everyone has a platform whether they want to use it for good or for bad. And a lot of women, and I still care about them, are not helping the problem of the over-sexualization of women by just showcasing their body with picture after picture after picture. And I believe, although some women think it is empowering, it is actually not empowering. It is just showing that you are leading with your sexuality and you are leading with your looks as opposed to leading with your heart or being a good person. So these over-sexualized pictures are actually harming young women and it is not inspiring them. And, if anything, it is making them feel like they need to compare with these other women who are showcasing these things. So I just want to encourage other women to think before they take these sexual photos and put them on the Internet. Because once a woman does that, or anyone does that, the pictures will be there forever. You almost can never take them back. Even though it might seem fun, or it might seem cool to take provocative photos, it is actually not because in the future it can really come back to harm them. Then also it can prevent other opportunities in the future for that person.
Sarah: Absolutely, that is a really good word because I feel like it is tempting even to young women to gain attention or validation in some way. And I know when you were at Victoria Secret, I was looking at an interview, and you said that some photos were heavily edited. Most young girls look at these magazines, at Cosmopolitan, and think, we don’t look like that and we just don’t feel like we are enough. Maybe you could comment about that, because it is such a huge thing that is happening.
Nicole: An eye opening experience for me was when I was in a commercial. One of the main photographers on set was retouching one of the main supermodels photos in real time. He was showing me how he was smoothing out her freckles and making her thighs skinnier and he was just doing it almost in a bragging way, like ‘Look what I am doing.’ And I was just thinking, this is just not right. Here I was, all my life, and I thought these were just the most beautiful women and I looked up to them, as I’m sure a lot of young women did. And here I was looking at their photos being heavily retouched and I was shocked. If these models were not good enough, then I definitely wasn’t good enough.
So, I just needed to spread the message that young women are beautiful the way they are and not to compare themselves to magazine photos or pictures that they see in catalogues because they are just not realistic. And, also, Cosmo feeds this problem. Although they call themselves ‘The Bible for young, fearless woman,’ it is actually harming them in so many different ways from their heavily edited photos, to their pornographic sex tips that should not be read by underage girls, to just their harmful advice. With all the feminism and the #MeToo movement, and as much good as it is with all of those, Cosmopolitan is feeding the problem by telling them how to please a man sexually in six different ways, or that they need to have a boyfriend in order to be valuable.
Sarah: Tagging along with what you were just talking about, since our culture is so highly sexualized, how do we begin to rebuild as young women our relationships with the opposite sex knowing how to relate with them without sex even being the focus? Right now we have gone so far in this that we don’t even know how to connect with one another! So maybe you can touch on that a little bit.
Nicole: So, I think the starting point for young women to start at is to not absorb all of this over-sexuality in the media, whether it is not reading Cosmo, or not watching Fifty Shades of Grey. And by not filling their minds with this sometimes pornographic material, or over-sexual messages. Because if you stop watching that stuff and you stop reading that type of material, your heart and your mind will change, because God says, ‘Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ And so, I noticed when I was objectified just as a sex object, I stopped looking at Cosmo. I stopped reading Cosmo and filling my mind with all of that stuff, and I was becoming a new person.
When a woman decides to not watch that or not read that her heart and her mind will be renewed and will be thinking about what the Lord wants. It is possible in today’s day and age to focus on the Lord to guard your heart and mind. And that is so important as a first step. Then the second thing is to combat the problem by not taking sexual pictures and by putting out content and using your voice for good to help other women and to lift them up and to not create an unrealistic image by showcasing their sexuality. It is also encouraging and building up other woman instead of creating this false sense of self with over-sexual images. Because then if you also lead with your character, it is going to attract the right types of guys. And it is going to help your relationships and it is going to create deeper and more meaningful relationships as opposed to finding a guy who only values you because of your body or what you look like.
Sarah: Amen. I think those are really good practical steps to get started in changing the way we think and the way we act. I guess going back to the Cosmopolitan campaign as you’ve worked through this since 2011 and finally reached a point at Wal-Mart where you have seen some changes, what has that been like for you finally reaching this point?
Nicole: It was seriously so huge and such a victory for me to see that Wal-Mart is removing Cosmo from their check out lines. This means that thousands of less vulgar covers are in young people’s faces and children’s faces, and less pornographic material will be inside the magazine. And ultimately thousands of less copies of the magazine being sold, which is huge. I started small by just creating little Facebook videos about how harmful the magazine really was. So many people made fun of me, saying who are you to go against Cosmopolitan magazine? Your voice doesn’t matter and no one is ever going to take you seriously. However, I did not give up. I campaigned against them for about two and half years and I as put out videos, I was collecting hundreds of letters from young women that had read the magazine that were negatively affected. I would print these letters out and I would mail them to the Federal Trade Commission about the dangers of Cosmo. I got a letter back saying they would look into the matter once they realized it was a public threat. And I was just thinking, it kind of is!
This magazine was really harming young woman and I was sending letters and emails to Cosmopolitan itself and the then Editor-in-Chief Kate White. I just kept keep getting blown off, they wouldn’t respond. However, there was a lot of good that came from it because I was able to get interviews in the media about the dangers of it. So, because of the interviews in the media, it was putting more pressure on the magazine. And it was creating awareness within the public about how this magazine was not helping young women. It is just amazing. I can’t even explain how overjoyed I was to see this because Wal-Mart is one of the largest stores in America. So, if they remove it from all of their check out lines, I believe it is just a ripple effect before more and more stores realize that they do not need to sell this magazine. This magazine is outdated, it is not helping our current culture.
Wal-Mart is taking a positive stance for women’s rights. There is no place for Cosmopolitan magazine in today’s culture. With women that are speaking out against sexual violence and sexual prejudice, I applaud all of the brave women that are going forward and explaining how they were objectified and how they were treated. I believe Cosmo is just feeding this problem. If you look at their magazine, it is always ‘56 Different Sex Tips to Please a Man’ or ‘How to Make Him into you.’ It is never about your heart or your character. So, I just believe Cosmo has no place in today’s day and age in 2018 with all of the women’s right movements.
Sarah: That is a powerful statement and I agree with you. I can’t wait to put out this interview. I think it is going to be a really good thing to be able to have some positive words for young women who are hopefully going to stop reading Cosmopolitan.
Nicole: They will! They are already doing it.
For more on Nicole visit: projectinspired.com