Model Genesis Vega Wants to Get Real on Instagram About Mental Health
by Akili King
Mental health is a topic that has always been taboo to some degree, especially for women and people of color. In addition to this, it can get especially difficult to take care of oneself in a city like New York, where everyone seems to be on the go, nonstop. FOMO causes some people to constantly be moving, which, in turn, makes many deplete themselves. Lack of self-care ultimately compromises the most important things: our mental health and happiness. Even at a young age, 20-year-old Dominican petite model, Gen Vega, is a game-changer. Not only has she broken boundaries and stigmas surrounding petite models in the fashion industry — by appearing in Vogue magazine, Barney’s New York, Urban Outfitters, and much more — she also fearlessly uses her own platform to vocalize her battles with mental health. She shows her followers that they, too, are allowed to take space and time for themselves to release and express their inner emotions, in order to lead healthy and balanced lives. I sat down with this fiery-meets-sweet Gemini lady in a SoHo cafe. Gen, who was clad in plaid bell bottoms, silver boots, and adorable glasses, shared stories of her battle with mental health, the ups and downs she’s faced as a petite model, as well as her best advice and go-to pick-me-ups when she’s feeling down.
What made you want to start modeling?
I wanted to work and model for American Apparel. I ended up working for them and modeling for their Instagram, but realized over time that I wanted to be more than an American Apparel model.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a petite model?
Getting told “no” many times because of my height. People would second guess me and ask if I was sure it [modeling] was something I wanted to do. They would tell me I’m too short for it and that I’d be better off doing commercial, but not runway. I’m not saying I want to be a runway model, but it could happen. Anything is possible, so I don’t want to limit myself to just commercial and print. Also, [another challenge is,] feeling a lot of competition towards yourself and also other girls because you want to be the best. The modeling industry is very competitive and you always want to be at the top. Sometimes you feel alone and discouraged because of the people that surround you, and also because of the casting process. You get told no and it’s easy to get very upset. I used to get depressed about it, and not want to get out of my bed, just because I got told no.
Last year, I met with an agency and was really hoping that they would sign me, but they said no because I was too short. This really broke me down and broke my self-esteem. After that, anything that would come my way, I’d be so upset about. I kept questioning myself, “Am I not good enough?” But I started realizing that these things take time. The first time I started modeling, I had to work very hard and go to casting after casting to find the one that would book me for a shoot. I’m now taking it in as the same process when it comes to agencies. I’m going to get told no a bunch of times until there is a place that believes in me and says, “Let’s give her a try!”
How do/did you stay positive in the face of those challenges?
I write in my journal all the time now. I used to do it occasionally, but now I do it more often if I feel sad or mad. I’ll re-read what I write, and it helps me better understand how I feel. I used to get anxious, sad, and depressed and wonder why. [But now,] I write my feelings down and start to accept them and tell myself, there’s a way of dealing with this. I had a few mental breakdowns, but they helped me realize I really don’t have to push myself. Sometimes I wouldn’t want to get out of bed, or even fix my hair, or get pretty…. I just wanted to lay down and binge watch shows on Netflix, cry, and just allow myself to be upset. Writing in my journal helped me take that anger and put it into writing, and that’s what I do all the time now.
I also stay organized by having a planner. Once I organize myself, I feel more comfortable. Money is also an issue! I always write down how much money I want to save. I’m a freelancer, and people will just be like, “We’ll pay you in exposure!” and I’m like, “How is that gonna pay my bills? It’s not gonna pay my bills!” So, it’s good to have a savings account and manage yourself in that way, because with modeling sometimes you’re dry and other times, you get a lot of jobs and you have to know what to do during those times when you have money, and not go crazy.
We see that you’ve been very vocal via social media about mental health. It’s inspiring. What made you want to start using your platform in this way?
It’s because so much was happening to me, but at the same time, people seemed to view me as perfect just because I’m a model. But behind the scenes, everything is not perfect. I am crying. I’m upset. I get angry about how people view me and about people who want to exploit me. I don’t want to be someone who is just exploited in the industry; I want people to understand my vision and to take me seriously… and to pay me what I deserve, you know?
Also, I want kids who are going through mental health issues to know that they aren’t the only people who feel depressed. When they see someone like me, with a big platform, talking about mental health, it lets them know they’re not alone. In this day and age, talking about depression and anxiety and suicide is [still] so taboo. I want to let people know, whatever you’re feeling, you’re not alone. Sometimes you need to take your time, get the help you need, and find a way to work with what you’re dealing with, because it’s very hard. If your parents aren’t there or maybe your friends don’t understand, write it down or find someone who can listen to you.
When you have a large following, I feel like you should be talking about topics like this because you don’t know who you might inspire or who’s looking up to you. That’s how I feel. I have a little sister who’s 12 years old and she’s going through that teenage phase where she feels like no one understands her and she turns to me every time she’s upset and I say, “Hey, I’ve been there before and here’s what you do.”
My mom was [also] someone who suffered from depression. Seeing that growing up, reminds me that I’m not the only one going through it. I learned from it and know I don’t want to stay in that place. I want to deal with what I’m going through.
What are some of your go-to things/activities to pick yourself up when you’re feeling low energy or depressed?
I love watching TED Talks. If I’m gonna be on my phone all the time, I want to do something productive. Or I’ll write in my notes if I’m out and don’t have my journal on me. I read The Secret and The Alchemist — it’s a really good book. Also, listening to Sade calms me down because her voice is very soothing. Listening to peaceful music that isn’t going to disrupt your brain is key. Listening to trap music isn’t really good when you’re angry [laughs]; It’s more aggravating. And also reminding myself that if I have an event to go to, I don’t have to force myself to go. I ask my body, “Hey how am I feeling? Do I want to go out?” And if not, it’s okay because I want to take care of myself first. Always put yourself first and your body first because it’s the only one you have.
What does self-care mean to you?
Putting yourself first. And also, making sure that whatever you’re going through, that you’re not taking it out on other people. Take time for yourself and tell others you’re not feeling well. With my boyfriend, sometimes when I’m really mad, I’ll get angry at him for the smallest things, and he’ll acknowledge that I’m clearly upset and that I need some space. Sometimes you do need space from everything and everyone including your phone and your computer. Being on Instagram for too long can also be really toxic because I sometimes get jaded about certain pictures not getting as many likes as I expected them to, and later I’m just like, “Am I really caring about likes? I need to take care of my mental health right now. I need to stop comparing myself to others and feeling like I don’t have this or that or that I’m not hanging out with certain people, and therefore I’m not accomplishing anything.”
Sometimes at events I feel like an outcast and like I don’t fit in because everyone’s just talking about their accomplishments and I’m like, “Wait, they’re so ahead of me, why am I even here?” Sometimes the shallowness just overcomes you and makes you not want to be there. [It’s important to] take a step back from everything — even if it’s your close friends — and ask yourself if you’re okay.
Do you have a go-to look to help you feel confident? Or something you do in general that helps you feel more confident?
Lately I’ve been sleeping really late because I’ve been watching anime so much [laughs]. Sometimes I’m just on my phone playing games, and I’m just like, “Oh my God! I have to go to sleep!” Because of this, I’ll wake up and put concealer under my eyes, mascara, blush, lipstick and be on my way. That’s my go-to when I want to feel confident. But other things that help are rewarding myself with little gifts. Also, working hard makes me feel confident.
What is one thing you wish you could say to your younger self?
I would tell myself that I wasn’t weird. I always felt like an outcast because I grew up in a Jehovah’s witness home. Having friends or boyfriends that were not Jehovah’s witnesses made me feel weird. But my mom, over the years, has become more understanding of me. Now we have a really good relationship whereas back then, we would clash so much because I was rebellious and she felt like she couldn’t tame me. So something I would tell myself is, “Whatever you’re going through, it’s going to be okay.” Nothing I did was a mistake… they were lessons. Now, when I look back, I’m like, “Wow, I was really young, but I turned out pretty fine for the things I’ve been through in life.” I would tell myself, “You’re doing great! You’re growing and you’re fine!”