Jun 30 2010

Influence: Iekeliene Stange



I’m afraid my internet sleuthing skills have disappointed; I can’t find the original creator of this.  If anyone has any inkling, please let me know, because it’s pretty clear a lot of time went creating it! 

Welcome one and all to the very second Influence feature!  Now, I realize Miep Gies is a preettttty tough act to follow, but we’ll try our best.  Too many role models, too little time.  Our second person to be featured in Influence is also from the Netherlands (perhaps we should have a sub-category of Dutch Influence all-stars?)   Iekeliene Stange is a Dutch fashion model, photographer and all-around creative force to be reckoned with.  Born on July 27th, 1984, she was initially scouted in Rotterdam, where she was enrolled in a multi-media design program, and then in London, where she had started to study photography.   Although Iekeliene hardly thought herself model material (she protested “But I’m not beautiful!” to her model scout, Victor de Bie), she gamely decided to give modeling a try with the intent of continuing it for a year or so in order to help fund her photography studies.   That plan of a one-year stint was parlayed into a significantly longer career; no easy feat, given that the modeling industry is a notoriously fickle.  Girls can be quickly replaced and discarded with an unsettling ease.   A model’s longevity can be generally be attributed to a good work ethic, artistic ability, ability to fit the particular “look” of the season and a variety of other factors mainly out of one’s control.  Iekeliene’s success in fashion land owes itself to a little something extra: her ability to stay completely and proudly true to herself.

iekeliene stange pretty much rules

I’ll confess the fangirling upfront: Iekeliene Stange is one of my favourite models.  I first heard of her when I stumbled upon her LiveJournal blog via Elyse Sewell’s LiveJournal (mild tangent alert: I can’t recommend Elyse’s LJ enough!  It reinforces why the internet is such a spectacular thing.  Alas, it seems like she doesn’t update much anymore, but the archives are all there for the reading.)  I was immediately captivated by Iekeliene’s thoughtful and whimsical outlook on life.  She has a very sharp, extremely distinctive face (think the personification of a female elf), and completely and confidently owns it.  From her colourful outfits that are re-imagined in a variety of ways, her chronicles of “Bjornvild: The Traveling Pony,” to pancake parties and adventuring photoshoots with friends, she is unapologetically imaginative.  It’s a rare person who can sport a tutu on the regular without veering into hopelessly twee territory… or, y’know, ridiculous territory.  Her enjoyment of simple pleasures and her resolution to make her own fun was misinterpreted by some, who saw all of this as “childish” rather than “childlike.”  The demise of her LiveJournal happened when some member of some horrid model-rating community started leaving vicious comments about her appearance.  I just can’t fathom why or how some people could be so deliberately malicious to someone they’ve never met, just for the sake of being cruel.  A flurry of comments- – both defending Iek and agreeing with the internet ghouls- -ensued.  Iekeliene kept posting a few more times, but these few people kept up with their negativity.  Finally, she closed down her blog, explaining that it was originally just intended for friends and family anyway.  I felt a bit dejected about this end, especially about the circumstances in which it came about. 

About six months passed, until, in a particularly epic bout of procrastination (and having seen her in a pirate-themed Galliano show), I looked up her name.  Lo and behold, Iekeliene just had her first solo photography exhibition, and it featured some of my favourite pictures she had taken.  And the title of the show?  I Like Ponies.  Ah!  I felt joyful and triumphant and as if all was right with the world.  It was a nice little reminder that just by being true to yourself, the world is so much better off for it.  You are so much better off for it.  Let the haters drink their haterade.


A section of the I Like Ponies exhibit

Jun 10 2010

Influence: Miep Gies

Welcome, one and all, to a new feature on The Height of Life I like to call “Influence.”  Actually, that’s what everyone will be calling it… because that is its name.   It’s really important to have positive role models, especially ones who reflect who you are and who you want to be.   Fortunately, these role models really are all around us, although they might not be in the spotlight.  I thought I’d expand past the usual suspects of bonafide celebrities in my search for people who give good influence (not hatin’ on celebrities, not saying that there aren’t plenty of role models to be found within the glossy pages of Tiger Beat, but I just want to cast the spotlight on some lesser-known but fully deserving interesting people who are doing interesting things.   Some of these interesting people also happen to be tall.  Others are not, but are tall in character.  I’m always on the lookout for new subjects for Influence, so if you have any suggestions (or would like to nominate your fine self) please shoot me an e-mail.   Any feedback is totally appreciated.

I’m thrilled to announce that Miep Gies is the very first subject for Influence.  Best known as one of five Dutch citizens who worked together to hide Anne Frank, her family, and other friends from the Nazis in World War II, Gies truly is a lasting example of courage and heroism.  She passed away on January 11th, 2010.  She was 100 years old.

I first read The Diary of Anne Frank when I was eight or nine years old.  That book acted as a gateway to the history, literature and testaments of the Holocaust for me- – so much that I ended up getting an MA in War Studies, with a focus on genocide, memory and denial.  When I was younger, my teenage flair for the melodramatic, combined with my runaway imagination, would often will the events of only half a century ago to seep into the present.  I would examine ever room in my house for the best places to hide, or to hide someone else.  I’d hear a knock on the door and imagine that a Nazi inspector was standing there.  All this bizarre activity on my part was an attempt to understand what it was like to hide for your life, and what it was like to hide others, often at the risk of your own life.   What it was like to be Anne Frank.  What it was like to be Miep Gies, who was the last surviving member of the small group who hid Anne and her family in the Secret Annex, and more famously, the woman who saved Anne’s diary in hopes of returning it to her at the end of the war.     

Earlier this year, Miep Gies passed away at 100 years of age, and so the last living connection to Anne was severed.   The entire world mourned, especially the girls who loved to read Anne’s diary, for they would grow up to be women who loved Miep Gies, and who hoped, if ever the situation called for it, that they would have the strength and character to do what she did.   The very existence of the Holocaust denies us any chances for closure, or any fist-pumping, “triumph of the human spirit”- types of happy endings.   However, the stories of the Annes and Mieps which later emerged give us a small bit of hope and belief in humanity.  They provided us with something, anything that was positive and redeeming, in the midst of an irredeemable “no man’s land of the mind,” as Elie Wiesel once described Auschwitz (the death camp he survived) and the Holocaust.  I believe that is why the popularity of Anne’s story continues to endure. 

Although the monstrous dictates of the Holocaust and the Second World War were created by world leaders and other People of Great Importance, there was no shortage of ordinary people willing to carry them out.  Thankfully, there were also committed, ordinary individuals of limited means who were still willing to risk everything and perform acts of extraordinary courage and kindness.  Miep’s story is not one of glorious triumph and heroic recognition.  Rather, Miep’s story is defined by an unwavering sense of human duty and belief in the inherent humanity of others, as well as a quiet, humble courage.  It speaks volumes that Miep didn’t even read Anne’s diary before handing it over to her father, the lone survivor of the Secret Annex.   As a society, we tend to think that it must be extraordinarily difficult to be a truly horrible person, even in times of war and chaos, but the truth is is that it is extraordinarily difficult to be a truly good person, especially in times of war and chaos. 

According to Miep Gies, “You don’t have to be a hero to do your human duty… who was a hero?  I was not.  I was just an ordinary housewife and secretary.”

A grateful and humbled world begs to differ.  We should all strive to be so “ordinary.”