‘I am not synthetic, I am a real human being just like you are’
After more than a decade in the fashion business, Josephine Skriver has become much more than a successful model. She’s a cultural force and activist for global LGBTQ rights. With great pride she talks about her lesbian mother and gay father – in her eyes pioneers for rainbow families around the world. In recent years, Josephine has conquered the hearts of the fashion world, routinely redefining expectations and transforming the way we understand new family models. At only 28 years, she is a strong personality and a role-model for the young generation.
If you had not been discovered as a model, what profession would you have chosen?
Before I decided to try modeling full time my plan had been to study medicine. I really wanted to help people and was a huge science nerd. Most likely, if I hadn’t been discovered as a model at the age of 15, you would have been able to find me at the hospital in Copenhagen, in a lab, or working with Doctors Without Borders.
You grew up in Copenhagen with LGBTQ parents and a brother. Could you tell us the story about how your parents met?
My parents met in 94’ after my mother had put an ad in a magazine called Pan for LGBT people. In her letter she asked if anyone else also had the desire to start a family because at the time in Denmark getting help through doctors or adopting wasn’t allowed for people like her in the community.
My dad was the first letter she received and they went on a friendly “do we want to co-parent date” of sorts.
After a few meetings they decided they would be a great fit to raise children together and that’s when my brother and I were brought into this world.
How did your upbringing in a LGBTQ family influence your character and your life?
Mostly my desire to love and for everyone to be loved is the same. My open-mindedness. Being a part of a minority family let’s you see the world in a bit more unconventional way, I believe. It made me more open to understanding that we are not all the same and there is beauty in that.
Back in the 90s your family belonged to the pioneers of rainbow family models. Have you ever been criticized for being conceived in a non-traditional manner and how did you respond?
There will always be people that don’t believe in bringing kids into the world the non-traditional way, whatever that is because of culture, society pressures, or religion. I have met a few people along my journey that didn’t believe my parents should have had kids the way they decided to have us because they don’t believe gay people should have the right to a family or traditional family. I whole-heartedly believe it is not always hate but sometimes just not understanding. I believe people should reach out to each other.. talk more.. see the world through the eyes and scopes of others. We are all allowed to disagree on non-traditional ways of conception, but we have to be better at respecting each other and to realize that my parents chose what felt right and best for them.
At the age of 15 you were discovered as a model. What was the reaction of your parents and your friends ?
My family was super excited for me and so were my friends, though, it was funny because I was more of the athlete and nerd and never saw myself as a model. In the end my family and friends just want me happy, so I think they would have supported me in anything. I don’t think any of us thought of it as a real job at first or that I would be as successful as I have become. It was really more of just a fun side job to do. I never was like “I’m going to be a professional model” as my career – it was just a pleasant surprise. Life has a way of surprising you though, doesn’t it?
Being a teenager at that time, did you face insecurity? What advice would you give to younger generations struggling with confidence?
I think most young girls at that age have some sort of insecurity, not just models. I am so happy I didn’t have too much social media back then because I see it eating young girls up and making them doubt themselves and question their self-worth. Being a teenager is hard as it is WITHOUT social media because you are exploring who you want to be. You compare yourself with your peers and the world around you already.
I was entering a world I had no clue about. I was a tomboy that liked playing soccer. I knew nothing of the fashion world or what they were going to expect of me and I didn’t feel like I looked like a model when I was scouted, so it for sure took a little while to accept and see that. However, I quickly made some friends, realized I actually had fun in front of the camera and “playing a role” or so sorts and that maybe I was actually good at what I was doing.
Advice to the younger generation would just be to chase happiness at all costs. Live for you and for no one else. As you get older.. people end up looking up to the rule-breakers, the weirdos, the people who are just themselves. The world is a big place with a lot of people and a place for everyone. Sometimes it just takes time to find that place. It’s okay to not have the answers.. it’s okay to be lost sometimes.. there is beauty in the hills AND the valleys.. the ups AND the downs.. the smiles AND the scars.
Can you tell us how your career started from the day you were discovered?
I was discovered at the age of 15 on a soccer trip to New York City.. but at that point I politely declined the scout who stopped my coach and I on the street.
When I got back to Copenhagen I got stopped on the street by multiple other agencies as well and again.. always politely declined. Modeling just wasn’t something I thought that I wanted to do. However, after a few weeks I had a talk with my mom and thought “why not try it out? It’s probably more fun than my weekend cleaning job I have to make pocket money.” That decision and “why not?” thought process ended up changing my life. I am so proud of my younger self that I was willing to take a chance and roll the dice.
I was told by a friend of the family to reach out to Unique models, which was one of the biggest agencies in Denmark, and to see if they thought it was a realistic and safe situation for me. My meeting with them went amazing and they signed me on right then and there.
The next few years we did a few jobs here and there and I got to dip my toe in the modeling world. We all agreed I had to be more mature and a bit older before I fully could dive in and before going international, which I am also extremely grateful for. The modeling industry is a very grown up place.
I didn’t try out international modeling until I was almost 18 and once I left I never came home. At 19, I moved full time to NYC to pursue modeling. I am so glad I got those few extra years to be a kid/teenager before going into such a big, unknown industry.
In the years after, major catwalks for Armani, Balmain, Chanel, Gucci and Prada followed – just to mention a few – as well as innumerable campaigns for famous brands. In 2016, you became a Victoria’s Secret angel – a major milestone for every model. How did that change your career ?
I feel like becoming an Angel really put me in the big leagues. At the time, it felt like the Super Bowl of modeling, especially at a time where social media was blowing up and changing the entire industry. I went from a super successful fashion model to a more known face commercially. It takes people from high fashion shows to cable television. People started to recognize me on the street like never before and that was something I was not used to at all. I still don’t thimble I am!
Seeing the Victoria‘s Secret models together, it seems like there is a special bond between all of you – just like one big family. How do you feel about this?
We had and have an incredible bond between us girls. Some of my best friends in the world I met through being an Angel and I feel very lucky I got to be part of such a special and strong group of women.
After all the years in the industry, would you say that modeling is a dream job?
I can’t speak for others.. but for me it has been! I feel so lucky and grateful I get to call modeling my full-time job. At times, it is a very lonely job because you are always on the go which makes every person in your life a long distance relationship.. but it’s also a crazy fun and amazing job. I have gotten to see places, meet people and have experiences that I couldn’t even dream of thanks to modeling. My biggest passion is travel and I have fun on adventures. I wouldn’t exchange this for the world. That has been the biggest gift from the industry.
What dangers and challenges do you see specifically for young girls starting out?
Modeling has become extremely accessible through social media and everyone claims to be a photographer or an agent, even when they really aren’t. I know a ton of people who get great work through social media, and maybe I’m old school, but I would still recommend going through professional agents to get jobs. To make sure you work with safe and professional teams. I love my industry, but there are a lot of temptation and dangers offered to young girls around it and it is really hard to know who to trust and who is taking advantage of you.
Modeling is a very physical job. Do you have to follow a specific nutrition plan to stay in shape?
I have never followed a specific diet, because my job is my body, I make sure to take very good care of it. I try and eat healthy 80% of the time and treat myself the other 20%. I have always loved staying active and working out, so that has not changed much from before modeling and probably won’t after. My body is my temple! I’m always drinking water and prioritizing my health. Working out does not only help me stay in shape but keeps my mind clear too. It has become such an important aspect of my life.
With your friend Jasmine Tookes you created a workout program that is followed by millions of people on Social Media. Why did you decide to start this venture?
An active lifestyle has always been part of my DNA, so when I met Jasmine and realized she felt the same, we quickly became workout buddies and I realized how much more fun it was to train with a friend and how much we motivated each other. We both wanted to share our journey with others and show them the power of friendships in the gym. The one question I always get about my fitness lifestyle is “how do you stay motivated?” and for me the answer has always been “Jasmine holds me accountable and inspires me. Hopefully I do the same for her. Find yourself a workout buddy!”. Having someone that feels motivated on the days you don’t, that makes the classes or the hours in the gym go faster, and who inspires you to do and be better is everything to me. Friendship through fitness is what all JoJa is about. Wherever you are on your journey.. make it fun!
Your merits go far beyond the fashion world. As an advocate for Stonewall Initiative and Family Equality Council you fight for global LGBTQ rights. Why is this important to you and what needs to change in our society?
So many things need to change in our society, but I would say some of the biggest things are compassion and empathy. We have to think about others more. How they feel, what they have gone through, their realities… That’s why I share my story. I truly believe that if people were more aware, they would do better. The unfamiliar can seem scary and create hate, but by standing up I’m putting an actual face behind the story. We are all humans first, though uniquely amazing in our own ways. It shouldn’t matter what sexuality we have, what we decide to believe in, or who we deep down identify as. Being different is beautiful and we should all be allowed to live next to each other with respect and tolerance.
I just want to be a part of this incredible movement and to show the community that I am an ally. I want to spread love, share my story, so the youth in the community knows how I was raised and that they have a friend in me.
On Instagram you regularly engage with millions of followers. How important is the community for you and what messages do you share with your fans?
It’s important for any fan or person who follows me to know how grateful I am for them. They have no idea how often they make my day or pick me up when I am down. I hope that they know how much I care about them and every day I do what I can to make them proud. I also want to give a special shoutout to our JOJA fanbase. They are some of my favorite people and I really feel they have become family to Jasmine and I.
Tell us about your role models. How have the people in your life influenced you?
My role models are found in my family and friends, mostly. Surrounding myself with people I look up to or that motivate and inspire me to do and be more is a huge priority for me. I always want to be pushed and to be inspired. So many of my friends are artists, creatives, athletes.. and constantly seeing them work hard and being inspired pushes me to be the best version of myself.
There are many things going on in your career, how do you make sure to take care of yourself?
Taking care of myself and my body is very important to be able to keep going at the tempo I do. That’s where the healthy lifestyle of nutritional food and working out comes in. Staying active and keeping the juices flowing is very important for the physical part of my body but also mentally. It makes my brain more clear and keeps my mood lifted. Happiness, strength, and health within always has to come first.
As a model you travel a lot. How do you keep the balance between business and private? Do you have time to follow a personal passion?
It took me a long time to learn to be good at that and sometimes I still feel like it is a work in progress. Work came before anything the first few years, but after a while you have to learn to say no to some jobs, so you don’t fully burn out or go crazy. Mental health is so much more important than money or jobs. I luckily have an incredible team around me that is always super aware and supportive of that. We have a really good system down between work and private life and they always support me and check in. You have to feel within yourself and listen to your body.
You have been working in several cities. What is your favorite place to live?
So many cities have special places in my heart. Nashville will always be dear to me. It’s such a lovely place to live. The lifestyle is very laid back and everyone puts family and friends first. Copenhagen is my forever home. It’s cozy, where my family is, and I just love the culture and what people stand for. Los Angeles is where so many of my friends are and the sunny weather every day puts you in a great mood. It’s hard to choose. I love how different they all have been.
What do you hope for your future?
My goal in life has always been to chase happiness. That’s all a human being can ask for.
Josephine, thank you for this inspiring interview and the great editorial shooting with Caleb & Gladys for our Magazine. We wish you great success for your future plans – we hope to see you for many more years on international catwalks, in front of the camera and as pioneer for LGBTQ.
-Written by: Michaela Weidlich