The Celebration of Imperfections In Fashion And Art With Anne Fisker

Meet Anne Fisker, who is one of those fierce people without any fear of failure and always pushing boundaries of the conventional.

In the series of our Sunday Instagram Live, we caught the well-spoken Anne Fisker for a chat about self-image vs. society, why networking is key and hard work doesn’t have to mean working long hours for a little pay in the fashion industry. Catch the upcoming schedule for May right here.

You were born with a cleft palate, how has this influenced your childhood, teens, and you as a person? 

Being born with cleft palate has meant a bit of a rocky start and some adversity that I have had to overcome. But in general my childhood was fairly normal. I do, however remember at the age of 7 or 8 explaining to a friend, and almost bragging, how I was going to get an operation later when I would turn 16, that was going to change EVERYTHING. I thought of it like my fairytale, and that this operation would mean that I would finally become one of those pretty Disney princesses and I would find life and love easy from then on. Truth is, though the surgeries took away my underbite and made my nose a little less crooked, I was still me, and it still looked like me, though slightly different. Just like having your braces taken off.

I have been lucky, and have never been bullied for my appearance. My cleft palate has simply never been part of the general conversation with my peers, neither as a child nor as a teen. It’s just how I look, and there has always been so much more to me than that. 

Can you explain to us exactly what a cleft palate is?

I was born with both cleft lip and palate. Cleft lip and cleft palate is a split in the upper lip, through the gums, to the roof of the mouth (palate). For short, most people simply call it cleft palate. This happens in unborn babies whose developing facial structures don’t close completely. It is actually one of the most common birth defects and is easily corrected through a series of surgeries that can restore normal function and achieve a more ‘normal’ appearance with minimal scarring.

What insights through your operation process are you grateful to have gained?

I have had many operations due to my cleft palate over the years. Some for function and some for more cosmetic reasons. The largest operation I had when I was 16 was a mix of both. Being 16, full of hormones, at boarding-school trying to hone in on your own identity, getting a surgery that changes your face is daunting. I think most readers remember being 16 and basically waking up to a new personality every day. The operations were tough, and the aftermath was tougher with bruising, swelling, a jaw wired shut, etc. But it did make me realize how amazing the human body and mind are. How it can bounce back from being broken.

Do you have any helpful advice for others to make peace with how they look? 

I have never felt particularly limited, I guess because I believe in my capabilities. And to be honest, I’m very good at compartmentalizing, and most often forget that I look a little different. Just as you might forget what color your socks are wearing today. You can trust in the fact that you are actually wearing socks, so why retain the knowledge of their color? I’m not saying to negate or forget that you’re a little different or that your socks are in fact pink, but when it comes to work or social situations it very rarely has any real relevance as opposed to how you treat people or what you’re capable of doing. 

For art to be interesting, to capture our minds, and to not just be a duplicate of what is already known and understood, it needs a perspective that challenges us, rubs us the wrong way, – imperfection. The same goes for fashion and for people.

These days, society and social media can make a lot of us feel like we’re expected to live up to an impossible self-image. How do you think social media has affected our societal ideals of beauty? 

I think of social media as super interesting. Our exposure to different kinds of people was very limited before the democratization of media through platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We all know that it is curated, but so were the glossy pages of traditional media. With social media, you can easily find like-minded people who look like you or have the same aesthetic or political opinion as you. I think that is amazing. 

How do you face your fears and take the leap to do something completely new or keep chasing a dream, even though it’s scary? 

As I’ve mentioned, I’m very good at compartmentalizing, and I know it’s very bad advice, but when I’ve really wanted to do something but felt scared, I’d just tuck that fear away and did it anyway. It’s a very privileged way of thinking, because I know that even if I take the leap and fall, I have a great safety net to catch me in the form of family and friends. 

I remember moving to New York alone with only a suitcase and an address for a guy that I had briefly met in Spain two years previously, panicking. What if he had given me the wrong address, or that the admissions letter to NYU was a lie, or if I weren’t smart enough to succeed in classes or simply got lost or mugged? But I just held my breath, thought of anything else, and simply went through the motions of getting on a plane, finding a taxi, ringing the doorbell, and luckily the address was right, and New York was one of the best experiences of my life. 

What has been the biggest game-changer of your career so far? 

Getting fired. I have been fired twice in my life, and both times for the better. If you’re not right for the job, you’re not right for the job. So I was forced to look at myself, my skill set, and what I actually wanted and enjoyed doing, and keep pushing on from there. Realizing and actualizing who you are and what you really want to be doing (and not what you think you should want to be doing) is difficult because really who truly knows themselves fully? But when you find a workplace that makes you feel good, confident, challenged, and proud of not just yourself but also the company, then you’ve landed in the right place. I’m currently lucky enough to have found such a place at the fashion brand JUST Female.

What’s the best thing about working in the fashion industry?

For good and for bad, the fashion industry is in constant motion. There is always something new to learn or get excited about. Its constant innovation is currently also the industry’s downfall but I believe that this innovation can be turned on its head and save the industry with new modes of operation. 

What makes fashion interesting in your eyes? 

In my opinion, fashion is art. Long ago, artists of the naturalism movement set out to achieve perfection: to flawlessly depict reality with a brush on a canvas. Later photography came along and made the philosophy redundant, because with a flick of a switch you could grasp a motif with 100% accuracy and perfection. Art has since taken leaps and bounds to destroy our sense of reality and perfection, with movements such as surrealism, cubism, performance art, and even through photography itself. For art to be interesting, to capture our minds, and to not just be a duplicate of what is already known and understood, it needs a perspective that challenges us, rubs us the wrong way, – imperfection. The same goes for fashion and for people. Perfection is not sympathetic, it is cold, distant, and unrealistic. The human eye loves symmetry, that’s why some people are considered more physically beautiful than others, but the entirety of a person is not beautiful without flaws. 

What’s your best advice for people who would like to kick off a career in fashion? 

Work hard, kill them with kindness, and never underestimate a good network. 

  1. Working hard does not mean working long hours for little pay. It means do your very best, be reliable, and eager to learn new things. Go the extra mile, research, get passionate, and be efficient in your time management.
  2. To ‘Kill people with kindness’ is to stay positive and be solution-minded. A boss or a client does typically not want to hear about a problem but is grateful for a problem and your suggestions to a solution. Share the workload with coworkers. If you’re leaving and someone else is still busy or struggling with their workload, ask if you can do anything to help them, even if it’s just to bring them a fresh cup of coffee.
  3. Finally, a network is key. Truthfully, my experience is that a good network means more than any education. If people know of you they are much more likely to bring you in for an interview, and in the end, to hire you. I am eternally grateful for my first internships that introduced me to the business and the people in it. I would not have been where I am today without them. 

How do you keep calm and recharge your batteries in a busy work world? 

I got my first skateboard at 13. My brother had one and I just thought it was so cool. I wheeled around on our suburban streets that entire summer, and then never picked it up again … until I turned 25. I was living in London, writing my dissertation for my first masters and needed an activity to get me out of the house and my mind off my studies. I’ve always been very independent, so I needed something I could do solo, and skating just seemed like an obvious choice. A year later I went surfing for the first time – in beautiful Mexico, and it was just everything; the calm wait, the thrill of catching a wave, being at one with nature, and the kindness and passion of the surfing community. So today I mainly skate in an attempt to replicate that feeling of a surfboard beneath me. I love traveling and experiencing new cultures, but the surfing community is worldwide. 

Thanks Anne, you rock! 

Appendix: Functional operations are to optimize function, while cosmetic operations are to improve the physical aesthetic. When a child is born with a split lip and palate it cannot eat as it cannot close its mouth to create suction, and while the child grows the upper jaw is underdeveloped and the position of the teeth is therefore compromised. So functional operations are to fix those mechanics. Cosmetic operations are elective and have more to do with achieving symmetry in the face.

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