Alice Gee | 29/12/2023
Emma Brooks is here and thriving. Finishing our Issue 14 cover shoot, the atmosphere is electric, with Emma's confidence and huge likability having it's effect. When it came to Issue 14's pre planning, I can tell you, I jumped at the chance to sit with Emma. For those who don't know, Emma is a force of good, with many of her conversations focused on mentalth. I learn her aim remains the same as ever, to tackle negative stigma all whilst wearing her heart on her sleeve, something I hugely admire. In a downtown LA studio, I get the chance to ask in depth about her love of books, her journey from USA beauty pagents to editorial modelling and our common ground experience with Bipolar.
A: First of all, thank you for the shoot today. Honestly, you look incredible!
E: I had so much fun.
A: I've been really interested in speaking to you partly of your similar experiences with Bipolar, and PTSD. I've got bipolar, and I got diagnosed with PTSD in 2017. And it’s been a turbulent time. I’m a few years in and the way they interact with one another is really interesting to me. So I'm going to be really interested to delve a little bit into that if you're comfortable a little bit later. But let's start, let's visit your movement into modelling and content creation. What was it that drew you into the world of content creation? What was in your eyeline when you first started?
E: Growing up, I've always wanted to model and be a part of the creative industries, whether it was film, fashion or entertainment, that world has always intrigued me. It’s always been the goal for me. In high school, I started pageants. To be honest I was doing everything I could, from local fashion weeks, to flying out to New York at 14. In my head I was like, I'm gonna do this one day, and I have to do everything in my power to make this happen. I drove across all of Louisiana, just to shoot as much as possible. I did everything I could. I ended up finding an internship in LA for a fashion PR firm when I was 17 before I finished high school, and I moved to LA. For me, content creation just being a Gen Z, growing up on social media it was just something natural. It wasn’t any form of goal just more so just the intention of doing it for fun. After living in LA for like eight to nine months, my content started to pick up a little bit and my manager, my wonderful amazing manager found me and we ended up connecting, and we've been together ever since. That’s kind of what boosted me into the world of social media and content creation. I realised how beautiful it could be to work in the space and be a little bit more protected within the fashion and modelling world. It's one of the least protected parts of the entertainment industry. It’s quite brutal. There's no laws to protect any of the models. So I saw it as an opportunity to grow into the Fashion space more and to do what I want to do, and what my dreams were but in a way that is more meaningful. I want to be more of a person and have more of a brand, I want to share my opinions, I'm so passionate about mental health which pageants really boosted for me because you're supposed to have something that you stand for. It's always been mental health. For me, it's always been what I've believed in the most and what I've wanted to talk to about the most. So I saw content creation as a way to be able to do the things.
A: When you mentioned pageantry, as someone who's not been to an American pageant, I love it’s important to stand for something. How has it been in terms of the opposite side of positivity with the pressures that come with this idea of perfection in pageantry?
E: It was such a interesting experience for me, because when I started training, I was 14, and when I first competed, I was 15. I was struggling so much in school and with friends and with my own mental health. I was actually, two weeks before I first competed, in hospital for my mental health. My mom asked me if I didn't want to do it because I wasn’t well and I almost said yes, but I ended up not, and I kept going. Honestly, it saved me for a little bit because it motivated me and gave me something to look forward to. I didn't win the first time, but I got third runner up, so I decided I'm going to do this again, I'm gonna go back, and I'm gonna compete again. And that's when I won. Having the class that I did in pageantry those two years that I competed, the girls that I was competing with, were so wonderful. They gave me a sense of sisterhood or friendship that I didn't have in my hometown. I'm not a competitive person, but I'm extremely scared of failure. So I was very nervous, dealing with the nerves of not succeeding. It was also super helpful to help get myself over being in front of people and performing or speaking in front of people and giving my opinion. It definitely helped me face those fears. Because if I wanted to be a part of this industry, I would have to get over all of that. It definitely did save me in more ways than one.
It's like I had two separate lives at that point. I had my pageant world with my pageant friends. And then my day to day life where I was just a sad sack of a human.
A: It is difficult, especially talking about bipolar. I really resonate with the two lives thing. Because there's often this outward persona, that you know often I greet people with as I'm super open about it but then there’s the other side where you wouldn’t necessarily seen that as if I'm unwell. If I'm having a psychotic break then you can probably see it a bit more obviously. I feel there’s a lot of bolstering involved when it comes to bipolar and having to deal with the stigmas out there and the perceptions. It’s not one of the more palatable or ‘sexy’ mental health illnesses.
E: I fully agree and I completely understand. It was so weird to be so different because I also dealt with substance abuse issues at the same time. The only time I didn't put drugs first was when I was working when I was shooting, walking shows, and if I was doing anything for pageants. Pageants were a space where I could actually put it away and like put something before drugs.
A: That's no mean feat either because I think I turned to them for control, but also to kind have respite even if it was for a while, but it does overpower everything, and it eventually takes priority. I love that there was a ‘thing’ or something that allowed that moment for you.
E: I'm so grateful for my work. Sometimes I think it's almost like too important to me. But it was it was truly what got me through my high school years. I'm grateful that I started the pageant world and pursuing modelling. It's not like I blew up in the modelling space and I'm glad it didn't blow up. I was not in the right space to be anywhere successful. I was just doing all the local fashion weeks and shooting with little photographers and my local boutique.
A: It's interesting because there’s always this idea where people think you just blow up overnight. And that's it. They don't necessarily think about the work that goes on before. It's interesting you say as well having had your Bipolar start at a similar age to me of 12-14 about the turbulence of being well enough for things.
E: I got diagnosed with depression anxiety at 12. And then at 13, I started taking antidepressants, and then at 14, I started taking more meds. It was around 15 that my therapist told me that I had Bipolar symptoms and that she wanted to put me on mood stabilisers, but I was 18 when I got diagnosed with bipolar when I was about to leave Louisiana. When I moved to LA It was the first time in like four years when I went off my meds. It was definitely interesting.
A: A lot of the behaviours overlap with so many other things. I was told they had to see me go through and set number of lows and manias before they even considered it. From 18-15 it was just this idea of surviving.
E: Totally, just doing the best that you can. I was definitely overmedicated at some points. I kept being prescribed more and more at the time. So I actually took two trips to a psych ward to be told I was over-medicated. Coming off of that was kind of crazy, especially whenever your environment changes, everything changes. I'm very grateful to have a therapist now. A lot of my meds didn't work or more so I had a lot of negative side effects. My antidepressants stopped me from feeling anything. I needed that because I struggled and I was so out of my element, I didn’t feel like I fit in. In that circumstance, antidepressants helped me out a lot. They helped me get through and just make it to where I need to be. But I don't need those anymore.. I also really wanted to have emotions and feel something.
A: It’s all about finding something that works for you. And I think a lot of that, as you say, is just you’ve got to take it in your stride. I know my meds that I had a spin on a lot of different ones. But the side effects were rough.
E: As much as the highs are so high and the lows are super low. I've gotten to a place where I trust myself to not do anything that will hurt me or someone else in my life and I'm really proud of that point. With my therapist, I have a great support system. I know that I don't want to hurt myself, and I don't want to ruin my life. I don't want to throw anything away. I try my best to stay in that perspective. I actually just came out of a depressive episode where I just didn't want to do anything. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I didn't want to see anyone. I didn't want to do anything. But then I kept moving. I did the bare minimum and that's where I give myself grace. I'm like, at least you're still moving throughout the day. At least you're doing this. You're showing up for your friends still. You're being a good sister and you're doing your laundry. Whatever that day consists of I just try and meet myself in the middle.
A: It’ not easy to give yourself that grace. I really went though a time where I felt nothing, because I felt like a zombie. But at the same time, I also didn't like feeling anything. I thought If I'm not feeling anything, then I'm not gonna go on a mania or depressive episodes.
E: I definitely feel like I've had and I'm still trying to teach myself what normal emotions are and what normal responses are. Because I feel like I'm never confident in my emotions, because I don't know if I'm feeling too much. If I'm feeling too little, I feel like I don't read into things enough, or I read into it too much. And I never feel like I give an appropriate response whenever I do. Having trust in myself is something I'm working on. Because I do want to trust myself and have confidence and feel validated in my emotions but I definitely feel after not having that for so long that it's definitely been a process of like relearning.
A: How has reading been something that’s helped you?
E: Reading has definitely been like a pillar for me for the longest time. It's so telling whenever I'm not doing okay because I don't read. I read a lot until high school and then in high school I didn't really read at all, like I read a couple things here and there but otherwise not a lot. Especially l when I was in hospital, I read Big Little Lies the first time I was there and the second time I read Phantom Of The Opera and I remember those books got me through the tough times. Falling back in love with reading it's, been such a helpful coping mechanism for me. It's such an escape for me and it’s been tremendous with helping me process or just helping turn my brain off because I feel like I can never turn it off. It does. The thing about books is you're reading but at the same time you're imagining a landscape. You're imagining the people, you're thinking about what the underlying messages are, or maybe you're not thinking at all maybe you're just looking at the words. I’m able to stimulate parts of my brain that watching a movie doesn't typically do for me. My reading is definitely my biggest and most successful thing that I love to do. Also, it's great to turn off my phone and get away from blue light or just take a break from social media.
A: Sometimes imaging a place in every detail can help, do you find that in your reading?
E: Definitely. Sometimes the book also can be a trigger, but they typically give trigger warnings. It's something about certain words, I think that are so helpful. It's such a helpful way to get out of your own brain or even just imagining places can help you when you feel triggered.
A: What's the thing you love about your platform? What is it about it that brings you joy?
E: I think the ability to be so open. I love interacting with people. I love whenever I see people out and they talk to me about my books, or they talk about fashion, or they talk about what they’ve heard me talk and can resonate with it. I love meeting the people that absorb the content that I post and I love seeing people interact with it. It's very rewarding because I think with social media, all of these people are online and you can't physically see them so it doesn't really feel real and then it'll just happen randomly when you're out. I've had some of the most humble, wholesome experiences with people from online and I love meeting talking and interacting with them. I love when they can relate to me and that I've either helped them or that they’ve bought a book that I love. I’m thankful to those people because I wouldn't be here without any of them. I've imagined it a million times, where would I be if I wasn't doing this. I've wanted to do this my entire life. The fact that I get to do it is mind-boggling. So I think that's probably the best part, interacting with people.
A: I love that you have such a connection with those who follow you. I know you’ve got a lot in the works, but what’s coming up for you?
E: I’ve got my fashion month which happens four times a year. So I'm very excited for that. It's always an exciting time.
A: What's a book you’d recommend or what's one of your favourite all time books that someone should pick up?
E: I just read The Nightingale and it's probably one of the most 10 of 10 perfect books all around. It made me sob and I just think it's an important read, everybody should read it. That's just something that I've read recently that literally put me in a slump afterwards. I didn't even know what to read after that. It was so good. I've been reading a lot of fantasy recently. I will say I read a lot of different genres. Elliot Page’s Page Boy was brilliant, I really love him.
A: It’s an incredible book. With reading so much have you ever thought about moving into the acting world?
E: I am working on acting. My dream is to do an adaptation It’s embarrassing but Taylor Jenkins Reid is developing Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. And when I found that out, I impulsively wrote her assistant and email, they’ve obviously cast everything, but like I wrote her and I was like, I need to play Celia, and I wrote her a full list as to why I need to play Celia. I didn't expect to get anything back. But I was so passionate. I love period pieces. I feel they’re having their moment. I mean Lessons in Chemistry just came out with Brie Larson and it was so much fun. I think it would be interesting to dabble in fantasy. I wonder what it would be like to do that. But I feel like there's really no limit.
Words Alice Gee
Creative Alice Gee
Photography Paris Mumpower
Styling Tabitha Sanchez
MUA Ashley Simmons
Hair Rachel Lita