During the Fall season, we are often asked to rest– and reap the harvest of all that we’ve sown in seasons past. There’s something about leaves falling away that leaves us reflective– thinking about all the ways in which we’ve grown, and we get to see the tangible efforts of our work. It’s typically in the Fall & Winter seasons, that we feel compelled to take ownership of the work we’ve done so far, even if that means taking ownership over who we are as people. We ponder and reflect as our energy dips, so that we can gain momentum for the next cycle. It’s a time to reset and reclaim, acknowledging all of our hard work and the fruits of our labors that we hope to carry into the new year.
When we cultivate these identities that we hold year round, we must also ask ourselves how the cultivation of these identities can be reclaimed to provide abundance for ourselves and the communities we’re apart of, and seeking to serve. This Fall, we were fortunate enough to sit down with fashion model, co-CEO, and creative Taty Geneste (she/they) and talk about identity, authenticity and how the fruits of our labors are sweetened by the cultivation of these things.
In conversation with Taty, we first discussed early beginnings, which can be likened to the pre-cultivation phase we all enter before we start to put in the work of cultivation. Taty is originally from Stamford, Connecticut. In our conversation, they described their hometown as sheltered and quiet, and explained that they always had hopes and aspirations that would ultimately take them from their hometown to Brooklyn, New York.
When did you decide that you wanted more than what your hometown had to offer, and how did you come to that decision?
I grew up sheltered, so you know my only way of breaking out or doing things in the world was by overachieving in school. So I would do a bunch of school sports, a bunch of afterschool programs so that I wouldn’t have to stay at home, you know? But I knew I wanted more than what my hometown had to offer when I graduated high school– I applied to schools [colleges] in the state, but I wanted to go to schools outside of my state, because I wanted to see what the world was like.
I went to college in New York, and after college I went back home for about a year, and I felt stagnant. I felt like I reached a peak that I couldn’t break through, like I couldn’t fully be myself at home. That’s when I knew I needed to leave home officially. I decided I wanted to leave for New York. New York has always been my dream, and I feel like I can be free here. Freedom is really, very important to me in anything that I do, so that was another confirmation that New York was the place for me.
You were bold enough to move to New York to pursue your happiness, and you’ve been incredibly successful since, modeling with notable brands like Fenty, Fashion Nova, and even Fabletics! You’re also the co-CEO of a home decor company! If you had to talk to the version of you who was about to move to New York, what would you say to them?
I’d say, don’t think twice about it. Whatever comes your way, don’t think that you won’t get to where you want to be or [become] who you want to be. The possibilities are limitless because there’s really no ceiling unless someone tries to create one for you. Whatever you want to do you can achieve it, no matter how long it takes or how much work you need to put in, you can do it.
Taty also spoke about the role of authenticity and identity in the cultivation of the life you want to live, and how reclaiming her identities, is a part of her career and life-building process.
What does authenticity mean to you, and for you?
Hmm, that’s really a hard question because I think I’m trying to figure it out for myself. It used to mean loving [others], but now, for me, it means that I need to love the me that’s on the inside and the outside. I think that if I don’t love everything about myself or the woman that I am becoming on the inside or the outside, I won’t really be able to become the best version of myself. I think authenticity is about accepting all of what you are, when it comes to how you look, when it comes to how you act, when it comes to who you love and how you love.
You have to accept your love language, your sad language, how you speak to people, how you like to be treated, all of that! When you’re really comfortable in any space as who you are, and you’re not really willing to conform for anyone, that’s really the true meaning of authenticity. I’m not someone who is willing to conform for others– I’ve worked in corporate, and even in that space I stuck to who I was. I wore my piercings, I had my tattoos out, I changed my hair whenever I wanted, because you just can’t tell me that I’m not qualified for something because of the way that I look. I don’t conform in any room, and I think that’s how I live in my authentic self. I’m just unapologetically me– and I know I’m living in that because when I’m not authentic to who I am, I’m uncomfortable.
That brings me to my next question! The spaces [modeling, creative spaces] you navigate seem like they require people to be unapologetic about what they bring to the table. How did you build that level of confidence within yourself? How did you maintain it?
Honestly, it may sound really miniscule and basic, but one thing I do is stand in front of my mirror naked. I really try to look at all of me and embody everything that comes with all of me. Another thing I do, especially when I’m looking in the mirror, is affirm myself. I like to write affirmations on the top of my mirror and really just speak life over everything that I want to embody, everything that I believe about myself or even the things I want to try to believe about myself if I don’t believe it yet. I do that so that I can soak in all of those good, positive words. Speaking negatively about yourself can really bring you down so I try to do the opposite in order to build and keep my confidence up.
If I don’t love myself– it’s not that nobody can love me– it’s that I won’t be as happy as I know I can be, because I’m missing that part of me, you know what I mean? Confidence is a huge part of who we are. We wear it on our face, in our body language, in how we speak to people in our relationships. It’s really important to me that even when I’m just not feeling it [confident], I get in the mirror and tell myself that I am still beautiful, that I’m still growing and even if I don’t feel like myself, I’m still human. I try to build and maintain my confidence by looking at myself naked, affirming myself, and allowing myself my humanity because perfectionism is something that’s projected on us every day.
You hold several identities that the fashion world, or even the world at large, would consider “different”: You’re Black, queer, you have tattoos and piercings, and you’re a plus-size model. How do you reclaim these identities for yourself and incorporate them into your art?
I reclaim them because I like to talk about the fact that we even have to put labels on these things in the first place– the fact that we put labels on them is the issue. If these identities were as normalized as a size zero, no piercings, no tattoos, or not being plus sized, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But because they’re set so apart from society’s standard, I think that it’s important that I make it known that all parts of me– my piercings, my queerness, my Blackness, and everything that comes with me is coming with me through every door.
I try to go so hard, especially in the plus-size modeling industry because even though we are making strides, we’re nowhere near where we should be. I can’t walk into a store and find a bomb outfit in my size– I have to order it online because I can’t walk into a store and find something that I love. And the sizes that they do offer in the stores for me are not nearly as beautiful or intricate as the standard sizes. So I really think that the ways in which I present and represent myself are to help pioneer something for people who look like me on a day-to-day basis. They can say, “okay, she looks like me and she’s doing this and she’s doing that, so maybe I can too”. I reclaim these identities because I know that they’re bigger than me. I remember that in this society, someone created a ceiling for us, and it’s our job to break that ceiling.
“I don’t conform in any room. I’m just unapologetically me– and I know I’m living in that because when I’m not authentic to who I am, I’m uncomfortable.”
Your creative talents span several fields, including modeling, content creating, and even interior design! How do you juggle cultivating so many creative outlets and manage to make them work for you in the process?
I’m still learning– it’s crazy because I thought I had a hold on being balanced because I went to college [laughs], you know? I juggled full time school, full time jobs, and then I had the nerve to be active on campus as well! So you know, I thought I had a hold on being balanced but then you take that and you turn it into adulthood. And it’s like, okay, now there’s a new type of balance to learn. And with all the things I do, I just allow myself to create when I’m feeling creative. Whether it’s rug making, whether it’s content– whatever, I create. But if I’m not feeling it– I had to learn this, and give myself grace to do it– but if I’m not feeling it, I will not force it. I will take a break.
Because I think that when you force something, it shows. And then you’re unhappy with the finished product because it’s not your best. By the time you finish something you forced, you know you could do it better. I’ve been allowing myself time to rest and to be human. I’ve been allowing myself the space to say “fuck it, I’ll do it later”–because it’ll get done eventually. For me, balance includes rest. Yeah you’re juggling five different things, but for me, one of those things needs to be rest! How can you find that spark and motivation again if you’re burnt out, or don’t have the mental or emotional capacity to do it? Honestly, I juggle all of these things by resting– rest is productive too, you know [laughs]? I might get that tattooed.
Eventually Taty spoke about the future– we discussed her growth and maturity, and what she hopes to gain from all of her efforts. Taty even spoke about what she feels she’s already harvested, and expressed her eagerness to build and harvest even more in the future.
Your work uplifts and inspires so many people! What uplifts and inspires you?
Literally, seeing people do what they love! That’s really what keeps me going. Whenever I hear someone sharing their successes with me, that shit right there really motivates me! When I see people living out their purpose on this Earth, I feel amazing. It’s like I’ll sometimes catch myself feeling that natural human emotion of envy, but I take a step back and ask myself: why be envious when I could be supportive? Because this can happen for me too, I’m just on a different life path! I remind myself, like, if it’s not my time it’s not my time, but it will be soon! That doesn’t take away from anyone– I feel happy for others because I know my time is coming too and that’s the motivation.
When I see other people hustling and see the fruits of their labor, I am reminded that maybe I should keep pushing too because I’ll see the fruits of my labor too. When I tell you my timeline is filled with so many successful people! And I remind myself that these are the types of things that I really need to soak in because it gives me the motivation to keep going. People never talk about wanting to quit sometimes–but it takes time and I remind myself that my time will come! And when I see other people not quitting, I’m motivated to keep going too.
“I get in the mirror and tell myself that I am still beautiful, that I’m still growing and even if I don’t feel like myself, I’m still human”
A huge theme for Fall time is abundance. We’re thinking about cornucopias a lot because they represent the harvest that comes after hard work. When you look back over your career at this point, what kinds of things have you harvested from it?
Sheesh, oh man, [laughs] where do I begin? It’s like, when you start things, you never know where it’s going to go. You just start! I feel like I’ve harvested so many things for myself, but some of the most important things have been the relationships with other creatives that I love and genuinely care for. Meeting other creatives motivates me so much! Being a creative can sometimes get lonely, because you feel like you’re the only one struggling through what you’ve been struggling through. But then you meet other people who are having the same types of thoughts as you! Meeting other creatives is definitely something I’ve harvested so far.
I’ve harvested self-confidence. I’m way more comfortable with myself than I’ve ever been! I’m so proud to say that– it’s like, you think you’re popping in high school or college. But in adulthood you really have to sit back and ask yourself, like, what do you love about yourself? You have to really look in the mirror and accept who you are, it’s like your body is growing differently, your mind is growing differently, your relationships and environment will take a toll in different ways. And I’m grateful that my self-confidence has grown because of all of those changes.
I’ve also harvested a new mindset– I’m way different mentally than I used to be, and that’s in terms of my career, my relationships, just my life. I was very lost at a few points, but once I moved to New York is when I really tapped into my spirituality and my path. I think so much that my brain can spiral, but my connection with my spirituality lets me know that I’ll be okay, and that things will be okay no matter what. I also gained some tenacity in this path. Sometimes I want to quit because things feel a little pointless, but I remind myself that just because I’m not seeing what I want to see doesn’t mean I shouldn’t acknowledge the achievements that I want. I think this path has really tested my go-getting attitude, but I learned that I still got it [laughs].
Thirty years from now, what would you like to say you harvested from all of your hard work?
I want to be able to use the hard work that I’ve completed to rest and engage in other passions. I want to become an archeologist. Once I become established, I really want to see the world and connect with people in real life. I love Black art history, and I want to venture into that arena too! I also want to give back, because I’ll hope to have a lot to give back. I don’t need much, so if my bills are paid I can give back in some way I want to pioneer so many spaces and give back to the communities I came from. I don’t want to keep taking from the world, I want to transmute the energy that I’m given into something good. Right now, I’m in the work mode to build security for myself. Once I’m done, I want to share the fruits of my labors with others in as many ways as possible!
Photographer: Laikyn Fishburne @kynwya
Creative Direction: Tremeika Small @treybabee
Hair Stylist: Nneka-Shay Grant @nneka.grant
Make Up Artist: Sharnice @saintlaurahs