Where Are They Now: Jenny Shimizu
By Dustin Fitzharris
Jenny Shimizu has defied the rules of modeling. She's not the tall, blonde, rail-thin beauty typically worshiped by the industry. She's a Japanese-American lesbian who started off as a mechanic. The San Jose, Calif. native has been photographed by some of the world's biggest photographers, including Bruce Weber, Richard Avedon, and Michel Comte, and she's been featured in ads for Donna Karan, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Thierry Muegler. Most recently she's reentered the spotlight as a judge on Bravo's Make Me a Supermodel. She has also designed a line of T-shirts, each with a graphic with a personal story behind it.
In 1994, Out placed Shimizu on the Out 100 list. Accolades continued to follow, but no matter how much she accomplishes, the press still can't get enough of her much-publicized relationships with Madonna and Angelina Jolie. When we caught up with Shimizu, she graciously avoided that question, saying, 'I just don't want to go there. I think it's tacky.' However, she was candid about her thoughts on love, her role in the gay community, and what dressing in drag means to her.
Out: Are you aware that you have been called an icon in the queer community?
Jenny Shimizu: Yes, I actually got an award that says it on there, so I do have it in writing.
What are your thoughts on being called an icon?
It's always flattering to be honored. I know I'm definitely appreciated in the queer community, and whether or not you want to call it icon or 10 most eligible bachelors, it all means pretty much to same thing to me. It's just being honored by your peers.
Finish this sentence: Jenny Shimizu is the kind of woman who_______.
Wow. That's a big one. Jenny Shimizu is the kind of woman who has always been true to herself. Or has always taken risks. Actually, that's more important.
Speaking of being true to yourself, recently several teens have committed suicide as the result of being bullied because of their sexuality. Were you bullied?
Some bullying, but it also came from being Japanese. It also came from other stuff. It wasn't like I was just made fun of for being gay. When I was growing up, there really wasn't this big visibility. Kids nowadays know what it means to be gay or lesbian at a very early age. I knew I was different from the day that I was born, but I don't think I knew the terms. Then the minute I was teased, I never let anyone do that. I always stood my ground. I always had this reputation of someone to be scared of. It was just a reputation because I was just as scared as they were.
What would you say to teens who are being bullied?
It's difficult to say because everyone comes from such different backgrounds. You never know what a difference a year makes or the difference a month makes. Life is always going to be changing. With the good, I always think you're going to get the bad. It counters itself. My whole life has been surprises right around the corner.
Recently, you did an ad for Paper magazine dressed in drag.
That was so funny to me.
Do you regularly dress in drag?
I dress completely androgynously. I have ever since I was 4. I wear jeans, and I wear T-shirts. It's funny because I was doing this with all these women, and I was like, 'Why would you pick me? If you wanted to do drag on me, you should put me in a dress!'
How did the other women respond?
What I loved is that none of the other women were like me. They all got such a powerful energy rush. It was really amazing to watch. I think I feel that way every day. I feel very empowered. I'm very independent. I take care of myself, and I work for myself. It was cool to see these women take off their dresses and just be real macho.