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.
Tell us about your new film, Bob's New Suit.
I did that in Los Angeles right before I left. I did it because it was another one of those 'yes' things. I don't want to give it away, but it deals with a very different kind of family. There is typically a type of role they want me to play. So, I was like, 'OK, I'm going to play a lesbian. Whatever. Great.' Then the director said, 'No, actually I want you to play the love interest.' Then I was shown the outfits, and it was all going to be heels and dresses. I was like, 'Oh, my God!'
What did you think?
Anything that drives me crazy or that makes me feel so uncomfortable has always been a blessing. So I told the director 'Yes,' and I had such a great experience.
In 2005, you married Rebecca Loose on TV to take a stand on same-sex marriage.
That was a faux wedding!
Yes, but do you keep in touch with your TV bride?
I did for a long time, and I actually went and visited her. She's real fun. She's totally a nice girl. She recently had a kid, and she moved away too. So I haven't talked to her in about a year.
Is it true you love your Big Macs? How do you keep in such good shape?
This is how I've always been. A lot of people say [about their figure], 'I drink water, and I work out.' I think it's just genetics. I actually am still a fan [of Big Macs], but now that I'm older it's true, your body craves good things, like vegetables or raw food. I actually eat very healthy now. I do once in a while partake of Mickey D's about three times a year for the memory.
In June, you turned 43. What have you learned throughout the years?
I'm a slow learner. So for me I really feel like I'm starting to feel super comfortable. I'm at that point where I'm thinking, 'Maybe I do want a relationship.' I never thought of a relationship as something you keep for a long time. It was always like the next adventure. Now is really that reflective time where I'm thinking, Maybe I do want to get a cabin somewhere and share it with somebody.
What do you look for in a woman?
I'm always attracted to super creative types. Physically, I love brunettes. That's just my thing. I love girls with long hair. Now I realize I do have this type because after 40-plus years of being alive you tend to see that there are cycles, and I've never been able to get out of this one. I don't like girls who wear a lot of makeup. I don't like any of that stuff. I really like a natural beauty. Everything my parents or older people ever told me has been true. You know, 'Don't hurt your back. Watch out for your knees, and it's all about relationships.'
But you did get hurt. You were in a motorcycle accident.
I've been in many. I got laid out for seven months in 2005. I broke my leg in 16 places. I dislocated both of my shoulders. I had horrible operations. It was a really interesting lesson because it really taught me to slow down physically and emotionally. It also taught me how to use the Internet.
After everything you've done and accomplished, what are you the most proud of?
Well, that's really difficult to say. Maybe just being a really good daughter, a great aunt, a sister. Sometimes we forget the most important things, and it is about family.
To learn more about Jenny Shimizu, visit her official website.