“I’m growing out of self-hatred and growing into love”
As the daughter of Michael Jackson, she has one of the most famous surnames in the world. And as she tells Stellar’s Jordan Baker on the eve of her first trip to Australia, Paris Jackson is determined to use her high profile as a platform for good
Paris Jackson arrived at Stellar’s shoot 40 minutes late and profusely apologetic. She was bleary-eyed and in possession of a super-jumbo coffee – but this was no Hollywood hangover. Late the night before, she had arrived back home to Los Angeles after a mercy mission to Puerto Rico, the Caribbean island left in tatters by Hurricane Maria. She flew there and back in a day aboard a charter flight carrying relief supplies. In Aguadilla, a town that had been without electricity for weeks, she helped load the trucks with pallets of fresh drinking water before meeting some local kids.
“It puts a lot into perspective, when you show up with some 5000 pounds of supplies and it’s not even a fraction of what they need to get back on track,” Jackson tells Stellar.
Most celebrities would have contented themselves with a donation, but there’s nothing conventional about Jackson. She walks red carpets without make-up. She doesn't shave her legs or armpits. She dresses like a Goa hippie from the ’70s, with music tastes to match. She posts unflattering pictures on social media. And she is more worried about the state of the world than her personal brand. “My activism and my work, such as missions like [Puerto Rico], are on the top of my list of priorities,” she says. “Almost everything I do comes back full circle towards this kind of work, including my job.”
While the 19-year-old model and actor wears her heart on her Instagram sleeve, there is one sacred part of her life she fiercely protects: her relationship with her father. The topic of Michael Jackson – the late, great, and perennially fascinating music icon – is a no-go with his daughter.
But it is clear he is never far from her thoughts. She has nine tattoos devoted to him, including the word “Bad” in those bold, red capitals on her right hand and “Queen Of My Heart” in his handwriting on her left.
Earlier this year, Jackson starred in a music video for a musician friend. She dances, runs and rides a bike through the woods, with her hair and Indian sarong flying in the wind. Singer Nahko described the song, ‘Dragonfly’, as a tribute to Jackson’s “self-discovery and transformation”. One lyric was particularly poignant: “I resist and I survive.”
Jackson was just 11 years old when her father died. At that point she did not have contact with her mother, a cosmetic nurse named Debbie Rowe who married Michael at the Sheraton Hotel in Sydney in 1996. She had spent her childhood cloistered at Neverland Ranch, a world that outsiders questioned but Jackson remembers as joyous and idyllic. And then it all fell apart.
At his memorial service, the little girl whose face her father had always shielded from prying eyes faced the world. “I just wanted to say, ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine,” she said through her sobs. “And I just wanted to say I love him so much.”
Given the intense media fascination that continues to surround her family, Jackson is understandably wary of the press. Her interviews are rare, and when they do happen are generally conducted via text message. For her cover interview with Stellar, she agreed to respond to our questions on email.
While any inquiries about her father are gently rebuffed, she does occasionally open up about him on social media. “Birthday wishes to the one person who showed me what passion truly was,” she wrote on Instagram in August. “I will never feel love again the way I did with you.”
Over the years Jackson has been open about her struggles after her father’s death, which included drug addiction, self-harm, and several suicide attempts in her mid-teens. But a stint at a “therapeutic school” that specialised in grief management helped her heal. When she turned 18, Jackson began revealing herself to the world on Instagram, like a butterfly emerging from a dark and torturous cocoon.
Since then, things have happened quickly for the idiosyncratic teenager with the striking green eyes. Already Jackson has been signed to IMG Models, shot for Chanel, and appeared on the cover of international fashion magazines. She has made her acting debut in next year’s Gringo, directed by Australia’s Nash Edgerton and starring his brother Joel. Yet none of this is as important to Jackson as activism. She is determined to use her fame as a platform, whether it’s helping struggling communities in Puerto Rico or visiting Malawi as an ambassador for her godmother’s charity, the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.
One such cause that’s important to Jackson is body image. In an arena prone to airbrushing physical imperfections, she quietly wages a campaign against vanity on her Instagram account, posting pictures of herself using mud to wash off the “filthy make-up from work” or slouching in her undies with the caption “comfortable in my rolls”.
“I’d like to be a role model that parents are OK with their kids looking up to,” she explains to Stellar. “I make it very clear that I am flawed because I think it’s important to show others that, sure, I have a highlight reel like everyone else in the industry, but I’m also definitely still a human being with a sloppy behind-the-scenes. And that’s OK.”
She admits it isn’t always easy. “Some days I’m very happy to be myself and embrace every aspect of myself and my body, other days it gets difficult,” she says. “I went through a lot of self-hatred in my younger days, but I’m happy as well as proud of myself to say that I’m growing out of that and growing into love.”
She stays on social media, despite its occasional cruelty, to spread love and honesty, she says. “I have the ability to share my journey in this crazy thing called life, and I get to share my mistakes, my insight, my growth. We all make mistakes as humans… but it’s imperative to be able to own up to your mistakes and then grow from them. I’m still learning to do that. I’m learning a lot of things.”
Jackson is visiting Australia for the first time this week as a special guest of the Victoria Racing Club and Fashion Partner Myer for Emirates Melbourne Cup Day. “It’s always been a dream of mine to visit the land Down Under, especially after hearing stories of my parents getting married in Sydney,” she says.
She knows nothing about horseracing, but her “Aussie homies” have filled her in about the significance of the Cup. Designer Alex Perry is working with Jackson on her dress, which she’ll wear while visiting the Myer Marquee in the famous Flemington Birdcage and Myer’s Fashions on the Field. “I enjoy getting dressed up for events when it’s on my terms and I’m able to express myself,” she says. If Stellar’s racing-inspired shoot is any indication, cup-goers invited into Myer’s marquee on Tuesday will meet a friendly young woman, who is flattered Australians want to meet her. During the shoot in LA, she danced and sang to Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder, fell in love with the photographer’s Pomeranian dog, and gave every crew member a hug goodbye.
She modelled designer pieces, but departed in leggings and ugg boots. “My first priority when dressing myself day-to-day is always comfort. I like to feel as though I’m in pyjamas.”
Jackson insists there’s nothing glamorous about her life. She lives in a recording studio in the LA compound purchased by her grandfather, Joe, in 1971 with royalties from the Jackson 5 – the same studio where her father demoed ‘Beat It’.
“I live with my best friends and my dogs. We have four dogs and three cats collectively, and they are my entire life,” she says. “When I’m not working or camping, my day usually consists of reading, catching up on shows, spending time with my little ones, or kicking it with my brothers. I don’t lead a very exciting home life. A mellow life is a happy life.”
Her brothers – Prince Michael, 20, a video producer, and Blanket, 15 – frequently appear on her social-media accounts. Occasionally, so does Paris’s mother, Debbie Rowe, who reconnected with her daughter after Michael’s death and her own cancer diagnosis. Rowe told one news outlet, “[Paris] is my rock, she’s amazing. She’s been with me the whole time.”
She is still her in teens, but Jackson’s life has been full of emotional upheaval. It seems to have made her thoughtful, wise beyond her years and concerned about everything from the health of the Great Barrier Reef to the political climate in the US.
“I’ve been trying to have a more optimistic outlook on our country’s current situation, and it’s also not really productive to be doing what I am doing in the activism world if I’m being led by fear, anger or resentment,” she says. “It’s about being ruled by love and being love.”
Paris Jackson will be attending the Emirates Melbourne Cup at Flemington this Tuesday as a guest of the VRC and Myer.
HAIR Lorenzo Martin @ The Wall Group MAKE-UP Jo Baker @ Forward Artists MANICURE Stephanie Stone @ Forward Artists PARIS WEARS Preen by Thornton Bregazzi dress, Nerida Winter hat, and Missoni boots, all myer.com.au; (below) Asilio dress, Ann Shoebridge hat, and Tony Bianco boots, all Myer, as before. Products available at select Myer stores, or visit myer.com.au
INTO THE SPOTLIGHT (clockwise from top) Paris Jackson at her father’s memorial service in 2009 with (from left) Janet Jackson, her brother Blanket, La Toya Jackson, Jackie Jackson and brother Prince Michael; Paris attends the Costume Institute Gala in New York in May; Michael Jackson with Paris's mother, Debbie Rowe.