THINK YOU KNOW MENA?
Champion of gender equality, diversity, humanitarianism and animal’s rights, Mena Suvari dares you to expand your description of her beyond American beauty
Not just a pretty face, there's more to Mena Suvari than meets the eyes. The actress cum activist is on a mission to change the way women and girls are perceived. #genderequality
As we cruised along the Hollywood hills of Los Angeles, riding in the passenger seat with Mena Suvari behind the wheel, I think of something she said before we got in the car. We were chatting about her upcoming TV Series American Women
(inspired by the real-life upbringing of
The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills Kyle Richards that touches on the topic of feminism in the ‘70s), when she began addressing the relentless demand for perfection that has been plaguing females in Hollywood, and females in general. Lamenting double standards, and relating her personal experience working on films, Mena explained, “At 12, I was walking the streets of New York wearing heels thinking that this was all that I had to offer, you know, that I had to be sexy, and be a particular way. I learned at a very young age what outward appearances could get you.”
“It’s like you always have eyes on you, and you are always aware of it.” An ironic statement, considering that with her freshly blown photo-ready hair, bold retro-chic Diane Von Furstenberg top and dramatic long flowy skirt, Mena stood out at Home Depot, one of our shoot locations for the day. The actress-turned-activist made waves for her roles as choirgirl Heather in the late 90s blockbuster
American Pie, and cheerleader temptress Angela Hayes in best-picture winner
American Beauty. Most recently, she starred in the indie film Becks where she plays a suburban housewife who strikes up an unexpected friendship with a singer-songwriter. “You feel like you are always on a battleground everyday that you go out.” She continues, as we strolled down the hardware aisle in search for the rest of the editorial crew. “What I hope to see is that we don’t have to feel like that; like we are guarded all the time. It’s this weird defensiveness that we have, and it’s almost like a natural reaction that we go to. I would hope that young girls and women won’t necessarily have to feel like that—you can feel a bit more comfortable in this world.”
“There are so many things that I think politically and structurally need to change!” she said, referring to how women and girls are subconsciously treated like the way they look is the most important part of their personality or character. “You see 12-year-olds talking about surgery and
Botox. That’s not normal! To each their own, but what I would hope for when I think about female empowerment is that we don’t necessarily have to think that ‘that’ is the answer. What I enjoy about this third wave movement is that it’s so much more about honesty and transparency, and people are more open. And when we talk to one another and share our experiences, we can apply them to our own lives. And we can think at times, that it is okay not to be perfect.”
She offered to drive that cold afternoon—and who would be dense enough to turn down an unofficial invitation to hang out with this supernova? When I get in, she tells me she loves to drive on her own. I eyed the plush black faux fur coat she had on over a plain black tee, bell-bottom denims and 70s inspired leather platforms—vegan leather, I imagine (she looked like she came straight from the set of American Woman). “Yes, these shoes are vegan! They are from Daquy, a brand from Italy, super fashionable.” And the exquisite coat, I ask? “I love this coat I’m wearing! Unreal Fur, and they are sustainable. They made this for me, because I asked if they could do a customisable length.” Clearly style and activism can go hand in hand.
The 39 year-old Rhode Island native named after the Mena house in Cairo, Egypt never hesitates to speak up for what she believes is right, on and off social media, and has been very vocal with her support for animal rights, her work with Last Chance for Animals, and PETA. “With Last Chance for Animals, we were raising awareness on laboratory testing on animals, which is so needless and not beneficial at all, while my PSA with PETA is the anti-down campaign. After that I became vegan and crueltyfree in both my personal and professional life. My makeup artist and hair stylist are both using cruelty-free products that are organic or chemical-free. It’s been a challenge, but I think it’s important.”
Does an activist have to adhere to a certain ‘look’? Mena didn’t think so. “I’ve always loved fashion, and having fun with my fashion, and I’ve decided that I wanted to show that I can find trendy, cool pieces that are also sustainable and cruelty-free; you can win all around.” But her kindness goes beyond the environment. She has been actively working with AMRAF (African Medical and Research Foundation), the largest health development organization based in Africa. AMREF develops and implements innovative and sustainable solutions to critical health challenges facing the African continent. “I’ve always felt that it is really important to give back, and I feel like for whatever it’s worth, that it’s my duty to help others, and raise awareness. And I’m very passionate about the things that I believe in.”
She talks about her humanitarian trip to Africa. “Working with AMREF was truly a life changing experience. We went to Ethiopia and Uganda, and I had initially thought that I was going to fall to my knees and be filled with angst and sorrow over the situation, but ironically enough I felt that way when I got back to the States.” Mena recalls. “I was so impressed with the people that I met in Africa. There was such value to the spoken word, and they acknowledged what they say to one another, and I was so impressed with that. When I got back, I felt so much more affected by how frivolous people can be with what they say, and not thinking about the power of their words. Yes there is a difference in how people live around the world, but just because somebody isn’t living in a million dollar home, doesn’t mean that they have any less appreciation of life. In fact, I felt there was more appreciation of life and a stronger connection to nature [in Africa]. So when I got back to the States I felt sad, because I felt more connected to humanity and the earth, and so much more at ease when I was there.”
“When we talk to one another and share our experiences, we can apply them to our own lives. And we can think at times, that it is okay not to be perfect”
A LITTLE ADVICE FROM MENA:
“Learn how to take control of your own money. About five years ago, I took control of my own books. I work with an accountant but I take control of my finances. In this industry, it is easy to be surrounded by a team of people who would do things for you, and I was very young when I was incorporated. But as I got older, I wanted to know and had a lot of questions, which could be intimidating for some people. But it was empowering to do everything myself. I think with a lot of things that women go through, we are in a way conditioned to think that maybe we are not capable of it, but we are! We are very capable of it; we just have to believe it. I enjoy knowing that I can take care of it myself, and I feel like it is very important for people to learn about business because it can help you go a long way. Education is key.”
WHAT WOULD YOU BE IF NOT AN ACTRESS?
“I sort of struggled with this, because my father was in medicine, and when I was in middle school on career day, I chose medical research. I also thought about going to art school, but then I started getting interested in criminal psychology, so I was all over the place. But I’ve learned to implement my interests in what I do—acting.”
WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO TRAVEL?
“Other than Malaysia? (Laughs) I don’t know much about Malaysia, other than the richness of the culture there, but I would love to go there. I’ve never been to South America, can you believe that! I have always wanted to go to Madagascar and Galápagos.”
“When I got back, I felt so much more affected by how frivolous people can be with what they say, and not thinking about the power of their words”
Full look, Tory Burch