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

Marie Claire (Malaysia) - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs by MITCHELL MCCOR­MACK Text & Styled by AZZA ARIF

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

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