Anything you can ever say about supermodel Jessica White has already been said. Call her an angel, a diva, a bad girl or the past girlfriend of [insert male celebrity name here]—she's heard it all before, multiple times. For the woman who's been a face of CoverGirl, Maybelline, Victoria's Secret, and several Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issues (she's been featured every year since 2003), it makes sense why her exposure makes her a prime subject of tabloid fodder. Yet despite what gossip mills have fed the public about her, the 26-year-old Buffalo, New York, native has kept herself a relative mystery—until now.
White, whom Tyra Banks has dubbed "the model of our generation," is slowly becoming a self-made mogul. Not only is she starting a skin care line to address the needs of women of color, writing her own autobiography, and filming her own documentary series, but she has also started Angel Wings Foundation, the sole mission of which is to provide support for victims of sexual abuse, an experience that doesn't exactly escape her.
We spoke to while she is in New York for Angel Wings Foundation's benefit for UNICEF's City of Joy Program (taking place this Sunday evening, in Wainscott) to discuss the organization itself, how she's comfortable with being completely bare on camera, and the man she will one day marry. And, guess what—you have a chance!
Complex: You're transitioning from being a fulltime supermodel to an entrepreneur. What motivated you to make that career change?
Jessica White: I don't think there was one thing, actually. I mean, this is something I had planned since I was 13, when i first started modeling. I just needed to grow my career as a model and build my self-confidence as a business woman, most importantly, before I was going to really branch out and take the risk to do what it takes to kind of start a business and basically turn myself into a beauty mogul. It took some time, and I needed to build my credibility. Everything is definitely in timing. [This] definitely went in stages.
Are there any supermodels whose careers you were inspired by or you're trying at all to emulate?
Jessica White: No, not really anybody's. To be honest with you, I don't think there was anyone really like me. I'm probably the most courageous; I probably wouldn't even say "courageous," or crazy enough to go and get like 18 tattoos. I was just myself, you know? Being that I started so young, I lived a life that was very disciplined and it had to be that way. But then I realized, being a child star and being successful from day one, I didn't want to not live my life.
So what I decided to do was just be me and be as real as I possibly could and hope to God that people accepted that. No matter what bad decisions I was making. I basically learned through trial and error. And thank God people just accepted me for who I was. The really mysterious and dark and edgy girl which worked in my benefit.
Have any supermodels reached out to you to offer advice for your new business ventures?
Jessica White: Tyra Banks, from day one. I was sixteen years old when I met her. And she gave me the best advice in the world. She said, "I don't care if you do Sports Illustrated one time," and at that time I hadn't even been in Sports Illustrated, I had just recently signed my Cover Girl contract, and she said, while we were in Ireland, I'll never forget and we were doing a fashion show together for charity: "You know what, I want you to get a publicist and the one big job that you get, I want you to promote it like [it's] your last job."
That advice really stuck with me throughout my career, even now. When there's just one big thing going on, I promote it like it's me running for president, and I have to thank Tyra for that because it was that frame of mind.
Speaking of what you're promoting right now, you have the Angel Wings Foundation fundraiser coming up this weekend.
It's a daily process because when you're victimized in such a great way; there's a constant battle to continue and that's what this facility is. It's a place of healing and healing is something that, you know, you, there's something maybe you've been hurt over in your past but it takes, you know, every single day is a journey to overcome that. And really it's just about, there's so much hurt and pain in the world, that what we need is real people that are going to be vocal and be able to talk about it because really, being a victim isn't something you should be ashamed of. You didn't cause the abuse on yourself. You were victimized and you should tell your story because you never know who it's going to touch and that's why I talk about it.
So this event over the weekend is to raise money to create more of these facilities with UNICEF, like the one Angel Wings built in Buffalo?
Jessica White: We're actually in the process of doing it. That's why UNICEF is involved in this particular event because we're still in the process of what's being built upstate.
That's definitely very admirable. And I know you also have your skin care line coming up.
Jessica White: Yeah, Devise Beauty is my baby. I've been working on that with my chemist, Maria Ash. She's the best chemist in the world and I was so lucky. I mean when you're branching out and you're doing a project like this, you have to get the right team with you. There's only so much you can do. I'm not going to get in the lab with the scientists and create it myself. You have to have the right team of people.
I was so blessed, let me tell you, to be able to find a chemist like Maria. She's just a beauty whore and she'll tell you in those words. She just loves creating and she loves being in the business of finding new technology that's going to improve the skin in a woman's life. We've teamed up with this really great scientist who actually worked on all the Chanel products for years. He has started his own lab. He's the best scientist, and we're using this new technology. It's a huge undertaking but it's the most amazing thing that I think is going to be out there.
It's for women of color, not just African American women but Indian women, Asian women, Latinas - you name it. It's about improving the skin and healing the skin which is basically everything I believe in anyway. Just help out self-esteem. Now we're doing the Angel Wings Foundation, but I also want to help to heal the outward appearance of a woman and the scars that you may have. I don't believe in bleachers and bleaching the skin to give you that glow. And women of color with darker skin, they feel like it's impossible to achieve a glow, but with this product, it really just enhances a woman skin deep. I know everybody probably says that but, you know, in due time. It comes out in October and I really can't wait for the world to see it.
Yeah, that really isn't a very common thing you see out there right now. Also, with a name like Devise Beauty, how did that come about?
Jessica White: Actually, my best friend named the line. I was actually going into a meeting and couldn't figure out what the hell to name the product and I needed to trademark it that same day. [Laughs.] I called my best friend up and she was like,"All right well let me do something." She called me back and she was like, "Well what do you think about Devise? You're devising a plan and you're devising a product that is very unique. It's not out there. Nobody will ever be able to get their hands on it unless they copy it."
It's about devising the way people view themselves and just being able to be bold. She said it has a dark edge to it, which it does, which is why I chose it because it sounds like it would be me.
On top of that, you also have a book in the works.
Jessica White: I do, it's called Overcoming Your Greatest Hurt. I've been writing this book for the past two years to be honest with you. It's a how-to slash autobiography and it's really going to tell a very in-depth story about my life - the sacrifices, the hurt, and the pain. But it's kind of like the twelve steps of healing. It basically goes into relapsing and overcoming all types of hurt -hurt from relationships, hurt from forgiving your mother, whatever it may be. Even the hurt you cause on yourself because not all the time pain is caused by someone else. It's about really getting over a self-destructive path and I think all women, all people in general would be able to relate to the book.
When was the moment that you realized that you wanted to sit down and write this book? What triggered it?
Jessica White: I was actually preparing a speech to speak at a high school in upstate New York in Hamburg. I was going into the school to talk to troubled children and teenagers and they wanted me to talk about how you go from being ordinary to extraordinary. I was writing and, all of a sudden, God just took control over the pen and I just had all these notes. I was like,"This had nothing to do with the topic I have to talk to these kids about." When I looked up, I had about ten pages that I had written by hand. So it just kind of poured out of me like poetry.
So you just decided to continue that?
Jessica White: Exactly. Then I began to talk to publishers and ghost writers. I haven't used a ghost writer, but it's probably at that point now where it's time to because I'm way too busy to even finish it. I haven't picked up the book in about three weeks. I've been writing it by hand because I feel more comfortable and more connected to my work.
When do you plan on getting the book out?
Jessica White: Next year, hopefully. If I get a ghost writer. If I get someone to help me write it. [Laughs]. It's impossible for me at this point in time to take on everything. It's been three weeks. If you get outside the mindset in three weeks, it's kind of hard to tap back into what you were writing about, especially when you're doing chapter by chapter.
Speaking of being busy, you're also filming your own reality show. Or is it a documentary? Hopefully so—the world doesn't exactly need another celeb-based reality show.
Jessica White: It's a documentary. It is not a reality show. [Laughs]. It's really beautifully shot. Stylistically it's something that I'm really proud of. I'm not going to tell you how it's going to be shot because that would give it away but people are going to be like "Wow," and there's nothing like this that's out. It's called "The White Out: The Jessica White Project." I decided do it because after 14 years of being in this business, I feel like I'm comfortable enough to show that side to people.
You know, there's so many misconceptions about me and my personality. People think I'm not a nice person, you know, or maybe a diva; not just about me, but the misconceptions of other models as well, or supermodels. I wanted to be able to break that barrier down and give people a glimpse for my fans, and not only just my fans, but for getting the respect of new fans.
I want young girls that I mentor and young girls all around the world who want to be a model to be able to see that there's a great deal of sacrifice. So, before you jump into this business, you will get my life. The one thing I'm not doing is I'm not wearing any make-up on the show when I'm just talking to the camera. It's just bare. You see the sweat, you see the tears, you see everything. It's going to be raw and extremely natural.
Jessica White: We do, but I can't talk about it because they have to talk about it first.
No problem. Do you know when we can expect it?
Jessica White: The top of the year. Next year. First thing, next year.
With everything you're doing right now, being so busy with the business yet also dealing with the rumors about your love life and everything you're involved in, how do you maintain your focus?
Jessica White: Because I don't have a love life. That's the funny part. [Laughs.] I don't have a love life. That's the thing, you can't believe everything you read because 90% of whom they said I was dating was a bunch of crap. Put it this way, when I actually confirm that I'm dating someone, then that'll be the truth, do you know what I mean?
Just because you're a woman and you're hanging out with someone—you're friends. I have male friends. It doesn't mean that I'm romantically involved with them and that's the frustrating part. But you know, I don't have a life to speak of and the last relationship I was in was with Sean [Penn]. But that was last year. People will constantly bring that up but I'm just probably forever constantly linked to him. That's just that. That relationship has passed, it's gone, it's over.
But how I keep my focus is by not having a relationship right now, and I'm happy with that because I love my job. My job is my boyfriend. And I'm sure maybe by... I don't know, maybe I'll get into a relationship by December. I like getting into a relationship around Christmas. [Laughs.] But not for the gifts! Just because it's so cold and I like to snuggle. You never know. I've been thinking lately about getting back into a relationship, but this time I can tell you one thing: The next guy I get into a relationship with, and you can quote me on it, he'll be my husband. He's going to have to marry me. You got the exclusive. I've never said that to anybody. [Laughs.]
I'm pretty sure once this comes out you're going to get so many calls. So, I think you should brace yourself for that.
Jessica White: Babe, I already do. I already do [Laughs.]
A lot of your modeling colleagues are branching off into acting careers. Is that something you're interested in doing in the future as well?
Jessica White: I've always done method acting. I'm a method actor and I've done that for years. I never did acting and decided to take it seriously because all the parts people want me to do were playing the pretty role. If I want to play someone pretty, I'll play myself. I'm not a method actor and deeply involved in the craft of it for no reason. When I do it, expect me to be in a very dramatic role.
I don't even need to have a starring role. I told my agent, I said, "To be honest with you, give me three seconds on the screen where I'm playing an addict or something." Those are the roles, for me, that are powerful. The first time I actually really do it, that's what you're probably going to see from me.
Is that something you want to do soon?
Jessica White: I have so many people that are pushing me into it, even casting directors. They're saying I'm extremely talented and I can do it. But I guess first thing is first. I'm not saying no to it. What I'm doing is I'll read for parts, that's something i have to do, but it's not going to be my main focus. I feel like when the right part comes along, it'll just be there for me.
But I'm definitely interested in acting, as well as my singing career, but these are things you have to strategically do, especially when you're famous for being a model. I'm going to do everything. I can tell you that much. Before I leave the earth, I'll have released a bunch of albums and a bunch of movies. I'm going to do it all. It's just that I have to strategically position myself on how I do it so that the world receives it.
With everything you want to take on, what's the one thing you want to be remembered for?
Jessica White: Passion. That I was a passionate person. That's the only thing I care for the world to know. They all don't have to like me, but I just want them to know that I was passionate in everything I did. Passionate and full of love.