'If you don't want to be put in the he or she box, I think thats great. We can make another box.'
Defying boxes is nothing new to Grace Neutral. Her first body modification procedure involved one man holding her tongue out while the other one split it with a scalpel. From there things have evolved to the ethereal beauty that we know today.
She has faced her fair share of nay sayers, but courtesy of her unforgiving self confidence, she comes out unscathed and having mastered herself as an underground poster gal of finding beauty beyond of the usual societal constructs. I sat down with Grace at the back of the tattoo studio in Shoreditch to just chat shit. In person, Grace presents herself as a softly spoken, doe eyed, femme fatale and it was her personable goofy grin and light giggle that led us to often became derailed from the task at hand and simply start trawling Instagram together for our favourite androgynous faces, or beginning a politically centric rant. We covered what it's like popping in and out of the fashion industry, modern feminism hypocrisy, her adventures in Korea with i-D, finding unwavering self confidence, and how technology has helped garner potential acceptance for communities who happen to find themselves outside of the typical societal norms.
'We all just need to learn to live in harmony with each other and women and men should get all equal rights, and that includes the transgender and gay community, just humans in general you know.'
'I was just like eyes open, ears open, taking it all in. Even though I was the one having all of my photos taken, at one point I was like 'Grace, get a hold of yourself!' because I did feel like I was shrinking a little bit. The life of a model is so fucking hard, these girls are so beautiful and so young. I have so much admiration for these young girls, from things that I've heard or some that I've seen, it's a really brutal environment sometimes.'
With such a drastically altered aesthetic like Graces, it's near impossible to go unnoticed. As the fashion industry is slowly loosening it's reigns on the singular beauty they tend to adhere to, Grace has been invited into its threshold. A year ago, together with trans actress/model Hari Nef and genderqueer performance artists Dia Dear, Neutral starred in the Blade Runner reminiscent collaborative campaign of CHRISHABANA x Gentle Monster. London designer Ashley Williams further campaigned for breaking the beauty norms by taking Neutral's runway virginity in her SS16 show. While appreciating the welcoming catalyst these projects have provided, Grace clearly establishes her need to be an arms length away from the industry, selecting projects based upon their relevance to herself and what she stands for; beauty beyond the norm.
'It's just giving the people who haven't been in the mainstream ideal a voice and a platform to show themselves off and celebrate who they are.'
MODERN FEMINISM AND TECHNOLOGY
'The human body is beautiful, I like seeing it, and I like seeing how ballsy, pardon the expression, women are, especially with the internet. I think it's great and empowering and if they feel great doing it then more fucking props to them. If we're not hurting anyone else then whats the problem?'
Visualised hyper sexuality is becoming a commonplace aspect of online life. Everyone has their opinions on it and are not shy about expressing them, particularly in a free for all comments section. Many feminists believe that women partaking in the visual ownership of their bodies in a sexual manner are essentially depleting all of the hard work their ancestors accomplished. Grace disagrees. Strongly. 'You cant believe in equality for women, then go and shame women on the internet who you don't think are doing it the right way.' Judgement is a hard thing to avoid, as humans, whether we want to or not, we are always quick to establish an opinion or judgement before we know the whole story. The positive aspect of this is with judgement comes conversation, and with conversation hopefully comes a wider understanding. As a social media darling herself, Grace is an advocate of using this means as a way of educating and breaking down barriers and we draw a comparison between the body modification community and the LGBT community. 'I think that the people have much more of a platform because of social media and the internet to share their journeys and what they've been through. People who are going through that, who don't necessarily have anyone to talk to within their close proximity can find an extended family, you know?'
'Let everyone do what they want. Each to their fucking own. People are going to get naked regardless, women are always going to show off their bodies if they want to because it feels good, and men do as well.'
KOREA WITH i-D
'You hold a responsibility for any person you put in front of your camera and I felt a huge responsibility for everyone I met making this film. I want them to be portrayed in their true light and I don't want anyone to be misconstrued or feel that we've edited it in any untrue way.'
A collaborative relationship began when i-D asked Grace to write an alternative Christmas Speech for their online platform. She did. It rocked. Everyone was happy. Now she is the host the new i-D series 'Beyond Beauty with Grace Neutral'. As the title simply states, the show explores the different ideals of beauty around the world along with the cultural, political, and geographical significant impacts shaping these ideals. The first episode, in all of it's 30 minute, glory has Grace wandering around South Korea where the beauty industry is booming and the tattoo world illegal. Fascinated by the generational aspect which comes into play and the affiliation of gangs with tattoos, Grace seeks out the like minded individuals who's aesthetically driven creativity is stifled by pre conceived notions engrained deeply into a societies mind. One particular segment shows the personal investment that not only Grace embodies but also the tight knit team as they shadow a young North Korean woman to her hometown of Cheongju as she essentially 'comes out' to her parents as a heavily tattooed individual. As a generally private society it was a big deal that her parents agreed to allow strangers into their house, let alone strangers with cameras. Prior to going in, tension was high and what was at stake was not lost on the crew. 'There's this one shot, in front of the swings and I'm meant to be hosting to the camera but i'm really just looking at Nick (Walters) like 'The fuck are we doing bruv? This could all go horribly wrong! We could potentially ruin the relationship between parents and daughter.' The parents surprised them all by wiping away their tears and explaining that they support their daughter but are just worried about how her decisions might impact her.
'I'm going to Brazil in two weeks to make a film. We're going to meet that girl who was Carnival Queen and got her crown taken from her. I also want to go to Turkey. There are more transgender murders in Istanbul and Turkey than anywhere else in the world. There is a huge community but they don't have any rights. I really want to go there because i think its really important that those people get to share their story.'
THE SECRET TO SELF CONFIDENCE
'The real root to my self confidence was self love I think. I went through years of not even knowing what that concept was, having no idea. I remember when someone told me about self love, I was like 'what are you talking about?'
Like all true love stories, there is an orientation, complication and resolution.This story begins with Grace in some 'pretty shady and horrible dark places' with some 'pretty horrible people'. Loving all the wrong people in a very self destructive manner, giving all of herself to people who didn't want it. It was at rock bottom that autopilot kicked in and now huge chunks within this time frame have been conscientiously blocked out. Complication came right before the road to resolution. Grace met a spiritual healer who 'didn't warp my mind with all of this hippy philosophy' but was just present, open, and understanding. She taught Grace about 'putting yourself first in your own world, not in a selfish way.' Self love, confidence, and owning your own universe became key, because in her own words 'If you don't have self love you can't love people half as hard as you want to.'
'Finally feeling confidence, owning me, it filters out the people, who your real friends are. I found out that a lot of my friends weren't my friends and that fucked me up but then i was like well why am i wasting my time with people who don't give a shit? I definitely felt reborn.'
Suffice to say that we could of chatted well into the afternoon, we begun to touch on the unfair aspect of the prominence of white men in western politics, the introduction of unisex clothing brands and it's potential impact on the industry, and whether or not the standard societal ideas of gender will become obsolete, but alas, Grace had people to ink and opinions to broaden.
'We should all shed our boarders and all start living on the planet as one. Yea we all have separate countries but we're all fucking everything up so why don't we try all holding hands and being like that hippy circle that everyone sees. It's so cheesy but we really should do that. As soon as we start not judging people for their sexuality, the sex, their race, their gender, thats when shits going to get a lot more peaceful.'