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Photo by Karen Doolittle

Why Refinery29’s Piera Luisa Gelardi Doesn’t Keep Secrets

“When we started Refinery29 almost fifteen years ago, we wanted to shift the way that media and advertising portrayed women. We wanted to showcase women in all their complexity and vulnerability, to share, and have open conversations. We saw that the ideal of women that was portrayed in media and advertising was very homogenous. It was this idea that women should aspire to be tall, white, thin and young, with perfect skin, and straight white teeth. But to sell that aspiration is just irresponsible because for most people, no matter what they do; that’s not a standard everyone can get to. It’s also a white supremacist standard that’s not inclusive of the huge diversity within the world.”

I am on the phone with Piera Luisa Gelardi, one of the co-founders of Refinery29, a media company targeted to millennials that reaches 325 million women globally a month. From Snapchat, to YouTube, to films directed by women, to hosting large-scale events like 29Rooms; Refinery29 has changed how the media and advertising portray women with humour and bold storytelling.

Refinery29 is slowly taking over the world. They just launched their Canadian site. The Funhouse of style, art and technology aka 29Rooms, which Piera tells me is “A whole lot of awesomeness, a feast for the senses!” is coming to Toronto this Fall!

 

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“Many argue that there’s a war on individuality, so I just wanted to bring us all in a room to discuss the complexities of humanity,” – #janellemonae 💥 We collaborated with Monae for our first-ever LA 29Rooms ✨ @Janellemonae ‘s installation titled “What’s Your Frequency,” presented her own take on surveillance culture 👏🏾 In her black-and-white room (a color combo that is a staple of her style), mannequins with televisions for heads stand and chains around their feet, are watched by domed mirrors and security cameras. Working with creative visionaries is one of our favorite parts of #29Rooms, and an aspect of the experience that we look forward to continuing in the future…. — 📸 by @laurenelizadunn // Installation: “What’s Your Frequency” in collaboration with Janelle Monae

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ON CHANGING STATISTICS

“I used to go out and cast in the subway, on the streets, and in stores because I wanted to represent our readers in our content. We are always looking for inequalities in the world. We are constantly trying to shift statistics.”

Which statistics is she most proud of changing?

“67% of women in the US are considered plus-sized, so size 14 and up, but they only make up 2% of the images in media and advertising. So, we made a concerted effort to make sure we were representing plus- sized women to take them out of the niche market, and put them into the mainstream through our imagery and content.”

 

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Truth. 🎥 Women are vastly underrepresented in Hollywood. 🎞While we make up half of the population, only 21% of stories we see come from a woman’s perspective (and just 7% of 2016’s top films were directed by women). 📺 ⁣ ⁣ That’s why we started @Shatterbox an initiative that provides opportunities for women behind the lens. 🎥⁣ ⁣ This weekend (while I was sitting in the directors chair at #29Rooms), we debuted the films of an amazing group of women at Toronto Film Festival! Swipe through to see our badass directors… their projects will be on view with @tntdrama ⁣ ⁣ Thank you @amyemmerich @gibsonautomatic for spearheading this groundbreaking series for @refinery29 and driving this cultural shift. ⁣ It’s about time we see the full picture! #shatterbox #timesup ⁣

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“Another one is the fact that only 4% of the 100 top-grossing movies in Hollywood were directed by women. So, we started a short form series called Shatterbox dedicated to spotlighting women filmmakers.”

ON SHARING SECRETS

Piera is openly bisexual. She has written about her miscarriages. She has shared her struggle with imposter syndrome. Her writing is exquisite. Fast-paced, captivating and words are at her command. When speaking about the loss of miscarriage she describes a grief that “litters the world with emotional trap doors.”

Where does she find the bravery to share?

“For me, sharing didn’t require very much bravery on my part. These are parts of my life. To me there’s no shame in being bisexual. There’s no shame in sharing about fertility issues, in struggling as a mom, in having imposter syndrome in my career.  I always find it surprising when people describe me as being vulnerable, which they often do.”

“To me these are the things that are natural in our lives that I LOVE talking about. I’m open about them because I appreciate it when other people are open with me, and I think that’s what connects us. I also share because I hope that it will open up the conversation for other people to be able to share. Two years ago, when I shared my miscarriage, in two articles and on Instagram, it really opened up a lot of conversations. Women said they had never told anyone, that they carried it alone, and that me talking about it, helped them to talk about it. It helped them realize how therapeutic it is to talk about the things that we struggle with.”

“When I share something like this, it’s also a release. I don’t like to hold secrets. It wasn’t like I was having a miscarriage live on Instagram. I went through the emotional work that I needed to feel ready to share. I share when I feel that I can, when I’m in a place emotionally, that I can deal with the responses that come in.”

 

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Infertile. Geriatric pregnancy. Advanced maternal age. Spontaneous abortion. ⁣ ⁣ These are some of the lovely words and phrases that I heard from doctors and read on my chart while struggling to conceive. Clinical, isolating, demoralizing terms seemingly wrought from another time.⁣ ⁣ The word Infertile itself always bugged me. It seemed so finite and I resented it’s meaning. Barren, bleak, lifeless… a slap in the face to my vibrant spirit.⁣ ⁣ In reality, being diagnosed with infertility doesn’t mean the end of a dream to become a parent. This is because fertility isn’t binary — “fertile” or “infertile” — but rather a diverse spectrum of biological markers, chronic conditions, medical procedures, and the multitude of journeys people take toward parenthood.⁣ ⁣ The majority of us sit somewhere on a broader spectrum, where overall health as well as a partner’s health, access to care, and a desire to have kids at all factor in just as prominently as the universal/historical marker of age.⁣ ⁣ Today we launched The Fertility Spectrum on @refinery29 because it’s time we see the road to parenthood as it really is—unique and different for everyone.⁣ ⁣ Congrats to our team and to all who bravely shared their stories… I’m so proud to be hosting this conversation, smashing stigmas, and continuing to broaden the representation of the many paths to parenthood. ⁣ ⁣ Photo @ioulex Words @corystieg R29 dream team @sade_style @mollythemess @juliealvin @ndre @sarah_f____ @leestroyer @christenebarberich @amyemmerich

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Piera created The Fertility Spectrum, a forum to talk openly about all things fertility.

ON BEING A NEW MOM

Piera’s sister-in-law offered to be their surrogate and now Piera has an adorable daughter named Viva!

 

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If you’ve been following me, you know what a complicated journey it’s been for me to become a mom. In February last year, before I got pregnant (and lost the baby), my sister in law, Teresa, told me that, if I needed, she’d be our surrogate and carry for Philippe and me. I was stunned by the magnitude of the offer, deeply moved, in awe of her generosity. But in that same moment, my self-reliant armor went up and I felt I couldn’t accept. It was too much. (I’ve always been fiercely independent and bad at asking for help.) ☁️ Teresa kept gently reminding me of the offer… when I miscarried, when I was awaiting surgery so I could try again, when my doctor said I may have to endure several more miscarriages before I could carry to term. She wanted me to understand that her offer was for real. She rebuked me when I told her that it was selfless of her. She said “It’s not selfless. I want to do this. I want our kids to grow up together.” ☁️ For months, I couldn’t make a decision… I was afraid to receive such a gift. I was afraid to try again myself. I was afraid to let go of how I thought things would happen. But I knew I had to choose. ☁️ In therapy one day I started hashing things out, sharing everything playing out in my mind: should I wait to try again, should I explore adoption, should I have Teresa carry, should I focus on mothering my team, causes, and projects instead of becoming a mother in the traditional sense? The dizzying Six Flags ride of my mind. Finally my therapist said “STOP. I want to clear the air. I want you to take a deep breath. Ok, now tell me. What is it you most deeply desire?” Everything went still. In the moment of still, what I’d always known deep down was crystal clear. I replied instinctively, immediately, and with perfect clarity. “My deepest desire is to be a mom.” My path forward cleared. 🌥This past weekend, I was laying in bed with Teresa watching a movie. She grabbed my hand and placed it on her pregnant stomach and said “do you feel that? She’s kicking!” Our daughter is due in November. Coming into the world through an immense act of giving — and of receiving. And I really couldn’t imagine a more beautiful way. 💙 📷 @erinyamagata

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Being a new mom means a new schedule.

“I’m indoors all day. But the great thing about being a mom is that now I leave work at 6. If it’s a nice day, I just grab her, and her bottle, and we go out have dinner outside!”

ON FINDING HER POWER

“To me it’s meant embracing my strengths and my weaknesses. Which I know sounds basic, but I think that as we grow in our careers, and we go into unfamiliar territory, we compare ourselves to other people. We start to feel like we have a deficit, and we don’t give ourselves the credit for the credentials and the experience that we already have. As we were growing the company, I started to feel like an outsider because I went to art school. I’d never worked in a corporate environment. We started to bring in people that came from corporate environments, that spoke all this corporate jargon, and I started to feel like an imposter. I remember thinking ‘Maybe I’m not the right person to do my job’ because I felt so self-conscious and I had such acute imposter syndrome.”

“But what I realized in that time, because I was asking myself if I needed to step down, was that my skills, and my experience, and my creativity had gotten me to where I was. I just needed to harness that strength and that unique magic, to get to the next place. I learned to harness my areas of strength. I learned to use my storytelling skills to negotiate, my curiosity to understand these jargon-loaded conversations, and as I started to do that, I saw that my power and my level of comfort increased exponentially.”

ON EMPOWERING YOURSELF

“The best way to empower yourself is to recognize your unique gifts and to harness them. I was always someone that had my nose down, and I was doing the work, and I didn’t work as an advocate for myself showcasing the things that I was doing, and really promoting what I was doing within the company. When I started doing that, I realized how important it is to be your best advocate. People think it’s being boastful, but it really doesn’t have to be. It’s about sharing the things that you’re doing, and why you’re doing them, and the impact they are having. I think the other big thing is having a network of women, and supporting each other is so critical.”

TOP NYC PICKS


Favorite Park
Domino park in Williamsburg.

Favorite Meal to Cook for Friends
Definitely pasta! Penna a la norma to get specific.

Favorite restaurant
Misi in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Favorite shop
Coming Soon.

Favorite Lipstick
Kat Von D liquid lipstick in “A-Go-Go.

Favorite Hairdresser
I have two. My old friends have a salon on the Lower East Side called 1994 New York and Cools Nights LA in LA. They are Sera Sloan and Ian Scott Dorey.

Cover photo by Karen Doolittle

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Why Refinery29’s Piera Luisa Gelardi Doesn’t Keep Secrets