Beyond Beauty: Summer Phoenix
At 18, Summer Phoenix has lived in Argentina, Mexico, Los Angeles, Florida, and New York. She's traveled to Australia and Costa Rica, and to Ecuador with some "eco-warrior" friends of her mom's, and she's acted in a couple of movies, although she says she'd like to consider the one she just finished, Arresting Gina, her first. "That was pretty ace," she says. Also, she's a brand-new aunt.
"It was amazing" says Summer, who was with her sister, Liberty, when she gave birth at her family's home in Florida. "She had the baby in water-- it's more soothing for the mother. And the baby lives in water for the first nine months, so it was an amazing, simple transition for him. He came out eyes open under the water. So cute. I was crying the entire time, but Liberty didn't cry once. She didn't even take an Advil for the pain." They named the baby Rio, which is Spanish for River.
A huge chunk of Summer's otherwise nomadic childhood was spent in Florida, where she attended a progressive school. "It was totally chill," she says. "There were only 23 kids for four different grades, and we had different animals -- peacocks, lambs, dogs. We didn't start till 10:00 in the morning, and we had, like, a morning meeting where we'de 'share stuff'. I loved it." When she finished up there, Summer decided to get her GED rather than go to public school. "I couldn't have dealt," she says. "I mean, I'm different, and a lot of kids like to pick on that, you know? Like, 'Ooh, your gross! What are you eating?Tofu salad?!' And I knew I would get that kind of shit there." After she got her diploma, Summer did a semester of film school at NYU --"and that's been the end of my education so far." But she thinks she wants to continue acting. "It was always something I did when I was younger," she says. "I mean, my whole family did it, and I totally enjoyed it and loved it. I did a lot of TV -- one really bad cheesy movie. Then I moved away to Central America, and I totally didn't think about it. But when I came back to America, I started to think, Oh, what am I going to do with my life?"
Summer knows that some people see her as something of a hippy chick, and she pokes fun at this image constantly. She picked our meeting place because it's vegan, which means it serves no meat and no dairy. Yet when I showed up, she was lounging at an outdoor table, smoking a cigarette. "I know!" She exclaims. "Such a shame!" She laughs. "Me and my older sister were picking butts off the ground and stuff when I was about 14. I've been smoking way too long. But," she adds unapologetically, "there's nothing better than coffee and a cigarette."
And though you'de probably picture her in crunchy, earth-toned, flowing hippie outfits, her style's much more complex: today she's wearing a fitted, kind of demure light-floral print dress with an excellent tailored navy blue coat and an old-school white fuzzy hat ringed with a band of fake diamonds -- all thrift store finds. "I do wear pretty much all secondhand junk," she says. "There are tons of old people that die -- estate sales and stuff like that. Then there's tons of people that just don't know how cool their shit is, so they just give it to the Salvation Army. And I'm, like, there."
Her personal style, she says, is called "stugly. It's just like finding the ugliest piece of clothing you can and then just taking a step back, breathing, taking all the colors in, and just going, 'Yeah, that could look good," she explains. "I think I'm a bit eclectic, and I'm just so not into everybody wearing the same thing. I like to wear lots of different things all together. I like wearing tights and socks and leg warmers," she says. She looks serious, and I have no reason not to believe her. As for makeup, she says she never wears it. "But I always wear glitter," she explains. "It's just always been my thing -- I don't know why." She closes her eyelids so I can see the light dusting of white she's sprinkled on her lashes. "I mean, makeup was never in the house. My mom doesn't wear makeup, she doesn't wear jewelry, she doesn't shave her legs. So the sun was always my makeup -- I'm that skin tone that never gets pale. And I have dark eyelashes and dark eyebrows, so I never needed mascara, or to pencil in my eyebrows. I've always felt uncomfortable in makeup, like, 'God, it's runny' or something -- it just makes me self concious. Glitter is different, because it can go anywhere. Get it in my hair, get it on my cheeks, its fine."
We finish our lunch, so Summer and I walk a few blocks to Porto Rico, her favorite coffee shop. She loves it because it's dark and smoky and the air is thick with a coffee-bean smell. She sits down and pulls a small cardboard container of soy milk out of her purse as I stir whole cow's milk into my cup. "Does regular milk taste good?" she asks. I tell her yeah, and she squirts the soy milk out of the containerand all over her dress. "Oh shit!" she says, laughing. "I do this all the time."
Summer's got a flight to catch in a couple of hours -- one of her best friends is getting married in London. "I just bought the dress I'm going to wear for $1.75," she says proudly. "But I had to get it altered because it had a stain on the neck, and it was really obvious, so I just had it cut and pulled in." And though Summer conforms for no one, she's a little concerned about how her unshaven pits will go over at the reception. "My friend, the one who's getting married, her father is Pakistani," she says, "and his side is all conservative and proper. And England is just very, you know, steeped in whatever. I was thinking, Wow, I'm wearing a sleevles dress, God, I wonder if these people are going to be totally bothered by my armpit hair." So she figures she'll wear a shawl. But otherwise, she couldn't care less what other people have to say. "Guys have come up to me," she says, "and they're like, 'If I gave you a shaver, would you shave your armpits?' And I'm like, 'If I gave you a hammer, would you smash your fuckin' face in?'"
The only time she does give serious thought to the way she looks is when she goes on auditions -- but that doesn't mean she acts on those thoughts. "I feel like when my attitude is great and positive," she says, "it doesn't matter what I look like. At least not to me. I mean, I totally walked into this one audition with huge pants on and my hair up, which my agent tell me" -- she puts on a New York accent -- "NEVAH WEAH YAH HAYEH UP!" She cackles. "I don't know -- I guess I'm more sultry looking when it's down. But I was just bubbly and great, and I think it was because of that. It was obviously not my looks, because I was totally skanked out." So she's pretty pleased with herself, even though she doesn't know if she's gotten the part.
When she was pretty young she noticed physical traits she shares with her brothers and sisters. "Like, me and my sisters are built." she says. "No matter how much I did drugs, I would never be skinny. But I remember just looking at my oldest sister's friends and my brother's girlfriends, and just like, 'Yo, they're a lot different. They're really skinny.'" Then there was the time she and her family were living in South America and she shaved all her hair off, only to come down with a staph infection. "It's like, an itty little sore gets, like, big and puss-y. I got it from the water, and it was just all over my face and my legs and inside my nose -- I mean, it was pretty tragic. Becuause there are a lot of babes in Argentina."
I ask Summer if she considers herself pretty, and she says she can't say it. "I think that when one looks in the mirror," she begins carefully, "you see what you don't like. I can never look in the mirror and see my face. I always go, 'Oh, my eyebrows are really bushy, and my nose is way too long.' But," she says, "I'm pretty comfortable with myself. I know that I have a lot better of a time when I am, and that is always pending on my mind whever I start to get down on myself about my physical appearence. Because it feels shitty -- if you think you're too fat, how can you go to the beach and have a blast with your friends? It's just not worth it. So not worth it. It's a total waste, especially of youth. Time goes by way too fast to take much time feeling shitty." She stubs out her cigarette.
"It's a fine line," she continues. "There have been times when I was crying until I couldn't cry anymore, where it's just complete grief and at the lowest low. I would've traded anything not to feel that emptiness and that void. And that emptiness and that void is just complete neglect of yourself and your soul." She pauses and eyes the action at the counter. "I went from boyfriend to boyfriend -- I had doting boyfriends, I had boyfriends that didn't pay me much attention -- one extreme to the other. And I always felth like I was alone, no matter whether I was with somebody or not. I could feel ugly if I looked fine or if they were telling me I was beautiful. Then, finally, when I took the time out to try and start to love myself, which is such an intense, hard process, that's when I...." she trails off.
Summer checks her watch and suggests that we get going; she's got a wedding gift to buy before she catches her flight. We grab our coats and head out onto the street. But before she goes, she thinks one other thing she wants to tell me. "The one thing I've learned is that you have to do it for yourself," says Summer. "I think it's been proven so many times that beauty comes from the inside -- that you have to realize it for yourself, exude that and be that. Otherwise it doesn't make the same impact on you or your soul or your ability to shine." She cracks a wide smile. "You're as beautiful as you feel," she says."To quote Carol King."