We chatted to the model & Founder about mental illness, recovery and meeting The Duke & Duchess of Sussex!
Genevieve, thank you so much for being here with us! Whilst we have followed you for a while now, could you give our readers a short introduction?
My name is Genevieve Mora. My friends call me Gen. I am 24 years old and live in Auckland, New Zealand. My teenage years were a bit different from those of my friends. While they were out socialising and attending high school I was fighting a battle. My mental illness journey began at 10 years old with anxiety, then OCD and lastly Anorexia Nervosa. I spent my teenage years fighting for freedom and recovery.
Once I was well enough I moved to LA for 2 years and studied at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film School which was a dream come true. Since returning to NZ I have founded a mental health charity called Voices of Hope. Our mission is to promote mental well being, empowerment and recovery. I feel so lucky to be able to use my story to give hope to those that are still battling.
So before we get to Voices of Hope, we want to dive into the modelling industry for a bit. How did you first get your start in the industry?
I have always been tall and at the age of 14 I was at a mall and they had a model search going on for a show called Style Pasifika. With encouragement, I decided to try out. I was lucky enough to be signed by a modelling agency and walked in the Style Pasifika show. I modelled whenever I had the opportunity to do so and loved it!
It's important for me to stress that modelling wasn't the reason I became unwell with an eating disorder. I know the industry itself has a reputation for being unhealthy but my issues were anxiety based and getting back out on the catwalk actually gave me motivation to recover (...crazy I know). Obviously when I first became unwell I was pulled from the industry by my parents and I am SO thankful for that. My agency was also supportive of that decision and wanted me to be well again.
How do you navigate the pressures to look a certain way, particularly in regards to your body?
After re-joining the modelling industry after my battle with an eating disorder I actually felt stronger than I had been before. In an industry where your appearance is critiqued you have to have a strong sense of self worth. My illness had taken me to hell and back but I returned stronger and with the belief that I was going to be authentically me, mentally and physically. I actually ended up signing with a new agency and at my first meeting (before they signed me) I said that if they wanted me on their books THIS is what they were getting and that changing my appearance was out of the question.
In all honesty my battle gave me the most amazing tools and the strength to be genuine and true to myself.
Do you have any advice for young girls who may be thinking of getting into the industry?
Be aware of what you are getting yourself into. What you see of the industry is all the glitz and glam. Don't get me wrong, it’s a whole lot of fun but there are also VERY early call times, hours standing on your feet and a whole lot of waiting around. One of the most inspiring and powerful things you can do is BE your true self, embrace your flaws (we all have them) and know that often the girl on the cover doesn't even look like the girl on the cover! There is only ONE you. Life is too short to waste it trying to be someone you aren't.
Moving on to Voices of Hope. Can you please explain exactly what it is and how you got involved?
Voices of Hope is a not for profit mental health charity founded by myself and my friend Jazz Thornton. Having both faced our own battles with mental illness we wanted to create something that we wish had been available when we were unwell. We both believe that hope is such a powerful thing but so often when fighting a mental illness it can seem as if there is none.
We started off with producing video content for our website, sharing stories of those who had survived mental illness and who are now free to empower others who are struggling. Since then we have also started podcasts, give talks in schools and at corporate events and are keen to collaborate with other like minded people. It has been a wild ride but we are DETERMINED to be part of the much needed changes in mental health services in Aotearoa New Zealand.
We understand you met Prince Harry & Meghan Markle on their visit to New Zealand. What an experience! How was it!?
It was crazy! To have the opportunity to sit down with them on their tour to NZ was an incredible honour. We felt so privileged to be representing all the people who support Voices of Hope and also those who are pushing for change. They were both the most down to earth people. Prince Harry was genuinely interested in the conversation and added a lot to it. It was an incredible reminder that mental health issues don't discriminate, royalty or not. It was very clear that mental health was a cause VERY close to his heart.
Where do you and your business partner Jazz see the organisation heading in the future?
We hope to continue to do this for the rest of our lives. At this point we are still volunteering our time and are balancing it with our day jobs. We are hoping that at some stage in the not too distant future to be working for VoH full time. We want to continue to be a platform for people to share their stories openly and confidently and give people the opportunity to inspire others. We want to be part of a global change and as well as that see our suicide statistics drop dramatically within NZ.
On a personal note I would love for greater Eating Disorder awareness and to see more support services for those fighting ED within NZ. We want the conversation around mental illness to change from just talking about it to actively finding solutions.
WE DREAM BIG!
How about personally? Do you hope to continue more in the advocacy space, or really pursue your modelling career (if not both!?)
A nice balance of both. They are both something I am passionate about and because of that it is REALLY important for me to find a neutral space between the two. I don't want to be out here preaching positive body image and then be involved in something that is affecting people’s own self image.
When it comes to the modelling thing I will continue to do it, as I love it, but will always be cautious of any message I am promoting and be sure to only accept jobs that align with my values. I am a healthy girl and if I can use my platform positively to promote healthy body image within the modelling industry that would be amazing.
Having said that, mental health advocacy has become my purpose and I will continue to do this for as long as I possibly can. Every day I hear new stories of people and their battles and if I can use my years of illness to inspire others and advocate for change (from my lived experience) then it makes all that I went through worth it.
Any last advice for young girls and women who may be reading?
As cliche as this sounds, there is only one you. Life is too short to spend time at war with yourself.
Our bodies are incredible things. Start focusing on the amazing things your body can do and not the things it can’t. Honour it and be proud to be the amazing person you are.
You can follow Gen @_genevieve_mora and Voices of Hope @voicesofhope