As far as alter egos go, pop culture has commandeered the term a bit. We’re used to seeing celebrities share theirs with the world as a way to express another side of the artist, but it’s more than a marketing ploy. An alter ego—a variation of oneself—is something anyone, anywhere, can utilize to step more closely toward the light of their true self. Desirous of being more vocal and regarded as a leader? Alter ego. Want to bottle the nurturing side of your personality? Alter ego.
«A second self or different version of oneself, such as a trusted friend» per the dictionary, the alter ego isn’t who you wish you could be, but a distilled version of who you already are. It’s a magnified celebration of preexisting traits or strengths, an opportunity to turn the spotlight on the things you want the world to recognize you for. No one is assigned their alter ego; it’s something the individual constructs and cultivates.
We invited a trio of powerful women in the ELLE orbit to explore their alter egos in their own words—aided by the cue of seeing things through the new lenses of a pair of Gucci sunglasses.
Name: Zen Sevastyanova
Occupation: Tattoo artist, former model
I shapeshifted for my career—it influenced my identity.
It was a positive thing and allowed me to expand my own creativity. If I’m on set, my identity encapsulates all the identities of the people there—the hairdresser, the manicurist. You’re a vessel, [and your alter ego] comes together with the efforts of everyone.
When I was 11 and shaved my head, people thought I was a boy.
That was my first shapeshifting moment. I have androgynous features and tend to dress in masculine shapes that disguise my figure. I spent so many years working [as a model] and needing to show my body. The attention I get on the street, people aren’t sure what gender I am. I get attention from gay men and lesbians, less so from straight men, and I find it really cool.
A couple of months ago I bleached my eyebrows; it was such a small change, but a severe outcome. It was fascinating to see how people reacted. It didn’t move me toward the «sexy-woman» spectrum—it moved me toward the «weirdo-woman» spectrum. I liked the social experiment side of it. People I connected to on the streets were also weirdos.
Name: Krista Chiu
Occupation: Floral artist
Your alter ego is not someone who isn’t you.
It’s still a part of who you are—it’s just a different side of you. You should be you every day, in whatever you’re doing. People have so many different sides; humans are so dynamic with so many layers.
Something about relinquishing control feels good.
When you’re working with something that has a life of its own, like flowers, there’s a certain way it bends. You can’t force it, and that’s what nature is. There’s something really beautiful about it. When I’m working with flowers, I can only do what they allow me to do.
What I do as a day job is very calculated and strategic, so it’s a great kind of balance. It complements my life in a way where, if I only did flowers, I’d get stuck; instead I get to exercise my brain in a different way.
Name: Mona Chalabi
The warrior queen uses her platform to amplify the voices of others.
Instead of using it to speak only for themselves, [but] those who didn’t get a chance to speak up. Really good data journalism does that: Rather than hearing from one person, when you hear from a data set you’re hearing from thousands of people all at once. The starting point is numbers: a spreadsheet or in the back of an academic paper. The point is including many voices instead of just one. That’s when data journalism is at its best.
I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything.
It’s a waste to try and convince people not to hate. I’m just trying to convey urgency, to convince people to show up and that they can make a difference. When you think of a warrior, it’s about amassing your troops, not trying to convince the other side to fight with you. In my career, how many people have I convinced with data? Very few. How many have I informed? Hopefully quite a lot.
Photographer: Yulia Gorbachenko
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