11 December 2018
To kick off our first #girlgaze in Berlin, we caught up with Bojana, a millennial from Serbia who works at VICE Media.
We spoke about the Balkans, – specifically how women are perceived in the east – the importance of diversified casting in the fashion industry, the female gaze, and much more:
What brought you to Berlin?
Bojana: The prospect of an unprecedented level of independence and the freedom to redefine myself and explore my identity further. The wonderful thing about Berlin is the fact that it is the capital of a strong and stable country. You have good economic conditions here to make a nice living for yourself – or to succeed in the capitalist sense of the word. On the other hand, you can still nourish your spirit by being exposed to a flourishing art scene and by having the opportunity to meet so many cool and free-spirited people, philosophers, musicians, and other extraordinary individuals.
Can you tell us a bit about your home country?
Bojana: Serbia is located in the Balkans, in the south-eastern part of Europe. Over the centuries, the country has fallen victim to many wars – from being conquered by the Ottoman empire, to suffering tragic consequences of both world wars, just to name the few. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, while many former communist countries were entering a phase of growth and prosperity, Serbia was involved directly and indirectly in yet another tragic war. As a child I witnessed first hand the dissolving of Yugoslavia.
This changed how I perceived the myth of a “nation state” or the creation of modern history forever, followed by the lack of trust in institutions and political structures. I think that is how most people from Serbia feel. There was a lot of bad nation branding by the international media in the 90s. I feel that nowadays we are finally able to cast away some of that stigma. It is partly due to the fact that so many well-educated and open-minded people left the country. They represent a completely different Serbia. In addition, public figures such as Novak Djokovic certainly also contribute to people having much better connotations when they think of this part of the Balkan peninsula.
When leaving Serbia for the first time and becoming more integrated into Western Europe, did you experience any culture shock or was any of the transition difficult for you?
Bojana: There were a couple of things or cultural phenomenas that I encountered upon my arrival to Western Europe. The one that I appreciate the most is the cultivation of freedom of thought at universities. Most educational institutions back home stick to the old-fashioned system of learning by repeating. This can indeed work in some classes, but if you want to promote more innovation, creativity or entrepreneurial spirit among young people, encouraging them to read a lot and then form their own opinions about the world around them is essential. This is something that transfers to one’s career.
My impression is that people in Serbia change occupations much more rarely. Granted, this also has to do with economical circumstances, however, thinking outside of the box and daring to create a different reality for yourself is not as common as it is here [in Western Europe]. I’m embarrassed to say, but another personal example of early cultural shock for me was how open people were about their sexual orientation, even though it did not fit into the mainstream. When I first attended an LGBTIQ parade some ten years ago, I was so overwhelmed by diversity, inclusion, openness, and free spirit. It was a really amazing experience that taught me about different types of love and respect for fellow humans.
What are some pre-conceived notions that you feel many people have about eastern Europe that you hope to dispel?
Bojana: Common stereotypes about Eastern Europe supported by the mainstream media and pop culture extend over many different topics: from “ugly” architecture to alcoholism, nationalism, and homophobia. One should never be too hasty to equate national origin to personal values. If I had to chose one misconception about eastern Europeans though, it would be the mainstream representation of Eastern European women as emotionless gold-diggers who are totally dependent on men.
If you take a closer look at the history of Eastern European societies, it turns out that people who were in charge of running the household were almost entirely women. These women were getting up before dawn to prepare food for the entire family, doing all the chores around the house, and being there for their children. It’s still the same today, albeit a 2.0 version of the past, so to speak. I know a lot of modern Eastern European women who go to work to become total girl bosses, manage their household, and pursue their hobbies.
Digging deeper into what it means to be a woman from the former Yugoslavia, there is also this stereotype of women from Eastern Europe not being luxury brand-name obsessed. Can you elaborate on this?
Bojana: After the fall of the dictator regime, many women in the former Yugoslavia embraced the upcoming social and political changes enthusiastically which promised equal opportunities to everyone, both at home and at work. The reality was, unfortunately, far from the expectation. Due to a highly traditional patriarchal society, many women saw themselves having difficulties climbing the career ladder or finding any type of promising work in the first place, which resulted in poverty, low self-esteem and depression.
The unruly spirit and non-acceptance of the dire circumstances led some of them to reinvent themselves by overthrowing the common image of femininity – being passive, polite, and docile members of the society. Instead, they assumed an aggressive and highly-sexualised role of independence. A part of this new identity involves possession of luxury items, which symbolise achievement, better social status and prestige. Luxury brands such as Chanel or LVMH are not easily found in this region, so owning them shows that you have an access to a world that is available to only a few. Women are “enhancing” themselves through luxury items as a means of empowerment.
You yourself are a #girlboss, working for the publication VICE, can you tell us more about this?
Bojana: I found out about VICE a while ago, when I was working for the intergovernmental organisation OSCE. While doing a research for an election monitoring mission, I came across a YouTube documentary about the Balkans and I was pretty fascinated with how the production crew captured some of the cultural phenomena that is very typical of that region. It made me see myself in a different light. A couple of years later, I found outthat there was a VICE office in Berlin. I applied for one of the open positions and got a job in our content and media sales team. After four years, I feel I developed so much as a person due to working for such a dynamic media company.
I am very grateful about being surrounded by so many creative and smart people and happy to be a part of an exciting media world. In times of fake news and clickbait titles, the content that good journalists produce is more relevant than ever. This is what motivates me. Fortunately, I work with some of the most innovative brands from tech, fashion, entertainment and FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) industries, who recognise the value and cultural relevance of good journalism. In my current position I can bring the two worlds together and help start projects which entertain and educate young and curious people.
Can you tell us about your previous model career as well as your current one?
Bojana: I started relatively late with the whole modelling thing. When a fashion agency first offered me a contract, I was already 26. I never skipped a casting, sometimes even attending ones that I was not invited to. It resulted in some amazing experiences, like filming music videos and TV commercials and doing catwalks at fashion weeks. There were a couple of occasions when I lived abroad and sponsored my trips by working in the industry. Nowadays, I still take part in photo and video shootings and in fashion shows from time to time. It’s so much fun! Not just because it can get super artistic but also because on such occasions I get to meet so many creative and fun people. Modelling is definitively one of my favourite hobbies.
The modelling industry can be a very negative one in terms of self image and female portrayal but a lot of grassroots magazines and creatives as well as mainstream ones are working hard to change this. Does this play a role in the jobs you choose to take or not take? And what are your personal opinions about this?
Bojana: Unfortunately, this is still true. There are certain mainstream ideals of what is supposed to be beautiful and sexy and this causes many girls to feel very insecure about themselves. I personally never needed to change my hair colour for a job or lose weight or something. Maybe because I have not been doing this type of work over a very long time period.
Luckily, nowadays portrayal of female beauty is changing, with ever increasing intensity. There are so many beautiful publications – such as i-D magazine, Dazed, Blonde, Missy Magazine, just to name the few. They promote a completely new attitude: every person is different, individuality should be celebrated, and there are no universal standards that one should follow – you are encouraged to develop your own style and appreciate what you have got – because there is only one “you” in this world. Brands and mainstream media are picking up on this, which is a good thing.
Girl gaze (in contrast to the traditional male gaze) is all about women seeing other women. What do you think about this topic?
Bojana: I think it is refreshing and inspiring. Representation of women in industries such as fashion, advertising, and pornography exposes a lot of gender bias. This comes as no surprise, considering the statement made by activists from The Guerilla Girls that “less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art Sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female”.
It is not that there is a lack of female artists, it is just that not many of them get hired. In turn, most of editorial campaigns are produced by male photographers. We need more examples of women who have succeeded in these industries for girls to look up to. I think it is great that nowadays that there are more and more publications that build up those communities and help girls connect on creativity, activism and challenges that young women face. I think YEOJA Mag is definitively one of such platforms.
Production, Set Design, Photography: Rae Tilly
Styling: Stephanie Gorzynska
Bojana wears pieces from: TEMPER Berlin, peoplelikeus, and Topshop. Some items featured from stylist’s, model’s and photographer’s own wardrobe.