“I created the Short Version because I wanted to read it,” Cleo Abram tells What We Seee. “Important and controversial issues would come up in the news, and I was asked to have an opinion before I understood the nuances of the issue. When I finally built up the courage to share this frustration, I realized many my smart, curious friends felt the same way.” And so many of us do. But creating a fascinating, thoughtful email that tackles both sides of controversial political and social issues may not seem like a natural step for someone who also works as a successful model.
And yet, one look at Abram’s CV and breadth of interests, and you’ll understand why a the Short Version like this was such a natural fit. Her passion for a diverse range of issues and fearlessness when tackling new challenges shows that being a model isn’t her vocation, it’s one of her many, many hats. And the more you learn about her, the more it becomes clear that the Short Version is an easy extension of an informed and inquisitive mind like Abram’s.
What’s so telling about the creation of the Short Version— and about Abram’s integrity— is that it involved a leap so few of us are willing to take: admitting that we don’t know something. It should be easy, considering there’s no way that a single person could have a coherent understanding of every social and political issue at play in any given moment. But holding your hand up and saying that you’re not sure if you have a grip of an issue being discussed takes guts. “I was solving a problem for myself,” Abram explains. “At the time, I had just graduated from Columbia and was working as a political consultant in the lead-up to the 2016 election cycle.” In an increasingly polarized world, it’s totally natural to feel at sea with some of the issues that surround us. Abram understood that and provided a resource that she, and so many others, would want.
Just The Beginning
— Cleo Abram (@cleoabram) August 23, 2017
But that first leap in creating the Short Version has set her on a very clear, fruitful path. “The Short Version has been much more important to my career and my growth than I ever imagined when I began,” she says. “Every week, it prompts me to dive deep into issues I want to better understand (for example, net neutrality and gerrymandering). That exercise has made me much more deliberate and data-driven as I build my opinions in general. Putting the Short Version out into the world also inspires other interesting and interested people to reach out to me, and their feedback has made my work infinitely better. And the project taught me how much I love explanatory journalism, which eventually led to my pursuing and getting a job at Vox.” And now that she’s landed at Vox, there’s a lot more to come.
Because even with all of her success and her various projects, she continues to strive as she moves forward. “I fear being constrained or constraining myself in my career—roles that don’t allow you to experiment, letting uncertainty hold you back, giving in to laziness instead of constantly learning,” she explains. “But I combat those concerns by remembering some free career advice from President Obama, which he gave in an interview with photographer Brandon Stanton. He said, ‘If you’re worrying about yourself—if you’re thinking: ‘Am I succeeding? Am I in the right position? Am I being appreciated?’—then you’re going to end up feeling frustrated and stuck. But if you can keep it about the work, you’ll always have a path. There’s always something to be done.”
So that’s what she does— she finds what needs to be done. “Focus on how to do the best work, and you’ll succeed.” And if you’re at a loss for what to do next, she’s got a great way of keeping yourself growing and learning. “Focus on skills not jobs,” she explains. “Figure out what you want to learn and then find a way to go do it. Because unlike a job, you don’t need anyone’s permission to learn. Jobs will come when you have the skills and have shown your commitment to improving them.”
— Cleo Abram (@cleoabram) August 12, 2017
And her skills continue to grow. It’s lovely to hear that, despite her deep rooting in the political, she feels like she’s gleaned a lot from modeling. It’s refreshing to see someone being able to embrace such seemingly divergent aspects of their lives, rather than feeling the need to distance or minimize. “At first, modeling was an exciting opportunity to learn about a new industry and earn money in college,” she says. “I didn’t see it as directly related to politics or media, which were my main interests then and still are now. But I was wrong.”
She found that not only did modeling help build a skill set— like being in front of a camera, a key skill for many journalists— it also gave her an unexpected grounding in media and a study in the relying of information. “Modeling also made me think harder about how we visually share information, in fashion and in news, and what our individual role is in the media industry. Models make media. No matter what stereotype they endure about being unintellectual or superficial, models are still gathering the attention of millions of people and focusing it on a creative product or message. That’s making media.”
She’s certainly making media now. “I’m writing, producing and hosting my own video series,” she explains— and her enthusiasm is clear. This endeavor feels like a culmination of a lot of time, skills, and experience that she’s been honing through the years. “This is the first episode of Model Citizen, a show that uses fashion as a lens to take a closer look at major social issues we all face. The first episode explores what the grey area of appropriate behavior on fashion sets can tell us about sexual harassment in every industry. More episodes are on their way. The show is part of Racked, Vox Media’s fashion brand. I’m so proud of it and grateful to them for creating it with me.”
The series is proving to be a force to be reckoned with. You can check out the first episode here:
Model Citizen is looking at issues that have been long been overlooked, but are so important— especially in the current climate. And though Abram seems to be spinning an ever-increasing number of plates, she still has her ear to the ground. “I’m always happy to chat with people starting out about what they’re up to and thinking about. I’m @cleoabram on Instagram and Twitter.” If this interdisciplinary, eclectic, and exciting range of projects is what she’s produced so far, there’s sure to be much more to come. Check out more from Model Citizen and keep an eye out for what she’s doing next. It’s sure to be powerful, political, and thoughtful— just like she is.