Thursday, January 28, 2010
An Excellent Speech by Liskula Cohen
As I've said before, I normally try to avoid putting other people's articles on my blog, but this speech by Liskula Cohen was too fantastic to not be included. For those of you unfamiliar with her, please see my earlier article (http://riskinghemlock.blogspot.com/2009/11/lunch-with-supermodel-liskula-cohen.html), or her visit her blog (http://mynameisliskula.blogspot.com/).
You may be wondering why I have chosen to include this post. There are two main reasons:
1) It addresses several issues that deserve more attention than they commonly receive, from the nuances of First Amendment law to the lives of models.
2) I think Liskula's story is an inherently compelling one, and have found that she has a unique and powerful voice with which to share it.
Here is the speech.
Hello and thank you for inviting me to speak.
My name is Liskula Gentile Cohen and I'm here to dispel some myths. You may think you know me from media reports, but don't believe everything you read. I'm here to give you some insight into who I really am and how this whole Google story brought me here today.
I was born right here in London Ontario at St. Joseph's hospital on Feb. 3rd. 1972.
My profession? I am a working model....period. I have been fortunate to be able to support myself in this very competitive business for 21 years. Many years ago I managed to land one Vogue cover for the Australian edition and I've made the inside pages a couple of times over the years. Though I've been lucky enough to appear on several fashion covers in my career, Vogue seems to be the touchstone for the general media. Somehow, landing a Vogue cover, any Vogue cover, according to the media, made me a “SUPERMODEL”. This is not how I see myself, nor is it how I promote myself. It is a media fabrication and I am, quite simply, a hard working model.
Hard working? That concept may be difficult for some of you to understand. I'm sure that many of you believe that this is an easy job....you simply have to be born with the right genes. You'd be wrong to dismiss me so easily. A working model must compete daily and have a thick skin.She must be prepared to face rejection every time she casts for a job. A working model can expect to hear: you're too thin...too fat...too tall....not tall enough...too blonde...too ethnic...too young...too old....too pale...too tanned... In short - not good enough for the job.....get out good bye.....you're dismissed...daily....NEXT!
The work is physical. Apart from holding poses for ridiculous lengths of time, you must have a whole grab bag of expressions....you have to be flexible and you have to be a chameleon. The days are long and nothing is guaranteed. You meet all sorts of people in the fashion industry....great people and some not-so-great. There are those who believe a model is nothing more than a piece of meat and try to take advantage. Those who believe in casting couches. Those who believe that all models are stupid...just lame-brained beauties with nothing more to offer. I've lost more jobs than I've won because I won't compromise my own values. I simply won't “DO ANYTHING” for a job. To those in the industry that really know me, I am the woman they know will be on time. When I walk onto a set, I work hard, I work fast, and I deliver the shot EVERY TIME. I am professional and I respect those who show me the same respect.
This business is exciting. In my 21 years, I've lived in Sydney, Paris, Milan, New York and Tokyo. I've seen the world and met some extremely powerful and exceptional people. I've been very lucky.
So now that you know a little bit about me, you might ask: “So how did I get into this Google mess?” To answer that, you must be able to accept that for a model, beyond the physical appearance, HER NAME IS HER BRAND. Having said that, you should also know that the way I became aware of the “Skanks in NY” blog was from a client while on a job. These days clients, both new and old, consult the internet for the latest shots of models they're interested in using. It's faster, far more efficient and less expensive than sending model portfolio's around with couriers.
How did I feel when I heard about this blog? I was mortified....humiliated....angered. This was not simply a personal attack. This was an intentional malicious act that affected the way I earn my living. Should I have ignored it and crossed my fingers that it would just go away? Absolutely not! As we all know, internet postings are there for the world to see.....they don't simply fade away. Any client looking for me would see it...as would my family and friends. I had no option but to fight for myself regardless of the outcome. There is some history to my decision to fight and in order to properly inform you it's necessary that you understand the history.
In January of 2007 I was physically assaulted at a nightclub in New York by a total stranger. This was a private club that offered bottle service which means simply that your table is private, a full bottle of alcohol is purchased and your table is provided with glassware and appropriate mixers. A drunk approached and helped himself to our bottle. When he was told to leave he became aggressive, broke the bottle and plunged it into my face. I was shocked and it didn't register with me right away the extent of the damage he had done.
People started to rush toward me offering assistance and when I looked down, I realized I was covered in blood. My instant response was to pick up another bottle and pour the alcohol over my face. I ran to the ladies room to find a hole, the size of a quarter, in my cheek.
My life as a model was now officially over, or so I had thought. The owners of the nightclub offered me taxi fare to a hospital but I knew if I walked out they wouldn't be responsible. The club's security should have thrown him out earlier in the evening when he had gotten into a fight with someone else. He was clearly intoxicated and very aggressive. I held my ground insisting the police and an ambulance be called. I told the emergency room doctor that I made my living with my face and wasn't prepared to be simply stitched up. The damage was extensive and I waited 6 hours to be seen by a plastic surgeon. Forty three stitches later I found my way home. As it happens, my stepdad was flying into New York that day on business and he came directly from the airport to see me. My Mother arrived the next day to take care of me. Two days passed and I was seriously depressed wondering how I'd make my living.....how would I move forward.
My agent called and told me that she had a casting for a television commercial and that I was to be there in a couple of hours. I didn't know how to tell her what had happened. She wanted me to stop at the agency for the details before I met with the client. Quite frankly I didn't know what to do. Even though I had this hideous gash, covered with a bandage, my Mother pushed me to go.....it was that old "get back on the horse" concept and I suppose that's what I needed to hear. I got ready and between the two of us, we styled my hair so that it covered my cheek, sprayed it in place and put on a beret to hold it there. The buzz at the agency was all about a model that had been slashed in the face but no one knew who it was and my agent asked if I'd heard about it. I pulled back my hair and admitted it was me. To her credit, she insisted that I go to the casting and wing it. I did and to my great surprise, I landed the job. Of course I knew that the client would eventually have to see my bare face and the jagged red scar but until then, I'd wing it. I was banking on my brilliant plastic surgeon and counting on my ability to deliver the shot regardless. Would they accept me once they saw my bare face? The day of the shoot I arrived without a stitch of make-up and sat down with the client to explain what had happened. To my great joy the client said that they would work around it and they shot me from the other side. I was still in this game of perfection.....I hadn't lost it completely.
Through all of this, I never spoke with the press......I had managed to make it through this ordeal without anyone knowing "the victim's" name. I hate that word...victim...and never wanted it applied to me. My attacker was arrested and because he couldn't afford bail, he sat in jail until the case went to court. He plead guilty and was sentenced to one month based on time served.
Not a word of this made the papers. Within a month of his release he was back in the clubs. In July of 2008 he attacked another woman in the same manner.....this time he used a drinking glass and the story of her slashing made the news. I could no longer hold my tongue....this man had to be stopped and people had to know this wasn't the first time. I spoke with the new victim's mother and the press hoping this time he'd get a longer sentence. My treatment was ongoing and at the time of that story we were working on getting the muscles on the injured side working so that my smile would once again be balanced. Because I spoke up, my opinion generated on line and newspaper comments by people who identified themselves as being related to my attacker. Basically they defended him and justified their defense by saying I asked for it. Again he plead guilty and again he served time. His release coincided with the timing of the blog and my lawyer thought that his friends or family might be behind it. My lawyer recommended that I file a petition with the court to reveal the identity of the blogger, because if it did end up being him, or a friend of his, he would be violating his probation and the restraining order. I was assured that this filing was a private matter and I believed it was the only way I'd be able to bring down the blog. I've learned that NOTHING IS PRIVATE. That filing was very quickly leaked to the Daily News in New York and the rest is history.....flawed history, but history none the less.
The morning it hit the press I was working in Miami and my lawyer was inundated with calls. The first was Diane Sawyer, followed by Oprah , Dr. Phil, and every major newspaper and network news station. That was followed by international requests as the news exploded on the internet. How did I feel? Horrified, humiliated....then came the depression...I wanted to throw myself under a bus. I was petrified. What got me through? I have a very strong family who rallied around with supportive calls and e-mails. They stood shoulder to shoulder encouraging me to stand tall and fight the good fight. Sometimes it's necessary to face personal humiliation if you believe the cause is good....life isn't always pretty. I refused all requests for interviews. I chose to keep my mouth shut and not let this play out in the media......it would be tried in a court of law and win or lose, I'd speak with the media when the case was decided. The first seven and a half months of 2009 were pure hell. As the case moved through the court system and was reported, journalists camped outside my door. I couldn't walk my dog without being harassed by photographers and reporters. With the reporting came the commentary...the name calling...even death threats. In many people's minds I was the dumb, washed up, thin skinned, Canadian, has been, model bitch who was stepping on their first amendment rights. HOW DARE SHE! How dare I? I had survived a brutal physical attack yet still managed to find work but now, because of this blog no one wanted to see me and I could no longer support myself.. I suppose it was time....why not me?...somebody had to do it. Should I have rolled over and ignored it? Absolutely NOT. This blogger had succeeded in affecting my ability to earn a living
Why wouldn't I fight? Judge Madden's decision was thoughtful and thorough. She made her ruling based on common sense......if it is illegal to defame someone in print or on television, why should the information highway be exempt? The internet is not exempt and contrary to popular belief, defamation is not a right included in free speech. I was stunned when Judge Madden decided in my favor. For too long I'd heard over and over that I must be crazy to take on Google and it was impossible for me to win this battle.
Google, from the beginning, said that they would comply with whatever the court ordered and they did just that. I wanted the name of the anonymous blogger and they supplied it as ordered. The news of her decision lit up the worldwide web. Though the negative commentary was still there, I began to hear from all sorts of people but now they were offering congratulations. For the first time I understood that there were others outside of my family that believed in what I was doing. When the case was leaked in January 2009, my lawyer received a call from Tina Meiers, the mother of Meghan, the teen who committed suicide over cyber humiliation.
Tina offered her support from the start and it was her I thought of when the news broke....I was happy for Tina. A total stranger started a Facebook site titled "Thank you Liskula Cohen" and I realized I wasn't alone in this anymore. I was invited by John Seigenthaler, the founder of The First Amendment Centre, to take part in a panel discussion about the internet and free speech in front of many students at the University of Tennessee. The media, and public speaking for that matter, are a like a tightrope....you have to negotiate them very carefully.
I didn't know how I'd be received but I was delighted to find that though not all agreed with me, the students were intelligent, polite, and respectful. This was a refreshing change from the verbal and written abuse I'd been exposed to over the preceding 8 months.
Many have asked why I dropped my defamation suit against the blogger. I didn't proceed because frankly this whole ordeal has been exhausting. This person meant nothing to me. She was not a friend. She knew some of the same people I know and that's how she managed to snag private party photos from Facebook to build her repulsive blog. I'd had enough of court and the media. I needed some peace in my life so I forgave her. As I stated in the media, suing her adds nothing to my life. I needed to move on and another year or two in court fighting a useless battle with someone who didn't even have a job made no sense to me. Contrary to popular belief she is not suing Google for 15 million dollars for failing to support her first amendment rights.
If a suit had been filed, it would be a matter of public record
I suppose the truth doesn't sell newspapers.......it doesn't get airtime or internet space like the fantasy of another scandalous round with Google. When the blogger got her rightful exposure and the media moved to her front door she folded quickly and asked her lawyer to contact mine to find a resolution....for her. After many hours we hammered out an agreement that bars her from speaking or profiting from my name. She was also required to make a public apology in the general media and on the internet. She signed that agreement but to date her lawyer has not. No public apology has been made. I understand that you can't change people.
We are who we are...we can only change ourselves.
So how am I as I stand before you today?
I'm a different person. I'm less trusting but I have learned from my experience. I've learned that I'm stronger than I thought I was. I've learned that there are intelligent, right minded people out there who believe in me and the battle I fought. I've learned that no matter how well you do your job, it has a lifespan and you'd better have a back-up plan. I know I've made an important difference and I believe that what I did was right. They say a change is as good as a rest and I certainly hope that is true. Modeling was my business and it has opened many doors for me but I move forward with caution because I've learned that talk is cheap. So I stand before you today at a crossroad and I have no idea where I'll end up. Next month I'll be 38 years old and the way I've defined myself for the past 21 years needs to change.
Today I'm grateful you invited me home. You've given me your time, and you have helped me heal. With every speech I give, I heal just a little bit more.