Everybody Loves A Clown
Whether she's on the runway for brands like Eckhaus Latta or smiling dramatically in front of her MacBook, Marzella is always on; always giving all of herself for the sake of her audience. As she puts it, she's always "willing to put myself on the line, and even fuck up my reputation in order to send a message or just to make people laugh," she says. And that's part of why her 70K followers can't get enough of her.
The other reason is her radical honesty and the genuine way she approaches her life, which also includes her beauty routine. Having built a career on her subversive approach to traditional beauty standards, Alexandra doesn't follow anyone's rules, and doesn't shy away from experimenting—with anything.
In the past, that meant wearing almost no makeup and growing out the aforementioned body hair; now, it means shaving whatever and whenever she wants, and wearing makeup accordingly. It's all just part of the performance that is Alexandra Marzella. And we'll just keep watching.
What do you call yourself—an artist, a model, both?
I do model and have for years, and that’s generally where most of my income comes from. But artist is a nice blanket term. I’m very much a performer—everything I do is pretty performative.
Do you think of beauty as a tool for performance?
What about the photos for this shoot—what inspired them?
I recently realized how much I relate to clowns. I feel like I’m always the clown in certain situations, and I often feel like I’m a big joke at times. I guess people could see that as sad, but I don’t think of it like that—I see it as very entertaining, and funny, and just that I’m willing to put myself on the line, and even fuck up my reputation in order to send a message or just to make people laugh.
Why do you think that is? What is it about you that makes you, like you said, willing to fuck up your reputation for the sake of your art?
Oh god, I wish I had a solid answer for that. But I don’t really know—I’ve just kind of always been this way. I probably get it from my dad—he’s definitely a fucking clown and is very performative himself. He’s a businessman, but he’s always putting on a show, and is always entertaining people when he’s around. One of my earliest memories of really performing is when my mom would take me shopping as a kid—even now, every time I’m in a dressing room, I just can’t not put on a show. For myself, my friends, for my mom—I just think it’s a way for me to get off.
Do you see what you do on Instagram as an extension of that?
100 percent yes. I don't curate my Instagram to be something that I’m not. It’s definitely not super conscious all the time, but who I am on social media has always been an extension of myself and my performativity, whereas I think a lot of other people really curate their Instagram to be its own kind of brand or whatever. I just try to be very real on there.
I think that’s obvious. With a lot of people who are ‘open’ online, it often ends up feeling very contrived. But with your photos, you can tell that they’re actually real—sometimes, almost too real. It can almost feel uncomfortable.
Totally, and because of that, sometimes I’ll make a million posts about something and the next day I’ll think, ‘Wow that was a lot. You should maybe stay off the internet today.’ But I think there’s beauty in that kind of vulnerability and being so honest. And generally, I think that’s where my most of my following has come from. I mean, half is probably people who just want to see naked pics, but the other half is people who are genuinely interested in that kind of expression.
Now that you’ve said you kind of view yourself as a clown, I’m totally seeing it with your photos—there’s images of you crying next to selfies of you laughing hysterically. I don’t want to say it’s exaggerated because they are your real feelings, but your Instagram is very—
It’s super dramatic, and it’s definitely exaggerated. I mean, those emotions are real and very authentic, but I’m mentally ill—like the rest of us—so I have really high highs and very low lows, and sometimes they change rapidly. So, I definitely think people can see that in my work and in my daily activities, or what I’m putting out there. But that’s why I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a clown. I’ve done a lot of shoots where my makeup is pretty clown-y, and it happens a lot in my own work, too. But this also goes back to the original question about makeup being an expression of performativity—we use it to enhance ourselves, and it’s a mask like anything else.
[When I was younger], I got on this millionth wave feminist tip and stopped shaving my body hair, and pretty much stopped wearing makeup completely, unless I was on a shoot. I just got really into naturalist aesthetics, and promoting that because I felt like, ‘Oh I have been conforming to society's expectations of young women, and women in general,’ and I was finally trying to subvert them. Now, though, it’s come full circle, where I’ve started shaving more, and I wear makeup almost everyday at this point. It’s just a really good tool to get through the day.
So, you went from not shaving to shaving, and not wearing makeup, to now wearing it almost every day. Why the dramatic change?
I had a pretty explosive year—2018 has been pretty dark for me. It was just full of a lot of intense experiences, a lot of weird loss—it was just a very turbulent year, but also, very eye opening, with a lot of lessons learned over and over. I spent the summer at my mom’s in Charleston, because I was very, very depressed and needed to get out of the city, and away from my apartment which I have been living in for seven years. Being down there, I think I started wearing makeup and shaving because I was in the South, with my mom, in her weird, cookiecutter neighborhood.
The first time I shaved was on the Fourth of July, when we went to her neighbor’s house for a pool party, and I didn’t want to have to discuss it, I didn’t want to bother other people and I just didnt wanna be the center of attention because I was the girl with body hair, you know? So, I shaved it off, and it was a really big deal for me—I had to work up to it for almost a month. But then I started shaving more regularly and thought, ‘Do I actually want to do this? Or is it because society wants me to do it?’ It was a real battle, but in the end, I felt like I did it more for me than for anyone else.
I imagine that at first, not shaving was really freeing, because your whole life you had been told to shave. But then you sort of became known as the girl who didn't shave. So, I imagine then, conversely, finally shaving was equally freeing.
It was! In some weird, backwards way, it was great. You spend a lot of your life telling yourself what you can and can’t do, and what is right for you and who you are. And what I’ve learned more than anything, is to respect the fact that things are constantly changing. Like, I have been a pothead my whole life, and I stopped smoking for seven months, and it was this huge deal for me—the whole process, the mania afterwards and all the relationships I managed to destroy. In the end, I think it was meant to be, but I started smoking again when I was down there [in Charleston], and my instinct was to beat myself up about it.
But at this point, I know better and I know that these things come and go, whereas in the past, I have always been like, ‘This is how it is and that’s that.’ I was never a black and white person, but with body hair and wearing no makeup, I pretty much thought everyone should be doing the same thing, that that’s how it should be, and that it would make the world better. Maybe that’s true, but that’s not the world we live in. Now, I think being flexible is where I’m at.
Also, who wants to be defined by their body hair or lack thereof?
True. I don’t know if anyone wants to be defined at all. I mean, I feel like that's what we are always trying to do—that’s what we are raised to do—but no one wants to be pigeonholed. With me, people love to associate me with sex, weed and art, and yeah, those are all pretty epic things that are fun to be associated with, but in reality, that's not all that I am. In the past, I had one way of defining myself, but I realize now that I’m a contradiction—pretty much everything is.
Now that you are wearing more makeup and shaving, does it feel like you’re more in control of your looks? Because you are a model, you’re often on set, being told what to wear, and having your makeup done by others, and oftentimes that image is being dictated by a male photographer, or creative director, or whatever. So, now that you’re doing it on your own, and in your real life, does it feel like you have the power to create your own image?
Definitely. But I also have this newfound respect for people who do their makeup and the whole makeup tutorial movement as a whole. I never really understood it—I was always like, ‘Why are these people sitting here for hours doing their makeup?’ One person I ended up hitting up about it was Jazzelle [Zanaughtti aka @uglyworldwide] and she was like, ‘This is my meditation, this is how I survive—it’s what gets me through the day.’ That was when it clicked for me.
But even now, I still have a hard time just doing it for myself. I feel like if I was the kind of person who woke up and did my makeup every morning, I would probably be a much better person. But I still tend to only do it when I have to. I think the best feeling in the world is when I’m not wearing makeup, and I’m surrounded by people who don't give a fuck and just love me, and enjoy my company, and who I can feel totally natural and whole with. So, not feeling like you have to wear makeup really is one of the most liberating feelings, but on the other end of the spectrum, wearing makeup is also extremely powerful.
Do you think people have the misconception that you’re just 100% confident all the time?
People think I’m confident—I definitely get a lot of ‘Oh my god, how are you so confident?’ messages on Instagram. But it’s like we were talking about earlier—I’m very confident, but I’m also very insecure, and they can exist simultaneously. Sometimes I feel like shit and sometimes I feel like the shit; other times, I feel like both at the same time. It’s crazy for anyone to assume that anyone else is 100% confident—anyone who is, is either performing that confidence… or they’re a complete psychopath.
It’s like anyone who says they’re 100% happy all the time is full of shit. I’m not saying you can’t be super happy and have a great life, but shit happens, and if you don’t feel it, then you’re nuts—or at least, so out of touch with yourself you don’t even know what you’re really feeling.
Yeah. I mean, sometimes I definitely wish I wasn't as sad, or as happy, or whatever, but at the end of the day, we all go through these things and for me, expressing that is a big part of the reason I do what I do—that and the fact that I’m just an attention whore. But really, it’s about showing these things. I remember people saying stuff to me like, ‘You make acne look cool,’ or ‘I want to have acne because of you,’ and other people sharing pictures of themselves crying and tagging me in it. That’s really important—to show that we are all humans and we all have these ranges of emotions, and we are not alone. It’s really easy to feel like you’re the only one going through shit, especially when people are highly curating how they present themselves—it’s easy to feel like you can’t relate.
Right. Like, am I the only one whose life is not perfect all the time? Am I the only person who has to go to work and can’t just lay on the beach all day?
Or am I the only person who’s not going to work and staying in bed all day? Some days I am. Of course, mental health has come more to the forefront of American culture in the last ten years, so people do feel more comfortable talking about it and expressing it more. But I still think it’s really hard for people who come from traditional families, or people who don’t have parental figures or role models in their lives who encourage them to really express what’s going on and process their emotions. Then they go online and see a bunch of curated images of people whose lives look absolutely perfect. So, I think it’s important that we remind each other that it’s okay—more than okay, that we should be doing it.
Do you ever regret being so open in a public forum?
I used to say that I have no regrets and everything happens for a reason, and I guess that’s still the case, but yeah, definitely. Not so much regrets, but I have become more aware of how being this vulnerable has affected me, and my relationships, and the way I move through the world. One of my friends once explained it really simply: she was like, ‘Ally you are a lightning rod human. You are the most vulnerable you can be on the internet and in person; on a purely physical level, your literal naked body is publicly exposed to the world. You are vulnerable in every way. Therefore, as a lightning rod human, you are going to attract a lot of good things, and you are going to attract a lot of bad.’ And that’s exactly what happens.
What do you think you’d be doing if it weren’t for the internet? Growing up we had platforms like MySpace and LiveJournal, so there have always been spaces for people our age to be open and find community online. But where do you think you’d be if there weren’t?
The internet has been such a big part of my practice that it’s hard to imagine how my career would truly be without it. Even just Photobooth has been such a big medium of mine for so long, I imagine that it would have something to do with my practice. But I also fantasize about having a fine art studio practice. I’ve said this before, but my phone is my studio—I’m always creating work with it. And even my conversations with people—if I spend five hours on Instagram, I would consider that research. But I would also like to do more fine art. I just don’t work super well alone. That’s why I’m such a performative internet artist—because I’m interacting with people. There’s always the immediate gratification of putting something out there and other people seeing, and reacting to it.
Do you ever get sick of it, though? Of feeling like you’re constantly performing for people?
Do I get sick of myself? Yes. But I’m not really doing things for other people—I really do this for myself. It’s not like other people tell me, ‘Oh do this’—I’m not a dancing monkey, per se—unless that monkey is dancing on her own terms.
What, for you, does it mean to be beautiful?
Honestly, for me everything is beautiful, but especially pure, true moments. For instance, when I feel most beautiful, is when I feel most genuinely confident—when I am in the moment and I feel like I’m putting something out there—whether it’s words, images or just energy—and it’s being received openly. I find the truth really beautiful.
Photos 1 & 3: Sies Marjan top, Nike shoes, stylist's own boots; photos 2 & 4: Trashy Lingerie Los Angeles skirt. Photo assistant: Jori Komulainen