An Afternoon In Williamsburg With 20-Year-Old, Multi-Hyphenate Sophia Richards
Written by Jennifer Picht | Photography by Raydene Salinas
Sophia Richards is busier than your average 20-year-old. She is a bright pupil, who is about to embark upon her senior year at Barnard College next fall. Richards has already stockpiled an impressive amount of accomplishments under her belt (which is probably vintage) well-before receiving her diploma. She is the creator and editor-in-chief of Mythos Mag, an online, long-form magazine, which spotlights real women (including one of her idols, Marxist Feminist Scholar Silvia Federici), talking about their connection to womanhood. She is employed as a Beauty Assistant at NYLON magazine—one of the most visually captivating and boundary pushing fashion publications for young females. And, somehow, the dark-haired, strong-browed scholar managed to find time to model on the side (professionally), and romp around her stomping grounds—Williamsburg, Brooklyn. This is exactly what we asked Richards to do on an overcast afternoon in her ’hood, and she so generously offered her time to pose for a photoshoot and take us on a tour of her favorite spots in the nabe. (We particularly enjoyed shopping inside one of her favorite vintage shops: The Arbor Vitae.)
Out of all of her undertakings, modeling editorial is by far the least important project in Richards’ life. (In fact, Richards recently terminated her contract with Wilhelmina Models). But, damn, the girl is a natural. She kicks off her black leather boots, which she proudly claims were a cheap Etsy.com purchase, and without hesitation, hops a barricade in Grand Ferry Park to stand on a dirty, narrow ledge overlooking the East River. I’m semi-fearful for her life, but I enjoy watching her alluring feminine energy and openness as she gracefully walks around the green space—totally barefoot—to pose and intertwine her body inside the branches of nearby tree.
“There’s a tennis ball in this tree! I want to take it down, but I also don’t want to get sick,” Richards exclaims. (She doesn’t remove it in case, y’know, the tennis ball is cursed.) Richards is highly intuitive, creative and her mystical demeanor and old-soul are only part of her charm. She is highly intelligent, resilient and fully empowered by her femininity, but what ultimately inspires us is her confidence and self-certainty, which are two qualities you wouldn’t expect to find in a 20-year-old.
Most women her age would be spending their summer either completing their first internship, waiting tables or working on getting a tan by the pool (guilty, as charged)—but Sophia’s values lie in broadening her intellect, as she thirsts for a better understanding of culture, her gender and the world.
This may appear to be a surprising claim for someone who has devoted much of her time working in an undoubtedly vain industry, where one’s “image” is overtly glamorized. But Richards counteracts the dark side of the modeling and beauty realm by sticking to her beliefs, which are evidently placing importance in one’s education, authenticity and mastering self-acceptance. We sat down with Richards at one of her beloved haunts, Atlas Café to chat about her hefty workload, her struggle with overcoming the need to be perfect and where she gains her inspiration to create such captivating and important content for young girls today.
ON MYTHOS MAGAZINE: The mission of Mythos is first and foremost to prove you can talk about femaleness and womanhood without mentioning products. All mainstream magazines (that I know of) try to sell you things. They can sustain themselves because they try to sell you things. Even with smaller press and women’s magazines that are less ad-heavy, they’re still talking to hot twentysomethings about what it’s like to be hot and in your twenties. They’re writing in a way that’s very “you could be her,” which is still trying to sell you something, but it’s more abstract. It’s the same self-perpetuating cycle that makes you want to buy the magazine again so you can learn how to be a better woman. I don’t want to sell that idea, but I still want to read and write about other women because I care about them. I want [Mythos] to be as diverse as possible and have women talk about themselves in their voice. It’s meant to be content that provokes thought and not an unending cycle of desire.
HER WORK OUTLOOK: I have two mantras, and one of them is your effort will not betray you. Putting in the effort shows up in invisible ways. I really value what I do, and I don’t ever think I’ve wasted my time. You know the kids in high school who never do their homework because they think it’s so stupid? It’s really not. You just have to create a different angle of looking at things. Even with the magazine [Mythos] I’m working on now, if I think it’s bad, I know that’s just an important part of the writing process.
HER INSPIRATION: Content-wise, I really admire podcasts. I like that they’re long and about specific topics. The fact long-form podcasts exist made me confident that there’s an audience for what I’m trying to do [with Mythos]. Web journalism can be very sound-bitey, but I like the longer pieces Vanity Fair does. For beauty and fashion, there are a bunch of cool Tumblr sites I follow that are just a collection of vintage photographs. It’s important for me to see not just the way women look right now, but how women looked in the past.
DEALING WITH STRESS AND ADVERSITY: There’s a point in the middle of the night where I’m like, ‘Okay, it’s 2am. Will I ultimately get more work done tomorrow if I go to sleep right now? Or am I going to sacrifice hours of sleep in order to do this thing I’m not going to do well right now anyway?’ I think it’s the same idea when you’re having a shitty day. If you don’t do anything to fix it, like taking a moment to stop and be with people instead of being alone and down on yourself, you’re only going to feel shitty for four more days. That was something that definitely took me a while to learn. It takes a lot to believe you are capable of doing better things.
ON WORKING AT NYLON: I love that [Jade Tayor, Beauty Editor at NYLON, and I] share similar approaches to beauty in that we both like things that are weird looking. We’re so “anti-look pretty” and I feel really lucky to work with someone who has that same mutual understanding that is totally unspoken. When we’re editing, we’re looking for what’s cool and not what is glamorous. We hire androgynous models and we show men wearing makeup. I really love that. If I was working for a magazine that hired the same hot people modeling some lipstick to make a guy like you, I would go insane.
HER INTERESTS OUTSIDE OF WORK: I love reading, going for long walks and going to concerts. I grew up in a cultural wasteland, so there are so many movies I haven’t seen. I like going to Metrograph, Sunshine [Cinema] or Spectacle.
HER BIGGEST SACRIFICE: I’m not very socially flexible or spontaneous. I have, like, three friends. It’s been hard. Sometimes I think maybe it’s weird I only have three friends who are physically here [in New York]. But then I think, ‘Wait, you’re doing all this stuff now [that] you weren’t doing before, and you’re way happier and getting good grades.’ I think I’m better off.
HARDEST BOOK SHE EVER READ: It’s called “Sensible Ecstasy” by Amy Hollywood. It’s about 20th Century, French theorists writing about Medieval, Christian mystics.
RANDOM MUSINGS: I love churches! I love their architecture and the sense of awe you get when walking into a church. In this hyper-scientific and technological society, I like to think about how religion plays into people’s lives. [Religion] speaks to this mystical type of knowledge I think is forgotten in everyday life. I really think it’s a powerful part of being a person.
ON MODELING: I started [modeling] when I was 15 living in California. I was discovered at a street fair, which I thought was a fake, but it wasn’t. I was always a half-inch over measurements, which was really hard on me. I would still book a lot of stuff, but when I came to New York, I had to have a meal plan [for school]. It really fucked with me. When I was in high school, I wouldn’t eat sugar, carbs or dairy. I was able to control all the food I ate. Now, if I don’t like the salad, I have to eat pizza or something. I gained a little weight because of that, but I started booking stuff here anyways. I worked at Wilhelmina [Models] for a year. They wanted someone who is at least a size 12, 14 or 16. I’m closer to being a size 2 than a 14, but in order for me to be a size 2, I would have to destroy my life and I’m not willing to do that.
ON BODY ACCEPTANCE AND STRUGGLING WITH PERFECTION: Everything I do is motivated by a couple years [in high school] when I felt the need to be perfect. And if you’re trying to chase after this stand-in of perfection, you can’t quit because then you’re not perfect! I guess we’re all still engaged with that to some extent, but it’s so important to disrupt that, and to recognize the habits you have that encourage such behavior. Such as, ‘Wow. Everyone I follow on Instagram is a clean eating freak, maybe I shouldn’t follow them anymore?’ That [mindset] helps to artificially create conditions to encourage values you may not have. It took a lot of work for me to gain that perspective. Now, I value myself because I’m a hard worker.
HER FUTURE ASPIRATIONS: My dream is to be a professor. I would teach literature, or maybe I’ll be a high school English teacher. I want to go to work every day and do something I believe in and value.
ON SUCCESS: Success to me means checking in with yourself about your ambitions and making the wisest decisions you can about your life. The only thing I would deem unsuccessful is being unaware of what you want. As long as you’re doing your best in the situation you’re in and living a genuine life, you’re successful.
ON THE LADY GUN WHO SHE ADMIRES: There’s one person I admire and actually want to be like, and that’s my grandmother. She’s an Italian immigrant (so Catholic), and civically engaged. She volunteers to help kids at a local elementary school just because she’s great. She gardens and runs a women’s club. She’s so judicious, and in situations where someone is being rude, she is always appropriate, reserved, and knows exactly what to say. She really believes in the things she does and her life is just so wonderfully simple. During times when I feel like I’m not capable of doing good work or that I just can’t function, she reminds me that, ‘Oh, all [you] really need is a garden and to be nice to people.’