Interview #017: Irvina Kanarek of Rewrite Beautiful

by Jay Delaney

Irvina KanarekAbout Today’s Subject:
Irvina Kanarek

Creator of: Rewrite Beautiful
Location: Orange County, California
Website: Rewrite Beautiful
Twitter: @irvinakanarek

Combining Three Passions Into a Nonprofit

Irvina Kanarek used to have three different jobs: (1) a nanny, (2) and art teacher, and (3) a job at an eating disorder rehab center.  Through each of these jobs – and the juxtaposition of them – she learned that how women see beauty in themselves has a rippling effect throughout their lives, from birth to childhood to adulthood.  One day, in the midst of writing and reading a blog post online, she had the realization to start a nonprofit aimed at telling girls, “Your beauty isn’t in the way you look.”  Irvina launched the nonprofit Rewrite Beautiful to help prevent eating disorders.

“I think every single thing you do, take a look at it.  That’s building on the next thing you’re going to do and building on the next thing you’re going to do.”  -Irvina Kanarek

As she was developing the nonprofit, Irvina had a few key criteria she wanted to stick to.  She wanted prevention to be one of her main points; she knew she wanted to use art; she knew she wanted it to be fun; and she knew she wanted it to be something open to people of all ages.  Slowly she began to share the idea with people, and many of her friends could see the passion she had.  (Irvina has had an eating disorder herself.)  The idea blossomed and evolved over a year’s time as she had conversations with friends who worked in fields such as marketing, communications, and law; they each helped push her onward, asking important questions, offering valuable advice, and ultimately helping her to refine her idea.

“I just feel like, if you’re genuine, if you really want it, if you really work hard for it, if you really use all the tools that you’ve been given, it’s going to happen for you.” -Irvina Kanarek

There have been challenges along the way.  For example, she mentioned it’s difficult when certain people have decided to leave Rewrite Beautiful’s board of directors because they don’t quite get the vision or they want to devote more time to treating people with eating disorders instead of preventing them.  But, along the way she has connected with many people who get her vision and have truly benefited from the work they do, and that’s what keeps her pushing onward.

Here’s an overview of what Rewrite Beautiful is, taken from their website:

Rewrite Beautiful is a revolution to redefine beauty as an ACTION. Beautiful actually has nothing to do with the way you LOOK; it has to do with the way you ACT. Beauty is found in your actions of Creativity, Kindness and Strength displayed in your community. You can either go along with what everyone else thinks is beautiful, or you can be revolutionary and Rewrite Beautiful. Rewrite Beautiful creates this vision through Art Show’s, Beautiful Action Club’s and Street Art in collaboration with local schools, community groups and places of worship.

A Few Insights from My Conversation with Irvina

  1. You don’t have to have it all figured out from the start. Irvina had a vision in mind when she first came up with the idea, but she spent about a year refining the idea through conversations with friends and experts.  Ultimately, the idea evolved over time into what it is now.
  2. It’s possible to create work that combines numerous talents. Irvina just kept searching for a way to combine her many passions into one path, and ultimately she created her own organization that serves a unique niche (eating disorder prevention) and does so in a unique way (street art).
  3. When one door closes, another one opens. Some of the challenges along the way involved people leaving the organization, but typically when that happened, it opened the door for new, creative people to come on board.  Ultimately, this infused the organization with new ideas and new energy.

Transcript of Our Conversation

Jay Delaney: Hi this is Jay Delaney with Create the Map, and I’m sitting here with Irina Kanarek.  This is the first Skype interview I’ve done for Create the Map, so I appreciate you being up for something new, Irvina.

Irvina Kanarek: Awesome, you too!

Jay Delaney: To start with, can you just give us the cliffs notes version of your bio and tell me about something you’re currently working on that you’re excited about?

Irvina Kanarek: Okay.  Serendipitously, I used to work three different jobs.  I worked as a nanny and in an eating disorder rehab and as an art teacher.  And through all those jobs, I found how women see beauty in themselves kind of have a rippling effect from birth to childhood to adulthood.  I’m a really creative person, and I love to write and that person-to-person communication.  And I decided after trying different things, children’s books and all sorts of different stuff, I decided I want to do a nonprofit.

Jay Delaney: When did you decide that?  How long ago was that?

Irvina Kanarek: It was kind of random. I had a business mentor, and we talked about a children’s book I was writing, and it was about all these little girls realizing they were all princesses and they were all special.  And he was really encouraging me to get it published and telling me to do certain things.  And I was like that’s not really it though.  I felt like all of the stuff he was telling me to do, I didn’t feel like that was where my energy was supposed to be going, towards publishers and stuff.  So one day I was home and I was blogging, and I was just writing.  I was reading a blog about all these women and how they felt bad about themselves.  This one woman, there was a picture of some plus-size model, and I could feel how all these women wanted to express that their beauty was beyond what they look like. It kind of was just full circle, and I was like, “Oh my gosh, I think I should start a nonprofit.  I think it would be for the prevention of eating disorders.  It would be something that would tell girls, ‘Your beauty isn’t in the way you look.’”  All women, as much as we obsess and freak out about our looks, and we know that it gets men and money and all that stuff, we know deep down when we’re quiet and still with ourselves it is a joke, and it is a lie.  We truly know we are unique, special creatures, different from men.  And we’re different for a reason.  And there is so much more to us than the way we look.  I envisioned the t-shirt.  I envisioned the name of it.  Slowly but surely I started sharing it with people. I had attorney friends, and they were like, “Oh, you have to get incorporated; this is how you do it.”  Or “Oh, you need marketing materials.  You should go to this person.”  Slowly but surely, all my friends, one person knew how to do graphic design. The other person was a lawyer.  Everybody just helped me.  I did a lot of the work myself, but people just believed in the cause and they believed in what it stood for. I’ve been more than blessed by people who wanted to help.  I’ve heard a lot of people say “You can hear your passion behind it.”  Or “I can really get behind that.  I want that for my daughter; I want that for my wife.”  I’ve been really surprised by how many men support it really, moreso than women.  They’re really passionate about it.  That’s inspiring for me.

Jay Delaney: How much do you feel like you had formed in your head, formulated in your head, before you started sharing it with people around you?

Irvina Kanarek: That’s a great question.  I would say, in my head, there were certain elements I wanted. I knew that prevention was a really big deal. To me, no one ever – maybe in your health class they talk about eating disorders.  I did research as far as what nonprofits are out there for eating disorders.  And all of them were were for parents or for support groups.  But nobody was talking about prevention.  Nobody was taking a stand and saying, “I want to tell you what beautiful really is.”  My main points were prevention.  I knew I wanted to use art.  I knew I wanted it to be fun.  And I knew I wanted it to be something that was open to 5 years old to 55 years old, something everybody could do.  From there, with my friends, communications people and marketing people, we just sat down and talked.  They asked me really good questions.  They were like, “What makes you different?”  I’ve had an eating disorder. “What healed you?”  So we tried to take not just what was sexy or what would sell but what really works and apply that to it.  So from there it formed.  And I would say the idea blossomed over a year’s time.  And then just trial and error.  We did workshops. We did meetings. I did surveys.  I was really really humbled by the experience.  I think of like Tom’s Shoe’s or Vans or some product that you think, “Oh that’s so amazing. How’d they think of that?”  It probably wasn’t their first original thought.  They probably had some other thought and then it evolved. That was my experience with Rewrite Beautiful.  I had a thought of what I wanted, and it evolved over time. It was perfected, and now it is what it is.

Jay Delaney: That’s great.  So tell me if I’m correct.  It sounds like you had an idea of what you wanted to do, what need you wanted to serve, then you looked to see what other organizations existed that were serving that niche or that audience or filling that need and kind of figured out a way to differentiate yourself.  Am I correct in that?  And then you got other people involved, and really it grew from other people’s ideas and input combined with yours?

Irvina Kanarek: You’re asking if I improvised with their ideas?

Jay Delaney: Yeah.  It sounds like you had a general idea but that you just continued to refine it and refine it through conversations with others and seeing what other organizations existed, and then it was a yearlong process of refining and focusing on exactly what you wanted?

Irvina Kanarek: Right.

Jay Delaney:  I like that approach.  I look at a lot of people, and they feel like they have to come up with the perfect idea from the start, and they don’t give themselves room to let it evolve and refine it over time.  I like that approach.

Irvina Kanarek:  Thank you.  It definitely wasn’t my get-go from the beginning. But as I look back on it, I remember times I was in my room, and I was like, “Oh, that’ll work.”  I even had hard times where people were like, “I don’t want to be a part of your organization anymore.”  Really high up people in the eating disorder world.  And I was so bummed.  Then with them leaving, it brought in really creative people who were like, ‘Yeah, anything goes.  Yeah, let’s do this or let’s try that.’  And it was like, “Oh wow!”  What I thought was a supposed to actually morphed into something more creative and radder with their absence.  Yeah, it’s totally changed.

Jay Delaney:  Awesome.  So what’s been one of the struggles with it that you’ve faced so far?  Have there been any moments where you felt like you faced failure and just kept moving on through it?

Irvina Kanarek:  Oh yeah.  Being a creative person, a woman, emotional, somebody who’s in recovery, I’m a very sensitive person.  I’m a writer. I’m really surprised when people are like, “You’re so strong. You’re such a strong person.”  But I’m really sensitive.  I’ve had a lot of letdowns.  Like I said, in the nonprofit world you have to have a board of directors and having really high profile people on it and having religious differences or the way you word something.  Rewrite Beautiful is really youthful, and part that is in our language online.  Some people who were 50 years old, they don’t understand the phrase, “Yeah, right on!” or whatever I say to be relevant.  So they find some of that tacky.  And God bless them, that’s cool.  Sometimes as a writer, you take it personal.  I’ve definitely had to have my moments and cried and be like, “Wow, they don’t want to create with me anymore,” and that’s a bummer.  It makes room for other people who do get your vision.  I know for myself and with my friends, I want people who get me, who understand where I’m coming from, and understand why I’m passionate about preventing eating disorders. For me, if was to explain it, if a girl’s obsessing like dieting and hurting her body and exercising and obsessing about calories, she’s not able to have a solid relationship with her boyfriend.  She’s not able to be a good mother.  She’s not able to be a good sister.  Therefore everyone around her suffers.  Therefore the community suffers.  Therefore the world suffers.  That’s how I see it.  But, some people don’t attach to that vision.  Some people want to help the girls who are already suffering.  They want to go to rehabs and work with those girls.  Or they want to give money to scholarships.  And that’s totally fine, but there are the people who do get my vision, and it becomes their vision and they take it off.  I emailed with a girl today from D.C., and she has five little sisters, and she’s had an eating disorder.  She wants to start clubs.  She understands.  She gets it.  She doesn’t want anybody to go through what she goes through.  And that’s exciting.  It’s exciting when people actually catch on and they’re like, “Yeah I get it. Yeah I want to be a part of it.”  I’ve had my struggles. It has been hard.  But it’s that clicking moment.  It’s kind of like when you’re on a date with somebody, and you go on so many dates and you’re like, “That one didn’t work out.  That one didn’t work out.” Then you meet someone and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, this is working.”  And you’re so stoked that you held out.

Jay Delaney:  I think a lot of times people don’t see that behind-the-scenes, that even when you’re onto something that’s a good fit it seems like there’s still that doubt.  And I think it’s just a part of the journey. I think it’s just the ups and the downs.

In terms of the ups and the downs of it all, what have you found to do to push through the doubt?  The email exchanges where you feel like you’re really helping someone, is that what keeps you going?

Irvina Kanarek:  How do I work through the doubts?  It’s not just email exchanges.  We do workshops.  We do workshops with girls and boys, from 5 years old to 55.  And, I would say it’s just the feedback I get from people after a workshop.  We do a thing called mindmapping where you take the word “beauty,” and we have everyone expand on it.  When you think of beauty, I think “dog.”  That’s a beautiful thing.  But when I think of dog, I think of eyeball.  It just kind of evolves from there.  We help them redescribe how they see beauty.  From there, they create their own art project, unique from any other project we’ve ever done.  From there we take it out to the community, and we tell them that other people are going to see your art.  And we tell them we want them to rewrite how they see beautiful.  At the end of it, whether they’re 5 years old or 55, they come up to me and say, “I love what you’re doing.  That really touched me.”  Or I’ll see them later, and they’re like, “I still look at your website and just read your vision, and it makes me feel better about myself.  It reminds me that our time on earth is so short, and it is really about our actions.”  Do I really want to be beautiful and known for how glossy my hair is and how good my butt looks or do I really want to be known for being kind?  I say in our workshops, when I’m upset, do I call the person who has the best boobs or do I call the girl who’s the nicest, who’s going to say, “Come over, let’s go get frozen yogurt,” or like, “Oh my gosh, my boyfriend did that too.”  Those are the people you call.  People relate to that.  But I think the way society is, the way we are as women, we don’t think about that.  We forget that that’s what I really value in people.  I don’t think I’m really doing anything that revolutionary.  I’m just reminding people what’s true.

Jay Delaney:  For me, when I was in school, at least in my experience, in kindergarten to 4th grade, it was a good thing to be nice.  But once 5th grade came, nice wasn’t cool anymore.  And from that point on, if you were nice, it wasn’t cool.  I think I erred on the side of being nice, so maybe I gave up some cool points as a result.  It’s just interesting how that transition seems to happen, and I don’t know why it is.

Irvina Kanarek:  Totally.  I’m thinking of going to school and getting my master’s in counseling because I think it would help with Rewrite Beautiful and our programs.  We studied it when I worked in rehab.  As young girls, what they’re trying to do, is they’re trying to decipher girl from boy, and they start attaching to, I’m different because I’m like this.  I’m going to go off a different spin.  It has to do with psychology.  But at the same time, I think we have to learn even as teachers or as mentors or parents how to handle that period.  Just like eating disorders, you just don’t know how to handle it.  You just don’t know what it is.  It’s a really good point because that’s where it all starts.

Jay Delaney:  Let me ask you, what kind of advice for people trying to create their own map, find their own way in the world, and bring an idea to life?

Irvina Kanarek:  I would say a lot of things.  I would say, believe in yourself.  Don’t look at it, I know for myself, having created Rewrite Beautiful and having it be functioning and having workshops, people think, wow, that’s so cool. You’re one of those people who always knew what they were going to do.  I’m really happy of where I am right now, but I think there’s something to celebrating the journey of getting there. As creative people, we get hard on ourselves – “I took all these writing classes, and I’m not a writer.” Or, “I did this internship there, and I didn’t like it.”  I think every single thing you do, take a look at it. That’s building on the next thing you’re going to do and building on the next thing you’re going to do.  I never thought I would start a nonprofit. I never thought I would want to do workshops or be an art teacher or any of those things.  But I was an art teacher.  I cared about women.  And I really care about eating disorder prevention.  And somehow it all came together.  I think people too commonly are like, “I like soccer, but I could never do that.”  No, you can.  If you really like soccer, then you can make that into a job.  You can figure it out.  If you use your talents in business and your talents in soccer and your talents with people, I bet you you could figure it out if you kept chipping away at it.  I think I’m lucky that I’m kind of stubborn. Maybe it’s our 21st Century 20-somethings too.  No, I’m not going to go work a desk job. Screw that. I have these creative gifts, and I’m allergic to fluorescent lights, and I don’t want to do that. So I kept chipping away, and voila, I’m here. And people are randomly giving me money and telling me, “Keep doing this, I really believe in what you’re doing.”  And I feel like, if I can do it, anybody can do it.  I just feel like, if you’re genuine, if you really want it, if you really work hard for it, if you really use all the tools that you’ve been given, it’s going to happen for you. For me, I’m an art teacher, but I used to teach 2 year olds and 3 year olds. I’m not that good with older people my age.  I’m more of a PR girl writer.  And voila, I got this, one of my old art professors from college found us on Facebook and he’s like, “I want to get behind what you’re doing.” And he’s an art professor. He’s amazing.  And he teaches workshops.  I really believe, as cheesy as it sounds, if you keep using the skills you were given. Don’t look at what you’re not good at it. So you’re not a good writer.  Screw that.  Focus on the business side. Just keep trudging away, and sooner or later, it’s going to happen.

Jay Delaney:  Thanks so much.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Rewrite Beautiful October 7, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Thanks for having us Jay! Your blog inspires us to keep at it! It should be apart of every entrepreneurs/dreamers/believers/persons morning ritual!

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