Cool Girl On The Internet: Alana Derksen
Alana Derksen is a v funny and opinionated creative-slash-model based in Toronto. Her DIY, lol-worthy tatts and 90s London skinhead look scored her a large Instagram following (and subsequent modelling jobs), but after a strange bullying situation, her original account was deleted. We caught up with the babe in NYC to learn the full story, talk about the pitfalls of modern day feminism, and to chat about being a MadeMe girl.
Ava Nirui: Tell me a little bit about yourself and growing up in Canada?
Alana Derksen: I'm from Calgary, Alberta which is in western Canada. It's like the Texas of Canada — it's conservative and I grew up in a really strict household. I never had a lot of freedom growing up. I was never allowed to have sleepovers or friends over, and up until I was 18 I had an early curfew. I just hung out with my brothers or played with kids on my street. Since I was very confined to my home, I spent so much time on the internet which is how I got internet-fluent. It's funny 'cause people know the rest of my family and are like, "How the fuck?!".
Since it was so strict growing up, I just focused on school and graduated early. I went straight to school to be a paralegal and I hated it. When I was 17, I told my parents that I wanted to go to my friend's cottage near the US border and asked for my passport, because at the time it was way cheaper to shop in the States. They gave it to me, and my 18th birthday was coming up, and I felt like I had no one to hang with on my birthday which felt pretty shitty — it seemed like everyone had figured out their friend groups and had these life-long friends, and I was kinda like, "Uh... shit where do I fit in here?" So, I booked a flight to New York by myself. I didn't know anyone, I just walked around alone. I was so sad [before], and when I came to New York I realised that there is such a big world beyond my own self-loathing and that all the hardest working people in the world come here to excel in their craft and I felt silly, I even pitied myself. I became obsessed with the idea of getting back there. I worked full-time while still in school, and I even stole my brother's bike and sold it on Craigslist because I knew he wouldn't notice.
Meanwhile, my flight home from New York got delayed eight hours and I blew my cover that I wasn't at my made-up friend's cottage. I got my ass kicked by my parents when I got home and my mum didn't speak to me until months later when I decided to go back to New York and spend some serious time there. We pulled up to the airport and all she said was "be safe." My mum was mostly pissed that I was really unapologetic about running away, but that trip kinda saved me in a corny way. I grew up very financially privileged, so in her mind she doesn't get how that wasn't enough and why I wasn't happy. Don't get me wrong, I'm so grateful, but at the end of the day those things don't make me happy. I was lacking ever having any sort of personal life experiences of my own. Eventually, I decided to go back to Canada to go back to school and ended up in Toronto. I went there with one suitcase and $400 and stayed for four months and was sleeping in my friend's bed with her. In time I got my own apartment and job and now I go to school for graphic design.
Are you still chill with your parents?
They're so supportive of me now because I did it all myself. I have a twin brother and he's light years behind me. I'm completely financially independent from my parents, so they have to like me, in a way. For Christmas I used to ask for subscriptions to Seventeen and Nylon, and now I shoot for them, so I'll send it to my parents and they're really proud. I'm very self-sufficient and independent, and when I feel low they remind me that.
What's the story behind your tats? Did you do them yourself?
Most of them, yes. I started doing them when I was 13. This girl I grew up with had an older sister that we idolised and she had a stick n' pokes. We didn't know how to do it and thought we had to cut out skin and pour ink in it. Imagine two little girls cutting their hips and dumping ink on themselves. Sounds like a Marilyn Manson music video or something nasty. I always used to do them on my feet because I could hide them from my parents. Then eventually I did one on my arm and just wore long-sleeve shirts at home. One day my mom and I were in some parking-lot and she asked me if I had a tattoo, and at first I tried to lie but then just told her. She works at the hospital so was kinda freaked out we were doing them ourselves. I get it — when you make a child with someone you love, it's your creation, and then your kid is like "fuck this" and tattoos a smiley face and coffins on their legs you can't help but take it personally. My parents were really mad about the Minor Threat tattoo on my hand more than the one on my head.
They're really fun, I enjoy doing them and they're all things I have done with my friends. I've realised that I'll always be youthful and will never be a conforming adult. Everyone's like, "What are you doing to do when you're older?" but I've already worked in a law firm and know that's not what I want to do.
Do you remember what your first modelling job was?
I would help friends who went to art school and pose for photos and do that [kind of thing] loosely. My friends and I were really into taking photos — we would make backdrops and go crazy with props, and then I got a lot of people seeing that online. Heron Preston messaged me and he ended up putting me on to Erin from MadeMe and she wanted to fly me out. She's actually from Toronto funnily enough. I fucking love her. She's tough on me and I need that. Her wife said it's just because she probably sees a lot of her younger self in me, and that's kinda something I've never had with an older adult in my life. I wish they would adopt me. Kidding!
Can you tell me why your Instagram got deleted?
In the last few years, feminism and girl power has become so trendy. Petra Collins is from Toronto and there's such a community and, like, cult-following of that kinda girl art there. But there were still a lot of nasty girls bullying each other in my perspective. It was disappointing and there were instances where I was picked on or isolated as a new girl to the city, and wondering why the fuck these girls glorify feminism. I couldn't really see where progress was happening. These girls are asking for honesty without being honest themselves. This girl randomly messaged me and said I was a disgusting rip-off of her...she was getting so nasty, like insulting my body and tattoos. I looked at her page and she was from LA and had a bio that said something about feminism and PMA, and had all these posts about positive body image and sisterhood. She's also bald and I believe trying to pursue modeling somewhat seriously, and clearly there was some resentment towards me and my recent success. But if she in fact was a "feminist" she should have been really stoked for me — another like-minded girl who was doing well.
I thought it was such bullshit. I took a screenshot of her post about body positivity and a message she sent to me, and wrote a paragraph about how this is what happens behind the scenes. I posted the convo and her public comments on my page and I had a good amount of positive feedback and I wasn't trying to put this girl on blast, it was more showing how this behaviour was unacceptable. A few days later, my Instagram got deleted. I appealed it and thought it was a shame 'cause they were glorifying a bully while silencing me, and in my mind probably a voice for many other girls. For any victim of bullying, I wonder how these policies are made to protect people who aren't are out spoken as me and why as soon as I challenge a trending discussion among social media, I am silenced. Whatever. I had such a large amount of support and also realised I no longer needed Instagram to get my foot in the door, I already worked or was working with people I couldn't have ever imagined would want to work with me, which low-key I think is what pissed that girl off to begin with.
Do you feel you have received a lot of opportunities through Instagram? Didn't Vetements hit you up?
That was crazy. They reached out to me to come do runway in Paris. I had just started my first semester of my graphic design program and would have had to miss to much school. I kick myself but have peace at mind they would have probably changed their mind when I told them I was 5"6, but mainly it is important to me to finish school. If I didn't have the internet, I wouldn't have ever left Calgary which scares me. I have opened up my mind to a whole world. I met so many like-minded people online and know know them in real life and have real relationships with friends I thought I could never have. I've met up with people all over the world. I'm going to Berlin to stay with friends I know from the internet who have stayed with me here in Canada. If I didn't have Instagram, I would not have got any of those opportunities.
What do you want to do in the long haul?
I love print. I work for a publisher — Paperwork NYC — and I would love to do a publication of my own. I love artist books, so it's cool to go to school to learn how to properly assemble a publication. I think I'd like to use some of my leverage to put on some smaller but phenomenal artists who really deserve eyes on them, way more than I do for being an asshole online. I couldn't imagine being here even a year ago, so thinking about the future is exciting.
Photos and text: Ava Nirui