Acing Activism & Creativity with Christina Grasso
Studies show that young women today are more charitable than older generations of females. However, how many of us can truthfully call ourselves activists? Whether you can or not, we can all learn a thing or two from Christina Grasso, a 26 year old living in New York City who juggles her time between her creativity-centric career and activism endeavors. Read on to learn how you can strengthen your skills while creating an impact, locally and globally.
Name: Christina Grasso
Nicknames: Pouf, Bean, Crispy, Snackhead
Location: New York, NY
Education: Bachelor of Arts from Saint Mary’s College (Class of 2011)
Current job: Social Media Manager & Freelance Writer
What is your passion?
I am passionate about so many different things, but I think it all comes down to using my mind in a creative way and lending my heart to those who need it. Also, poodles, broccoli, good penmanship, and harmless pranks.
Describe yourself in 3 words:
Silly, compassionate, creative.
You grew up in a small town in northwestern Pennsylvania. What made you decide to go to a small women’s college–Saint Mary’s College–in South Bend, Indiana?
Ironically, Saint Mary’s was the only non-city school I applied to. I had always wanted to live here in New York City, so my top choice was NYU. But having grown up in such a small town (e.g. seeing the Amish at Wal-Mart is an everyday occurrence #bonnetcore), my parents really encouraged me to further my education at a more traditional college campus. I have a lot of family who graduated from Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s, including my older sister, Natalie, so it was at least on my radar. I am not entirely sure what made me ultimately choose to go there, but my experience at Saint Mary’s was extremely enriching, empowering, and a total fairy tale.
How did you decide to study Italian and mass communication?
A communications degree was the best means at my school to prepare for a career in writing. As for the Italian, my Dad’s side of the family is from Sicily and I studied in Rome where I fell in love with the language, culture, and my roots (fun fact: my surname means ‘fat’ in Italian). But I had initially thought I would go the pre-med route, having always wanted to be a doctor, which is funny because it is such a far cry from what I am now doing. I debated for years between going into medicine or fashion. Then one of my biology professors freshman year was kind of a jerk and that was the end of my medical career. But I guess it was a blessing in disguise, because I think I ended up where I needed to be!
You took on internships with some impressive names in the fashion world, from Nanette Lepore to BULLETT to Oscar de la Renta. How did you score such incredible opportunities?
It all started when I was pretty young. When I was 14, I was scouted in my hometown by a woman from a top modeling agency in New York. We stayed in touch and when I stopped growing at 5’7 she helped me get an internship with them a few years later. That was basically my fashion boot camp and was the foundation for my future experience, so I am very grateful to her. Besides, that, though I just hustled, sent a lot of emails, worked really hard, sought opportunities for myself, and said ‘yes’ to everything that came my way. Being kind and trustworthy doesn’t hurt either.
What were the top three lessons you learned from your internships?
I can attribute most of my professional success to my six months spent as a public relations intern at Oscar de la Renta. It was a life changing experience and the team there will always hold a special place in my heart. They taught me that failure is never failure if it’s a teaching experience; speak when spoken to; and most importantly, to remember the lessons and values instilled in me by my parents (thank you for that one, Martha). Fashion can be a really tough industry; it seems all fun and glamorous from the outside, but it’s important to remember that it’s a business and must be treated accordingly in order to succeed and have a respectable career. I am very lucky that I ended up surrounded by great people in my more “formative” years.
Your byline can be seen on many major websites. What do you think it takes to be a good writer?
Persistence, networking, passion, spunk, and a bit of God-given talent. Also, good grammar has proved to be helpful.
What is your advice for someone looking to improve their writing skills?
Practice, practice, practice. I think it’s crucial to determine your voice and style, and write whenever you can on topics about which you are passionate, even if it’s just on a napkin!
You have collaborated with brands such as Nylon, Elite Model Management, PS...I Made This, and Trunk Archive. How have you cultivated relationships with people and brands that have in turn helped your career?
It’s surreal to think about everything that has happened over the course of the past few years. When I moved here in 2011 I could literally count the number of people I knew on one hand! But through building on each experience, working really hard, and staying true to myself, I have formed a lot of incredible relationships for which I am extremely thankful. I am also a firm believer in the handwritten note.
On top of your professional accomplishments, you are an activist and dedicate a significant amount of time to the causes you care about. What got you initially interested in activism?
My parents, and my whole family, really, are very generous, kind people so it’s something that was instilled in me from a young age. Having battled a life-threatening illness also changed my entire perspective on life, and taught me the value and impact of kindness and a helping hand. Simply put, I want to pass on what has been given to me and be a little ray of (non-UVA/UVB) light in the lives of others’.
You founded Project HEAL’s New York City chapter in 2012. Quite simply, why?
When I first moved to New York I felt pretty isolated in terms of having battled an eating disorder. It’s something that affects millions of people, yet not a topic people always feel comfortable talking about, which I want to actively help change. I reached out to Liana and Kristina, who founded Project HEAL, to see how I could contribute and there wasn’t yet a presence in Manhattan so we decided to get that going.
If you could say something to any person reading this who may be suffering from an eating disorder, what would you say?
Well, since I am still always learning and growing, too, I don’t have all the answers. But I would tell them what I know so far: to never, ever give up; that nobody can beat this alone; and to fight for the person - the full person - you were created to be. Then I would give him or her a big hug, because this is tough stuff.
What have you learned by working with Project HEAL?
I’ve learned that one is never too young or too insignificant to make a difference. Project HEAL was founded in 2008 when Liana and Kristina, who met in treatment for anorexia, were just 15 years old and what started as a teenage dream has transformed into an international force that has saved many lives. Getting to witness and be a part of that growth has been inspiring and an example that we all have the capacity to make positive change in the environments in which we live.
You also mentor young girls struggling with body image concerns. What does it take to be an impactful mentor?
I hope I am making an impact! I think it really just takes honesty and a willingness to help. It’s not about having it all figured out (Lord knows I don’t!), it’s just being able to meet someone where they’re at and guide them toward the light. Right now I am mentoring an 8th grader who is also recovering from anorexia. She lives out west so we FaceTime and write one another letters, and I think ultimately I have learned more from her than she has from me!
And on top of all of that, you actively volunteer with New York Cares. How do you manage to have a successful career while pursuing so much volunteer work?
Helping others is one of my greatest sources of fuel. It allows me to keep perspective on the bigger picture, which can easily be misplaced in a place like New York. It helps me stay connected to my values, so it never feels like volunteer “work” per se - it is really a privilege and an honor to get to spend time with people in assisted living facilities, psychiatric wards, or shelters, who need some sort of positive force in their lives, or just a hug. I love hugs!
So many people want to volunteer more, particularly aligning themselves with a cause or group of causes they care about. How do you advise getting started?
Many organizations have well-established volunteer programs and have applications right on their websites. I would recommend coming up with a list of a few causes with which you identify, and go from there. Idealist and Volunteer Match are two great places to start, as well, if you aren’t sure how you want to give back.
Amidst your super busy schedule, you still carve out time for some of your favorite hobbies, like ballet, basketball, and painting. How did you discover your love for these activities?
I have been dancing since I was 4 years old, and it’s always been a great form of release and creative expression. I try to pick up classes here and there, which is unfortunately not as often as I would like! I also have a long history playing basketball, and it’s a little known fact that I occasionally pick up a game on the courts by my apartment with other city dwellers. So far I haven’t broken any bones, just nails, so that’s great. As for painting and drawing, it is definitely a talent I inherited from my very artistic mother.
If you could have dinner with 5 people, living or dead, who would they be?
Stevie Nicks, Mariska Hargitay, Edie Sedgwick, Melissa McCarthy, and Kimmy Gibbler. If I’m in charge, first of all we have a problem because my culinary skills are abysmal, but we would have lots of broccoli, the highly controversial pea guacamole from ABC Cocina, and pink cotton candy from @bonpuf. And aperol spritz.
Who inspires you?
Definitely my Mom and Dad. But I am fortunate to have no shortage of inspiring people in my life. There are lots of strong women I have encountered who inspire me to be the best version of myself. Stacy London, whom I am lucky to call a close friend, is just an all-around extraordinary person and someone for whom I have heaps of admiration. Another friend of mine, Candice Morgan, who was just named Pinterest’s first Head of Diversity, is one of the strongest, smartest people I have ever known, as well as my friend, Frannie, who teaches in the Middle East. She’s my rock. And Christene Barberich, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Refinery29, is total career #goals and someone for whom I have so much respect even though I don’t personally know her.
As a beauty and skincare enthusiast, what are your top tips?
Above all, sunscreen. Always. Every day. Never skip it! Even when it’s cloudy! The sun can’t be trusted! Beyond that, I am most concerned about maintaining a good base by taking care of my skin and preventative measures as much as possible. I have a several-step skincare routine that I follow religiously, even after a late night. It includes good old Cetaphil cleanser, Bioderma, Clinique toner, Embryolisse, Evian brumisateur, and a good eye cream. Lately I’ve been using La Prairie Skin Caviar. Consistence is key. Most days I can’t be bothered with a lot of makeup, usually I will just use a little Glossier perfecting skin tint, brush up my brows, do a little flick of mascara and go. I’m more concerned with keeping my face clean, bright, and moisturized and enhancing what natural beauty I have. Oh! One more thing. Disinfect your phone screen every day.
What’s one thing you would never do?
Where are you wanting to travel next?
I have always been dying to visit Egypt, Morocco, and India. I don’t do well in hot weather but that part of the world fascinates me.
Who are your go to music artists to get your creative juices flowing?
I’ve been obsessed with Stevie Nicks since I was young, so I always have something by Stevie or Fleetwood Mac going in my ears, morning, noon, and night. I never get sick of it. My favorite song of theirs? "Gypsy".
You have a beautiful Instagram. Who are your favorite Instagram accounts?
Why thank you! Right now I’m loving @beautyisboring_, @alwayssssleep, @glossier, and @estherthewonderpig. I get overly and embarrassingly obsessive about my grid looking cohesive, so finding an account with a good flow gives me so much life. Also, @katahicks, who is a close friend of mine. She is hysterical and a creative genius.
In the little downtime that you have, do you have any favorite shows or movies?
Another fun fact: I have an irrational fear of movie theatres, so when it comes to movies I am basically living under a rock. As for TV shows, though, I am obsessed with Law & Order: SVU and Full House. So I am very excited for Fuller House to hit Netflix!
Last but not least, what is your mantra right now?
“Where you are, is where you’re meant to be.” Also, “mildew is a big mil-don’t.”