Breaking Barriers Means Becoming Your Own Mentor, Industry Pioneers Say (Video)

BE Conference 2021: “I’m never going to shrink myself to fit in where I don’t belong,” says model and body positive activist Tess Holliday

The six women participating in BE Conference’s Breaking Barriers panel said they all had found important people to look up to and emulate in their eclectic careers, but added that in order to break barriers, the person you need to look up to is yourself.

The women on the panel — moderated by Sharifa Murdock, founder of the ENVSN — a self-described multi-dimensional community committed to the professional and self-development of Gen Z and millennial adapters — all said it was not unusual to find themselves as “the only one in the room” on one way or another as they have forged their professional, creative and adventurous endeavors.

For that reason, they responded to Murdock’s question about their mentors by saying they did not necessarily have a role model or hands-on mentor to shepherd them along the way.

Said Tess Holliday, a model and advocate for body acceptance, “When I started modeling, there was no one else who looked like me. I didn’t see larger bodies, I didn’t see myself, a short, fat, queer Caucasian person.” She said modeling has since become more diverse in terms of size as well as race or skin color. “I’m grateful to have been a part of that collective,” she said. “When you are pushing societal standards, it’s not going to be easy, there are going to be a lot of tears. But I’m stronger for it.”

Holliday later added, “I’m never going to shrink myself to fit in where I don’t belong…I wish I had (always) known that the only person’s opinion that matters is my own.”

Several on panel the mentioned family members, or even historical figures they may never have met but always admired, as inspirations for their groundbreaking endeavors. “I don’t think a mentor has to be someone who is alive,” said mountaineer Silvia Vasquez-Lavado, the first Peruvian woman to summit Mount Everest. “The answers are always in our hearts…if we can communicate, we can reach out to anyone. It’s really powerful. We are not alone.”

Vasquez-Lovado admitted that mountaineering is male-dominated pursuit, but said she often turned to the sheer power of the nature that surrounds her when she is climbing to keep on keeping on. She also advised aspiring women in all areas of endeavor not to fear failure and be “more vocal” about their own goals. “Mine was, one day, I want to climb the highest mountain in the world,” she said. “If you fail, be it. The sun is going to come out the next day. Take more chances, trust your purpose and magic will happen along the way.”

Panelist Maya Penn, a Gen-Z environmental activist, animator and entrepreneur in sustainable fashion, said that as a young Black woman she has been battling “layers of barriers” since she began developing her eclectic interests as a child. Rather than following anyone’s blueprint, she said she had to forge her own blueprint for success. However, she relied on her parents, as well as growing up in Atlanta, where she said she was steeped in the history and hero of the Civil Rights Movement. Now she said, “it’s not just about meeting your goals, but about reaching back to help others meet their goals.”

Singer, songwriter and dancer Montana Tucker, who also launched a career at a young age, found herself needing five years off in her late teens after her parents went through a divorce and struggled to regain her passion for her art. She said being a social media personality can be “either the best thing in the world or the worst thing in the world” for being able to stay grounded and not be influenced by influencers. “There is no middle ground,” she said.

Singer and actress Dascha Polanco, who stars in the upcoming movie “The Heights,” said that for her “mentorship has not really been there” and agreed it’s too easy to become distracted by the opinions of others on social media these days. She said one of the hardest things to overcome was her shame about having become a teenage mother, but now she embraces that identity and speaks freely about it. “I am not the first, and I am not the last. It’s OK,” she said.

About BE Conference

The BE Conference is comprised of three days of mentorship, education and career-building workshops by the most influential women in media and entertainment, WrapWomen. For more information visit:

Watch the full panel above.


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