Pluck a clever, peripherally observant, and beautiful woman from the world. Literally any part of the world—far or near, rich or rare, physical or internet. A skyward follower count is not a determinant for selection. Ask her a set of questions that invite a discussion of sexuality, sensuality, modern feminism, career, and creativity, explored through her very personal lens. Have her answer them. And there you have it: that’s In Touch, a Par Femme segment, assembled, for you, with pleasure.
Jessica Vander Leahy is an Australian / Papua New Guinean writer, model, presenter and founder of The Affirmation Project, a micro-podcast dedicated to celebrating and empowering women via the prism of advocacy, art and beauty.
As a professional wordsmith, her work dissects the fields of feminism, fashion, beauty and lifestyle; an important voice of our generation. As a model, she champions the majestic wonder of the female form and diversity in fashion; proudly Brown and curvy. She is ardently woke and deeply passionate about the feminine pursuit and body positivity. This is perhaps her greatest attribute: the fire in her belly to make meaningful change and above all else, kickstart critical conversation.
Ebullient, brilliant and beautiful — we go deep with the talented multi-hyphenate on the fundamental importance of being proud of who you are, sexual stigmas in society, desire, consent and healthy sexual boundaries, and how she reckoned with life's great inflection point (a global pandemic).
Par Femme: Hi! Can you give us the Jessica elevator pitch? (i.e. who are you and what do you do?)
Jessica Vander Leahy: I guess I'm a model, writer and more recently, a podcaster on my pod, Affirmation Project.
The world has been in and of lockdowns for months now, forcing a slower, more mindful existence for many people. How have you been spending your time?
I guess like everyone else I’ve just been pivoting with this so-called ‘new normal’. In fact, as I write this I’m on a plane from Adelaide to NSW after a covid outbreak canned a shoot I had down here. Essentially I came to beautiful South Australia, ate a steak for lunch and was on a plane home the same day. But I’m not complaining, lots of people are suffering so much more but, it’s just the reality of the strange world we live in now.
Nowadays I’m just trying to see the silver linings of everything and build myself a life that I enjoy living. And the biggest silver lining? I’m still alive, and so are you if you’re reading this, so that’s something to be happy about.
And do you see any potential for positive change because of the changes we’ve had to adapt to?
Yes, I think apart from people just generally being cleaner, we won’t take simple things like family gatherings and parties and holidays and travel and hugs and kisses for granted.
Also, I think for many isolation was a chance to take a pause and recognise what their lives actually looked like and make some changes.
Jess wears the Ruched Singlet Dress in Black.
Par Femme is all about pleasure, sensuality and empowerment. How has your relationship with these things changed over time?
I’m all about doing things that give me joy and pleasure. I don't just Marie Kondo my drawers — I ask every aspect of my life, ‘Does this bring you joy and, ultimately pleasure?’ If the answer is ‘no’ I figure out how to change that as soon as possible.
Do you believe there is still stigma / shame associated with women's sexual desires and needs, periods, vaginas etc in society? And in what ways do you think we can destigamise these topics?
I think for sure anything that can’t be wrapped in a pretty bow and made sexy to the masses is met with some stigma — this includes a lot of the human realities of being a womxn.
Stigmas can’t really withstand a rational and consistent spotlight so periods, sex, body image, desire... these are all topics we need to talk about with our friends and families and then wider communities. This might ripple out to normalising the fact that humans—men, women, non binary people—are to some degree a glorious mess.
Jess wears the Par Femme x Anna Pogossova Cropped Hoodie in Black.
What do you wish you’d learned in sex education at school?
I’m not sure what I did or didn’t learn but I just wish it was discussed more often and more openly. In my memory it feels like sex ed was one lesson and one test and they were like, ‘Cool, now you know what sex is!’ And the truth couldn’t be more different.
I feel like leading about desire and consent and healthy sexual boundaries needs to be really discussed from a young age too. Especially for young women who I still think struggle with being slut shammed for the same thing their male counterparts can get away with.
What sex/love advice would you give your younger self?
I don’t know, really. Maybe just say, go with your gut when it comes to certain situations because it’s usually right.
How do you keep your mind stimulated?
I feel like I’m a prettier big reader and news junkie so I have the problem of giving myself some quiet rather than stimulation.
And your body?
I love working out and being physical. I think you should try get a good sweat out everyday because it’s good for the soul.
Jess wears the Cheeky Short in White.
What do you appreciate most about your body? And has your relationship with your body changed over time?
I think like all relationships my relationship with my body has been one with challenges, but if it matters to you you just have to keep working on it.
Rather than obsess about the things I might want to “fix” or “change”, I just try to cultivate a sense of complete gratitude for my body that allows me to experience my life!
What are some things—obvious and obscure—you find sexy?
I love someone confident and generous. What I find most attractive is someone who honours their own unique nature, while still being respectful to others around them.