You might recognize Jenny Shimizu as a model from the '90s. Or from those CK One ads. Or from the pages of Vogue. But Shimizu is the first to tell you she's lived many lives beyond modeling. In fact, she's been a mechanic, an actor, and an agent. And now, she aspires to be something different: a police officer. Or as Shimizu calls it: a peace officer.
Shimizu never planned to be a model. As she puts it, "being a tattooed Asian lesbian isn't exactly the recipe for the next It girl." Or, at least it wasn't back then. Like most models, her discovery can be chalked up to being in the right place at the right time. Shimizu was working as an auto mechanic when photographer Michel Comte asked if he could take her picture. Those pictures would end up in Vogue Italia, and the rest was history.
Shimizu went on to work with photographers like Bruce Weber, Steven Meisel, Richard Avedon, and designer Calvin Klein. But the mechanic-cum-model wasn't in it for the fame — especially not the attention from the tabloids. She wanted to represent everyone who looks or feels different, and to challenge the traditional rules of gender, age, sexuality, and race. That confidence would eventually carry her to the runway of Prada, where she became the first Asian model to ever walk for the Italian house. But with exposure eventually came self-doubt, a desire to be popular, and a need to find beauty within. After four years of working as a model in New York, Shimizu returned to L.A. to pursue her passion for acting.
Recently, Shimizu decided to return to the modeling world one last time, as the face of Hourglass Cosmetics' Girl Lip Stylo Collection, a line of 20 lipsticks (with some pretty inspiring shade names) that encourages wearers to upload photos of themselves in each lip color to acknowledge their collective and powerful voices. We spoke to Shimizu about overcoming her fears, which has led her to some of the greatest moments, and her unexpected (but potentially life-changing) new career in law enforcement.
Why did you decide to become a police, or peace, officer?
The idea of becoming a police officer has always been in my consciousness. I want to serve my community.
What kind of activism did you do with Act Up and Queer Nation in the '80s that prepared you for this decision?
Growing up in SoCal in the late '80s, I found an extended family in those organizations. The AIDS epidemic had become a reality overnight and we organized and marched for civil rights, healthcare, education, and a cure. I am grateful to have experienced the power of peaceful protest and what it can accomplish.
Being involved in both these groups taught me the importance of equality, and that the biggest battles need not contain violence. What I learned from being an activist early on is that you need to be involved with the community in order to make a change, and acknowledge the strength of people coming together to make a change and get results. I feel it is my responsibility in this place in my life to continue to set a positive example, to be in action, by not only talking about it but also giving it away to others.
A lot of people tend to refrain from helping others in their plights for equality. Do you think that being both a member of the LGBTQ community and a minority defines who you are and the work that you do?
Yes, being queer and Japanese-American are facets of who I am. But they are not the only two flags I fly.
What have you noticed between the modeling and police academy worlds that people might be surprised are similar? Different?
There are no similarities. None.
Being a cop means lifelong training, a certain sense of selflessness, and "to protect and to serve." Being a model means two days of training (first, the runway, then editorial), a certain sense of selfishness, and “sex, drugs, rock and roll.”
At any point in your training, did you feel leaving the modeling work was a mistake?
No. The best part about the transition is that I am now in a position to help people.
Who are your role models?
My role models are people who inspire, uplift, and are courageous in sharing with others the power of us…and Billy Jack.
But really, we can all be role models. We are at an unprecedented time in history when we can use social media to reach people in an instant. Use your voice for good. Be a role model to your friends, your children, your colleagues, and your community. What seems like a small act can make a big difference. Imagine our collective power if we all did one small thing to give, or share, or lift someone up, to help them realize their power, their inherent beauty, and strengths.
Once you complete your training, in what ways do you plan to show compassion as a peace officer?
When I first thought about what my next move in life would be, it became clear that being a peace officer was what I truly wanted to do. I'm now working on getting in peak physical shape to meet the demands of the job, which is the first step in preparing for the academy, which upon graduation leads to working formally as a peace officer.
This opportunity is the most powerful and effective way I see to combine my life experiences and make a positive impact. When I become an officer in training, it's another chance for me to be a role model as the kind of officer that embodies fairness and compassion.
That means treating every individual with respect, fairness, and without judgement. Education is the great destroyer of fear, and fear is what keeps our communities apart.
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