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The Saint Series, Vol. 13: Marisa Acocella

marisa_acocella

 

A powerful force for empowering women through her art, her words and her actions, Marisa Aocella is today’s feature for our Saint Series. Marisa is the New York Times best-selling author of the graphic novels The Big She-Bang and Ann Tenna, the graphic memoir Cancer Vixen, and Just Who the Hell is She, Anyway? She is also a cartoonist for The New Yorker and her work has appeared in the New York Times, Glamour, and O, The Oprah Magazine. A breast cancer survivor, she is the founder of the Marisa Acocella Foundation, which, through a grant from Bloomingdale’s, funds the free Marisa Acocella Empowerment Program that includes holistic therapies and journaling classes and more for women with breast cancer and breast cancer survivors at the Mount Sinai Best Israel Comprehensive Cancer Center. Welcome to Sainthood, Marisa!

 

1. Congratulations on your new book!  It’s about Saints, female empowerment, and the feminine divine...subjects that are close to our heart too.

Thank you! Congratulations on creating my favorite beauty and makeup line ever! Saint Jane, we are so in sync in our hearts and our souls! Furthermore, I think Saint Jane the Saint needs to be profiled in the sequel of The Big She-Bang! 

 

2. Can you tell us about The Big She Bang: The Herstory of the Universe According to God the Mother and why you decided to write it?

I’d love to. Saints have always been a huge part of my life. My family always had Icons of Saints all over the house. I have always been obsessed with the lives of Saints. I wanted to know who they were, what they did, and how they became Saints. I was also that young girl who always questioned, questioned, questioned everything, many times to the point of exasperating everyone. And my biggest question was “how could a Male God, God the Father, give birth to all this? What happened to God the Mother? Where is SHE?”  

Then, flash forward from my childhood to when I was twenty-nine. I had become an advertising executive, and I was unfulfilled. I knew in my heart was meant to do something else with my life, but what? Now, every New Year’s Eve I have a ritual. I sit down with my journal and write down my goals for the year. And December 31,1990 was no exception. Only this time I lit a candle. I called in Mary, Jesus, Joseph and all the Saints in Heaven for Divine Intervention. And guess what — They did not let me down! 

Instead of writing down my goals, I drew a blonde bombshell I’ve drawn ever since I could remember (see below for that story) with a gun in her mouth with the line SHE was a little upset during the meeting…

It was my AHA moment. Excited, I leaned into my journal, forgetting about the candle and my hair caught on fire. So, not only did I have a new career - I got a new hairstyle - a shag! 

A year later, SHE became a monthly comic strip in the great women’s magazine Mirabella. I always saw SHE as an archetypal single woman who was a searcher. SHE questions everything. And while I developed SHE, the title The Big SHE-Bang popped into my head. There again was THE question. What happened to God the Mother? Where is She? I knew I had to write Her Story. The Big She-Bang has been my passion project for over 25 years — I just felt I needed the life experience to write it. And the more research I did, the more I found out about not just God the Mother (She was “Holy Ghosted!”) but about all the other Saints, Goddesses and Shevolutionary Divine Females who have been scapegoated (Eve), marginalized, minimized, maligned (many of them) sidelined (Saint Thecla), slut-shamed (Saint Mary Magdalene—did you know she was a Princess?) and unnamed (Noah’s wife, who, when she was mentioned in the Bible five times no less—she was unnamed. Her name Norea means “beautiful fire”, and believe me, that story is lit!) Back to Eve, did you know that she was the divine spark? Adam was an inanimate lump of clay and Eve gave him life. In The Big SHE-Bang, all the women wrest their origin stories and we hear from them directly. Because history is just that, “his story”. But when we hear from Her, Her story changes history…forever!

 

3. Your first graphic novel came out in the ’90s when the genre wasn’t so popular as it is today.  What initially attracted you to the medium?

In 1994 I published my first book Just who the hell is SHE, anyway? And back then, not many people knew what a graphic novel was. My publisher at the time didn’t know how to sell it. To be honest, I knew and loved Maus, but the genre was even new to me. I wrote it on instinct. When The New York Times compared my book to a Japanese manga, I had to look that up.

What attracted me to the medium is this: drawing and writing is how I love to tell stories. I love envisioning a world and then seeing it come to life on the page. When you’re a graphic novelist, it’s all you—you’re the creator of your own universe! You’re the director. You’re the cinematographer. You’re the casting director. You’re the character designer. You’re the set decorator. You’re the costume designer. You’re the script girl in charge of continuity. Can I tell you know many times I wanted to fire that script girl because a shirt on a main character would miraculously change from one panel to the next in the same scene! Continuity! But I couldn’t because who else was I going to hire? I’d just be firing myself!

 

4. Besides your graphic novels, you are a celebrated cartoonist for publications like the New Yorker, Glamour, and Elle – to name a few.  Who or what inspired your interest in drawing/ cartoons?

So, going back to my childhood. My mother, Violetta, was the shoe designer for Delman. One day at her office, she received a phone call. From Jackie Kennedy. She needed shoes for a very important event. My mother, in disbelief, nearly hung up on The First Lady! In her whispery voice, Jackie told my mother that it was impossible for her to find shoes, she was a size 11 1/2! Violetta, in her New Jersey accent confided “I’m a size 11 1/2, we can commiserate!” Guess what the very important event was—JFK’s Inauguration! At that time my mom was pregnant with me and Jackie was pregnant with John-John. After my mother gave birth she worked from home, designing shoes. She’d do these trend reports of fabulous women wearing her fabulous shoes, and three-year-old me would imitate her and I’d draw those fabulous women. Then, when I was about eight, we had our first real vacation that wasn’t the Jersey Shore—it was Bermuda. We stayed in a pink elephant of a house, and in that house were drawings with captions on them. The pink elephant was James Thurber’s house! The legendary New Yorker cartoonist! Seeing those drawings, I thought to myself, the women in my drawings could talk! Then later, I forgot them, and went into advertising. And you know what happened after that.

 

5. Your organization, Marisa Acocella Foundation, and your Marisa Acocella Empowerment Fund are truly wonderful for those with Breast Cancer and survivors too.  Can you tell us about the mission and how your own experience with breast cancer inspired you to give back?

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, I didn’t have health insurance. That double-whammy combo sent me into a downward spiral. It was one of the lowest points in my life. How can you fight when you already feel defeated? At that time I had a monthly cartoon in Glamour magazine. When I told my editor, Lauren Smith Brody, she asked me to write about it. Later, my friend Bob Morris, who is a writer, asked me what I was going to title it my story. And then he looked at me, his eyes narrowing. “What’s with you? You’re a mess! Ratty sneakers? Aren’t you the daughter of a shoe designer? You look like a victim!” (I did.) Then he said “where’s the vixen?” And it was Bob who named my piece for Glamour, which later became a book, Cancer Vixen. I went home and drew myself as a cancer kicking Vixen, and in that cancer year, and I became one. See it. Believe it. Achieve it. I didn’t want to see myself as a victim, and I didn’t want to anyone who was going through breast cancer to see themselves as a victim, either. I wanted to give women tools to empower themselves. Today the Marisa Acocella Empowerment Program (funded by a grant from Bloomingdale’s) funds holistic therapies, guided imagery, journaling and more. My motto has always been “no breast left behind.”

6.   We understand you have quite a fabulous shoe collection.   Do you have a favorite pair?

My favorite pair of shoes are a pair I’ve never walked in—Alexander McQueen pumps with a purple lucite heel strewn with purple roses. They’re on my dresser. They’re a work of art. Other than that, I love wedge. I love a lug heel. I have a wedge lug heel from Robert Clergerie that are on their last legs, but they’re so comfortable, I can’t give them up.

 

7.     What are your secrets to self-care and balance? 

 I make myself organic coffee every morning. Then I start with a my manifestation ritual—I write down what I want my life to be, then I pray to all my Saints for guidance, to keep me in the light and on mission of service for humanity. Later in the day I’ll go for a walk, or a swim. Vitamin D from the sun lifts my spirits and prevents cancer. I take vitamins to maintain a healthy immune system. My father, Tony, is a pharmacist and has a PhD in nutrition and I’m on his anti-covid, anti-cancer vitamin protocol. And staying connected to the people I love. I talk to my parents several times a day. That keeps me grounded.

8.   If you were to be anointed into sainthood, what would it be? 

You mean I would be “beautified”? Isn’t it ironic that’s what the process is called to become a Saint! 

The Patron Saint of Panic Attacks Who Somehow Alchemizes them into Power.


Bonus Q: What's your favorite SAINT JANE product and why do you love it?

 THIS IS THE HARDEST QUESTION OF ALL! I love your lipsticks — so creamy and cbd-dreamy AND the Vitamin C-Drops—for which I must thank you Saint Jane for your Divine Feminine Intervention—my skin has never looked brighter or better!

 Also, I see you’ve asked for my daily mantra. I wrote this for myself whenever I have moments of self-doubt: I always make the right decision because I am a woman of vision. 

Continue reading

The Saint Series, Vol. 12: Renata Helfman

 

Meet Renata Helfman, a philanthropist, clean beauty advocate and an inspirational addition to our Saint Series. Always searching for ways to share her knowledge and help those around her, Renata began volunteering with cancer patients at Cedars Sinai in 2011 and was surprised to learn that the hospital did not have a beauty program in place. Specifically, she made it her mission to bring beauty, compassion and human touch to patients in need through offering complimentary, personalized, and oncology-sensitive beauty and skin care services. That’s when she founded Lipstick Angels. Renata shared her story with us, and we know you’ll find it just as inspiring as we do. 


Q: What inspired you to start Lipstick Angles?

A: I started Lipstick Angels because I was looking for a way to give back simply as a volunteer. I was a busy makeup artist working around the country and when I looked for an opportunity to work with cancer patients in a hospital setting I could not find one, so I took it upon myself to create it.  It definitely was not easy but the organization always had a life of its own from day one. I am so happy that now there is a venue for other makeup artists and aestheticians to give back in this capacity and of course an organization that is looking at people living with cancer with a mind, body and spirit connection.

 

Q: Because of the Pandemic, you’ve had to pivot and find new ways to reach cancer patients virtually.  Can you tell us about it? 

A: Yes, I am so incredibly excited that we have launched a virtual platform for our classes and private sessions. We can now send our patients a wonderful variety of skincare , make up and wellness products directly to their homes .We then set up a private Zoom call for them to work directly with a Lipstick Angel. We feel that this is a unique opportunity to expand our footprint and be able to reach more and more cancer patients in need. We are thrilled that we will be able to do this even when we go back into the hospital and have more options for patients to connect with us.


Q: Makeup and beauty can be transformative, especially for those who are going through Chemo. Can you share some of your favorite moments since starting Lipstick Angels?

A: Well, there are so many incredible moments. But I can remember one that always sticks out. I was actually working with this beautiful woman in the infusion center while she was getting her chemotherapy and tears came to her eyes after I showed her how she looked in the mirror. When I asked her if she was ok she just said that she was so happy that today she was not going to hide in the car when she picked her daughter up from school, she was going to go in and get her. This was a huge moment for our organization to understand how cancer affects the whole family and I always see that little girl’s face and how she must have felt seeing her mom come into the school and get her and feel like herself again.

 

Q: You are an advocate for clean beauty.  Why is using clean beauty/skincare important for you?

A: Clean beauty for me is very personal. When I discovered all of the chemicals in the personal care items almost 20 years ago my life really changed for the better. I was suffering from some health issues and I knew I had to clean up my act and learn what was really going into my body. Thinking about it now, who could have imagined how important it would be for my career now working with people living with cancer. There is no reason for anyone not to be educated about what they are putting on their skin ( it is your largest organ) but as a cancer patient you have to be even more careful about everything you do. Staying as healthy as you can imagine is vital to keep your immune system strong so you can get through the chemotherapy and or radiation.


Q: How can we support and get involved with Lipstick Angels?

A: There are lots of ways to support Lipstick Angels. If you are a makeup artist or aesthetician and you are interested in volunteering please visit our website Lipstickangles.org. You can also make a tax-deductible donation on our website - every dollar helps us deliver our programs around the country! Also, supporting brands like Saint Jane who we have partnerships with is such a beautiful way to show your support and receive the gift of beauty yourself.

 

Q: What are your secrets to self-care and balance?

A: I think that’s the key is definitely balance in everything in life. It is a hard lesson to learn but I will say if you can be kind to yourself and others and let yourself color outside of the lines once in a while it is a really good thing!


Q: If you were to be anointed into sainthood, what would it be for?

A: I hate to say it but I think I would be the Saint of Overworking! I don’t look at it as a negative at all, I just love what I do and get excited to get up every day and lead this organization with all my heart and soul. 

Bonus Q: What's your favorite SAINT JANE product and why do you love it?

A: My favorite product is hard to choose because they are all AMAZING!  But I, of course, must go with the exquisite lip cream in the shade “Ritual.” The color is divine and 100% of the proceeds are donated to Lipstick Angels. If that’s not love then what is? Continue reading