If you had to pick one, would you rather be smart or beautiful?
To put it simply, I don't want to choose. Call me selfish. Call me crazy. It doesn't matter. As a woman, I should be viewed as beautiful and smart. I shouldn't have to worry about what my work acquaintances think of me when I choose to post a photo of myself in a swimsuit. But I do. I worry about it.
Society tells women to choose. You are either pretty or smart. A mom or a career woman. Sporty or a fashionista. And don't get me started on the rumors when you start stepping outside of these narrow confines. How she must have slept with someone to get that job. Or that maybe she is related to the boss.
But why are we constantly choosing and worrying? Why is it that society thinks it's impossible to be both? Why can't we just be every damn thing we want to be? Why can't we accept that women have great jobs because they are qualified, talented, and hardworking?
As a senior political staffer who models occasionally, people have been trying to put me in a specific box for the last six years of my career. As Senior Deputy Chief of Staff for the Mayor of Providence, Rhode Island I manage community engagement strategies; project manage the City's International Arts Festival that draws over 130,000 attendees over 4 days; and run high-level Mayoral initiatives around education, small businesses, strategic partnerships, and economic development. Additionally, I serve on five boards, mentor young people in urban cities, visit the gym every single week, and regularly walk in fashion shows or participate in photoshoots.
Competing at the Miss USA 2016 pageant, representing Rhode Island
While preparing to compete in the nationally televised Miss USA competition in 2016, reporters or anyone I met with always wanted to talk about how rare it was that I had "beauty and brains," how I had a full-time career while juggling photo shoots, why I was prioritizing my visits to the gym but was already "too skinny" and didn't need to work out.
Reporters or anyone I met with always wanted to talk about how rare it was that I had "beauty and brains"
Some of them didn't know they were putting me in a box. Some of them were just trying to give me a compliment. And this isn't about gender: some of them were men and some of them were women. All of them repeatedly were putting me in a box, telling me that I had to choose, telling women that we must constantly choose.
And in 2016, when I was balancing pageants and politics, I didn't choose. And today, in 2019, while still balancing pageants and politics, I still refuse to choose. I still work 50+ hour weeks. I still visit the gym with my personal trainer every single Wednesday. I still walk in fashion shows. I still participate in campaigns, such as #ThisIsBeauty, which remind people to show the vulnerable yet powerful side of beauty. I still get in front of a camera when I can. And I love it all.
Shot from the #ThisIsBeauty Campaign Photo by Jessielyn Palumbo
You know why?
I can advocate for policy changes. I can be a mentor for young people. I can testify at the State House. I can enjoy dressing up for work. And I can also walk down a runway in a bikini. They all make me feel empowered. They are all my choices.
So, refuse to get in that box, refuse to choose. Because I am tired of people trying to make me be only a small part of who I am. We are all multidimensional and it's time we embrace every side of what makes us who we are!
How many times have you looked at something and thought: I wish this did more? And how many times have you thought long and hard about what else you could make it do, if you had the resources, time, and a factory-load of people working for you?
We've all certainly been there. Whether we were 5 and inventing a flying Barbie, or futuristic football, or 35 and looking at the kitchen imagining a self-taught robot that would help with the nightly dinners. We've all come up with what we thought were million dollar ideas - but almost none of us follow through because we're already too busy, and somebody else has probably invented it already.
For one woman, this very sequence of events took place when she was just a teenager. Unimpressed with her dog's collar, she created a new one with florescent sides (making them more visible to cars at night) that would fit more comfortably on a dog or cat's neck. But because of her relative youth, the collar was never produced, and a year later was released and patented by another company.
The girl, Joy Mangano, vowed this would never happen again.
Fast forward to 1990. Single mother-of-three, Mangano has a bigger, bolder idea. This time, the Miracle Mop is born, launching her career as an entrepreneur and setting her up for a life in the spotlight with her product launch on QVC. Between then and now, Mangano has accrued 100 patents (for products like the Huggable Hanger and My Little Steamer) and her company, Ingenious Designs is worth over $50million.
This story was told in Hollywood by David O.Russell in 2015 with his Golden Globe winning movie, Joy. Jennifer Lawrence's portrayal of Mangano served to highlight the difficulty of entrepreneurship and instruct on the minefield of patent disputes.
Mangano's latest product is one she says she's been working on for her entire life: a journal, a manual and a self-help for entrepreneurs wrapped up in her book, Inventing Joy: Dare to Build a Brave and Creative Life.
SWAAY spoke with Mangano about the necessity for this kind of book in this age of entrepreneurship, and how it will resonate with aspiring female inventors and change-makers.
Drawing on her success and the pains it took to get there, Mangano has penned a book that will no doubt be a bible for those looking to take their flying Barbies or futuristic footballs to market. "I️ believe it will be a resource for people they can keep coming back to," she remarks. "This book truly is a lesson for anybody - in their careers, no matter what age."
Her family have been crucial to the whole process of building her brand and expanding Ingenious Designs, for the last 17 years, and have informed many of the chapters in the book. "I️ am fortunate enough to work with my children, family and friends and they were completely integral (to the books production)," says Mangano. Her daughter Christie serves as SVP Brand Development, Merchandising & Marketing Strategy having worked with her mom for thirteen years. “She's my left brain," laughs Mangano. Both her son Bobby and other daughter Jackie have worked elsewhere before also coming under their mother's umbrella. Bobby currently serves as Executive Vice President of the company and Jackie is involved with the fashion side of the business, which is certainly no mean feat, as she is also involved in styling for the upcoming reboot of The Murder on the Orient Express.
"When you can do things in life - work and follow your passion with people you love - it makes it all that much more meaningful and pure happiness."
The launch of her book signals new territory for the serial inventor, who has her first opportunity to tour the country and speak to those whose homes she has appeared in for the past 15 years on QVC and HSN.
"This is really one of my dreams," she comments. "I️'ve always wanted to go around the country and meet all of my customers and this is one way to do that. It couldn't be better."
"95% of my customers are women so I️ can't help but be an advocate always."
While on tour, Mangano is destined to meet a host of people that will tell her of their inventions or start-up ideas, but none more so than the millennials, who are completely reinventing the notion of entrepreneurship. Mangano hopes that through the book aspiring female entrepreneurs will be able to take solace in the fact they don't have to do it all. "I️ truly believe - this is a generation I️ watch, a lot of them work for me and with me - today, more than ever, they think they have to do it all."
"Dressed beautifully and in a meeting, they'll say 'I've been up since 5. Dressed the kids. Fed the kids.' And then (after work) they'll come home, have quality time, bath time. And I️ say - you can miss a game." If there's one thing she would invent for millennial women, it's this very advice, she says.
Rather than a product, or an item, it's this advice that, contrary to the millennial mindset, you don't have to be five places at one time or working 20-hour days to get where you want to be. Instead, Mangano has sections of the book that will inform on how better to manage your time and your ideas - to employ her methods - so you can become successful with (a little) less stress.
When asked how social media and the digital age has influenced her real-world inventions (like mops, hangers, steamers and pillows), Mangano chuckles. Technology, rather than impairing the invention of real world application actually opens up a 'wider range' tells the inventor. “It opens up a direct - to - consumer feedback and enhances your platform."
"With Instagram and Facebook my customers communicate with me. That's critical for looking at what you do and for the future of what you do."
Out of the dozens of things she's invented, Mangano won't say what her favorite is. "What am I️ most proud of? That's hard to say - that's like asking what child do you love the most and I️ don't think I️ could be prouder of any of them."