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Exclusive: Former VS Model Talks Coding, Couture & Changing The Status Quo

Lyndsey Scott is what happens when STEM meets stilletos.

Human Interest

Maybe one day the world will stop underestimating Black women, but until then Lyndsey Scott —actress, Victoria's Secret model, first Black woman to receive a contract with Calvin Klein at New York Fashion Week, and a noted iOS coder— is here to put the haters in their place.

Earlier this fall, the meme Instagram account @Coding.Engineer originally reposted an image highlighting Lyndsey's coding and modeling experience, headlining the meme with the caption, "CODING IS FOR ANYONE!" Unsurprisingly, numerous people threw jabs in the comments, suggesting that her coding experience was overstated, concluding it was a "shame" that she chose to model.

In response, Lyndsey clapped back at online trolls who tried to box her in: "I have 27481 points on StackOverflow; I'm on the iOS tutorial team for RayWendelich.com; I'm the lead iOS software engineer for @RallyBound, the 841st fastest growing company in the US according to @incmagazine, I have a Bachelor's degree from Amherst where I double majored in computer science and theater, and I'm able to live my life doing everything I love. Looking at these comments I wonder why 41% of women in technical careers drop out because of a hostile work environment," she wrote in an Instagram comment responding to negative opinions.

According to statistics from Fast Company and the EEOC, the percentage share of Black female professionals in tech has continued to decline despite targeted diversity initiatives aimed at increasing underrepresented minorities. Between 2007 and 2015, there was a 13% decrease in the number of Black female professionals in the tech field and we can look to the historical intersectional struggles that women of color face in the STEM field, as contributing factors. Organizations like @BlackGirlsCode, @WomenWhoCode, and @GirlsWhoCode strive to introduce and support women and girls as they pursue technical careers, hopefully increasing interest and overall retention in the field.

In celebration of #NationalSTEMDay and providing you with your daily dose of #Blackgirlmagic, xoNecole recently connected with Lyndsey to discuss her modeling career, passion for coding, and her dream to change the status quo.

xoNecole: Tell us a bit about your background, modeling journey, and educational pursuits leading to your interest in STEM.

Lyndsey Scott: I entered Amherst College majoring in theater and realized at one point that I had time to pick up a second major. So, I tried economics and physics, then happened to take a computer science class on a whim... I took to programming right away [and realized that] I love that type of problem-solving. I ended up graduating as a theater and computer science double major. Immediately after college, I started acting in New York City and eventually ended up signing onto an acting agency with a modeling department. After a year and a half of doing both, the modeling took off first.

Before I knew it, I was suddenly the first African American to land an exclusive contract with Calvin Klein, and as a result, I decided to devote my energy to modeling. I ended up working with Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Vogue, W Magazine, and many other brands by the end of the year.

What motivates you?

Doing what I love motivates me. And I feel fortunate that I've been able to structure my life in a way where I have the freedom to do everything I love. I wrote a screenplay earlier this year that tells a true story that's very important to me, and it's currently in pre-production. Since I've been in Los Angeles, I've had the freedom to produce, audition, and go to my weekly acting classes, while still being able to code at home for 20 hours a week; working on cool technologies with great clients. I enjoy the balance that comes from using both sides of my mind.

What has been your biggest success or favorite moment as a model?

Last year, I put together a workshop for the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles. I assembled a team of badass female programming mentors. The Girl Scouts had so much fun coding their own websites and meeting a bunch of talented female role models.

What are some challenges and/or stereotypes that you face as a model, female in STEM, and Black woman – or a combination if they intersect?

I had trouble landing an iOS job until I went the extra mile to prove my expertise by answering a bunch of questions on Stack Overflow and writing tutorials. Before then, although I had coded several apps on my own and had a Bachelor's [degree] in Computer Science, I didn't feel like I was being taken seriously. There were times I'd walk into a room of male programmers and they'd abruptly end their conversation about coding because, as they said, "I wouldn't be interested."

Are there any resources/communities you believe women of color should pursue in order to find support for their interest in STEM?

Black Girls Code is a wonderful organization for young girls [interested in tech]. Although I haven't personally used Women Who Code as a resource, I hear great things about them as well. What's one piece of advice you would offer girls and women interested in pursuing a future in STEM?

From the experience I've had after commenting under that @coding.engineer post, I've learned that it's important to speak up for yourself whenever you feel misunderstood.

Five Random Things:

    1. Favorite food? I love variety and trying new things. So, my favorites don't stay favorite for long.
    2. Favorite hair product? The Glamsquad app.
    3. Instagram or Twitter? Instagram
    4. Apple or Android? Apple — I'm an iOS developer after all! ;)
    5. One thing you can't live without? I do love my dog an awful lot.

To keep up with Lyndsey, follow her on Instagram!

Featured image by lev radin / Shutterstock.com

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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