"Cate, this is Aubrey with Byrdie."
That's how I was introduced to actress Cate Blanchett. Normally, I would've let it go; it's easier to just go with it than to constantly correct the vast number of people who get my name wrong. But because I was about to talk to Blanchett one-on-one and hoped to have a meaningful and memorable conversation, I had to let her know that Aubrey was not my name.
"Actually, my name is Audrey, but I get Aubrey all the time," I said.
"Really?" she asked. "But Audrey is such a common name."
I shrugged and took pleasure in the fact that I wasn't the only one confused by this. It's weird something so minute can make me strongly feel a certain way. But it makes sense. Language and assigning a word to something or someone have the ability to change moods and, on a much larger scale, start revolutions.
I met with Blanchett in a back room after she had just finished hosting the launch event of SK-II's Change Destiny limited-edition series. The skincare brand is repackaging its hero product, the facial essence, in white bottles with three different mantras written in blue and pink graffiti: "Be the Person You DECIDE to be," "CHANGE is in All of Us," and "DESTINY is a Matter of Choice."
She told the crowd that the positive messages on the bottles act as morning and evening mantras, a way to both start and end your day on a positive note. Given how crazy things currently are all over the world, everyone is in desperate need of a little positivity. "Language is powerful," she said. "The more that women can talk about these things, the more change can happen."
Now, more than ever, are we looking at how we discuss controversial topics. Take the word "anti-aging." It's become such a divisive term that some publications have gone as far as banning the use of the word completely. "The notion of anti-aging seems kind of like a ridiculous attempt because it’s impossible. Shakespeare wrote 'All that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity.' [Aging] happens," she says. "What I love [is] the notion of embracing change and championing it. If you don't continue to evolve, then you don't grow. Change is growth, and I mean positive change, intelligent change."
The idea isn't really about getting rid of certain terms, but rather practicing habits that are good for our bodies and our minds. "I always try to do a little bit of exercise, whatever makes you feel good about yourself," she says. "It's also just a thing of practicing gratitude. Take five seconds to say 'Wow, I'm healthy today' or 'What a great breakfast.' It's to acknowledge the good things that happen. We’re so busy focusing on the negative a lot, and there's a lot of negative."
The beauty industry is also at an interesting crossroads. Beauty plays a pivotal role in how we deal with inclusion and equality in general. How beauty is defined and what a normal standard even is are no longer a discussion limited to its main demographic, women. It needs to be a discussion that involves everyone if we want to see any real change.
"We focus on how girls feel. But it's also about how men relate to women," she says. "You can talk until you're blue in the face to your children, but it's about how you conduct yourself in the world. You cannot tell them to put their iPads away if you're spending all of your time on your tablet yourself. If your [children's] male role model is disrespecting the women in the house, you can't expect them to [respect women]."
Assigning gender also does more harm than good. "I never thought about my gender until someone else brought it to my attention, and it was usually because my gender was preventing me from doing something. Raising boys I never thought about how boys have to do certain things, or having a girl I never thought I have to do something different. People always say to me, 'How does it feel to have a daughter now?' [I think] Um, she’s my fourth child."
But just as words have the power to constrict and put someone in a box, they have the power to free people as well. "Women put a lot of pressure on themselves. We put pressure on each other and society puts pressure on us," she says. "I read a Maria Semple book recently called Today Will Be Different, and I sort of think today I'm going to be better and kinder, etc."
Talking with Blanchett made me realize when we change what we tell ourselves and change the way think into something more positive, that's when we really are our most beautiful selves.
"It's like when people look at themselves when they're laughing or something in a selfie. You look at yourself [and think] Oh my god all those wrinkles—that's what my face looks like. But your friends love that picture because it's capturing your spirit. I think in the end, it's peoples' spirits that make them attractive or unattractive, and that's the bit we're not really feeling. We're not feeling our brains, we're not feeling our spirits. We're thinking about the externals too much," she said.
While it may be a difficult time to be a woman, the power in our words and discussions is the one thing uniting us and making us stronger. "We fuck up and we fail all the time. You used to sort of feel like you didn't want to admit your failures, because you only had one opportunity," she said. "But now I think women are much more open about the challenges that they've had, and I think it’s empowering to other women as well. Like, 'Wow you've had that experience as well even though you're working in a completely different industry' [or] 'Wow that's just like what I had.' You don't feel so isolated."
As we wrapped things up, she asked me if I had seen Eminem's latest freestyle rap. I told her I hadn't and she told me I had to watch the video when I had time. "It's really cool," she said. "It's really powerful."
I watched the video immediately when I got back to the office. My takeaway: words, when used for good, are a truly beautiful thing.