- Words Cal McIntyre
- Photography Luke Nugent
- Creative Direction, Concept & Graphics Betsy Johnson
- Hair Jake Gallagher
- Makeup Paige Whiting
- Betsy wears Atusko Kudo
A creative powerhouse in the purest form, Betsy Johnson is the girl who can do it all - but that's not to say it's been an easy ride despite the veneer of social media...
If you’re not familiar with Betsy Johnson herself (no not the designer) then you are probably acquainted with her creative work that spans into almost every medium.
An artist in the truest sense, Betsy downright refuses to be put into a creative box. From Creative Direction, Photography, Styling, Production and every single thing in between, it’s understandable why this Grimbsy gal is one hell of a force to be reckoned with. The thing is, with the monstrous rise of social media and the fictitious personas that unfortunately follow suit, it can be easy to get the wrong idea of someone. Hence, the concept of ‘Instant Dysmorphia’ by Betsy Johnson – tackling the FaceTune generation in a much more sinister take, whilst also referring to how we are so quick to judge someone through an app, especially in the wake of cancel culture.
We’re all guilty of it, particularly if someone is doing incredibly well it can throw up our own insecurities about our journey’s in life. As we are only at the beginning of seeing the long-term consequences social media is having on the human psyche, it’s becoming clear that it’s a double-edged sword for everyone involved. Take Betsy Johnson for example – her portfolio spills out online like a directory of everything every other creative wishes they could get the chance to be apart of. Starring in a Vivienne Westwood campaign, directing projects for Adidas and working with an incredible roster of artists like the London based musician Malthus – I could go on but you get the picture.
As Betsy continues to set the bar higher and higher with each project that she dreams up, it’s important to remember that it hasn’t been an easy journey, and if you’re a creative you’ll know that the path of an artist in any sense will probably never be an easy journey. We got to grips with the girl with the Midas touch below and talked hometown glory, retail disasters and how to keep going on the upward battle that is being a young creative.
“University was… well, I mean I almost dropped out in final year.” Betsy opens up, “I wasn’t really getting the best grades – no one really understood my work and they kept trying to change me into what they wanted me to be. You have this idea that it’s going to be the best years of your life but it’s really an uphill battle, and then you graduate and it gets even harder.” Referring to the romantic idea that university opens up every door for you when you graduate, but the reality can be much darker as Betsy found herself almost leading a double life between her base in Manchester and the (non-paid) creative projects she was churning out in London.
Growing up in Grimbsy, the hustle has always been instilled in Betsy as she knew from an early age that she’s going to have to do it for herself, and probably by herself. “I graduated Uni and ended up working in Topshop in the Arndale Centre in Manchester, I was giving people a number as they were going into a fitting room”, Betsy tells me, “Nothing against retail, but it was shit. I remember going to Fashion Week last February in London and travelling down from Manchester, and I shot Vivienne Westwood and I went back to the shop floor and I thought to myself ‘What am I doing with my life!?’. I just had all this energy and didn’t know what to do with it. Then, I couldn’t afford to move to London, I had no one to financially support me moving to London, I didn’t know anyone who would give me a job, so I just had to move back to Grimsby.”
It’s often in our darkest and lowest moments that are inherently the motivating factor to stepping on the path we are supposed to be on. This was exactly the case for Betsy as she sat in her bedroom in Grimbsy and booked a one-way ticket to LA because what was there to lose? Nothing.
What started as a one-way flight to LA ended up as a year-long sofa-surfing ticket to New York, Paris and Berlin due to the other creatives she met and collaborated with who shared her enduring passion for pursuing a life and career as an artist.
“I was always thinking about the next step,” Betsy tells me, “thinking about the next shoot, the next video, the next project, the next trip, the next flight, that I wasn’t even noticing anything that was going on around me. In terms of even thinking about what my career was, every time I thought about my career it just scared the shit out of me. And then I moved to London, and everything just moved really quickly. Which I wasn’t expecting. I had such a fear of moving to London cause you know, for us Northerners it’s like the devil.” By this point, you’d probably think Betsy was rolling in money, but the creative industry is an endless cycle of putting in twice as much money as you earn. To make matters harder, the more work you do the higher the bar is set for yourself and for the people looking on at you. Unsurprisingly, Betsy levels up every time.
When I refer to the list of accomplishments Betsy has achieved at the beginning of what is going to be a glistening career, she draws inward and tells me, “I don’t like listing things that I do, I don’t think I do a list of things. I think I do one thing and it involves a lot of other things if that makes sense. All my jobs I’m building a world, or an image, or building a story for someone. It just so happens to be that that story means I have to cast it, produce it, do photography, do certain skills that help support that one job. I don’t think I do lots of jobs, I think I do just craft worlds for people.”
When I begin to ask Betsy about her concept for this feature, Betsy opens up to me and it becomes clear that not only is the responsibility of her career a heavy one, but the pressure of being someone who has to consistently be ahead of the game is something that people probably never take into consideration.
“I think ‘Instant Dysmorphia’ came from when I’d been introduced to FaceTune. I’d never used FaceTune before and I just started developing a lot of dysmorphia from it, and I also have a lot of personality dysmorphia. Obviously, I have a persona on social media, and I don’t even know what that persona is. It’s something that I’ve built myself – sometimes I find it difficult to understand my own world that I’ve built and what people view it from the outside as. You can’t see yourself from anyone else’s perspective, only your own. So, I think sometimes I get a bit of dysmorphia from the character I’ve built, my connection to it, who I am in this industry, and how people perceive me. Then when I saw this leaflet – this fucking face-tape leaflet for older women – I found it so funny. It just married together in my brain as the perfect visual example of how I was feeling about being disconnected and changing yourself. How we literally have a step-by-step guide of how you display yourself as an almost character. It actually completely beats you up inside. Translating that visually, the beating yourself up, the changing yourself, to mould a standard of beauty or a persona standard that you’ve set for yourself, or you’ve been set by society, that step-by-step guide is my personification or my depiction of that in a visual format.”
That’s also an incredibly special part to Betsy Johnson – not only is she incredibly talented at everything she does, she’s immensely intelligent and also is fucking hilarious. If you can’t laugh at the world and industry you’re in sometimes, then you’re doomed to get weighed down by the difficulties of it. That’s what Betsy is doing – a commentary on social media, herself and the online landscape we are trapped in.
So, what’s next for the creative mastermind? “Well firstly, I never thought I’d be sat here.” She tells me, “All I ever wanted was to live in London when I was a kid. That was my big dream. And now it’s like ‘Shit, I need to dream bigger’. I never in a million years thought I could do this, with no financial support. I never thought I’d be here at 23. I thought it would take me until I was 30 to be even where I am now. So when I try and give up, I have to keep proving to myself that I can do this. If I got this far I can go all the way. Just keep doing it.” Before we finish up, Betsy stops and says, “That’s the secret you know, If you just keep chasing it after it will eventually get closer and closer to you. Just never stop doing your thing.”