Photography by: Lisa Cole
Cindy Whitehead is a 70’s pro skateboarder who was inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame in 2016. Cindy coined the term "Sports Stylist®," and has had a career as a fashion stylist for the past 25 years specializing in sports, with companies like Gatorade, Nike, the NBA, as well as pro & Olympic athletes. She is also the founder of Girl is NOT a 4 Letter Word – a movement that strives to give women in action sports the same opportunities and recognition as their male counterparts. Cindy is the author of the book “It’s Not About Pretty: A Book About Radical Skater Girls”.
Girls At Library: What was the name of the first book you fell in love with, that turned you into a lifelong reader?
Cindy Whitehead: Probably Where The Wild Things Are – I was enthralled with Max and wanted to live in his cool world. As a young adult, the book that kept me going was Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. That book was probably the most talked about YA book of its time, I was on the library wait list until I couldn’t stand it anymore and begged my mom to buy me a copy. Every girl I knew read it back then. It dealt with subjects other YA books had not touched yet (sex, body development, and how Margaret and her friends handled it) and some parents didn’t want their kids reading it. Later on it was Dove by Robin Lee Graham, who was just 16 when he started sailing around the world on his 24-foot boat.
GAL: Who is your favorite author?
CW: S.E. Hinton because I loved her stories about rad kids like Ponyboy Curtis in The Outsiders, and her characters in Rumble Fish. The fact that she used her initials and not her given name as an author (so you didn’t know if the author was male or female and there were no preconceived notions). Hinton was also the first author I ever wrote to as a pre-teen and she answered me back and encouraged my love for reading and writing – I still have that note. She was only in high school when she wrote The Outsiders.
GAL: What is the power of story? Some ways in which fictional narratives have impacted you and your life.
CW: The power of a great story is that it takes you into a place, a time, and immerses you with people whose lives you become invested in. It has the ability to transport you to other places without every leaving home, to make you discover, learn and wonder. Characters like Max from Where The Wild Things Are and Mowgli from The Jungle Book made me believe that I could have an adventurous childhood and be anything I wanted to be. Harriett the Spy made me want to be a writer and a spy, Nancy Drew made me want to solve mysteries. Books give me the freedom to imagine and dream. As an adult, biographies are my inspiration – showing me strong women and men that achieved something amazing, and their triumphs and hardships along the way.
GAL: Do you have a current – or “forever” – favorite book?
CW: Alpine racer Picabo Street’s autobiography Nothing To Hide. She talks about how after a massive crash, where she was unable to ski and needed intensive surgery and rehab, she lost all her muscle mass and became an average size woman – that could go shopping and fit into a smaller size of clothing. At first she was excited about being like everyone else but when she got back to training and she wasn’t as fast as she once was, she came to realize that her body was meant to be bigger and stronger for a reason – so she could power down the mountain and go fast, and that everyone’s body is meant to do something – not to look like everyone else. It’s a great lesson that I tell girls when they complain about their size or shape, thinking they are supposed to look like that girl they see on social media.
GAL: How has literature or biography influenced your career?
CW: I’ve always loved biographies even when I was little. I think the first book I read on a female that really resonated with me is Jessica Savitch, the reporter. I thought she was what I wanted to be when I grew up! I think biographies provided me an insight to a world of possibilities. My fiction books always gave me an escape. Going to other places and other worlds. Biographies, even as an adult, are great life tools.
GAL: How does it feel to have your skateboarding jersey hanging next to Muhammed Ali’s boxing jersey?
CW: They’re actually in drawers in the Smithsonian, not hanging up. They’re housed with protective paper to keep them preserved. It's very cool. In a word: surreal. It’s surreal.
GAL: You’re a sports stylist. Are there athletic clothing companies ones run by women that you love? Or ones you source from for your work?
CW: I source from a lot of different places. It depends on what’s going on in the shoot. One site I look at constantly is Carbon38. They showcase things from all different brands. Aether is another one. I love that site. Also sheshreds.co. I love what Patagonia does. They really do give back to the world and support their workers.
GAL: What stories do you endeavor to tell in your photoshoots and through styling?
CW: It depends. A lot of my work is for advertising which is about what the client would like to see and the story they would like to tell, and it’s up to me to simply execute it. Yesterday we shot a look book for my brand Girl is NOT a 4 Letter Word so it was my vision and the photographer’s vision the entire time. It was totally up to us and of course I love that. What I like to see most are strong, powerful girls and women having fun, living a lifestyle that you look at those pictures and go “MAN, she’s happy, she’s cool, she’s rad – I wanna be that girl! I want my life to emulate her life. She’s having a great time.” I also like to have powerful images that are very strong and show strong women. That’s always what I’m hoping for when a brief comes in. More and more, the shoots are becoming about strong women. You attract what you put out there, and I suppose if someone wanted those gratuitous sexual images, they would see my work and not want to hire me. I’m not about that.
GAL: What do you think about brands that capitalize on feminism in destructive and antithetical ways? How do you feel about Ivanka Trump’s brand?
CW: It’s a mixed message. I don’t even look at her brand, and really, it just goes across my radar quickly. I don’t think about it. I’m concentrated on the positive aspects of the people I believe in that are doing strong, good work. I notice the controversy around it, but I don’t notice the brand.
GAL: Well, it deeply bothers me so I always wonder if it bothers other people. Her hashtag, #womenwhowork, drives me insane. Women have always worked, Ivanka. In the home, taking care of their families, when they didn’t have the option to go out and earn a living. It’s absurd.
CW: It’s a novelty to the Park Avenue princess. Her friends perhaps didn’t work and everybody’s different. I understand people do different things in this life but don’t pretend you’re something you’re not. That’s what I have a problem with. I like authenticity. When I see people who aren’t, I just ignore them. I don’t have time for that. I have such a huge battle with getting women seen and heard in skateboarding. I started realizing after the election that I had to focus in on one specific battle. I support many other battles peripherally, but I had to pick one to really use my energy for. After the election, when we didn’t get what we thought we’d be getting, I realized that we have to work 15 times as hard. We’ve been pushed back decades. I’ve been sitting here watching The Handmaid's Tale every week and it’s scaring the shit out of me.
GAL: Have you read the book?
CW: No. I will.
GAL: It’s not impossible to imagine it happening.
CW: No, it’s not. It’s terrifying. She had the ability to see kind of what’s going to happen in the future.
GAL: We have the power to continue to fight the good fight.
GAL: We have a friend who has a “Sanity Shelf” dedicated to books she returns to again and again, to re-read for pleasure, knowledge, and solace. What books would be on your Sanity Shelf?
CW: I keep almost all the books I have read, but to be honest, as an adult I usually don’t re-read most of them – I seek out new books that interest me and get me motivated or make me smile. I crave something new to read and there are so many choices out there!
GAL: How do you choose the books you read?
CW: Write-ups in magazines, friend’s recommendations, and just spending time browsing in the bookstore. A great cover or write-up on the back will sell me on a book as well.
GAL: Do you have a current favorite reading spot?
CW: In bed before going to sleep – it reminds me of when I was a kid and used to read for hours each night – way past my bedtime usually, and I’d get caught with a flashlight reading under the covers.
GAL: Or – can you read anywhere - place is not important?
CW: I can read anywhere and I definitely do – waiting at the doctor’s office, plane rides, passenger seat of car, beach, doesn’t matter to me if I am engrossed in a good book!
GAL: Is it important for you to physically hold a book you read? Or can you read on a device with no problem and no impact on the experience?
CW: I need to physically hold a book and turn the pages – I am not a fan of reading my books on a device.
GAL: How often do you read? Every day? Six hours a week? Please estimate.
CW: I read every day – I start with the LA Times every single morning over breakfast – it gets delivered to my door the old fashioned way. On Sunday I read both the LA Times and The New York Times. I pick up a magazine when I have some free time throughout the day and in the evening I like to settle in with a good book – I sometimes am reading three at once – jumping back and forth between them, depending on my mood. I cannot imagine my day without reading.
GAL: Who is the most overrated male author?
CW: I don’t know about overrated, but I’ve had something on my mind about James Frey for awhile. Remember when that whole Oprah thing came out? It was discovered that his novel wasn’t a memoir as he said it was? I did not read it, but people said they loved it. I kept thinking to myself, if this same controversy had happened to a woman, I don’t know if she would’ve come back from it. But I knew, because of male celebrities and everything I see with male athletes, that within a year or two of lying low, the book would come back and he would come back stronger than ever. And I don’t fault him for that. But, that’s the discrepancy between men and women and how society deals with your failures and your faults.
GAL: Please name three books you recommend reading, and the reasons for your choices.
CW: Find a Way by Diana Nyad because the story of how she tried to swim from Cuba to Florida four times and failed and then at age 64 did the swim a fifth time and made it, is so inspiring and uplifting. It makes you realize you are never too old to follow your dreams and even if you don’t succeed at first you always keep the dream alive and keep trying.
To Kill a Mockingbird - you probably read it in high school but it’s a story that could just as easily be set in 2017 as well. It’s a reminder to challenge the status quo, ask questions, stand up and speak out when you see something is not right. And Scout is a pretty badass tomboy, which I absolutely love.
Where the Wild Things Are – it’s important to not lose your childlike sense of wonder as an adult, and this book reminds you of that.