The fourth extraordinary woman featured in our This Woman portrait and interview series is the magnetic Anisa Marie. This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing co-producer and actor Beth Thompson sat down with Anisa recently to talk entrepreneurship, inspiration, empire-building, and returning to your first first love.
Photos by Lava Alapai
When Anisa Marie walks into the room, you’re almost bowled over by her presence. She’s grounded. She’s bright. You know she’s listening to you. So, you perk up. You offer yourself. Additionally, your skin pricks to inform you she’s ready to take over the world. She’s been walking up the mountain proudly, steadily, and quickly for years. Owner of Best Brows in Portland, model and actress, I was introduced to Anisa through her mentorship work with young women.
I begin by asking her what made her want to express her leadership through business ownership.
“Well, I don’t like being told what to do. And so, after years of kind of being in the retail world (which it was connected to spa and makeup which is in line with what I want to do, but it wasn’t really fulfilling in any way, it was more about sales and making somebody else rich) and I was like, ‘Well, why am I just spinning my wheels here and not going anywhere? I’m over it.’”
“Since I was eight I’ve always said that I was going to have my own empire so this is kind of like the first step to me.”
She isn’t done with her work yet (Anisa strikes me as the kind of woman who will never think the work is done, there will always be more beauty to bring into the world) and the path has been circuitous.
“Up until my first year in design school, my first love was babies. So I worked with babies, worked in a daycare, ended up running that daycare, took a short break and started working at another daycare, and was like, ‘I’m going to have my own daycare one day,’ and then…I got burnt out. I was like, ‘Maybe this is not it. Maybe I should go to my first first love, which is fashion and art.’ So I went and did design school full time. And then something happened with my financial aid where I wasn’t able to go anymore, so I had to drop out, and that killed me. So instead of staying depressed about that… because my big thing was, ‘I’m going to have my own design line, it’s going to be on the runway, we’re going to go to Paris.’ and then a year and a half in I had to drop out. It was so devastating. But then that following year I was in beauty school. And from there I went to a spa, and I was like, ‘This is going to be great, I’m going a new direction, fashion and beauty go hand in hand.’ Six months into school I meet this lady, she’s like, ‘I have a spa. You can come out, work for me. I’m all about empowering women.’ And that didn’t work out.”
“I wasn’t really being fulfilled because I’m this big,” she said, spreading her arms as wide as the horizon, “but I’m living this small little nine-to-five type of role.”
“I decided I wasn’t going to let my failures lead me, and I wasn’t going to hide anymore, so the opportunity to be a business owner came. I always wanted to own my own business. And it may not be what everyone thinks is the best thing for me right now, but it’s what I want to do so I’m going to go for it. And from there challenges completely happen. I just continue to meditate on what my empire looks like.”
This story is one of the ways Anisa’s real world experience reflects the mythical story of the sisters in This Girl Laughs… Their journey leads them to serve in things they’re good at, but aren’t necessarily good for them. Then, they change. They try something old, something they’ve always loved, but in new ways that allow for a fuller expression of their truth. Throughout our conversation, inspiration is a regular refrain for Anisa. It feels like such a grounding touchstone that I ask her to tell me more about what it means for her.
“I think being an inspiration, what it means to me is being real about your challenges. Being more transparent, but also working to get past it so you’re not always the victim, but more the victor. So like, ‘Hey, I’ve had this challenge, I used to have really low self-esteem. I used to be suicidal.’ And so overcoming that and my journey to find healing I think can inspire and does inspire a lot of people, because that’s one of those secret battles I think most people deal with that we don’t talk about. So, with being more transparent and saying, ‘Hey, I’m a business-owner, I’m a model, I’m an actor’ – People are always telling me ‘just choose one thing.’ Why do you have to choose one thing? That’s boring. Like, don’t put me in a box. I hate boxes. I’m claustrophobic. – I think that alone is inspiring. Like, I think anything that inspires me will inspire someone else, so I just choose to share.”
“So my main challenge, what all my challenges kind of stemmed from was that I was molested as a kid, so like from the age eight to about seventeen by a family member. So, you go through just not feeling safe. Feeling like there is something wrong with you that this is happening. Feeling unloved because no-one else is stopping it. So all those things kind of like snowballed into huge..like being emotional all the time, really seeking approval and attention from other people and so, my inspiration kind of stemmed from lack of what I felt I didn’t have.”
“And so, instead of staying in that place of lack, because I don’t like to feel angry, I don’t like to feel sad. I don’t like to feel ‘less than’, I’m like, okay, how can I get myself out of this, because clearly no one else is going to rescue me. So, I have to rescue myself.”
“So from that I was like, ‘Okay, well, what makes me feel pretty: clothes. Okay, well maybe I’ll just design some clothes.’ So it started there, and I was like, ‘What else helps me feel pretty? Makeup!’ And I’m like, ‘I’m already an artist, Oh, I’m kind of good at this!’ How do I continue to build my skills, and then how can I put that onto other people? Because I found out later, I’m not the only one who’s dealt with these challenges. It’s actually pretty common, people just don’t talk about it.”
“And so, finding what makes me feel better, I found, helps other people feel better too. So, it just kind of helped me focus more on how can I be a blessing to other people, rather than just focusing on myself because if I focus on myself I stay small, but I want to be huge. Like, empire? What? That’s not light work. So I’ve got to touch as many lives as possible, and beauty, fashion is so common. And then I find that I’m good at making people laugh and connecting with people, and you know, I take a good picture! So modeling and acting is another outlet that helped me find healing, and be more myself and express myself in a way that was healthy, rather than, you know, trying to kill myself. So I think in doing that, in finding healing and finding what inspires me just snowballed into turning my pain into joy, and then being able to bring that joy to others. So it’s all a healing process, there’s still a long way to go, but there’s a lot more things to do, so I’m fine with that.”
I ask Anisa what challenges she finds she’s facing at this point in her journey and what tools she’s using to address those challenges. True to form, she’s simply honest.
“A major challenge I’m dealing with right now is being a black female actress and model here in the Northwest. It’s opening up more, but historically it’s been a major challenge. Not a lot of roles. But in that, I’m starting to create my own roles and make my own videos. Like, I auditioned for this fashion line to be a model, they didn’t choose me, so I guess I’ll design my own clothes and model them myself. So just finding different ways, and creating something out of that place of lack and choosing joy and moving forward rather than to be stuck in those challenges.”
Choosing joy and moving forward. That commitment and the power of her attention are the qualities that create that sensation of being bowled over as Anisa walks in the room. Ready to offer, ready to receive, and open to inspire and be inspired.