BY ADINAWA ADJAGBODJOU
CAN YOU START BY INTRODUCING YOURSELF?
My name is Claira Janover. I am 23 years old. I am an off-cycle senior at Harvard, graduating in May 2021. Something that’s always been very meaningful to me is being opinionated, outspoken, and having conversations that I think a lot of people don’t have because it’s draining, exhausting, and sort of provocative to reconcile with. And I don’t mean that I’m the type of person who tries to initiate really controversial or provocative conversations. But just being someone who has a willingness to speak up, when things come up that I think should be addressed, and it has been a huge learning process for me to just not let ignorance slide by. And I think that a lot of people are still learning about that and everyone to each their own, but it’s been something that’s been very meaningful to me.
I want to just ask in your own words, what you would say are the parts of your identity that are kind of most central to your being.
Aspects of my identity, well gender, race, religion. I’m a mixed race, Asian Jewish girl, obviously frames me a lot. I’m so outspoken on racial and gender politics.
It’s something that is super important to me. But I also feel like I would want to think that I would have that independently of being a person of color. The values that are true and important to me, like speaking up, in instances of injustice or not tolerating, inexcusable, offensive bigoted behavior and not letting the world decide who I am.
Having that agency over who I am and who I want the world to consider me as is so crucial because I didn’t even for a second question whether or not I was going to correct a lot of the disinformation about me that was being spread to millions.
Can you tell me more about the role that creativity plays in your own life, and the role it can play in moving movements forward?
Yeah, I think creativity, artistically, is something that I grew up with. I grew up going to a performing arts school. So I kind of grew up with more creativity than not. And I think that my direction out of that really just became part of the conventional lifestyle, where you prioritize keeping your head down and working. And even we see this now, like the fact that, you know, I got so much criticism [this past summer] was because I wasn’t being this head down, polite, quiet girl. And I think creativity oftentimes stems from that, indirect dissent and indirect rebellion against constructs of conformity, as cliche as that sounds.
And so I think to be creative and ambitious towards something that is what you want to do creatively or artistically, whatever it is, is its own act like a beautiful defiance. And so I feel as though I’ve gotten really creatively stunted sometimes, and then sometimes I’ll feel really motivated. But it’s something that I personally can’t force, but I get so much out of watching other people’s ongoing creativity because there’s so much of it everywhere.
I see you have some awesome earrings on, so how do you present yourself to the world, are there any other ways that you express yourself?
Yeah, it’s really, when I was young, I wanted to be an artist. I played six instruments, I danced etc. it was so much of my life. And then as I got older and kind of transitioned into the conformist mentality, I really found myself being numbed in terms of my creative mindset.
I still love listening to music. I have such a fascination and interest in really most genres of music. And since college, I have quite often altered my appearance. I’ve modified it in ways that were just fun, like haircuts and dyeing my hair or piercing my ears or getting tattoos. Ultimately, things are just really inconsequential. They don’t fundamentally change me, but are just great. But mostly in terms of expression for me, it has just been largely either finding out or reminding myself who I am outside of what other people think or cultivate, which has been really helpful.
What do you think is the role of just fashion or beauty as an industry? What do you think is the potential of it to intersect with just empowering people?
Well, I mean, I can say a heck of a lot about how messed up the beauty industry is and how Eurocentric and skinny centric and unhealthy it is to the body and racial images of especially young women, but also, everyone growing up.
But there’s also a lot that I think is very powerful about it. It’s been interesting for me to exist in a culture, an industry, with social media, where so much of it stands for everything that I stand against. But so much of it also promotes what I’m for.
And then you have incidents with Victoria’s Secret which is so narrow, and basically says skinny, gorgeous women sell, and that’s legitimately proven by advertisement and data collection. Right, but then you have people who are really branching out of that like Rihanna and Halsey and Dove.
So we need to shift, right? And seeing these pioneers for empowerment have been so remarkable like trans people or people of color that are models or actors and actresses.
But I have been in the mindset of we can have these small victories and still recognize that there’s more to be done. Similarly with Harry styles on the Vogue cover, things like that, yes, it’s remarkable, but also noting that this isn’t new. A man dressing in feminine attire has not been new. But also is a very meaningful transition in terms of the Vogue industry to have this man with a dress on a cover.
So I think having these discussions is wonderful and purposeful and something a lot of people don’t do and reflect on, but I think for a lot of young girls, seeing women that they identify with in terms of their gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, religion, it does so much more than I think people were originally aware of.
And I just want to keep seeing those shifts towards not only brands that promote essentially people of color that are wider people of color, like mixed race or like light-skinned people and promoting and internalizing colorism. Again, that’s not the fault of light skinned or mixed girls, speaking as a mixed girl, you know, but it is something that’s, I look at crazy rich Asians and I wish that more of the cast were full Asian. And then I look at these, you know, black female pioneers in the acting and entertainment industry. And I wish that there were more dark-skinned or fully black women. And I think that that’s something that you can acknowledge, but also realize how tremendously of strides it is to have Kerry Washington and Zendaya being part of this.
You know, the idea that people and characters and fame can exist, right, without your race being the token in it. You can exist beyond just your race. And I think that that’s been a really great, great thing about ideally progressing within the beauty and fashion industry.
Thinking about by the time you’re the age of our grandparents, what do you hope that you perhaps have helped to change?
I mean a weird goal of mine is to be a grandma and to have my grandchildren or my children explaining some sort of progressive movement to me, where I’m that adult who’s like, wait, what, I’ve never heard of that. You know, I remember when my mom was first trying to understand sexuality, she genuinely did not understand bisexuality. She was a very liberal woman, and she supported it entirely, but she was like, I don’t get it.
And I think that I want to have one of those, “Whoa, my entire construct of how a society should exist is being changed and altered because of this transformative and evolving societal standard over time with new generations.” I think that I want that. I hope my grandchildren will be alive –given the global warming climate–but it’s something that I want.
I don’t need my kids or my grandkids to be politicians or activists, but I think that being outspoken and passionate is something that I want to be an example for my children and the people in my life. Kids always come back to their roots.
If you grow up understanding what justice is and what is needed to achieve it, you’re going to come back to it. And I kind of trust that’ll happen with my kids and grandkids, hopefully.
So I’m hoping that in generations to come, we look back at this really messed up series of events of the last few years and are just like that was the equivalent of the McCarthyism Red Scare. That was just such an unfortunate episode of history that no one wants to acknowledge and we’ve moved far enough past.
From the experiences you had last year with your social media following, and seeing disadvantages and challenges that come as a result, how has that shaped how you move forward?
I don’t know how to answer this without either sounding bleak or pretentious. But I think that a lot of crappy things have happened to me in my life. Just like a lot of great things have happened. And although I’ve had a wonderful support system throughout my life, I kind of grew up in instability and tumult, and I think that resilience is something that just, unfortunately, I never really had another option to be.
My mom was a single mom. She was a huge, radical liberal union organizer, high school teacher and we grew up very low income with a lot of housing instability and moved around a lot, and so for me, like getting into Harvard was such a dream come true. And so all of the plight that I’ve had throughout my time at Harvard, I’ve tried to maintain the understanding that at the end of the day it will be okay.
I have this huge cushion and this huge privilege, right? Like, even though I’m not a white, wealthy man, who has that to fall back on, I have a Harvard network now. I have the Harvard experience and education, and I have this pool of people that have come to my rescue and really supported me. I think that that’s been something that I’ve been trying to remind myself of to continue to push through.