Michelle Hansen

Photo: Sergio Kurhajec, Courtesy of Michelle Hansen

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Michelle Hansen
Age: 37
When I was a teenager in Stockton, California, my style was shaped by the music I listened to, especially the Cure. With my very pale skin, dark eyes, and black lipstick, I thought I seemed unique—almost masculine. At 22 I moved to San Francisco with my first boyfriend, also a Goth kid. My unconventional look fit our identity as a couple, but it also became a mask for me to hide behind even after the relationship ended. By 29 I still hadn't figured out who I was. Instead, I played a character—I was afraid to show my true self.

But that fear disappeared right before my 30th birthday after my dad challenged me to go skydiving. I agreed to do it, and as soon as I landed, I knew I had to take control of my life. I thought, "If I can jump out of a plane at 10,000 feet, I can do anything—I'm going to move to New York!"

Being on my own felt like a kind of rebirth. My first job in the city was as a coat-check girl at an Art Deco cocktail lounge, where I'd sit in my little booth and read books about the 1920s that featured women who embraced their power and femininity. The experience inspired me to reveal my softer side. It felt so natural to choose nice dresses that showed my figure, wear high heels, and grow out my hair. When I was younger, I thought I had to make my mark by looking tough and extreme. Now I have a delicate exterior, but I know I'm stronger than I've ever been.


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