He was the leading male in Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, a breath of fresh air in the boredom of the fashion industry, and someone to look up to when it comes about beauty.
Rick Genest was born in LaSalle, Montreal, and since childhood caught the attention of many. A French Canadian in an English speaking school, the second survivor in North America of a highly complicated medical procedure (where he received his nickname, Zombie Boy, after a brain tumor was removed with laser surgery), and a goth during high school, made him realize and accept the fact that he was never going to blend in.
During his punk rock years, he realized that turning 21 is that moment when adulthood comes along so:
“Realizing that I was becoming and adult and that was time to start thinking about a career path in life, it was time to start to making more adult decisions. So, I got my face tattooed like a skull.”
At 22, the whole creation of his body length tattoo was finished, and his particular style led him to appear in tattoo magazines and National Geographic. He eventually got discovered by Nicola Formichetti, who was creative director for Mugler, and chose him to be part of the advertising campaign of the company. Formichetti, who has worked for Lady Gaga, was the connection between Zombie Boy and the singer. Fame was just around the corner and in matter of months he was walking the runway at Paris Fashion Week.
Genest was a fresh face in a multimillion industry that depicts beauty as a boring, restrained, monochromatic, and limited concept. “To blend in or to stand out? That, my friends, is the question”, Genest stated in his 2017 TedTalk. He was one of the first models to embrace uniqueness and to stand against “normality” since this is just a matter of context, an ever-changing illusion.
Six days before turning 33 years old he was found dead at his home in Montreal. Police classified the situation as suicide. However, the boy that became a man taught us an everlasting lesson: that our peculiarities, our rarities, our unconformity is what makes us beautiful:
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, that’s what they say. It changes from person to person. Everybody has their own opinion and their own ideas on what beauty is. It’s gotta come from the inside, it’s gotta be personal and if you are true and genuine I find that beautiful.”
“Our environment is what defines what is to be considered the normality as each and one of us is the living proof of that”. In a society of the “ignorant and the chipper”, one that satanizes suicide and looks down on the conversation regarding mental health, Zombie Boy invites us to question ourselves: do we want to blend in or to stand out? We all deserve to be listened. We all deserve the chance to be vulnerable. We all deserve help and caring. We all better stand out; to ask for or to give help. But never, ever to blend in.
If you are struggling or feel the need to talk to someone, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255