Ten years ago, Amanda de Cadenet began working on an essay about the difference between love and obsession. It turned into the third chapter of her new book, “It’s Messy: On Boys, Boobs, and Badass Women.”
De Cadenet spent years in unhealthy relationships with men. At one point, an old lover tried to strangle her while she was in a bathtub. Before that, a drunken boyfriend trapped her in a bedroom, forcing her to escape out a second-floor window and hide in a trashcan for hours.
“It wasn’t that I wasn’t smart,” de Cadenet told The Lily. “It wasn’t that I didn’t know better. I just wasn’t compelled to spend time with people who weren’t dysfunctional.”
After the violence, de Cadenet would still come back to these men. Why?
“Why does anyone?” she asks in her book. “I stayed because I didn’t believe I was lovable. I stayed because I didn’t believe I deserved better. I stayed because I didn’t believe that anyone would ever love me again.”
Eventually, de Cadenet sought help to deal with her love addiction, which came from “a huge lack of sense of self,” she said.
“As you repair that sense of self, you understand that no one can fix you,” de Cadenet said. “And if they could, a lot of us would’ve been fixed a long time ago. Nobody can do it other than you.”
“It’s Messy” is not a memoir. While de Cadenet’s essays are deeply personal, she doesn’t always go into detail. And while she offers some advice, “It’s Messy” is not a self-help book, she says. Instead, de Cadenet uses stories from her own life to illustrate issues women often face, such as sexism in the workplace and postpartum depression.
“The details may be different, but the experiences are not that different,” she explains.
The details that differ from the average reader’s past are hard to miss: Growing up in London, de Cadenet’s neighbors were Jane Birkin and Mick Jagger. Her mother was a model turned interior designer, and her father was a well-known Le Mans race car driver. The couple split. After de Cadenet ran away from home and spent time in a juvenile detention center, she became the host of “The Word,” a popular late-night show in Britain. Then, at 19, she gave birth to her first daughter, Atlanta, and married the baby’s father, Duran Duran’s bass player. When de Cadenet grew tired of their fast-paced lifestyle, the young family left London for Los Angeles and started over.
Then again, haven’t we all struggled when our parents’ marriages turn out to be imperfect? Or felt a shift at work that made us unhappy? Don’t many of us attempt to start over?
De Cadenet is now a successful photographer and an entrepreneur. She runs #girlgaze, a digital media company that highlights female photographers, and interviewed a series of high-profile women — including Hillary Clinton, Issa Rae and Eva Longoria — for her Lifetime show, “The Conversation.” After being in a relationship with Nick Valensiof the Strokes for five years, the couple decided to have a baby. De Cadenet got pregnant at 34 and gave birth to twins, Ella and Silvan.
As de Cadenet points out in her book, we can all relate on some level, especially if you believe, as the author does, that the “universal language of women is kids, career and body image.”
De Cadenet dealt with postpartum depression for two years after her twins were born. She worried about her career, missed her old self and struggled with having two kids at once.
For about five years after she gave birth for the second time, de Cadenet was in survival mode. Now, her youngest children are 10, and she’s trying to figure out how to parent with Donald Trump as president.
A chapter on the subject in “It’s Messy,” begins, “Mom, what’s a pussy?”
At a pivotal moment in de Cadenet’s career, she was a newly single mom living in L.A. She had taken acting classes, but she hated being a struggling actress who was only offered clichéd female roles. Before deciding to dive into the world of professional photography, she asked herself:
“What can I contribute to the world?
What is unique about me?
What brings me joy?
What steps do I need to take to achieve this goal?”
Even today, those questions are important for de Cadenet. Despite achieving success in the media industry, she still experiences disappointments that often feel personal. After interviewing Hillary Clinton on “The Conversation,” de Cadenet took meetings with a series of executives at NBC, MSNBC, CBS, HSN, Vox and Vice.
They were impressed with her skills, they said, but couldn’t quite find a place for her. While her ego took a hit, she reminded herself that “rejection was God’s protection.” If people weren’t willing to offer her opportunities, she would continue to create her own. Less than a year later, #girlgaze came to fruition.
After her second pregnancy, de Cadenet’s body changed drastically. Following a series of failed diets and exercise routines, she longed for a skinnier, tighter version of herself. Then a friend said to her, “What if this is just your new normal?”
Although she still struggles with her body, de Cadenet encourages women to accept what they’ve got and define their own beauty. Society’s definition of what’s beautiful “changes with the seasons,” she says.
If that sounds easier said than done, de Cadenet can relate: