Spotlight: Sailor Brinkley-Cook

By Ty Wenzel & Jessica Mackin-Cipro

Sailor Brinkley-Cook believes that a model can be not only a pretty face, but also a loud voice. She started modeling as a teenager to much success — following in her mother Christie Brinkley’s footsteps — and among her many talents, she has been an advocate for body inclusivity within the industry. She has been vocal about her struggles with body dysmorphia, and hopes to help others feel less alone. The East Ender believes in being her own hero, because “everyone should be their own hero,” she tells us.

Her photography work is impressive — she even shot her own photos for this Covid-safe James Lane Post cover shoot — and her recent stint on “Dancing With The Stars” brought much national attention just prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

We caught up with Sailor to talk about all of it, from lessons learned through the pandemic to what’s most important in life, and how her family is her home base, her beginning, and her end.

Growing up on the East End, Sailor reflects on how it has inspired her down-to-earth, grounded mentality and how the sense of community has inspired her life.

How did growing up on the East End influence the person you are today?

I think people that don’t live out here year round have a lot of misconceptions about the East End. Most people assume that it’s just filled with constant parties, luxury, and excess. My perception of the East End is an area filled with lovely, down-to-earth people that put their hearts and hard work into the environment and the local community. When I moved to the city after high school I came to appreciate my upbringing out here even more. Everything moves at a less rushed pace and there’s such a strong community that’s really wholesome and special. After school my friends and I would drive to Montauk and get smoothies, hike the dunes, and spend time together. Growing up out here really allowed me to have a normal childhood where I didn’t feel the pressure to grow up too fast. It really shaped me to always maintain a down-to-earth, grounded mentality no matter what happens in my life.

What does the perfect day on the East End look like to you?

My perfect day would definitely be spending the day outdoors with my friends. There’s so much natural beauty out here and so many secret spots to hang out at and hike that feel really unaffected and organic. I love hiking the trail systems we have out here, or walking out to Cedar Point, or just going to a less popular beach that feels secluded and special.

What are a few of your favorite places on the East End (restaurants, beaches, markets)?

Right now one of my favorite food spots is out on Shelter Island, a French restaurant called Marie Eiffel. My family and I sat outside there, Covid-friendly, this summer and had the most delicious meal and Marie the owner is the sweetest woman who makes you feel right at home. I also love Tutto Il Giorno as well as Provisions in Sag Harbor. I’ve been eating Provisions since before I can remember, their food is a staple in my life and it’s all whole, organic ingredients that are so nourishing. As for my favorite beaches . . . well I’m not going to give those secret spots away!

On social media you lift up others and encourage body confidence, celebrating imperfections, and creating an authentic image. How have your followers reacted/engaged? Why is this important to you?

It’s super important to me to be transparent about my imperfections on social media because I just can’t imagine being a young person growing up in the social media age and how damaging it must be to unconsciously compare yourself to so many people daily. I dealt with a multitude of body image issues and self esteem issues growing up, so I’m super thoughtful of what I post in relativity to the young people that are looking up to me. I want them to know that they are heard, they are beautiful and so worthy of a happy life. No matter what they might be going through, they are not alone, they have the strength to overcome anything, and they deserve to believe in the beauty of their natural selves. I’ve struggled with how to properly use my social media for something good, outside of sharing selfies that really don’t serve much of a purpose. Recently, especially during the pandemic, I find that sharing inspiring words of self-love and overcoming hardship is the most useful way to use my social media. A lot of people have reached out to me saying thank you for sharing what I do because they didn’t think anyone else felt the way they did and it’s comforting to know they’re not alone. That, to me, is the most fulfilling and important way to use my platform right now.

You have been open about your struggles with body dysmorphia, thank you for that. Do you believe that by speaking out, it has helped reshape the modeling industry to be more body inclusive in recent years? Where do you think we can do better?

I strongly believe in the power of talking things out and that the more that you vocalize a struggle the less power it’s capable of having over you. I think, recently, the world has become more open to truly listening to and having empathy for those “uncomfortable topics” that we all go through and because of that so many people have become more transparent on social media and in interviews saying, “hey I dealt with this and I don’t want you to deal with it too, so let me talk about it and how I came out the other side.” or “Hey, I deal with this and it’s okay if you deal with it too, you’re not alone.” Those are really important conversations to start having and hearing something from another person’s perspective is always eye-opening. When it comes to my struggles with my body issues and depression; I’m in a headspace where I’m thinking hey, if there’s anything useful I can do with that pain that I felt at my worst, it would be to help make sure no one else feels as alone as I did when I went through it. Not only do I hope that me being open about these things helps someone else, but it also helps me by making those demons less scary and more of what they really are, natural parts of life that with time and putting in work you can get a hold of. I also definitely see a massive shift in the modeling industry, not only with the inclusivity of body types but also in the willingness to share a model’s story and present each model as an individual with a lot to say. That’s a really beautiful thing to see, that a model can be a pretty face and a loud voice.

How do you achieve healthy mind, body, and spirit balance, especially during current times?

Everything starts with gratitude. I have days where I get so upset, I miss the world, I miss my friends, I miss any shred of my normal life. But then I always remind myself how absolutely blessed I am. I am healthy, my family is healthy, I have a roof over my head, food on my dinner table. I constantly keep myself in check and count my blessings daily. There is so much pain in the world at the moment, to keep ourselves afloat we just have to focus on the good. I’ve been really listening to my body and mind as well. I’ve been prioritizing daily movement, I like dancing or going for a run or doing yoga, really any kind of energy release that feels good at the moment. I also don’t get upset with myself when the world feels heavy and I can’t get as much done as I planned to. I’m moving through my days with grace and doing my personal best. I can’t wait till we’re all vaccinated!

The past year has been challenging. Any reflections? What has the experience taught you?

I think, first and foremost, it has taught us the fragility of life. How quickly our worlds can be turned upside down. One minute you’re dancing in a crowded room with your friends and the next you’re cooped up in your apartment scared and alone. This has been a heartbreaking year. I think if there’s a silver lining it would be that this year of isolation has really forced me to sit with myself in a way I don’t think I ever would have if it weren’t for a global pandemic. I’m very reliant on my close friends and love to be around them most of the time so I hadn’t truly spent this much time with myself ever. I love to travel, move around, and do multiple things at once. I never thought that was a bad thing but I realized it was a lot of distracting myself from things I didn’t want to face. This year gave me the time and space to face them and figure them out. I describe the quarantine experience as like one big sauna we’re all in, and we’re all sweating out the things we never wanted to come out and finally detoxing our lives. It’s pretty beautiful how we’re all really collectively transforming.

Tell us a little about your experience on “Dancing With The Stars” –  you’re so talented!

“Dancing with the Stars” was such an awesome experience. Being on the show was a really life changing moment for me. I don’t think I could truly sum up the whole experience in one interview answer! I had never, ever thought I would be able to perform, let alone DANCE, on a stage in front of anyone. I’m such a big fan of dancers, musicians, and Broadway performers. I’m really obsessed with the arts but I always thought I would be on the outside of it and never thought I had the guts to do it myself. Being sort of pushed onto DWTS after my mom’s injury was a push I really, really needed in my life. It changed my perception of what I’m capable of and it felt like a whole new side of my world was unveiled to me. I was paralyzingly nervous every single time I went up on that stage. But the second Val and I would finish our dance it was such a rush, like a massive adrenaline high. I wouldn’t be able to stop smiling. And I loved dancing so much. I loved the whole experience. The practices were so fun and filled with the most amazing energy. Everyone on the show was so lovely and welcoming, and for the time I was on it I really felt like a part of a big, beautiful showbiz family. I cried so hard when I got voted off, not because I was pissed I was getting voted off a TV show, but because I was going to miss the people and that energy so much. Overall I’ll forever be so grateful for my time on the show and will never stop telling stories about my time on it. Haha!

We love your photography! As a photographer, what inspires you?

Thank you! I’ve got to start taking more photos. Photography was my first love in life. Photography has always been something I’ve been drawn to and I’ll always be drawn to. I love looking at beautiful photographs. I went to a school that was very encouraging of following your passions so I started taking daily photography classes by the time I was in 8th grade. I worked with film and developed my photos in the darkroom the first year and I think that’s where I really fell in love. I loved watching the picture appear on the paper during the developing process, I think it’s the closest thing to magic I’ve experienced. Photography is literally Latin for drawing with light. That’s so cool. So from that I get really inspired by beautiful light because it reminds me of that darkroom process, the dark black tones and the light white tones. I also get inspired by people. I haven’t been doing any intentionally set up shoots recently but I always bring around a disposable camera or my point and shoot and take photos of my friends. I think in the near future though, with some of the projects I’m working on, photography will definitely take up a bigger role in my life.

What do you think we can learn from the past year? How can we do better?

Wear a mask!!!! Get vaccinated! And please think of how it will affect others when you choose to make a reckless decision.

Who are your heroes and why?

My friends and my family are my heroes. And I’m my own hero. My family is my home base, my beginning, and my end. They inspire me daily and we’re all so different, there’s never a dull conversation in this house. And my friends are my sounding boards. Just like my family members, all my friends are so different from one another and each teach me a different lesson when I catch up with them. I don’t know where I’d be if it weren’t for my friends. I have like five really close friends and they’ve supported me in all the phases of my life and inspire me to be my best. I’m so grateful for them. And lastly, I’m my own hero because everyone should be their own hero. I could list off a bunch of inspiring celebrities as my heroes, but I think it’s the people you interact with daily, especially yourself, who you learn from the most. Jane Fonda isn’t going to be there for me at three in the morning when I need a pep-talk, but I’ll be there!

What are you working on? What do you hope to accomplish in the next year or so?

I’m working on an exciting project right now. I’m keeping it to myself for the time being but it’s something that I feel is really in tune with what I want to do in this life and I can’t wait for it to be out in the world.

An East End Experience

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