You don’t have to be an adult to be a role model.
Stranger Things star Sadie Sink turns 16.
By Laia Garcia
Photographs by Juergen Teller
Styling by Angelo DeSanto
While we were distracted about what all the millennials were doing or not doing, buying or not buying, and all the ways in which they were purportedly signaling the end of civilization as we know it, Generation Z was born and are now the teenagers leading us into the 21st century: the ones who are making the news and, just like the fashion industry post-#MeToo, finding their way in this world.
Talking to Sadie Sink, the just-turned 16-year-old actress who shot to fame in the second season of the Net ix TV show Stranger Things, you get a sense of what makes this new generation tick. To fashion folks late to the show, perhaps the first time they took note of Sadie Sink was in Miu Miu’s Whispers campaign in December 2017, or when she opened Undercover’s runway show, We Are Infinite, in March this year. With her cultural relevance now cemented, it’s easy to forget that Sink has only been so prominent, and making serious waves alongside her peers, for less than a year.
With all this in mind, Juergen Teller hopped on a plane to spend a day with Sadie Sink, being greeted by her at Newark airport, before photographing her in Miu Miu’s hot-off-the-catwalk Autumn-Winter 2018-19 collection around her New Jersey neighbourhood – together with siblings Jacey and Mitchell, and their chihuahua terrier, Kiko. We then asked New York writer Laia Garcia to speak with Sadie about this moment in time. From navigating the reality of becoming one of the most recognizable faces in popular culture right now, to the personal milestone of having turned 16 two days before – here are the thoughts of a young woman finding her way in the world’s stranger times.
Laia Garcia: Hi Sadie. So first of all, happy birthday, I know your birthday was two days ago.
Thank you, it was. I’m 16 now!
Wow! What did you do for your birthday?
I never really make a big deal out of my birthday. I am not really fond of parties and celebrations like that; I mean I did when I was little, but now I would rather just have dinner with my friends and family rather than a big flashy party. I guess I don’t like people to make a big deal. Of course, I say that, but if people didn’t wish me a happy birthday I would probably be upset!
Did you buy yourself a special birthday present?
You know, I didn’t this year, but maybe I will start doing that. People like my grandma are still asking me what I want for my birthday and I don’t really know, so now she has decided I am a difficult person to buy presents for. I would much rather they donate to a charity than give me anything because I don’t really know what I want.
Have you ever bought yourself anything to commemorate any major achievement in your life, like when you got cast on Stranger Things? Did you treat yourself to anything then?
I don’t think I did, I am trying to think. If I want something I will buy it, but I am not the person who is just going to buy something for the heck of it, you know?
Since we’re on shopping, what was the last thing you bought that you really wanted?
I think our generation has seen the change that needs to be made for our future, and that is why our generation is so powerful.’
That’s a good one. Oh, I suppose I could consider this a birthday present to myself: I got myself one of those stationary Peloton bikes. That was the last thing I bought.
Are you very athletic, do you enjoy working out and exercising and stuff?
Yes, I really like to work out, but I wouldn’t necessarily say I am coordinated sports wise. I can’t do baseball or anything like that. My older brothers are very sporty and are very into football; they each have their own sport.
How did you approach skateboarding then? Did you take classes to prepare for the Stranger Things role? I would be so nervous about getting hurt.
I was really afraid to fall at first, but now it is less of a problem, when you skateboard you kind of have to be fearless; you won’t learn if you don’t attempt the tricks. You will trial these tricks and you probably will fall. At first I was afraid to try tricks because I knew I was going to fall, but my instructor was like, ‘Sadie, you have to do it, you are not going to learn if you don’t try’. So I did and I wiped out, but I did learn in the end, so it’s OK. The first time I fell it was really embarrassing. I was skating up a hill in my neighbourhood and it was my first lesson. There was a neighbour outside her house and she watched me fall at on my face. It hurt really bad, but I didn’t want to cry or anything like that. It hurt so bad, so I was a bit afraid of falling but I got over it.
So you’ve had a crazy last two years. How did you mentally prepare yourself for Stranger Things? Knowing you were entering something that would take you to another level?
There is really no way to prepare yourself; I had no idea what it was going to be like. I knew that Stranger Things had a lot of different worlds that I hadn’t experienced before, but because I had never experienced it I didn’t know how to prepare for it. I just threw myself into it. The main focus was the acting for me. It seems different now. I can’t recognize myself.
Were you nervous?
Not really, I was more excited. There was a lot of speculation going around about my character, Max: who was this new girl; what is she doing; I don’t know if I like this. I was just ready to bring Max out; I wanted to learn about me as a person. Once it came out, it was like a relief. It was really nice when it came out.
When you feel like you want to stop being famous Sadie from Stranger Things and just be regular Sadie, what do you do?
For me, I am always regular Sadie, wherever I am; I feel more regular Sadie than Stranger Things Sadie. In my home town, with my friends, nobody really treats me differently. I have the same group of friends I have had for the past four years, so before any of this. They don’t change around me; they are the same people and treat me like the same Sadie, so I guess when it gets overwhelming, I just go to them.
You are involved in fashion, too. I was wondering what your first experience was with fashion? What first drew your interest?
I have always had an interest in fashion and when I was little I dreamed of becoming a fashion designer. And I would always be sketching dresses and stuff like that. But you know, before Stranger Things, I was never given the opportunity to wear or experience any of the brands that I am able to wear now, those higher-end brands that I can wear on red carpets and in photo shoots. I guess the first experience I had with fashion, when I realized there was more to it, was when I did my first fashion shoot. I remember the stylist brought out all these beautiful dresses by brands I had never even heard of and I was like, wow, there are a lot more brands out there than I thought.
Who was your favourite designer or brand when you were a kid? Who did you look up to?
I didn’t really know any other fashion designers, apart from the smaller brands I was wearing. I guess that was when I was like 10. What was my favourite brand? I want to say something really extravagant like Prada or Chanel, because they are really big and I considered them untouchable.
It is trendy now for people to care about things, to be ‘woke’. But then there are brands that are doing that, too. It’s sometimes hard to tell the difference.
Tell me about your relationship with your stylist. You met her at your first shoot and then kept working with her?
Well, Molly [Dickson] never puts me in anything I don’t feel comfortable in, you know; she is very open to discussing my style and very big on being true to my style. You know, there are a lot of people who will just put me in clothes and say, ‘Yes that is what you are wearing, now go’. You don’t really get your say and that scares me. But with Molly, she never pushes anything or makes me wear any particular brands. She asks me, ‘Do you like this? Is this you? Is this your style?’ And whatever I say, she is OK, and that’s the main reason we really clicked.
You mentioned brands like Prada and Chanel being untouchable. How does it feel now you have access to this world?
It is different, I have a different relationship to these brands. I can touch them, experience and actually wear them now, so they are not so untouchable. I now realize there is more to fashion than things having to match: you can mix things up; you can mix different styles together; you can go crazy... Whatever you feel comfortable in is what works, basically.
Is that how you define your personal style? Comfort?
Comfort is key for me, yes, but also, I wouldn’t really limit myself to one specific style. I like to try all sorts of stuff: I can be edgy sometimes; I can be cute and girlie sometimes; I can be chic. Whatever I am feeling that day. Which is what’s so great about fashion – you are given the opportunity to trial these different styles. I am not very particular about what styles I like; I am willing to try anything, as long as the clothes make me feel happy. You can mix a girlie top with some edgy boots, stuff like that, you can mix it up.
So you are vegan now, but when did you first decide to go vegetarian?
I have been vegan for two years, and it doesn’t seem like a long time for me. I was vegetarian for a year before that. I decided to go vegetarian when I was at this restaurant with my friend; there was this buffet area and this whole roasted pig, and you could see everything. It was so gross. I was super grossed out by it and I realized that that was bacon, ham, pork, the stuff I was eating on a daily basis, but now I was seeing the whole animal and I was totally grossed out. So I questioned bacon and other meat like that. That was when I made the connection, that meat was actual animals and what I was actually putting in my body. That was when I decided to cut out meat. I think a lot of people think that way, too. In America, eating meat is so normal, and people are blinded by what they are eating. But when you can all of a sudden see the animal you are eating, people get grossed out. So that was what convinced me to become vegetarian.
How did your family take it?
I grew up in Texas, where it’s all about barbecues. All my family ate meat, it was the normal thing, and I was blinded by that and thought eating meat was normal. I tried to go vegetarian earlier–I was 11 or 12–and I did for a week, but then we had some family visit and they noticed I wasn’t eating meat and they were like, ‘Hey, you’re not going vegetarian on us, are you?’ And I was like, ‘Oh shoot, am I weird now?’ So I quit, like, ‘This is weird! I have to eat meat!’ That was what prevented me from going vegetarian a bit earlier, but now veganism, and being vegetarian has become a very big topic and I think people are starting to understand it a little bit more. My family is totally 100-percent supportive of it. At first, they didn’t understand, but now they are really supportive and I think one of my brothers is vegetarian because of it, and my mum went vegan for a while. It is just nice to know I am inspiring others.
Kids think their role models have to be older, but I look up to my little sister because she sees the world with a fresh perspective, without any judgement.
And then you went vegan after you were in The Glass Castle with Woody Harrelson?
When I was vegetarian but not vegan, my friends didn’t think it was too weird. But then one of my friends said, ‘You better not go vegan on us!’ I was like, ‘Vegan, no way, of course not, no way never’. Then a year later I did the movie with Woody Harrelson and there were actually three people on set who were vegan. I was surrounded by this new lifestyle and I was in this different place; I got this new perspective on what veganism actually is. It inspired me and I realized that veganism had been this weird thing, but it’s not the case any more. I watched documentaries, and I realized that it’s not just the meat industry hurting animals, it is also egg and dairy, and there are a lot of animal products that go into the foods you are eating that you don’t even realize. So I made the switch, and it was easy because I had already given up meat. I mean, it takes a while to get into it, and I always say if you are thinking about eating less meat and going vegan, going cold turkey is pretty hard. It works for some people, but I understand that not everyone can do it, especially in other countries where you have to eat meat to survive. But in America, we are given the choice, the opportunity, we get to choose what we eat a lot of the time. We have all these different options and resources. So yeah, if you can choose to eliminate meat, then go for it, but maybe just start with one day a week with no meat and then gradually increase these days as time goes on. It is all just what is right for your body.
Do you feel it’s also about how the meat industry affects the environment?
At first, I went vegetarian and then vegan solely because of the animals. That is kind of the most obvious reason for me. People do it for health, a lot for the animals, but as you say, the environment is also another thing that is helped when you go vegan. A lot of people don’t know that and I didn’t either until I watched a documentary about it and then I was like, ‘Woah, now I’m even prouder to be a vegan!’ You know, a lot of people say to me, ‘Hey, you’re just one person, how much can you really be doing? How much can one person do just by going vegan?’ That upsets me because I have been told that a lot, like you are not helping anybody, and I am like, ‘No, I am’. I am inspiring others; I inspired my mum and my brother and a lot of my friends, and the more people you inspire the more change you make. And as far as the environment goes, people say, ‘I’m just one person, what can I do? Shorten my shower? Carpooling, recycling? How can these things do anything?’ But if everyone thinks that way, then nobody is going to get anywhere, and no change will be made.
Older generations are always saying, ‘Oh, you millennials and Gen-Z kids are selfish and only think about yourselves’, but when you do something for yourself and it influences other people, then it becomes powerful, because other people see themselves reflected in you. That is why activist young people these days are making a big difference in a way they weren’t 30 years ago.
I think our generation has seen the change that needs to be made for our future; we see the change that needs to be made and that is why our generation is so powerful. They use their voices and take stands for what they believe in because they are passionate about the changes they want to see for the future.
Are you excited to vote though?
Yeah! I am really excited. When you are younger you have all these views and beliefs and you are very passionate about things, but when you can vote, you can have more power, too. So yes, I am very excited about that.
I remember the first time I voted; it was so exciting. I did it early in the morning. Everyone is there and you feel like you are part of the community of the world.
That makes me think again about the one-person-what-can-I-do thing, you can apply that to voting. I’ve seen people say that about voting, like, why should I vote, I’m just one person. But again, if everyone thinks like that you are not going to get anywhere, you have to do your part.
How has your concept of fame changed since like you started acting? People sometimes think that being famous and being successful are the same thing. What is your take?
The thing about being successful meaning you’re famous, I don’t think that is true. I personally feel like I am successful in other areas of life that don’t have anything to do with acting. I am a big sister; I am a daughter; I am a friend; I am more than just an actor. I have success in other areas of my life. I guess it is easy to make that connection between the two and think they are the same thing. Like, she has millions of followers on Instagram, she is successful. You could have 20 million followers on Instagram and lots of projects lined up, but if you’re not happy... Sure, you can have a successful career and that is great and will make people happy, but you need to find happiness and success in other areas of your life that don’t have to do with work. Does that make sense?
Sure, you could have 20 million followers on Instagram, a successful career and lots of projects lined up, but if you’re not happy...
Doing a job that is also your passion is a privilege. I don’t think a lot of people realize that.
Exactly. A lot of people are like: ‘Oh, I need money to be successful in life or to be happy in life; if I have a lot of money, I will be happy and successful.’ But again you can be making a whole lot of money, but if you are not happy with what you are doing and if you are not passionate about your work, you are not going to put that effort into it or be content with your life.
You are not on Instagram as much as other people your age...
I have a very different relationship with social media than other girls my age. Before I had a big following on social media, I would be on the app a lot even if I have never been that active with posts. I might post occasionally, not every single second in my day; I am a lot more private. I am all about being in the moment and experiencing things with your own eyes and not through the camera lens and having to take pictures of everything. Once I started to get a following on Instagram, it was great because it was like, wow, there are so many people who love the show and these fans are incredible. But it also opens the door to a lot of negativity and that can really mess with your head. So that’s why I avoid being on it a lot. I still have it and will post things that I want to share with my fans and I will comment on pictures, but I am not the kind of person who is just constantly scrolling through their feed, because then you get into this whole negativity and all this drama. I think for my mental clarity that I need to limit the negativity in my life. And I can be happy and productive if my head is clear. There is nothing worse than going to dinner with your friends or your family and you’re trying to make conversation and everyone’s head is just buried in their phones and you are just looking around. It happened to me once and all of my friends were like buried in their phones and I just looked around and I was like, ‘Wow, is this really what it has come to?’ I can’t even talk to my friends! It is important to take a break and step back. It is not just because of all of the followers and all the stuff like that, that I have this view on social media. I have always been like this. When I was 12, I lost my phone on a plane, and then I didn’t get a new one until I was like 13, not because my parents were mad at me for losing it, I just never got around to renewing it. I am fine without a phone. I lose my phone all my time; I let my batterie die. I like being without my phone; I think it is great to just be in the moment and really enjoy life through your own eyes and not your screen.
It’s funny I didn’t have a cell phone growing up, but now I am totally that person who can’t be without it. I do take social media breaks every so often, and they have been truly great.
When I get onto social media, I get on it with a purpose: to talk to my friends who I haven’t talked to in a while or to fans and see the artwork they have been making. Seeing all these fans from all over the world is incredible. That is the good side to social media, but then there are all the downsides, so it's important to find the balance.
What is your relationship with the Internet then? I get up and the first thing I do is check all my social media and I just try and imagine what life would be without that...
There are so many little moments in life I think you miss because you are looking at your phone and I think that people just need to realize that. I remember being on my phone once, and my little sister was like, ‘Sadie, Sadie, let’s go play, let’s do something fun’. I was on my phone and I was like, ‘Yeah, OK, in one second’. Then I thought, ‘Hold on, what am I doing?’ My little sister doesn’t own a phone; she is not glued to a screen like a lot of us are. And she has this like fresh perspective on everything. And I thought: ‘Yes, I am going to go outside with my sister and play and enjoy this beautiful day.’ So it is those kinds of moments that you miss when you are on your phone. That is why I put my phone down and go for days without it. It is refreshing to me. It is very important.
I lose my phone all my time; I let my battery die. I like being without it because it’s better to enjoy life through your own eyes and not your screen.
Do you keep a journal or make art?
I had like a journal when I was younger, but now I will jot down notes every once in a while. I am not an artist, I cannot draw. Let’s get this straight right now. I get asked that all the time.
Maybe you could do abstract stuff.
I sort of scribble on everything when I am bored. There will be moments in the day when I think of a thought and I will write that down or my sister will say something hilarious and I will write that down because I want to remember it forever.
What was the last book you read?
I usually don’t read these types of books, but I just read Tina Fey’s Bossy- pants, and it is so good. I was laughing so hard; it is really funny. My favourites are The Great Gatsby, Of Mice and Men, and I started reading To Kill a Mockingbird, which is really good. I have read Shakespeare before, but I’m not going to lie, I got help from the Internet to translate a lot of the stuff though. Because honestly who can read Shakespeare? I can’t, I don’t know who can. I need a person who can read Shakespeare and translate it well. When I was younger I tried to read all these books, but I didn’t understand what they are saying. Now it takes me a while depending on what kind of book I am reading, the language they are using. So, for Shakespeare, I have read Julius Caesar and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but yes it is hard. I kind of like classic books, they are more challenging to read, and the stories are lot more interesting than the stories you find now. I used to be obsessed with The Hunger Games; that was a big deal for me.
It was so good, I would cry on the subway reading that book! So tell me, what was it like when they asked you to walk in the Undercover show?
That was fun, a whole new experience. Something I had never done before or had thought I would ever do. And nobody really prepares you for it. I just showed up and all these super-tall models were there and I had no idea what I was doing. But I got there and the energy kicked in and it was really, really fun. If you love fashion, which I do, it is really exciting just to be there and know the designer and how hard they have worked on the collection, and how special it is to watch them bring their creations to life and to see it for the first time. It is a really special experience. I hadn’t understood it before, but now I do; it was one of the best times I’ve ever had.
Were you familiar with Undercover?
I wasn’t. Jun [Takahashi], the designer, reached out, and he loves Stranger Things and the whole collection was about eternal youth. He was really inspired by the show. It deals with kids, the feeling of being young, which he was inspired by. He incorporated that into his collection. He collaborated with Nike on this shoot we did, which was very, very cool, and he then asked me to open his show. I said: ‘OK, I am not a model, but I guess it will be fun.’ So I did it and it was more awesome than I expected.
It was also awesome because Undercover is one of the coolest brands. There is always a crossover between actors and fashion, but Undercover is just so cool. It was so creative, a great experience.
Do you have any role models? If I was asked this question, I would say my mom, so a role model in your career or professional life?
I don’t think there is one person who has all the qualities that I admire, like in one person. I see different people with different beliefs and qualities that I look up to. And I just like to combine all of those and I can make my own role model. What makes a good role model is when people use their platform to speak up for what they believe in and use their platform for good. I don’t think you have to be an adult to be a role model. I think that kids think their role models have to be their age or older and like I said before, I see my little sister and I look up to her creativity and how she sees the world with a fresh perspective without any judgement. That is a role-model quality. Also, with social media, people can make themselves seem one way, but in reality they might not be that way. So you can make yourself look one way on social media, but you know in reality, you could really be a bad person. People should be careful because not everyone is how they seem. And you shouldn’t try to replicate your role model either because if everybody was striving to be like someone else then there wouldn’t be any unique people in the world.
Is there someone you think is using their platform or their voice in a way that you nd admirable?
I feel like girls my age are really using their platform. Rowan Blanchard uses hers to speak out about different movements and things like that. Reese Witherspoon, too. It’s about people who support causes genuinely not because they are trying to look good or anything.
Nobody likes a fake.
It is trendy now for people to care about things, to be ‘woke’. But then there are brands that are doing that, too. It’s sometimes hard to tell the difference, where authenticity goes. I like to think people are genuine about what they are spreading awareness about. I think you have to know the person, too. Because as I said, the people on social media might not be like that in real life.
Do you ever feel like there is pressure on you to look a certain way or say a certain thing?
Honestly, I think pretty much everybody feels that way. There is always pressure to look and talk a certain way. But I kind of ignore it, I mean it is there, but I don’t acknowledge it. Again, the world would be so boring if everybody lived up to just one standard. You don’t have to look a certain way to be beautiful. There is a lot of stuff out there right now, all really positive about embracing yourself, which is great, especially for young girls. People have to be happy with who they are and embrace them- selves. It is your life – you do you.