Being Mama: Coco Rocha
For model and entrepreneur Coco Rocha, being a mother may not be the most glamorous part of life, but it’s certainly the most important.
Like most working mothers – particularly incredibly successful, high-profile ones, like model Coco Rocha – there’s no such thing as a “typical day” in her life. “We could be at home, or traveling for work – in Paris, London or Milan,” she says. If that sounds blessed, it’s because it is, and that’s something Rocha is keenly aware of. “I’m incredibly lucky that I get to bring my children with me on most jobs,” she adds. That said, life is as busy and varied as any family’s is – the kids, three-year-old Ioni and seven-month-old Iver – are awake at 7am, and ready for their morning smoothie (Rocha is a fan of a vegetable-packed breakfast). “If I’m shooting that day, I’ll bring the kids on set with me and Ioni brings projects to do. If we are at home we might go to the park, run errands, or play outside. Ioni loves to cook with me at home and Iver just loves to watch Ioni do whatever it is she’s doing.” The day ends – for the kids – between 7 and 8, and then, says Rocha, there are a few hours “in theory” where she and her husband, British-born artist James Conran, can spend together. But, she says wryly, “Usually that time is taken up with cleaning up the giant mess that’s accumulated, checking to see what crazy news has broken that day, and then tucking in for bed ourselves at around 11pm.” In other words, despite their crazy schedules and glamorous industries, Rocha and her family are pretty much exactly like any other young brood.
If you don’t know Rocha by name, you’ll know her face – the Canadian model has appeared on the cover of American, Brazilian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Mexican and Spanish Vogue, and Russian, Australian, Singaporean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Serbian, Thai, Brazilian and Mexican Harper’s Bazaar. She’s fronted campaigns for Versace, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana and Yves Saint Laurent, and began what American Vogue referred to as “the Coco moment” when she opened Jean-Paul Gaultier’s 2007 winter show by Irish dancing down the catwalk (later, she walked for the same designer while pregnant with Iver and holding little Ioni’s hand). And, in a world where modelling can sometimes offer diminishing returns, Rocha has carved out a niche for herself as something of a model activist, speaking out about eating disorders and body image, and campaigning for a minimum age for models. She also founded Nomad Management, her own agency, which is committed to advocating for young models.
“It’s been 15 years now – half of my life – that I’ve worked in an industry that primarily values you based on your physical attributes,” she says plainly. It’s a career choice, says Rocha, that demands thick skin. “You’re going to hear – a lot! – that you’re not the right look for certain clients. The natural tendency, especially when you’re young, is to want to try to change to please everyone. I learned very early on that you can never, ever, please everyone – so you might as well please yourself.” She tells younger models that success at all costs is never the answer. “[It’s important to see] modeling as a profession, not a lifestyle,” she says. “Treat it like work, where you can say no and still do a good job.” Still, Rocha notes, in those 15 years of her own career, the state of modelling has improved. “I think as a society we are moving more clearly to a place that values individuality and the differences between us.” She points to greater diversity in terms of race, weight and skin tone as examples. “Are we totally there yet?” she says. “No. But I think we’re on the right track.” As well as increased diversity, there’s also the fact that models are now permitted – and even encouraged – to have voices beyond the brands they’re spruiking. “Early on in my career,” she says, “models had no real voices. I came through at a time of backlash to the supermodels, when the next generation of models were all alike, mute and easily replaceable.” And while many of today’s younger models – the Hadids, Kendall Jenner and Hailey Baldwin, for example – are social media natives, Rocha, at 30, is a little older and, well, wiser. “When social media came along, I embraced it as a means to have an opinion and a personality – a way to stand out. I think my longevity is a result of that: people liked me for what I stood for and who I am in addition to the way that I look.” Still, she says, being a personality, and not simply a model, comes with some drawbacks – namely a threat to privacy. Is this a challenge? “There are definitely topics that are off-limits on social media,” she says, “And of course, in interviews like this. I give enough of myself through media and I have afforded myself privacy where I need and want it.”
For Rocha, whose own childhood was, in her words, “happy, adventurous and loved,” being a mom to Ioni and Iver is her number one priority, and has been an exercise in selflessness – but in the very best way. “I wasn’t exactly self-centred,” she says, “but to a certain extent, we all are before having children. Now all I can think about is taking care of them. Everything is for them and about them. If you’re sharing a plate of food, you make sure they get the best pieces first. If you’re on a flight you make sure they have the most room to be most comfortable. If they’re cold, you take your jacket off to keep them warm. You give them everything and you wouldn’t have it any other way.” The most unexpected part of all of this, she says, is actually how great it feels. “You can’t be selfish and be a good mother. Days go by where I never got to take a shower, I didn’t get to sit down for even five minutes and relax, but it’s all worth it to keep these little people happy and healthy.”
While both pregnancies, she says, were fairly straightforward, her labor experiences couldn’t have been more different. “My pregnancies were pretty similar in that I had no bizarre cravings and I was lucky in that I didn’t feel nauseous or throw up at all,” she says. “I was very fortunate that they were both pretty uneventful.” Rocha cut out coffee, wine and junk food during her pregnancies. “I made sure that what I did for one, I did for the other. I ate as healthy as possible and tried to take the best care of myself so that I could give both babies the ideal start. It was much harder to take naps when I was pregnant with Iver – but that was mainly because I had Miss Ioni vying for my attention!”
Birth, she says, was a different experience altogether. Rocha wanted to labor as naturally as possible, without drugs. “With Ioni, the contractions were pretty easy, and the pushing was by far the hardest part,” she says. “But with Iver, it was the contractions that were much more difficult and the pushing was done in no time. Both babies were around the same size, big and healthy, so it’s funny that the experiences were so different.”
While it’s the rare woman who finds it easy to be a working parent, Rocha is circumspect when it comes to the eternal battle for balance. “On one hand, you want to be there 24/7 for your children and on the other hand, it’s just a necessity that you work and do other things some of the time.” She pauses. “Finding a balance that you’re happy with is tough and rarely satisfying,” she adds. Her focus for the kids, and her hope for them, is to have fun “and to not worry too much. So many kids are forced to stress out about school, about life, about how they look. Looking back, you realize how trivial most of those issues were. I want them to be safe yes but enjoy their youth too.” So it’s about finding a balance for them, as well as for herself.
Like most moms we interview at The Tot, the concept of “me time” is one that Rocha knows only at a distance. “Having ‘me’ time with two small children is next to impossible,” she says. “It’s definitely one of the sacrifices that comes along with being a working mother, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.” Rocha takes Ioni and Iver with her when she works, and says that their days off together are “as good as it gets as far as decompressing goes.” There are occasional date nights with husband James. “We leave the kids with the grandparents and go get dinner, just the two of us. Invariably we end up talking about how amazingly cute the kids are, and then we skip dessert so we can come home and cuddle them in bed.”
Patience, she says, is the key to successful parenting, but is a virtue hard won. “I thought I had a fair amount of patience with one child – but now with two, I’m having trouble slowing down to their pace. There is so much to do in a day and sometimes you want everyone to be able to speed up to your pace and it’s just not possible.” Her proudest parenting moment so far was travelling solo with Ioni. “She was very young, so it felt like an incredible task to make it through security, airplanes and airports and to another country. But we did it!” Now, Rocha is gearing up to travel internationally with both children – solo – and knows that keeping a cool head is the only way to do it. “Wish me luck!”