Julia Fox Didn’t Want to Be Famous, but She Knew She Would Be

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Julia Fox, an iconoclast in a generation notably lacking them, is most famous for what might be the least interesting thing about her—her brief, ultra-publicized relationship (of sorts) with Kanye West, in 2022. She’s also an actress (the role that she played in “Uncut Gems” took inspiration from her) and a downtown It-Girl-of-all-trades: she designed a fashion line, self-published photography books, and once put on an art show with canvasses painted in her own blood. She’s now a podcast host, a single mother to a toddler, and a staple of the New York paparazzi diet, regularly appearing in outfits that sound as though they were generated by pervy A.I. (“Julia Fox Wore a See-Through Outfit Made Entirely of Condoms”—InStyle.) With her new memoir, “Down the Drain,” Fox has become a writer, telling her story with a kind of dissociated, deadpan sweetness born of having experienced several lifetimes’ worth of adventure and disaster by the age of thirty-three.

Fox mainly remembers her life in the registers of beauty and violence. Born in Italy, she spends early childhood with her grandfather, who makes zabaglione with eggs and sugar; she loves the emergency room and “the warm, calming sensation of knowing that I’m going to be taken care of.” When she visits New York, she sleeps in squats and in houses under renovation by her father, a contractor, but when she moves there, at age six, she has her own room with clouds painted on the ceiling. Physical abuse is unremarkable; she develops a habit of turning on the hair dryer to drown out the noise in her apartment and in her head. She runs around unsupervised, stealing cash, clothes, candy. She’s in love with every girlfriend that she meets.

In middle school, Fox gets her tongue pierced, protests the Iraq War at a sit-in in D.C., and discovers that she loves the attention of boys talking about her butt at school. She hides, in a top bunk at home, from a twenty-six-year-old who’s just been kissing her and telling her she looks at least sixteen. (Fox remembers worrying about going any further, in part because she hadn’t shaved.) She gains an acute understanding of her simultaneous proximity to and distance from wealth and luxury. Private-school girls “just seem so clean,” she thinks. “They would never cut their own hair like I have to.” Soon enough, she finds that guys will buy her the things she’s into—gold earrings, Yves Saint Laurent perfume.

Drugs arrive, their risks entwined with teen romance as extreme sport. One night, Fox does ecstasy for the first time, has her first penetrative orgasm, is terrified by the sight of every vein under her skin in the mirror, tells a dealer she’ll marry him, and gets his name tattooed on her wrist. Throughout high school and her twenties, she is swept up in a destructive, semi-charmed downtown free-for-all: dive bars, after-parties, hotel rooms, drugs, more drugs, an overdose, another overdose, an arrest for grand larceny after she steals a girl’s purse at a club. Broke, and afraid to steal more lest she violate probation, she gets a job as a dominatrix at a Manhattan dungeon. When a rival uses her red patent-leather Jimmy Choos as an ashtray, Fox fills an enema bag with her own piss and shit and squirts this into the other girl’s locker.

Fox, obviously, is funny. She’s religious; she prays for a sugar daddy, and gets one—a billionaire who tolerates her heroin habit, supports her fashion ambitions, and pays for her apartment. She seeks psychiatric help after she realizes she’s stocked her bathtub with fish. She takes a Cookie Mueller-esque road trip to the Louisiana bayou, where she goes fishing and snorts pills and rents a flimsy house on stilts in the Gulf. She gets married, and then, in the midst of divorce proceedings, she gets unexpectedly pregnant; she decides to carry the pregnancy to term in large part because her due date coincides with her late best friend’s birthday. The Kanye chapter of her book is slight in comparison; the rapper, his genius waning, seems like a reclusive dictator, profoundly sad.

It adds up to a story of a woman who’s damaged and tender, protective and unpredictable, a self-identified freak. Fox describes herself, at one point, as “an artist in the role of a lifetime, playing Me.” I met her recently at her new home, where her two-year-old son greeted me at the door with a gentlemanly sweep of his hand, then play-attacked me with a stuffed dinosaur puppet, which he also turned on a small gaggle of friends-slash-assistants. Fox led me downstairs to the back yard, where the picnic table had been conquered by toddlerdom—chalk, trucks, trains. It was twilight; as we talked, Fox vaped and broke a stick into tiny pieces, which she lined up neatly in order of size, and the back yard slowly shadowed. Our conversation has been condensed and edited.

What was the moment of giving birth like for you?

Oh, my God, it was better than any drug, better than anything I’ve ever—if I could live in those ten seconds on a loop, of him coming out, me holding him, I would.

You’ve talked about postpartum depression—and about the postpartum experience being shocking, in part, because motherhood is so romanticized, and because girls are socialized from childhood to think that having a baby is this ultimate goal. I was curious about this because, as your memoir makes clear, your life punctured a lot of romantic ideals for you pretty early. How did you make it to motherhood with that one intact?

Well, I’d had a lot of experiences with men, but I hadn’t really had any with motherhood. With men, the bubble got burst pretty quick—when I was six, seven years old, and my dad had an affair with my best friend’s mother, which went on for years, and that really just pulled the rug out from under me. But, with motherhood, I still believed the lie.

You never had a nanny for your kid, and he wasn’t in day care—

Not until he turned two.

That is an enormous amount of work in those first two years, especially as a single parent. Was this a choice you made when you were pregnant, that you wanted to do this early child care mostly by yourself? Was it the pandemic?

Definitely the pandemic a little, and also just, financially, I didn’t really have the means. I think I was also coming from a place where I don’t think I was properly cared for. I wanted my son to know that mommy’s there, and she’s there all the time.

When I was pregnant, I thought, like, I’ll hire a night nurse, hire some help. But then he was born, and I thought, I don’t want to miss one moment. And I’m lucky—my family is here in New York, I have a lot of people I can call on. My bestie Emma used to pick him up from day care on Mondays and Fridays and take him to the park for a few hours. And at first I didn’t ask anyone, because it’s really hard for me to ask for help; I really pride myself on being self-sufficient. But with a kid it’s just impossible. That’s why now when I see moms freaking out, losing their shit at their kids—before, I’d maybe be, like, Wow, what a shitty mom. And now I’m, like, That poor mom. No one sets out to be a shitty parent.

Does raising your son make you think differently about how you were raised by your parents?

I look at them more sideways now, in a way, like—How could they have been like this to us? But I also have more sympathy and more empathy for them, because I know how hard it is, and I know that they did not have money and they were in a toxic relationship and they did the best they could.

Actually, I don’t think they did the best they could.

But I was just much more aggressive in the way I dealt with my pain and anger. I was, like, the Tasmanian Devil—I would destroy things and it would be cathartic. Where my brother internalized it all, and he’s been diagnosed now with severe P.T.S.D. And now my dad has stepped up. He’s the best grandpa to my son, and my son is always so happy to see him, and I’m going to celebrate that.

Motherhood changed my relationship to thrill-seeking, to pleasure. Was that the case for you?

Oh, totally. I used to be so reckless. Either I thought I was invincible, or had a death wish. But now I would never—I’d never do drugs, go on a bender, drive crazy. I’d never go skydiving. I’m even just so much more conscious that, like, I have to be in a good mood.

Was it fun to revisit the death-wish years in the memoir?

There were definitely moments when I was writing it and I was, like, I want to get high. I was writing in present tense, so I was really transported, and I was definitely, like, I could get high right now, right? I think it’s O.K.? But I didn’t.

Obviously, I feel like my son is my anchor, which can be a good thing, and also sometimes it can be wack.

You describe being sexualized really early—there’s a moment in the memoir when you’re eleven or twelve and a grown man offers you your first mixed drink. The same thing happened to me, at the same age, and at the time it felt normal and exciting, but . . .

At the time, you think you’re so grown. You feel flattered. It was only in my early twenties that I really realized how many pedophiles were actually around me, and I didn’t consider that at all. I hate feeling like I was victimized—I fucking hate when people feel sorry for me, or pity me. But there came a time in my twenties when I had to really be kind to myself, and accept that these fucked-up things really did happen. That when I was a teen-ager guys would just whip out their dicks at me, so many times, and follow me around, or bump into me on the train with their boners, and it felt like a normal occurrence, but it’s terrifying now.

You said on your podcast that certain memories were so cringey that you didn’t even want to go back there, but you decided to just put them all in your book anyway. Any examples of what almost didn’t make it in?

Like . . . most of it, honestly. Probably the most embarrassing thing is just going back to a guy who clearly hates you and is so bad to you, and just going back again and again. That’s really humiliating.

Did you have a ghostwriter?


Did you consider it? Or did people try to get you to hire one?

Oh, yeah. At the beginning, I just didn’t even know where to start, how to structure it. I was, like, Why did I agree to this? I even messaged this old writing professor I had, because she’d mentioned that she had used a ghostwriter, and I got a few contacts. I went as far as reaching out to one of them, but there was a scheduling conflict—she, like, couldn’t get on a fucking call—and I was, like, This has gone on too long. I need to just start. I thought, if anything, I can hire a ghostwriter to edit it at the end and just send over all my material—and it’ll probably be cheaper, too. And then I just wrote the whole fucking book.

Editing it was what was actually like pulling teeth. I sent my editor at Simon & Schuster the first draft, and he was, like, Great! And I was, like, Wait a minute. Like, no. So I went off and reread it and edited it.

That’s funny—so you were harder on your draft than your editor?

Yeah. I was really hoping someone else would just make it better. But by that point I had gotten in the groove, and I was, like, I can do this. People keep asking me what the hardest part was about writing the book, and I tell them, it was just sitting my ass in the chair in front of the computer every day and typing the first line. Some days that took me three hours. I’d be pacing over here, cleaning this, going on TikTok, everything but the task. And then, eventually, I just started writing, and it was fine.

How did you reconstruct your life? Memory is unreliable, and you were doing a lot of drugs.

There are some things in the book, especially when I’m younger, where I jumbled the time line a little bit to make the story make more sense. And some characters are composite characters, because I was getting into the same pattern with so many fucking people that they basically just looked like one person.

Did you keep journals?

I had a lot of writing on Google Docs from the past ten years. I wasn’t keeping a journal in terms of putting pen to paper, but I had written stuff down—and thank God, because, you know, mommy brain. And also stuff was so much more vivid in those docs.

But I really did remember a lot of weird things. I only wrote my core memories. Basically, anything else during any of that time, I don’t remember at all. But what I do remember I remember vividly.

There are certain details—when you’re in the booking cell and a girl is getting roasted because she has ramen noodles stuck in her weave—

Like, I will never forget that.

Did you check your memories with friends?

Yeah. And then they’d all have completely different memories, and I’d eventually think, O.K., I can reconstruct what happened. That was helpful, but ultimately it felt like this lone journey that I had to go on by myself. I felt like I needed to do it, not because I signed a contract or was on a deadline, but because I just needed to unload all that shit.

I feel like when you talk about a problem or an issue you’re having, it loses its power on you. It becomes a shared burden that we can all carry together, or work through, or metabolize in some way, so you’re not left with all of it. I felt a lot lighter when I was done. Even knowing that I didn’t have to hold on to these memories anymore because I had written them down—even if I forget them later, they’re still there. They’re safe.

I have this tendency to not live in the present. I’m in this fight or flight, and I’m just not a hundred per cent here—I’m brooding over something that happened or worried about something that might happen.

You’re a weed smoker. I think about weed as something that can really strap you to the present. Is that part of the appeal?

I feel like it stopped working. I actually quit smoking weed in May. What really happened is that I kept losing my pen. But I was also going through a sort of transformation, of letting go of things that didn’t serve me anymore. And weed had really helped when my son was way more dependent on me, but once he started going to his day care, and once I was in a good schedule with his dad and I was starting to get myself back a little bit, I started to feel like this thing was causing me to check out—to be a bystander to my life.

So are you entirely sober now?

I’ll drink, but at this point it’s probably once a month, and it’s wine. And, when I’m drinking, I’m very conscious that I cannot be hungover tomorrow—I have to wake up early, all of that. So I can never just let loose. I do crave that, but it’s just what it is.

I want to talk about New York and money. As you remember your childhood, you were really conscious of how rich people were treated differently—rich children in particular. What did this make you aspire to?

I grew up in Yorkville, which is much nicer now, but at the time it was very working-class—it was still affordable, and wasn’t desirable unless you were looking for a cheap place to raise kids. But it’s right near the Upper East Side, like, the Park Avenue Upper East Side. And it felt like there was a line drawn across the neighborhood, and there was us and them. I was friends with kids that grew up in the projects, the sons and daughters of superintendents, cab drivers. And even though we went to the same school as those other girls—this good public school—it felt like they wouldn’t be friends with us and we wouldn’t be friends with them.

And they were always very clean-looking. Nothing ever had a hole, nothing had a tear. Their shoes fit them, their hair was always perfect, their skin was really good. And me and my friends were, like: acne, dirty sneakers that are broken, ripped clothing. And you could see it, it was obvious. I wanted to be like that.

Also, anytime my parents had ever communicated, it was to fight over money or the lack of it. So, at a young age, I was, like, O.K., money equals happiness. Or at least it equals a good life and no fighting. Because there were times that my dad didn’t even have twenty dollars—it was that crazy, and I just knew I did not want to end up like that.

You gain a kind of knowledge when you grow up around rich people as someone who’s not—you see things that rich people themselves don’t. I sometimes think about how my kids are going to grow up—upper-middle-class children in creative-class Brooklyn. I’m glad that they’ll have a different relationship to money than I did growing up, but I feel a pang sometimes, knowing they’ll lack a certain kind of instinct or sight.

There’s part of me that wants Valentino to grow up the way I did, because, yeah—you know all this shit. And also just because it’s familiar.

But I think that’s also why I make sure that he knows how to do things for himself, even though he’s still just a baby. I don’t want him to become super dependent on women. When I found out I was having a boy, I was a little disappointed—I’d wanted a girl. But I was also relieved, like, O.K., I don’t have to warn her about all these things.

Then I realized that was the mistake parents make with boys, because there are a lot of things you do have to do. I can’t have him becoming an abuser in any type of way. I can’t have him becoming incompetent and eventually making a female counterpart pay for that. I have to make sure that he knows how to do things for himself, knows the value of things, and ultimately just keeps it in his pants. I want my son to really step up and be a protector of women, someone who allows women the space and agency to feel safe and taken care of.

You dated a billionaire for a while, starting in high school. The way you describe it, you kind of Robin Hooded him—you got an apartment where your friends could live, you had him fund these creative projects.

Everyone got put on.

What did that experience tell you about money?

In the beginning, I was so stoked. I was just, like, Wow. And then pretty early on I thought: Why am I still not happy? Why am I still miserable? And then when he left and I lost everything, that was probably the bigger learning lesson. I had all these things, but suddenly I had to sell all of them to survive, and I was back to square one, hitting up my old dominatrix clients I hadn’t seen in six years, like, Come massage my feet for two hundred dollars.

It was very humbling, and afterward I had less attachments to items. Back then, the things I was attached to were my Chanel bags, absolutely. Now the only things I’d grab in a fire are things with no monetary value.

You’ve lost a lot of people you were close to, mostly from drugs. You write about loss very starkly in the memoir. How do you think about those losses in a day-to-day way?

It just feels really unfair. I think, for a long time, I stopped believing that everything was going to get better, that God was real, all those things. Over anything else that’s ever happened to me, this is what shook me to my core, where I feel like I haven’t been the same ever since.

It changed your relationship with drugs—

It changed my relationship with everything. I feel just a profound sense of emptiness, a void in my soul. And I think I always had a void, but this made it way more jarring. And it’s just so unfair—that’s the only way to describe it, because I see all these fucking shitty people who are still living their lives and not contributing anything to the world, and then my beautiful best friends, the funniest people, people who brought so much laughter into the world . . .

That’s another thing: I have a lot less laughter in my life. Before, I’d be laughing all day long. Everything was a joke. Everything was crouched-down, pee-in-your-pants hilarious, and now I probably laugh like that once a year. I’m not kidding. I don’t know. It makes me really angry. I get super angry about it.

It feels like a much bigger part of your life than people realize. I think of the way you present the Kanye interlude in the book: it seems like your mind, at that time, was on other stuff that was happening simultaneously—child-care arrangements, friends who had died.

And I was just getting pummelled with questions about my relationship, and this and that. In reality, I wasn’t even thinking about it. That was so nothing in comparison to what I’d just gone through, what I was going through.

Do you think about fame differently after getting much more famous?

When I’d picture my ideal scenario, I’d always prefer a more niche kind of fame. An indie vibe, not a Page Six vibe. That’s where my comfort zone is. And then being thrust into that whole other division, it was, like, Oh, my God, I hate this.

Well, you’re not getting less famous, or walking it back.

What I’m hoping for is that one day I can disappear and let the work speak for itself. I have a movie I wrote in the works, other scripts I’d love to develop. I have good TV-show ideas, and none of them have to do with me. Like, I might use some of my experiences, but it’s not the Julia Fox story. I’m just so over Julia Fox, to be honest.

I want to make my art, have some more art shows, and let the art speak for myself. But I know that probably won’t happen for a while. So I’m just going to go with the flow and show up where I can. Because I never wanted to be famous. I just knew that I would be. In my middle-school yearbook, someone wrote that I was most likely to be dead or to be really famous. That always stuck with me, because I overdosed so many times. I only wrote about two overdoses in the book—two or three. But, in reality, like, I’ve lost count. It’s maybe, like, ten.

In your book, there’s this pattern where you have these deep, mostly platonic, but fundamentally romantic relationships—love affairs, really—with women. And then you’re regularly sucked into these vortexes with a certain kind of man.

Narcissists, yeah.

Men who are proud to possess you, who want control. What do you make of this?

I think it comes from an unhealed father wound or something. I could really only trace it back to that. And my friendships with women—the relationships with men just pale in comparison. The most profound relationships, the ones that make up the fibres of my being, those have all been with women. I don’t know—maybe I’m a lesbian and I haven’t come to terms with it. But, yeah, I just go after these guys that I know will be bad for me, but I’m just bored, or something. I want to go on a wild ride, to burn it all down. I’m not seeking an emotional connection with them.

And that’s why I’ve just sworn off men for the past two years. I know my pattern, and until I feel like this wound or whatever it is is no longer there, I just can’t go down that road again.

You’ve been talking about this—your post-men era. What prompted the beginning of it? Because men had been toxic to you for basically your whole life.

I think it was partly the state of the world that we’re in, where there’s so much violence to women happening right under our noses. It feels like, how could I possibly give myself to a man now when men aren’t really standing up for us, right? It feels like they’re ops, you know? It feels like we need to stand our ground and not even look at them until they fix it, because ultimately they’re the fucking people who have the agency and the power. In any type of movement, it’s always been when the white people and the men jump on board that we actually see change, which is so fucked up. I feel like, until they’re really on our side, they’re enemies.

I wonder how all of this intersects with the way that your body has changed. You got suddenly very skinny in recent years, which you’ve talked about as an involuntary thing—is that right?


And you lost these curves that you were known for, and men reacted in a certain way.

Yeah. The losing of the weight, the eyebrows, the clothes, all the things I did—I think I was going for grotesque. I wanted to look a certain way where the girls would appreciate it and the men would despise it.

But which came first?

It happened simultaneously, to be honest. I had already been feeling not O.K. with the state of the world and our political situation, and I was really stressed out, and my friend Harmony died, and I wasn’t eating properly. I would eat maybe one time a day and it would be a sheet cake, and I was on my feet from 7 A.M. till whatever, I was just burning everything off and losing weight so rapidly. And men started reacting like, Wait, what happened to her? She used to be so hot. And I leaned into it. I was, like, Oh, great, they hate me—and I love it. The more they hated me, the more fun it was to keep doing it. It was amazing to see how they reacted when I just wasn’t giving them their visual stimulus, or whatever. I mean, they lashed out. They, like, took it personally.

But, anyway, I’m actually gaining weight right now.

Is this also involuntary?

Yeah, it just happened. Anytime I try to go on a diet, or lose weight, or gain weight, I’ve never been able to.

Do you now feel any pressure to keep your body as it has been recently? If these two versions of you are so tied to straight-male interest or straight-male aversion—do you worry that you’ll get your curves back and those men will start it all up over again?

I would hate that. I really, truly hope that doesn’t happen. But, also, I have no self-control. I keep three bottles of whipped cream in the fridge at a time.

You’ve talked about being raised religious, and you still pray. Where in your life do you locate that sense of the divine now?

There’s just some synchronicity of it all. And I feel like I’ve gotten everything I’ve ever wished for—which is why I tell people to be careful what they wish for, because they’re going to get it, and then there’s going to be a whole lot of other shit they didn’t calculate into the equation.

What did you wish for?

Literally everything. One really crazy God moment I had was—my best friend used to live in Harlem, and one night we were hanging out and I was, like, I want to go home, I haven’t been home in a few days. I was fourteen, and I walked across the park, and I realized I was being followed. So I went into the tunnel, where the cars go, because I thought maybe that would be better, but I was still being followed, and it was two or three in the morning.

So I said a prayer. I literally prayed, God, please get me to the other side of this tunnel. And I looked down and saw five dollars, and then a yellow cab came by, and I hailed it and I took it just to the other side of the park. There are just things like that—where I think I’d be stupid to deny that there’s some greater force. That’s why everything I do, I try to take karma into account, I try not to be a hater, I try to control my negative thoughts. If a negative thought comes into my head, I’m immediately just, like, No, I’m that bitch. I’m amazing. And I do just have an immense amount of faith that, with even the really bad things, there’s some sort of lesson there that I have to learn. That I have to do something positive with, to make it more than just a really shitty thing.

A lot of your choices were driven by being a person in New York without a safety net. Do you feel like you’ve made one for yourself now?

Yes. I do. It’s with my chosen family—I know that no matter what, they’re going to take care of me, and they know I’m going to take care of them. It’s this unspoken thing where we have each other, and that’s all we need, and we have a lifetime to prove it. I’ve been with my friends Richie and Brianna for the past twenty years, and we’ve had nothing, we’ve had everything, we’ve had nothing again. And we’ve always been able to bring everything back up again. I feel like that in itself is the goal, you know? That’s the blessing. ♦

Sourse: newyorker.com

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