Melissa Schwartz is one of those girls you just want to hate. Maybe you don’t want to, but I did. She’s absolutely breath-takingly drop dead gorgeous; she’s brilliant; she’s eloquent; she’s influential; she’s loved and admired by thousands; she’s artistic; she’s beyond talented; she dates the world’s most handsome men; she’s constantly surrounded by beautiful people, AND she’s changing the world. I first met Melissa online through the vegan community, and was 100% sure that she would be dismissive, elitist, or at least a bit conceited. How could she not be? Fortunately, as I was resistant to learn, my assumptions were completely wrong: Melissa is a pure-hearted, compassionate vegan goddess among mortals. (Learn more about Melissa’s veganism in her recent video diary here)
One of my favorite phenomena to observe is when a person identifies his/her personal passion and skill set and is able to apply this talent to make a difference in an issue he/she cares about. Melissa is the embodiment of this concept. She happens to be a tech-savvy and exceptionally brilliant photographer with an eye for beauty and an appreciation for individuality. This year she launched her groundbreaking vGirls & vGuys campaign, the aim of which is to photograph vegan men and women, highlight their sexiest, most vibrant attributes, interview them about the story behind their veganism, and publish the combination in a public forum. This project is only in its infancy, yet it has already educated and motivated countless viewers. I was honored to be included in the vGirls album, and can truly say that the experience inspired me to feel more confident in my own voice as an activist. Melissa has an uncanny knack for discovering and utilizing what makes her models feel beautiful and powerful. The vGirls / vGuys fan page is currently in development, but you can find the vGirls’ album here and the vGuys’ album here. Seriously, you don’t want to miss this compassionate eye candy.
My personal favorite quote has always been, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” (Mahatma Gandhi) and I cannot think of a person who lives this philosophy more closely than Melissa. With every minute of her day, she is an example for us all in how to live compassionately, selflessly, and influentially. Each decision she makes, whether public or private, serves to benefit the lives of the beings she cares so passionately about. When she sees an injured animal on the road, she doesn’t simply feel sad and keep driving; she saves it (see one of my favorite examples of Melissa’s rescue spirit here). When she has an opportunity to speak out against cruelty, she takes it (as evidenced by the compelling speech she gave at a recent West Hollywood City Council meeting, in which the Council considered and then approved a ban on fur sales). When she becomes aware of a wrongdoing in the world, whether it be against animals or humanity, she publicly condemns it. In the year or so that I have been blessed to know Melissa, I have never known her not to come to the aid of a struggling underdog or a victim of cruelty.
I cannot wait to see what Melissa accomplishes in her lifetime, but I can say with absolute confidence that she will continue changing lives. She will change them by introducing people to a cruelty-free, healthier vegan lifestyle, she will change them by igniting people’s inner activist and inspiring them to consider how they can influence the issues they care about, and she will fight tooth and nail until every ounce of her abilities have been used to alleviate suffering and promote progress. If asked to choose one word to represent Melissa Schwartz, I would choose, “warrior.” Her adversary is humanity’s apathy, and her weapons of choice are compassion and courage.
Follow Jessica on Twitter: @jlschluet