Alumni Series: SFK

Alumni Series: SFK

If you haven’t met the notorious Duke alumni, SFK (short for Serena “Fucking” Kerrigan), you probably know her from Refinery29’s Snapchat Discover channel or her larger-than-life Instagram presence. However, in a recent Instagram post she publicly revealed her middle name is not actually “Fucking.” We were curious about this sudden shift in the SFK brand, so we sat down with Serena to discuss the evolution of SFK from Duke’s queen bee to the self-proclaimed “queen of confidence.” Serena opened up about her inspiration, what it’s like to work in a creative industry, and how she wants to inspire everyone to love themselves.

Tom: It’s so crazy because you are exactly like your Instagram stories in real life.

Serena: 100% percent! Before I felt a lot of pressure to curate my feed to polished perfection, but it dawned on me that I wasn’t presenting my authentic self. A co-worker of mine compared me to Chrissy Teigen (thank you), implying that we both have this glossy, polished side, but we are also goofy and funny as fuck.

The difference was that Chrissy is willing to divulge the unfiltered raw version of herself to her millions of followers, which is what makes her so relatable. Until recently, I was not willing. I was too afraid of what people would think. And then I bit the bullet and let my guard down. I started using the Q&A feature on stories to let me connect directly with my audience and present a more candid version of me—the version you see IRL. And in terms of of followers and engagement, it’s worked tremendously. It also made me feel more confident—here I am, talking about my sex life without makeup on, to thousands of people—and they love it!

Tom: Before we jump into the questions we wrote, you just said something that spoke to me about how you are now able to be authentic in your Instagram stories. Would you agree that it is something that is changing on Instagram? The platform used to be more aspirational, but now authenticity seems to be paying off.

SFK: Absolutely. I recently read a meme (of course) that said “aesthetic attracts an audience, but authenticity builds loyalty.” And it’s true. I would like people to view my brand as aspirational, but not unattainable. These days, it’s not really about how many followers you have -- it’s about engagement. Is the audience that’s there tuned into what you’re saying? Are they asking you questions? Are they buying the products you endorse? If you have 300k followers but no one is listening to you, then what’s the point? I think it’s important to establish what your brand is offering—what is your expertise? And be honest. Show the vulnerability and the real. It took me a while to realize, but I think it’s been paying off.

Sonia: I feel like there are so many people on Instagram who offer nothing. They post the exact same photos as everyone else—here’s me in a Réalisation Par dress”—but when I look at your account, there is so much more substance there.

SFK: Thank you, I appreciate you saying that. It’s funny because I used to be anxious about the fact that my “brand” didn’t fall into a certain niche. I wasn’t a food, beauty or fashion influencer—I didn’t fit into a category, so then why would any brand want to partner with me? Why would anyone want to follow me if I wasn’t an “expert” in something? I was just Serena “Fucking” Kerrigan. But that was partly because I never sought out to be an influencer. My goal, since I first picked up a camera as a little girl, was always to create content for women. I did it while I was at Duke, as a Visual Media Studies and English major, and in high school I made several short films with female protagonists. I always wanted to create video content, so landing a job at Refinery29 was a dream, because I got to do that. And then because of work as on-air talent, I started to grow a real following.

But it’s not like I woke up one morning and triumphantly stated: “My brand is ‘SFK,’ and it will be about confidence!” When I became “SFK” at Duke, I was never thinking it was anything other than a way to make me feel better about myself. My brand was built out of insecurity, in that my self esteem was so low, I went to the extreme of being over-confident to mask that. But now that I’ve grown to love myself, “SFK” is more than just me… It's the symbolism of girls feeling like boss bitches who can do whatever the fuck they want.

Tommaso: We have so many models and influencers who show us what we want to be but never will be, but we don’t have anyone who shows us who we can actually become.

SFK: Sure. What I try to do is show my followers that you can be whatever you want to be, if you put in the hard work. I am always verbalizing what I want out loud for the world to hear because I believe if you say it enough and believe that it will happen, it begins to manifest. I want the people who follow me to feel that confidence about themselves, whether it be in school, the workplace, their love lives or relationships.

Tommaso: Totally agree. I wanted to talk a little about how you mentioned that when you started at Refinery29, you were an intern. Do you want to talk a little about how you got your foot in the door there?

SFK: The industry I work in is very collaborative, so it’s important to build relationships. At the end of the day, we are creating content together for people to enjoy. The most important thing aside from hard work and ambition is to enjoy the work you are doing. At the end of the day, people want to work with people who are nice and have a positive energy. Why do you think Kim Kardashian is so successful? She has a reputation for being incredibly nice and wonderful to work with.

When I was thinking of my post-graduation future, I contemplated a lot of different paths. I considered going the talent agency route, but I knew what I wanted to do was create, and create for a company I admired. I got my foot in the door at Refinery29 through a connection I made in high school. The one thing I say to anyone who asks for career advice is to reach out to people—DM someone you respect, take them out to coffee, attend a networking event (alone) and don’t leave until you make one connection. I respect people who are serious about their careers and take the time to research and ask questions. I know I’m not alone in this.

I also suggest not worrying so much about the “position” when applying to jobs. A lot of entry level positions are internships and that shouldn’t be a deterrent. I was ideating and producing as an intern. I love that about the digital space—I was able to get my hands dirty right away and make some meaningful content.

Refinery29 has been an incredible place to work at, especially given the political climate we are currently in. I have learned so much about sexual education, issues on race, abortion, mental health, and other stigmas that I look to dispel in the content I create. I currently am the lead producer for original video content for our Snapchat Discover channel and I genuinely love the work I do.

Sonia: Snapchat is such a great platform, and it has so much visibility. That was the first time I saw you, and I was like, “Oh wow, that girl went to Duke. That’s SFK.” But I also want to talk about what gets you inspired creatively. In your bio, you mention you are “a creative”. Can you talk about that?

SFK: I am so inspired when I watch documentaries about huge fashion labels, like Dior and I, 7 Days Out: Chanel Haute Couture Fashion Show and McQueen, to name a few. I love how these designers work around the clock to tell stories through clothing and commit their entire lives to making women feel beautiful about themselves.

I know it sounds cliche, but nothing inspires me more than traveling abroad and diving head first into different cultures. Seeing history embedded within the architecture, art, food and the air… it makes you realize how small you are in the grand scheme of things… how much life existed before you and how much will exist after…

And if it wasn’t obvious from my Instagram….I love doing photoshoots. There is so much magic in collaborating with incredibly talented people who are just as passionate about creating as I am. And I find a lot of inspiration for these shoots from the images I find on Instagram. I posted this photo after seeing so many beautiful photographs of women embracing their bodies and curves… And I was in awe of the Glossier Body Hero campaign. Seeing how effortlessly beautiful these women were, so raw and unfiltered… I fucking loved it. I think it’s so easy to see Instagram as vehicle that makes you feel bad about yourself, but on the flipside, there is so much positivity and support that is freeing, in a way.  

Sonia: Is there any person in particular that inspires you?

SFK: I am completely blown away by Beyonce, as a performer and an artist… Also, Rihanna. Kim Kardashian West. Chrissy Teigen. Cardi B. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. Sophia Coppola. All of these women work their ass off. If they can do it, so can I.

Sonia: Do you want to talk about some of the projects you are working on right now? I know you are working on the Taboo series.

SFK: Yes, Taboo is great. Currently I’m working on another show called “Sex Ed Game Show” because, again, part of our Snapchat audience is young, and sex education is not taught in the United States—in high school, very few schools actually have legitimate sex ed, and a lot of it is abstinence-only. It’s a fun way to game-ify education.

Tommaso: You are very strong, you are very powerful, you live life on a high, but what were your lows? Like on your Insta story sometimes you share your lows, and you are not afraid to do that. So as a creator what have been your lows, from Duke to now, and  how did you respond to them?

SFK: Whatever job you are in, the second you start comparing yourself to others, you’re fucked. Because there is always going to be someone who is more successful, prettier, or smarter than you, and then you are always going to be more successful, prettier, smarter than someone else! The thing is to focus on what you want to do and put in the work. I think that with my job, the thing that I try to do is always come in with a smile on my face, always be fun, the kind of person that people want to work around, because you are spending so much time with them.

Back then when people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grow up, I would say, “I want to be famous.” But now, I’ve learned that my goal, my purpose in life, is to make people love themselves the way I love myself. It took me a long time to love myself, but it makes me so confident in the choices I make, and I fuck up, you know. Instagram is a highlight reel, and you don’t see all of it, but to have that confidence, you just need to believe in yourself. One time I put on my Insta story a picture of Penelope Cruz in a Chanel campaign and I wrote that's going to be me one day, the face of Chanel. So many people shared it, probably shitting on me, but I actually believe that one day I will, and then it's going to happen. If you want something in life, and you say it out loud, then it’s going to manifest. That’s why so many girls ask how I’m so confident, and I’m like, “I literally stand in front of my mirror, naked, and I go, ‘You are the shit, you are fucking beautiful, and hot, go get ‘em,’” and then I end up believing it. I think you have to say it out loud for it to become real.

Tommaso: I think indirectly you are talking a lot about mental health, and I am someone who struggles with that. My therapist says every morning I need to stand in front of the mirror and say those things she tells me to say.

SFK: I think that there is a lot of fear, but the only way to overcome fear is confidence. You just need to go out and do it. And you know if you fail, you fail. It’s not that scary at the end of the day. What’s the worst thing that can happen? And that’s what I love about my Taboo series, especially in terms of mental health. Nothing is taboo anymore—let's talk about everything. People are like, wow, masturbation on your story, so shocking, and I’m like, why? Women masturbate, what’s the big deal? Guys talk about it all the time, why can’t we? The more we talk and push things out in the open, the less fear there is, the less shame there is, the less judgment there is. You should not be ashamed about anything, unless you’re a fucking murderer or pedophile or homophobic racist bigot. But I just want to have conversations with people where they feel like they can really be themselves. And if people want to talk about you, let them. At least they’re talking about you.

Sonia: So besides, or in conjunction with, being the face of Chanel, where do you see yourself in five years, ten years?

SFK: I want everyone to know me as the “Queen of Confidence.” I want to use my platform to help people love themselves. I want people to be able to have whatever the fuck they want in their life—they need a reminder. I was lucky enough that growing up I had parents who always said you could do whatever you want to do, and I realize that a lot of people don’t have that.

I would obviously love to write my own  book, host a TV series, attend The Met Gala, be front row of fashion week shows, on the cover of Vogue, cover of FORM…. I’m going to buy Shooters II and make it SFK III (Ha, kidding!)... I don’t know, there's so much. And I’m going to do it all. Except maybe not buy Shooters.

But I realized that there aren’t very many people who are making their brand about confidence, unless they’re a supermodel like Ashley Graham, but I think it’s just unattainable. And I’m someone who, hello, you can be. Confidence is choice; you just literally have to make that choice. I’m trying to find a way to amplify that and have everyone in the world hear it. And I will, in due time.

Sonia: So we are starting this alumni series with you because we feel like there is a lack of guidance and support for students trying to go into creative fields. We are trying to raise awareness about careers in creative industries. With that in mind, what advice do you have for aspiring creative professionals at Duke?

SFK: First of all, no one is going to think that you have that much experience right out of college. That being said, the ability to create today with just an iPhone is insane. You can make a whole movie on iPhone, you can write a novel on Twitter, you can make a documentary on Insta story. At this point, if you are trying to be in media you have the the tools to start telling a story, so that when you go to the interview you should have something to show.

Also, you know, there are a lot of people who come to me like, “Ugh, I want to apply for this job, but it says I need over two years of experience on a social team.” There are a million influencers who need a million interns. You can spend a summer shadowing them, and then go to a media company, and say, “Hi, interned for this person and helped her build her following of 20,000 followers; I conceptualized this shoot and came up with this marketing strategy.” And that can start with a simple DM, so easy, you know? It all seems very daunting, but if you start making stuff, and having something to show for yourself, it will make you a lot more confident when applying.

Sonia: Yeah, it almost feels like there’s no excuse.

SFK: Yeah, and that goes for anything in your life, right? Whether it’s exercising, asking someone on a date, going for your dream job—all of it starts with confidence: the ability to say “OK I’m going to fucking do this.” Believe in yourself. And if it doesn’t work out, what’s the worst scenario? It wasn’t meant to be and you’ll find something else that is an even better fit. You just need to believe you are fucking worthy, because guess what? You are.

Words by Sonia Fillipow and Tommaso Babucci

A special thanks to Serena Kerrigan

Photos by Tessa Hollinger