Imani Randolph interviews models on the state of the industry.
5 Models on What It’s Taking to Shake Up the Industry
07.23.18

When I began my career as a plus-size model just five months ago, I never expected it would deepen my sense of self-love. Ever since watching America’s Next Top Model as a kid, I assumed that the fashion industry — and modeling in particular — was a superficial, hyper-critical, even toxic environment. Seeing women so callously evaluated on their appearance reinforced the idea that there were rigid expectations for how a model should look, so when I fell into getting signed by an agency (I had no portfolio and no real experience), my excitement was tainted with the fear that all these stereotypes would turn out to be true.

Fortunately, I found hope inside the Instagram accounts of tfaswo models I’d been following since high school, Barbie Ferreira and Diana Veras. Both women proudly rep the “plus-size” label and have become bonafide advocates for body positivity and inclusivity. Their persistence has dismantled barriers for themselves and others within the industry, myself included. I’ve always felt self-conscious about my small butt and tummy rolls, but when I’m posing for a photoshoot, I feel liberated. Contrary to my expectations, modeling has shown me that my “problem areas” aren’t a problem at all.

Today, I follow dozens of models who create positive change in various ways, reframing the way we perceive size, shape, color, gender, ability, age and beyond, and I’ve witnessed the impact of their efforts firsthand. The first time my agency took my measurements, they explained that they didn’t mind if my weight fluctuated, as long as I felt confident. I know this approach still isn’t the norm and that the modeling world has a long way to go before it achieves inclusivity in every sense of the word. To shine a light on some of the progress that has already transpired, I reached out to a handful of models who are helping the industry expand in a less homogenous direction and asked them to share their stories. Keep scrolling to read what they had to say.


Asianna Scott

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Why and how did you start modeling?

I always knew that I had the look for it, and I believed in myself. I knew I could help inspire people and make a difference.

Has the modeling industry changed since you first started out? 

I first started out about two years ago, and in my experience clients were still very closed minded at that point in time. I didn’t really work at all the first two years after I was signed by an agency. Everyone said I looked too “different.” They said I wasn’t commercial enough, and that I had too many tattoos. My agency kept trying to change my appearance and my hair. I felt like an experiment.

The industry is a lot better now as far as being more open, but I wish that high-fashion brands would push themselves to expand their idea of what beauty really is. People still tell me I’m too different-looking, but at the same time I’ve been told by very successful photographers that they are confused about why I’m not getting booked on more jobs.

What was one of your most frustrating or disappointing experiences while modeling?

I hate when directors act pretentious, like they are better than everyone, and try to belittle me. I really have to control my temper when that happens.

What was one of your most gratifying experiences while modeling?

The best experience I’ve had so far was walking for Naomi Campbell’s Fashion for Relief show in Cannes. I’d never walked in a real high-fashion show like that with supermodels. I felt like I belonged there, and I worked so hard to get there. I haven’t walked for my favorite high-fashion brands yet, but having the opportunity to walk among supermodels was still a huge accomplishment for me. People told me I’d never be able to do that. I also got to see France for the first time, so that was cool.

What efforts have you made to create positive change and/or more transparency in the industry?

I always say what I feel and I’m real about it. When I work a job or shoot a campaign, I try to inspire. I speak up and try to motivate other people.

Some outlets refer to your appearance as “androgynous.” From your perspective, has this label played a role in your career as a model?

I’m not a big fan of putting labels on anything. I believe you should just let people be exactly who they are. I own all men’s clothes, which means I prefer to dress in men’s clothes. I feel more comfortable in them. I go to women’s castings in men’s clothes all the time and I still book women’s work.

I’ve accomplished a lot being exactly who I am. When I wear women’s clothes for work, I don’t feel like I’m trying to be someone else. I still feel like me because my personality doesn’t change. I’m solid and comfortable with myself, and I can wear anything. A lot of clients say I can’t wear men’s clothes because they are scared their consumers will respond negatively. I’m just waiting for people to open their minds a bit more.

What advice do you have for someone just starting out?

Create a plan for yourself and follow your heart. Chasing your dreams and becoming successful isn’t easy. You need to be grounded and have a strong mind. Don’t ever let fear or doubt get in the way of your dreams. Do your research and go. Don’t wait for tomorrow, do it now.


Lauren Chan

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Why and how did you start modeling?

I started modeling as a way to break into the fashion industry. It was kind of a technicality; I wanted to be a fashion writer and editor, but I’m from Canada and I found those visas super hard to come by compared to modeling ones.

Has the modeling industry changed since you first started out? 

I started working in 2012 and even then, the fashion industry was much less diverse in terms of size. I think that’s part of why I found success. I was modeling in the plus-size side of the industry and freelance writing on the mainstream side of the industry — I couldn’t figure out why no one in the latter was paying attention to the former. When I brought the two together through my editorial work, everything clicked for me.

Currently, I’d describe the industry as “in flux.” There are so many developments happening now that marginalized groups of people have been demanding for years. These demands have created an industry-wide shift toward inclusiveness, but there’s still a long, long way to go. I’m happy that things are changing and there’s room to talk about making the future of fashion better.

What was one of your most frustrating or disappointing experiences while modeling?

Oh man — I have a few. The worst experience I had as a model was when I was pressured into participating in a nude shoot. I didn’t know how to speak up for myself (beforehand and on set), and I regret that. However, it taught me a lesson, and now I know where my limits are and how to tell people to fuck off. Kidding. But, I am better at standing my ground.

What was one of your most gratifying experiences while modeling?

So many! But the best thing I got out of modeling was that it taught me to not compare myself to other people. When your career depends on your looks and you constantly lose jobs to women who, essentially, look better than you (because, you know, they got the job and you didn’t), it can put you in a really unhealthy place mentally. It got so bad for me that I had to totally eliminate all behaviors that encouraged comparison. It’s a habit I’m so grateful to have ditched.

What efforts have you made to create positive change and/or more transparency in the industry?

Hopefully tons. As a fashion editor at Glamour, I really pushed to make the magazine more size-inclusive. We had a number of early features on the plus-size market, I ended up having a monthly column on the subject (as well as an online vertical), we published two sponsored issues entirely for women above size 12, I designed 10 Glamour x Lane Bryant clothing collections and I helped designers like Tanya Taylor launch extended sizes. Now I’m continuing to lean into size inclusion on my own terms.

What advice do you have for someone just starting out?

Even more so than when I was a model, consumers, brands, publications and the powers that be are eager to embrace individuality. So be yourself! Make your social media unique. Dress in a way only you can. Embrace your quirky hobbies. The list goes on!


Carmen Fozzard

Why and how did you start modeling?

I started modeling through Instagram! My now-agent direct messaged me on the app and asked me to come into the agency. I had never thought about modeling before then, but I went in and got signed that day.

Has the modeling industry changed since you first started out? 

I’m really lucky because I came into the industry at a time when other curve and brown models had already paved the way for me. I’ve heard some real horror stories about how plus-size girls were treated as recently as four or five years ago. I haven’t really had to deal with that kind of open harassment because other girls pushed for a change.

The fashion industry is constantly evolving and becoming more and more inclusive, which is an amazing thing, but I am also very conscious that many brands only want curve models or women of color in their shoots to cash in on a diversity or body positive hashtag. Young people are really starved for visibility and want to see people who look like them in campaigns (and rightfully so), but it seems like some companies are capitalizing on that demand for the sole purpose of making money, and they don’t actually care about the customers they claim to support. Some magazines will have an editorial featuring curve models, encouraging people to love their bodies, and then the next page is an article on how to lose 15 pounds in a week. Another example I can think of is when a friend told me she did a shoot where one of the models was in a wheelchair, but the studio wasn’t wheelchair accessible.

What was one of your most frustrating or disappointing experiences while modeling?

Any time I’ve been made to feel like I don’t deserve to be there because I’m not straight-size. There’s this idea that if you’re not skinny, then you’re only there to fill some kind of “fat girl quota.” Some stylists will go all-out for the small models, and they’ll have these beautiful outfits, but when it comes time to dress the curve girls, we’re all wearing potato sacks because they don’t know/care how to dress us. However, those experiences have been few and far between. I think a lot of stylists now are eager to learn how to dress different body types, and the ones who aren’t won’t last long in this industry as it continues to become more inclusive.

In your interview with Them in April, you spoke frankly about the problematic ways some people react to your scars in public. While modeling, have you ever felt the need to cover up or explain your scars because of these kinds of reactions?

I’ve never felt the need to cover up my scars on set because I feel like they’re part of who I am, and most of the time clients already know about them and don’t care, which is great. There’s always a lot of staring from the crew, which doesn’t particularly bother me because I know most people have never seen someone walk around with so many clearly self-inflicted scars and they are simply curious.

What was one of your most frustrating or disappointing experiences while modeling?

Most of my uncomfortable experiences have been with makeup artists who, for whatever reason, feel entitled to ask me questions about my scars. I had one really horrible shoot where the makeup artist (in a room full of people) kept asking me why I used to cut myself. I was clearly uncomfortable, but she kept insisting that she was only asking because it would be cruel of her not to care. I had another makeup artist try to cover them up because they “don’t look good” on camera. On the flip side, I’ve also met some really lovely people. One girl was putting makeup on my arms and waited until the room emptied to tell me she hoped I was happier now. After having so many bizarre interactions, it meant a lot that she seemed to she genuinely care about my well-being and didn’t want to embarrass me.

What was one of your most gratifying experiences while modeling?

Probably my American Eagle campaign. Oftentimes I feel like I don’t really deserve my modeling career, but walking by billboards of myself was an insane confidence boost and the messages I got from girls who saw it and felt connected to it were unbelievably heartwarming. Having my parents go to the AE stores and send me selfies with my photos made me feel like I was doing something that made them proud, which is always a good feeling.

What efforts have you made to create positive change and/or more transparency in the industry?

I think the best way to create positive change in the industry is just existing in it and being honest about your experiences. I get direct messages from girls all the time saying I inspired them to wear short sleeves because they saw a picture where my scars were showing. I think that really shows that people want/need representation across the board. Instagram can be problematic, but it has also connected me with girls who make me feel like I’m actually doing something significant by modeling because I’m part of their journey to self-confidence and normalcy after self-harm.

[Ed note: For information, resources and support related to self-harm, visit sioutreach.org.]

What advice do you have for someone just starting out?

Before I started modeling, I had no idea how much emotional work it takes. You’re going into castings every day where people sit there and judge you exclusively on your looks. If you don’t get a job, it’s not because you weren’t smart or funny enough, it’s because your face is just not on brand. Even after I do a shoot I was really looking forward to, I’ll be anxious because I know I’ll be so hypercritical of the way I look in the pictures. There have been so many shoots where I’ll see the pictures and think everything looks great, but they would have turned out better if they had used a more talented model.

Coming into an industry that places so much emphasis on your appearance after struggling with self-esteem is really risky, but can also be validating. Confidence fluctuates! Sometimes I’ll feel like the hottest girl in the world and other days I’ll feel like human garbage. But just having these brands show interest in me is amazing, and the fact that the curve modeling world is such a tight-knit and supportive community makes it less intimidating.

My advice to girls starting out modeling would be to build a supportive community that you feel comfortable opening up to! Having friends who are also in the industry really helps to navigate all the highs and lows, especially when you’re fresh into it and don’t really know what you’re doing.


Jacky O’Shaughnessy

Why and how did you start modeling?

I started modeling because I was asked to and it felt like the right thing to do. Marsha Brady, the then-artistic director for American Apparel, was keeping an eye out for a certain [type of] older woman to model underwear and youthful clothes. She saw me in a restaurant, we started talking and she asked me to model some outfits. It was January 2012, and I had never modeled before. I was 60 years old then and I simply said, “Yes.”

Has the modeling industry changed since you first started out? 

When I first started out, there were Dove campaigns showing various ethnicities and body-types wearing underwear. [United Colors of] Benetton was active in using racial diversity in their ads. Carmen Dell’Orefice was the go-to older woman for fashion shows. But by and large, diversity in race, body type and gender was the exception, not the rule. The industry is far more diverse now. I think marketers are waking up to the need for more inclusive representation.

What was one of your most frustrating or disappointing experiences while modeling?

Only one: an editorial shoot where the stylist, who also functioned as the photographer’s assistant, was condescending from the get-go. It was a 12-hour shoot, and that’s a long time to be around such negativity.

What was one of your most gratifying experiences while modeling?

Zanita Whittington contacted me and asked if I’d do a shoot for her site, Zanita Studio. She arrived at my place with clothes from the brand Tome, and we went off to Riverside Park. As Zanita shot the photos, she gave me free rein to move in whatever way the clothes inspired me to. For the only time thus far in my modeling career, I experienced the full glamour that modeling is so often associated with. The shoot was pure joy. Her photos remain my favorite as they were not only fabulous photos from a photography perspective, but also because Zanita captured the fluid elegance of the clothes and the feelings I derived from wearing them.

What efforts have you made to create positive change and/or more transparency in the industry?

In my experience, there isn’t much you can do as a model except to show up on time, be yourself, have respect for those you work with and give it your all. The rest is up to designers, marketers and clients. Though, the attitude of the buying public also has a great influence.

What advice do you have for someone just starting out?

Models need to have a day job because, unless you have support from a partner, or parent or some other type of income, the work can be sporadic and the fees are all over the place. Since there’s no regulation, clients can also take months to pay you. Be respectful when you do get jobs, and be grateful; avoid prima donna and entitled attitudes. Never pay an agency to represent you; a reputable agency in the USA may ask for money to support their website expenses (though European agencies do not do this). Search the internet for information on the different categories of modeling (runway, high fashion, catalog, etc.). If you have a certain style, go with it. Don’t try to conform to what you perceive as “normal.”


Mama Cāx

Why and how did you start modeling?

I started modeling professionally a year ago. I never aspired to be a model. I started working with different brands through my blog, and eventually I booked a huge makeup campaign. I wasn’t ready to go back to a 9-to-5 schedule (I used to work at the mayor’s office), and I figured modeling would be easier to juggle with blogging.

Has the modeling industry changed since you first started out? 

I’m new on the scene, but I have already noticed a slight shift in the industry, largely driven by social media. I’ve seen a handful of brands create adaptive clothes to cater to consumers with disabilities. That being said, the industry is still quite exclusive and elitist, especially if you look at the top models.

What was one of your most frustrating or disappointing experiences while modeling?

My two biggest frustrations on set are not having my clothes in my size or foundation that matches my skin tone. I think if brands are serious about inclusion and diversity, they need to show it, not just in public, but also behind the scenes. I’ve seen black girls get their hair butchered, and every single black girl I know carries their own foundation with them. Hiring diverse models is great, but it should go hand-in-hand with hiring people who are able to cater to them.

What was one of your most gratifying experiences while modeling?

Quite hard to pick, but if I had to, it would be the activewear campaigns I’ve done. Never in a million years did I think I would be chosen to model athletic wear.

What efforts have you made to create positive change and/or more transparency in the industry?

I’ve been able to consult with some brands to advise on why diversity is important and how to be inclusive in an effective way. When it comes to modeling, most brands that put me in their campaigns do so because of my blogging personality, personal style or message of inclusion and body positivity. I also speak up about the lack of inclusion [and the] tokenism that still exists.

What advice do you have for someone just starting out?

No matter how confident and comfortable you are, once you start working in an industry where very few people look like you, some insecurities will surface. Modeling was never a goal of mine, but I started using it as a medium to amplify my message of inclusion. My advice is to always remember why you started and remember that you got to where you are because you’re needed and valued for who you are, so don’t try to change to fit in.

Feature image of Jacky O’Shaughnessy by Edith Young.

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