Growing up in the entertainment industry as a writer, I never saw any women in the mass media who looked like me. Like many insecure youth who feel that they are less than beautiful, I spent my teenage years alone in my room crying, hating my body and generally feeling sorry for myself. Looking back on these tear-stained-pillow years of my life, I am apt to feel incredibly foolish, as I can now see how little I truly understood about real beauty. It was only when I became a plus size model in my 20’s that my views on beauty really began to take shape. Finally seeing someone like me being used as an example of beauty was empowering. Body-confident messages from models like Jada Sezar, Ashley Graham and Tara Lynn began a movement in the mainstream, and it was one that I could not ignore.
When I was in high school, campaigns like Dove’s Real Beauty and the like were a welcome change, amidst the noise of all the superficial advertisements being thrown my way. Like any other girl struggling with body image issues and insecurities, campaigns that pushed for self-love no matter what proved like a gateway drug into the world of diverse beauty and self-acceptance. I wanted to teach girls that fashion, beauty and the media could be as multi-faceted as real life. If, even for a second, I could save others from feeling the pain I felt in my younger years, I knew I’d feel that I had purpose, and that my suffering had not been in vain. Yet as a screenwriter, I always planned to remain behind the scenes. In a way, back then, I was a hypocrite: I never believed that I could be the poster child for the very cause I championed.
Becoming a model was never my intention, it was a symptom of finally learning to love myself. In 2011, I created a Facebook page, Twitter account and Instagram handle, all with one goal in mind – to spread body positivity and self acceptance. One year, whilst I was perusing my Facebook wall, I came across a link to the international model contest held every year by Curvy Kate. Curvy Kate is one of my favourite lingerie brands for the fact that they used their customers as their models (they find them via their annual “Star In A Bra” competition). Perhaps I was feeling a little more bold that day, but I uploaded some pictures and entered.
A few months later, to my delight, I received notice that out of thousands of entries, I had made the top 25! I was naturally ecstatic, and this was the catalyst that lead me to begin booking more and more modeling gigs. Though I didn’t ultimately win Star In A Bra, it gave me loads of confidence and exposure. It wasn’t long before local brands and companies started contacting me about working with them to promote body positivity and diversity in the media. Whether it’s through modelling, penning an advice column or writing a new script, I am thrill at the way that my career has taken shape in the last couple of years, and it’s all thanks to my new-found self-esteem. Not only am I now more confident in myself, but I also have the privileged of being an example for others who might feel as I once did.
When I first started modeling, I wasn’t really comfortable having myself photographed, but the act itself gave me a good shot of some long-overdue exposure therapy. I always knew that I was talented and that I had a special knack for stringing together words, but only in the last few years, through modeling, have I emerged from the physical shadows that gripped me since adolescence. I never deemed the vessel that was my physical body worthy of bringing forth my message. It was only in learning to love myself, inside and out, that I finally became whole.
It is not enough that we tell girls that they should “look within” to discover beauty. If young women are not comfortable with their physical appearance, it is hard to remedy the underlying issues of insecurity; the inner beauty will always be concealed. Every girl is beautiful but every girl also deserves to feel beautiful.
At last year’s Essence Luncheon in Hollywood, Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o gave a memorable speech about the importance of seeing ourselves reflected in the media. Upon seeing South Sudanese supermodel Alek Wek, Nyong’o finally had an example of beauty that she could relate to. She then mentioned getting a letter from a young girl who she had in turn inspired:
“…I was just about to buy Dencia’s Whitenicious cream when you appeared in the world map and saved me.” — Lupita Nyong’o quoting a fan letter written to her by a young African girl.
Becoming a plus size model might not have been in my initial plan, but it helped immensely to solidify what I had suspected all along – that we can change the landscape of what we consume as a culture, but before all that, we must change ourselves. If I ever want to see more girls like me in the media, I have to be one of those girls. If I truly believe that everyone is beautiful, I have to include myself as well. After all, if I am too ashamed to be at the forefront of my own cause, how can I ever expect others to follow me?
In a very “be the change you want to see in the world” kind of way, I was able to not only change my own perception of what beauty was, but even if in a small way, I altered other’s perceptions as well. As I grow as an entertainer, I hope that I will continue on this path of self-acceptance and inspire more girls to put themselves out there, just as I did.
Whenever I read interviews with other plus size models, they often say things like “I’ve always been comfortable with my size,” or “I’ve just always accepted my body.” I sadly cannot say the same. Every week I get emails, tweets and queries from girls from all around the world regarding body image and modeling. Many comment on my confidence or my looks, and ask how they can become more body positive too. Though I am glad to be an inspiration, I find it interesting in a way that these girls are coming to me, as I was once in their shoes.
Coming to terms with my body and my looks has been a lifelong, uphill battle. I am finally at a place where I can say that I am at peace with myself. Sure, I still have hard days, but as media portrayals of women become more diversified, I have hope that one day every girl, no matter what, will be able to see herself reflected in the media too. I want to tell these girls who write me how honored I am that they consider me their inspiration because, above all else, they are mine.