The 6'1'' stunner recently spoke to Black Voices about the perception of plus-size models, bullying, and her charity work as founder of Curves for Change, an organization that seeks to create self-esteem in women of all sizes.
How did you get your start modeling?
As a kid, I dreamt of being an Olympic basketball player and fighter pilot. I was a big tomboy. Modeling was never on my radar. It wasn't until I stopped playing basketball that my best friend -- who attended Notre Dame with me -- forced me into a modeling agency, and that's when it all began. I drove to New York City with $200 in my pocket and nowhere to live, but somehow I found a way to make it.
In the past, plus-sized models seemed to be shunned by big name designers and magazines, how do you feel it has progressed?
I truly believe the world is finally ready and dying to see a different version of beauty. With all the terrible things that are going on in the world today, I think people are hungry for something different. For so long, the fashion world has proclaimed there is only one version of beauty. But times are changing. You have models like Crystal Renn, Marquita Pring, Camilla Hansen, Lizzie Miller, Kate Dillon and Inga Eiriksdottir, to name a few, who can definitely hold their own, whether they are straight size or plus. Every model brings something different when she steps in front of that lens; it's her energy that the camera catches. With the combination of strong plus-size models breaking out and a world dying for a taste of something new, who knows where it could actually go.
We've all watched the recent media attention given to bullying, a huge national epidemic that has a long-lasting impact on self-esteem problems and body image. What advice do you have for young women who may have experience bullying or been targeted because of their size or weight?
I was picked on as a young kid as well. The one thing that saved me was basketball. It helped shape me in a million different ways. My weight was actually useful. Skinny girls were rarely good and they were so easy to push around on the court. My weight made me a good ball player. I started to see the purpose of why I was given such big thighs, hips, and butt -- to box-out, of course! Also, when you have a team of 12 girls behind you, people tend to stay away from you. Something about winning, losing, sweating and sacrificing as a group forms this incredible bond, and it gave me a family all the way from middle school to college. I encourage kids to become part of a team in some shape or form, whether it is the chess team, the soccer team or the debate team.
What inspired you to help create Curves for Change?
Kate Dillon and I came up with Curves For Change (C4C) because we thought it would be amazing to see what kind of impact the plus-size world could have on women around the world. We believe everyone has something unique to share. Modeling is a very self-involved career; you're worried about what job you're getting next, who booked what job, etc. We wanted to change that and actually use our platform to make other women's lives better. Instead of tearing each other down, why not lift each other up? We're starting with our fashion community, and will see where it takes us. It's been an amazing experience.
What can people expect from the 5k event?
Our 5k event will take place this spring. Avenue is the official sponsor of the 5k walk and we hope to gather 300 people to raise money for our two charities. Avenue has been an amazing support for C4C because they love women with curves. They have built and designed our entire website. We couldn't have done any of this without them.
Why did you choose the Komera Project and Hardy Girls Healthy Women to donate the proceeds of the 5k to?
The Komera Project is dear to my heart for many reasons. Kate co-founded it along with Margaret Butler, who is in Rwanda as we speak. Little girls in Rwanda are often forgotten. If their families have money to send their kids to school, the boys automatically get to go first. Girls are not encouraged to play sports, run or do anything other than take care of the home. It breaks my heart to see all these little girls left behind. So many things that we take for granted -- running water, shoes, even tampons -- they are in dire need of. Hardy Girls Healthy Women (HGHW) is also an amazing charity. They are based in the United States. It is important to us that we reach girls in the states as well as across the globe. HGHW provides workshops for little girls teaching them to love their bodies. As plus-size models, it's important to give these girls another example of what beauty is.
What fashion advice do you have for our readers?
Be yourself, be yourself, be yourself! Just because it's the "it" trend of the moment, doesn't mean you have to wear it. Even if you are just wearing jeans and a t-shirt, make sure you are dressing for you. Fashion is a form of expressing who you are, so don't be afraid to do so. Don't be afraid to go against the trends. No matter what weight, height, or size, everyone can find something that fits their body and makes them feel like themselves.
To learn more about Curves for Change, visit the website.