Last year I deemed Iskra Lawrence to be one of my biggest heroes, and today I have just been reminded why I did that. Iskra has just taken part in StyleLikeU "What's Underneath Project" to open up about her life as a model and basically call bullshit on the industry as a whole, in the most honestly refreshing way possible. And just incase you didn't know already, or needed reminding why Iskra is quite so awesome... She has recently busied herself fronting the body positive campaign for Aerie AND is the genius behind Twitter's favourite hashtag - #EveryBODYisBeautiful.
Iskra started modelling at 13 and talks a lot about the insecurities that troubled her as a teen. She talks about the insecurities that her acne had given her and about how when she came to London to pursue her dream, "every time I was going to the agency, I'd go down there and they'd just keep measuring my hips. My hips were 36 inches and they needed to be 34 and I literally physically couldn't get them to be any smaller."
By the time she was 15 she says she had tried the "maple syrup Beyonce diet, I tried protein only, the Atkins kind of thing, but again, what did I have in my resources? Not much, so I would just eat ham for weeks. I would be counting my calories and make sure that I was working out, or burning more calories than I was eating, so I was always in calorie deficit."
When she started to feel faint in the gym she knew what she was doing was wrong but says "I'd still be looking in the mirror as a UK 10 and I'd be thinking: why are my thighs this big? Is there an operation where you can cut your calf muscles? Like crazy things. Not understanding why I couldn't look lie the models that I saw in the magazines, that I wanted to do and be, and I was so close, I was signed and I wanted it so bad, but I just couldn't... my body, my hip structure, it didn't allow me to, so I got dropped..."
About that time in her life she says she was "obsessed with how [she] looked. Dressing in push-up bras, trying to be sexy because I was so confused with my body and it's shape and it's curves that I didn't really know what to do with them. I was trying to prove that I was confident in my body but actually I was hating it. I wanted my friends to think I felt good, I wanted the boys to fancy me because I needed that validation for my body, for the way I looked because I was not getting it inside or from the modelling industry, where I really wanted it."
When she was 18, Iskra stumbled across plus size modelling and, after being initially turned down by agencies for being 'too small', she was able to persuade a smaller agency to take her. But when she got to New York and would go to meet clients she was met with more rebuttal: "they'd say, you're too small, we need to pad you out a bit, your waist is too small. By the end of it you look at yourself in the mirror and you're two dress sizes bigger."
She says this was hard to come to terms with, especially after everything that she had been through... "being photoshopped to beyond recognition so that my arms were half the size and thinking 'what's wrong with me?' When you are doing a shoot, especially lingerie, you're stood there and you're doing the photos and then you get the photo back, the cellulite has been retouched, your waist's been slimmed in. All these things have been done to you. In your head, you then think that's a flaw, that's bad. I now have to attain to this perfect me that I'm not even. I'm not even that perfect me and I've worked so hard to get there."
Which is why, she says that the campaigns that she is involved with at the moment are so important: "there was no better campaign and pinnacle for me of coming on this journey than being in a campaign that was un-retouched. [It] was the culmination of all these feelings about my body, thinking I'm there and I'm un-retouched, WOW. I'm not having to diet, I'm happy and they're not telling me I have flaws. They're telling me I'm good enough to be in my bikini, with all these things that for years I thought made me not good enough."
She finishes her interview by getting a bit teary (she's not the only one) and saying that "I wanna be able to give a voice to all those young girls and for them to seem me and realise that yeh, they don't need to attain to that perfection. I just wanna change the way they feel about themselves and the way they see the world and give them the opportunity to come full circle to where I am. And be beautiful in someone else's life. I have a wonderful relationship now with my boyfriend and I think it's because I feel beautiful and I feel like I deserved to be loved, because I've learned to love myself."
Iskra is touching on some really important issues here and I think her story alone highlights a lot of issues in the modelling industry. (And let's face it there are a LOT to highlight.) She has, in my humble opinion, one of the MOST beautiful bodies and I am so pleased to hear that she is prepared to show it off without any photoshop, because that is exactly what the world needs.
I have expressed concern before that at the moment the fashion world is divided into, what feels like, two armies, the size zero vs. plus size (lol, can you imagine them actually in battle) and so it is wonderfully refreshing to see someone who doesn't necessarily fit into either box, just doing her thing.