It's not easy trying to set up a conference call with five supermodels. On any given day, one is working on her fashion label between castings, another modeling the latest collections in Grand Canaria or Paris and one may be at the Lower East Side Girls Club boosting the self-confidence of young women by promoting a healthy body image.
These are the women of ALDA, a coalition of curvy models represented by A-list agency IMG, that represents beauty without divisions, boundaries and shape or size. The outer beauty of each of these women is stunning. One may think they've always had it easy, but there was a time when they were outsiders of the fashion industry and had to learn not only to accept, but celebrate the curves that separated them from the other models and labeled them "plus size." ALDA women Ashley Graham, Marquita Pring and Danielle Redman couldn't make the interview but I tracked down Julie Henderson and Inga Eiriksdottir and asked them how they learned to embrace their bodies and let their beauty shine from within.
The ALDA women carry themselves with a feeling of lightness and positivity, and their posture is the walking message that all women deserve to feel as beautiful as them. They all seem to be doing something very cool in their off hours, like surfing, zooming through the city on Vespa's and filming workout videos. They are also contributing in a big way to a host of charities, like Komera, which funds secondary education for young girls in Rwanda.
The ALDA women's excitement for life makes me want to be their friends and pushes their wow factor off the charts. In our 45 minute long conversation I never once heard Inga or Julie speak ill of a certain body part or negatively of other women, which seems to happen often when groups of females converse. Their campaign is all positive all the time, and their message of acceptance and self-love is contagious. After speaking with Julie and Inga my silly insecurities about things like my post-partum jiggly belly and cellulite were nonexistent and I wondered why I had ever had them in the first place. Julie is very matter of fact about the c word. "I see cellulite as a natural formation and nothing to worry about. As a woman you just have to take care of yourself and let your body be what it wants to be, and that's how you find the most happiness."
Julie came into the industry after a career playing basketball at the University of Notre Dame. An athlete since birth, Julie's focus has always been on staying strong. While most women enter the business trying to shrink themselves, Julie has never been afraid to take up space. "Being "skinny" was never a thought to me. I grew up playing basketball and you get pushed around on the court if you're too slim. I work on being as fit as possible and that's always been my goal." Julie's career has been steady and strong for many years now and it's no accident. She is very intentional about what she does and isn't the type to sit around and wait for her phone to ring. She's the friend you want to run into to get you back on track if you're having a bad day. Julie is a master of the self-care regimen and credits her happiness to putting herself first. She encourages other women to give themselves permission to do the same. "Put your own oxygen mask on before helping others. So often we give on an empty tank. If I'm empty, the whole house is empty. It comes with practice but if you don't learn it, your plane will go down." Julie's self-care practice includes working out, meditation, eating well and being around positive people. "I think the older I get, the more I realize it's so much more effective when you take care of yourself out of self-love, rather than doing it because you think you need to lose weight."
Inga spent years as an accomplished "straight size" model with a list of enviable high fashion clients. She is a soft spoken Icelandic beauty who plays the accordion, loves the arts and is close with her family. Admittedly, at 14, she was a child when she started her modeling career. From the age of fourteen to twenty, she was growing into her body but her body was not expected to increase in size. At 15, her feet were so big she could barely find shoes to fit her and she was miserable struggling to stay as thin as the industry wanted her. It was difficult enough trying to work in the business of high fashion as a teen, then to add the constant pressure to keep her measurements down on top of it was too much. Inga received a necklace from her parents with the Serenity Prayer engraved on it, and it was a turning point for her. She realized she couldn't change the way her body was developing, so she took a step in another direction and made a splash in the industry as a plus size model, where she could be herself. Over time, her career skyrocketed and she was working more then she ever had before. "I'm so grateful I"m at a point where I"m happy with who I am and am not trying to change something. Some things are not ideal, but it's just a waste of time focusing on them. I just want to appreciate my body for what it is. There's such an obsession in our culture to be "skinny" and it's not natural for most of us. Confidence is the most important thing in the end anyways. If a person is confident and happy, that is going to outweigh anything else."
The confidence in both of the women is apparent. Inga notes that her model friends working in the plus size side of the industry are generally more confident and happy with who they are. Focusing on weight all the time takes up a lot of space in the mind. Without it there is more room to fully participate in life, and these women are doing some serious living while keeping health and wellbeing at the top of their priority list.
Julie and Inga are both avid yogi's and that has also played a fundamental part in each of their growth and happiness. "Kindness and meditation are a huge part of my life. When you are practicing yoga and meditation and kindness, you are going to be attracted to self-care and eating good foods, and you don't want to harm your body. But if you're not taking care of yourself, you're more drawn to destructive habits and thoughts," Inga says. Her attitude towards exercise is one of enjoyment and balance. " I love sports It's important to explore and find what you love doing, and then exercise comes naturally. I get my heart rate up everyday, sometimes jumping rope or power walking with friends. I love outdoors, surfing, swimming, hiking. There's so much focus in our society on how you look, but it's fun to take the pressure off and ask instead, what can my body do?"
Julie does Bikram yoga every day if she can. Sometimes she goes to the gym or a dance class. "As long as I keep my body moving, I'm doing well. My routine changes with the seasons. I feel like a million bucks after yoga. My whole day is changed." And food? "I work on giving my body what it craves. Right now in the winter time, I eat more potatoes and quinoa and other beautiful, thick things." Inga is taking cooking classes and encourages people to push for local produce and learn to cook from scratch. " I think young girls can really benefit from learning where their food comes from and how to prepare it."
It seems simple enough- move your body, eat what you crave and be kind to yourself and others. My favorite part about their health and wellness regimens is that they are always doing their best to feel good and take care of their bodies, and they know whatever size and shape that body turns out to be is the right one, and is one to be honored. Julie adds one more thing. "The thing about ALDA, our biggest thing, is to not compete but to lift each other up. Women don't do that enough. We want to honor each other for our own special qualities and individual accomplishments."
We wind down our conversation joking and laughing. These girls are funny. Julie reminds me to take care of myself and promote a fundraiser they are working on for Komera. If taking care of yourself first enables one to also give so much to so many, Julie may just be on to something big.
Black and white photo by Danilo Hess
BUST magazine photo by Danielle St. Laurent