In Interview with Iskra Lawrence: The Body Positive Model Who’s Changing The Industry

As a teen model, Iskra Lawrence was told again and again that she’d never make it in the industry – just because she didn’t have a typical model body shape. Ten years later, she’s the face of American Eagle Outfitters’ Aerie fashion line, starring in an entirely un-retouched, body-positive campaign.

After years of knockbacks, she’s passionate about her gig as Aerie’s first ambassador and ‘role model,’ which involves championing a healthy self-image and educating young women about how to navigate the unrealistically glossy images they’re confronted with every day.

A thoroughly twenty-first-century model, she uses her Instagram account (which boasts a staggering 1.2 million followers to date) to share refreshingly unretouched, unfiltered images. She’s also helped to establish the National Eating Disorder Association’s ‘Seal of Approval,’ awarded to socially responsible campaigns and brands.

We caught up with the UK-born, US-based model to chat body confidence, airbrushing and the double-edged sword of social media…

How did you get into modelling?

When I was thirteen, I entered Elle Girl’s ‘Search for a Supermodel,’ and got into the final. That was my break into the industry – I was doing modelling shoots, doing some fashion shows, but it was very tough for me at that age. I didn’t have a typical model body shape. I had hips even at that young age, and I eventually got dropped because I couldn’t change the way my body was.

That must have been really tough, especially for a teenager
It was really tricky. I got a list of about ten or eleven other agencies to go and see, and every single one gave me the same excuse or a very similar one. They’d say ‘Oh, you’re too womanly’ or ‘You’re too commercial!’ and I was constantly thinking that I wasn’t good enough.

How did it feel to land the Aerie campaign after all that?

It was crazy! I had the brand on my vision board when I was still living in the UK. I’d seen the campaign and I loved what it meant – all these stunning girls, different shapes, different sizes, all unretouched. I knew it was something I had to be involved with. When they announced that I was going to be the Aerie role model and be a really big part of the brand, it was really emotional for me – it meant I was working with a company with a message that I really believed in. They don’t want me to change – and the campaign was basically them saying that I’m good enough as I am. After so many years of not feeling good enough, it was a ‘wow’ moment.

You’re Aerie’s ‘role model’ – do you feel like you have a responsibility to younger girls?

I definitely do have a responsibility. People often ask me ‘who is your role model,’ and it sounds a bit cliché but I’ve been trying to be my own model. I’ve been trying to be the model that I wanted to see when I was a teenager, looking through magazines and not seeing myself, looking at pictures that were so edited. I want to be the girl that’s real and show other girls that you don’t have to have flawless skin or the ‘perfect’ body – because that’s just not realistic. What’s real is you and that you’re special just as you are.

Have you always felt so body confident?

It’s definitely been a process. When I was struggling with all the rejection from the industry, it was very tough. When you’re a teenager, your body is changing constantly and it’s very hard – we’re not told how to look after ourselves mentally and physically. Throughout my whole teenage years, I had zero confidence and had to build it from the bottom up. I got to this point where I faced so much rejection and negativity that I just realised I can’t change – I’d tried everything to change, so I thought ‘let’s try and be the best version of me, instead.’ And as soon as I started doing that, I just got more and more confident.

Do you think there should be more education around self-confidence in schools, then?

100 percent. My aim is to get self-care classes in schools – a combination of mental health and body image. Let’s be completely realistic – we’re not going to be able to change the fashion industry. People are still going to use size zero models, and you know what, that’s not a problem. Some of these girls are that slim and we can’t body shame anybody. But what we can do is educate children and young people, so when they look at an image of a model, they don’t compare themselves to something false, and still believe they’re good enough.

Do you think that modelling is finally becoming more diverse?

I do, and I think it’s partly because of social media. Aerie listened to women on social media saying that they wanted to see more diversity, and that’s what should be celebrated – our differences. That’s that beauty of humanity – that no two people are the same.

Why is it so important that brands don’t airbrush – or at least disclose the extent of what they’re doing?

I think that now, so much in our society is airbrushed. Our lives on Instagram, reality TV – that’s not real! So if you can show that your body has cellulite or stretch marks or scars, it’s a breather, really, for all those young girls who are trying to attain something they never can. If a model has a breakout, people aren’t going to freak out!

How has it made you feel when you’ve had shoots airbrushed in the past?

I don’t like it at all! Imagine getting a picture back where your forearms are half the size. I’m then thinking ‘Is there something wrong with me?’ I’ve done shoots not that long ago, where the photographer loved the pictures on the back of the camera, was really excited to see them, then sends them to be and they’re retouched. I was like ‘Why did you even want to shoot with me?!’ I emailed back and he said ‘These are my images, and I don’t want the raw ones out there.’ That was offensive to me in a way, but again, it’s a societal thing – it’s embedded in the fashion industry that everything has to be flawless and perfect.

Do you think that Instagram is a positive or negative thing when it comes to body image?

It’s so tough to say! Some girls tell me that it destroys them – they look at it and they get caught in a cycle where they’re looking at these airbrushed fitness Instagram models, making themselves feel terrible. Then other girls say it’s really empowering because they can see a beautiful range of women. It’s really a mixed bag, but that makes the education side so important – letting those girls know that it’s not real.

What do you think when you see celebrities doctoring their images on Instagram?

They probably have their own issues going on, and I’d be worried that they can’t feel proud and feel beautiful in their way. Anyone in the media really does have a responsibility to do their bit. [Celebrities] are getting more and more vocal about Photoshopping [on magazine shoots], though, so hopefully, exponential changes are about to happen.

Feeling body confident doesn’t come easy to everyone. Is there one thing that everyone can do to start feeling better about themselves?

The one thing I would teach to anybody trying to be more confident is to stop comparing yourself to anybody else. That’s the main thing that I did – instead of looking at other models and wondering why I didn’t look like them, why I couldn’t change to look like them, you realise that you can’t be anybody else. You’re meant to be you, you’re meant to be in this body. It’s your home, so if you can start loving and respecting it, then that to me is the beginning of confidence.

What do you do when you need a bit of a confidence boost?

Instead of picking out all the things I don’t like about myself, I try to appreciate all the little things I do. I also do gratitude diaries, and even if I’m just on the subway, maybe feeling a little bit down, I think about what I feel grateful for. Why should I worry about not having a thigh gap when some people don’t have clean water – it’s almost laughable.

Which women inspire you?

People like Michelle Obama and Angela Merkel are doing incredible things for the world. There’s also Angelina Jolie’s work for the UN… In terms of the modelling industry, I love Cameron Russell – she’s a highly intelligent model – and Sara Ziff. She founded the Model Alliance and made a documentary [Picture Me] showing the inside of the modelling industry, the side you’d never see.

What’s next for you this year?

I’m actually doing a symposium at Harvard with Sara soon – this year I want to do a Ted Talk and just speak out more. I’ve spent a lot of time cultivating my own self and body image and learning about that, and I feel like knowledge is the best gift you can share. So that’s what I want to do – talk more!

Ashley Graham Is Working for Dolce & Gabbana – a Fat-Shaming Designer

From walking countless runway shows for New York Fashion Week to covering Vogue, Ashley Graham has become famous for bringing body positivity into the mainstream. She’s always been frank and open with her fans about her body image struggles, while also proving that curves deserve a place on magazine covers and catwalks.

So when she walked for Dolce & Gabbana’s latest runway show, a brand that’s made countless controversial statements from fat shaming to racism, I was puzzled. As one of the “wokest” and most body-positive public figures around, why would Graham decide to walk for a brand that seemingly goes against her ethics?

This was a major deal because although the show was in New York City, you rarely see curvier bodies walking the runway for European designers, especially the high-end lines. Graham rules New York Fashion Week, and has even walked in her own runway show for her collaboration with Addition Elle, but she isn’t frequently found on the European catwalks.

Unfortunately, it’s disappointing to see the body-positive movement progress with a brand that has made some pretty startling comments about the plus-size community.

In 2015, the designers faced tons of criticism from the LGBTQ+ community after telling Panorama Magazine they “oppose gay adoption” and criticized IVF pregnancies, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

What’s odd is that the designers themselves are gay, but made these comments that are damaging to the LGBTQ+ community. Even Elton John clapped back on Instagram, stating in part of his caption, “Your archaic thinking is out of step with the times, just like your fashions. I shall never wear Dolce and Gabbana ever again. #BoycottDolceGabbana.”

Domenico Dolce eventually apologized, telling Vogue, “I’ve done some soul-searching…I’ve realized that my words were inappropriate, and I apologize.”

Gabbana also posted an apology on Instagram, saying, “We firmly believe in democracy and the fundamental principle of freedom of expression that upholds it. We talked about our way of seeking reality, but it was never our intention to judge other people’s choices. We do believe in freedom and love.”

That doesn’t mean the designers haven’t said other questionable things, including a racist comment about who would design their brand in the future. In 2018, Dolce told Corriere della Sera, “Once we’re dead, we’re dead. I don’t want a Japanese designer to start designing Dolce & Gabbana,” according to The Telegraph.

Demi Lovato Talks About Why She Shares Photos of Her “Flaws” on Instagram

Demi Lovato continues to act as an inspiring trailblazer in the body positive movement. Last week, the “Tell Me You Love Me” singer posted a series of photos and videos on her Instagram story, pointing out her “flaws” — stretch marks, cellulite and lack of thigh gap — with the repeated message: “yet I still love myself.” In an exclusive interview with E! News, Lovato detailed why she chose to broadcast her imperfections, and where her mindset is now regarding her body’s appearance and health.

“I started comparing myself to these Instagram models,” Lovato told E! “I just thought to myself ‘someone needs to show my fans, and anybody that’s looking at my account, that what you see isn’t always what’s real.’ And so I decided to embrace my flaws — and I don’t even like to call them flaws, it’s just a part of who I am — and show the world that I’m imperfect, but that’s what makes me beautiful.”

Lovato has been public about her longtime struggles with eating disorders and self-harm. The former Disney star told E! that she no longer diets. Instead, she enlists the assistance of personal trainers and a meal-planning nutritionist while she’s touring on the road to keep herself healthy without being overly restrictive. As a self-proclaimed “sweets girl,” she sees no harm in indulging with a brownie, cookie or SusieCake from time to time.

For those who aren’t feeling as confident, Lovato shared some words of wisdom.

“What I would say to somebody that’s struggling right now is try to find the gratitude,” Lovato said. “It’s so important that you try to find gratitude in your life, and focus on the positive things. And when you’re able to do that or you’re able to help others, you’re able to get outside of yourself and you’re able to look at your life from a different perspective. Sometimes it’s really challenging, and it’s really difficult, but it’s something that helps me every day, and so far it’s worked.”

Iskra Lawrence Promotes Body Confidence With Pics of Her Cellulite and Back Rolls

Iskra Lawrence is showing off her natural curves to help people feel more comfortable and confident on social media. She took the snaps “in Vegas flexin on the gram with my lil back rolls and thick thighs and cel-u-lit.”

Her motto? No airbrushing, no problem. “I do wonder how many posts that start like this are actually for real,” the self-care advocate and Aerie model wrote under a series of photos of herself in a black bikini. Her point? To call out how so many shots like the ones she posted have the so-called body flaws airbrushed out of them.

?⚡️I wouldn’t usually post this but… I do wonder how many posts that start like this are actually for real. Because most of the time the pics are FIRE and that’s a good enough reason to post…I don’t over think what I post unless it’s a message I want to share but if I feel good I’ll post whatever pic I want. A bikini pic or anything else doesn’t have to have a philosophical caption or be about body posi because maybe it seems more purposeful now or demands more respect. You deserve the same respect regardless of what you choose to wear. ALSO don’t feel pressure to post swim or underwear pics for likes, follows or because u see people like me doing it. Your comfort and confidence is wayyyy more important, so stay true to you. So anyway just my random thoughts right now and here I am feelin? in Vegas flexin on the gram with my lil back rolls and thick thighs and cel-u-lit.. no airbushin no problem #realisenough #nophotoshop #aeriereal #vegas #cellulit #tigerstripes ?⚡️ Bikini: @aerie

A post shared by i s k r a (@iskra) on

Iskra also emphasized that just because she’s revealing her cellulite and other supposed imperfections, it’s totally fine for others not to. “ALSO don’t feel pressure to post swim or underwear pics for likes, follows or because u see people like me doing it. Your comfort and confidence is wayyyy more important, so stay true to you.”

Lawrence is all about breaking down social media standards and encouraging people to strive for happiness, not perfection. Last September, she provided before-and-after photos to explain how others manipulate their poses on social media. And back in 2016, Lawrence wrote an article for Harper’s BAZAAR about handling her body insecurities.

“I decided to rename my cellulite ‘tiger stripes’ and my stretch marks ‘lightning bolts’ (and even use colorful emojis on Instagram to describe them), as a way to take ownership of my body,” she wrote. “Who decided that these should be considered flaws? They are part of our bodies and we can celebrate them anyway we want.”