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Body Politics: Iskra Lawrence on being fat-shamed as a 14-year-old model

In Stylist’s Body Politics series, award-winning body confidence coach and @ScarredNotScared founder Michelle Elman sits down with women we love to discuss their journey to feeling comfortable in their own skin. Here, model Iskra Lawrence underlines the psychological impact of growing up as a teenage model.

On 15 May, fashion company Kering – who owns the likes of Gucci, Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen – announced that it will no longer be using models who are under the age of 18. It is just the latest big change to the modelling industry, which has been slowly broadening its definition of what a model should look like over the past few years. And Iskra Lawrence is certainly one of the models that has broken barriers.

Lawrence is part of a new division of fashion darlings known as “in-betweenie” models, sitting somewhere firmly in the middle of the industry’s straight size and plus size models.

However, while she is now one of the industry’s most successful models (Iskra Lawrence’s net worth has accumulated to approximately $2,000,000, according to multiple reports), that wasn’t always the case.

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When Lawrence first began her modelling career at 14 years old, the fashion world wasn’t quite so welcoming. She had won the Elle Girl Supermodel Search and had just been signed to an agency, and, as is the norm in that situation, they began taking her measurements.

That’s when the mood changed.

“It was when they had a reaction to my hip measurement that I started thinking ‘is there something wrong with them?’” Lawrence recalls. She explains to me that the agency went on to outline the measurements that a model should have, and pointed out that her hips were much larger than the average.

“I learned then that there was something wrong with my body and the size of it,” explains the model. “I didn’t like it and wanted to change it”. 

Of course, this wasn’t the first time that Lawrence became aware of the ‘ideal’ body – far from it, in fact.

“I remember at 10 years old, if you asked me about cellulite, I already knew it was bad,” she says. “The only time I learned what the word cellulite meant was when people were saying how awful a woman’s cellulite look like.”

For aspiring models who aren’t conventional or similar to the beauty ideal, Lawrence’s advice is to remove all limitation.

“If someone else is going to believe in you, you need to get out of that mindset because if you are going to change something, break the mould or challenge a stereotype,” she says. “That has to be why you are doing it”.

And, if you aren’t a public face, don’t worry: you can still join the good fight. As Lawrence stresses, changing opinions around body image doesn’t necessarily have to happen online or in a similarly public way.

“If you hear anyone talking badly about themselves, stop them – especially when it comes to your best friends,” she advises. “Be that change and disrupt that cycle. Don’t feed into it. Do it with your friends. Keep yourself accountable.”

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Lawrence makes a point of practicing what she preaches. In her own life, she is as open and honest with her loved ones as she asks her fans to be – especially when it comes to mental health issues.

“I do it with my boyfriend,” she says, referring to her partner Philip Payne. “We get off the phone and sit down and see how we are feeling physically, mentally and spiritually. We do that at least once a week”.

It’s a practice they have been doing since they first began dating in 2018 – at Payne’s request. At first Lawrence found it a little intense and admits his raw honesty caught her off guard. However, she has since embraced the routine – and credits her boyfriend’s therapy sessions as a reason she is able to be so open.

“He understands the importance of looking after his mental health and I really value that,” she says. “He actually does it with his friends where they talk about the hardest challenge of this week, the highlight of this week and how to do better next week.”

Lawrence isn’t here for people’s assumptions about therapy – particularly their misguided belief that people only visit a therapist if something is wrong with them. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

“Maybe they are OK because they are going to therapy?” she muses. “They are giving their mental health the time that it deserves”.

For people going to therapy for the first time, her top tip is to bring along someone you trust. 

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Lawrence knows how hard it can be to reach a place of self-love and acceptance. However, she advises anyone reading to remember that working on both your mental health and body image has to be a constant practice.

“It’s not a one-fix answer,” she says. “You don’t have one conversation about body image, you don’t hear one quote from me and you’re fixed and you are going to happy every single day and feel confident.

“Every day you have to challenge yourself to speak about the things you love most and the things you are grateful for.”

Remember: Beat is here to support people who have or are worried they have an eating disorder, as well as others affected, such as friends and family members. You can call their helpline on 0808 801 0677.

For far too long, the representation of women by both mainstream and social media has failed to reflect who we see in the mirror, and its impact on our mental health is worrying. Stylist’s Love Women initiative promises to change that. As well as the launch of our Body Politics series, we’ve partnered with Dove, whose latest project (in conjunction with photo library Getty Images) aims to increase the supply of diverse pictures of women which we will be using going forward. 

Our editor-in-chief Lisa Smosarski has also made five pledges to Stylist readers:

  1. We will ensure the women you see on our pages represent all women – inclusive of ethnicity, body shape, sexuality, age and disability. When we create content and ideas, we will ensure that all women are represented at the table. We commit to featuring one fashion or beauty photoshoot a month that uses real, diverse women.
  2. We will ensure that we never sell an impossible dream. We believe in aspiration, but not in selling a lie. We will work with influencers, celebrities and other partners to encourage them to reveal their truths, too.
  3. We will celebrate the so-called flaws of women to prove the normality in all of our bodies. We will run videos, photoshoots and honest accounts of our bodies and how they behave.
  4. We will hold regular huddles with our advertisers and brand partners to challenge the way they portray and reflect women in their branding and advertising. We will call out and challenge brands, media and people who refuse to represent women with respect and truth. We will call on the government to support our goals.
  5. Through insight and anecdote, we will teach everyone about the issues facing women, what needs to be done and how we can all work together to resolve this self-esteem crisis.

Find out more about Stylist’s Love Women initiative here.

Iskra Lawrence’s L’ORÉAL lipstick, ’My Perfect Nude by Iskra’, is available to buy for £9.99 on Amazon UK. For every lipstick sold, 50p will be donated to L’Oreal Paris’s charity partner, The Prince’s Trust – helping to transform the lives of young people who are struggling, through programmes that offer practical and financial support.

Image: Getty

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