Recognize. Represent. Reclaim. Revolutionize.

The Body Beautiful

I've never thought I was allowed to enjoy fashion, and the fashion industry has done little to dissuade me of that notion. As a woman of size, as a fat woman, I've rarely, if ever, seen anyone who looks anything like me in fashion magazines or on fashion websites. I've admired fashion from afar, treated avant-garde pieces and couture outfits as forbidden fruit. At times, fashion has taunted me as I flipped through the glossy pages of Vogue or W or Marie Claire. I've admired beautifully cut blouses and billowing slacks and strangely cut but intriguing skirts. I've thought, If I were thin enough, I might be able to taste this forbidden fruit. I might know what it feels like to wear beautiful clothing and feel beautiful in beautiful clothing.

There are all kinds of women and men and non-binary people like me who have wanted to feel like a part of the fashion world, but who have been implicitly and/or explicitly excluded. Most designers only make clothes for very specific bodies-impossibly thin, angular, lacking in curves. And certainly, that very specific body exists, but it is not the only body. It is not the kind of body most people live in. Designers make it seem like they are not so interested in clothing women but are, instead, interested in clothing the idea of a woman. Fashion magazines only reinforce this narrow aesthetic by featuring this elusive idea of a woman on their pages.

But what do those of us who are more than an idea or ideal do? What do we wear? How do we express ourselves through clothing when we have so few interesting options? If we do not see ourselves represented in fashion, in film and television, in literature, how do we feel like we belong to a community beyond ourselves? These are questions I have struggled with for a very long time and will continue to struggle with not only as a fat woman, but as a black woman, and a bisexual woman.

ARI FITZ WEARS DIANE VON FURSTENBERG TOP, ROBERT LEE MORRIS EARRINGS. GABRIELLE RICHARDSON WEARS NO. 21 DRESS, SONIA BOYAJIAN EARRINGS.

What we really need is drastic, revolutionary change. We need to forget the status quo because the status quo serves no one.

PHOTOGRAPHED BY ADRIENNE RAQUEL. STYLED BY CHRISTINE NICHOLSON. ZURI TIBBY WEARS COURREGES TOP, DIANE VON FURSTENBERG PANTS, SERGIO ROSSI SHOES. DIANA VERAS WEARS CHRISTOPHER JOHN ROBERTS BLAZER, MARC JACOBS POLO, BASERANGE PANTS, AGL SHOES, THE SHINY SQUIRREL EARRINGS, ANA KHOURI EARRINGS. GABRIELLE RICHARDSON WEARS SOLACE BLAZER, APIECE APART TOP, ELIZABETH AND JAMES SKIRT, GIUSEPPE ZANOTTI SHOES, AVERY GREGORY EARRINGS, TALENT’S OWN RINGS. ARI FITZ WEARS DIANE VON FURSTENBERG TOP, DIANE VON FURSTENBERG PANTS, ELLERY SHOES, ROBERT LEE MORRIS EARRINGS. EZINMA WEARS TIBI DRESS, TIBI BELT, BROTHER VELLIES SHOES, DINOSAUR DESIGNS EARRINGS.

PHOTOGRAPHED BY ADRIENNE RAQUEL. STYLED BY CHRISTINE NICHOLSON. ZURI TIBBY WEARS FENDI SWEATER, GUCCI JUMPSUIT, FENDI SHOES, FENDI SOCKS, GUCCI BELT, MONICA SORADO BRACELET, SONIA BOYAJIAN GREEN AND WHITE EARRINGS.

And we need far more than to say that every body matters. Designers need to acknowledge this reality and so do fashion magazines.

PHOTOGRAPHED BY ADRIENNE RAQUEL. STYLED BY CHRISTINE NICHOLSON. DIANA VERAS WEARS CHRISTOPHER JOHN ROBERTS BLAZER, MARC JACOBS POLO, BASERANGE PANTS, AGL SHOES, THE SHINY SQUIRREL EARRINGS, ANA KHOURI EARRINGS. EZINMA WEARS NANUSHKA T-SHIRT, REJINA PYO SUIT, ALUMNAE HEELS, SIGERSON MORRISON HEELS, WE WHO PREY EARRINGS, DINOSAUR DESIGNS EARRINGS.

Every body is unique and carries with it a history that deserves to be honored by fashion.

PHOTOS
Photographer: Adrienne Raquel
Photo Assistant: Senem Gunes

BEAUTY
Makeup: Kim Weber
Makeup Assistant: Kyle Sheehan
Nails: Gracie J.
Stylist: Christine Nicholson
Stylist Assistants: Tyler Okuns, Davian Rodriguez, Raven Shephard
Hair: Andrita Renee

VIDEO TEAM
Producer: Maura Gaughan
Shot by: Charlotte Prager, Dani Okon, Katie Sadler
Editing: Charlotte Prager, Dani Okon, and Dylan Pailer-Friedman
Sound: Drew Joy

Get to Know

Diana Veras

This summer, Diana Veras posted a series of pictures of herself posing in a pink gingham bikini on Twitter. "Hello, summer is here and I look fab," she captioned the images. Amongst the likes and retweets, one spiteful user decided to make an unsolicited comment about the model's body. "You're fat," they wrote. To which Veras replied: "And? The fuck lmaoooo," with a GIF of a man shooing someone away.

The very next day she posted more pictures of herself from the same shoot. "Here’s more of my lil chubby ass in a bathing suit since it offends men so much," she wrote. Veras' reaction went viral, but it wasn’t because she was saying anything new. She's been this unapologetic and proud for a while. The internet is just now taking notice.

Veras wanted to be a model for a long time but didn't think it was attainable. "This kid in high school remembers me saying, 'I'm gonna be famous,’ and he's like, 'How are you gonna do it?' and I'm like, 'I don't know,'" she says. "It was always in the back of my mind, but never realistically. It was a picture, just not a realistic one for me at the time."

When Veras was about 17, she caught the attention of photographer Petra Collins during an American Apparel event. She had posed for some photo shoots before here and there, but this was a bigger deal than the others. "I didn't know anything about fashion at the time, so she just kept putting me in editorials," she says. "And I kind of didn't know what I was doing, but I really liked shooting." So, she went on doing it, eventually got an agent, and landed her first big campaign with Marc Jacobs a couple of years ago.

PHOTOGRAPHED BY ADRIENNE RAQUEL. STYLED BY CHRISTINE NICHOLSON. DIANA VERAS WEARS COURREGES KNIT, SACAI PANTS, AGL SHOES, AVERY GREGORY EARRINGS.

DIANA VERAS WEARS ZIMMERMANN KNITWEAR, ACNE STUDIOS POLO, ACNE STUDIOS PANTS, AGL SHOES, THE SHINY SQUIRREL EARRINGS.

As a curvy Afro-Latina, Veras knows that she’s representing teenage girls who historically haven’t been seen in high fashion campaigns. But she's also aware of the fact that a lot of women of color look at her and still don’t feel seen.

"I feel like I'm a very privileged woman in the sense that I'm very light-skinned, I have a looser curl pattern, it's very easy to put me in a campaign and have people be okay with it. It's what's idolized," she says. But, there are so many facets to the "different" people out there who deserve to be put in campaigns just as much as she does. "There are curves within curves, and there are shades within black, and there are different textures within curly hair," she says. "It's so easy to make things that are already socially acceptable beautiful on a larger scale."

For now, though, she's willing to be a conduit for the gradual change that is happening. Even if, eventually, that means missing out on a gig to another girl. "Everyone needs to be included in everything," she says. "Yes, I'm beautiful, but I'm not the only curvy girl that exists, and I shouldn't be the only one used for everything." It shouldn’t need to always be said, but representation is important. "I feel like everybody needs that push, someone who looks like them, so that they can be like, 'Shit, maybe I can do it one day, too.'"

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Get to Know

Ezinma

Ezinma was three years old when she first picked up a violin. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago, though, that she started meshing together her love of trap and classical music and attracting the attention of Beyoncé, Stevie Wonder, and Mac Miller. The day of our photo shoot also happened to be the day the lead single off of the Black Panther soundtrack, "All The Stars," was released; on it, Ezinma plays the strings.

Ezinma decided to take this unconventional route with her music because she often feels like an outsider within the classical space. "I've always felt a mild disconnect with classical music, even though I've been playing it for almost my entire life," she says. "I'd sit in the orchestra, and I wouldn't see people who looked like me, or I'd go to these concerts, and everybody was old and white. I loved music, I loved playing the violin, but the music I was playing didn't always connect with the music I liked." So, she forged her own musical path, and people have happily followed her down it.

PHOTOGRAPHED BY ADRIENNE RAQUEL. STYLED BY CHRISTINE NICHOLSON. EZINMA WEARS NANUSHKA T-SHIRT, REJINA PYO SUIT, ALUMNAE HEELS, SIGERSON MORRISON HEELS, WE WHO PREY EARRINGS, DINOSAUR DESIGNS EARRINGS.

Ezinma had similar hesitations about the fashion industry. "Being a model was never an intention of mine because I didn't see myself fitting in in any way," she says. But a shift is happening on that front, too: People don’t want to see "models" anymore when they look at campaigns, they want to see women they can relate to.

"Fashion and branding now want to hear stories, so people are able to step out beyond this beautiful facade and show who they really are," Ezinma says. It's why, she thinks, someone like herself—a "shorter, not super-skinny, really normal-looking woman"—was able to make her way into the industry. "The fact that I am where I am is incredible. People are embracing the fact that I play the violin and I come from Nebraska and I have this really unique story, and it just shows that being yourself is what fashion's wanting."

Having just shot Adidas' Tubular sneaker campaign for Finish Line in December with some "other big project in the works," Ezinma hopes to now continue on the film scoring route. She’s finishing up her album, and her ultimate goal is to keep challenging culture. Picture this: A full, live orchestra in Carnegie Hall. The seats filled with stylish insiders. On stage, walking through the strings and passing the brass section, is a model donning the latest collection from a notable designer. And Ezinma somewhere behind the scenes. This is what she wants her future to look like—an amalgamation of the two industries she currently occupies. "There hasn’t been the person to merge the worlds, and I believe that person is me," she tells us, with a twinkle in her eyes and a confidence you wouldn't dare question.

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Get to Know

Zuri Tibby

When Zuri Tibby found out that she became the first black spokesmodel for Victoria’s Secret Pink, she immediately FaceTimed her mom. “She was really excited, and then I went to dinner with my friends to celebrate,” she says. Then, since the announcement also coincided with the beginning of Fashion Month, she got right back to work.

Tibby hails from the Sunshine State (she was discovered in a Florida mall), so it makes sense that she would feel most at home in warm weather, on the beach, and in a bathing suit. Even before booking VS, you didn’t have to scroll too far to find an image of Tibby on Instagram posing in a two-piece with a large body of water in the background. Today, though, if you see her in the Maldives or in St. Lucia, know that she likely isn’t there on an exotic vacation. She's there to work. "[Modeling] isn’t just taking photos, it's your whole image," Tibby says when addressing misconceptions people have about the industry. "It's the way you talk, the way you dress, the way you present yourself, you have to take care of your body, take care of your hair, your skin… everything. Everything is a job."

PHOTOGRAPHED BY ADRIENNE RAQUEL. STYLED BY CHRISTINE NICHOLSON. EZINMA WEARS NANUSHKA T-SHIRT, REJINA PYO SUIT, ALUMNAE HEELS, SIGERSON MORRISON HEELS, WE WHO PREY EARRINGS, DINOSAUR DESIGNS EARRINGS.

Now, almost a year and a half after booking Pink, the 22-year-old has walked in the past two Victoria's Secret Fashion Shows, booked international campaigns that have taken her around the world, and continues to be an inspiration for aspiring models of color. Thankfully, now, those with dreams like Tibby's have a wider range of women to look up to. The 2017 VS Fashion Show was the most diverse it's ever been, with nearly 50 percent of the models being of color. The march toward diversity is slow, but it's at least moving. That's what helps Tibby stay optimistic. "I feel like the fashion industry as a whole is starting to recognize different body types and races. People of all genders, ethnicities, backgrounds—are all being included," she says. "It makes me really happy that people can look in a magazine or a commercial and see somebody that looks like them."

Though Tibby's campaigns with Pink are some of her favorites and walking the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show has always been a dream, she has another goal she'd like to tick off soon: becoming a VS Angel (to become one, you have to model for the main Victoria's Secret line, which Tibby has yet to do). When she first joined Instagram, she created the handle @angelzuri (she copied longtime Angel Candice Swanepoel whose handle is @angelcandices) as a way of wishing it into existence. It's been awhile since she put the message out in the universe, but her confidence hasn't waned. When asked what advice she would give to up-and-coming models, she says: "Never give up, don’t take rejection seriously, and have fun." Here's hoping that same formula helps her get her wings in 2018.

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Get to Know

Ari Fitz

Ari Fitz balances her masculinity and femininity with ease—choosing to embrace her androgyny and wear "tomboy" clothing. It's her unique look that makes her stand out, but it was also what held her back at the beginning, like when the first agency with which she signed wouldn’t accept the way she dressed. That didn't work with Fitz, who "quit that agency, moved to L.A., and started doing more freelance stuff where they would let me be my whole self."

She, too, struggled internally with the dichotomy but eventually realized: "I don't have to pick a side anymore," as she writes on her Instagram. "None of us do."

PHOTOGRAPHED BY ADRIENNE RAQUEL. STYLED BY CHRISTINE NICHOLSON. ARI FITZ WEARS DIANE VON FURSTENBERG TOP, DIANE VON FURSTENBERG PANTS, ELLERY SHOES, ROBERT LEE MORRIS EARRINGS.

Fitz is firm about the fact that she’s not just a model. She’s also a Real World alum, runs her fashion vlog called Tomboyish, and develops television shows and comic books, for those keeping tabs. She's a storyteller, though, above all else. "I love telling stories that people have never heard of before or thought about," she says. Specifically, Fitz likes to create characters and story lines with which her younger self can identify. "I never saw anyone like myself in film or TV—a black queer woman who’s masculine and comfortable within herself. So, [in my projects], I try to tell my 13-year-old self that she's okay."

Modeling is just one chapter in what’s bound to be a very thick storybook. And she likes to remind herself of that. "I'm really interested in pushing myself and not getting too limited," she says. "As a model, I feel like it does get really easy to get comfortable and I think that, with the tools that we have with social media, with YouTube, with how cheap it is to make things, we should all be out there creating as many things as possible—especially people of color because our stories aren't out there." She lists Lena Waithe, Ava DuVernay, and Shonda Rhimes as fellow storytellers she admires. Fitz hopes to hear her name said in the same breath as these women someday. "Given the fact that there are so many tools, I'm gonna do it all. And I want to do it all. And I want more people to do it all because when have we ever had the means to do so?"

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Get to Know

Gabrielle Richardson

Gabrielle Richardson is not only known for modeling, but also for being one of the founders of Art Hoe Collective, an online submissions-based art gallery created specifically for queer people of color, which she helped launch while she was in college. Around the same time she started curating for the site, she began posing for her friends’ art projects. Things snowballed from there, and next thing Richardson knew, she was posing for Vogue clad in Gucci.

Richardson credits a lot of her career thus far to being in New York City, which she sees as being the land of opportunity. If someone's going to have a chance of being street cast by Petra Collins for an Urban Outfitters shoot, it's going to be here, she explains.

PHOTOGRAPHED BY ADRIENNE RAQUEL. STYLED BY CHRISTINE NICHOLSON. GABRIELLE RICHARDSON WEARS NO. 21 DRESS, NICOLE SALDAÑA SHOES, SONIA BOYAJIAN EARRINGS.

Though her life as a model "just sort of happened," don't let the seemingly casual social media beginnings fool you. She’s the real deal, and takes modeling as seriously as her other creative pursuits, even if it wasn't a professional avenue she initially considered for herself. But her work speaks for itself; she's appeared in campaigns for American Eagle, Adidas, and Target—which she considers "the most model-y job of all." And she says, "I'm trying to relinquish that imposter syndrome… Once I do my taxes, that's what I'm going to put down."

More than anything, Richardson wants her journey—and her imperfect teeth—to empower and serve as inspiration for others. "Everyone is so beautiful, and the WASPY standards we have are constantly being knocked down and also need to be knocked down, it's a requirement," she says. "I think anyone can be a model. Anyone, anywhere. Everyone is beautiful in their own individualistic way. It doesn't matter who thinks you're beautiful because if you think you're beautiful, then you got it… Find the friend with the camera, shoot together, and make some sick stuff happen. Manifest it."

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