I wouldn't say 'gone', but going are the days when beauty was reserved for the skinny, young white girl. Now, however, society is beginning to stand united and use social media as a catalyst to start the body confidence movement. Slowly, but surely, we are re-writing the definition of beauty.
One lady who is at the heart of the beauty industry is Stephanie Patent - a curved model, actress and choreographer from New York. If anyone has a first hand experience in the world of beauty demands, it's Stephanie. She took the time to let me know about the highs and lows of her career and more importantly, how she has dealt with the stress of working in an industry where your face and body lands you your next job.
Getting involved in acting and dancing since a very young age, Stephanie has climbed the ranks and achieved many impressive things within her career.
"I always loved to perform and be on stage from a young age. I used to be a part of a nationally-ranked tap competition team. It was so fun to have a hobby and goals. I remember looking up to the older girls at my dance studio and feeling so inspired to get better and better. I was also asked to model for a local hair salon when I was twelve, so that started quite early for me as well, though I didn't consider pursuing it professionally until I was much older." Stephanie told me.
However, being exposed to the stage since such a young age, Stephanie has entered a career where image means everything and at times, when your image doesn't quite fit the bill, you face rejection.
"I think the biggest challenge in any career, and really life itself, is to learn how to let go of the negative feelings associated with rejection. I guess models and actors deal with it a bit more than the average person, but it really does apply to everyone. The greatest challenge for me personally has been not to lose myself."
The idea of losing yourself in terms of image (in other words, never feeling good enough and losing sight of what really defines you) is something that I feel society does not discuss openly often enough. I have been there, done that and worn the t-shirt when it comes to finding yourself in a situation where your life seems more like limbo and you have no clue who you are and what you are doing. It's a common enough feeling, but so many are left in the dark alone and for too long.
There have been days where I didn't feel worthy enough and simply not good enough to maintain the high standards which our occasionally vain culture can demand from us. Yet, who was I comparing myself to? The photo shopped models from 'Pinterest' and magazines. It wasn't real life and I forgot that my wonky teeth play no part in me finding a boyfriend, having a successful career and ultimately, being happy. My personality, passion for life and confidence determines that.
As for rejection, it is important to remember that that doesn't define us either. Just because a band turns down an interview from me, or Stephanie doesn't book a certain shoot, it doesn't mean we're doomed from here on out and we are suddenly of less self - value.
"I've been subjected to scrutiny and judgment every step along the way. People are always telling you who you are and where you ought to be. I've been asked to gain weight, wear padding, change my head shots, reduce myself to a "type" to sell myself... none of us are types. We are all so individual and beautiful. So for anyone out there considering a career in entertainment, my best piece of advice is to know yourself inside and out. Take advice with a pinch of salt. I'm not saying don't be open to suggestions, but take all those inputs and sort out what feels authentic to yourself, and leave everything else at the door."
Truth be told, I couldn't have put it better myself and when I first read those words, a sense of hope rushed over me - hope that if more and more people began to listen to this advice, if more and more people really did begin to live for themselves and not what they think they should look like and act like just to satisfy the standards of beauty, we will one day wake up in a world where beauty is accepted in all different shapes, sizes and colours.
However, the question is, how on earth has society been allowed to margionalise beauty? My biggest suspects are social media (it is both a blessing and a curse) and the modelling industry, which is after all, at the forefront of defining beauty standards.
"Absolutely, I think social media puts pressure on women to look a certain way, but that's not strictly the fault of the modelling industry," Stephanie began to share her thoughts with me. "I think it is a society-wide problem that we all need to address. Social media is just a manifestation, it's not the cause."
I reckon we should take her word for it, as she knows a lot more about the modelling industry than I do! However, I do agree with Stephanie when she says social media influences and promotes beauty standards, but does not necessarily set the rules. However, recently, the modelling industry has noticeably begun to take a turn for the better.
Business' like 'Dove' and 'YMCA' have founded the 'Be Real' campaign and are making a stance against pressures put on body image. They are beginning to attract more and more followers by the day, inspiring others to get involved and make a change too, as they do so.
"On the other side of the coin, social media and the body positive
(bopo) movement have also done a lot to help women (and men!) and given us a community where we feel accepted." Stephanie continued. "I think it's wonderful that the bopo movement is for everyone, but it is especially important for the majority of us who don't see our body-types represented in media. I think it would be a rather boring world if everyone had a 24-inch waist and long, thin legs, but you open a magazine and 99% of the time that is all you see, not to mention white and very, very young. I hope social media continues to affect media and the modelling industry by showing the real need for diversified representation."
This is why it is incredibly important to have role models like Stephanie, who are pioneers for the body positive movement. More and more frequently, both men and women are standing up, regardless of hate and prejudice to represent areas of our community who are overlooked and purposefully isolated from our society.
Whether it's sexuality, race, body image or gender, the amount of people determined enough to make a change is rising; beauty has had rules for too long, but now, with the help of social media campaigns, beauty is becoming accessible to all - something that is should have been long ago.
Yet, the mission to make beauty open to all has not been achieved just
yet and there is still a huge amount of work to be done. I wanted to hear Stephanie's opinion regarding what the modelling industry could do to help make visible progress, as the industry is constantly in the watch of the public eye and holds much influence over beauty standards.
"It's very simple," Stephanie began. "Include models of all different sizes in magazine editorials and advertisements, beauty campaigns, runway shows and retail websites. I am tired of this divide between "straight-sized" and anything else. There is no reason beauty and perfume brands can't use size 8-14-20-whatevers in their campaigns, if the model's face is right for the job. It's not even an issue of sample sizes at that point! We know for a fact that there is an inherent size-bias in our culture because beauty focuses on the face and plus/inbetweenies rarely book these jobs. They aren't even considered for the jobs in the first place, which is the fault of the agencies. Every agency should make an effort to represent men and women in a variety of sizes, shapes, colours and ages. It is clear to me there is a lot of work to be done."
"A model is a model is a model."
So, as we wait for the modelling industry to catch up, it is vital that we continue to support the body positive movement and plaster social media with this support. Never underestimate your individual power and the power of the people...
One reason why I was delighted to have the opportunity to interview Stephanie, was because it gave us an insight into the life of a model, but not just about what it's like to have a make up artist and how to do poses. I wanted to get real and raw and find out the emotions that come with constantly putting your body image on show. It's one thing me writing about my experience, but I think it's so important to hear it from somebody professional, from a figure that we idolise in magazines. It's vital we recognise models as humans too, with the same insecurities and issues regarding body confidence.
"Of course I struggle with body image. Being a model can make you even more self-conscious and self-critical because your livelihood depends on your looks," Stephanie revealed. "You can easily fall into a trap of constant, pointless and damaging comparisons. You follow other models on social media and sometimes you say to yourself "they are booking so much more than I am, they are so much prettier than I am, their body is better, they really know how to move in front of the camera..." Sometimes it is very hard and very lonely when you're not booking anything and it seems like everyone around you is enjoying more success."
So, even though Stephanie's scenario may be different to you and I, the insecurities around body image are just the same. We're all in the same boat and the sooner we realise this, the sooner we will all feel comfortable in our own skin. Even the girl you perceive to be the prettiest you know, will still not feel good enough. She'll still wish something about her was different.
However, despite these insecurities and despite the occasional patch of loneliness, Stephanie has powered through and is a living example of why you should never doubt your looks and potential. Over the years, Stephanie has achieved a great deal, including artistic shoots and landing roles in both the American T.V series, 'Blue Bloods' and 'Inside Amy Schumer'.
"My agent got me the auditions and I went in and I booked them. Both experiences were wonderful. It's always a dream come true to work on a big-budget, professional television set. You get to watch actors you admire doing their thing and work with them. My favourite shoot was an editorial for Exhibition Magazine, shot by photographer Daniel Jackson. He's a genius and his photos are incredibly beautiful and poetic."
This just goes to show how once you put your mind to it, you can do anything. It's all about a little self - belief, determination and courage. Once you've accomplished that, the world is your oyster and soon enough, you'll be proving anybody who said you couldn't do it wrong.
It's crystal clear that Stephanie has made her mark in the modelling industry and as she looks forward, she also hints to the idea that she would also love to make her mark in the body confidence community as well.
"I would love to be involved in a body-image campaign! Moving forward, I see myself hopefully going upwards," she laughed. "The sky is the limit and I see a lot of great things on the horizon."
Lastly, to round things off, I wanted to hear one last of piece of advice from Stephanie.
"To anyone struggling with body image, you are so lucky to have the body you have, particularly if you have your health. Take some time today to be grateful for all the wonderful things your body can do, as opposed to how it looks."
If we spent all our time worrying about our image, we will miss out on
the adventure of life. Together we must support each other to nourish and nurture our body, be both mentally and physically healthy and remember that we are enough without needed to change our image.
Be grateful for what you have instead of forever wanting more. I hope that my blog and all the other empowering body confidence movements out there is a starting point on a inspirational and remarkable journey.
A massive thank you to Stephanie for her time and thank you for reading! Subscribe to hear more and don't forget to follow Stephanie on her social media!