While the fashion industry seems to be progressing in some ways, the exclusion of plus-size bodies remains a constant. That sense of subordination goes even further for plus-size people of color, who live at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities.
In 2015, as Lisa Respers France recalls in an op-ed for CNN, the People magazine “Body Issue,” starring Tess Holliday, featured a list of four models leading the “plus-size revolution,” with just one woman of color, Denise Bidot, and completely ignored black models. Four years later, little has changed — a Google Image search for “plus-size supermodel” yields whitewashed results — which is why Latinx plus-size model Ady Del Valle took matters into his own hands, orchestrating a photo shoot with other Latinx models who are changing the plus-size fashion industry for good.
Taken by photographer Karizza, the photos feature Ady alongside models Frankie Tavares, Kengie Smith, Yaznil Baez, Luis Cruz and Taylee De Castro, showing plus-size Latinx models as worthy of the same admiration afforded to their white, straight-size counterparts. The stunning images feature bright red carnations juxtaposed with sunlit shots against a cream-colored backdrop. The overall effect is not otherworldly, but emblematic of the truly inclusive world all six models are working to make a reality.
“This project was so important to me to create and to highlight my peers that are also doing their part to represent the Latino culture in fashion by using their talents and platforms,” Ady tells Teen Vogue. “Latinos can be underrepresented in many platforms, especially in fashion industry platforms and media. We are here and we will always represent.”
We spoke to Ady, Frankie, Yaznil, Luis, and Taylee about how they incorporate their Latinx heritage into their work as models, creatives, and entrepreneurs. Read on to see what they had to say.
A queer Puerto Rican model, writer, and activist, Ady is a coauthor of The Other F Word: A Celebration of the Fat & Fierce, was nominated for a 2019 Queerty award, has walked in New York Fashion Week shows, including dapperQ’s September presentation, and has been featured in outlets like i-D and Rolling Stone. “The way I incorporate my Latinidad in my work and advocacy is always making sure that every opportunity or any work I’m in highlights me as I am: gay, Puerto Rican, and Latino,” he says. “I always keep in mind my people, and I want to make sure I’m representing us in a light of representation not only as a Latino, but a plus-size Latino. Even in a recent beauty and fragrance campaign that I just shot as the only, and maybe the first, plus-size male model and Latino to be in a major beauty campaign, I wore a Latino-designed piece for it. I want to make sure there’s a piece of us being seen as much as possible.”
Frankie is a Puerto Rican model and motivational speaker. When she’s not starring in ads for companies like Poshmark and Fashion to Figure, she acts as the founder and CEO of Curvy ALLSTARS, an inclusive fitness initiative that holds events nationwide. “My open-mindedness and idea of beauty is so broad and has so many layers. I owe it all to my Puerto Rican heritage,” she says. “I have so many strong, gorgeous women in my family who come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. They continue to be my inspiration to continue being a positive catalyst for change in the beauty and fashion industries.”
Kengie hails from Costa Rica, where she was the first plus-size model to be signed to an agency, and she also serves as a pageant director. She hopes her presence in the fashion industry will shed light on the historic erasure of the Afro-Latinx community. “I notice there’s a lack of acknowledgment and representation for Afro-Latinos in the world,” she says. “I look at myself in the mirror and I know who I am, I see the color of my skin, the texture of my hair, my culture, and the language I speak. I'm a proud Afro-Latina woman living her dream and walking in her purpose.”
Yaznil is a Dominican-Puerto Rican influencer and model who’s been featured in Vogue Italia and on the cover of Obvious Magazine’s November issue. She says she strives to dismantle stereotypes of the Latinx community as a monolith: “Within my work of modeling and social media influencing, I highlight that being Latinx is not something that can easily be confined to a box. There is not only one way to experience Latinidad. It is important to acknowledge how skin color, body shape, size, sexual orientation, gender — and the list goes on — also play within Latinidad. My experience as a Dominican and Puerto Rican plus-size woman will differ from another person’s; but by keeping true to who I am in my work, I show how Latinx people can be high fashion, we can be commercial, we can do it all.”
In addition to modeling, Luis is a Dominican-Puerto Rican photographer whose work centers on embracing body positivity and his Latinx roots. “As I share my culture through my vision as a photographer, I want to embrace my Latinx community and empower them to be strong and brave,” he says. “I want to shine a light on who people truly are and what they have to offer themselves, as well as to those who struggle to shine due to others dimming down their light. It’s okay to be big, small, tall, short — different. When we are different, we are greater. Putting a positive light onto someone’s insecurities and helping them overcome their fears is why I do photography.”
Taylee is a Puerto Rican influencer and model, and the founder and CEO of false-lash line My Curvy Lash. Whether she’s modeling on the cover of Plus Model Magazine’s October issue or attending Coco Rocha’s Model Camp, she aims to empower others with her work as a businesswoman. “As a Latinx plus-size model, influencer, and entrepreneur, I not only seek to reach the everyday plus-size fashionistas,” she says, “I want to be a voice for and influence the everyday hardworking woman who has every right to look amazing while she loves all of who she is and what she represents.”
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue