You may know her as the first “plus size” model to be chosen to model for Calvin Klein. Yep, Myla Dalbesio became a household name in fashion and pop culture overnight, amidst a storm of outrage mixed with happiness, when it was announced the iconic underwear and fashion brand was finally going to use a plus size model in one of their campaigns.
She describes herself as too big to be a regular industry-sized model, but still too small to be considered plus size. She is actually an “in-between” model which can be very confusing, mostly because all the discussion and dissection around her body type just proves how outdated and unnecessary body categories can be.
The world’s largest modeling agency, IMG Models, made a huge statement in 2014 when they announced they were no longer going to divide their roster of famous supermodels into body size categories, that they were simply going to represent all of their girls alongside each other without division. We are yet to see this trend carry on industry wide, but it would be a very powerful way to dismantle the way we as a society have been taught to talk about women’s bodies.
The industry has to take responsibility and take action in order to help all of us change our perception of what an acceptable body looks like. In a powerful essay for Suited Magazine, Myla gets personal about her body image in a way that can be uncomfortable to read, but is important to share.
‘This is how a professional model sees herself’ takes us through the mind of Myla, and how she views her body, her scars, her skin, her flaws and the memories that come to mind when she focuses on certain part of her appearance.
“When you catalog your body, you should first start with the obvious things. The scar on your chin from that time you slipped, crawling across the living room floor next to your dog. Remember how your mother held you as your father checked the wound? The things that you used to be so embarrassed of: that big freckle on the palm of your right hand, the little bump on your lip that came from nowhere and never went away. Now you’re an adult, and it seems so silly that you ever cared about those little things, but you know how it is when you’re a kid,” she begins.
Then she talks about how as an adult things begin to change and you start to think about your body in relation to what other people say about it.
“You never notice those things until someone tells you it’s wrong. Remember when your sister told you your eyebrows looked like caterpillars? Then you plucked them so thin they were barely there at all. You found out you had a big chin when you read it in a note, remember? That note for the photographer. ‘De-emphasize chin.’ And that comment, you remember that. The one on that website. ‘She has a cowboy jaw.’ ‘Man hands, no offense.’ ‘BARF.’ You remember that one, don’t you? Barf. Or that first time you read about yourself online, at the dawn of the internet as we know it. ‘She’s the fattest one. Zero muscle tone. Last place’,” she recalls.
Her words may come from a successful model living in New York, but her perception of body image is something we can all relate to. The older we get as women, the more our self-awareness is invaded with outside messages about how we should look in order to be considered beautiful or acceptable. It gets harder and harder to look at ourselves without picking on something.
“This is getting depressing. Let’s include some nice things. You love yourself, remember? You love your body. Your man hands may be weird, with their short, fat fingers, but you have nice feet, nice toes,” she continues.
Myla’s confession about her own erosion of her beauty is something we can all relate to. We are often not given permission by the world to define beauty for ourselves, instead we are subtly taught that conforming and contorting ourselves to fit narrow standards is the way to beauty. Or we are only allowed to feel beautiful when someone else says it to us, not when we tell ourselves.
“You’re beautiful, remember? People tell you all the time. But don’t you say it; just smile and laugh and shrug and say thanks and be modest — but not too modest, because then you’re insincere and you have to be real. But not too real. Nobody wants to hear about your weird feelings and doubts and what you see when you look in the mirror. Life is fabulous! You are beautiful!”
She talks about her career as a model is dependent upon other people deeming her “worthy” solely based on her looks, which she finds is a strange phenomenon.
“Isn’t that a strange thing, to be beautiful. To make your money on your face. On your great ass and those tits people love and that thin layer of fat over your stomach. But you would be more beautiful if there were more fat on your stomach. That’s what they tell you, too. Or less. Or less in your thick, thick thighs, and more in your lips. Less in those man hands, probably. They tell you all of that, that’s what being beautiful is. Or you’re perfect in every way, now let me stick my dick in between those perfect tits please.”
Her words remind us of model Cameron Russell’s TED Talk which has over 6 million views on Youtube and is considered one of the most popular TED Talks of all time. Titled ‘Looks aren’t everything, believe me I’m a model’ details her uber successful journey as a model working for big fashion brands and popular fashion magazines all around the world. Yet her strong advice to young women is don’t aspire to be a model. It relies on you winning some genetic lottery, and even if you do, your options after are limited if you spend your entire career banking on your looks alone.
It was a powerful reminder of how obsessed we are with beauty, especially when it comes to defining a woman’s worth in society. Is it all pointless, caring about your looks so much? Myla describes it in more of a wistful way than Cameron, and seems to come to some sort of acceptance that body image is a big issue, but it is also very fluid.
“That’s what it is, this whole thing, your whole you: something in between, something not at rest. From beginning to end, moving, accumulating. Fatter, then thinner, then harder, then softer again. Collecting scrapes and bruises like a ripe, aging peach. Sweet, sweet, then turning wrinkly and old and fuzzy and worn and eventually to dirt and dust and disappearing and gone. But right now it’s here,” she ends.
It’s a fascinating insight into how a woman, who from the outside we would consider flawless, successful and admired for her appearance, has become somewhat disillusioned with the world’s perception of her beauty, and it’s a good thing. It’s easy to become enamored with what others think of us, and fall into the trap of needing that outside validation. However, there is no validation, no compliment or assurance more sweet than what we give ourselves.
It could read like a very depressing piece, but the more you delve into Myla’s words, you get a sense that she has learned to accept her body and her experiences with it, flaws and all, and the world’s perception fades further and further into obscurity on the care-o-meter. While she continues her successful modeling career, it is great to see her use the elevated platform she has thanks to that breakthrough Calvin Klein campaign and try to shift the responsibility of perception of individual beauty back onto each of us.
You can hear more about her candid views on the absurdity of the fashion industry in the video below for the Style Like U ‘What’s Underneath’ series: