Luscious curls… A gorgeous smile… And a smart, articulate woman that is destined for greatness! Truly, this plus size beauty has it all…
What a pleasure it was to sit down with Mayra, a Dutch plus size model working in the European market. She opened up to PLUS to share her story including how she got started, her struggles as a curvy woman and her hopes for the future of the plus size industry.
Where were you born, raised…
I was born in a small Dutch village, called Scherpenzeel. I grew up in Zeist, that’s near Utrecht, a city in the middle of The Netherlands. I now live near The Hague, it’s close to the sea.
As a little girl did you always know you wanted to become a model?
As a child I was extremely skinny, I had to eat ten times a day to gain weight. People used to look at my mom and tell her to feed me! And then came puberty — hips, breasts and a well-formed behind: I was a woman at the age of fourteen. My breasts were so heavy, I had them reduced when I was fifteen.
Actually I saw a plus size modeling agent on a TV show when I was seventeen. I called him and he told me to send in some pictures. It took me 18 months to send him those because I was so insecure. I kept his number in a small wooden box all that time.
What finally happened that made you open that wooden box and send the pictures in?
I had reached a point where I didn’t care about my weight anymore. I was so through with dieting, I felt like I had to make something positive out of my weight instead of always feeling negative about it.
After finally sending some snapshots to the agency, I was invited to come over and introduce myself. I went with my mom and I remember I was so nervous. I didn’t really believe they would be interested in me. But it turned out they were.
Still, there was a ‘but’ — I had to lose some weight. When I met them I was a size 18, they wanted me to be a size 16.
After a few months, I’d had lost some weight and I did my first test shoot. That’s when I started to build my portfolio. In my first years as a plus size model I didn’t work a lot. The market in The Netherlands just wasn’t that big. After three years of modeling the jobs came more regularly. I worked about twice a month. But there came the problem of the small Dutch market again: I’d worked with just about every client possible in The Netherlands and it turned out to be a bit of a ‘Mayra-overkill’.
My agent said I was just too different for a lot of clients, they’d complain about my hair and the ‘not-so-girl-next-door-look’. On top of it all I was too big to work international. Last year I decided to change to another agency just to see what would happen. Now I work about once a month, but the market is changing and I am, again, ‘Too big for the European market’. The pressure of losing weight is bigger than ever. But it looks like in the US the opposite is happening! The plus size model size requirements are shifting from a size 12/14 to a size 16.’
Your past clients include….
Honestly I didn’t work for a lot of international clients. Hopefully that’s yet to come! Here in The Netherlands I worked for nearly every magazine that uses plus size models and I was photographed for a lot of brands and shops in The Netherlands.
My international clients are Dominique, Kristina and C&A German. I feel like I haven’t reached my full modeling potential yet. It’s still my dream to work in New York for a while. If you could come to the US to further your modeling career what clients would you love to work with?
Of course Vogue would be the ultimate!
A lot of US brands aren’t available in the Netherlands, so it’s hard to say which client I’d like to work for. I guess it’s more interesting to ask, who’s willing to work with me? We’ll just have to wait and see 🙂
Have you always been secure in your own skin?
Honestly, I still am not always secure in my own skin. Unfortunately I don’t wake up every day feeling like a supermodel.
Losing weight has been an issue ever since I was eleven years old. I’ve been dieting since. Every Monday I start again… What shall we do this week? South Beach, Weight Watchers, you name it I’ve tried it! But I’ve never defined myself by the number on the scale, the cellulite on my thighs or my out of proportion butt, and I think that is the key.
Of course I have off-days, but at the end of the day I am not just a full-figured woman. There’s more to me than my curves. And if people don’t see that, it’s their problem not mine…
You are in incredible shape and your skin is flawless – do you follow a specific diet and beauty regimen?
My skin is really my blessing. But, that’s just my face. My problem has always been the lower half of my body — my upper body is a size 14 but my bottom half is a size 16/18. So I’ll just have to work it big time in the gym to even things out :-).
I am not following a diet at the moment, I just eat healthy, work out three times a week in the gym and that’ll just have to do it for me. I’m so through with dieting! My regime contains a lot of fruit and vegetables, whole-wheat bread and pasta and dairy products. And of course during a certain period in the month I will most definitely eat M&M’s. I’m just not the kind of girl who’s able to totally ‘quit the goodies’.
Do you have one modeling job in particular that was exceptionally memorable?
‘The most luxurious was a trip to Namibia, Africa two and a half years ago. It was a job for a Dutch glossy called VOL Magazine, a magazine especially for full-figured women. But, I must say, the beautiful country couldn’t keep my attention. Namibia is where I fell in love with my boyfriend, who was, how cliché, the photographer on that trip. His work is truly stunning. He works with natural light; this really gives a pure vibe to his work. Besides being my lover and best friend he is my inspiration.
It’s a story book fairy tale, the model and the photographer. When your significant other is a photographer and you’re a model does it change the way you see photography?
I have a magazine addiction, so I’ve always had a different point of view. I can be totally obsessed with a beautiful editorial. This also has to do with my work as a stylist. I work in a team with my boyfriend and we are really on the same level as to what we like in photography. I guess I am a bit spoiled now. But I really learned a lot by seeing him work. It May be weird, but I am never nervous to be photographed accept when he does it — it always feels like my first time in front of the camera with him. I guess he is the only one who really sees me the way I am.
Can you offer any advice to aspiring plus size models?
My biggest lesson in modeling is to never take it personally if a client doesn’t book you. I really had issues with this when I first started. It was hard for me to accept that, to a client, I am just a face.
On the bright side: Enjoy! Never lose your spirit. Find a good photographer to test with, get confident posing and most important: practice in front of the mirror. I still do. It works!’
If you were not a model – what career path would you have chosen?
Though I’d love too, I’m not a fullt-ime model. I work about once a month so I need another job. I will be graduating soon with a degree in Communications / Writing. My final project includes a research paper to see if Dutch plus size women are interested in a online magazine that focuses on plus sizes.
Regarding work, I am a freelance fashion stylist and my boyfriend and I work together — It’s a blast! I do a lot of stock photography and also test shoots with new faces in the industry. For example we shot the girls from the first edition of Holland’s Next Top Modelto help them get a good foundation for their portfolio’s.
Do you believe plus size modeling is more attainable for aspiring models in Europe or the United States and why?
Because of the fact that I don’t work a lot I really would love to give it a shot in New York. But I need an agency and most of all a Green Card and that is really hard to get.
I haven’t experienced the US market, but I know it’s much more competitive than the European market. I think it will be easier to jumpstart your career in Europe. But on the other hand, all the castings in the US are great opportunities to present yourself to a client and add some personality. In Europe you often don’t get that chance.
Looking back how has the plus size modeling industry changed?
When I started plus size models could never be fashion models. That is starting to change. Look at Vogue! Look at the gorgeous Crystal Renn (to me she is the ultimate plus size model). I totally loved her in the Jean Paul Gaultier fashion show last year.
In the beginning of my career it was always ‘smile to the camera’. But now a sexy editorial is much more common. You are allowed to look fierce and strong. That used to be a skinny girl’s thing.
Still there’s a lot of work to be done. I still feel like there should be more room for plus size brands in fashion magazines. I thinks it’s great that Vogue’s got a ‘shape issue’ every year, but it shouldn’t be annual — why not monthly! I want to see fabulous advertisements for plus size clothing in every glossy, every month!’
What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about the plus size modeling industry and plus models?
That there is no pressure concerning weight and sizes. Because there simply is. You have to stay in shape and take good care of yourself because otherwise you may gain weight and lose clients.
I also feel that people should acknowledge the fact that plus size models are equal to fashion models. Although a lot of people are in denial, plus size models are a more true reflection of the society than slim models. I am not saying that it is healthy that a lot of people are overweight, because it does concern me a lot — especially as children are getting heavier and heavier — but I think it’s time to follow the Dove campaign. It is time for real beauty and this can only be found in people not in sizes.