Meet The Plus Positive Photographer Who Wants To Change The Modeling Industry

The name “Karizza” in the plus size fashion world is one that everyone knows.

Karizza, real name Karina Poltavtseva, is not viewed just as a photographer but as an artist. She takes her photography seriously and it shows. She’s quickly becoming the “Cass Bird” of the plus size fashion industry.

She doesn’t want to just take a pretty picture and she’s also not a fan of heavy photoshop. She believes in using natural lighting and pushing her subject out of their comfort zone to obtain the perfect picture that depicts their natural beauty, while defying stereotypes. She believes if you capture someone’s natural beauty through the lens, there is no need for much photoshopping.

She’s known for taking pictures of her models in movement, showing that plus size bodies can move gracefully and effortlessly. When you talk to her, you can see her passion for body diversity and why her work is so important to her.

Moving to the US from Ukraine many years ago, she quickly built her reputation for not only shooting models but also coaching them on how to pose and move naturally in front of the camera. She is on many model lists of photographers to shoot with and when you meet her, you see why.

She is someone who sees beauty in everyone and believes that all bodies are beautiful. We chatted with Karizza about her work, body discrimination in Ukraine, what inspires her and more!

PMM: You’re so passionate about showcasing plus size bodies in your work. Why?

Karizza: In my home country Ukraine, being curvy has always led to me being judged. I struggled all my life to be thin and beautiful, because of the beauty standards imposed on me there.

I didn’t go to the pool or wear tight sexy clothes because I was self-conscious about my body and didn’t feel beautiful. You can’t even imagine how many amazing opportunities I lost because of that! But when I moved to New York, I realized that people here don’t focus on weight as much as they do on Ukraine. They just enjoy their lives, doing what they want and dressing how they want.

The first plus size model I worked with was Diana Sirokai. She reached out about collaborating and I decided to try, despite it being something new for me because I wasn’t familiar with working with plus size models.

After seeing how confident she was while we were shooting in Times Square, and how people reacted towards her, looking cool and stylish, I realized that this is what real freedom feels like. I immediately fell in love with the plus size community that moment, because for me, it was a chance to get inspired and push through with my own fears and insecurities through my work.

After our first shooting went viral, I saw how much we inspired people all over the world. My mission now is to empower all women regardless of age or body type to know that they’re beautiful and can wear what they want. I want them to be inspired to live their lives doing what they love, whenever they want.

I think the most important thing is to start with YOU. Work on accepting yourself as you are and then decide what you want to do with your life, what makes you happy. You have to do what is right for you and not what someone else tells you to do. I want to show people that they are beautiful and worthy of all the best in this world. If you want to be a model and are not the standard body type, so what? You might be what the world needs to see.

PMM: You view and treat your photography as art that can inspire and empower others. What inspires you?

Karizza: My photography is my passion and my language. It helps me express myself and that inspires me to no end. I can’t explain how happy I get when I see my clients happy after a shoot. My main focus in photography is to connect with each model and show them how unique they are.

I consider my photography as a form of therapy because every client who comes to me feels my love and my admiration, where I want them to feel like a king or goddess. I’m fortunate that my passion also earns me a living because there’s bills that need to be paid but it’s not just about the money. Happiness of my models is my inspiration.

PMM: In the Ukraine, you are considered plus size yet here, you’re not. Can you tell us more of the body discrimination you faced in your native country and how it feels to be in America where you are not looked at as plus size?

Karizza: It’s so unusual for me to accept that in America, I am not considered plus size. Since childhood, I was told, “Nobody loves fat girls. Lose weight or no one will marry you. If you want to wear sexy, tight clothing, you have to lose weight because you’ll look like an elephant.

You can’t even imagine how many times I cried because of that and how it affected my body image and self-esteem. I’m now 30 years old and still can’t undress on the beach or wear mini skirts and shorts. I don’t even want my significant other to see me nude in front of him because it makes me feel uncomfortable.

It’s so difficult to talk about that publicly because it still hurts me tremendously but I am a work in progress. What keeps me going is knowing that I am not alone. There are so many women out there who feel the same as I do. So I take it one day at a time, facing my fears. I have come a long way since I left Ukraine, building my confidence and not loathing myself like I once did. Confidence doesn’t come in one day. You have to work at it. I used to hate myself but now this journey of mine has shown me how to love myself and I want to help others who are in the same place.

PMM: You hold classes for aspiring models that you call “Unique Modeling Classes“. How does your classes differ from other modeling workshops? What can models take away (learn) from your classes?

Karizza: I have 14 years of experience in photography and modeling industry. I got my start as a model, then worked as a make-up artist. It was after that, that I became a photographer. So it was a natural succession for me and a way for me to hone my skills as a model coach. I share useful tips with my students and provide them with a space where they practice and really learn.

My modeling classes are really one of a kind. As a former model, I know how difficult it is to start out, so I decided to create a unique program to help aspiring models obtain what they need to start modeling and develop their skills. My classes also empower my students to step out of their comfort zone, gain confidence and self love because they realize what they can do in front of the camera. They see that they are worthy to model.

My classes are very different from others because I only hold one class per student on a flexible schedule that works for that student. I don’t believe students can get enough attention in big groups. Each class focuses on a new topic accompanied by a shoot that offers the student practice on the spot. I don’t want to just give notes and tell them what they should do; I want them to implement what they have learned during class. My students then receive all photos from their classes so they can see themselves in modeling mode. I also build a professional portfolio for them, also helping them get signed with model agencies.

My modeling classes have been so successful that I want to expand on them. I’m currently in the process of launching a program for plus size models focused on offering them professional knowledge of posing and walking, as well as creating their unique personal style.

Plus size modeling is not a new field, however, with the rise of the social media influencer, often the line between influencer and model gets blurred. Many people think that being a model and being an influencer is the same and it’s not.  I see a need for more professional modeling classes for plus size models that can offer useful tools to help jumpstart their careers as well as help them expand their portfolio and work.

For example, one of my students is a aspiring plus size model named Christina Tavarez. She came to me to learn how to become a professional model. For me, it was important for her to see her own value as a model and not try to mimic another or strive to be the next Ashley Graham. I wanted her to find her unique style and what would make her stand out as a model.

After working with her on many different posing styles, we learned that she is natural when it comes to working in movement such as jumping, running, etc. I cannot tell you how many times I have been told or heard that plus size models can’t jump and run during the shoot because it doesn’t look good. However, Christina is real proof that, that is not true. These classes and my students show me daily that plus size modeling is evolving and growing.

PMM: What advice would you offer aspiring models?

Karizza: Be yourself and find what is unique to you. Don’t aspire to be the next Adriana Lima or Kendall Jenner. Individuality is more interesting than being a carbon copy of someone else. Find your unique style and build your career on that. Also, never stop investing in yourself because knowledge is something that no one can take from you and it will help you hone your craft and skills.

I also tell my students to stop practicing poses in front of the mirror. I believe it’s actually the worst thing a model can do, because you’re only seeing yourself from one angle. You can’t learn how to pose correctly 100% if you’re focused solely on just looking in a mirror. Also, on set, it is considered unprofessional to need a mirror to assist you with posing.

Lastly, don’t focus solely on walking because modeling is more than fashion shows. Focus on posing more and that will aid in your walk as well.

PMM: What are your plans for 2019?

Karizza: I have been so busy and that’s a great thing! This year, I plan to expand on my classes and possibly open a place so I can have different programs to offer. I am working on a major symbolic photo project that will be shown in a special exhibition in NYC. I am also in talks to host a few contests, which will help aspiring models and photographers to gain exposure.

You can follow Karizza below:

Instagram: @photo_karizza

YouTube: KARIZZA Photographer

You can check out our Modeling section here to for more tips and advice.