PLUS Model Magazine is celebrating April in a very special way this year. We are excited to feature our very first model diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum. Brooke Barrows is a beautiful plus-size model who has a unique story about her diagnosis and shares with us how she manages life as a model.
Stay tuned to our LIVE interview with Brooke coming soon!
Get to know Brooke…
PMM: Can you tell us a little about yourself? How did you get started in the modeling industry?
My name is Brooke Barrows, I like to use BEBA sometimes… it’s an acronym that stands for Be Everything Beautiful Always and to me, that means to just be kind, and compassionate in all regards in life. I hope to one day use that name for a clothing and cosmetics line; it’s coming!
I started modeling after discovering Tess Holiday! I weighed almost 400 pounds and to see someone of the same size so confident and so beautiful really inspired me to believe in myself and go after my dreams regardless of my size – no longer waiting till I lost weight or hit a “weight-loss goal”. We don’t know each other, but I’m so thankful to her for that. I needed someone to show me it could be done. No one should ever let their body image hold them back professionally.
Talk to us about the plus-size modeling industry. Do you feel like the fashion industry is opening up its doors to more diversity in choosing models?
Yes, I see more and more diversity every day! I’m here for it! I feel so lucky to be a part of it all. Ten years ago you would never have seen someone like me on billboards or in campaigns… it’s really so surreal, and such a beautiful direction our pop culture is headed towards.
You are our first cover model on the Autism Spectrum and there is so much we want to discuss. How old were you when you were diagnosed?
I was diagnosed at 26 years old and lived way too long with no answers or relief! If I had known growing up, I think I would’ve still struggled a lot with the way my brain thinks, but I also think I could’ve been easier on myself. More forgiving and understanding. It wasn’t confusing at all once diagnosed, I felt like I finally had an understanding of myself, something I had struggled with my whole life.
What would you want people to know about those with special needs?
I want people with disabilities to know that it’s okay! We live in a world where a lot of people won’t be able to recognize that we are struggling, or disabled… and to give them grace so that we are able to give ourselves grace. I think it’s hard enough to deal with our own lives than to expect people to know how to deal with us on top of that. Just remember you’re not alone and cultivate a support system who you can rely on to be there for you. I cannot stress that enough. You are amazing, you are smart, you are WORTHY. Having others around you who can remind you of that is so important. Also educating your loved ones so that they know how to be supportive is just as important.
Now that the fashion industry is being more inclusive on many levels what would you want the industry as a whole to know about how important it is to spread “Awareness” for people with different abilities?
I want the fashion industry to participate in awareness campaigns. I want the fashion industry to be able to recognize they may have a neuro-divergent model on set and to be receptive to that. It’s so important, now more than ever to bring awareness to this topic. Especially with Autism… it’s so, so, so misunderstood by many. The fashion industry is so influential on pop culture, I think it would be so beautiful to see awareness become a priority.
Let’s talk about modeling and how your special needs affect your preparation for a casting or job. What do you do? How do you prepare? What tips can you offer anyone dealing with similar challenges?
For castings, it really is easy to mask… as much anxiety as I experience, I have gotten so good at masking my disability to the world, and especially for just a short period of time… it’s very easy, and it comes second nature to me.
However, with a job, on set… the music, all of the people, all of the distractions for example if I’m “on location”… it gets debilitating, and I get so embarrassed that I may not be holding it together or behaving like the other models on set with me that day.
My advice to anyone with similar challenges is to keep calm, breathe, and count. Counting is so simple, when counting it’s all your brain can focus on at that moment so if you’re feeling like you’re about to lose it… my advice: count. Also, make sure you’re comfortable with the team you’re working with… that is so important!
During Autism Awareness month we want to spread awareness of the signs for those new parents who may not realize their child is on the spectrum and for people to practice kindness and patience for those they may come in contact with.
My parents wish they were able to recognize my symptoms as a child as they were very prevalent. There just wasn’t enough awareness about ASD for them to even consider getting me evaluated. It affected my mental health greatly, I had many, many, many tantrums that turned aggressive because I felt so misunderstood and at the same time did not understand my world.
I think there are many “signs” of autism that everyone is aware of but there are hidden signs, that would illicit evaluation by a professional that you may not think anything of, like:
Having difficulty understanding others’ feelings, or your own feelings
Reluctance to socialize or preferring isolation (socializing being exhausting)
Unusual moods, or emotional reactions – being very sensitive
Just to name a few…
What is your message for anyone reading your interview today?
Always be kind, you don’t know what someone is experiencing or what their reality is like. And remember, Autism doesn’t define me, I define Autism. Someone said that and it always stuck with me. Everyone who is autistic knows what I mean, we are all so different and experience the same disorder so differently. To raise awareness is to bring compassion to all of us.