Let’s admit it, most of us are guilty of writing an emotional, frustrated, and lengthy Facebook post. I have. More than once. And I’ll be honest, so far, for me, it’s had exactly zero impact aside from exacerbating my own outrage. Charli Howard had a different outcome when she shared some choice words in an open letter to her agent that began: “Here’s a big FUCK YOU to my (now ex) model agency ….“
The letter continued: “I refuse to feel ashamed and upset on a daily basis for not meeting your ridiculous, unobtainable [sic] beauty standards, whilst you sit at a desk all day, shoveling cakes and biscuits down your throats and slagging me and my friends off about our appearance. [...] The more you force us to lose weight and be small, the more designers have to make clothes to fit our sizes, and the more young girls are being made ill. It's no longer an image I choose to represent. In case you hadn't realized, I am a woman. I am human”.
Howard’s letter struck a nerve with thousands of women and quickly went viral. Her open call citing the deep contradictions in the modeling and beauty industry, and galvanized support of thousands of women equally fed-up with restrictive beauty standards, transforming Charli Howard from a self-described starving, anxious, and miserable young woman to the confident and successful curve model, author, and philanthropist that she is today.
Charli Howard’s second book (in a year!) is available this month and we spent a spring morning in Brooklyn with her, discussing both books, fashion, and how she mastered the art of self-love.
Can you begin by telling us who you are and what you do for a living?
My name is Charli Howard and I am a curve model and an author living in New York, and I also run a charity called the All Woman Project.
Where are you from originally?
I’m originally from London.
And what inspired you to move to New York?
I moved to New York for work. I was with someone at the time in London, he cheated on me, and I ended up staying a lot longer than what I anticipated. It was the best thing in the world, and I think everything happens for a reason. So, it’s just been the best place to live and work.
Can you talk a little bit about the difference between your first years modeling compared to now?
My first years modeling were really, really difficult actually. I couldn’t understand why, despite becoming a model, which was all I wanted, I couldn’t be happy. I did absolutely everything I could to try and lose weight. You name it, I did it, in the most crazy, weird methods. My agency at the time wanted me to have a 34-inch hip or at the push, a 35-inch hip. I would literally do everything I could to try to keep that weight down to a minimum, but I’m just not built that way. I am curvier.
I think people have this idea that modeling is really simple, or that anyone can do it, and it’s really tough. It’s really, really difficult sometimes when people put pressure on you to change your body in a way that isn’t acceptable. And the other thing is that, you know, your career lies in your hands. So if someone says to you, we’re not going to send you out to casting directors unless you have a 34-inch hip, or a 35-inch hip, and it boils down to you to try and fix it.
So how has that improved for you now? What changed?
In the last few years, I think that the industry has changed, and it’s become more diverse. I think there is still a long way to go, but I’m in New York, and the curve modeling industry is massive over here. Excuse the pun. I had no idea that you could be a plus-size model and actually be happy and enjoy your life and do a job and still look glamorous and still enjoy the privileges that modeling brings at a bigger size — that’s really, really strange. It’s become easier for me to be myself, and represent the girls of my size who don’t see themselves in fashion.
Can you talk to us about the All Woman Project? What is it?
The All Woman Project is a charity that was originally meant to be a one-time editorial. The idea was, we were going to get plus-size girls and straight-size girls, which I was at the time, and prove that you could have different body types together, different sizes, you could show flaws like stretch marks or cellulite wouldn’t detract from an image if it was shot in a really beautiful way. And what started off as a few images became kind of a movement, and now we have like twenty thousand tagged images on Instagram with our hashtag #IAmAWoman. We have messages of girls saying every single day saying how much we’ve helped them love their bodies, and I think it really goes to show that women want to see natural body types.
What advice would you give to women who feel pressured to look or act or dress in a particular way that doesn’t feel authentic or healthy to them?
It’s always easy for me to say, because I’m a model, and a lot of people say to me, well, you’ve got it all sorted, because you’re a model, how can you not be happy with your body? But I haven’t been happy with my body. It took me 15 years of my life to try and be happy with the body I’ve been given and my natural body shape. But you can get there, and there is a point in your life when you realize the way you look really isn’t the be-all and end-all of what a woman should or is meant to be.
I really think the more you start building yourself up, and the more you start acting positively and giving yourself words of encouragement instead of putting yourself down all the time, you will eventually like yourself.
What was your turning point? What was the moment where you just said, I’ve had enough, I’m going to change this?
I wrote a Facebook post back in 2015. I hadn’t been working for a long time, and there were loads of factors of why modeling wasn’t working out for me at the time. I think even though I got down to the size I wanted to be, I just didn’t look good. I didn’t look healthy, I didn’t look vibrant. I didn’t have the energy when I went to castings to act really smiley and pretend everything’s great because everything wasn’t great. I was making myself sick — running on the exercise machine until I literally fell off, and doing everything I could to try and lose weight. So of course, I wasn’t in a good mood. And, on top of that, that really exacerbated my anxiety. I was just constantly on edge, constantly waiting for like, the moment I was going to get dropped for being too fat.
I’d go in for Polaroids, and I remember this one time, I was on my period, and the photos never got sent out to clients. So there was literally no more that I could do. I did everything I could to try and lose weight. I came back to England and got a phone call from my agency saying that we really appreciate how much you go to the gym, but it’s really not going to work out, and you know, some girls just aren’t designed to be models. I remember just thinking, who decided that one person could dictate what a dream woman was, or what beauty was, literally based on a size? Because no matter how much I went to the gym — I could have literally been a size triple zero — and it wouldn’t have been enough. It’s all worked out for the best, obviously, but at the time it was really scary, and I really didn’t enjoy the attention that I got from it.
Your first book was released in March this year, can you tell us a little about it?
I’ve written a book called Misfit with Penguin Random House. It’s basically about how I strived to be a model, how all I ever wanted to be was a model because I thought it would make me pretty, or happy, or it would mean that boys would fancy me, or that girls would like me and I would be invited to parties and all those other things. It describes my story, from childhood, and having quite bad OCD, being obsessed with that God was going to punish me in some way to having anxiety as a teenager, and completely going off the rails and making it my life’s mission to become a model. And even when I got that, and even though I was craving happiness, the happiness didn’t come until I learned to love myself. It sounds a bit cheesy, but it really is the truth.
And, you have a new book that just came out called Splash. Can you tell me about that?
My new book is for children, and it’s actually the first book that I wrote. It’s about a little girl who is at that point in her life where she’s about to become a teenager and has to kind of choose between following her dream and fitting in, along with some other complicated family dramas in there as well.
Is there anyone whose style you admire?
I love Alexa Chung’s style. I think she’s so impeccably dressed. I love all the sixties sirens, and Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot, I really idolize them, and I love the hair and the makeup.
How would you describe your personal style?
My style really changes because I feel like it’s kind of a bit tomboy. I love jeans, I’m not really a dress kind of person, but I have started to wear a bit more form-fitting clothes since I’ve really started to learn to love my shape. I don’t mind getting my boobs out every now and again.
What does fashion utopia look like to you? If you could change something in the industry, what would you change?
Fashion utopia to me would be an industry that prides itself on diversity, and that still maintains its fancy appeal, but which young girls and young boys can look at and really aspire to in a really positive way. But I think that is happening, and I think that we are maybe reaching that version of the fashion utopia.
Beautiful. Thank you.
Model: Charli Howard
Photography: Daemian Smith + Christine Suarez
Stylist: Laura Jones
Make Up: Rei Tajima
Hair: Kiri Yoshiki
Words: Laura Jones
Copy Editor: Sonjia Hyon
Fashion Assistant: Sandra Sole