Myla Dalbesio was a feminist and body inclusivity activist before Trump became President, and #metoo and #bodypositive became trending hashtags. She is an artist by training working in mediums from performance art to sculpture to photography, and a visionary curator. As a model, she has been the subject (or perhaps, object?) of scrutiny for a Calvin Klein ad, where people debated whether she was a “plus-size model.” Well-aware of the various gazes at women’s bodies, Myla uses her experiences in modeling and her art practice to take up these contentious conversations — even in the most unexpected places like Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.
DRESS: ZERO+MARIA CORNEJO
Where are you from and what do you do?
I'm from Wisconsin, and I am an artist and model.
When did you move to New York City and why?
I used to come to New York a lot when I was in high school because I was a dancer. I would come for conventions and dance competitions, and I loved it from the first time that I came. The town that I'm from in Wisconsin is great, but very small, so I just never felt like I fit in. You know? That's the story for everybody who moves to New York — [you] finally find your home full of other misfits.
EARRINGS: THRIFT STORE
PANTS: VANHEES VINTAGE
SHOES: SALVATION ARMY
It's kind of what keeps you stuck here, isn't it? You have a really broad and beautiful body of work as an artist. You're a photographer, a painter, a sculptor, illustrator, writer.... where does the ability to express yourself come from? I don't think it's easy for everyone.
I don't know. It's hard for me to not do stuff, you know? It's even hard for me to pick a medium, and I think that is to my detriment because people want to be able to define you very easily. "Oh, she's an artist, she makes this kind of thing." And all I can say is, "Yeah, I make art about women and nature, and where those two things meet and outside of that it's quite broad.” It's hard for people to wrap their heads around that because they want to be able to really pin you down to one particular thing.
SWEATER & SKIRT: M PATMOS
SANDALS: EILEEN FISHER
EARRINGS: DINOSAUR DESIGNS
I think a lot of women secretly want to express themselves, or perhaps should express themselves, but feel shy, or lack confidence. Do you have any advice that you would give for people who want to start sharing their artistic expression?
For me, it was brought into my life at a very young age. I come from a family that is very creative. My grandfather was an artist. Spending quality time with him was spent making art together. But I think, for women who are in need of a way to express themselves and unsure how to do it, starting with a class is a really great way to do it. Get your friends to do it with you, even if you're not that good at it, having that kind of outlet to be doing something that doesn't have to do with your job, it doesn't have to do with your life at home, is really helpful. Whether it be a pottery class, or drink wine and paint a picture of a shoe or a sunset or something. It's so easy to make fun of that, but what else are you going to do? Go to a bar and just drink? You might as well be making something.
Do you think clothing is a form of artistic expression and is it for you?
It definitely can be.
There's an episode of “Portlandia” where Carrie enters the scene wearing a really big hat, and then the whole sketch is about how she is an ostentatious dresser and wears big accessories. That isn't the type of person I am. "I want to wear dreamcatchers in my ears. I want to cover myself in turquoise." I can appreciate that commitment to a singular aesthetic, but I've never been able to do that I'm kind of just all over the place like a Carhartt sweatshirt and then some Rachel Comey skirt.
DRESS: ELEVEN SIX
EARRINGS: ARPANA RAYAMAJHI
BELT: ZERO + MARIA CORNEJO
SHOES: SALVATION ARMY
You often write about feminism in the fashion industry, how do you think feminism and ethical fashion are part of a similar conversation?
For a lot of people, one or the other is their gateway into being socially conscious. I found that the deeper I go into my feminism, you're required to be more conscious of other things that factor into it — like environmentalism, race relationships, the discrepancy of incomes.
BELT: ZERO+MARIA CORNEJO
SHOES: SALVATION ARMY
If you could imagine a vision for a new and improved fashion future, what would it look like?
We're entering a really interesting time where it feels like this façade is falling this pretentious, exclusivity, and the vapid nature of [fashion]. I've never felt like I totally was welcome into that [world], and you work in it for a long time and you see that there's really nothing behind it. People have more of a voice than they have ever had before — not just models— but everyone working behind the scenes, everyone making clothing. I hope that we can continue to trend in this social conscious way.
To be honest, it scares me to think that it's just a fad. It's trendy now to be a feminist, it's trendy to be "woke," and then eventually it will fall out of a fashion. I hope that while we're in this moment of a lot of progress being made within this industry that we can make concrete steps [to] establish some kind of foothold.
Model: Myla Dalbesio
Photography: Bec Lorrimer
Stylist: Laura Jones
Make Up: Akiko Owada
Hair: Kiri Yoshiki
Words: Sonjia Hyon
Fashion Assistant: Sandra Sole