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Change Agent

PHOTOGRAPHY BY CHRISTOPHER SHERMAN & MARK SOMMERFELD
EDITOR: ELIZABETH CABRAL
WORDS BY BRITTANY ADAMS & ELIZABETH CABRAL

“I was never told that I would be invited into this club,” says Paloma Elsesser, who isn’t your typical model. The club she refers to is the fashion and beauty industry. But with her incomparable beauty and resplendent curves, Elsesser has indeed been welcomed with open arms. She has been embraced not only for her surface beauty, but for her intellect – that which is well beyond her twenty-five years – and her social consciousness as an outspoken and active participant of change.

The story of how she was discovered on Instagram by legendary makeup artist Pat McGrath is well known by now, with Elsesser having been profiled by every major style outlet and appearing in campaigns for notable brands from Nike to Proenza Schouler. We were fortunate enough to have had a heart-to-heart with the L.A. native-turned New Yorker, whose warm and enlightened spirit inspired deep conversations about the world and time we live in.

Below, Elsesser opens up about plus size stereotypes, the blessing and curse that is social media, and being the most genuine version of yourself.

SHIRt,  BALENCIAGA. COAT & SKIRT, SIMONE ROCHA.

TIMING LENT ITS HAND TO MY SUCCESS

“I don’t think it was completely random. I sought it out, but feel like I also surrendered to it. I was always interested in fashion and modeling, but I still felt like, “how can I make sense in this world?” Even in a curve context, I don’t have an archetypal plus-size body. I don’t have a flat stomach and thin arms and a bubble butt. But jobs kept coming to me because people were interested in other parts of me–what I had to say or my energy or the way I dressed.”

Paloma

EARRINGS, AGMES. ORGANIC COTTON SHIR, MUJI.

SHATTERING STEREOTYPES

“I would love to partner with a plus-size brand that really gets it and wants to speak to girls like me. It’s not about spandex dresses. I do think I’m sexy but not in an overt way that I have to prove it to you. I think it’s like very honest to how a lot of girls were and are. I went through a time when I over sexualized myself because that’s what I thought I was supposed to be doing. And then I know that what actually made me feel comfortable was wearing baggy pants and a big t-shirt and sneakers and being that person. I find Phoebe Philo more sexy than Donatella Versace, but people are still startled by my style. It’s so ‘Oh my god’ to see this fat brown girl being graceful or chic, wearing Yohji [Yammamoto] or J.W. [Anderson].’

I’m lucky because there are girls who want to dress like me but they’re a size 20. They can’t even wiggle into designer stuff, and that’s real, so I want them to feel like they can participate, too. Things are changing but there needs to be more urgency in the plus-size industry. If we’re already being objectified and judged by how we look, at least give us something to wear.”

PLATFORM WITH A PURPOSE

“Social media gave people a lot more insight into who I am, and I think it’s important to my narrative and to the new narrative of what modeling looks like. It’s just more personal now. I can exist in a really beautiful community where I get to see young girls inspire me and tell me things that I never got to tell anyone, or had anyone to tell. But Instagram is not my life, and I set pretty harsh guidelines for how I use it. Even though I have a large following, I’m not super curated and could probably have so many more followers if I really did it. I could post everything but it’s not natural for me. I don’t want to invite over 100,000 strangers into my breakfast, my lunch, my dinner, my shopping, my nighttime, my morning routine, my shit all the time.”

CORSET TOP, VIVIENNE WESTWOOD.

ABOVE ALL KNOW YOUR WORTH

“I think I define a very real girl, and that’s what I bring to the world. With modeling I find such pride in asserting my voice because I would lack purpose without it. I can redirect myself back to the real Paloma. She is great. She is worthy. She is still this person that, yeah, I take home at the end of the night. I do think my message has a lot to do with being vulnerable and communicating that I still have a hard time. I’m totally, utterly, beautifully imperfect without question. I definitely think that my vestige and my purpose definitely relies on the bylines of being a woman of color even before being plus-size, everything else is kind of a sub-genre. So I’m trying to empower communities that remain invisible. I just want some 14-year-old brown girl to be like, ‘Fuck. I see you. I feel you. I got this.’ I do it for her.”

MAINTAINING A CENTEREDNESS

“I think I’ve naturally found a pretty good grind of how I keep myself feeling good, and I’m really grateful that I have. I’m a hard worker. I’m down to work everyday, but I’m down to do work everyday that matters, and not just try to fill my time all the time.”

SHIRT, BALENCIAGA. DRESS, SIMONE ROCHA.

BUYING LESS, BUYING BETTER

“I grew up in a house that was very cluttered. I find comfort in stuff, but also disdain and chaos. I’m on a constant purge but I still have a lot. I’m conscious and self-conscious of it. When I was younger I went thrifting and wore fast fashion because that’s what I could afford. But my buying decisions have shifted. Now I’m in a space where I’m actually able to invest in beautiful, sustainable things. I really lean into the concept of quality over quantity, think about the cost per wear, and try not to buy things I won’t like in five years.”

IN CRITICAL CONVERSATION

“It’s such an interesting time because everything existing outside of what we’re doing right now is so fucked. There’s a lot of heavy stuff going on right now. environmental issues, politics, racial tensions, the latter feels so prevalent for me because it’s literally been my existence. It’s hard to digest. We’re constantly digesting it but it’s hard to stay above water. But then, I think I’m really proud in my little bubble of my friends, of myself, of my peers, of young women and young people and the way that they’re talking and the way that they want to be a part of what their future looks like. So I’m also really proud. You don’t want to look back at this time and think, I didn’t do anything. You can’t be passive. And I think that people are much more awake.”

CORSET TOP, VIVIENNE WESTWOOD.

MODEL, PALOMA ELSESSER, MUSE MODELS
CASTING, DANTE + ONELL
MAKEUP, CAROLINA DALI, THE WALL GROUP
HAIR, FELICIA (DRAMAGYRL) BURROWS
STYLING ASSISTANT, AMA KWARTENG

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