She is serving realness, curves and elegance included. You have probably seen Iskra Lawrence on the #AerieREAL campaign, spreading a message of self-love. Whether it is tummy rolls, body hair, birthmarks, or tattoos, she believes everybody should be celebrated for who they are and not by how they look. Iskra Lawrence is sweeping the social media scene with unretouched photos, unafraid to speak up about body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and the raw definition of self-love. Some people call it controversial, others call it courage. No matter what you cannot deny that she is making an impact on so many people today. Iskra chats about her journey to self-love in our 16th issue.
Where did your journey as a body-positive model start?
I’ve been modeling for 15 years. I started out in the UK, and initially, there weren’t a lot of girls my size back then. I didn’t fit into a lot of sample sizing. I did enter a competition, and I didn’t win. But I did get scouted. Unfortunately, as I said, I didn’t fit into a lot of sample sizing and got body-shamed when I was 14 and 15 years old. I struggled, and my agency really tried to make my waist smaller but couldn’t. It was my body shape, and I had always been a bit curvier. They told me if I couldn’t hit their measurements, I wouldn’t be a successful model. It got stuck in my head, and I dropped from the agency. I tried about ten other agencies, and no one would take me. All of their excuses came back to my size and me being too curvy. I took it personally and really set out to change myself but didn’t know how to do so in a healthy way.
So some modeling agencies said you were too big, and plus-size agencies said you were too small. How did you deal with these body categories? How did the power of unretouched photos come to you?
After a bit, I started carving out a niche of people just loving themselves for who they are at their healthiest size instead of trying to fit into either category. I ended up working with a bunch of my close friends, and I created a company called Model Kind. We created a charity calendar to go towards fighting cervical cancer. During that time, I gathered a group of my friends for the calendar, and no one looked alike. I hadn’t seen anything like it. When the photographer said he was going to retouch some of the photos, I told him not to because everyone looked beautiful. That really uncovered my love for no retouching and explaining how nearly every image we consume has been retouched. Retouching is the standard. Most women think they need to have flawless skin and have their hair perfectly sleek. It’s an unattainable way for us to be because Photoshop is everywhere.
No matter what hat you’re wearing, you’re advocating for self-love and authenticity. In a world with so much love, there’s also a lot of hate, so how do you keep yourself authentic and cared for?
I’ve always told myself I’m a model for the people, not the industry. I’ve never been fully accepted by this industry, and it’s always been a bit of a fight. I always remind myself being uniquely me is my superpower and I am more than a set of measurements. It’s important to always check in with yourself and repeat affirmations. Stay connected with family and friends. Remember your self-worth is tied to who you are, not what you look like or who you’re friends with.
I’ve always told myself I’m a model for the people, not the industry. I’ve never been fully accepted by this industry, and it’s always been a bit of a fight. I always remind myself being uniquely me is my superpower and I am more than a set of measurements.
What does it feel like knowing you have so many people looking up to you as a figure of authenticity? Does the attention challenge you in certain ways? If so, how?
I think it’s an extension of myself. It’s not my value or self-worth. That sort of thinking has to be taught, and it’s a process. It’s not about the number of likes I get on a photo, and I’m really glad they are supposed to get rid of likes on Instagram. I really do post whatever I want on Instagram. If I wanted to get a million likes on every photo, I know what to post, but that would make me feel soulless. I just want it all to be a representation of my best self and my most honest self. I hope it encourages others to do the same because the best thing to be is yourself.
I saw your Instagram post that working out during your pregnancy has been more difficult at times due to all the changes in your body. What has been your experience with that challenge?
It’s definitely a new challenge. Usually, I find inspiration from workout videos, and I can go into the gym and go at it without thinking about it. I find it freeing and exhilarating when I can push my body to the max. During pregnancy, I’ve had to retrain and relearn and find new influences online. I forgot her name, but there’s a Swedish PT I found online that’s also pregnant so I can watch her videos. I can also listen and learn from other mothers. Sometimes I think things like, “Should I be jump roping?” I have to look at a lot of things on the internet. It definitely is a sort of hold on the typical rhythm of being able to just go into a gym and going crazy. It’s been my challenge. I do miss just walking into a gym, but it’s expanding my knowledge. I’m still able to do the TRX suspension training because I have something supporting me.
One of the biggest challenges today is struggles with eating disorders and body dysmorphia. As an ambassador for NEDA, what difference do you think the education of eating disorders and body image is making for young people?
The fact that there are people like myself and Demi speaking about it is exciting because it’ll bring attention to young people and help them learn that they should be getting help. An eating disorder is very detrimental to their mental and physical health. It also helps them realize it’s normal. This statistic is old, but something said there are over 1 million people in the US with an eating disorder. But people didn’t know then really what an eating disorder is and there was a lot of shame around it. I know there are so many more cases than that. Even if some people didn’t necessarily seek treatment, there are still cases of feeling restricted by diet or people putting their weight before their self-image. Almost every person has struggled with that. Eating disorders and body image don’t discriminate. At this point in time, when we have the chance to be open and talk about things we’ve been through, it can help someone else know they aren’t alone.
Switching over and looking at your Mirror Challenge stories, what advantages have you seen when approaching self-love from a very personalized perspective, really taking the time to get to know a person and their struggles?
What’s funny about the Mirror Challenge is I have talked to some complete strangers and people I’ve known for five minutes, and it’s an intimate experience for everyone. There have been some of the most seemingly confident people and as soon as you give them direct eye contact, they can’t say a single word. I love going through that challenge with people because I think we often go through the world while numb to our own self-definition and the words we are feeding ourselves on a daily basis. When we can change that narrative, it can have a huge impact on our lives. Each day you start telling yourself loving things, it’ll be much easier to be more loving and grateful. You’ll probably even speak to others in a more loving way. That power is incredible. I’ve stayed in touch with most people I’ve done the show with, and their lives have been impacted. Obviously, I was just helping them take the first step. After that, it’s important for people to realize everyday affirmation and the words they use towards themselves are life-changing.
If someone is deeply struggling with self-image and doubt, it can be hard to speak up about it. What’s some advice you have for someone possibly wanting to speak to a friend about what they are struggling with?
Definitely know you are not alone in what you’re thinking and feeling. If it’s not the person you are speaking to, know there is someone in this world going through what you’re going through and feeling similar. There’s so much more strength in asking for help than doing nothing, and you deserve that. Sometimes people don’t have the best family, but you can choose your family. It can be friends or people that have similar interests. It’s important for people to reach out. It can even be through social media. If someone is brave enough to be open about it, I encourage them to be because someone could be reading it who feels alone. They could feel like they can ask for help after seeing you share.
STORY ELIZABETH STAFFORD
PHOTOS KRISSY SALEH
MAKEUP SASHA GLASSER
HAIR AARON BARRY using T3 MICRO and ALTERNA HAIRCARE
STYLIST RYANN LANEL REDMAN
PRODUCER KRISTEN TURNER
LOCATION HOTEL COVELL