British body activist and curve model Jessica Megan believes that “in the war with your body the loser is always you.” As an influencer she uses her platform to speak out about important issues to her such as; mental health, body positivity, race and feminism. Her amazing charity work includes being the official ambassador for the Breast Cancer Charity Coppafeel! as well as Anti-Bullying Charity Ditch the Label and Bloody Good Period, a charity that gives menstrual products to refugees, asylum seekers and others who can’t afford them. She has also appeared in BBC’s Glow Up and John Frieda’s Dream Curls Commercial. The blonde bombshell spoke to us about what needs to change in the modelling industry, the pressure that comes with being an influencer and body confidence advice.
The Curve: You’re so many things; a curve model, body activist, and influencer- what do you see yourself as first?
Jessica Megan: It’s such a millennial thing [laughs] like hyphen jobs, I’m sort of a speaker but mostly I would say I’m a body confidence activist, that would be the best way to describe it.
TC: How long have you been a model?
JM: I’ve been modelling for about five years, and the influencer stuff came along after that. I’ve been doing modelling since I was about 22/23.
TC: What made you want to become a model?
JM: It was an accident. I had a friend who does it and she was like “you should come and take some photos with me” and I was like “it’s not really my thing, I don’t know if I’ve got the right body type for it necessarily”, this was way back when it obviously wasn’t as common to be above a UK size 8 or 10. But she was like “no, give it a go” so I did and it was so much fun and I sort of fell into it from there and started. I had a little car at the time that I would bomb around the UK in and just go to all these different photographers. I worked completely for free while I was at university, built up a portfolio and started posting it online, and that’s where the influencer thing kind of sped off.
TC: When and how did you make the change from just posting modelling pictures of yourself on social media to speaking out about body image and confidence issues?
JM: I noticed a massive injustice and it felt really strange to me that so many women I knew were my size or a bit bigger and there was just nothing for them in the industry. It made no sense to me considering that the clothes were technically being made up to a size 16 in stores a lot of the time and that’s not even touching the fact that a lot of women beyond that size are not represented at all.
I just thought it was really bizarre and unfair, like why couldn’t I do modelling? What was the reason? There were these gatekeepers in the fashion industry way high up who were just dictating everything and saying this is the standard of beauty and I was like but… why? It just takes questioning it and so the jump came from the fact that I was going to these shoots and I was a size 10 to 12 then, which is smaller than I am now by a lot and I had photographers class me as plus size model and it felt really strange to me because I was looking at my photos and you could clearly see my ribs, it was just ridiculous.
So I just slowly started speaking up about how women’s bodies have been restricted and how in the freelance modelling industry there’s this real toxicity and I kind of went from there and just realised I had so much anger about it and it seeped out through my work in modelling. It felt like it was always there, like it was a burning anger, I’ve always had body image problems and this was a really great way to try and exercise some of those demons that I had. I never expected it to come out that way but that’s how it came out.
“I was going to these shoots and I was a size 10 to 12 then, which is smaller than I am now by a lot and I had photographers class me as plus size model and it felt really strange to me because I was looking at my photos and you could clearly see my ribs, it was just ridiculous.”
TC: How do you feel about the term “plus size”?
JM: I think it’s unnecessary. Personally, I don’t take any offense to it. I know people who refer to me as that but I don’t think it’s necessary. I think ultimately it’s just “model” because I think when you categorize things it just others it. You’ve got “model” and then that’s the standard so anything else aside from that is just like a subcategory or a version of that.
I am a model, that’s what I do, that’s my job and how I earn my money so why is it that I have to be categorised just because I have to wear a bigger size of clothing? It’s not that I take offence to it, I just think it’s completely unnecessary and there’s so many great campaigns rallying against it that I’ve seen and I’m just like “yes, there’s absolutely no need for this!” All it does is subjugate us and put us in a different category.
It’s so interesting because whenever I post about this people say “oh, I thought it was a size 16 or 14” but it’s weird because if you were to look at it from a standardised model view it would be a size UK 16 but in my experience anything above a UK size 10 is when you start getting into plus size category and people think of you as different than other models. We know this because when we look at the majority of supermodels and models who are being used they’re definitely not a size 12, they’re definitely a 10 or under so it’s officially a size 16 but I think anything above a size 10 is usually plus size, which is mad.
TC: As you previously mentioned, in the fashion industry you’re automatically labelled “plus size” if you’re above a UK size 10. Why do you think we only ever see either “plus size” or “straight size” models and no in between which is what the majority of women are- why do you think the majority of women aren’t represented in the fashion industry?
JM: It’s not a popular subject to talk about because as mid-size girls, we’re not straight size but we’re not plus size either, so we haven’t suffered the same oppression as a plus size girl might have but we’re still not fitting into the category that is generally considered acceptable in terms of body image. Whenever I speak up about this, about feeling like you’re in that no man’s land, feeling like you don’t belong here or here either. It’s often that there’s backlash and I completely understand that. Plus size girls have suffered a lot, they’re barely represented and I’m talking about the sizes 18 and above and all of these girls, they feel so left out, and they have every right to be, I never see their body types anywhere.
But mid size fashion is mostly due to the fact that when someone is hiring they’re either hiring for high fashion or catwalks and if they’re hiring plus size then it’s more to do with tokenisation, they’re trying to look like they’re representing a plus size category. It’s a really interesting question [laughs] cause I’ve looked around for an answer to this as well because this is kind of why I do what I do, because I’m trying to represent that middle ground of women, that’s where a lot of us tend to exist, in that middle ground between sizes sort of 12 to 16.
I think a lot of it comes from a technical thing within the industry as opposed to a social reasoning, like there’s a lack of size 24s but that’s a social thing, that’s because it’s not seen as fashionable to represent that kind of size or above. Whereas with mid-size girls I think it’s like we have a “thin’ or “plus size” category and it has to show in the photos. I think that that’s the reason but I don’t want to misrepresent or misspeak.
TC: Do you think the fashion industry is changing, due to the fact that in the last five years there’s been more plus size models being represented than ever before such as Ashley Graham and so on?
JM: Oh my god! It’s absolutely phenomenal, like I teach at the Conde Nast college in London and teach students all about representation and the speed at which our industry has changed is absolutely phenomenal, I mean it’s been breakneck almost and it’s all down to social media. I completely blame social media for this! If we didn’t have social media then we wouldn’t have this change. Brands and agencies have seen how girls interact with girls who look like me and they capitalize on that, and that’s the only reason why were seeing girls like Ashley Graham and Tess Holiday and all of these amazing models who are doing the work and it’s purely because they realised “oh ok people do actually want to see these body types.”
I would like to see even more change, if you were to look at the entire industry you would see that only a tiny portion of it is actually of plus size women or girls above a size 12. Even that small category is still considered really progressive and it’s like “ok yeah, they are incredibly famous and they do get a lot of traction” but in terms of the entire modelling industry they are still such a small amount and even that is still made up of much smaller sizes.
I would like to see even bigger sizes and then I would like to see more representation in terms of disabilities and skin conditions, there’s so much more that can be done. But in terms of the progress we’ve made like if you look at the 90s and thinspo you had such as Paris Hilton and heroin chic was idolised, from that to where we are now, a much more nourished, healthy looking woman is what has kind of become more fashionable but there’s still such a huge lack but we can’t deny that it is of course better.
TC: As an influencer and model, how have both of those roles impacted your self-esteem and mental health?
JM: I absolutely adore my job, my self esteem in comparison to when I was 22 is so much better because now a lot of the fears I had regarding the injustice of the lack of representation of women’s bodies has been confirmed. I knew that there was something deeply wrong and then when I went out and did this job (being an influencer) I got the feedback that yes this is very strange and that’s how I built that following and confidence. So my mental health and self esteem has actually soared however, and I think a lot of influencers will say this, it’s very difficult because before social media celebrities had no direct communication with their fans.
Now as an influencer, your followers have a direct line to tell you whenever they don’t like something about you. Because at the end of the day as human beings we used to have our groups, our categories of people who we’d socialise with and now we’re exposed to every opinion out there. If I say something that one person doesn’t like, they have a direct line of communication to me, they can tell me straight away but they’re not the only one doing that. I’ve nearly got a million followers across all my social media platforms, so even if you’ve got just 10 people a day saying that they think you’re a bad person or you said the wrong thing, it kind of chips away at you. You have to have a good attitude about it and have to remember that this is just the way the internet is but at the same time for me, the worst criticisms come from the women who are in my field of thinking.
So if I’ve talked about an issue on race and haven’t quite said it correctly and someone comes back to me and says in a really awful way “you’re a bad person now because of the fact that you didn’t say that quite right”, that can be very harsh. I get a lot of criticism from men as well and that’s a normal part of my job. It’s not acceptable and will never be okay but it doesn’t hurt me, it’s water off a duck’s back now because it’s just like “oh you’re fat and ugly” and I’m like “oh well, well done you!” [laughs] like, congratulations on having a life that is so empty that the only thing you can do to make you feel alive is to go online and tell a stranger that you think she’s fat, maybe go find a hobby? It’s that kind of stuff, and it’s hard work but I love my job and I’m so privileged and I’m happy to do it, well not to be bullied obviously [laughs]!
“I’ve nearly got a million followers across all my social media platforms, so even if you’ve got just 10 people a day saying that they think you’re a bad person or you said the wrong thing, it kind of chips away at you.”
TC: Do you feel any pressure, talking to and influencing such a large audience?
JM: Influencers do not have a good reputation, we can’t deny it. Most articles I read about influencers are usually about how narcissistic we are, but then again I’m so lucky, my job is amazing and I can’t deny that there are perks. Nevertheless I also don’t condone this idea that if you’re lucky in one way you can’t ever be sad about this.
You have to be able to express everything because at the end of the day being human is a smorgasbord of different experiences and from day to day I’ll have a fantastic experience, like a great interview with you and then I’ll look at a message that says “you deserve to be cancelled” and I’m not going to sit there and go because it’s great here it never hurts over here, of course it does! I’m a human being, we take on criticism and it’s hard not to. I wish I knew the answer to just ignore it but it does hurt every now and then, it’s a lot of people to appease and you’re just not going to do it.
TC: What’s your response to people who believe that body positivity promotes obesity?
JM: They’re confused. I tend to focus on body confidence, body positivity was a movement that was born out of fat acceptance during the 1970s, that’s an area that I know about a lot because I learned about it from my fat activist friends. I’ve often been accused of promoting being fat as a lifestyle choice. Let’s just say that when it comes to the idea that body positivity promotes fat acceptance, why is it that I never hear that about any other kind of thing, like smoking or being exceptionally thin. For example, I have a friend and she always treats her body terribly. She knows it, we have discussions about it because we talk about this particular subject a lot. She’s very thin, she eats very badly, smokes, takes drugs and she says “no one has ever come at me for promoting being unhealthy, no ones ever done that to me because I look thin.”
So I’m going to need people to have better reasons for their fatphobia. You can’t promote being fat, my body is not a marketing board. I’m not trying to promote or sell anything. My body is mine and I can not promote things with it, of course I can to a degree because obviously I can do it for my job, I can promote a bikini but I’m promoting the bikini. My body itself, I’m not actually promoting any kind of lifestyle with it, it is just as it is.
People just find it so hard to grasp the idea that a woman’s body is not something that’s marketing a certain idea. Girls who are actually fat, just by living their lives are not promoting anything. It’s a confused ideology and it’s one that is inherently entrenched in fatphobia, there is no other way to describe it. I just don’t see the same energy brought to people who are thin and also indulge in the same habits. It’s a boring take, and it’s one that has loads of responses and I’ve argued with it so many times.
“You can’t promote being fat, my body is not a marketing board. I’m not trying to sell anything.”
TC: How do you feel about body neutrality?
JM: Body neutrality is a great way to go if you are just not somebody who wants to necessarily worship or celebrate their body. Body neutrality is just a great alternative, I think some people are either not ready or just don’t have the passion towards their body that I do, and that’s fine. I think what we’re trying to do is come out of a place of body negativity so if we’re bringing people to just a place of middle ground that’s better than what we’ve been having for the last god knows how many years where women have been hating themselves. At least now they feel somewhat neutral and feel like they’ve hit this comfortable place in the middle. So yeah, I totally support it!
“Your body has worked tirelessly. Regardless of whether or not you like it, it’s worked tirelessly to give you everything that it thinks is right for you. All the food you’ve eaten, all the sex you’ve had, orgasms you might have experienced, dancing, running, anything you’ve ever done that’s made you feel good, your body has given you that.”
TC: What’s the best body confidence advice you can give to those who are struggling with body image issues?
JM: When someone is criticising your body, you have to remember that they’ve been entrenched with the same ideologies as you have about what a body is supposed to mean and so it says more about them then it does about you and in addition to that your body is your best friend and has given you so much. It’s given you every experience you’ve ever had in this world, and for some people that can be really hard to accept because maybe they just haven’t had lots of good experiences but nevertheless your body has worked tirelessly. Regardless of whether or not you like it, it’s worked tirelessly to give you everything that it thinks is right for you. All the food you’ve eaten, all the sex you’ve had, orgasms you might have experienced, dancing, running, anything you’ve ever done that’s made you feel good, your body has given you that.
Bill Bryson wrote about how when you’re eating a brownie with ice cream, what is actually happening in your mouth is just chemicals and textures but your brain is what is giving you the experience, it’s like sheet music and it reads off of that and it gives you all of those explosions, all of that taste. From that perspective I think we can start to build a love for our body as our friends as opposed to do lists that we have to fix. A lot of women and men look down when they wake up in the morning and think this is a to do list of things I have to fix; I have to lose weight, I have to sort out this spot on my bum, I have to get rid of this skin tag, like whatever it is it’s always “I have to work on my body and once I’ve done that I can finally reach a place of love.”
But this is the body you exist in now, and will always be the body you exist in so let’s try and actually make friends with it and see it for what it is. It is innocent, it’s not trying to hurt you, it’s not trying to embarrass you. Your body is really just trying to exist and do what it thinks is best for you. It is ultimately your best friend, it is the thing that’s going to carry you through to your death. When I die, I’ll miss my friends and family but I’ll also miss this body. This body has given me everything and I try to honour it every day, do I love it every day? No, that’s why body neutrality is a great alternative, sometimes you go “I don’t really love you today, I’m feeling a bit sad and vulnerable so I’m just going to get from A to B.” Just treat your body as well as you can because it is good to you, and will be there forever. I hope that helps [laughs].
TC: On a lighter note, what are your best style tips?
JM: Oh my gosh! My style is kind of urban bohemian, my favourite thing right now is tiny dresses and big trainers. T-shirt dresses are the best but I wear trainers religiously! Oh and big hoop earrings, I always wear them! It’s so safe, you just always look cool! I’m also obsessed with red lips, I know it’s not the most fashionable colour like usually people tend to go for nudes at the minute. I hate tips that are like “wear it with a smile” it’s like whatever [laughs]. So yeah chunky trainers, little dresses, hoops and red lipstick, that’s my go to and what I always wear. I really don’t like putting on trousers, another thing that’s really useful for people who have bigger hips or stomachs or whatever, you don’t have to own jeans!
I think that’s something people get really caught up on, I’ve read countless articles that talk about what the best jeans are for the winter, and don’t get me wrong I own and do wear jeans and have a couple that I like but most of the time I’ve spoken to women who find them so difficult and they don’t like wearing them and they ruin their confidence and it’s like you don’t have to wear jeans! If you prefer wearing dresses then wear them, you don’t have to subscribe to anything or have the perfect pair of heels or whatever it is, you don’t even have to wear heels, just go with whatever makes you feel comfortable. Completely get rid of any notion of “I have to have this because that is the one wardrobe staple that everyone says I have to have.” Don’t worry about it! Just wear whatever makes you feel comfortable and good about yourself, that’s genuinely how I try to live my life day to day.
TC: What’s next for you, do you have any upcoming projects we should know about?
JM: Yes I do, I’m writing a book but I’m not allowed to say much more than that. Not just because I can’t but also because I have no details whatsoever [laughs]. I’ve also got a couple of ideas for a website I want to build. I’m at a stage where I have three projects but I’m not allowed to talk about anything yet. I’m excited to talk about all of them but I’m most excited about the book. It’s been a long time coming, and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done but I want it to be worth it and I want people to enjoy it.
TC: Can you at least give us a hint on what the book might be about?
JM: [laughs] It’s not far fetched from the stuff I talk about now, my favourite thing to do is write and a lot of my followers will attest to that, like when I write my captions I go on a rant. Of course the book is going to be about bodies and mostly about women’s bodies, I would love for it to be a commentary and something that people can look at when they are feeling low. Something that Mums can give to their daughters when they are starting to talk about how they feel like their bodies are ugly, I want this book to make people feel better. I’m not particularly looking to change the world with it but I want it to be a resource for people.
You can follow Jessica’s journey here: