Photographer & Artist
After pausing for election craziness, we are kicking off our 2017 interviews with photographer & artist Bianca Valle, aka @vbiancav. She chats with us about diversity in the media, the current political climate and the power of social media.
Laura Jane: Tell me more about yourself and why you’re excited about the body positivity movement.
Bianca: I consider myself a creative person and practice many different art forms; painting, film, video, and photography. I would say that the main thing I do now is photography. Some of my photography was selected, and is currently on display, as part of the “Girl Gaze Project: a frame of mind.” I’m thrilled that my work is at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles until February. This exhibit features photos of normal girls and womanhood through the lens of young women photographers.
One reason I’m excited about the body positivity movement is that women of all shapes, sizes and races are starting to appear across the media. This includes me. I’ve been doing some modeling, too. I started modeling for a few friends’ projects, and then brands and other people saw me willing to be in front of a camera, other great opportunities followed. The main reason I do this is because I want every girl to be represented in the media, I am one more face that can add diversity in front of today's lenses.
I am 5’3ish. My heritage is Mexican. I was born in the United States, but my father is from Mexico City and my mother was born in Mexicali of American parents. I’m not a typical rail-thin model nor am I tall. But I was given an opportunity, and I feel a responsibility to help change the way media and society expect to see the same girls representing all women. We are not all the same, yet we see the same body types unrealistically representing our gender across the board. This needs to change.
LJ: How do you see your work being a part of this?
B: I believe my work is already part of this movement and is making an impact. One powerful way I contributed to this body-positive image change was by being one of the principal photographers for the “See The 67%” campaign for Refinery29 and client Lane Bryant. I produced a beautiful gallery of normal and plus-sized women that is available on Getty Images for the media to use in their campaigns moving forward.
I’m a big believer in changing how the media portrays the same body types. It’s so incredibly damaging for young women, especially in my age group, to be conditioned to think that a size 00 is normal. We are so impressionable, even in college. The media is so saturated with these impossibly thin women that it’s hard to be scrolling down social media feeds and see these girls and not think, Why am I not like that? It promotes so much self-loathing and self hate. Girls and even grown women need to be focused on their health and having a good head on their shoulders.
It’s really exciting to see that the media is making a bigger effort to change this negative body image culture we’ve been exposed to. I really hope that in my lifetime there is a big change. In the media right now, I’m seeing a little more change. It’s been exciting to see companies like Lane Bryant put images of theses amazing women everywhere.
I do feel like the plus-size category is catching on, but why categorize them? A woman is a woman, plus size or not. I want to do my part by using women in my photos that are normal, who have blemishes and imperfections. We all suffer from these self-perception constraints so why perpetuate them.
LJ: Tell me more about your relationship to your body growing up.
B: It’s been a love-hate relationship. I grew up in Southern California, running about in a bathing suit which was totally fine until I got into high school and hit puberty and my body changed. I was like, What is going on? Being Hispanic, I developed earlier than my friends, so I always felt like the one with the biggest hips at the beach.
LJ: What was it like when you moved to New York?
B: When I first got here, Petra Collins was making her big debut. That was when she was just coming out with all of her photos of normal girls in bathrooms doing their makeup and the like. I remember thinking, Wow! This is such an exciting thing to see, a normal girl taking pictures of normal girls. It wasn’t only the photography that was inspiring— it was the whole energy. It instilled this idea in me that being a girl is magical and having body hair is okay and being a girl that isn’t rail thin is also okay. From this, every girl wanted to get involved in the girl power movement. I’m still a part of this movement today.
LJ: Why do you think the body positive movement is important?
B: Truthfully, I believe it’s not a girl’s fault if she is unhappy with her body. We are cursed with this weird body image section in our brains that we didn't ask for, but the media has created it. We need more images of normal people, more talks, more gatherings, more Instagram accounts, and more ideas in the media featuring normal women to counter this.
When we see real women online, it can validate how we feel. You think, Oh, she’s not super thin so it’s okay if I’m not super thin. Instagram is such an important tool, but it also can be poisonous. It can be really empowering if you use it the right way, by supporting accounts of cool women who are naturally beautiful with flaws.
I have wider hips, I have brown skin, I have amazing thick hair on my head, but also everywhere else, and these things are hard to swallow sometimes. But I think with the help of the media, and not just social media but all platforms, I think I have accepted it more and soon will be all the way there.
LJ: Has being a Hispanic woman impacted the way you think about your body or body image?
B: Being Hispanic has not been a huge obstacle for me, but this certainly isn’t the type of girl portrayed in the media either. I grew up in a time when there wasn’t a lot of diversity in my small town. People are more conscious now about diversity. In New York, there are a lot of women from different cultures who embrace who they are and show that on social media.
I remember seeing Hispanic women on the Internet wearing big gold hoops. Before I moved to NYC, I thought if I wore those earrings I’d look too Mexican, and people were going to ask me where my tortillas were. Now I wear many hoops and I love them! I’ve been very lucky to be brown. I’m bilingual and bicultural, and this is a blessing.
LJ: How has being involved in social media and having a large following been a part of this for you?
B: Having a following of any type always brings the good and the bad. I think you can’t really choose if you have a following or not, it kind of just happens. People see you being yourself and they gravitate towards that. I’m just a hard-working girl, trying to do what I love. I think people see only the best on Instagram and assume things from that. People are going to think your life is amazing or that you’re so pretty, or you’re so this or so that. I don’t think people realize that you’re normal, so I try to balance this by also posting things about my everyday life. I make sure I don't just post the nice things.
I do get a lot of positive feedback and it’s really exciting, especially as a 21-year-old. I posted a photo of myself wearing a crop top, and the caption said I was trying to embrace who I am. So many girls came out of nowhere—because that is what the Internet is—and wrote things like, Oh Bianca, me too! They are so excited that I say these things, which I’m honest about how I feel about my body. They will tell me, thank you for doing this or for saying this, and it makes me want to write more stuff like this. I get DMs from people telling me that I’m really inspiring, and it’s great to see someone like me doing big things at a young age. I also get a lot of requests for advice and to mentor young girls.
This is what inspires me to keep being 100% me online. I posted a photo of myself wearing these really tight vintage jeans with the zipper down after eating. It got such a huge response. It really taught me that some things are just normal and all of society is trying so hard to keep them hidden, but for what?!
LJ: Okay, let’s talk about the election. What has that been like for you? It is connected to body image and the body pos movement?
B: Yes, I think it’s super connected, unfortunately. The news around our future president has brought out some very negative ideas about women. It really saddens me. But the best way to change this is to do something about it. The Women’s Marches going on across the country are a good start. Get involved. We need to help each other to be better women, too. At this point, we need to use our voices and let our disagreement with the current political situation be known. Who knows? Maybe together we can make things change.
First & instagram photo: Liam Quigley, elkue.com
This interview has been edited and condensed.