Laura Jane: Tell me a little bit about your background. I know that you do modeling now--how did you get there? Let’s start at the beginning.
Kiara: Before all the modeling, I definitely struggled with image outside of weight, with having freckles and being a black girl with freckles. I’ve always had to defend how I look from childhood. I mean, I’m fair skinned, but when I was little it was ‘Oh, you know, you’re black and white,’ and ‘Your hair is very curly and long,’ and, you know, you’re this and you’re that. When my freckles came in, it was ‘You’re Irish.’ Everyone was always telling me what I was. It was hard for me to create an identity because I had so many people telling me what I was and what I was supposed to be.
When I hit my teenage years, I started dealing with weight issues. It was really bad from when I was a teenager—about 14-,15-years-old—until I was about 25-years-old. I was always struggling with diets, trying every diet to lose weight.
I went through a period of time, years of time, where I didn’t want to be in any photos. We went to Disneyland for my mom’s birthday and I would literally be the one taking pictures. I was just looking through photos recently and I was looking at the picture of her and her friends and thought, I remember being there but when I looked at the picture, where was I? I was taking all the picture. I thought, oh my god, I’ve come such a long way. I used to be hellbent on not being in the picture because I was just dealing with so much of my own image, I couldn’t stand looking at my own reflection. I hated looking at pictures of myself and looking at what I looked like. I went through a really bad period of my life where I was just trying to figure things out, but I have grown out of that. I don’t know if it comes with age or what.
I realized that this is who you are, this is who you’re made to be and I’ve learned to accept it. I try to eat healthy and work out, but at the same time, I have thighs, I have hips, I have a butt—I have these things and they’re given to me. I can't run from it. My whole family has a big butt—that’s not going anywhere. Same things with the freckles—that’s what God gave you so you need to use it. I accepted myself. One day, I looked in the mirror and I thought: you only have one life and you have one body. Stop trying to look like everyone. Stop trying to be everyone. They are already taken. You are only you. You’re going to waste it if you keep trying to be somebody else.
LJ: Do you feel like it was an overnight thing?
K: It was not an overnight thing. Let me give you some history. I’m an artist, I draw, paint, sculpt, I was born an artist. I do it naturally, I do it effortlessly. So that was my gift, but then I stopped. I didn’t feel like I wanted to do it anymore. I kept trying to find this thing, like what am I supposed to be doing, what am I supposed to do. So I went through a good period of time where everybody was just, ‘Oh, your freckles, your freckles,’ and I was like ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, I have freckles, I know.’ And then my friends told me seriously that I should be modeling. I had these few months where it was a constant theme in my life. I felt like it was God giving me these signs, like dropping these little hints through people that would keep bringing up modeling. I kept saying, I’m not a model, I don’t model. Then finally, my best friend told me, ‘Girl, I need you to give it up and stop fighting it. If you have been given it, use it.’
I started playing with the thought. I definitely had thoughts like, ‘But I’m plus size!’ and I’m this, I’m that, I don’t look like this and that. But I decided to try it. I found a photographer and did a photoshoot. I still have those pictures and I can not stand them. I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know if this is for me, I don’t like these pictures.’ But, I liked the experience. When we were out there shooting, I loved it. I liked the whole aspect of it—the atmosphere of it, the process. So, I kept doing it.
Modeling has really helped me be the confident person that I am today because it’s forced me to look in myself. When you’re trying to be savvy or professional, you have to fake it. I kept thinking, what can I do to be better? And that made me look at my body in a different way than just admiring it or criticizing it. I started thinking, ‘Ok, at the next shoot I’m going to do this, I’ll turn my face this way, or try this.” It became this thing that I wanted to do better and the more photos I took, the better I learned how to move and what’s my angles where. After that, I started looking at the images and liked them. I remember thinking, ‘That’s my face and I like it.’ Through modeling and being forced to be in front of the camera, I started appreciating what I looked like because I wasn’t able to hide. You can’t hide when you’re in front of the camera.
LJ: When did that transition happen? How long ago was that?
K: I started modeling at the end of 2015. Mind you, I had done a few prior. I did model when I was little, like little little, like 3 or 4. And when I was about 10, I did a Gap Kids fashion show. So I have that small history of it. But at the end of 2015 is when I decided to go for modeling. The end of 2016 was really busy and when I wanted to push it. I thought, ‘I want to do this on a bigger level, not just the instagram level, not just as a hobby, I want to do this for real.’ Because I know how it feels, I know how people feel when they don’t like themselves. It’s not a pity party, it’s true. People really go through things. And it’s real. It’s not just fishing for compliments, I used to get that all the time, I’m not fishing for anything, I really didn’t like who I was or what I looked like. I want to be a voice for people who don’t have one.
LJ: What has it been like being identified as a plus-size model? Does that ever feel challenging or did it change the way you felt about your identity?
K: I caught the wave. I’m not one of the pioneers or anything. I feel like when I started, being a plus-size model was already accepted. There are so many things, so many open doors, for plus. I’m not fighting all the battles that everyone else prior to me has fought. Also, I consider myself a freckle-faced model first and I am a plus-size model second. I don’t get offended by the category. I am a plus model, curvy model whatever you want to call it. I don't have an issue identifying with it. I just don’t want to be put into a box. But I’m definitely proud to represent the curvy community or plus community.
LJ: Tell me more about being a freckled model first. What does that look like, like do you get book primarily for jobs because of your freckles? Or what does that mean for you in terms of your work?
K: I do. I get approached for work like 85% of the time because I’m a freckled face model. That’s the thing that stands out the most and that’s what separates me the most. However, when I do fashion shows it’s usually for plus. I did a few fashion shows in San Diego and LA and that was more for plus, that was more for the body. But since when I get asked to do photoshoots and when I get asked to do anything in print, it is always for the freckles, so I do feel like that’s my niche, that’s my strength.
LJ: Can you talk about what it’s like to have freckles when you get your makeup done by makeup artist? Do you feel like makeup artists know what to do?
K: No. They do not. (Laughs) They don’t. Every time I sit in a chair, I’ve learned to be a bit more vocal. I say my disclaimer as soon as I sit down in the chair and before they start putting stuff on my face. I’ve learned that now, when I sit in someone’s chair, I have to say, I have freckles. They will often say, ‘Oh, your freckles are so beautiful,’ and then I will be like, ‘Thank you! So don’t cover them. I don’t want nothing on them. My face is clean. You can mess around with my eyes, my eyelids, put eyelashes on, do my eyebrows and my lips, but that is it. I don’t want no foundation.’ You have to be a little bit more up front.
People will try their best and try to use things that are more transparent or more liquid. But I’ve tried that and they don’t work for me. I have run into a lot of makeup artists that are wonderful. They’ll do my eyes and everything else and leave my freckles alone. But in my experience, not too many people understand and know how to do a face of freckles. There are some people who have lighter freckles, there’s not too much difference between freckles and their skin tone versus people like me who have darker freckles versus my bare skin. When you have such a big contrast, those techniques don’t work as well.
LJ: This is really interesting to me because I feel like this highlights how much makeup is used in most photoshoots. That’s awesome how you don’t wear that much makeup in your images.
K: I was looking at my instagram yesterday and like 90% of my pictures are of me completely bare faced. A lot of my pictures up there, like besides me wearing lipstick or things of that nature, are of me being 100% natural with raw, no makeup. Most of the time, I’m shooting with a bare face. Even right now I’m sitting outside I’m about to shoot in a photoshoot right now and I’m bare faced. Nine times out of 10 I’m doing no makeup.
LJ: What’s your experience been like with retouching? Have you noticed after you do a shoot, is there a lot of retouching involved and what’s that been like for you? Or do you work with a lot of photographers that don’t use that much?
K: I have never gotten anything retouched as far as to look smaller or anything of that nature. If I have a really big pimple or something like that, you gotta take that out. That’s too raw, we don’t need to show that. But, outside of that, there’s nothing retouched. There’s never no freckles taken out, there’s never anything added, When it comes to full-body photos, I’ve never had anything retouched to look thinner or slimmer or skinnier or anything.
LJ: That’s great. So transitioning topics a little bit, I’m curious on your experience as a black woman and a model, what that’s been like for you? And, you touched on this a little bit earlier, but I’d love to hear about having freckles as a black woman?
K: So I haven’t had any experience with my ethnicity being an issue at all. I’ve had all positive experiences when it comes to modeling, in general. I was scared of that. I think that's a positive thing about being in the plus community, everybody is so, so kind to each other. Everybody is so warm and there is such an accepting atmosphere. Everybody loves to work with each other. I’ve met so many models who have way bigger platforms than me and they’ve been like ‘I wanna work with you, come do this shoot.’ Everybody just opens up their arms with love and acceptance. I’ve been to a few events with curvy women and it felt like everybody had this sense of acceptance and warmth and everybody just wants to love and work together. As far as race goes, no, I haven’t had any issues in the modeling industry where my race or ethnicity has ever been an issue or concern or topic at all.
When I was little, I was rare. People would say, ‘I’ve never seen a black person with freckles. That was a thing I heard all throughout my childhood. Even now, when I talk to guys and guys are trying to hit on me, they’re like, What race are you? I’m like, ‘Really? Why is this a question? People will always ask, ‘Are you biracial? What are you mixed wit? What are you? People will be like, ‘I’ve never seen a black girl with freckles before.’ like it’s so foreign. That is so funny to me because I follow a few freckle pages and there’s tons of black girls with all sorts of freckles. There’s some with little freckles, some with tons of freckles, some with more freckles than me, there’s some that are lighter than me with freckles. And that’s all I see on a daily basis on my feed. It’s funny that growing up, I was the only one that people ever saw versus now I see it every single day.
It’s pretty cool that it’s grown and it’s not that foreign. And it feels like I have a little community of people that look like me. Yeah, that was a struggle growing up, even with my family. People think I have a whole family of people with freckles. That is not the case, there are literally three people in my family who have freckles: me, my mom and my grandma. I have the most out of all three of us so I don’t look like anyone in my family. I really grew up feeling like the ugly duckling, in school, in my family, the house, everywhere.
LJ: What has social media been like for you? What has it been like in terms of how you understand and have kind of come into your body positivity? Has social media played a role in that?
K: Not necessarily. As far as things like the freckles, no. Looking at other women who have freckles, it didn't, it doesn't have a reflection on me and how I feel about myself. It definitely was a nice thing to know that there were other women out there who had the same thing. Like I said, growing up, the only girls I saw that had freckles were caucasian little girls. I had a friend in high school, she was a caucasian and she had freckles but that’s totally different. That's more popular because it's in magazines and it's all over TV. But when it comes to black girls with freckles, you don't see them walking past you everyday so it's thought of as something that is not normal. So when I got on Instagram and social media, I was like, ‘Oh, there are a lot of black girls who have freckles.’ Freckles come in so many different ethnicities and colors and races, it's really cool. And I’m learning that through Instagram. So, as far as me accepting myself, no, it did not do much for that, but it did help me see that there was a huge community of people with freckles. If I had instagram when I was 10- or 12-years-old,it would have been a game changer.
Instagram has been really cool for me. Most of the time I get a lot of comments that are all positive but then I have a few comments that are completely negative. People are just rude, they think they’re being funny and you know, they may crack a joke. The cool thing about it is, sometimes I read comments days later and when people say mean things, even though I never give out negative energy, I’ll see other people totally roast them. People come to my defense and go to bat for me. These people don’t even know me! It’s just really cool to have that support from people you don't even know.
LJ: My last question for you is what advice would you give to women who are maybe in the place that you described being earlier in your life who don't want to have pictures taken of themselves and who feel really stuck and they don't have a good relationship with their body? What advice would you give to them about how to get to a place of love and acceptance and excitement?
K: That’s such a loaded question. I don’t know. One thing I think about a lot is the idea that you get one life. You are one of one. I write that on my page and pictures all the time. You are put on this earth to be you. If you hide that, if you mask that, you’re not using what God put you on this earth to be, which is just you. You have something to give to the world, that can't be duplicated by you trying to be somebody else, that can't be duplicated by somebody else trying to be me. You have to give what you have to the world, which is a gift. So I feel like when you come to that realization, then you start to accept who you are, what you've been through, whatever circumstances that you’re in. You start to realize it and then you start to see things for the good, for the better.
It takes time. I don't advocate for someone, out of nowhere, to think they’re going to gain confidence or be this body positive person because somebody else said so. You truly have to work on yourself. I worked on myself, I really truly believe you have to work from the inside out. I think a lot of people see beauty on the outside, beauty really shows from the inside, out. And so I really encourage people to figure out who they are and figure out what makes them special. You have to look at yourself in the mirror for hours. Do that. One of my friends that I just met recently, what they do is a mantra in the mirror, everyday when they wake up they say five things that they love about themselves. He had said before he could only do three. He would look in the mirror every morning and only pick out three things he liked about himself, and eventually it was four then eventually it was five. But that forced him to love himself before he ever stepped out the door. So you’re always a work in progress and so that's something that’s going to require you to work. It’s not going to happen out of the blue, but as long as you work on it and you know that you’re made special. Everyone's made special and everybody has a gift and you just have to realize that you're the only one that has your thoughts, that look like you. There’s nobody, I don't care how close you look like somebody, there’s nobody that is you. No one has your thoughts, your love, your care, nobody is you. As long as people understand that they are unique and that they’re put on this earth for a reason, you have all the reason in the world to be confident.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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