Sitting down with Iskra Lawrence over plates of fish and chips and chocolate fudge cake, we were blown away by her beauty and brains as we talked all things body confidence, body issues and airbrushing.The plus-sized model is attempting to change the modelling industry and open it up to women of different shapes and sizes, something she is already going some way to achieve with her unretouched campaigns, her social media presence – she has over 630,000 followers on Instagram – and her role as a spokesperson for NEDA (National Eating Disorders Assocation).
She is also the managing editor of Runway Riot, "a style and fashion site for an underrepresented and often under-appreciated majority of women in America who wear larger sizes."Insert clapping hands emoji here.The 25-year-old, who was scouted when she was 13 after entering an ELLE girl search, started to find editorial modelling increasingly difficult when her body started to change and become womanly at the age of 15."Every agency would mention my hips. I remember looking at the other models and thinking: 'I do not look like these girls'," she tells us.The pressure of trying to fit in became too much for Iskra, who reached a point where she realised something had to change.
"I was called fat 200 times on shoots and had serious trouble fitting in the clothes at fashion shows. All these things break you down to a point where you look in the mirror and don't like what you see. I remember googling operations to make my calves slimmer and I ate only ham for a week to try and become skinny."But she found out about plus-sized modelling and began researching suitable agencies. "I soon realised that I could be a successful model at the size I'm meant to be," she says."I then made it my mission to become the best version of myself – to work really hard, work out and be strong and healthy, as well as be confident and nice to people."She soon landed a campaign with Aerie, a lingerie retailer owned by American Eagle Outfitters, and her stunning, completely unretouched images went viral – she even landed a billboard in Times Square.
"I was so happy," she tells us. "I walked out and saw the billboard and just burst into tears."I was the biggest girl they'd used. One of the shots was just me sat down normally, not sucking in. I was just comfortable and I love how that image made other girls feel."Being 100 per cent unretouched is something Iskra is totally focused on."As a model, I feel a great responsibility and I understand how an image can make a young woman feel," she says."I used to tear myself apart because of an image I'd seen so I want to do the opposite – I want to empower women and tell them that they're beautiful as well. If you have thread veins like me, why is that a flaw?
"It feels good to put myself out there as I actually am. It makes me feel more beautiful because I know people like the real me, not the airbrushed, perfected me."Iskra has used Instagram as a platform for helping women with their body issues and body confidence, sharing pictures that show the raw, real her, rather than an edited version."The more cellulite or stretch marks or blemishes that can be seen on my photos, the more girls appreciate them," she says."They message me saying, 'Oh my goodness, you're human!' – they love to see all of me."Victoria's Secret has come under scrutiny many times for only featuring thin women and are coming under increasing pressure to showcase women of different sizes. But would Iskra ever consider modelling for them?
"If they approached me, I would ask my followers," she says. "Because my followers would either say 'Yes, wow – a curvier girl!' or they would think that a person who is trying to change the industry has just bowed down to a big play."She thinks that the lingerie brand, however, is unlikely to feature a plus-size model in the show."We jiggle," she explains. "If you watch that show, nothing moves. I know they spray the legs multiple times with body point to make sure every lump or bump if covered. You can hardly see their skin anymore!"Also, the brand doesn't fit with her 'no retouching' mission."With Victoria's Secret, their whole vision is that it's unobtainable. It's not meant to be real, it's meant to be an illusion, not the average girl," she says.
"So I don't think I could ever get them to sign off on no retouching!"We have a feeling the Victoria's Secret diet wouldn't wash well with Iskra, either, who says that she loves to eat "crappy food" in moderation."I eat crappy food – I love doughnuts, for example. But I know what they're doing to my body, I know my energy levels drop."It's about moderation. I eat that stuff but I also still drink my green juices, eat salads and work out. You just have to be educated."If you're a fan of Iskra on Instagram, you'll be aware of the fact that she has pretty incredible abs, something that comes from working out regularly."I aim to work out four times a week, although that usually ends up being three," she says."Exercising is almost like a drug to me. I treated working out as a reward."With that, our time with Iskra was nearly up. But not before she filled us in on her upcoming plans, including touring schools to teach young girls and boys about eating disorders and positive body image and getting a special symbol added to unretouched images globally.See? We told you – beauty and brains.