When ELLE.com first spoke with Philomena Kwao, she had just landed an appearance in Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue and Swimsuitsforall’s #SwimSexy campaign. Now, a year and a half later, Kwao is teaming up with Lane Bryant to star in #TheNewSkinny campaign, a celebration of all curves and sizes. As body diversity becomes a bigger part of the conversation, Kwao fills us in on what has improved in the modeling industry, and how we can normalize plus sizes for good.
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On #TheNewSkinny campaign.
“I think for so long, women of different sizes have been pigeonholed and with every campaign, it’s always an adaptation of making fashion, but for plus sizes. Sometimes it’s in a little bit of a negative way and plus is always a little bit slow to be fashion forward. It’s like skinny jeans: The skinny jean is a staple for every single woman and man. For so long, advertising for skinny jeans has just been about a certain body shape or a certain body type. But with this new campaign, it really shows that women of different sizes can move in skinny jeans. It’s refreshing to see plus women being treated as part of the fashion community as a whole and not just a separate piece or separate different thing.”
On skinny jean struggles.
“I’m bottom heavy, so I tend to get a gap at the waist or sometimes it’s too straight through the thigh. I think the main thing is the perception of the kind of girl that should be wearing a skinny jean. It’s never really been the staple of a curvier girl or a staple of a girl that’s different shapes and different sizes or different heights. And I think sometimes that also adds to the reason why a lot of women are very self-conscious wearing skinny jeans. This new campaign is very refreshing because we’re all different sizes, we’re all different shapes and we’re wearing these jeans and we look amazing in these jeans.”
On representation beyond size.
“I’ve noticed in terms of the people that I work with that there’s a lot more plus sized models of color being featured, more bloggers. I’ve also really appreciated the way in which different brands—not only plus sized brands, but brands across the board—have really responded to the concerns of people from different ethnicities or diverse backgrounds. It’s really been reflected in a lot of the advertising that I personally have noticed, with the makeup brands becoming more inclusive, with TV commercials becoming more inclusive, with the diversity on magazine covers. In the space of a year, I’ve seen an almost exponential change that’s been quite rapid and I’m really glad it’s happening.”
On body diversity as a revolution, not a trend.
“I don’t [worry about body diversity as a trend] anymore because now, when you have models like Ashley Graham or Candice Huffine on the front cover of big publications like ELLE or Vogue, no one’s calling it the ‘Curvy Issue’ anymore. They’re actually calling these girls by their name and giving them the credit and respect that they’re due. We’re moving away from the whole token thing. They’re highlighting the achievements of all the great models without making reference to their size. I feel like once they’re treating them like straight sized models and normalizing it, that’s when it’s no longer a trend, it’s no longer a phase. It’s here and it’s here to stay.”