Joniel: Representation In Modeling

This is story 6 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

Joniel’s intro into the modeling world is not what most people would think. He was always into fashion and interested in modeling, but never really had the motivation to take those necessary steps to get his foot in the door. It was actually a traumatic experience that motivated him to change his style, which led to him modeling for well-known companies like Nike and The North Face.

It was 3 days before his high school graduation, and Joniel was racially profiled in front of his Bay View home. He remembers there were about 6 police cars and 2 S.W.A.T buses. Joniel was detained at a block party because he matched the description they were looking for – Black male, his height, wearing a black hoodie with white writing. Joniel was in disbelief that he was in this scenario, it was this moment that changed his life completely.

“I was like, ‘Well I live in a black neighborhood, you can ring anyone’s doorbell or go down the street and you’ll find someone in the same thing,'” Joniel said as he remembered what he felt in that exact moment.

The trauma from being racially profiled switched something inside Joniel’s brain. He got motivated to look more into one of his interests – fashion. Before this, he tried to achieve the Bay Area hypebeast streetwear look. Joniel made a conscious effort to dress differently, drop the hypebeast look, and invest in a completely new wardrobe. His motivation was to differentiate his style from others so he no longer “fit the description” from the traumatic experience.

Joniel started doing his fashion research. He was really inspired by GQ and took notes on their style. Growing up, he always looked up to Will Smith for his fashion and acting. David Gandy inspired him because Joniel feels like he changed the game of male models – from the slender, more feminine looking men, to beefy bulky guys. He was also inspired by Joshua Kissi – just a guy from South Africa who didn’t grow up with a whole lot. Joniel admires how he made his statement in the fashion industry by not giving a shit what people think.

Getting into fashion is a whole other ballgame for creatives. Simply for the fact that this is a form of art where you have to dish out a lot of your money to achieve certain looks that you want. Joniel wanted to stray away from streetwear looks and shifted his style to looking dapper. He wanted to be that one guy in the room dressed up in a suite, pulling it off, but yet maintaining a chill persona and not trying too hard. Joniel had to put in a lot of his own money to stay creative. There was a point where he realized that changing his whole wardrobe was getting too pricey, so for a while, he attempted to make his own clothes. At the end of the day, the price of his clothes didn’t worry him too much because it was an investment worth doing because the garments would always be his to keep. And most importantly, the clothes made Joniel feel good about himself.

Growing up, Joniel wasn’t the most confident kid. He had his fair share of feeling insecure, self-conscious, and overanalyzed things about himself. So finding the new found confidence through fashion made him glow in a different way. He loved that he was investing in himself to make him look good, but feel even better. Joniel’s uncle really liked the way he dressed when he changed up his style and asked him if he was finally modeling yet. “No, but I should,” Joniel responded. It was always something that crossed his mind, but at that moment he decided to actively try to pursue it.

Joniel took the researching stage pretty seriously. His goal was to get signed by an agency, and he was going to make sure it happened. He spent a good chunk of time looking at reviews and talking with people about certain agencies. Joniel took matters into his own hands and reached out to other models under different agencies and asked them how much work they actually got and what their experiences were like with the company. All it took was Joniel taking the initiative to slide into their DM’s to get the relevant information he needed. His research narrowed down his options, and at the end of it, he knew which company he wanted to work for.

When Joniel finally decided which agency was a right fit for him, he stalked them on social media. At the time, he didn’t have a portfolio and no one was helping him out to get discovered, so he used social media to his advantage. He kept up with their whereabouts often and waited for the agency to be at a certain place at a certain time. They would post when and where they would be scouting, so Joniel was always alert on when they would be coming close to his area. Finally, the day came where the agency posted that they would be scouting at the mall. The only problem was that the workers wouldn’t be at a table, but walking around the mall. Joniel made sure to wear his best clothes and went to the mall, in hopes of running into them.

Joniel’s tactics worked, because a photographer started following him around. He knew exactly what was happening, but decided to play it cool. Joniel asked them why they were following him, to which they said, “I work for this agency, are you interested in modeling?” From there, he got to meet the owner. It was really important that Joniel worked under an agency where the owner was a person of color, this is information he already knew prior to meeting them. When they finally met in the mall, he felt as though he was meeting with an uncle, whereas other agencies went straight to business. The owner had Joniel walk down the mall and back, and he left with the owner’s contact information.

It took 2 and a half months for the agency to contact him back. But after that, Joniel was signed to hist first modeling agency. Joniel has always believed that closed mouths don’t get fed, so he really took matters into his own hands to make his modeling career a reality. He played it smart by utilizing social media to his advantage. He laughs and jokes that in a way, he manipulated them into signing him. Joniel signed with an agency in 2013, fresh out of high school. It’s crazy to think that that was almost a decade ago.

Being a model and being able to represent people that normally wouldn’t make it on your screen is something that is very important to Joniel. He wants to help other people feel confident about themselves because he knows that he wasn’t the most confident kid growing up. Joniel explains that being Black, Filipino, from Bay View, and has Vitiligo on his face are all the reasons why he wouldn’t be a potential candidate to be a model. According to him, “the odds weren’t in my favor,” but he still made it happen. Now, he takes pride in representing the people that look like him, come from the same upbringing, and can relate to him in any way.

Social media has never been Joniel’s strong suit, in fact, it is still a work in progress for him. Before getting into the modeling world, he had about 500 followers. When he finally got signed, he would try his best to post consistently to get engagement. That would mean posting 3 times a day. It was a lot to keep up with, but in a year and half he grew his following from 500 followers to 10k. It took him 2 and a half more years to get to 19.6k. Joniel and some other friends from the agency started a social media group where they would text when they posted something so everyone could comment, like, and engage with it.

All in all, it took Joniel about 3 years to see progress in his modeling career. In the beginning, it was hard for his old school parents to get on board with his modeling. They constantly told him that he needed to get a real job. His dad was a little more understanding, due to the fact that his dad also modeled back in the day, but he also wanted Joniel to have something more serious with a steady income. After his first year of modeling, he mad about 12k for the whole year. This gave his parents more grounds to prove their point – he needed a new job and needed to start taking school more seriously. Joniel changed his parents’ minds 2.5 years into modeling when he took them to their first runway show.

“That’s my anak (child/son)!” His mom cheered happily.

“That’s so cool!” His dad later confessed.

Now, whenever he’s on TV or does a shoot with a well-known brand, it’ll definitely end up on mom’s Facebook page or the family group chat. They have learned to support Joniel and be more open-minded with where modeling can take him. It’s a very surreal moment when you see your child walking down that runway or on that ad. They finally understood his passion.

Modeling has challenged Joniel’s creativity in many ways. Fashion helped him find himself. Focusing on his sense of style and what made an outfit “him” really helped him discover the true him. He feels as though all of his modeling experiences has made him more open-minded. He dresses how he feels and does it for himself, not for anyone else. The different kinds of shoots he participates in allows him to just have fun as well. He enjoyed working with Nike because he didn’t even feel like it was work. Joniel described it as if a camera was just there and he was just having fun playing games on the field with other models.

When Joniel graduated from college, he was modeling full-time. He humbly admits that he was really busy and making a lot of money. But when his 26th birthday loomed around the corner, he started to reconsider his career path. Once someone hits 26 years old, they are no longer eligible to be under their parents’ health insurance. This encouraged Joniel to dip his feet into the personal training gym world. When COVID hit, he stopped modeling and training all together. When things started back up again, Joniel picked up from where he left of training and modeling. Now, he doesn’t have plans to model full-time anymore and prefers to do it on the side for fun. He loves that modeling allows his to express himself and do his thing. He loves it a lot, but he’s making realistic steps for his future, and future kids and family.

“It can either be really great or really shitty,” Joniel said when explaining being a full-time model. “And I got to make sure everything’s really great all the time.”

Joniel’s advice to other creatives and models is to keep your head strong and take everything with a grain of salt. Not everyone in the industry is going to be nice to you, so just stay true to yourself. From experience, Joniel has dealt with snobby models and models that throw shade because the industry is a competition. In those cases, he advises to keep your distance. But for the most part, if you’re on the same set, there is mutual respect and understanding that you were all hired to do the same thing, so there is no jealousy or reason to be stand-offish. Joniel thinks it’s important to remain humble.

Joniel thanks his upbringing for his humble demeanor. Growing up without a silver spoon in the Bay Area has shaped him into the man he is today, and it’s important for him to represent the Bay Area every chance he gets. It means a lot to him to maintain the Bay’s original culture, but to also represent the different groups he falls under. He wants people to know that he’s a very caring, protective, and passionate individual.

“I very much care about how people feel, making sure that I can help them avoid some of the feelings that I have felt,” Joniel said. “It’s important to help represent different groups so they can have their own journeys in a safer environment.”

Elena: The Sewing Queen

This is story 1 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

Elena flaunting the dress and decorations she made at her Barbie themed birthday party!

Elena is known for her kawaii style and homemade outfits. Her life motto is to, “always be cute.” So it’s no surprise that her outfits are anything but basic! Elena strives to be different and takes every opportunity to showcase her creations to the public. Her love for sewing could be attributed to her maternal grandmother.

Elena was 7 years old when she sewed for the first time. When her grandma would visit from Mexico and stay with her family for a while, Elena noticed that she would always be working on a project. Her grandma would mostly hand stitch and use her sewing machine. Curious Elena would always ask her grandma what she was working on, and with time, her grandmother offered to teach her exactly what she was doing. In the Mexican culture, sewing is geared more towards women, so Elena’s grandma didn’t feel the need to teach her brothers. However, Elena strongly believes that sewing is a skill that everyone can benefit from.

The first project that her grandmother gave her was to embroider a flower. Her grandma drew a simple flower with leaves on a piece of cotton. Elena did her best to follow grandma’s pencil drawing and sew right on top of it. She remembers feeling excited about sewing independently because she knew the next step would be learning how to cross stitch. Why did she want to learn how to cross stitch? Because one of grandma’s cross stitch pattern books had an elephant wearing a party hat that she was dying to make. Making that cute elephant was definitely one of her goals, but she knew she had to master her basics first. With time, Elena eventually went on to make that elephant she so desperately wanted to make!

Young Elena proudly showing off her flower embroidery

From there on, Elena’s love for sewing grew. Her mom taught her how to use the sewing machine for the first time when she was 13 years old. Like her grandma, her mom would use her sewing machine for little projects here and there. Elena remembers all the times her mom helped her make Halloween costumes. She would participate in sewing up different parts of her costume, which gave her a sense of pride. Halloween is one of Elena’s favorite holidays and takes it very seriously with her outfits – a holiday meant for her creativity to shine.

By the time Elena was in high school, her interest in creating clothes for herself was at an all time high. The first garment she ever made was a strapless dress for her Senior Project. The Senior Project required all seniors at her high school to work with a mentor to learn a new skill. After learning that new skill, a final paper would have to be submitted. By this time, Elena was confident using the sewing machine, but didn’t know how to make a pattern and put it all together. Her mentor was a tailor who made men’s pants. Pattern making has been a skill she has continued to use ever since.

“He never really did womenswear, but he knew the pattern making basics, so together we made a very simple strapless dress with a sweetheart neckline and a straight short skirt,” Elena shared. “It was fun to create and made me feel confident about going into fashion design.”

When it came to choosing her major in college, Elena thought long and hard about what she’s passionate about and what she enjoys doing. Growing up, her mom always encouraged her to pursue a career in the medical field, specifically nursing. Elena didn’t quite know what she wanted to major in, but one thing she knew from the get was that she definitely wouldn’t be getting into the medical field. It took her a while to really sit and think about what route she wanted to take in college, but it all really boiled down to what she enjoyed doing on her free time.

“I took time to think what I like to do, and I landed on that I like to make things,” she said. “I say this vaguely because I did all types of crafts growing up: hand stitching, painting, paper crafts, corsage making, you name it! But overall, it was always me creating with my hands. But when I laid it all out, it all came down to fabrics being my most used medium of choice. This made it clear in my mind so I was able to choose and pursue fashion design!”

Elena and her models rocking her outfits for the college fashion show

Her parents were very unsure of her decision to pursue fashion. She understood that it’s typical for immigrant parents to want their children to pick “good” majors so they can get a job to make good money. To her parents, fashion design wasn’t a stable or profitable field. Even during her time in college, major already declared, her mom would voice her concerns, asking her daughter what she planned to do with a fashion degree. Being a good sport and knowing her parents were just worried, Elena would brush it off and jokingly troll them back saying, “beats nursing!” The disapproval and low-key shade continued on post-graduation, when she was on the hunt to find a job. But one thing about Elena – she is confident in every choice that she makes. She knows that at the end of the day, the only person that needs to be happy with her decisions is herself. Luckily, with time, Elena’s mom learned to be more supportive of her style and passions.

Elena’s style is anything but minimalistic. Everything she wears, creates, and showcases on her body are big, loud, colorful, and over the top! Elena describes her personality and style in 3 words: Kawaii, Camp, and Maximalism. Kawaii is the Japanese movement of everything and anything cute. This can be cartoon characters, pastel colors, bows, and anything adorable! Camp is self-exaggerated, not serious, and of course, fun! Elena achieves this style by wearing fun / odd things like birds in her hair, fun purses like a LEGO brick, and anything that is whimsical! Maximalism is doing the most at all times! To Elena, “More is always more!” If it’s not colorful, fun, loud, over the top, cute, or an attention grabber, Elena is not interested!

Elena has never felt insecure about showcasing her creations in public. Her favorite thing to do is wear a new design that she completed in public. She loves seeing people’s reactions when they compliment her and she confesses that she made it. Elena gets so happy when strangers and those around her admire and appreciate her work. Deep down, she also hopes her creativity inspires someone else to try sewing! Elena radiates confidence wherever she goes in whatever she wears. What’s important to her is that she dresses for herself and her own enjoyment. She doesn’t care what people think, but if they love it, even better!

Her style also comes with obsessions. Her current obsessions are Barbie and Baby Yoda. But just because these are her current obsessions, doesn’t mean she has forgotten about her past ones! The truth is, Elena never gets over anything that peaked her interest. She may have a couple of obsessions at the moment, but it just gets added to her list of things she’s in love with. When something from a past obsession comes up, Elena is reeled back in and enjoys it all over again. She keeps her long list of obsessions as inspiration to create. Though Elena has categorized her style in 3 main categories, her style could also be broken down in the different “eras” of her life.

In high school, Elena’s obsession was all about Rock music. Her all time favorite band was the band HIM. Anything the band members wore, she would do her best to find a piece that looked similar. In college, her Kawaii obsession started because she decided to watch all 200 episodes of Sailor Moon her Freshman / Sophomore year. She watched the show here and there as a kid, but never watched it in its entirety. Sailor Moon was her gateway into the Kawaii community. It definitely influenced her style completely, though she found it easy to adopt because her childhood obsessions were Sanrio and Pokémon. Post-College – Now, Elena’s current obsession is Drag Culture. It all started when a co-worker asked if she was keeping up with RuPaul’s Drag Race. She had watched earlier seasons, but fell off. She told her co-worker that she would re-watch them, and since then, the rest is history.

Elena on stage at The Warfield with Bianca Del Rio, wearing their matching Flames Dresses

“One of the best designs I made for an event would be my recreation of RuPaul’s Drag Race S6 winner, Bianca Del Rio’s Flames dress!,” Elena said when asked what designs she was most proud of. “I made it to wear at her ‘Not Today Satan’ tour stop in SF. At the meet and greet, she was so impressed that the copy was so good – she makes all her own drag outfits – she ended up inviting me on stage at The Warfield for a picture and everyone at the sold-out show got to see it!”

Now, Elena’s style is heavily influenced by Kawaii and Drag Culture. It fed into her love for Maximalism and Camp. The mutual love for RuPaul’s Drag Race got the 2 co-workers to have a friendship outside of the work environment. They would go to Drag shows in the city on the weekends and go see Rugirls, as well as other local talent. Some specific queens that have inspired Elena are: Bianca del Rio, Naomi Smalls, Bob the Drag Queen, Aquaria, and especially Valentina. Fashion wise, Valentina is what Elena strives to be. Through online and real life events, she has managed to fully immerse herself in all the styles she loves.

It’s safe to say that Elena has a very particular style and draws inspiration from so many sources. Her style is so playful, quirky, and unique that dating wise, it may be challenging to find someone that matches her style to a T. That was the case when she met her boyfriend, Sam. They shared in interest in video games on the Nintendo, but other than that commonality, the 2 lovebirds came from different backgrounds and styles. She describes their styles as polar opposites. Elena is all about coordinating outfits, and the very first time her and Sam matched was for a date to the Museum Of Ice Cream. She did a western pink look and made a matching bow tie for him to wear. Even though what he was wearing wasn’t anything flashy, he felt that it was a bit much and didn’t want to draw any attention. But with time, he saw how much dressing up meant to Elena and has learned to not only appreciate it, but go along with it.

Currently, Elena is balancing out her side passion of sewing with her current job. Her job is so flexible Post-Covid because it’s hybrid – work from home and in office. Now that she has some days of working from home, Elena finds herself working on garments during her breaks. She even found her rhythm noticing that she prefers to do work at night and projects during the day – a concept that would’ve never been a reality pre-pandemic.

One of Elena’s favorite pieces she made in college, Pop Tart Dress!

Generally, a simple design that she has done before or has the pattern for can take anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks to complete from beginning to end. If it’s a new pattern or something she hasn’t made before, it can take anywhere from 2.5 to 3 weeks. This all depends on multiple factors – when the garment is needed, if she has to get materials, how complicated it is to make, and if there’s anything going on in her personal life. If the project is for an event, Elena is very focused on sticking to the schedule to get it done on time, but if it’s a regular garment for no special occasion, she’s more relaxed getting it done. Elena is always working on a project, researching a project, or finding inspiration for the next design.

Once a garment or project is complete, Elena likes to give herself a mini break in-between. During this time, she is thinking of what to do next. This includes doing the research, looking up references, inspiration photos, and more. She admits that there are times where her mini breaks from project to project can be longer than her usual 1 – 2 weeks. Before the pandemic, Elena doesn’t recall a time where she had full on burnout with her projects. She remembers using the high of finishing a design to motivate her to start on the next project. Now 2 plus years into the pandemic, her creating fatigue is more apparent. After her Barbie themed birthday party, where she designed her dress, props, and goodies, Elena found herself in a rut. For 2 months she struggled to get in the mood to sew. It was to the point where she couldn’t even get herself to be in her sewing space at all. The burnout was really stressful, but she chose to focus her energy on other things that brought her joy, like journaling, playing Pokémon, and spending time with loved ones.

“I felt like if I spend the energy somewhere else, eventually I’ll get back to a clearer mindset and sew,” she said truthfully. “It took a while, but I can say that it did help, although I can still feel its effects. Now I’m just trying to find a better way to pace myself in projects to avoid burnout in the future… So, I do my best to rest in between projects but always try to keep something in mind.”

A common question that Elena gets asked often is if she plans to make her side passions a full-time job. In college, she did have an Etsy store where she sold her handmade hairclips, but eventually she had to close it down when school and work piled up. She thinks pursuing her creative passions full-time would be fun and exciting, but at the moment, she loves her job way too much to leave at this time. For the time being, she plans to continue to create mainly for herself. However, she is always down for a fun request. She doesn’t take custom requests often, but once in a while she will take up alterations, costume help, table centerpieces, and other fun crafts. The first time she made garments for someone other than herself was when 2 of her best friends graduated college. They asked if Elena could make and design both of their graduation dresses – she was a bit hesitant at first because she was so used to creating for herself, but in the end was glad she took on the projects because they both turned out beautiful.

Elena’s loves for creating doesn’t just stop at clothing. She will take one off commissions like making center pieces for parties or making corsages. She says that if she didn’t do fashion in school, she would’ve loved to pursue party planning or wedding planning. Themed parties have always been something that interested Elena, even at a young age. She would beg her mom to get the whole shebang at Party City – the matching plates, cups, napkins, tablecloth, signs, and anything that came in the full set. Recently, she even made all the decorations, props, and her outfit for her own birthday party. Of course it was focused on one of her current obsessions – Barbie! Parties hold a special place in Elena’s heart, and she always tries to perfect every project that she takes on.

Handmade dress on her cousin’s Ultima Moñeca

“Recently I did a Quince dress for a Build-a-Bear Dino for my cousin’s Quinceñera!,” She shares passionately. “Traditionally during the party, a Quinceñera is presented with ‘La Ultima Moñeca’ aka ‘The Last Doll.’ It is to signify that she is no longer a little girl and is now an adult who doesn’t play with toys. I let my cousin pick a stuffed animal from Build-a-Bear and I created a 1 to 1 dress based on her Quince dress!”

Social media is an important tool for Creatives to share their work. Elena confidently admits that she likes to promote her Instagram as if she has thousands of followers – even though she has yet to reach 1,000. Instagram is her platform of choice, and she uses it to showcase most of her projects. She makes it a point to post a new outfit when she wears it out and describes the process and inspiration behind the piece. Elena also likes to implement Instagram Stories to show the step by step process, then she posts the finished process as a highlight on her profile. She has taken a crack at Instagram Reels as well by pairing her videos and photos with songs that go with her theme or that has inspired her when making the piece. Elena has tried streaming herself sewing on Twitch in the past and loved that people were chatting and asking questions throughout the process. She hopes to start streaming again this year.

With all these ideas and future plans, Elena can’t put her finger on just one specific person that has supported her throughout her journey. She considers everyone in her inner circle to be someone who has been in her corner. She knows that everyone on the sidelines are rooting for her every step of the way. These people include her youngest brother, Jason, her close college friends, her “Babushkas,” her boyfriend, Sam, and of course, her grandma.

Elena’s advice to other creatives is: Do whatever makes you happy! As long as you’re enjoying what you’re doing, it will all be worthwhile. Her advice for fashion creatives is to remember to always make clothes for you. Elena wants fashion creatives to keep in mind that they are dressing either themselves or their ideal client, so if someone isn’t on board with what you create, it doesn’t matter because you’re not designing for them. She remembers that that’s the advice she had to follow in college. Fashion design made her happy, and she didn’t feel the need to explain to others why she chose this route.

Many creatives are usually asked, ‘are you able to make money off ‘Insert craft here‘?'” Elena said. “And I get it, especially if that is to become your field of work, you want to be able to make a living. But to me, the true goal is to make yourself happy. Pursue your craft and passions for self-happiness and fulfillment, with that money will follow.”   

Elena’s motto and goal in life is to always “Be Cute.” Through her style and designs, she wants to serve campy cute, maximal cute, kawaii cute, spooky cute, and any and every category of cute that there is. As a creative, her brain in constantly thinking of the next thing to create, and she is embracing every step of the way.

Elena happily posing for another photo

Natasha Jones: Stay True To Yourself

Natasha Jones, also known as “@oliviaeyes” on Instagram, is best known for her fashion content on social media. She’s a freelance curve model, brand ambassador, influencer, and content creator. When looking through her Instagram feed, you can see her confidence and infectious smile radiating through her photographs! However, this San Diego native had no plans of becoming an influencer. Natasha had no idea that her love for content creating would have her modeling for well-known brands, partnering with others, and inspiring others around the world.

Natasha was born and raised in San Diego, California. She graduated from the University of San Diego, the first in her family to graduate college, with a bachelors degree in Media Communications. She originally wanted to be a pediatrician and studied human biology for four years. However, Natasha made the drastic change to study communications when she realized how intrigued she was with social media and the interconnectivity of the world. After making the switch to communications, Natasha’s plan was to work behind the scenes in advertising or marketing. Her goal was to highlight minorities to better represent people from different backgrounds and bring inclusivity to mainstream media. She never imagined that she would be doing just that, but with her being in front of the camera.

“I never envisioned myself being an influencer – or model for that matter – I was too shy and didn’t think I could ever be in front of the camera,” Natasha admitted. “If anything, I hoped to work behind the camera and bring representation to minorities whose stories are often never told and rarely seen in mainstream media. It was super important to me to highlight young female voices.”

Ironically, the pandemic helped get Natasha out of her shell, and got companies sliding into her DM’s. Because of the shutdown, Natasha and her sister were insanely bored in the house. Like many others, they had nothing to do while the world waited patiently for COVID-19 to pass. Natasha bought a ton of new clothes before the shutdown and had nowhere to wear them to. For fun and to just pass time, Natasha asked her sister to take pictures of her in her outfits so she could post them on Instagram. The sisters explored all of San Diego for different scenic opportunities, making sure to social distance from others who were also trying to get out of the house for fresh air.

When posting the photos on Instagram, Natasha would make a point to tag where she purchased each item incase people wanted to know where to purchase it. Her main objective was to take cute photos to show off her new outfits since no one she knew in real life would be able to see them. Her love for fashion brings her so much joy because it allows her to feel good in her skin. After a few outfit posts, Forever 21 reached out to her and asked to send her clothes in exchange for content. Natasha couldn’t believe it. She fell into the modeling / influencer world completely by accident! Natasha never planned to go down the influencer route, but believes that the pandemic definitely helped push her in that direction.

Natasha had a previous Instagram account where she would post her occasional selfies. At the time, she was self conscious about her body and was only comfortable with posting her face on social media. Natasha didn’t join Instagram until she was in college because her mom believed it can make you vulnerable to people with ill intentions. So when she started posting her outfits online during the pandemic, she thought nothing of it. She had no intentions on going viral or gaining such a big following. She genuinely didn’t believe that anyone would care to follow her or keep up with her personal life. But after a couple of months of keeping up with her content and posting with Forever 21, Natasha saw a big spike in her following.

“Before becoming a full time content creator/model, I had a small amount of followers just from posting selfies,” Natasha said. “I thought it was cool, but I gave no real thought into this turning into a career. I had gone to school and graduated with a degree that I assumed would help me land a career behind the scenes.”

But Natasha rolled with it anyways. She believed that at the time, she was too naïve to even be skeptical about pursuing modeling and content creating as a career. She was in a place in her life where she just wanted to experiment and test out the waters with what she wanted to do with her life. These opportunities were something new and exciting, something completely out of her comfort zone. Natasha was way too excited and eager to try new things and dive in head first, that she didn’t even have a chance to psyche herself out of it. On top of that, she had a very supportive inner circle. Her friends and family were very supportive and encouraged her to pursue a social media career. Natasha and her sister have bonded over taking photos together. Her sister is the reason why she has so many great shots to choose from.

It was pretty early on when Natasha realized that doors were opening up for her. After posting content for Forever 21, opportunities started coming from left and right. She noticed that her Instagram photos were being used on Forever 21’s website and ads. Brands started reaching out to her because Forever 21 is such a well-known company. “This is just the beginning,” she thought to herself. And she was right. She decided to go for what she wanted – literally. Natasha didn’t wait for certain brands to reach out to her – if she really wanted to work with them, she would reach out to them first. The very first brand she reached out to was Parade because they stood for everything she believed in – inclusivity and diversity.

“I wasn’t nervous at all because I felt I had nothing to lose,” She said. “Even now – you can’t lose something you don’t have. I am a huge believer in shooting your shot because the worse thing that could happen is they say no, but there are always going to be other doors for you. Also, those same people who told you no will come back in the future asking to work with you!”

But Natasha did have that voice in the back of her head telling her that she wasn’t model material. She never thought that she would get into modeling or content creating, so it was hard to see herself in that new light. In the past, she had friends who were already models and content creators, and they pushed her to post more consistently on social media. But she never thought that she could be “that girl.” She didn’t think she had the confidence or “look” to be a model. Natasha was intimidated because she rarely saw girls who looked like her creating content and modeling for well-known brands, so at the time it seemed like a distant fantasy.

However, the pandemic opened up Natasha’s eyes to so many worlds and experiences. She was exposed to so many body positive and curve influencers during lockdown. Seeing people built like her, with similar body types, and not the traditional “model look,” inspired Natasha to change her views of what models can look like. Seeing others be so comfortable in their skin made her embrace her curves and reflect on her internalized fat phobia. This is why Natasha is so passionate about representation. She believes seeing diversity in mainstream media has the power to change one’s mind, opinions, and world view.

Natasha is grateful that she can be that light for others to embrace their bodies and beauty in an industry that is still stingy with representation. She feels so blessed that she has built a platform that people can connect with. It warms her heart to know that she is that person that some women look up to, since she has been in the same position in the past. She still feels like plus-sized women are still very under represented. There have been many times where she feels like the token plus-sized girl in the fashion industry, being used to lure in business from plus-sized people.

“I think that many companies use me and girls who are similar to my body type to be like, ‘Look! We have a plus size girl who is wearing our clothes!!’ ” She said honestly. “Most of the time, these companies only go up to my size and claim that they’re inclusive. If you only go up to a size 14, you are not inclusive and need to reevaluate your entire brand.”

Natasha received many offers from brands to do campaigns. But it wasn’t until she got vaccinated that she did her first campaign with Rue21. It was towards the end of lockdown, a year after she started posting consistent fashion content on her Instagram page. She waited to do in person campaigns because her family wasn’t comfortable with her traveling to LA for work during COVID’s peak. Natasha is still in awe when she sees herself on clothing companies’ websites and social media pages. It’s crazy for her to realize that just 2 years ago, she was buying clothes from these brands and now, she’s one of the faces of their company. She gets emotional because she knows the younger version of herself would be so proud of how far she has come.

Some may find it hard to believe, but Natasha had no prior experience with modeling before she got into the industry. She enjoyed taking pictures with her friends, but the shots were all in lighthearted fun and not considered professional modeling. Like with anything, practice makes perfect. Natasha is still learning to be comfortable in front of the camera and working with other photographers. Some of the tools she uses to better her posing is to have others take photos of her until she feels more relaxed and comfortable, watch YouTube and trendy videos that give tips on how to pose, studying other influencers and models’ photos for inspiration and tips, and always practicing those poses and techniques when she can. It’s not as simple as smiling for a photo, a lot of time, effort, and practice goes into perfecting different shots.

Natasha quickly saw her following on Instagram grow. She was completely shocked, and quite honestly, scared. Suddenly it seemed like all eyes were on her. Natasha jokes that if people really knew how “uncool” she was in real life, they would unfollow her immediately. She’s a very humble individual, and doesn’t think her life is any more or less exciting than the next person, so for a split second, she felt the need to pretend to be cool in front of the camera. She started to second guess how she looked in some photos and the image she wanted people to see online.

There were times where Natasha struggled with finding her own rhythm in posting and caught herself trying to be like other content creators. She felt as though her content had to be a certain way and had to follow the status quo of other influencers. In doing so, she was becoming unhappy with overthinking her posts. She wanted to remain true to herself, but at the same time, she was conflicted with getting too personal with her followers. She considers herself a very private person, so finding the middle ground of sharing just enough so your personality shines through, but at the same time not over sharing was something she had to get used to. The last thing Natasha wanted was for her followers to think that she was an imposter. She found herself going through the motions of imposter syndrome.

She realized that she was becoming consumed with overthinking her online presence. She decided that the best thing to do was simply be herself. She didn’t want to lose track of who she was for the sake of content. Not being herself was mentally exhausting and took away from the fun of creating content. Now, Natasha posts whatever content she wants on her page. She doesn’t like to overanalyze a photo, look at analytics, or overly edit any photos.

Now I just post or share whatever I want. If you like me, that’s cool, but if you don’t – feel free to unfollow. I’m not meant for everyone – no one is, and life’s too short to pretend to be anyone else other than you. I am so grateful for creating the little IG family I have and hope to bring some sort of positivity to the platform by just being myself … When I feel I am being too critical of myself I take a step back from socials. I try to prioritize my mental health above work. If that means deadlines are missed then I will simply notify whoever I am partnering with to let them know. You have to do what makes you happy so figure out what you want and do that. If you need a break, take it! If your hobby turned into a job then make it into something you can enjoy again. Do what you want, whatever that may be.

Natasha Jones

But, influencers are human too, which means there will be times where they’re not in the mood to create and times when they’re experiencing insecurities. Just like any of us, Natasha is juggling a full-time job, social life, home life, relationships, and so on. She is not always in the best spirits when she is on a strict deadline, but she understands that there are deadlines that need to be met. What gets her through these tough moments of finding the motivation to create is knowing that she genuinely enjoys what she does. Natasha sees content creating and modeling as an outlet where she is free to express herself. She describes it as feeling as though she has her own private world where she is in control of the narrative of what others see and know about her.

The fact of the matter is, the public will never know more than the content shared. Natasha still has her moments of feeling insecure, which people would have never gathered from her pictures. Natasha remembers a specific shoot where she didn’t feel confident in herself:

When I first started posing in more revealing outfits, I was not confident. The first lingerie collab I did, I was wearing a two-piece set out in public on the beach. I thought it would be no biggie because I looked up to so many plus size influencers who always wear two pieces out and about. But when I was about to take my photos, I felt so self-conscious. I had never worn a two piece lingerie set nor a two piece bikini in my entire life, yet alone with people around me, and I started crying. But my sister comforted me and talked me through it. I also wanted to go through with it because I had a moment where I was like, ‘Wait… why are you crying? Do it for yourself. Do it for those people you say are beautiful just the way they are.’ On those days I feel low, I always keep in mind I’m doing it for the ones who look up to me. My IG fam means so much to me. I always want to make them feel seen, loved, and confident in who they are.

Natasha Jones

Social media is usually portrayed in a negative way, but Natasha always remembers to embrace all the positive that comes with being a public figure. She is so grateful for her Instagram family and friends. She uses the people that look up to her as motivation to embrace her curves and accept her body for what it is. Natasha celebrates all the women who look like her thriving in all aspects of their lives. She’s constantly amazed with how many kind people she has met who genuinely want to uplift others instead of bringing them down. Instagram has remained a fun outlet for Natasha to express herself, be creative, and have fun!

Natasha gained such a loyal following by reciprocating the love. Her motto is, “give love, receive love.” She always makes a point to answer DM’s and comments on her posts because she appreciates anyone who would take time out of their day to show her some love. She feels a sense of community with her followers and feels as though they are her friends. Natasha does admit that she typically doesn’t respond to men’s DM’s because it makes her uncomfortable. She tried to respond politely to men’s DM’s in the past, but has always ended up regretting it. So, in her comments she’ll usually respond with a “thank you,” and keep it at that. Natasha wants her platform to be a safe space for all women. She loves to see the endless amount of love and support she gets from women all over the world, so she tries her best to maintain a positive space where she feels comfortable interacting with others.

Because she is so dedicated to her followers, Natasha has made it a top priority to only endorse companies that align with her beliefs. She knows that there are a lot of people who look up to her, so she is very careful with what she promotes. Natasha has no problem turning away deals with well-known brands. She has gotten paid offers from companies who sell diet supplements, waist trainers, personal trainers, Botox, and the list goes on. Natasha admits that the money being offered is nice, but not tempting enough for her to support brands that promote fat phobia, capitalize on people’s insecurities, and tell people that they are not good enough by just being themselves. She remains true to herself and her beliefs, and refuses to work with brands who go against everything she supports and believes in.

What many people may not know is the fact that Natasha was a full-time content creator and model during the pandemic, but also juggling a job as a Social Media and Influencer Marketing Coordinator for a San Diego based company as of last year. Natasha’s mom pushed her to get a job to utilize her degree she worked so hard for. Her mother is very supportive of her influencer career, but is also very skeptical. Like any parent, Natasha’s mom just wants to make sure that her daughter is thinking ahead for the future, as content creating can be a very unstable profession. Even though her mom is skeptical, she is very supportive of Natasha becoming a full-time freelancer once she starts seeing consistent big results. Either way, Natasha understands that her mother’s worries come from a place of love.

Since Natasha has a full-time job as Social Media and Influencer Marketing Coordinator, she is constantly juggling both jobs. Throughout the week, she works her 9-5 job that utilizes her college degree, and the weekends are for content creating with her sister. She edits photos throughout the week and preps them for posting usually the day before she posts them. She has not quite found her balance yet, but it has pushed her to learn how to prioritize her time. Natasha is using this time to figure out what career path she would like to test the waters in – as she has both experience behind the scenes and also being in front of the camera.

As she goes on this new journey of balancing out her job behind the scenes and simultaneously pursuing a freelance career, she hopes that she can manifest her dream future. She knows that life is a crazy ride, and you’ll never know where life can take you, but she hopes to work towards her goal of becoming a full-time content creator with no other jobs on the side. She is so grateful for her current job because it allows her to see behind the scenes. It has opened her eyes to the social media industry, which allowed her to learn so many new strategies from a brand perspective that she can apply to her own following. And it has made the obvious more apparent – that her true passion is in content creating.

“I thrive in fast paced environments so I truly feel I have found my passion,” she shared. “I trust  life will take me where I need to go so until then, I’ll just keeping taking everything that comes my way day by day. I strongly believe everything happens how it’s supposed to, so being able to work on both ends of the social media Industry has been a blessing!”

At the start of the pandemic, Natasha had no idea that posting her cute outfits would lead her down this path and open so many doors and opportunities. Her following on social media continues to grow, but she still remains humble. People are starting to recognize her in real life, but Natasha still tends to lay low and doesn’t like to make a big deal of her online fame. The most important lesson that this journey has taught her is to love, accept, and value herself. Growing up, Natasha always strived for perfection. She wanted to fit in and feel accepted. Now, she is content with knowing that it’s perfectly fine to be a work in progress and be yourself. She believes that whatever is meant for you will always find you.

Natasha’s advice to her followers is to always stand up for themselves. She believes it’s important to prioritize your values and beliefs, making sure that the choices you make align with what you truly believe in. She’s a firm believer in following your dreams – even if it means taking a leap of faith! After all, that is how Natasha became a content creator and freelance model. She is so grateful for the community that she has built online. Her goal has always been to celebrate and support women, and her online presence is doing exactly that.

“I want to create a safe place for people to feel like they can be themselves and that they will always be more than enough,” Natasha said. “If people take anything away from my platform, I hope that they know how beautiful they are, just by being who they are. All I want is to be a source of positivity, representation, and maybe some comfort when they’re feeling low. We all have the power to be a light in this world – I just want everyone to recognize that in themselves.”

Artistry By Dre

Andrea’s goal for 2020 was to be published in a magazine by year’s end. That goal was fulfilled this past November when her makeup look landed the front cover of PUMP Magazine. This is a huge accomplishment for Andrea and puts her freelance makeup business, Artistry By Dre‘s, name out there in the makeup artist world. Her love and passion for makeup is finally getting the recognition she once dreamed of. It took Andrea a lot of trial and error to get Artistry By Dre where it is today. She had a few bumps in the road, but has used those experiences to learn, grow, and perfect her craft. This is the story of how Andrea got her foot in the makeup industry.

Andrea has always looked up to her mother for many different reasons. Makeup is definitely one of those reasons. Her love for makeup originated from years of watching her mom getting ready. She would look at her mom with awe, and it inspired Andrea to test her creativity as well. She would do her makeup, then eagerly run to her mom’s room to show her what she created. This gave Andrea the confidence to start practicing on friends and family. She started offering makeup services when she was about 17 years old, roughly 8 years ago, her senior year of high school. People would come to her for proms, homecomings, and other special events.

From there, Andrea’s love for being a makeup artist grew. She decided to start her business because she was extremely passionate about creating new looks. She lived for her clients’ reactions when they would see themselves in the mirror after she was through. For these reasons, Andrea had little hesitation about starting Artistry By Dre, because at that point, she was already getting booked with makeup appointments. She started an Instagram page to showcase her work, and people were reaching out to book her for their events as well. It only seemed right that the next step would be to make the business official.

“I wasn’t hesitant at all, it honestly happened pretty organically,” Andrea said. “I knew I loved what I did, and I was invested in learning more about the industry.”

When Andrea decided to pursue makeup professionally, her mom supported her from day one. Her mom always tried to encourage her to try new looks, push her creativity, promote her work on social media, and be her number one fan. Although in the beginning, Andrea’s mom was a little worried at first because she thought pursuing makeup professionally meant that Andrea was going to stop with her college courses. After reassuring her mother that she would still be going to school and getting her degree, her mom was relieved and gave Andrea her full support. Andrea also had the support of her family, and didn’t receive any negative feedback. She knows she is fortunate that her family was so supportive, since it’s not so common for family members to be entirely on board when starting a small business. She believes her family was more inclined to support her dreams and business because she always had another job to be able to support herself and Artistry By Dre.

With her family’s support, Andrea was ready to totally immerse herself in the makeup industry. And with the help of her aunt, she got her first opportunity to do makeup for a bridal party when she was just 17 – 18 years old! Her aunt has a salon in South San Francisco, and had asked if she was available to do makeup for a bride and two of her bridesmaids. Andrea couldn’t believe it. Her excitement was through the roof, but she was equally just as nervous as she was excited. Especially since this was the bride’s big day, it added more pressure on Andrea to deliver. She didn’t want to mess up or have the bridal party not be happy with her service. When she finished the bridal party’s makeup, they were so happy with the end results. That day Andrea made the most money in 1 day of doing makeup. Their reactions energized her spirit to continue with her art and become a professional makeup artist.

For the next couple of years, Andrea continued to do makeup services for others and showcase her work through her Instagram page. Her dream has always been to be a MAC makeup artist, so when she finally had the opportunity to showcase her skills, she went for it. Unfortunately, her interview experience that day wasn’t a great one. The woman interviewing Andrea seemed very cold and uninterested in what she had to say. The entire interview Andrea felt as if her heart was in her stomach the entire time. She had a gut feeling that the interviewer wasn’t going to hire her, but she put on a professional face and attitude and got through her interview. A few days after her interview, she followed up with the manager to get an answer or any feedback on how the interview went. The manager told Andrea that the person interviewing her that day had said she, “had the MAC look and artistry, but not the personality.”

“When I heard that, I felt like a dagger hit me in the chest,” Andrea said remembering the only time she ever felt discouraged as a makeup artist. “My dream of being a MAC makeup artist wasn’t in the cards for me. This didn’t discourage me from continuing to pursue makeup. In fact, I used that as a fuel to become a better artist. I realized that I didn’t need to work at MAC to be a great makeup artist. I already had the artistry and skills they had.”

Sometimes, it takes closing the door on one chapter of your life to continue on to the next. Andrea realized that after she left her retail job almost 4 years ago. Quitting her job at Nordstrom was one of the best decisions she made for her makeup career. At her retail job, she wasn’t allowed to take personal makeup appointments. But when she did have an appointment at her counter, the customer would have to buy products, and the makeup artists couldn’t accept tips or money for their service. This was extremely discouraging for her as a makeup artist. She felt as though everything was focused on selling, and that wasn’t the route she wanted to go with her makeup career. So, she interviewed at Makeup Forever as a freelancer and got the job on the spot. She put in her two weeks at Nordstrom and felt from that moment on, she chose herself. She was finally able to have a flexible schedule and work for Makeup Forever and for herself whenever she wanted.

Working as a freelance artist for Makeup Forever lasted for about 8 months, but eventually, Andrea moved on. Her current job allows her to have weekends completely free to do makeup. Sometimes, she will even pick up clients after work if she has the availability. She finally found a schedule that aligns with her needs and wants. After quitting her retail job is when she really started to take Artistry By Dre more seriously. Andrea started researching the next steps on how to become a certified makeup artist, purchased quality products for her kit, watched videos and took classes to learn different techniques, built a website, and made business cards to give out. Andrea was finally able to fully focus on Artistry By Dre and network with others.

Networking with others meant that she had to be more consistent with posting content on Artistry By Dre‘s Instagram page. She made her business Instagram page back in 2014 to showcase her work and services. However, she did her first paid advertisement about 2.5 years ago when Instagram introduced the business feature. To test it out, Andrea paid for the option that wasn’t too expensive, but would showcase and advertise her work to about 7 thousand people for a span of 5 days. Her page got a lot of engagement from that ad, about 1.2 likes and 200 followers. Running the ads has proven to be a successful tool to bring in followers, makeup lovers, and potential clients. Most importantly, the exposure leads her to collaborate with other creatives.

With Andrea fully focused on her business, and her posts making its way around the internet, Artistry By Dre started to take off. With all of her research, practice, and training, Andrea was confident in her artistic ability. When you become your own boss, it’s easy to lowball yourself, or have others try to lowball your services. Andrea found this especially true when she started freelancing. It surprised her that many people try to negotiate prices. What she, and many other makeup artists, want the public to understand is a lot of time and money goes into being a professional makeup artist. They take classes to learn different techniques, they purchase makeup and proper sanitation products, not to mention the costs of keeping their websites running, upkeeping their kits, traveling to your destination, or renting out a studio or booth, etc. These expenses are usually “out of sight, out of mind,” to others. Andrea admits that she used to get bothered when people would try to negotiate her prices, but she learned to remind herself that her work is worth the price for the quality of work she offers and her skillset.

“When people try to negotiate my prices, I explain why I set my prices to what it is, and if I’m not in their budget that’s okay, but my prices are non-negotiable,” She explained. “I stopped getting upset and told myself that my work is worth the price and there are people out there that will appreciate my artistry.”

And there definitely are plenty of people that appreciate Artistry By Dre‘s services. She is the busiest around proms, homecomings, graduations, and wedding season which is summer – mid-fall. It slows down after, then picks back up again around the holidays. But because of COVID, Artistry By Dre was definitely impacted. Because of the lockdown and mandatory Shelter in Place orders, she lost many wedding appointments and other special occasion jobs. For the first couple of months of Shelter in Place, Andrea felt as if her business was at a standstill. She decided not to take any clients until the re-opening in mid-June. But still, Andrea was hesitant to open up her services again because of how close she gets to someone’s face when she does their makeup. To reassure herself and her clients, she took extra safety and sanitary precautions by receiving a Barbicide COVID-19 Certification – an online course teaching infection control in salons, spas, barbershops, etc.

Ironically, despite the pandemic, Artistry By Dre has been getting booked to do more photoshoots and collaborations. For every photoshoot she does, she is exposing herself to more opportunities to meet photographers, models, stylists, and other people in her field. In fact, networking and collaborating is what led to her first magazine publication. She had just finished a photoshoot when she started talking to one of the models. They talked about their goals for their business, and Andrea shared with her that she really wanted to do more print work and be published. She referred Andrea to Alex, the model that would be on the cover of the magazine. Alex asked if Andrea would like to be a part of the project, and now Andrea has a published magazine to show for it.

“I could not believe that I was finally getting the opportunity that I have been asking the Universe and God for,” Andrea said looking back on her greatest accomplishment of 2020. “I told myself that this was the first of many big opportunities and it was time to grow in my artistry and push myself out of my comfort zone.”

And this was definitely out of her comfort zone. When Andrea first started doing photoshoots, she was a little hesitant to meet up with photographers and models she didn’t know. Just for that alone – the fact that she didn’t know these people personally. In the beginning, Andrea would bring her cousin along to shoots and sessions, to be sure that she had somebody she knew and trusted near by. Now a days, Andrea shares her location and the details of where she’ll be with her boyfriend, mom, and cousins when she is with a new photographer, model, or collaborating team. She shares her location with them on her phone, so if she’s at a new location, they know to hit her up. She makes it a point to call and text them after she is done with a shoot so they know that she’s safe and okay.

These collaborations and photoshoots have opened a lot of opportunities for Andrea and Artistry By Dre. The photoshoots she does are mainly to build portfolios for those involved – the models, the photographer, the stylist, hairstylist, and makeup artist. Other times, they shoot for product launches and content creation. Not only does she get to build her own portfolio, have new content to post on social media, and be around other creatives – she also gets to make new connections and network with those in her industry. When a creative wants to collaborate, one person will reach out to those they want involved. If Andrea wanted to plan a photoshoot, she would be in charge of the location, reaching out to photographers, models, stylists, and hairstylists, and explain the mood board. When she plans the shoot, she is in complete control of what the mood and vibe will be. When someone else is planning the shoot and they ask her to collaborate, it is her job to make their makeup vision come to life on the model. Photoshoots gives her a chance to be creative and push boundaries as an artist.

“I try to do 3-4 collabs each month so I can have photos to post on my social media, but also stay up on the latest trends and challenge myself to try new techniques and makeup styles,” She said.

When Andrea isn’t part of a photoshoot, she tries to find different ways to keep creating. She follows a lot of makeup artists on social media to use as inspiration. She uses her Pinterest account to create mood boards for future looks and projects. Andrea admits that when she is playing around with makeup on herself, she rarely knows what look she will end up with. She lets her brushes do the work, and doesn’t restrict herself from experimenting with different colors. Usually, she knows what color palette she will be using, but then end result is always a mystery. Even if she pulls images to recreate and use for inspiration, she always tries to add her own creative spin to the look. Andrea likes to look at her past makeup looks to see how far she’s come. If she ever tries to recreate a look she has done in the past to see her progress, the look always turns out differently than the original because she remembers what she struggled with when doing that look. She will try different techniques that she has learned since then to try to approach the look differently.

Andrea’s goal for Artistry By Dre in 2021 is to build on all the success and accomplishments she made in 2020. She wants to really invest in her business by upgrading her website, do more content creation, adding more to her current services, and doing more production work like commercials and campaigns. Andrea already got a head start in expanding her services before 2020 ended. She surprised herself when she started offering press-on nails. When COVID hit, her nail tech moved away, so she started doing her own nails. People started messaging her about them, so she created a poll asking if people would be interested in buying. Overall, she got a pretty positive response and decided to roll with it. She doesn’t know how long she will offer her press-on nails, but she’s going with the flow and doesn’t plan on discontinuing them anytime soon.

Andrea knows that everything she wants will come with time. As for right now, she is enjoying the full time job she has that allows her to continue with Artistry By Dre, and plans to keep her makeup business her side hustle. She will transition Artistry By Dre to full time when she adds services that will bring in consistent clients. Having her own studio is something she is already putting out into the universe. She already offers classes for those who want to learn how to apply makeup, but dreams to one day open up her own school. She dreams of one day opening a makeup school where she teaches not only makeup artists, but people who want to learn to do their own makeup as well. Andrea knows that it will take time and will be an investment, but she knows that’s a top goal of hers.

Andrea started off as a self-taught makeup artist. She takes so much pride in what she does and wants her customers to know that when she’s working with them, she listens and caters to their beauty needs because she wants them to feel their most beautiful and confident self. Her goal is to have all her clients have full confidence in her ability to deliver exactly what they want, and exceed their expectations. Artistry By Dre would not be where it is today if Andrea never put her work out there. Her advice to other artists is to not be afraid. Don’t be afraid to put yourself and your work out there, and most importantly, don’t compare yourself to other artists. Andrea describes the makeup industry as very competitive. She thinks it’s very important to be kind to others and keep it professional. There will always be other makeup artists who support you, and unfortunately, there will be others that want you to fail.

“I want to promote women empowerment and to keep hustling and manifesting your goals into reality,” Andrea said.

And she’s doing just that. One of Andrea’s favorite makeup stories to tell is when a friend of hers, who is a couple years younger, reached out to her to interview her for an assignment. Her friend was in makeup school and the assignment was to interview an experienced makeup artist. Her friend revealed to her that she was the reason why she chose to pursue makeup. Andrea had no idea she was inspiring others with her work. She felt so honored to be that mentor for someone else. You never know who you’re going to inspire with your work.

“My message to those that have supported me along my journey is thank you all for the encouragement, every referral they have sent my way, and the overall love I have received,” Andrea said. “Each interaction has uplifted me and shaped me into the makeup artist I am now, and I’m super grateful for it all.”

Do You Want To Be On Top?

**Plays “I’ve Got a Dream,” from Tangled, as opener to this post…**

In May 2013, my older sister was a Junior at SF State, majoring in Apparel Design and Merchandising. For one of her projects, she had to design two outfits that would be presented at a fashion showcase. A lot of her classmates worked with strangers that classified themselves as, “models.” In her mind, why would she need a random model she didn’t know when she had me? A younger sister who basically had no choice but to be said “model?” She guilt tripped me about how it would be easier for her if I were the model so I could try it on and get fitted anytime she needed to make adjustments or measurements. Of course I wanted to support her with her passion projects and school work, but damn this bitch had me fucked up. I remember thinking… “Wtf, I really need to stand infront of a couple hundred people and walk on a fuckin’ runway? …bye.” The only plus side that I could see in this situation was the fact that I got to miss a day of class when the fashion showcase day were to come. I was a senior in high school who had a bad case of senioritis, but never had the balls to skip. Nevertheless, I was so embarrassed just thinking about it… ME?! WALKING DOWN A RUNWAY?!

I pull up these pictures now and I almost laugh out loud, as I’m at least 35 pounds heavier. But at the time, I was stressing and under pressure about my appearance. Although I knew months in advance that I’d be walking down a runway, no amount of time could prepare me for this almost embarrassing moment. I felt like I was going to make myself look like Boo Boo Tha Damn Foo walking down that runway. And for those reasons, I seesawed with my diet. One day I’d be watching what I ate, and then another day I would fall into a pit of self pity and eat my frustrations, in the form of hot cheetos. Long story short, I was never consistent with my attempts at trying to “lose weight,” “improve my figure,” “get runway ready,” or whatever the hell I was trying to do. This was also a very crucial point in my life in regards to my body dysmorphia and my struggle with my weight, however, that’s another blog post that I do plan on sharing soon 😉. Let’s just say I was truly struggling with how I viewed my body and went about it in a very unhealthy way.

I practiced day after day in those cheap uncomfortable heels that I got for like $20 in the Mission. I walked up and down the hallway in my house, trying to sell the outfit, but at the same time making sure I don’t fall and eat shit. When it comes to heels I literally can’t. All aboard the mess express, because that’s me in heels. I even put resistant patches on the bottom of my heels to make me feel more secure. I played in my mind all the things that could possibly go wrong, from falling, to passing out, even thinking if under the runway lights my underwear would be visible through the dress material. The thing that bothered me the most was the fact that I could see my belly button through the dress. And for that reason, I practiced walking in heels while sucking in my gut. So, I had to practice walking without falling, walking fiercely, but also achieve that by not breathing.

As the days loomed closer I think I had the mentality of “let’s just get this over with already.” At this point I already exhausted myself with anxiety and insecurities. I was just ready for it to be done with.

When we got to the practice run at the fashion showcase, I was starting to get excited that I would be the body to show off my sister’s designs. But I did notice something. I was one of the verrrrryyyy few “models” of color, probably the shortest, and definately the biggest. It seemed like all these women were atleast 5’10 without heels. I felt so out of place. Insecurities came back, though they never left. For a high schooler struggling with body image and weight, this seemed like the worst place to be.

All these tall, thin, “professional” models changing clothes openly infront of everyone is what got me cringing. The “changing room” was basically the back of the venue, outdoors and gated. They put up a tent where some could change more privately, but there were atleast 200 models. It was so crowded in that little open area that models would come right to the back after just walking off the runway and quickly disrobe to put on the next outfit to get back out there. When I put on my first outfit, I shyly went in the tent and made sure that I put it on as discreet as possible. You know, like when you’re in high school and you’re trying to change in the women’s locker room after swimming class? Like that.

When it was the real deal and the fashion showcase started, I could feel my heart pounding, my breathing picked up, and I felt like passing out. When it was finally my turn to walk down that runway, I faked it till I made it. Faked the confidence, faked the smile, faked my stomach and sucked that shit in. I didn’t fall. All eyes were on me, but at the moment I didn’t care. I walked off the stage exhilarated. I quickly met my sister for my dress change. I immediately started taking off my dress, left in my underwear and bra, scrambling to get into the next outfit.

“Marinelle what the hell,” my sister laughed but was also confused as to why I was doing it out in the open. At that point I was there all day, probably more than 9 hours. My feet hurt, I was tired, I was hungry, and most of all, I didn’t care anymore. I saw stares from the other “models” as I changed into my other dress with no shame. Some probably thinking “yo0o0o0o0, the nerve.” But I embraced it. I liked the fact that I was serving looks, but most importantly, that I was different.

A year later, my sister had her senior final project where she had to come up with multiple looks. My little sister, my 2 friends, my older sister’s co-worker, and I were my sister’s models. My little sister refused to be in it. In a way I saw myself in her. She was complaining about the same things I was just a year before. But I was telling her how cool it was, how it’s all in her head, and guilt tripped her on how we should be supporting our sister.

What I was insecure about a year prior turned out to be what I was most proud of. Being a “model” with my sister and friends made me prideful. I took pride in knowing that I was the thick Filipino chick who totally wasn’t a model. I took pride in the fact that we were a group of women of color who stood out from the rest. I took pride in the fact that I was in a space some would believe I don’t belong.

After the 2nd fashion showcase (where I wasn’t trippin as hard), my parents were smiling ear to ear. They were proud of my older sister for making all those clothes, and proud of all of us for coming through for her.

“Bigay ng bigay,” my mom and dad told me laughing. In bay area translation: I was givin it/ giving it my all/ doing the most. As I should’ve. The 2nd year was a totally different experience than the 1st. The 2nd year I embraced what made me different. I got more political and defensive with my insecurities and turned them into positives.

But I bet you’re thinking, “But why is ‘I’ve Got a Dream,’ from Tangled playing in the backgroud?”

I think it was this experience (and my later self-discovering moments in college) that made me have the far fetched dream of being a plus sized writing model. You know, like I get discovered for my body positive writing pieces and my radical views of realness, that I’m featured in a magazine or something 🤣. Sidenote, I’ve thought about posting “real” photos like a lot of body positive influencers I follow, but I personally feel weird posting half nude photos of myself. Power to the females that do though ✊🏽 I respect and appreciate models and influencers who put their real unedited photos up for people to see that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors. But most importantly, highlighting parts of their bodies that society has labeled as “unattractive.”

I realized that I was so insecure of my size because I never seen someone that looks like me on TV or anything model related. I told my cousin, “What if one day I get discovered for modeling, think of it, plus-sized Filipino model, we’re underrepresented!” Unedited, gut out, stretch marks, blemishes, all the above. Even pulling up these old photos from 2013 made me feel some type of way. Like I said, I’m probably AT LEAST 35 pounds heavier. But I got to remind myself that weight does not define me. In fact, I was in a pretty dark place at the time when I was at my smallest. The backstory will be a future blog post.

That “modeling” experience helped me take the first steps to self-acceptance and self-love. Even though the journey is still continuing to this day. 💖 Embrace what makes you different!!!

Podcast Episode #1 : Rose Vixen

I got paired with this really sweet girl in my Women Gender Studies GWAR class. We had to edit each other’s rough drafts, and I was very self conscious about mine. The professor let each of us pick whatever topic we wanted to write about for a final research paper. Of course, I went for what I was into – the Body Positive Community.

I explained to my partner that I had so much to say and this was a topic I’m very passionate about. She told me she really loved my topic and thought it was an important one to shed light on. At the end of class, she humbly and casually said, “I actually have an Istagram account that has a following in the Body Positive Community, I can help you.” Little did I know that my randomly selected partner was actually a well-known member of the community, who went by the name Rose Vixen. (@bbw.vixen on Instagram.)

Rose Vixen was the bomb. She told me certain things I should search up to bulk up my paper, told me the stories of her and fellow BoPo members being discriminated against, and different angles I could write from.

When I made my podcast, I knew I wanted the first real episode to be about the Body Positive Community. I’m so glad and thankful that Rose Vixen let me interview her! Check out Love Yourz Story Podcast Episode #1 with Rose Vixen:

“Note To Self”

I look at the picture that is posted above and I feel a little sad. I was in 3rd grade in that picture, and if I could tell 3rd grade me anything, I’d tell her sorry. I’d tell her not to give into what the media has pounded into her brain, the unrealistic expectations that we were all brought up on. I’d tell her that you don’t have to be a certain body type to be beautiful, to embrace the body she was given instead of shaming it. And most importantly I’d tell her she deserves to truly love herself, regardless what society projects.

For all my life I’ve struggled with body image issues. I would look at myself in the mirror and find all the things that I thought was wrong about me. From my stomach, to my arms, to the stretchmarks on my thighs, nothing was off limits. I remember watching the Tyra Banks show in the 4th grade, where she stood in front of her whole studio audience in a bathing suit she was recently shot in, where news outlets bashed her for her “imperfect” body. I remember watching Tyra choke up as she finished her speech, and I too started to get emotional.

“If I had lower self-esteem, I would probably be starving myself right now,” Banks said. “But that’s exactly what is happening to other women all over this country… To all of you that have something nasty to say about me, or other women that are built like me, women that sometimes or all the time look like this, women whose names you know, women whose name you don’t, women who have been picked on, women whose husbands put them down, women at work, or girls in school, I have one thing to say to you… KISS MY FAT ASS!”

I was young, but Tyra’s speech hit home. I’ve been insecure all my life. When people talk about weight or appearance, I cringe and hope that the attention isn’t put on me. I have a tough exterior, but the one thing that can bring me to instant (angry) tears, is when someone thinks it is okay to comment about my weight or appearance. That has always rubbed me the wrong way. Growing up I would get : “You gained weight,” “You’re getting bigger,” “You should watch what you eat,” “You would look so good if you were smaller!”… alright, dawg, you don’t think that out of all people I would know if I gained weight? And even if I wasn’t aware, I feel like it is never anyone’s place to casually bring it up.

Reyna Rochin, body builder and personal trainer, felt the pressure of the media and those around her growing up as well. She’s 100% badass, and has a huge heart. She uses her Instagram account to show her workout progress and to also share personal stories. She confessed her insecurities and personal stories on a couple of Instagram posts promoting self-love. Rochin has a ton of tattoos on her upper body and explains why.

“When I was 15, I HATED my upper body,” Rochin said on an Instagram post. “My wide shoulders and back were not what the other popular girls around me had and I was told by several boys that ‘you look like a man from behind.’ My tattoos are there because I love art and the aesthetics of tattoos but if I’m going to be honest, they are also a testament of new found self-love. My arms, shoulders, and chest used to be parts of me I loathed. And, as cheesy as it sounds, it wasn’t until taking lifting seriously did I realize that my broad shoulders could hold a 200 lb front squat no problem, or my strong chest could allow a 150 lb bench press to fly up easily.”

Rafaella Pereira also used working out to deal with her insecurities. She’s a wife, and a mother to a beautiful girl. Her Instagram feed is filled with personal stories of her struggles with body image issues. Growing up, she was told that she was fat, ugly, and dark. And for a big portion of her life, Pereira believed it.

“I would look in the mirror at times and scream, ‘you’re ugly, fat, and you will never be happy,’” said Rafaella Pereira. “I used to blame God for my lack of self-love and lack of motivation to be better.”

But Pereira has used the negativity as fuel to better herself. Her greatest accomplishment, but surely not last, was running a marathon that she would wake up every day at 5 am for. She hopes one day to publicly speak and help others.

As an older woman who is finally trying to come to terms with loving herself, accepting her body, and trying to unlearn all the things that were/ are detrimental to my peace of mind, I see and intake media differently. Up until recently I would look at pictures on Instagram of models, and I would think, “I wish I looked like that…” But ever since Ashley Graham started to break the mold in the model industry, I started looking at media realistically. There are people that edit their photos to try to uphold a “beautiful” image, they airbrush things that they don’t want you to see. But the thing is… IT’S NOT REAL. It’s all a lie. Stretchmarks, cellulite, rolls, IT’S NORMAL. EVERYONE HAS THEM. IT’S REAL.

That’s why I believe all these fashion shows are a joke. For the simple fact that not all body types are being represented. Not everyone is 5’10 or taller, under 110 lbs, with a size 0 waist. And if you are, then cool! I’m not trying to put anyone down for not being like me. However, representation is everything. Young girls and boys are growing up seeing the lack of diversity, and it encourages them to strive to be something they are not. Sometimes not even genetically possible.

Towards the end of 2016 it hit me that I basically spent my whole life hating my body. I look back to the photo above and around that age I had wrote in my diary “I’m gonna go on a diet.” I had an epiphany, and realized instead of being miserable and hating myself, I should love myself and be the person I wish I could look up to growing up. I’ve had too many instances in the fitting room when I just wanted to leave, even cried a couple of times. I’ve always been the bigger girl, and I’ve always tried to compare myself to others. I’ve vowed to try to stay body positive, even though I have my days when I feel the opposite. It’s awesome that there are people like Ashley Graham that promote self-love and accepting your curves and body type, but still also promotes the importance of a healthy lifestyle and working out.  You can be built bigger and still be healthy, but there will always be people and the media telling you that it is not okay. But it is okay. And I wish I could’ve told 3rd grade me that. It’s a long road to unlearning all the horrible things I would think about myself, but it’s so much more worth it than staying in a state of self-loathing and self-hate.