CONTENT WARNING: Discussion of suicidality / depression / size maintenance
We know that Mental Health challenges do not discriminate, and that they vary in symptoms and severity. At Bold, we encourage the sharing of stories, particularly those related to mental health. We are pleased to bring you this interview, by Emma Medeiros, with plus model Sabina Michel. We would also like to remind you that this interview is not intended to substitute for mental health consultation, and the author/interview subject are not mental health professionals. If you need help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1 (800) 273 – 8255.
EMMA MEDEIROS: Why did you become a plus size model?
SABINA MICHEL: When I was growing up, I didn’t see women that looked like me (plus size and of color) unless I was looking at Jet or Essence Magazine. Growing up, people always told me that I was pretty and tall and if I lost a little weight I could go on to modeling. But I didn’t have to lose weight to go into modeling; now we live in an inclusive world where I have a platform!
EM: What skills do you believe are necessary for a successful plus size model?
SM: Number one: confidence! Sometimes someone’s self-esteem or confidence is learned like a skill; not everyone is born with it but belief in yourself reflects outwards and makes all the difference. As a model, you are a walking advertisement and if you don’t feel beautifully confident and empowered by what you’re wearing, how do you expect people to be interested in buying that product? Oftentimes, our own insecurities show through our photos without any words.
There are also plenty of other skills like walking on the runaway and learning how to walk in different fashion settings or events but also posing is very important. You have to look at yourself in the mirror and find out what is your good side, what is your bad side and what you need to work on.
EM: What did/do you find are the most challenging aspects of being a plus size model?
SM: Breaking through the industry and getting those front facing opportunities. Now that I’m signed with True Model Management, they present me to a lot of clients but that’s not the be all, end all. I also need to keep my pictures up to date, keep my measurements steady and grow my portfolio with stronger and stronger pictures.
EM: What makes you different from the many other plus size models looking for their big break?
SM: My versatility! I’m willing to break into different creative spaces such as acting. I’m not just a pretty face; I also have a brain and I’m talented. I don’t want to just take photos, I also want to use my brain. Like in fit modeling; the more I can learn about fabrics, stitching and behind-the-scenes production of clothing, the more knowledgeable and insightful I become and can give more valuable feedback to the designers that I’m working with.
EM: What made you want to become a spokesperson for suicide prevention and how do you hope your followers will benefit from it?
SM: I’ve been through both depression and a suicide attempt and I believe that my followers and anybody reading my story can benefit from it, either for themselves or someone they love. As a model, people look up to you and think that you have everything together. That you have beauty so life is just peachy for you. They think you don’t have real struggles or real problems but the problems I and others went through are very real! I want models to know that others like them are dealing with insecurity and depression and not to wait until it’s too late to seek help. I waited until it was too late to seek help and if it wasn’t for the friend that I was staying with at the time I wouldn’t be here and that’s why I want to get my story out, to reach people before they get to that breaking point. If they think they don’t have someone to talk to, I’m available, I’m here and I will take the time to listen because I wish I had someone to talk to when I was in that dark place. I’m not saying 100% I would’ve reached out but it definitely would’ve been nice to know. And, of course, I had people around me that loved me but it’s so hard to break your walls down and show vulnerability to the people you think you have to keep it together for.
EM: Do you think models are at a higher risk for suicide and mental illness? Why or why not?
SM: There is just so much pressure on models and celebrities. We have to personify what it really means to be a model and embody the essence of a role model. Sometimes we are not seen as regular human beings. Our job is to look good and happy in the items we’re marketing but sometimes it’s not always happy-go-lucky and it’s hard to show that side. I feel that being transparent about how human we are will benefit people much more than just being a pretty face or mannequin.
EM: Do you have any tips to combat the depression that often comes from isolation during this COVID lockdown?
SM: Stay connected with friends and family via video, regularly go outside for a walk in the fresh air, and try to make and stick to a routine so you don’t give into the temptation of staying in bed all day.
EM: What are some suicidal behaviors for people to watch for in their loved ones?
SM: In my case, I didn’t really show any suicidal behaviors that my loved ones should have watched out for. When I lived with my family, I would say things like “I hate my life” and “I hate this” but I never gave inclination that I was actually thinking about ending it. They just chalked it up to me being dramatic, which some people think I am. I kept all my deep, dark thoughts to myself. So I don’t think there is anything specific to look for. Just remember that, if you have a family member that you know is going through a tough time, check on them. That “Hey, what’s going on?” might open a crack and they might let you in.
EM: What should people do if they feel suicidal or think their loved one is potentially suicidal?
SM: Take them to or advise them to talk to a professional therapist. If you don’t have access to one, you or they can call a suicide hotline (https://www.cnet.com/health/suicide-hotlines-crisis-hotlines-to-call-or-text-when-you-need-help/) for local resources. The first thing is breaking through that stigma that depression or suicidal thoughts are not normal because, as we see today with all the pressures of the world, they have become pretty common, which is a testament to our quality of living. I know the elders in my family would say to pray and ask God for help but that simply wasn’t enough for me and I know it’s not enough for a lot of people. I will say that though the mental illness institutions I went to did a poor job of helping me, it wasn’t until I attended one group session that I really realized my life is not that bad. There are people walking around that you will never know who are way worse off than you. Granted, I did stay only for one session because I was getting even more depressed thinking about their horrible situations, but it did help me gain some perspective.
EM: If you could tell your past self anything about mental illness, what would it be?
SM: Reach out for help. There are people out there who are willing to listen and, even if you think your family cannot help you, together you are strong.
EM: What is the most important thing you want our readers to take away from this interview?
SM: Mental illness is much more rampant then we actually believe and, especially in the minority communities, therapy is seen as such a taboo that no one wants to go. But during these times we need more resources to get through life. Like I said, even if it is not a professional, talk to someone. Girls night, drinking wine and venting to your friends may be therapeutic for the moment but what about after they leave? In therapy, you can learn the tools to feel better not just for one night but the rest of your life. And I am not saying God doesn’t help because He does. I am Christian and have faith but I am still growing in my faith.
EM: What are three weird/fun facts about you as a person that people may not know?
SM: Most people don’t know that I am Haitian-American. I was born to immigrant parents and I am the third and last girl. Going to law school has always been one of my goals and I’m definitely going to make that happen! I want to help young teams of all backgrounds know their rights so that when they encounter situations with law enforcement they know how to navigate and conduct themselves. Lastly, I am a cat lover, especially kittens. Since I just moved to New York in November, I haven’t gotten any yet but I’m in the process of fostering to possibly adopt.
EM: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
SM: In five years, I hope to be further along my modeling career and to have started acting. I hope to be done with law school and be working on a plan to build legal aid centers in underprivileged communities. I hope to start a family and be married. However, my main goal is to change someone’s life, even if it’s indirectly. I hope that someone reading this will make that phone call for help and be here tomorrow and the days on.
About Medeiros Fashion PR:
Medeiros Fashion PR is proud to represent a wide variety of plus size models, designers, photographers, retailers, bloggers, etc. We offer a wide variety of services (see the full list at http://www.medeirosfashionpr.com/services.html), such as press outreach, social media assistance, partnership development with other brands, and connection with designers, photographers, models, and other plus professionals. You can also see the list of our clients and some of the media outlets, such as Essence, Marie Claire, and Yahoo, where they’ve appeared.
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