As a model and one time teen beauty pageant queen, Myla Dalbesio is pretty used to being judged on the way she looks. Scouted by Model Mother Management's Jeff and Mary Clarke at just 16, Myla spent the next nine years posing for commercial catalogues and being pigeon holed on the basis of her body. At size 14, Myla was always too 'big' to be a standard model and yet too skinny to be labelled 'plus', which has left her sitting uncomfortably in the ridiculously named 'in betweenie' category. However, fast-forward to today, and Myla is currently one of the most talked about names in fashion, given that she's just landed a highly coveted Calvin Klein campaign. To celebrate her shining success, we caught up with the Wisconsin belle to talk about what makes her feel beautiful and why, when it comes to modelling, size shouldn't matter.
Did you always want to be a model?
No, I always wanted to be an artist and a writer. I never thought about modelling until my older sister pushed me to get into it. I lost my mother at 9 years old, so as I got older my sister took on a motherly role. She became my main support system when I first started in the industry.
When you were younger you took part in a beauty pageant, what was that like?
Terrifying. I have only participated in one beauty pageant in my life, and because it was my first time it was terribly hard to wrap my head around being judged mainly on my looks. In the end, it was perhaps a great way to prepare myself for the real world. Even outside of fashion, you are constantly critiqued based solely on your presentation. I sometimes think I'm better off because I learned that lesson in a very direct way pretty early in life.
Is the world of pageantry similar to the modelling industry or are they very different?
There is definitely some crossover. You face a lot of rejection and judgement in both worlds, but on a whole I find the fashion world to be much more flexible in terms of it's idea of beauty. Fashion values unique characters, while the pageant world seemed to encourage a cookie-cutter type mentality. Working in fashion I still feel like I'm allowed to be rough around the edges. I don't have to hide who I am.
How did you feel when you were cast for the Calvin Klein campaign?
Thrilled. Shocked. Overwhelmed. I had never imagined being cast for such an iconic brand or such an esteemed project; it was literally beyond my wildest dreams. I've been modelling for nine years, really putting in the time, and I always did what was asked of me. I cut a fringe in the middle of summer because my agent told me to, then spent the whole of August showing up to castings with sweaty hair plastered to my forehead. I modelled for catalogues about sewing patterns, snowsuits, and Halloween costumes. I tried to remember how lucky I was to be wearing those polyester pants on a 90 degree day, and how many girls would give up a limb (or at least a finger) to take my place. In the end, it made booking a job like Calvin that much sweeter, because I feel like I really earned it.
Is it weird looking at beautiful images of yourself?
Kind of, but mostly it's awesome. Let's be honest, there's a reason people love taking selfies. It's really satisfying to see pretty pictures of yourself. Actually I recommend doing just that if you're going through a dark, self-conscious moment. Create an image of yourself that makes you feel good. Put it in a folder with other pretty pictures of yourself. Page through it from time to time and think about how radical you are. People may call that narcissism, but you have to learn to celebrate yourself! It gives you power that translates into all other parts of your life.
Do you think the industry's ideals of beauty need to change?
Definitely. I'm really beating a dead horse here, but the industry needs to open its doors to a more diverse group of people, not just in terms of size. Women (and men) of all races, shapes, sizes and ages deserve to be represented. And besides, it's boring to look at the same type of person over and over again. There is so much beauty in the diverse and unique, and we're being cheated out of the pleasure and growth that comes from seeing it.
How do you feel about the label 'plus size' or 'in-betweenie'?
Wouldn't it be great if we never even had to ask this question? If labels and categories between models didn't exist, and we were treated the same way between all sizes? Fashion doesn't happen in a vacuum, and using these terms as a form of identification is harmful to all women. Not only does it create an unnecessary barrier between us girls, thus encouraging hatefulness and competition, it devalues our individuality and the idea that women are worthy of being judged on more than their looks.
What makes a person beautiful?
Honesty. Self-awareness. Vulnerability. Strength. Confidence. A good butt.
When do you feel the most beautiful?
Swimming naked in the ocean.
What does beauty mean to you?
Knowing who you are and being proud of it.
Text Tish Weinstock
Image courtesy Myla Dalbesio