how instagram babes diana veras and barbie ferreira are changing the modelling industry
We talk to the models and BFFs about owning their bodies and being queens of the in-between.
Somewhere in LA, models Diana Veras and Barbie Ferreira are eating chicken on a giant billboard ad. "It's so funny," says Barbie, "It's like, 'I know, let's shoot the thick girls eating chicken.'" But actually they both do love chicken. "We weren't, like, in bikinis pretending to eat it on the hood of car," Diana said, joking about the way editorials like to glamorise both junk food and women who look like they've never set foot in a KFC.
Photographer Petra Collins recently included a shoutout to Barbie and Diana in an interview she gave for T Magazine. "They're a great example of today's version of really cool role models for teenage girls," she said. "They're so positive about their bodies and not ashamed about that." Citing her friends' large Instagram fan bases (over 100k followers apiece) she praised the real and humanising way they present themselves. It would be wrong to say that Barbie and Diana are normal-looking - they're hide-your-boyfriends gorgeous - but they are normal-sized. Or rather, they have bodies that are closer to most 18-year-olds' bodies than the girls who usually appear in fashion campaigns.
"There's much more representation now," observed Barbie, in the garden at i-D's Brooklyn HQ the other day. She was wearing a pug-embroidered baseball cap from her line, Barbie Club. "Our homegirl, Hari [Nef], she's breaking out. There's more and more diversity everywhere. And I hope the trend sticks. I think the internet helps a lot - there's no filter on what we can see." And their clique of creative friends (Collins' favourite subjects) have no qualms about putting their own, full-thighed and often full-bushed images out there. But both girls think there's still a long way to go until "plus-size models" become just "models."
How did you both start modelling?
Barbie: Through American Apparel, where Diana and I met during high school when we were working at the store. Until then, I never thought I could model.
Diana: I always had a Tumblr and people noticed me from that. But I also met a casting agent, Douglas Perrett at COACD, and he cast me for the Chloë Sevigny Opening Ceremony presentation. I was the only thick Spanish girl there, so it was weird at first. They tried to dress me like the thinner models. But ten minutes before the show, Chloë pulled me aside and asked me, "What do you want to wear? I know you know your body best. Pick it." It was a crazy show, and so fun. Five bands were playing. I guess that's what opened the door for me.
Have you guys dealt with that a lot - being put in clothes that don't work with your bodies?
Barbie: A lot of people aren't used to us. They think that every plus girl has the same body: the same size boobs, the same waist-to-hip ratio.
Diana: Exactly. We're both thick but we have completely different body types. And when you're around people who don't usually work with bigger models, they don't know how to act. They're scared to give you the size large because they think it's offensive and I'm like, "No, I need the large, it's the only size that's going to fit me!"
Barbie: I'm a size 12 and it's not a big deal.
Have there been times when you were less comfortable with your bodies?
Diana: You know what's really crazy? I was really thin when I was younger. My mom would tell me to eat. Then I went through puberty and it was like, "Where did the butt, the boobs, the thighs come from?" I still deal with my body image. Getting thicker and having boys start noticing me as a teenager was the craziest thing - because my friends stayed skinny! I was the only one that had to deal, and it was hard. But I like it.
Barbie: It's growing into your body! I used to be a lot chubbier than I am now. People did not think I was cute at all. I was the nerdiest person on earth! I brought Harry Potter cutouts to school because I had no friends.
How actively are you thinking about challenging industry norms when you're working?
Barbie: I'm a model. I don't think of myself as a "plus-size" model or as being any different from the other girls. But I hope young girls see that. I remember going to the movies when I was younger and all the girls were so thin. Even the nerdy girls would take off their glasses and actually be supermodels.
Exactly. Like in She's All That.
Diana: Like, "Wow, you took out your bun?"
Barbie: You put on some mascara? Damnnnn! And if you're actually big it has to be comedic. It's like, "Oh, there's the fat friend."
Diana: And you can't even be normal sized. If you're big, then you have to be really big on TV.
Barbie: There's an episode of 30 Rock when Jenna gains like 20 pounds and they tell her, "You either have to gain another 20 pounds or lose 30 pounds."
Diana: There's no in between. And that's why I think what Barbara and I do is good. We're the in between. We're not huge but we're not little. It's normal.
How different are people's attitude towards women's bodies in the Dominican Republic and Brazil (where you guys both have family)?
Diana: They love curvy women and big butts in DR!
Barbie: In Brazil, they have big butt contests on TV for the most "gostosa" - the juiciest! But it's bad because they shame thin girls. Even if she's not really that thin, they'll be like, "no gostosa, no." It's two extremes.
What are the associations with being thicker there?
Barbie: In Brazil, it's the ideal. Even the actresses there are thicker, like Bruna Marquezine, the telenovela star.
Diana: But America also influences those countries a lot. They see girls in rap videos who have a flat stomach but a big butt and big boobs, and that becomes the ideal thick woman.
Barbie: But half the time that's not a realistic goal. Young girls aspire to have a body like that and often they can't physically do it. And there's a big plastic surgery culture in Brazil. That ideal is thrown in your face, but having a 24-inch waist and 34-inch hips - with no cellulite and triple-D boobs! - is clearly impossible. You can't just do a couple of squats and look like that. Often that lady paid $20,000 for a fat transfer. And that's fine, she's a grown woman, she can do whatever she wants with her body, but if you're a young girl…
Do you feel that you have to talk about body positivity as an in-between size model?
Barbie: Yes, definitely. You have to talk about it. I hope other girls read what we say and it helps them. Having a mentality that's about being confident in who you are, I think that has to be said over and over again. Still I think it's funny that no one would ever ask a Victoria's Secret model, "How are you so comfortable in your body?"
Diana: I feel like me, Barbara and a couple of other girls have been given a platform to help other girls and now it's a duty. If there's a girl who's sad, I have to respond to her and talk to her about it. It's absolutely necessary because there's no one else doing it.
Text Alice Newell-Hanson
Photography Petra Collins