charli howard speaks out about the modelling industry's impossible standards
After receiving messages from young girls asking advice on how to become a model, Charli Howard decided to speak out on her true experiences of the industry.
Last week, 23-year-old model Charli Howard made headlines for speaking out against her modelling agency, after it reportedly dropped her, a UK size six, for being "too big". "I refuse to feel ashamed and upset on a daily basis for not meeting ridiculous, unobtainable beauty standards," she posted in an open letter on Facebook, "In case you hadn't realised, I am a woman. I am human, I cannot miraculously shave my hip bones down, just to fit into a sample size piece of clothing or to meet 'agency standards'." Naturally, the post went viral. Charli was invited to share her story on the BBC. As much a comment on the industry's sometimes unrealistic ideals of beauty and warped sense of body image, as it is on the power of social media, it has left many commentators divided. While some have voiced their outrage, others have condemned it as nothing other than a publicity stunt. Why involve yourself in an industry so focused on aesthetics, if it's not something you feel comfortable being judged on? Whatever you may think, it is the act of standing up and speaking out for what you believe in, which is what should be applauded here. Like Swedish model Ages Hedengård, Charli has set an example for all young girls to respect their bodies and be comfortable in their own skin. What could be more admirable than that?
Did you always want to be a model?
No, not at all. It was only until I did my first shoot that I realised it could be fun and something I was good at. I was so insecure as a teenager and had so many hang-ups with my body. I was never one of the "pretty girls" - I was always the weird one that got piercings.
What does modelling mean to you?
Believe it or not, I've always been quite shy, so it allows me to become a character, or the person I wish I was. You meet the most interesting people and I've made some amazing friends out of it.
What was the purpose of speaking out being body shamed?
There had been a gradual build up of issues. Until I did I'd felt like people thought I was a pushover for too long, and I'd had enough. I just wanted to get my frustrations and build-up of anxieties off my chest. We all do things when we're angry; I just chose to vent on my Facebook page. But I'd been getting messages from young girls for a while asking how to become a model and I felt like I wasn't being true to them or myself. I was miserable and not feeling good enough.
Did you imagine that the reaction would be this huge?
No, not at all. I'm not the first person to have said what I did, hence why I'm genuinely shocked at the coverage it's had. It's been quite scary. I posted it, then went and made a tea. Within an hour, it had over 100 likes and a lot of shares and I majorly began to panic. I rang up my mum at 11pm saying, "I think I've done something stupid".
What would you say to critics that condemn your speaking out as a publicity stunt?
Firstly, I'd tell them to shut the hell up. It could hardly be deemed a "publicity stunt" if other people decided to share my post from Facebook, could it? If I wanted it to go public, why not send it to a newspaper to begin with? I'm not that desperate for attention. I almost had a panic attack the next day - I thought my life was over. But hey, I don't need to justify myself to anyone. I know the truth, my friends and family know the truth, and that's all that matters.
How can we work towards a more body positive future?
By listening to the general public, opening our eyes to beauty around us and representing beauty from all around the world. At present I think the industry lacks diversity, and tends to be quite stuck in its ways. We're quick to follow trends, but not to change body shapes. I think it should listen more to the general public and their needs and wants, like black models representing black women. Beauty comes in so many colours and sizes.
What does beauty mean to you?
What advice would you give to young girls wishing to follow in your footsteps?
I would say that, whilst it's fun, it's necessary you get an education behind you. I've seen too many girls finish modelling and have nothing to fall back on. But I'd also say, stand your ground when it comes to agencies. Don't think that modelling will make you happy or your life better, because it genuinely won't. Be nice, always, but don't let people take advantage of you, because they will. And finally, respect your body - it's amazing. You are more than a number on a label.
Text Tish Weinstock
Photography Jesse Laitenen