paloma elsesser is all about being the best version of yourself
Beautiful, intelligent, and funny, Paloma Elsesser is the model winning over the industry simply by being herself.
Paloma wears sweater Alexander Wang. Slip and earrings model's own.
Trying to get hold of Paloma Elsesser is very hard indeed. She's busy with back-to-back shoots, as she explains over Whatsapp, after canceling our phone call for the third time this week. This shouldn't come as a surprise, though. From makeup maestro Pat McGrath (who chose Paloma to be the face of her freshly launched makeup line) to Patrick Demarchelier (who shot her wearing it), everybody wants to work with the British beauty. And why wouldn't they? She's got it all: gorgeous curves, caramel skin, pillowy lips, beautiful friends. Currently living in New York, Paloma belongs to a crew of cool young artists, models, and musicians (she counts Petra Collins and Atlanta de Cadenet amongst her close female friends) and has over 51K followers on Instagram. To the outside world, everything looks like an Amaro filter — just rosy. But of course, it hasn't always been this way.
"I was a miserable teenager," Paloma says. "I was tortured by my inability to cope with life, to see it rationally. I struggled to know my place." Born in north London, Paloma and her family moved to LA when she was just two-years-old. Mixed race — her mother is African American and her father is Chilean-Swiss — she stood out in her predominately white school (and in the four others she subsequently moved to). The other kids couldn't neatly pigeonhole her ethnicity, so they resorted to taunts: "Why don't you speak Spanish?" "You're not black", "You look Mexican" and "You sound whitewashed." "I didn't have the tools to combat the questions or statements that were hurled at me," Paloma reflects.
There was also her size. Unlike other girls her age, Paloma wasn't matchstick thin. She grew breasts at an age when you don't really know much about your body, how things are supposed to look, or how it all actually works. Her teachers awkwardly forced her to wear a bra way before anyone else in her class, which made her feel even more alienated. Then there was her background. Not coming from a wealthy family meant Paloma stuck out in a class where almost everyone's mom, dad, cousin, aunt, or uncle was vaguely famous. It was all very LA. "I used my outgoing personality to mask my insecurities," she says, "but I felt completely isolated inside. I have always had incredible friends, but it's hard when your friends try their best to empathize but can only sympathize."
When she was 18, Paloma moved to New York to study psychology and literature at the New School. "New York taught me to be self-sufficient," she says. "It gave me a hunger I didn't think I was capable of feeling." Now 24, she's at a point in her life where she finally accepts herself. "I realized hating yourself is much harder in the long run and I saw the beauty in what I had to offer" Modeling helped Paloma overcome her insecurities. She sort of fell into it by accident. Instead of being discovered aged 12, while hanging out in a mall with friends, Paloma was scouted on Instagram. "I was always told I had a pretty face," she says, "but I assumed I was too short or not beautiful enough to make money modeling." A far cry from the Facetuned feeds of other New York It kids, Paloma's Instagram account casually curates pictures of sneakers, cars, gold chains, #tbt pics of Tupac, Sade, and her family, mixed in with the occasional bathroom mirror and club doorway selfie. She is a girl that people can relate to: cool, confident, no frills, which is exactly what renowned makeup artist Pat McGrath was looking for when she cast Paloma alongside fellow Insta muses Hailey Baldwin and Bella Hadid for the launch of her #Gold001 collection earlier this year.
The fashion industry, however, can be a funny old thing. While it does more for women in the way of diversity than any other creative industry, as much as it wants to include you, it will always remind you of your place: 'Plus size,' 'Sample size,' or 'In betweenie,' as if all the women in the world fit neatly into three categories. "I hate it when people ask me what I do and when I respond 'model' their brow furrows," Paloma laments. "When I then respond with 'plus-sized model' it's always, 'Oh wow! Of course! I love what's happening in the industry.'" It's patronizing to say the least, but Paloma takes it all in her stride. "It's annoying, but I don't mind," she says.
When it comes to ethnicity, however, things are a little more problematic. Does she ever worry that she's just there to tick a box? "We are conditioned to pigeonhole people," she replies, sounding wise beyond her years. "People continue to tokenize in order to normalize. However, I no longer want to have my baby hairs slicked down or put into cornrows."
In a world saturated with content, it's easy to package up someone's turbulent childhood as clickbait in order to plug the next big thing. But to paint Paloma as some troubled youth turned top model would be to do her a disservice. Funny, beautiful, intelligent, and caring, people have gravitated towards Paloma her entire life. She has lots of friends and an incredibly supportive family, she just took a while to realize it. "I'm a plus size girl who isn't an Amazonian and doesn't wear sexy clothes," she concludes. "I'm just a girl who's strange and honest." She's simply being herself.
Text Tish Weinstock
Photography Zora Sicher
Styling Stella Greenspan
Hair Holly Mills at Tim Howard Management using R+Co. Make-up Morgane Martini at The Wall Group using Chanel. Model Paloma Elsesser at Muse NYC.