Charli Howard is a model, writer and co-founder of All Woman Project. In 2015 she dumped her modeling agency for criticizing her for being ‘too big’ to work in the industry at a US size 4-6. Charli wrote a powerful letter online directed at her agency (“The more you force us to lose weight and be small, the more designers have to make clothes to fit our sizes, and the more young girls are being made ill. It’s no longer an image I choose to represent.”) which was widely circulated. This is a follow up letter to the first—about how Charli has learned to love herself, and is a beacon for others trying to do the same.
“As women, we can’t get it right: we’re wrong if we stick up for ourselves, and wrong if we don’t. We’re selfish if we worry about our well-being, then reckless if we let ourselves get ill. But from what I’ve learnt, loving yourself is not a selfish act: it is necessary to becoming a more well-rounded and successful woman. Before my Facebook letter came out, there was a constant conflict in my head about wanting to speak up about being made to diet. Until, one day, I did it. I said everything I wanted to say to them and more.
“Good luck working again,” someone told me at the time. Comments like that merely added to my anxiety about being ‘wrong,’ when in my heart, I knew I was right. But I knew I couldn’t live a life of misery and starvation anymore. No job or dream was worth the stress and heartache it brought. The biggest change for me, both physically and mentally, was moving to New York not long after. I was approached by a well-known model agent to come to the States and try my luck there. I saw this as a chance for me to rebalance and to get to know myself again, fresh in a country of people I didn’t know and the chance to discover a part of the world I was always told I’d never work in. Along with a bad break-up that happened conveniently at the time, I needed to break away from London for a while and to take time out for myself. Taking care of myself was something I hadn’t done in years. I’d forever associated success with deprivation and pushing your body to its limit, which I’ve since learnt is the key to failure. “No pain, no gain” is no longer the motto I live by.
Taking time for myself has been healing, rebuilt my character and transformed the way people treat me in the process.
On my first day arriving to my new agency, I glanced up and saw an array of modeling cards belonging to the plus size models on the wall. These women were stunning. Everything about them was ‘full’: their bodies, their smiles and their personalities. As a straight sized model, I’d never worked with plus-size models, and if I saw them in the U.K., I never saw them doing anything other than commercial work. But over here, they were featured in the pages of the biggest magazines and campaigns. They gazed back at me in a confident and sexy manner that I’d never seen in models before. And I wanted to experience some of that. I stopped associating curvy models with laziness and ‘having it easy,’ in the naive and ignorant way I once had. These women were living a life I’d dreamt of: modeling for huge brands, eating what they wanted and making money from it. I began seeing the beauty in the ‘rolls’ and flesh on a female body, rather than just the gaunt outline of bones.
My obsession with food and exercise gradually subsided. Before long, I joined the curve board of the agency, as well as the main. I liked the fact my hip measurements were no longer something to be ashamed of. I began seeing the joys in the basic things in life. The negative thoughts I’d felt about myself for the past ten years floated away, as though they’d never existed before. I’d consciously made the decision to put myself first and to be happy, and it showed. Clients viewed me differently, and people told me I had a spark in my eye they’d never seen before. Being around models of different sizes, like the women I chose for the All Woman Project., was the biggest form of self-help I could’ve received for my eating problems. I am no longer the meek and mild person I once was. I don’t let people walk over me anymore.
I became the woman I wanted to be—self-assured, confident and happy—which not only reflects in my face and body, but in my work, too.
As women especially, we can only move forward in society by sticking up for ourselves and by having a voice. There is nothing wrong with being gentle with yourself, getting comfortable with your own pace and defending what you believe in. Standing up and taking time for myself was the best thing I could have done, and I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.”
Interviewed by Amy Woodside, September 2016