It’s been a while since I sat tapping away at my laptop à la Carrie Bradshaw. But I picked up my pen again for Topvintage. Because in 2023 working for this company feels like a breath of fresh air, since they are one of those brands that embrace their models exactly the way they are. Join me as I tell you about my life as an international curvy model, my self-love journey and the cutthroat fashion industry.

From spinning classes to self-love

We can see diversity in the media improving: short, curvy, Black, Asian, with tattoos, back rolls, cellulite, skinny, gay you name it. It’s very fulfilling that I can contribute to helping the fashion industry project a more realistic image of women. Women often message me about or compliment me on my self-confidence. That confidence is something that I genuinely feel and want to convey. But that wasn’t always the case...

Meat market 

I was 15 when I started modelling. A modelling agency asked me to take catwalk training, so I would learn how to walk the runway. I was very insecure but still went to that catwalk training every Thursday evening for 8 weeks – feeling like a deer caught in the headlights while walking in heels for the first time. 

Unbeknownst to me, the 3rd Thursday evening was ‘meetdag’ (Dutch for ‘measuring day’) or MEAT day. Like a herd of cows, we were asked to take off our trousers in a little office, while the owner approached us like a mistress, her whip replaced by a tape measure. Just my luck that on that day I was wearing faded granny pants with a huge sanitary pad inside: that time of the month, honey. And I felt so embarrassed since all the other girls were wearing super cute, tiny G-strings. Some of them even wore G-strings that featured little rhinestones that sat exactly between their perky, round butt cheeks (every 90s baby knows exactly what I mean).

And there I was in that ‘diaper’, bigger than all the other girls. I struggled to squeeze into a tight EU size 38 (UK 12/ US 10) but I was still the curviest of all the girls that were lined up. And that didn’t go unnoticed, the taskmistress came charging towards me with her tape measure at the ready. She shook her head while measuring and looked disapprovingly at my healthy, athletic thighs, insisting on spinning classes "for your thick thighs, Yoëlle." 

What is a plus-size model?

Of course, those spinning classes were bullshit, I was already at my skinniest and my legs and hips simply weren’t going to get any thinner. I am a lady with Curaçaoan roots and Caribbean curves: you can’t exercise away those thighs and hips. Subsequently, I was cut from some major shows because my skin wasn’t ‘good enough’: teenage acne. After a handful of similar experiences combined with questionable weight loss attempts, I decided to quit modelling. Then a few years later when I was 19, I got into contact with a large German modelling agency. An agency specialised in plus-size models all over the world. I had never even heard of plus-size models before, but I found it incredibly cool and greatly admired my curvy colleagues that shined in every photo and embraced their curves. That was something totally unfamiliar to me. Wow, those women were such positive role models. By then I was a EU size 40/42 and felt better than ever. That was the start of my self-love journey.

Body positivity

Self-love is a continuous journey with ups-and-downs and unfortunately you can’t feel Queen Bee every day. To me body positivity is about feeling good in your body and for this to show on the outside too, regardless of whether or not you fit society’s view of the ideal shape, size, and appearance. I find it important to also mention the origins of the body positivity movement here. This movement was originally formed by Black, curvy women, who were oppressed and were never noticed or ‘seen’.

They were regarded as the lowest of the low by society: they were women, they were ‘big’ and they were Black. They initiated the body positivity movement to be acknowledged and seen, not just as women but above all as human beings.

I’m glad that this women’s movement has finally gained substantial momentum in the media and in the fashion industry. A lot of people complain that we still have a long way to go, but unfortunately, I’m not even sure that we’re ever going to get where we need to be. I prefer to focus on the positive and when I do, I notice so much has changed. I wish I had seen this much diversity in the media when I was a young girl. Had there been curvy models back then, it would definitely have made a significant difference in my self-image as a teenager.

Change is here

My most cherished memory is the accomplishment of something that I had never ever even dared to dream of with my body type. I became the face of a renowned French lingerie brand. I flew out to a dream location in Corsica to shoot a campaign and a few months later, I appeared on life-size posters across all the Parisian subway stations and was featured in French glossy magazines. That was a ‘pinch me’ moment.

I want to inspire women to simply be themselves and let them know that they matter, regardless of their size. You also deserve to shine, to buy cute outfits, to wear a bikini, and you shouldn’t hide yourself away just because you have a fuller figure. The lingerie pictures that I post on my Instagram are not intended as pictures for men to lust over, but I post these pictures to remind women that they too should be proud of their curves and that they don’t own anyone – especially men – a skinnier/better/prettier body. You should do the things you do for yourself and out of love for your body, you will achieve much more that way. 

I also really love my job. Of course, jobs can look really fabulous on Instagram but even I have had moments where, after all the amazing-looking Insta stories, I found myself crying alone in a hotel room. Big campaigns or shows are definitely a thrill, but mostly it’s the people that make a job fun. The bond I have with the Topvintage girls is definitely unique. It feels like a sisterhood and you get to unapologetically be yourself. We are all incredibly different, yet we click. I don’t know if it’s because we are all from the same area, because we have the same dirty sense of humour or because we are all crazy food lovers. But we just vibe together as a group and that’s really wonderful. 

Gratitude baby

Gratitude is something that I strongly advocate. I’m grateful for a healthy body. I’m grateful that as a size 44, I can do this work, a job opportunity that didn’t even exist a few years ago. I’m grateful for the people I meet and the meaningful conversations I have with some of them. The great shoots that we do. The end result that we achieve as a team, a team that I get to be a part of. These feelings of gratitude along with the results we achieve really energise me. It’s a daily mantra and every day it helps me to feel good about myself, about what I do and how I look. By turning inward, you will shine on the outside. Give it a try, I dare you. wink emoji