The Instagram-famous curvy model behind the just-launched body-positive site Runway Riot talks about the outdated label
You may recognize Iskra Lawrence from the Aerie Real campaign that said no to photoshopping in the name of body positivity. But now, the curvy British model with over 350,000 Instagram followers has been been making headlines for helping bring Runway Riot—a fashion, style, and beauty site for women of all sizes (from 0 to 28)—to life. It's mission? To serve curvier women who have been underrepresented and overlooked by the fashion industry.
Her selection as the managing editor of the site seems a natural one, considering she's a major champion for body love and acceptance. After being body-shamed during her 12-year modeling career, she's now an ambassador for NEDA (National Eating Disorder Association) and the creator of NEDA Inspires, a seal given to companies helping to promote healthy body image. She also teaches classes through The Body Project, a prevention program that helps young women combat eating disorders.
We sat down with Lawrence to talk about what to expect from Runway Riot, why she hates the dreaded 'plus-size' category, and why we should really stop putting models on a pedestal.
Shape: You’ve described Runway Riot as a 'war against the fashion industry and everyone who’s excluding us from the party.’ What revolution do you hope to start with the site?
Iskra Lawrence (IL): Well, take, for example, the Balmain for H&M collection. They only went up to a size 12…why couldn't they have gone up to a size 20? These are the discussions I want to have, because we have women coming to our site who want to shop, they want to wear these clothes. I want to go to these brands with numbers and tell them they're missing out. They have an idea in their mind that maybe bigger girls don’t look as good in the clothes, but it’s all about confidence. If they feel sexy and are owning it and rocking it, that’s what it’s about.
We’ll be showing models from sizes 0 to 28 on the site. I’m really trying to find diversity as much as we can. Because I do get really slim girls messaging me too and saying, ‘don’t forget about us.’ I’m very aware. If I post a photo saying ‘#NoThighGapNoProblem', I make sure to say that if you do have a thigh gap, that’s not a problem either! Why are we bashing anybody? Why is this black and white?
Shape: How do you think featuring bodies of all types might help women on the mental health front?
IL: Media, fashion, your body, and mental health—it’s all so closely connected. It’s all about not being scared to talk about your body or mental health. That's why on Runway Riot, instead of just showing images, we'll be asking questions like, 'Why do you love your body?' Because these women are more than just models. Everyone has gone through the phase of feeling lost and wondering, ‘Why doesn’t my body look that girl's in the picture?’ I want to create a safe environment where women can realize that fashion isn’t this scary thing that’s only been marketed them to make them feel insecure. We say: Don’t feel insecure; feel empowered. Don’t try to be someone else or look like someone else, or try to uphold a perfect image that doesn’t exist anyway.
Eventually, I want Runway Riot to have an educational side where we can talk about self-care and mental health. One of my personal long-term goals is to get compulsory self-care, confidence, and nutrition classes into schools, because children aren't being taught these things.
Shape: Can you talk a bit more about your experiences being body-shamed in the fashion industry?
IL: I had a hard time. I was a healthy size—I was a swimmer when I was younger, so I was very toned, but I wasn’t big enough to be ‘plus’. When I was 13 and 16 years old, they measured my hips every time I went into the agency and they told me, 'our girls have 34-inch hips, yours are 36—this isn’t going to work.' So then I did desperate things like just eating slices of ham for a week. Then I was told if you pad up and put on two dress sizes, you’ll work more. Even now I know I would work more if I put on a couple dress sizes, but I’m not going to do that. (Next up: Fitness Model Adrianne Ho Talks Insta Fame and Unrealistic Body Standards.)
You feel so vulnerable. And that’s when I started researching health and fitness and training not to be skinny but to be strong. I'm four years into that now. I never do last-minute dieting or working out before shoots because I try to be healthy all the time. I do lots of high-intensity training, things like burpees and jumping rope, to get my heart rate up, and I love heavy weights—squats, lunges, using the leg press machine. I like to lift heavy since that's what my body responds well to.
Shape: Do you consider yourself ‘plus-size’ now? What does that label mean to you?
IL: I don’t have a problem if I get a call sheet and it says you know, ‘Emma: Model; Iskra: Plus-Size Model’. I’m like, OK, well that’s a bit annoying, but it’s an easy way for you to organize things. If that has to be done it has to be done. What upsets me is the fact that if you’ve categorized me, you’ve categorized all women my size and above in the real world. The term has a really negative connotation thanks to the fashion industry, and that’s why we don’t use labels on Runway Riot.
Calling someone ‘plus-size’, it seems like it’s for attention or publicity. Get over it—she’s a wonderful model. And now, brands actually are taking away the ‘plus’ from their names because of that negative connotation. I think women prefer ‘curvy’ instead of ‘plus-size'—I would say I’m a curvy model. People will say to me 'How are you plus-sized, you have a flat stomach?!' because there's such an assumption about what the term means. Many ‘plus-size’ models are extremely fit and healthy. Not to mention, a lot of plus-size models are super tall too—when you’re a size 14 and 6’2’’, you’re actually quite slender! That’s why looking only at numbers is just terrible. I'm so lucky that now, I'm being booked for being Iskra Lawrence, not just my measurements. (Check out these Inspiring Fitness Instagrams from Curvy Models.)
Shape: The fact that you currently have more than 350,000 Instagram followers is obvously a huge part of that. How do you think the industry has changed because of the influence of Instagram?
IL: In March, I had 8,000 followers, and I decided to make it a priority and really focus on it. I have notes in my phone filled with different hashtags that I'll use for an outfit or a selfie post. I invested a ton of time and did my research. It's purely business. I don’t go through my feed even to see what others are posting, because it can be kind of unhealthy to spend time comparing yourself to others. Of course, Instagram is filtered. You don’t show your bad days. And as a model, you have to put your best pictures up there. If I post a selfie, there are probably 55 photos that didn’t make it! But I’m not trying to fool anyone, it’s about transparency. I have Snapchat as well. On there, I’m at home, makeup off, hair in a bun, eating pizza!
But overall, I really find Instagram incredible because, first of all, my career wouldn’t be where it's at without social media. In that sense it’s given women and girls a chance to say, ‘We didn’t like the Perfect Body campaign from Victoria’s Secret, we want to see more girls like this. We like it when women aren’t retouched, we can relate to it more.’ It’s also given me the chance to directly contact those girls who have reached out to me. I reply to all of my direct messages and say thank you on all my comments. It takes forever, but I’m so grateful for them. It’s really nice that we have a platform to do that. Models should have never have been put on a pedestal the way they have. We should be looking up to politicians or people that are really changing the world—we’re just models. Some of us are incredible, but we’re taking pretty pictures. It’s not the end of the world. It’s not real life.