This powerhouse is a triple-threat; model, author and activist. Charli Howard is as bold as she is beautiful when she is not fronting campaigns for Pat McGrath, Agent Provocateur and Desigual, she is on a mission to rebel against traditional standards in the fashion industry and beyond.
The expectations that female models are expected to measure up to are extreme and often impossible. Within an industry that promotes being waif-like, there’s no tolerance for marginal changes in size – this could mean losing work for a model. Absurd, right? Well, perhaps this was the driving force for model Charli Howard to speak out against her agency who had claimed that she was “out of shape” and thus they no longer wanted to work with her. Charli took to the internet to shame the agency, all the while seeding a rallying cry that she still supports today – that the fashion industry needs to revisit their high standards and lack of representation before they continue to feed the fire that’s becoming more damaging to the self-esteem of young people.
For Charli, being ‘body positive’ is no longer about celebrating the out-of-the-norm, but instead celebrating all women’s bodies. She is one of just a handful of models who are using their voice to give women back theirs. Women will no longer sit silently and be told where to wear and how to look, what’s pretty and what’s not. We caught up with Charli to find out more about her physical shift from eating disorder to curve model and how this has helped her to truly live the outlook she’s always had on the fashion industry.
Charli Howard, a 27-year-old model from Peckham, currently residing in New York rose to fame in 2015 when she took to social media to discredit her previous modelling agency for saying they had to let her go because she was out of shape (for reference, the model was 5ft 8” and a US size 2 – do the math). This, coupled with the fact that young girls were messaging her daily to ask advice on how to become a model, Charli knew it was time to take a change and call-out these body shamers, if not for the future possibilities for young women.
It began with a “Here’s a big FUCK YOU to my (now ex) model agency . . . I will no longer allow you to dictate to me what’s wrong with my looks… I refuse to feel ashamed and upset on a daily basis for not meeting your ridiculous, unobtainable beauty standards” – and so it began. The post soon went viral and joined the ranks of the viral potency of anti-body shaming posts from the likes of Gigi Hadid and Zendaya, who had at that time been heralding a #nofilter movement. Howard’s powerful words fell right into the hands of a zeitgeist, as anti-body shaming was at the core of a multitude of media conversations.
Howard’s words were transformed into headlines across some of the world’s leading fashion and news titles, falling on the desks of the powers she feels are responsible for crushing young people’s self-esteem with ridiculous body expectations. By speaking out against the industry who told her she wasn’t good enough, Howard turned a demoralising situation into an exciting opportunity to instil change.
“I felt liberated when I spoke out against my ex-agency. It did cross my mind that I might not get any more modelling jobs,” Charli explained when telling the story of how she took action against being body-shamed by her former agency. “It was the best thing I ever did.”
Now, multiple global campaigns, two books, a couple of dress sizes and a whole lot happier, Charli has a successful modelling career in New York City. “They’re just a lot more modern and forward-thinking about women here in New York,” she says of living and working in the Big Apple, “and they also have the world’s best pizza!” To hear Charli openly talk about food (she was having bolognese for dinner the night of this interview) after having a tumultuous relationship with it, and subsequently her weight, throughout her teenage years was truly refreshing. Her body confidence is radiant and presents women, not with a body ideal, but a mind-set ideal – to love your body exactly how it is and be positive towards it.
Charli now feels more confident in her own skin, speaking about how wonderful it was to have her “squishy tummy out in my recent Agent Provocateur campaign.” For her, campaigns like this showcase that what ‘being perfect’ means should not be dictated by photoshopped modelling images and unrealistic social media posts, but instead by your love for your own body.
While Charli does have a strong attitude of body positivity, she believes that the Body Positivity movement is not inclusive. “I might not be the biggest model in the curve industry, but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t fall into that movement. There’s a lot of competition in the movement,” she explained, “I get backlash from others who say ‘You have no idea, you’ve never had it as tough as us’, when really, women have it tougher in life as a whole. No matter what size you are, there’s always someone telling you that it’s not good enough. I have been every size and been miserable at all of them – so I think that all women have the right to feel body positive.”
Howard is very vocal about her body and the pressures that come with it. Her frustrations with the modelling industry continued when she began curve modelling, but this time it was on the differences that segmented curve and skinny models. “I just don’t understand why thin models always have to be so serious, while curve models are told to pose in a cheesy way,” she laughed. She also couldn’t understand why curve and thin models were never photographed in the same campaigns side-by-side. While this is beginning to change in the industry, Howard, while sitting more in the ‘skinny’ model category began The All Woman Project with her fellow model Clémentine Desseaux. The project aims to push diversity in the fashion and modelling industries and has made profound changes in doing so.
While Howard is no longer part of the project, she is working on something that will see her working directly with teenagers. Although that’s all she can say at this point, we’re sure that the impact will be incredibly positive.
“What I would say to young people now is that, you have a choice of who you follow on Instagram. You don’t have to follow people with crazy lives and incredible bodies – it’s not real life!” she exclaimed. “I think a lot needs to be done about teaching people that social media is fake. It’s not real and you’re posting the best version of yourself. Posting a photo of you three years ago on holiday and pretending like it’s the present, what does that achieve? Stop taking photos for likes and go out and enjoy your life!”
Feeling these same pressures from social media at times, Charli wants young people to take more interest in the things that matter, rather than the scroll. She removes herself from screentime to put her mind into goals beyond her modelling career. Having released two books, Charli explains that her “brain goes a million miles a minute.” If she’s not on set with Anne Klein she’s spending her days writing.
The fashion industry is at a pivotal moment right now as models no longer stand stiff-lipped and pretty, but instead are using their growing platforms to speak out on important issues like #MeToo, Body Positivity and transgender rights. Sometimes it’s huge issues, other times it’s simple things like mental wellness and taking time out of social media to be creative. Charli, being of the generation who grew up without social media ruling their childhood and teenage years, beats both drums in the hope that by lending her voice to issues like these, she’ll be able to give a voice to a young person in need, should they come up against looming injustices.
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