Outspoken and unconventional, these brazen women are beacons of change who refuse to conform, inspiring people around the world to fight for what they believe in. Here, models Precious Lee and Candice Huffine open up about diversity—or lack thereof—in the fashion industry for our 2018 #WomenWhoDare conversation series.
Candice Huffine: What I was thinking about today in the shower—it's where all my best thoughts come from—
Precious Lee: Duh.
Candice: I was washing my hair vigorously and I was thinking, it's not brave to be curvy and proud. This is our life.
Precious: You mean when people say, "Yay for you for being happy and chunky"?
Candice: It's brave what we're doing—we're brave for demanding respect and representation—but we're not brave for living in our bodies.
Precious: I don't think someone's body should be a trend.
Candice: Or your skin color. Or your age. Or your religion. Or your—
Precious: Or whatever's hot right now. For me, when people are like, "Oh my God, you're just so confident..." As if you shouldn't be, because you're a different size, or because you don't look like whatever their ideal is. I know a lot of curvy girls who are genuinely happy with their bodies. They're genuinely happy being curvy and not interested in losing weight.
Candice: There's endless misconceptions that we're constantly trying to debunk. One of the simple ones is that the curvy girl isn't into fashion. She's not fashionable, she doesn't want trends. We've already clearly made that known that we want fashion, as well. Another one that's always bothered me is that it's hard to get to a good place with your body. And look, we're all human and we're all women, and yes there are days where it's not all rainbows and love, but not all curvy women have tried and failed at being skinny and are just now at a good place with their body. There's so many of us who have just been living like this all the time and are cool with it. So to make it feel like your body is a trend, and that it's cool right now, I'm kind of like, "I've been cool with it for a long time, I'm good."
Precious: I think the focus should be less on trying to figure out how we feel about our bodies. I went through this phase where I had to wear certain designers on red carpets just to prove them wrong. I'm a naturally fashionable person. I'm not afraid to mix and match and do high-lows from price points to colors to prints, but it's important to remain within my truth and wear things that I want to wear without focusing on trying to convince designers that curvy women are worthy enough for their product. Most curvy girls now are automatically considered activists or—
Candice: Somebody tried to put activist next to my name the other day and I was like, "am I though?"
Precious: I do think you can be considered an activist, but just because you're curvy and you're a model does not mean you are an activist.
Candice: It means you are living your life. I get knocked back a little bit with a harsh reality that people aren't really totally down with our bodies. I had some weird experiences at fashion week and I'm just like, "I don't know if you want me here for the right reasons." I had a stylist tell me in one of the fittings to not eat carbs until the show and the show was four days away. I just felt, in that moment, that meant my body wasn't truly accepted as-is. There's still a fine print. I'm concerned with when the trend moves on to something else next year—like curves are not the hot topic and then something else will be, and we will be tokenized. Or, will we be in a good enough place where "curves" doesn't have to be a hot topic—it's just a way of life where we will always end up in every campaign and conversation because we've made enough change and progress? I just want to make sure that everyone's doing it for the right reasons—that it's not just a tick of a box so that the brand can feel hot at that moment.
Precious: I think that's an obvious truth for a lot of people right now. You see it all the time. A lot of designers are trying to meet a quota, their curvy quota, which is one or two models. That goes for women of different races as well.
Candice: You being curvy and black, is pushing through a ton of doors.
Precious: The ideal model, they look nothing like me. They're not curvy, they're not black, they're not brown and black. What really propels me forward is not necessarily trying to prove people wrong anymore, but realizing that I am defying so many odds just by being in certain situations. But it's this quota and sometimes you feel like, "oh you should appreciate it," or "oh they actually had a couple of black girls in the show," or "they actually had a 'curve' girl in the show."
People ask us all the time, how did I get into modeling? I'm starting to tell girls, "look, there are so many different jobs in this industry: you could be a photographer, an art director, a producer, a creative director." I start to say that to people and there's a bit of disappointment, but those are the jobs and positions that are really going to alter our universe. You're working with these brands that are saying they're trying to create more diversity, but then there's no diversity behind the scenes. Can the meetings that happen when brands make their decisions include at least one person of color, or at least one person that is curvy, or at least one person who could wear the product that they're talking about?
Candice: When a magazine is like, "oh this is such a victory, it's the third black girl to ever take the cover of this magazine," that is amazing for her, but that's also embarrassing. Why hasn't there been more? Why has there been three in the history of your publication? Same with Awkwafina on SNL, the first Asian host in 18 years. When you put the big headline or the big victory with it—we have so many firsts—it's like, why did that take so long?
Precious: When people ask me questions like, "Precious, what is it that you think can change the industry?" I'm like, I actually think a better question would be, why don't you ask that designer why they aren't making clothes for me? Why is the camera not turned around on the industry? Why is it on the models?
Candice: Who sometimes have so little say. I'm almost two decades in this career and I only just feel like I have a voice that's being heard, only in the past few years, and that's probably because of social media. I can actually share my own message because prior to that there wasn't a place to share it, or anyone to even care or listen.
Precious: Why are people not asking designers why they're not using curve girls? You see editors have conversations with designers all the time, but then the question never comes up: "why did you decide to exclude this large population of women that make up the average population in the entire United States of America?" Why is that something that's not being asked? Those are the questions and the boundaries that need to be pushed to really, really start to make a change. We've been throwing our hips and tits around for years and I am very grateful for my career being where it is in this short amount of time—I moved here in 2012, and I've checked off so many goals on my list—but I feel like with the way things are progressing, there's no excuse for it to be at this pace where we have wait and see each season what [the brands] are going to do.
Candice: I love, though, in the meantime—we might not be able to change the actual industry quickly or sufficiently enough in certain areas, but what we can do is change the personal life of a woman; a woman at home because social media exists and we can have that connection instead of waiting for a magazine to put you in the pages for the woman to see it. Maybe we're not going to be able to change some brand's whole ethos of operation—that's the goal, that's the plan—but in the meantime, we can make a personal impact about how a woman feels about herself and that's a whole different kind of job. That's incredible.
Precious: Of course we're going to be connecting to the people who follow us and support us, but I think the industry is doing a disservice to all of the people that we don't have access to, you know what I mean?
Candice: For sure.
Precious: For example, if I was 12 years old right now—my niece is 12 and I think about her a lot—and I had Instagram, what would my life be? I just feel like, although we have our platforms, which we're both so very grateful for, we're supporting and promoting an industry that is so slow to change. I automatically think about girls who look at their first magazine and what they're going to see and how much of an indelible moment that will be for them—to flip through and flip through and to never see anybody who looks like them. It's something that I think about when I do the things that I do. Because what's more innovative than a size 14 black woman on the cover of a major publication? Why does the creative freedom stop at certain levels and what can we do to let kids know in the meantime, like, hey we're working on it—maybe by the time you get to 20 and my tits are in my shoes we'll have real diversity [laughs]. I just think it's something that we should take more seriously, especially in the times we're living right now. Where people are looking to fashion, people are looking to music, we have such a huge opportunity to uplift women and kids and shape these malleable minds that are so young—why wouldn't now be the time?
Candice: You can't say you're a company for women or about women or serving women if you don't represent all of them. It's started, there's cracks in the foundation for sure—
Precious: Infiltrating the industry on the backend, creating more opportunities for a diverse situation—not just within publications but all the way down to pattern making—is so important. Like photographers, it's not an excuse to know how to light only three tones of skin. It's not an excuse [for hair and makeup artists] to look at a woman's hair that is thick and curly like it's an alien walking off—
Candice: Yes, I've seen that happen and they just start spraying some water on it.
Precious: Oh I've had it happen.
Candice: Then they heat it and they're like, "this is going to be fine right?"
Precious: I mean it's happened to me so many times. But think about beauty campaigns; you don't have to be a sample size to—
Candice: To sell lipstick.
Precious: To sell lipstick, or to sell blush.
Candice: Everybody uses hair products, regardless of size. I always give the benefit of the doubt, like, okay, look you've been doing this for a really long time one way, I know how hard it is to break a habit or a cycle and start something new and how terrifying that must be, but when I couldn't find clothes that fit me well because of my size, I knew I had shoes, accessories, makeup. Why do you think all the curvy girls do bomb makeup? That's how you feel like you're changing your look. I just don't understand, how is there size-ism in the beauty industry?
Precious: There's no sample size for blush. What's so funny is that in beauty campaigns a lot of personality is required; I know so many curve girls who are full of life. And honestly, shoulders up, you can't even tell these chicks are a size 12, 14, or 16. It is not something where you look at a girl's face and automatically know—so why is that door not cracked for a curvy girl, or a girl with great skin? I really want to know.
Candice: I think that we're in a little bit in a tailspin because where companies are obviously scrambling to diversify and be a little more inclusive, they just immediately start looking at our [Instagram follower] numbers as a sign of legitimacy—
Precious: That argument is kind of valid, but then you have girls opening big fashion shows who have less than 1,000 followers.
Candice: Really, it could be quite simple to just put in different kinds of people and women all the time, so that everyone is represented.
Candice: It sounds so simple when you say it though, right? Why is it so hard?
Precious: You can literally go and look at brands and look at magazines and you will see the exact same, or variation, of people. For example, you'll see a group shot with five brunettes—there was opportunity for a red head, for a mixed girl, a black girl, and an African girl. I really would love to have more support from the industry for girls like us. I mean, what is the average size? It's still 14? Right now, our support is coming from the curvy girls themselves or even bloggers that spread the word.
Candice: I think it went up. I think it's size 16 now.
Precious: So then, I just want to remind everybody what average means. When you go in stores, the first thing that's gone from the rack are the larger sizes. So even if a designer's saying, creatively, "I'm not feeling like this kind of girl or that kind of girl," then let's talk about money—about the fact that there's this huge sector of women where, if a really bomb curvy brand came out, a high end brand, it would be gone in seconds. So for me, I'm like, are you that against it creatively that you're going to not get the money?
Candice: The question does have to be asked to a designer,"hey, have you ever thought of expanding your sizing?" And if the answer is no, then, why? You only need two questions, right?
Candice: It was so eye opening to me in the last two seasons of Project Runway, they had curvy girls as their models, all different sizes from sample size to size 18. And I know there probably is a flaw in the education process for designers and pattern making, because there's only that one mannequin they're usually taught on, but when the designers on the show opened the envelope with the curvy girls' names and sizes, they'd literally cry. Hysterically cry, break down, because they couldn't do it. They were frantic, freaking out, "it's just so hard, I can't make this dress for this body," and that's when I thought, we really do have an issue. There should be no reason why someone has to break down in tears over having to make a dress that's a size 16. It's because they've not been taught how. But then again, that's making excuses where there's no place for them, because if you were curious you'd educate yourself and find a way to do it. I just thought that was really telling of how people feel about our bodies sometimes.
Precious: Maybe designers are petrified of it. There's been a lot of times where I've questioned why I'm buying certain stuff from certain designers.
Candice: Oh for sure. Rachel Roy—we were having a phone conversation—and she said you shouldn't support people who don't support you.
Precious: We're talking about curves but you know, black people in this country buy a lot of stuff, period. So to not see them represented in certain things, or by certain designers—designers we literally love and see as a staple, and these are expensive items—can be truthfully hurtful. I've gotten to a point before where I've questioned why am I buying this expensive dress? They would probably not see it for me. But then it's not fair to have people who are so close-minded take away what I like about fashion, and my creative freedom.
I have moments where I have to give myself a pep talk to do a lot of things that are involved with work—I know I'm such a strong and confident person, thank God—but thinking about the girl who isn't, or who has half the confidence that I may have, and having to go into this world and do the things that they want to do, to have the audacity to disregard everything around them and everything that is pushed to be ideal, to look nothing like that and still go out and be best dressed in the room, I have that driving me. But what about the girl who doesn't? That's the girl that I think about a lot; they're not few and far between. A lot of girls struggle with that.
Candice: Yeah absolutely. The girls who are just feeling so unseen.
Precious: Having this opportunity right now in the time of the woman—let us remember how important it is to keep each other up and support each other, anchoring each other.
Candice: We have a little power, as well, to implement some change and to be heard. Sometimes I think, wow, I can not believe this many people follow me [on Instagram] and listen to me—I take that very personally and put a big weight on my shoulders. When else do you get that opportunity to stand in front of someone and speak your mind and it's going to maybe stick with one person? Damn, you're going to take that seriously. I'm going to really think about how that's going to affect someone's life.
Precious: I think on the flip side, people are so desensitized now—like a good old quote and a nice selfie and a nice background is not necessarily going to cut it, especially on Instagram. I notice that people are doing way more outrageous things or bolder things to grab attention. I'm wondering how we got to that? Like you've got to be in a body thong, twerking on a handstand these days in order to grab people's attention to get them to go vote.
Candice: That's probably why I don't have as many followers or the number doesn't rise as fast, because I'm still holding out for the person who wants to read my long paragraph I put underneath [laughs]. And I'm going to be fully-clothed in my button up and hope that you'll take the time to read, and if you didn't that's fine but then also I can't change who I am in order to get your attention.
Precious: What is it that's required now to really get the attention of people, genuinely? Because you can bust it open everyday on Instagram if you want to, but is that really your truth?
Candice: And does that create its own Pandora's box where in order to be body confident, I have to show all of my body? And then someone thinks, "I must love mine less than hers because she's so out there with hers, and curves means you have to always have them out and about." I feel like that creates a whole spiral of stress.
Precious: Right. Well, I show my boobs often. It is not—
Candice: They're glorious, why not?
Precious: Thank you, but truth be told a lot of times it's the pieces don't fit my boobs, so it turns into a booby situation. I've been boob-shamed before.
Candice: In what way?
Precious: There's this post that I had that actually was a Boomerang—
Candice: A Boob-erang? Please, stick around for my dad jokes.
Precious: [Laughs] In it I'm leaning back, I'm on the beach which, let's be clear, a string bikini on the beach is different than a string bikini—
Candice: On the New York City streets.
Precious: Yeah, and somebody was like, "oh my God, why doesn't she just keep it real and say she got her boobs done. No one's boobs are that big and perky." First thing I said was "oh thank you for saying my boobs are perky, that's cute," but then to see the other people comment on it, like, "why can't she have perky boobs just because her boobs are big? That's her posture, maybe you guys forgot she's a model"—so many comments of people snapping on each other about my boobs. And for the record, they are 100 percent real. But it just reminded me of how everyone may think someone is beautiful, but it has to have been altered, because we're so desensitized now to alterations. For me, as a curvy model, as a woman of color, my message is trying to make people realize that they're worthy of loving themselves as-is.
Candice: Why is everyone spiralling into some finger-pointing attack when it should've been a bunch of hand clap emojis, like you look great on the beach! We need to band together in a positive way to actually affect some very necessary change. We can not have set backs by tearing each other down. I feel like that's all too common.
Precious: We're moving towards the direction where beauty is always enhanced by something, and I don't want to play a part in that. It's the difference between a contour and—
Candice: A Facetune.
Precious: To have a nice pair of boobs, they're not always fake. I don't want people to think it has to be altered to be good. It's about looking inward and deciding what it is that we support—what it is that we're promoting, and showing a little bit more of ourselves in a less glamorous way. Which I've committed to recently. I want to post certain pictures where I don't have any makeup on, or just little things like not altering my hip roll that may cut different in a dress. If we all showed a little more of our things we don't necessarily like, it will change the reality of what people think is "good".
Candice: We have to be careful that we don't trade out one ideal of perfection for another one. There's space for everybody. When I was 15, my agents said, "right, so could you lose 20 pounds?" I went home and I was like, what? How? I'm active, I eat well, I'm a cheerleader and I played lacrosse—how am I going to lose...how is that actually possible? This is just the way I am.
Precious: I love my sister to death but when she told me about being a plus size model she said, "but you'll have to lose 30 pounds." Wait, you mean to tell me I'm going to have to lose weight to be a chunky model? That's ass backwards!
Candice: Here we are, however many years later, and the curvy girl has to be the perfect—she can only look a certain way.
Precious: Right, and that's what I mean about infiltrating ideologies about larger women in general. If someone sees that I can do a split, they're like, "oh my God you're so flexible!" But a lot of that is just conditioning of thinking that because you look a certain way, you can't do a certain thing. So I just want to kill that idea of a curvy girl taking a good picture. Like why are you so surprised? When you see a picture of us and you don't necessarily see the same roll when we're laughing on the beach in a bikini, it's because it's a skill and it comes from experience and it comes from knowing your body and being able to identify with your body and being able to pull out whatever it is you're trying to portray as an image.
Candice: I remember when I was first starting and a photographer said, "oh I never shot a plus girl before." It's like, do you know how to click the thing on your camera? What is different? You think you got to bring in a whole new arsenal of lights?"
Precious: Or they're so shocked, like, "Precious, that was amazing," I want to say, why are you shocked?
Candice: I don't understand how we ended up here, where body size dictates the worth of the person and the potential of the person.
Precious: And success.
Candice: It's ludicrous.