Written by: Carol Civre
We meet up with Liz Harlan, 25 year old performance artist and model to chat about her experience as a model and her journey towards finding a place in an industry that sometimes fails to represent a large range of individuals. Liz has a personality that fills up an entire room and an infectious laugh that makes everyone turn around when they hear it – she certainly doesn’t hold back and wants to encourage other young creative and models to do the same.
CC: Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got introduced to the modeling industry.
LH: I’m from the middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts and I came to New York six years ago for photography school and through posing for other people’s pictures I was already kind of modeling. When I graduated I was really into the pin-up scene doing pin-up modeling for fun. At the time I was a size 14 and doing it to own my body and this was around the time that Ashley Graham had her huge Lane Bryant moment and I was like “Heck ya, I’m gonna do this. I’m gonna try to be a model-model,” I submitted to some agencies and here I am two years later!
CC: I know you recently had a negative experience working in the industry that you shared a really awesome and empowering video about on your Instagram. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
LH: I will just say I was turned down a major opportunity to be in fashion week over something very arbitrary – my size. I feel like we’re at a point right now where that should not matter so much and I was just ranting about the industry as a whole. By turning people down for opportunities like that it’s not just like you’re turning that person down. As somebody who works in fashion and makes those decisions you’re ultimately shaping culture and the way teenage girls, for example, are going to feel about themselves. Between agencies, designers, and models everybody needs to hold accountability and be aware of what they’re putting out there and selling. Those types of standards gave me such a complex growing up and then to experience that first hand – it really pissed me off.
CC: So do you think that we are moving beyond using models as simply mannequins for our clothing?
LH: We’re past that. As millenials – gen Z – become the dominant consumers I think we want more than just people to sell our clothes. I think we are more concerned with what certain brands and designers stand for and supporting that. The market for clothing is so vast and readily available that people are at the point where they want to support those that have the same values as them and the models those brands pick to represent them says something about their values.
CC: Are you signed as a plus-size model? And do you identify with this term or was it placed upon you by the industry?
LH: I’m technically a “curve model,” which is a more inclusive version of a plus size model, including a wider range of sizes. I think it’s a little bit of both. I embrace it but at the same time I’d rather just be a model and that’s what I see myself as.
CC: In the media it’s now a trend to be “curvy” or “thick.” Do you find this to be a healthy movement or do you think this creates yet another unrealistic expectation for women’s bodies?
LH: I think we could easily go in a negative direction but I do also think that the “thick trend” has opened a lot of doors and I hope that there will be more trends like “thick” but with other things. I think more diversity is better and I don’t think people should be shamed for being thin either. I think it should be more of a celebration rather than “this is what you have to look now.”
CC: What does the ideal industry look like to you?
LH: I think it’s one where everyone feels represented. It’s going to take a long time to get there but I definitely think that now we are moving in a direction of consciousness whereas before we were not even conscious.
CC: What advice would you give to someone trying to enter industry who doesn’t have the standard “model body” or “model look?”
LH: They should be happy because that makes them special. I know that’s probably why I’m working! You should be stoked and not fight it and let your freak flag fly! Honestly, things started going really well for me when I just went full force with being unconventional. In the age of social media we are so over-saturated with people who want to be models and that includes a zillion people that look like you or a zillion people who dress like you but what makes you different? I feel like following your spirit and being yourself is what’s ultimately going to lead to success.
CC: More generally, do you think some people are taken more seriously than others within the fashion industry?
LH: I would say the fashion industry is kind of like high school… I know certain people started being nicer to me when they found out things that I’ve done or who I’ve worked with and then all of a sudden it’s like night and day with how I’m treated. I try to be aware of it but not necessarily be that. You have to understand how something works in order to make it work for you. You may be in a world you don’t 100% agree with but you can make it work for you if you understand it.
CC: How much does your social media mix with your work?
LH: Social media is definitely a way to market myself rather than letting the industry do it for me. It has been especially useful since I am an “unconventional” model in a lot of ways and it’s a way to curate myself to show “I would be great for this, this, and this” based on the shoots I do, and photos I post.
CC: Because you are a less conventional model, do you feel like you have trouble booking more conventional jobs?
LH: I feel like I get conventional jobs a lot now because they want something different. I’ve had some more conventional clients that you think I would never get cast for and I think they do it because they want to cast a wider net for their consumers, be more inclusive, and attract people who might relate to someone like me. They cast me and they’re just like “I want you to just be yourself!” and I’m like “haha, ok… are you sure??” but they love it! It’s awesome because they go out looking to cast someone like me to show that it’s ok to be yourself and that’s kind of what my message is as a whole. I just want to spread that because I felt so ashamed to be myself for such a long time and now I’m in a place where I’m really blessed to be myself and it’s really cool that these brands are reaching out to me to try to spread that message.
Liz is currently working in New York City on numerous projects including editorials, performance art pieces, and is most recently a new face of the American Eagle Holiday campaign. Liz hopes to promote diversity and individuality by being “here for the freaks!!” One of her goals is to become a meme and to have an Adult Swim show. Keep your eyes peeled, that pink hair is going to be everywhere pretty soon!
Photographer: Steve Harwick