Canadian plus-size model Sarah De Melo: 'There is no ideal body'

As part of Yahoo’s global coverage of International Women’s Day 2017, Yahoo Canada profiled women from various backgrounds and professions and asked them “What’s next?” What happens after Women’s Day — what would women like to see happen next in their personal lives, in their respective careers, and as a whole for females across the nation? Check out more of our International Women’s Day coverage here.

As told to Nisean Lorde.

Sarah De Melo.<em> (Photo via Instagram/sarahdxoxo) </em>
Sarah De Melo. (Photo via Instagram/sarahdxoxo)

My name is Sarah De Melo. I’m a plus-size model born and raised in Toronto, by my big, loud and loving Portuguese family.

Growing up immersed in the Portuguese community, I never felt the pressure to be a certain size by my family; they have always been supportive as I’ve always been a bigger girl, I’ve always been taller than all of my friends. I’m definitely the curviest in my family.

I think that some cultures are more accepting of your size and some aren’t. Although my family accepted me at my size, at school and my social life I always felt that I needed to be thin and that I wasn’t “good enough” at my size. In reality, girls in Canada deal with a lot of body issues.

I was reading an article the other day; a recent study found that about 50 per cent of girls in Grade 6 are dieting. A friend of mine told me that her niece, who is in fact in the sixth grade, is on a diet. Her niece believes that she’s not skinny enough or pretty enough and that losing weight will make her more appealing. Hearing this just breaks my heart. That’s why I think the body positivity movement, and showing body diversity in the media is really important, so that young girls and women can see that there is no ideal body. We’re all perfect in our own way.

When I was younger, a lot of my family members would tell me that I should really try and get into plus-size modelling, but it took me a really long time to be self-confident and love my body. It wasn’t until my late 20s when I finally looked into how I could start modelling.

I came across a woman named Hourglass Cath who introduced me to the owner of Toronto’s first independent plus-size boutique, Voluptuous Inc., and that’s where I got my chance to start plus-size modelling. From there I made connections and built my own clientele; I eventually got signed by B&M Models.

The biggest challenge that I’ve faced as a plus-size model is that a lot of people say that I’m not plus-size, because I am on the smaller side of the plus-size scale. This can be frustrating and a challenge because I can’t be a straight-size model as I do not fit the size requirements — but I love modelling! I feel that we need to stop putting labels on people’s sizes and start focusing on more important things, such as taking care of our bodies and learning to love ourselves.

I just want to model and inspire women out there who maybe have the same body shape that I do and show them that regardless of your size, you are beautiful. And you can be confident and sexy and you shouldn’t have to compromise — there should be fashion out there for you at any size.

I guess my biggest fear is people thinking that, as a model, that I believe being curvy is the ideal body to achieve. I want people to know that the body positivity movement is about all different kinds of bodies and body diversity. We want people to be confident, we want people to love themselves at whatever size they are.

For what’s next in the plus-size industry, you’re going to see a lot more body diversity in campaigns and magazines. In the U.S. we’ve already seen Ashley Graham appear on the cover of Vogue, as well as in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.

In Canada we’re seeing different campaigns from large stores with plus-size models. With Reitmans, for example, you can see different models and different body shapes — they’ve also changed their sizing and are now offering up to size 22. This is great because you don’t have to specifically go to a plus-size store. You can shop at one store and find all your sizes there — as it should be!

If I could give one piece of advice to a young girl, it would be ‘don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something’.

I wish that I started modelling when I was younger, but I didn’t have the confidence in myself. And now that I’m almost 30, I am doing so many amazing things with my life, I’m able to travel and inspire people, while doing a job that I love. So one regret that I have is that I didn’t start earlier because I wasn’t confident and I didn’t think that I could achieve what I am achieving. Now I believe and know — you just have to go for it. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. If you have a dream, work as hard as you can to get it done.

For more about Sarah De Melo, visit her on Instagram: @sarahdxoxo

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