It wasn’t until Lee graduated from Clark Atlanta University and moved to New York City to pursue a modeling career that she felt like her voice had been “quieted,” she said.
“I’m very much in control of my life and have always been so self-assured in my decisions, but going into the fashion industry, it was different,” Lee tells Yahoo Style. “I wanted to be a team player and make it work because I knew what my bigger goal [is]: to be the first black plus-size supermodel. And for me, that meant taking advice from people I trusted.”
She took the guidance of her casting agent and professionally started going by the name Victoria. While the Atlanta-born beauty consistently was booked for gigs from the very beginning, Lee admits that not being in control of her image, the way she always had been, began to be reflected in her work.
“Being a model, I’m an independent contractor. I am my own business and I want to project myself as what’s comfortable to me,” she says. So in 2015, Lee switched agencies and made a radical change by getting a short haircut.
Naturally, Lee’s agents freaked out when they saw her new look, which she debuted on Instagram. The transformation also occurred during a very pivotal time when Lee was auditioning for Lane Bryant’s viral “I’m No Angel” campaign.
“When I felt confined — that I had to wear my hair a certain length, color, way, and then my name wasn’t my name — it was just too much,” says Lee. “So I had this moment where I was like, ‘You know what? I don’t know what’s really happening. I know I’m working. I know this is amazing, but this is not 100 percent … it wasn’t connecting with me as much.”
Lee’s fearlessness ultimately gained her even more attention and helped her to ink that deal with Lane Bryant. She explains, “I think it was something about reconnecting with myself that came through in my pictures, and I don’t think it was about the haircut. I think it was about me being true to me, and being in control of my own career and own life.”
Beginning then, Lee says, she started to land jobs that met the goals she had written down: “advocacy, breaking boundaries, and booking the things you don’t see girls like me doing.”
While she recognizes that she has been at the forefront during this “revolutionary time in fashion,” Lee takes her job as a plus-size model and the responsibility of a curvy influencer very seriously. “The girl next to me or behind me is so much of the reason why I’m doing it,” she says.
She adds, “The feeling that someone gets when they see me on a billboard, and I’m a size 14 and I have huge boobs. I’m chocolate. I have a pixie haircut. If that can make someone feel more empowered to wear a bikini, or get out of a bad relationship because they feel bad about themselves, or start working out — that is the most rewarding thing.”
The model says she also feeds her soul with this positive interaction, and uses it to motivate her on “bad days.”
“Some days I don’t wanna wear Spanx, but I feel like the dress looks better with Spanx … and I’m like, ‘Ugh!’ It’s just so many different things that people go through that are confident and not confident. I feel like my personal source [of body positivity] is my perseverance,” says Lee. “It’s no pill. It’s no book. It’s no two-step program that’s going to get you your body confidence … it’s a really personal journey that requires a lot of time with yourself.”
“It’s important to represent this group of women that don’t really have a huge representation in the industry that they’re actually patronizing. And it’s important to have it in an environment that’s comfortable,” she says. “It’s kind of like a place in a home that we never had an invite to.”
Lee adds, “We don’t realize sometimes how important [it is] to an 11-year-old to see images, whether it’s a red carpet image or a GIF or a Boomerang celebrating women that they don’t necessarily see on TV or in magazines. I think anytime we have an opportunity to celebrate diversity as a whole — body diversity, age diversity, race diversity — I think it should be coveted.”
Read more from Yahoo Style + Beauty:
- The important reason Chrissy Metz is headlining theCURVYcon 2017: ‘Her body type is a little bit different’
- Gabi Gregg on the power of plus-size style: ‘Fashion can be transformative and political’
- ‘Being plus-size might just be part of my story’: The moment Cece Olisa found body positivity