When Toccarra Jones joined Tyra Banks’ cast of hopefuls competing to be on top during America’s Next Top Model Season Three, she told the judges she wanted to be the first Black plus-sized supermodel. We were all rooting for this 5’9 brown-skinned curvy model from Dayton, Ohio and her outspoken confidence. Even though she came in third place, her post-ANTM career seemed to be taking off. We cheered her on when Jones signed with Wilhelmina Models in 2005 in their curve division, working with brands like Ashley Stewart, Avon, Torrid, New York and Company, Target, Essence, Vibe, and Smooth magazines.
And when Steven Meisel photographed Jones for Vogue Italia’s historic all Black July 2008 issue, It felt like a coup. The New York Times reported Meisel stood by his casting decision despite editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani’s initial objections. “I wanted to say something about weight, and I’m never allowed to do that,” Meisel told The Times. “I met Toccara and thought, she’s beautiful. What’s the deal with her? She’s great and she’s sexy.”
But since then, there hasn’t been much else to root for.
What is the deal with Jones? Where is she now?
Jones’ website lists an intimate apparel line coming soon. She hasn’t tweeted in almost a year, or updated her Instagram since September 2017. Last July, she tweeted that she was back, without adding any hints of where she might have been. Her last Instagram caption reads “I feel my ancestors in my blood. I am a body of people that are asking not to be forgotten.” The responses appear to be from fans asking where she’s been. Her feed is a mashup of selfies, OOTDs, and photos promoting her lingerie line. But nothing revealing even a tiny bit of the outspoken personality we came to know on America’s Next Top Model.
While there wasn’t much a market for plus-sized models when Jones appeared on the scene, things have changed — just take a look at one of the most recognisable working models today, Ashley Graham. Since being scouted in a mall in 2000 when she was 13, Graham has steadily been raising her profile. For the past 18 years, Graham has been everywhere, becoming the de-facto face of the body-positive movement. Just this year, Graham made her debut in Vogue Italia, in a series of unretouched photos, and also broke barriers by being the first plus model to appear within Sports Illustrated. She’s walking in high fashion shows alongside Kendall Jenner and Kaia Gerber now, and also the (lucrative) face of commercial brands like Lane Bryant, Revlon, Marina Rinaldi, and Swimsuits For All. The 30-year-old is not only vocal about her own journey in accepting her body, but also outspoken about why the fashion industry should serve plus women, considering that 67% of American women are a size 14 or above. In 2017, American Vogue gave Ashley Graham a cover declaring “no norm is the new norm,” making it official: she is the voice of a movement.
When Vogue Italia shared the unretouched photos on Instagram with this caption: “Ashley pushes #bodypositivism to another level. It’s not just about acceptance: it’s about loving who you are and being loved, feeling so comfortable with yourself that you skilfully conduct the sophisticated game of attraction, going beyond convention, sizes, categories, and measurements imposed by modern society.” That is the exact message a lot of us first heard from Jones (whose personality made her a fan favourite) during her season of America’s Next Top Model.
When Jones was on the show in 2004, she was borderline shamed for being plus-sized. But her confidence always prevailed. Who could forget when she said “you can shave my head bald and I’ll still walk around here like I’m a goddess.” Or the time she spoke about a stylist who complained about her not being sample sized saying, “Everyone knows that I am the big girl. Everybody knows I’m a plus-size girl. Is it my fault that she had to work extra hard?”
We reached out to Jones several times, hoping she would add her voice, and anecdotes like the above, to this piece. We didn’t hear back, which is shocking, considering she was one of the first people in mass media to speak unapologetically about what it is to be truly diverse in fashion. She’s always the first person that comes to mind on this issue. It feels like a missed opportunity to not have a real conversation with Toccara. So, girl, when you’re ready, we’ll be here, waiting to celebrate you and all the work you’ve done to bring us this far.