6 Inspiring Women Redefine Typical Body Types

Since seemingly the dawn of time, women have found their bodies neatly filed away into the same five or six types: apple, pear, hourglass, ruler, even banana (who is a banana? No one is shaped that way). Fashion magazines tell us how to dress for our body types — god forbid you wear a crop top if you don't have a flat stomach. But most people never stop to think about the fact that categorizing the bodies of all 3.5 billion women on this Earth into a few groups is not only reductive, but also potentially insulting.

That's why we decided to photograph and interview a group of models, dancers, photographers, and all-around smart women who are redefining body types and so much more. Aside from spreading messages of body positivity, they're making cool things happen every single day, often while overcoming crazy odds. We spoke with a woman from a small town who danced her way into an apprenticeship with the second company of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. We also chatted with France's only plus-sized model regarding how she used to feel inadequate about her body as a teenager; since then, she's started a conversation surrounding body diversity in her country. More than redefining body types in their own right, these women are inspiring younger women to do the same — no matter what numbers the labels on their clothing read.

So the next time you find yourself pigeonholed into a body type or shamed about your shape, consider some of our favorite quotes from these women. Djouliet Amara says, "I guess you could say I have a ‘ballerina body,’ only because I’m a dancer and I have a body.” (Damn straight.) Philomena Kwao describes her body as "Philomena," and nothing else.

That's a pretty apt description, if you ask us. After all, there's only one body like yours on this planet.
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Photographed by Eric T. White.
Djouliet Amara, 20

How did you become a dancer at The Ailey School?
“I’ve always really been in love with Alvin Ailey — the message, the community, the meshing of races, the coming together of people. And that ties back to my childhood — the experiences I’ve had [being discriminated against based on race].”

What role does body image play in your life as a dancer?
“I’m not concerned about looking a certain way in terms of my shape. I’m most concerned about being the healthiest I can be, and getting through every day with my energy… I eat a lot of healthy foods; I’m addicted to fruits and vegetables... [But] if I want an ice cream or a bagel, there’s nothing stopping me from having it... I think it’s important that young dancers grow up knowing not to restrict their foods.”

How would you describe your body?
“I’m petite, I’m short, I’m a small person. My mom says, ‘You’re like a little fairy’… For being so petite and small, my body is a powerhouse. There’s no such thing as a ‘ballerina body’ anymore. I mean, look at Misty Copeland... So I guess you could say I have a ‘ballerina body,’ only because I’m a dancer and I have a body.”

What helps you stay balanced day to day?
“My spirituality comes from really deep inside of me, and I feel such a deep connection to God. I don’t ever worry or have anxieties about anything, because I know what is for me is for me and God is really helping me with everything in my life. I’ve been through horrible depression, and a lot of the ways I’ve overcome struggles in my life have been through God.”

Levi's jeans; Pamela Love rings; OV US NYC bracelet.
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Photographed by Eric T. White.
Daryl Oh, 23

How has working as a photographer influenced your feelings about being a model?
“Being a female photographer, I have this responsibility of dealing with women’s bodies… When you’re photographing [models], it’s a very interactive process… [And] when you’re editing, that person isn’t there anymore, and it’s very easy when you’re editing hundreds of images to get lost in that process and to lose the person who is in that photograph.”

What role does body image play in your own life?
“I grew up as a dancer. [I saw] these 11-year-olds being told they’re too fat, just breaking themselves down. It was like Mean Girls. That was one of those moments when I was like, Do I really want to do this?

“I eventually stopped doing ballet. I did belly dancing for five years, from age 14 [to 19]. That was a total flip in the script. All the women were different ages and sizes… I was surrounded by women who loved themselves and their bodies and were celebrating them with other women. With belly dancing, you need a belly and hips, and I’m kind of small…so I actually wished I had a little junk in the trunk. It goes to show that it’s all completely relative.”

How would you describe your body?
“The normative term is ‘pear-shaped’ — or maybe I want to be more pear-shaped. I don’t know if I have a formal term for it.”
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Photographed by Eric T. White.
Jennifer Medina, 23

What about modeling feels empowering to you?
“Since I’m [also] a photographer, I like figuring out how other photographers want me to pose, what they want. It’s fun. It’s a fun interaction. I’m really bossy when I shoot — I like being very direct... But with modeling, I want the photographer to be happy with me — I want to please the photographer... I guess I’m dominant when I’m shooting, and I’m submissive when I’m being shot, and I guess I like that. [laughs]

As a photographer, what qualities attract you to a subject?
“Beauty. [laughs] But not the typical beauty. I like weird beauty. I try to shoot interesting-looking people that are not generically beautiful. And I, myself, don’t think I’m beautiful in a generic way… I like people that are beautiful, but then have like a big nose or pointy ears or crooked teeth. Something that makes them different that’s unique, that they own. It’s all about whether you own it or not. Self-confidence is the best thing.”

Have you ever struggled with confidence yourself?
“I think everyone struggles with confidence. I struggle with confidence every day. There’s some days that I feel great about myself, and there’s some days that I don’t, and I think that’s natural. You just have to get over yourself, because this is who you are.”

How would you describe your body?
“I think my body’s just a body, you know? I don’t think anyone should put a category to it. It’s just a body. If you were to describe it, my upper body is more ruler-like 'cause I have no boobs, and my lower body is more hourglass.”

Upstate shirt; OV US NYC choker; Zara sandals.
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Photographed by Eric T. White.
Clémentine Desseaux, 27

What role does body image play in your life?
“It’s kind of a healer at the same time that it’s a hard thing. Basically, becoming a model has made me feel better about myself. It was not always easy… Growing up in a small town in France… I was always the biggest one — the tallest one, two to three sizes bigger than my friends. And then, I have freckles. Until I was about 20, I wasn’t happy with my body — until I moved to Miami and experienced the American way, and realized that I’m okay the way I am.”

What made you want to stick with modeling?
“My first job as a model was a TV commercial in France in 2011 for Castaluna, a clothing company. It was the first commercial featuring a curvy girl in France. I was wearing a bodysuit and dancing in it. It got super big and controversial, and I got a lot of both criticism and support. The way women reacted was interesting. Some talked a lot of shit about it, but most were really supportive. I wanted to continue because of that... The press went crazy, and all these girls writing to me was the most touching thing. Even older women, like my mom’s age, were writing to me and telling me how they felt.”

How would you describe your body?
“If you ask me straight-up, I will tell you I’m an hourglass type, because that’s what I’ve been told all my life... If I had to choose a descriptive, I think I would be a nice countryside — the English countryside, hilly…with curves. I’m sure my boyfriend would agree… But ‘hourglass’ is fucked up, if you think about it, because who wants to be compared to that? I like the Coca-Cola bottle [comparison] a lot; it’s kind of sexier.”

Lafayette shirt; Lane Bryant jeans; Lady Grey earrings; Lady Grey ring; Lane Bryant shoes.
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Photographed by Eric T. White.
Lauren Karaman, 23

How do you feel you’re making a difference in the industry?
“When I got signed [as a model], I realized that the way I look doesn’t need to change. And I have something to give to this world that’s beautiful... After all, 67% of American women are size 14 and above… I’m also so excited about the #PlusIsEqual movement. All I have to say is, 'Hallelujah'… The #PlusIsEqual movement is about ending fashion discrimination. A woman who’s a size 14 should feel just as sexy as a size 4.”

Have you ever felt pigeonholed or stereotyped, either as an actress or a model?
“I’ll go out for castings for the ‘fat friend.’ I’ve definitely heard, ‘That girl’s cute, for a thick girl,’ or, ‘She’s got a beautiful face for a big girl.’ I’ve gotten comments from my family, too, though that’s definitely changed through open conversations.”

How would you describe your body?
“My body, nine times out of 10, is defined as ‘big.’ And I just have to disagree with that. My body’s my body. I’m a tall, strong woman. And those stereotypes — ‘She’s a big girl, so she must be unhealthy,' 'She must not work out or eat well’ — I want to break those, too. Healthy looks different on different bodies. I would like my body to be defined as just my body. I think [labels like ‘apple,’ ‘pear,’ etc.] are silly. I’m a woman; I’m not a piece of fruit.”

Lane Bryant shirt; Lady Grey bracelet; Lane Bryant ring; Zara loafers; Mignonne Gavigan earrings.
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Photographed by Eric T. White.
Philomena Kwao, 25

How do you reach younger women through your work?
“Mainly, young girls who are bigger than your standard size, or women of color, or girls who haven’t found a place of acceptance of their beauty — who haven’t found any real role models to look up to — they’re the kinds of girls who message me on social media. How I embrace my natural hair is a big [topic].”

How would you describe your body?

“My body is Philomena. It’s me. I don’t really have any words that I use to describe myself, because sometimes, when you use words, you bring negative connotations with those words.”

What are you looking forward to in your career?

“I originally wanted to work in health development for the U.N. That is still something I want to pursue — working with different charities and projects to make sure I give critical issues a voice. I’m looking forward to working with sustainable development and maternal health.

“Right now, I’m the brand ambassador for Torrid. The brand has been breaking boundaries when it comes to racial diversity and in fashion, with what women can wear. If you want to wear short-shorts, wear short-shorts. If you want to wear a bikini, wear a bikini. Be yourself, be beautiful in the way you know how, and don’t allow anyone else to tell you otherwise.”

Pamela Love ring; Topshop earrings; Ashley Pittman necklace; model's own shoes.

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