I didn’t realize that plus-size modeling existed until my freshman year of college, when I was asked to be part of a homecoming fashion show. Out of the 50 models asked to participate, I was one of two plus-size girls in the entire show. After that experience, I realized the overwhelming need for girls my size to be in the fashion industry. Soon after that, I signed with a modeling agency.
During one of my first professional photo shoots, the photographer showed me a photo of Crystal Renn in a Dolce & Gabbana ad. It was incredible—she was curvy and beautiful. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to take plus-size modeling to the next level—and I knew that I could.
Luckily, I’ve always been a really confident girl. Ever since I can remember, my parents told me I was born to be amazing and that it wasn’t because of how I looked or any superficial things, period. Still, being and staying confident is an ongoing process—it’s not like you become confident and then you stay that way forever.
You can never be tall enough, you can never be thin enough, your boobs can never be big enough, your waist can never be small enough. No matter what, there’s always going to be someone who criticizes you just to throw salt in the game. That’s why it’s so important to work on your confidence. It’s a job, and that’s just how it is.
Here’s what’s helped me stay secure and self-assured.
1. Stop the negative self-talk
There are a lot of conversations I don’t think women should be having. How many times have you heard someone say, “I need to go on a diet because I ate carbs”? You may not even have been focused on negative self-talk, but when one woman in the room starts that conversation, everyone looks at herself and starts criticizing herself. It’s like a telephone effect. So don’t be the one to take things down a defeatist path. You’d be surprised how making a conscious effort not to start conversations where women berate themselves can create a completely different environment.
2. Do something that makes you feel beautiful
If you’re feeling bad about yourself, you have to take the moment you’re in and turn it around by doing something that makes you feel beautiful. I work out regularly and eat a balanced diet not because I want to look a certain way but because I know it will make me feel beautiful. And it doesn’t have to be at all related to the physical. If someone posts a hurtful comment about me, I’ll post a positive meme to take that negative energy and turn it around. Doing something that makes you feel great—whether it’s volunteering or taking a dance class —is a great way to boost your confidence.
Read more: ‘How I Finally Learned to Love My Body’
3. Redefine what ‘beautiful’ means
Yes, certain images are imposed on us as typically being considered more “beautiful” than others. But we’re ultimately the people choosing what to buy and what messages to perpetuate—and we can decide to redefine beauty on our own terms. If you feel like beauty is only a woman of one shape, size or color, start following someone in the industry who isn’t thin and see how beautiful they are. If you think every woman who’s a size 14 is just sitting at home and hating herself, then you are mistaken. If you take the time to look, you might be surprised at just how beautiful a size 14 really is.
Precious Lee became the first African-African plus-size model to appear in Sports Illustrated’s annual Swimsuit Issue in 2016. She also starred in Lane Bryant’s viral campaigns #ImNoAngel and #PlusIsEqual.