Photo: Robert Shunev on Unsplash
Plus-size model Paloma Elsesser’s rise in modeling is a story which truly belongs in the modern era. The 24-year-old moved to New York City back in 2010 to study psychology and literature, but when she was discovered by Fenty makeup artist Pat McGrath on Instagram through a mutual friend and chosen to be McGrath’s muse, she took a break from studies to pursue a surprising new career in modeling.
Elsesser said in interviews with MyDomaine and Allure that she’s always felt like an outsider. None of the clothes in the Gap would fit her or look good on her body when she was young, and the Westernized ideal of pale, skinny women made her feel as if her version of beauty didn’t belong. As a young girl, she tried to fit herself into a persona of being the funny girl, or the pretty girl, or the girl who was fine with being big, but hated how performative and lonely it felt. She said in an interview with the Evening Standard that labels like that, or like “plus-size”, frustrated her because while labels can be used for navigating other people, they also separate people and create space for judgement.
When she was discovered, Paloma decided to view her new modeling contracts and opportunities as a social obligation to other young girls who had felt like outsiders- not white, not thin, not any of the Western qualities praised as beautiful. She said in the Evening Standard that she thought of her body as a vessel to deliver a message to women that they were beautiful and worthy all on their own. She wanted to help show other options of beauty that she didn’t have when she was a kid.
She knew her mission to show there were other ways to be beautiful was gaining traction because so many young women reached out to her, and continue to do so, on Instagram- saying that Paloma’s unapologetic presentation and love for herself has helped them feel understood, seen and valued. She said in an interview with W Magazine that those incredible messages meant the most to her because it meant she was making a positive effect on others.
She is very focused on being authentic with her large following. In the same interview with MyDomaine, Paloma said she tries to keep her Instagram feed as true to herself as possible, despite being a newly famous model on a meteoric rise to the top. While she respects other models and influencers who can continuously caption selfies with messages of self love, she felt that it was more important to show what she was truly thinking rather than reflect something happy, but false. She also says that Instagram and other social media apps can be draining, and that it’s healthy to disconnect and live life in the real world with the people around you. On vacations, she deletes Instagram and other apps so she can live in the moment and not fall back on muscle memory and empty validation from social media.
But Paloma doesn’t plan to be a model for much longer. In the same interview with Allure, she said she knew that modeling had a time limit. Instead, she wants to finish school, earn her master’s degree, and become a psychologist for adolescents. She also wants to potentially create a talk show, and go back to school again after that.
While Paloma Elsesser is one of the few faces of change in the modeling industry right now, she firmly believes more change is on the way. The lack of racial and body diversity in the industry is becoming more and more visible, she said to Allure, due to social media platforms creating transparency where it didn’t exist before, and giving people a platform to speak about issues like body diversity that they are passionate about. Change is already coming to the model industry. And Paloma is leading that change.
Lilia Taylor is 21 years old, studying English and Marketing at New Mexico State University. She hopes to have a job involving books someday, loves the smell of coffee (not so much the taste) and tries to get outside whenever she can.