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Get to Know: Elle Valera

Get to Know: Elle Valera

by Melissa Magsaysay

The Opera Singer and Activist Talks Style and Singing Around the World

Elle Valera embodies all of the elements of a classic beauty. Consider her porcelain skin, striking red hair and an hourglass figure and add to that the fact that she is a trained opera singer and the LA-based Valera seems like she could have walked right out of a story book.

But there’s more to the singer than hitting all of the right notes. She is a vocal body positive activist and influencer shares her style, cooking and life tips on her blog, thehomebodydiva.net.

Here she talks about where her passion to empower comes from and what drove her to pursue opera as a career.

Q & A with Elle Valera

Where do you think your passion to empower others stems from?

When I was in 6th grade, I watched a group of boys terrorize one of my smaller, weaker classmates who had Russell-Silver syndrome. They snuck up behind him and smashed his head against a locker while the rest of the class laughed uncomfortably.

I froze, feeling his shame as he turned bright red holding back tears, and in that moment I felt completely disempowered along with him and didn’t do anything, as someone who was routinely bullied myself. I now go back to that moment with decades of experience and self-worth behind me, and imagine what it would be like to stand up to those aggressors and what impact it could have made, not only for the boy but for the entire class, and who knows, perhaps even the bullies.

We live in a world still populated (and often run) with bullies, and I refuse to wake up in another twenty years with regret that I didn’t use my voice, privilege, and experience to try to empower others. In the words of Maya Angelou, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And ultimately, I want to help people feel good.

Do you think the fashion community has made strides in being more diverse?

This is a complicated question, with a complicated answer. In a nutshell, I’d say yes, we’ve made strides but, but the fashion community can absolutely continue to do better. The intersect between activism, commercialism, and marketing is loaded with pitfalls and hypocrisies. Companies in 2018 are being faced with the fact that inclusivity appeals to younger demographics and many designers and brands are catering to this in an attempt to give buyers what they want and increase revenue. However in their effort to check off the diversity and inclusivity boxes, they often miss the very spirit of what it means to be “diverse” and play into tokenism.

Real diversity and inclusivity has to happen on a societal level. It’s not enough to include a woman of color in an ad campaign if a brand has no women of color employed within the company. It’s not enough to extend sizes to a 16 or 18 (the average size of most women in the US) and use the term “inclusive sizing.” It’s not enough to use an empowered feminist hashtag, if the company exploits impoverished women in other countries to make those garments. Genuine, real inclusivity and diversity is political, intersectional, societal, and often frankly uncomfortable as it interrupts the status quo. It needs to be something we all collectively work on, constantly scanning for pitfalls, acknowledging areas for improvement, and trying to do better.

What more can we do to be more inclusive of all people?

Acknowledging our current privilege and power is one of the first steps, along with educating ourselves around the nuances of what it means to be inclusive, assessing areas for improvement.

I think it means getting comfortable with being uncomfortable as we practice thinking about issues in a more intersectional way; channeling empathy for how other peoples’ bodies and backgrounds shape their life experiences. 

On a practical level in fashion, brands can aim to work on improving conditions for the workers who make the clothing we wear abroad; they can work on diversifying price points so that different socioeconomic groups can participate in consumerism; they can hire a diverse range of fit models to physically fit all sizes, instead of mathematically scaling garments; and they can change the corporate makeup of their companies so that diverse and marginalized voices are contributing to the evolution of the brand.

How did you become interested in opera? What do you love most about it?

Ironically, I first came to opera because of weight stigma in musical theater! I sang musical theater since I was a child, but when college approached I realized that as a tall, plus size woman I would be confined to a life of singing Aunt Ordys and Mother Abbesses. And though opera is far from being body positive, there’s a bit more flexibility regarding body size, so that’s why I initially went into it. I then fell in love with the intellectual challenge, the technical difficulty, the incredible music, and the stories about the human experience!

But most of all, I love the feeling of singing opera. There are very few activities that could rival the thrill you get when you’re singing intensely onstage with a huge orchestra under you! Everything vibrates, endorphins are pumping, and you just feel this incredible sense of freedom and connection.

Describe your personal style.

I’d describe my style as feminine and playful, with an occasional nod to mid-century aesthetics.

What’s next for you in your creative evolution?

I’m taking a cue off of the Marie Kondo obsession and am working on simplifying my home, brand, and life in 2019, creating better systems for managing all the various creative projects and businesses I run. Specifically, in the Fall I’m heading to Europe for my first operatic audition tour, which I’m really excited about!

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