Katie Willcox

Katie Willcox

by Melissa Magsaysay

The author and Natural Models owner on the future of fashion.

“The future of modeling will not just be “big” and “small” and primarily Caucasian. The future of modeling is diversity on all fronts.”
-Katie Willcox

Katie Willcox has a mission. It’s stated clearly on her website under a section appropriately titled, “My Mission” and proves that even a short blurb on a static web page can resonate louder than if it were emblazoned on thousands of t-shirts or across her Instagram feed. Her Mission works because Willcox lives, breathes and teaches it in every project and platform in which she is involved, working tirelessly to change the collective mindset and the thinking within the fashion industry.

“I have something to say about the culture we live in and the world of false advertising that has hijacked our self-image, health, happiness, beauty, and value, leaving our souls starving for purpose.” States Willcox in her manifesto. She has certainly put her money and energy behind this very sentiment, launching Natural Models 7 years ago, giving talks around the country and most recently, writing a book based on her blog called, “Healthy is The New Skinny”

Her 13-year career as a model has given her a unique perspective to the fashion industry and how women are perceived both in and out of it. She is clear in her goal and strategy with her agency, that the future of modeling is about diversity and inclusion and that there is no one template to which women should adhere.

Here, Willcox gives more insight into how she turned her teenage modeling career from limiting to inspiring and how fashion should make us all feel empowered and expressive.

Q & A With Katie

As a model, what is your general experience in relation to your size? What is the biggest lesson you've learned from this experience?

As a model I have been every size from a 14 to a 6 (plus having a giant pregnant belly and back again). The biggest lesson I have learned is that my body is this amazing vessel that does nothing but love me unconditionally. I used to get mad at my body and think things like, "Why can't you be smaller, or more toned?" "Why are my arms big and my butt flat?" "Why don't you lose weight when I want to?" I realized I was in an abusive relationship with my body and I was the abuser. I see that clearly now and becoming a mother was an extremely empowering experience for me because my body was like, "I don't care what you want, just let me do what I am supposed to do." I had to surrender control to my body and in doing so, I used all the parts I spent so many years criticizing and created a life.

Describe the impetus to start Natural Models?

I started modeling in high school and believed it was my "dream", only to have that dream dissolve in front of me. I was working with a big agency at the time, but I wasn't happy. I couldn't quite get that feeling of accomplishment many are promised by gaining the title of, "model." I experienced depression and struggled with my weight and health as a result. After realizing that I wanted to get healthy and I wanted to feel better on the inside, I began to live a healthier lifestyle. I lost over 50 pounds and all of my modeling clients because I was too small for plus size clients and too large for straight size clients. In my frustration, I began to look at the industry as a business versus a dream. When I did that, I was able to see that the industry was going to evolve. The future of modeling will not just be “big” and “small” and primarily Caucasian. The future of modeling is diversity on all fronts and I knew I could contribute to this change in a big way. That is why I created Natural Models. To see how far we have come in seven years is unbelievable at times. It's an amazing feeling.

Do you think the media and fashion industry has made great strides to become more inclusive?

I think there are definite attempts being made, but overall there is so much more ground that needs to be covered. Honestly, it was social media that changed the fashion industry because it allowed people who would never be signed to an agency as a model to gain a genuine following from people who related to them. That was a huge eye opener for clients to see that all different types of people can have style, a brand, and people who relate to them. As a result, it allowed modeling agencies to represent different types of people. It is a slow change but it is a lasting one that allows us to keep pushing forward.

What more can be done to ensure that the conversation truly shifts?

A lot of the conversations we see around these topics are surface level and if we want to really make changes we have to go deeper. That can be risky for companies because they don't usually want touch on topics that can affect sales. That is why I am really passionate about people speaking out and starting these important conversations. We don't have to wait for the media to give us permission. We have the power to start something that companies might even jump on board with if it resonates with their brand.

What are the most valuable things you've learned about utilizing fashion to feel good?

I have learned fashion is an amazing way to express yourself and that your body or size does not define who you are or what you can wear. When I realized that, it was so much more fun to play and try new things regardless of my size. No matter what size a person is they can always express themselves in a beautiful way.

What do you feel is the biggest issue facing models (of any size) today?

The biggest issue is the general public’s lack of understanding of the industry. The reality is very different and much darker than what the public perceives. This creates a lack of support and sense of community for young girls getting into the industry because it simply is not talked about. As a 32 year-old woman, I am able to say when something makes me uncomfortable, the majority of young women who get into this industry don't have the confidence, life experience, or courage to set those boundaries and that makes them vulnerable. As a result, we see young girls being put in adult situations that are not appropriate and their bodies are held to extreme and dangerous expectations that they will pursue in order to "make it." If clients will start to use models of various sizes, then we will no longer need two separate divisions based on size. When that happens models will be able to work at the size that is natural to their DNA. We will see beauty in various forms as normal and those images will have an empowering (and healthy) effect on the industry, models, and the girls and women who look up to them.

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