About two years ago, British model Charli Howard created a buzz within the media. It all started with a Facebook post.
The sentiment of the status in question can pretty much be summed up in its opening line. “Here’s a big FUCK YOU to my (now ex) model agency,” she wrote, “for saying that at 5″8 tall and a UK size 6-8 (naturally), I’m ‘too big’ and ‘out of shape’ to work in the fashion industry.” It was, for the young model, a bold move, and one that most wouldn’t have taken if they wanted to stay on good terms with those in the industry. However, Charli simply didn’t care. She was fed up – and for good reason.
“It was pretty scary at the time because it was literally only meant to be seen by friends. My privacy settings were public, so that’s how people saw it,” she explains today. “Then, it started getting shared. I remember the evening it happened – it was just overwhelming.”
Immediately, news outlets were picking up the story. Numerous people told Charli that she needed to take it down, otherwise she’d never find work again. However, they were talking to the wrong person. “Honestly, I didn’t really care if I never worked as a model again because I was just so over it,” she says. “And I was, like, I’m not fat. I know I’m not fat. You made me think I am.”
Growing up, Charli had always been on the ‘soft’ side. The prospect of modelling didn’t come to her until she was a teenager, upon discovering glossy magazines with Kate Moss splashed across the cover. Kate’s life seemed like a dream to Charli, who’d grown up all over England before settling in Wales for boarding school. Back then, of course, the cool thing to be was skinny. “Whenever you went to the store and you bought a magazine, it was just like, who’s size zero this week? How do they get down to that size? It kind of triggered something off in my mind and I’d always had a low body image of myself.”
This low self-esteem led Charli to develop an eating disorder as she experimented with drastic diets. It was also at this time that she began to seriously pursue modelling. As she began to look into getting scouted, she was always told that she was not fit enough and that she needed to diet, however, her body was physically not able to adjust to these prescribed ways of eating; she was becoming sick, and her body reacted badly to each of her attempts.
While battling all this, Charli was eventually signed at the age of 21. Her mental and physical illnesses weren’t going anywhere, though she tried her best to suppress them. When she was eventually dropped by that same agency because they felt she was ‘too big’, it brought a lot of things into perspective for the British model. It also came with an offer from all the way across the pond in New York City.
A scouting agent from Muse Model Management had seen Charli’s now-notorious Facebook post and decided to reach out to her. For Charli, this was a massive shock. She was always told she was too big and too short for New York, so no agency there would want to represent her. Now, they were coming to her.
Muse are vocal about how they try to keep it unique with how they scout their girls. They want more than just a girl with a ‘pretty face’, because – for them – it’s about who they are and what they want to represent. They want models with a message – and Charli has a powerful one. One that speaks out for all women.
Before that, however, it was important for Charli to conquer her own demons. The move to the big city started making her more aware of how sick she had become from her earlier modelling stint – she was ready to admit that she had a problem with her self-image and she needed to work on that. Naturally, Muse has been her helping hand in getting back on her feet, both physically and mentally. They have never pressured her to lose weight or gain weight. Instead, they support who Charli is and what works best for her. By getting photographers to shoot Charli in her best light, they allow the camera to capture the true beauty of her body.
Since then, Charli’s been much happier and healthier. She eventually transitioned into becoming a plus size model and has been vocal about body positivity as well as female empowerment. Despite her initial hesitancy in speaking about her insecurities, she’s glad she did it. Her work and words of encouragement for women to accept themselves for who they are started to spread, too – girls reach out to her on Instagram and tell her how much her work means to them on a daily basis. The connection between Charli and her fans don’t just stop with a like on a picture, or a comment, either. Charli has her DMs open so that girls can directly talk to her – in fact, she replies to almost every message she receives.
Through Muse’s support, Charli began the All Women Project. With it, Charli decided to become fully transparent in regards to her body positivity opinions. “It was meant to be a series of images that were unretouched, that featured women in their natural light,” she says. “So we would get women that were more than just pretty women, who had something else about them.”
“But, we turned things that would otherwise be photoshopped out, like stretch marks, into works of art. Kind of to prove that they don’t always need to be photoshopped out. With the right lighting, styling, and makeup, you can make any woman be model worthy.”
Recently, she became the face of a new Anne Klein campaign, that showcases female empowerment as well as body positivity. “It was just lovely that I was dressed again for my figure and my shape,” Charli admits. “I wasn’t having to change myself to fit in with fashion. It was also such an honor.” It’s another stepping stone for Charli in terms of where she sees her career going – with a big brand like Anne Klein backing her, this sends out a message that advertising is changing.
Becca Thorpe, the agent who signed Charli, has nothing but good things to say about her. “I absolutely love that girl. I think that her story is very unique,” she explains. “She really used her voice to be able to say some things that she really needed to say. And, you know, I think that something really beautiful happens when a girl starts to accept herself for what she is.”
To further advocate her stance and beliefs, Charli has a book coming out this upcoming February called Misfit. “It basically charts my mental health struggles,” she notes. “I’ve always had a bit of an obsessive personality, like being a little pernickety about certain things,” she says. “My eating disorder gave me the biggest obsession of my entire life. And then modeling came around and that gave me even more of an incentive to lose weight, to diet.”
After that, Charli’s got some big plans. With modelling, she’d love to work with Chloé because she’s always loved their bohemian looks. Further, she reflects, “I really want to work with women who are creating empowering brands.” She has life goals outside of her fashion career, too. She wants to continue to try and support women by talking more about mental health. She also wants to continue writing, primarily children’s books so that children also feel empowered as these issues begin around that age range.
But most of all? “I just want to keep being happy, I think,” she concludes. “That’s my number one goal. To be happy.”
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*** Photography by Osvaldo Ponton and Keiichiro Nakajima. ***
Words by Naureen Nashid