"I feel like I should be asking you about yourself!" 24-year-old model Myla Dalbesio says to me mid-interview over sugar snap peas at The Smile on Bond St.
Dalbesio is a rising star on Ford's illustrious plus board (that's the same board that reps Crystal Renn, Candice Huffine and Marquita Pring). When she walked into Ford, Gary Dakin, who heads up the plus board there, proclaimed her the next Crystal Renn. But as you can gather from her guilt over the necessary one-sidedness of an interview, the industry she's worked in for the past four years hasn't squelched her earnest midwestern niceness.
But don't think that this gorgeous model, who you'll be seeing in a Dazed and Confused spread soon, is all sugary sweetness. Or that she's just a model. She's also an envelope-pushing performance artist. Her last piece, titled "Young Money,"--in which she dressed up like a stripper, covered herself in fake tanner and champagne, and stared down gallery goers, all while topless--got written up by the Times.
We reassured Delbesio that she didn't need to ask us about ourselves (not that exciting, really), and we chatted about how she became a model, the state of the 'plus size' modeling world (she'd rather do away with the phrase 'plus size' completely), and how it all inspires her performance art.
Fashionista: So how did you get into modeling? Myla Dalbesio: I won a beauty pageant--Miss Teen Wisconsin--when I was 16. My sister entered me in it. The beauty pageant world is incredibly different from the fashion industry but it still has a lot of the same obsessions of image and weight.
But I was scouted through the pageant by Jeff and Mary Clark. They scouted Karlie Kloss and Ashton Kutcher and they're really nurturing and they take care of the girls that they scout. They tried for a long time to put me into the straight size world. They would do these model calls with reps from agencies flown in from New York and the girls would sit down with these agents and everyone I sat down with said 'Well you're great but could you lose like 15 pounds?' The guy from IMG was like "I love you, I'd sign you right now but can you drop a size?'
Yikes. So did you? I tried for a long time to make myself do it. I tried throwing up after I ate and that's awful. That is painful--I would never wish for anyone to do that ever. And then I'd go through weeks where all I ate was black olives or pickles because they have no calories and nothing was happening. I wasn't losing weight, I was spending hours in the gym. I have a really large chest and it's never going to go away.
When did you stop trying to be straight size? After I gave up the title I just stopped trying to be a model. That was when i was 17 and I took two years off from everything and just did school and art stuff and then I moved to New York for the summer and I ended up signing and it started all over again. I reconnected with Mary and Jeff and they told me about plus modeling which was something I'd never heard of before. And then, also, when you think about plus modeling you think about larger sizes and I was the same size I am now [a 12] and I was like 'What are you talking about?' But then they showed me, and this is when Crystal was really starting to pick up speed, so I walked into Ford and the first thing Gary said to me was 'You're the next Crystal Renn' and then they signed me.
And how has it been modeling on the plus side? Even after I signed with an agency it took me years to get over the year that i was trying to be a straight size model. It really gets inside your brain. I think modeling can be so nourishing and creative but there's also this side that's so petty and judgmental and dark and disgusting and it's really hard to deal with that. One would think that when you are on this side of the industry all the body scrutiny stops, but it doesn't. Either you're too big or too smal--you're not plus enough.
Is that where padding comes into play? Here's the thing with padding. I remember when Marquita exposed that padding went on and it was like 'padding-gate 2011.' Sample sizes in the straight size world are all the same size. Sample sizes for plus are not all 14s or 16s, it's all over the board. On top of that, the sizes in plus are not regulated at all so a 14 in one brand is totally different than a 14 in another brand. For example, I work with Saks a lot, and they get all these samples in and they're all different sizes but they have to shoot them all in one day, so sometimes padding is necessary to fill out a garment that needs to get shot but you have to have someone who is small enough to fit into the smaller sizes. It's tough because you don't want to deceive people. I don't down someone in the midwest to look at a photo of me wearing clothes and have it make them feel bad.
In the last few years that you've been modeling, have you seen positive changes in the industry when it comes to embracing diversity in size? I think a lot of the changes that are happening in the industry are coming from fashion blogs--it's more egalitarian. What I see now is more of a support for someone that looks like the every woman and think a lot of that comes from the internet and i think that's great. Look at that Italian Vogue story--there was this outporing of support for it support online and if we didn't have blogs to get it out there how amazing this is, who would know?
What still needs to change? I think that this division between straight and plus is really harmful.The term 'plus size' is outdated. To get rid of the term 'plus' would be a step in the right direction. Ideally there would be no division--it would just be models are models and we'd be on the same board as girls who are size two. We want to be looked as just as talented and worthwhile as these other women. These terms just make my skin crawl. Also, the clothes made specifically for a plus size women, I feel like designers don't give them any thought.
So how does modeling influence your art? I think modeling inspires me a lot. There's this ugly part of it, and I feel like I have a lot to say about it, and art is a good way for me to get it out. You're constantly objectified as a model. It's just part of the territory. You're signing on to be judged solely based on how you look. And that's so frustrating. I'm more than a size. You just feel constantly like you have so much more to give and there's no way to give it.
So is that where that 'stripper' piece came from? I think that was the beginning of thinking about this piece. I've always been obsessed with the idea of taking something that's beautiful and making it gross and repulsive. That reminds me a lot of what I see in the fashion industry. It looks so glamorous and at the core of it a lot of it is really ugly.
To see more of Myla's art, check out her site. We can't wait to see more from this well-spoken, refreshingly honest model.