Meet Model and Designer La’Shaunae Steward

A conversation on navigating identity in the public eye, Steward’s game-changing new collaboration with Jeffrey Campbell, and how the fashion industry can better meet the needs of plus-size models and consumers

Interview by Marina White
images courtesy of La’Shaunae Steward

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Editor's Note: This interview includes mention of depression and suicide. 

Marina White: Hi, La’Shaunae! I’ve been looking forward to our conversation. To kick things off: As a trans musician, I get asked so many questions that only cater to how I feel about being trans; it can be pretty disheartening to know that sometimes people only see us for our identities. What are some other things about you that most people probably don’t know or something you feel passionate about that you’ve never been asked to discuss in an interview? 
La’Shaunae Steward: I’m never asked about my depression, and to this day, I’m still having a super hard time getting through every day. Everything is about my size, and people don’t realize that, as a “curve model,” I haven’t been getting work or offers or paid like my friends. I either get cheated or not paid at all, and it has been causing me to not eat for days at a time and to constantly cry. I’m trying my best, and I just want everything to finally pay off after three years of constant rejections.

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MW: You've mentioned that part of your drive to succeed comes from wanting to make your mother proud. What does family mean to you? And how would you describe that ‘drive,’ to make them proud? 
LS: To be honest, a lot of my family doesn’t deserve me. There are so many people in my family who don’t support me, who don’t believe in me, who bullied me and abused me verbally growing up, and who still don’t seem to care if I make it out alive. On the other hand, my mom has ALWAYS been there for me. We fight often, sometimes over minor disagreements, but my mom is my best friend. Just like me, my mom has been through so much, and I want her to have the world instead of physically hurting herself just to make ends meet, because she deserves better. And I know that when she sees me being successful, after a lifetime of me being suicidal and always telling her I feel defeated, she will be so proud.

MW: Since a lot of people with different identities tend to form their own families that they can relate to and confide in, do you have another kind of family, like a fashion family or plus-size family? And does that family exist for you more irl, online, or both? 
LS: In real life I absolutely have no one except my mom and sister. I’m a very lonely person but I’m totally okay with being alone, because I tend to have very traumatic experiences when I’m trying to have or make friends...even with online friends, I’m actually keeping my distance because a lot of them have already made it and tend to be annoyed with me talking about my struggles with depression or money. But I do have a few amazing people online that have been a great addition to my life.

MW: As someone with size 13 feet, I was really excited to hear about your collaboration with Jeffrey Campbell! This is quite exciting in terms of progress toward changing fashion sizing. I don’t know how much you're allowed to disclose at this point, but how would you describe the collection as a whole?
LS: There are five different shoes in this capsule collection, and they’re all really cute shapes and primary colors. My favorites are the “Mon-Amour heels,” which are open-toed with a red, clear heart heel. 

MW: Everyone has a beauty product that they're obsessed with at the moment—will you let us in on yours? 
LS: Glossier’s priming moisturizer!!!

MW: Any independent designers you love at the moment? 
LS: Yes, a ton! My favorites are No Sesso, Come Tees, Phlemuns, and Premme

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I’ll believe in diversity when me, Aaron Phillips, trans-disabled women, and short, fat, black women are in vogue and being offered modeling opportunities daily that pay as well as for able-bodied and tall, ‘plus size’ women.

MW: I feel like a lot of brands in the current political climate are trying to capitalize on appearing progressively cool and relevant by including diverse identities in their campaigns and visuals. What are some efforts you’d like to see brands make as we gain traction in the fashion industry with larger sizes? 
LS: I want to see ACTUAL INCLUSIVENESS! Like, girl, who are you fooling by having [exclusively] size 12 models and calling your brand ‘diverse and inclusive’? Where are the short models in these campaigns? Where are the trans and disabled models? Where are the over-a-size 20 models trying their best to feel just as important and worthy, but never being given a chance, just like me? I’ll believe in diversity when me, Aaron Phillips, trans-disabled women, and short, fat, black women are in vogue and being offered modeling opportunities daily that pay as well as for able-bodied and tall, 'plus size' women.

MW: Realistically speaking, do you think we will see fashion brands rise to the sizing occasion in the near future? Or do you think the general rate of progress is still slow? 
LS: It’s slow right now, but when they see La’Shaunae everywhere, they’re going to have no choice but to change for the better and change quickly, once and for all. 

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MW: How do you deal with negative messages you receive on the Internet or via Instagram, and do you have any advice for those who dealing with similar online harassment or negativity? 
LS: I won’t even respond. I block people faster than you can read this sentence. There will be people who follow me just to compare me to thinner models or white models who are conventionally attractive. I have followers that tell me to change myself for people to like me more or to get signed to a modeling agency or to get work in general. A lot of these people who follow me actually don’t accept me as I am. And a lot of these people invalidate me as a real person with real feelings and issues. My only advice is to block anyone you have to [block], and if your friends are telling you to change yourself, [advising you to] change career paths, or invalidating your feelings, unfollow or block them, too.

MW: What is your favorite thing to do to treat yourself? Doesn't have to be anything material, but what never fails to make you smile? 
LS: MUSIC.

MW: And as far as mental health goes, how do you wish for friends and fans to support you? Is there anything we should be doing or not doing? And in 2018, there are plenty of ways to support people financially via Venmo or Patreon or otherwise, so feel free to plug that; sometimes there's nothing more helpful than some semblance of financial security. 
LS:
My Venmo is my Instagram handle, and my Paypal is my email in my bio. I just wish a lot of my supporters and mutuals cared about me and my content when I post regular photos, and not just photos from professional shoots. A lot of the time I feel like people aren't really here for ME.

MW: Who are your current role models? And more specifically, is there anyone you looked to when you were growing up?
LS:
I am my own role model. There’s not a fat model who looks like me; no one in the fashion industry that I can just be like, 'Wow. Role model material. I want to be like them. Wig flew.' I am my biggest role model.

MW: Out of all of your personal qualities, which would you say is your favorite or most cherished?
LS: I’m a very patient person. I have the patience that some people could only wish for. If [some people were] in my shoes, I’m sure they wouldn’t even still be applying to agencies or emailing people who reject them immediately for three years straight. Patience is my huge strength, because something tells me, every day, to just hold on a little longer. Even when I don’t want to. ★

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This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.