Plus-Size Models

Getting to Know the ‘Next Ashley Graham’ of the Plus-Size Industry, Mahalia Handley

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Mahalia Handley sets high goals for herself. Her goal for this year was to be on Vogue magazine. She explains, “I was telling my agent that I’m getting in that book this year, and she laughed. But I was like ‘I’m not lying, its happening.’”

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With such a goal-oriented mind, it’s easy to believe that this 23-year-old model will achieve her dreams. She fought her way into the modeling industry despite being mixed race and on the curvy side. She is the first plus-size model to do a major ad campaign for Selfridges. She is constantly hearing that she is going to be the “next Ashley Graham.” Mahalia is like Ashley in that she would “just like to see us not even fighting to raise the issue of being diverse.”

Until that day comes, Mahalia is going to continue her body positive campaign wherever she goes. Let’s get to know more about this rising star in the modeling industry. 

She believes you should never take no for an answer. 

She grew up in Darwin, Australia, where there are little opportunities for those wishing to get into the fashion industry. At 18, she moved to Sydney to try to be a model. She found an agency, and with her six photos, she was able to get on their books. She says her career has been a “work in progress ever since.”

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Get out of your comfort zone.

She did a lot of commercial work in the Australian market, but she decided to try her luck overseas and went on to London. Without knowing anybody in London, she has made a new life for herself there. She loves that London is open to curve models and diversity.

Hold on to your dreams.

Ever since she was little, Mahalia has wanted to be a model. When she was at school and asked what she wanted to be, she would give a different answer just because she didn’t think she could aspire to be a model. She did not see any curvy models that she could look up to. She was an outcast because she was mixed race, so that had always motivated her to make a change and fight for what she wanted.

Being different will not deter you. 

Diversity in the modeling industry has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade. Minorities and different models are represented more on social media and magazines. Still, there is much work to be done. Mahalia likes to think that she is challenging the industry standards now and there are increasingly more designers who will want to work with plus-size models. 

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Be confident.

Like most people, her confidence in herself didn’t happen overnight. She was already a 20-year-old adult before she was body confident. As a teenager, she experienced being different of body sizes and having doubts in herself. It was when she was twenty that she realized she needed to be happy with her body.

Celebrate your success. 

Whenever Mahalia sees herself on an ad or she reads about herself, she is proud of her accomplishments. Getting the Selfridges campaign was her proudest moment so far, but she would love to work with brands like River Island and New Look.

Inspire others. 

As a child, she was bullied. She admits, it gets to you and shakes your confidence. While she was growing up, she didn’t feel like she had someone to look up who represented what she was going through. Now that she’s successful, she wants to be an inspiration to the younger generation.

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Don’t mind the haters. 

Growing up, whenever she would read something about herself that wasn’t good, she would break down. As a model, you receive many criticisms, and it takes a thick skin to be able to deal with it. You can’t let negativity bring you down. She doesn’t let negative comments get to her now since she knows that she will never please everyone. Mahalia has seen comments about herself saying she is too big or too small. There are complaints that she is not “plus-size,” but she just ignores these comments. Those people don’t know her and they just jump to their own conclusions on what they think she is. 

Break down boundaries. 

She loves being compared to Ashley Graham, the first plus-size model on Sports Illustrated. Ashley herself has helped bring about the plus-size revolution that is currently happening in the industry. Mahalia doesn’t mind the comparison because she also wants be like Ashley. She wants to tear down the barrier between plus-size and straight-size.

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Love yourself.

She doesn’t like the term plus-size because that label can bring many negative connotations with it. By industry definition, plus-size in the UK would be anything about a size 10 to 12. A hashtag that she likes to use is #healthnotsize because that’s what should be promoted. Being a plus-size model doesn’t necessarily mean you’re unhealthy. It can just be that you are just naturally curvy.

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