On a balmy January morning in Miami, at five forty five in the morning, mind you, Clem picked me up in an Uber and we set off on our way to an empty beach. This was a guerilla style production, my favorite kind. Just me, my camera, Clem, and loud crickets. It turned out that the beach we were going to was much closer than we anticipated, so when we arrived, it was still pitch black around. Not a hotel-adjacent location, it had no street lights or glimmers of light from the windows. Just pure blackness.
I was mortified. It’s Florida for God’s sake! Alligators! Mosquitoes!
Clem on the other hand, could not be bothered dealing with me, all wheeny whiny. She smiled, pointed her flashlight forward and walked on. That’s Clem. The person who, when I freak out on the phone about the ongoing pandemic, shrugs and says that she doesn’t worry, as long as we all wear masks and wash our hands.
Her admirable level of optimism is not limited to deserted beaches and pandemics, she’s an avid advocate for all womxn, working on campaigns, speaker panels and educational programs on issues of body acceptance, mental health, feminism with her non-profit All Womxn Project. And as of recently, she’s been sharing her story of a mentally-abusive relationship, providing resources and information on this topic on her platform.
I asked Clem about her career as a model and body-positivity activist to go along with this editorial. Please enjoy our conversation.
How did your modeling career begin?
I started modeling as a hobby back in France and got a TV commercial as my first break. It was a AH-HA moment, I realized how seeing yourself represented on TV and in the media could really have an effect on womxn and how they feel about themselves. From there, I decided to take it more seriously and make womxn empowerment and self-acceptance my priorities as I was growing my career, I started working as a model full time when I moved to NYC about 6 years ago.
What drew you to the idea of modeling?
At first it was just a way for me to build up my confidence and self-worth by looking at myself through another lens. It really helped me understand and know my body better. Then it became my job and I am happy it did. It’s brought me so much more than I thought it would!
Why is the body-positivity movement important to you?
The bopo movement is very important, it’s given power to fat femme and especially womxn of color. It’s been growing ever since to include all womxn and girls and people of all sexual preferences and gender identification which has been great to see grow and be a part of. Body positivity wasn’t a word we’d use so often or at all growing up in France but I would have loved to have that when I was a troubled teenager obsessing over my weight and body shape. So now I want to make sure every girl has access to diverse ideals of beauty. That’s why I created The All Womxn Project.
The conversation seems to have shifted from openly diet-forward culture, to, so-called, health-first approach, while it’s still overwhelmingly pounds obsessed. What do you say to people who claim that being thin equals being healthy? Even though science has been clear on this for a long time – thinness doesn’t guarantee health. And dieting can actually be detrimental not just physically but psychologically.
Wellness culture is very much a skinny white girl world and it’s sometimes just as toxic as the diet-forward culture that it replaced. However all wellness experts and platforms aren’t equal. Wellness is more than body, it’s soul and mind as well. Wellness is mental health and quality of life just as much as it is yoga and bubble bath. Lots of people seem to forget about that. Weight is a small part of health and most of the time it doesn’t make sense on its own. It took me years to learn that, and today at 230lbs, I am at my biggest yet but also my happiest and most confident. Would I say I am healthy, maybe not fully, I can’t run without getting out of breath and I can’t jump over fences, I have back pain often and belly fat but I haven’t been sick in years, my blood works come out perfect and I have no issues of any sort. I think everything is about balance and harmony. Everyone should be free to feel and be how they want to be. No judgement necessary.
It’s reported that women and girls are more likely to shy away from social activities, or underperform at work or at school, due to the worries about their appearance. Why do you think this mental health issue is so often ignored, if not encouraged?
Absolutely, girls shy away from exciting life experiences because they’re afraid, sometimes petrified of judgements on their body. I remember finding excuses to skip the pool, avoid beaches, avoid all activities that would uncover me in the slightest bit. All that because I was ashamed of my body, because I thought I wasn’t good enough for society’s standards. It ruined parts of my social experiences for way too long. I really want to do the work so girls don’t miss out on life because of society’s expectations of what beauty and worth is.
I photographed one of AWP campaigns, and the positivity and the sisterhood that we all experienced on set has been overwhelming. In the best way possible. In your experience, what has been the main feedback from the people you’ve reached through your non-profit?
The general feedback is that sisterhood is strong on our set and everyone is empowered by working with us and we take great pride in it! It’s always my favorite times, being on set with girls, here to make a difference for other womxn and girls, together. I can’t wait till our next shoots!
Speaking from your personal experience and the work of your non-profit, where do we start the healing process? If say a person is struggling with body-dysmorphia or an eating disorder or simply convinced that changing their look is a) easy and they just don’t have the stamina to do it; b) will make a significant impact on their life?
The healing process start by accepting what we are, who we are, what we look like, at any stage of our life.
Changing our physical appearance is only going to make us feel better, if anything, for a very short period of time. After that we’ll be back to hating ourselves unless we go through the journey of acceptance.
Trust me I did that. I mutilated my body thinking being thin would be the recipe to happiness. I was wrong. Very very wrong. Now I am bigger than before surgery and I am the most confident I have ever been. Size does not dictate confidence or beauty in any ways.
Green One Piece and Red Two Piece by You Swim.
Additional Red Suite by The Fold.
Sweater, Pants by Madewell.