Back in March, the Full Figured Fashion Week (FFFWeek) team set out on a casting tour, to find models to walk the June 12 to 18 runways in New York City. The team had a stop in Toronto at local plus-size boutique, Your Big Sister's Closet — the only stop in a Canadian city on the 15-city casting tour.
Toronto-based plus-size model, Sarah De Melo, was selected along with 49 others models at this year's FFFWeek, one of the world's most high-profile plus-size fashion events. She is the only Canadian model chosen to participate at the event.
De Melo is a born-and-bred Toronto girl, raised in what she describes as a "big, loud and loving" Portuguese family. The 28-year-old got her start modelling in June of 2015 with Voluptuous, Toronto's first independent plus-size boutique with a location in Queen West. Fellow Toronto plus-size model Catherine Field (a.k.a. Hourglass Cath), had shared De Melo's photos with the boutique's owner, Angela Samuels, who "saw something special" in De Melo, and began coaching her.
Since then, she has worked with brands in Toronto, Montreal and across the U.S., including Toronto-based Pheline Couture, Zaan, i.b.b.i. Collection, and Slink Jeans. Most recently, De Melo walked her first runway at Montreal Plus-Size Fashion Week (after which she got engaged!).
Before heading off to the "Oscars of plus-size," I caught up with De Melo to learn more about her passion and dedication to inspire women to love their bodies.
What does walking the runway in FFFWeek mean to you?
"[It] means the world to me. I set this goal for myself last year and I worked hard to achieve it by working on headshots and photos, and practicing my walk relentlessly. Above all, walking this runway means the most to me, because I have an opportunity to inspire young woman who share a similar body type to follow their dreams and to be confident in their own skin."
Why do you believe you were selected to walk the runways this year?
"I am honestly not sure! I think FFFWeek looks for models who walk well with an added touch of their own flare. I really studied past FFFWeek models and their walks, and worked hard towards perfecting mine."
Well that studying sure paid off! What are you looking forward to most next week at FFFWeek?
"I am most looking forward to seeing old friends and also making new relationships. Most importantly, the opportunity to be coached by the one and only, original runway diva, Sharon Quinn! This is truly an opportunity of a lifetime."
How else has modelling changed your life?
"I have met so many inspirational and empowering women, who I am proud to call my friends. I am more comfortable and confident in my skin than ever. It has helped me to be more confident in every aspect; from my work life to my personal life."
What is the one thing you are most proud of?
"The one thing I am most proud of is knowing that I have inspired and helped other girls. I have received heartfelt emails and messages. My personal journey has inspired others to love their bodies no matter shape or size. My modelling career has even encouraged a close colleague of mine to overcome her knee issues and wear above-the-knee dresses! This is why I love modelling and the plus-size community. Not only is it about fashion, but more importantly, it's about inspiring women and young girls to love their bodies."
Have you always wanted to be a model? What inspired you to want to become one?
"I have always wanted to be a plus-sized model, but didn't have the confidence, and thought I would never go anywhere with it. What inspired me to get going on my modelling career was hearing that my little cousin was being called fat by the other girls in her ballet class. I wanted to show her that size doesn't matter and that her body is beautiful."
That is heart-breaking, but an incredible inspiration for what you have achieved. What challenges have you faced as a plus-size model?
"A challenge that seems to arise a lot for me is that people in the plus-size community say that I am too small, or that I am not plus size. This can be very frustrating at times, because I am a size 14; I may just appear smaller in photos. I think the main reason this bothers me is because the plus-size community is all about body positivity, and dropping labels that the fashion industry has put on us.
What have been the joys of being a plus-size model?
"I think that the great joys of being a plus-sized model is the feedback and messages from those who tell me I've inspired them. I love modelling. I love the fashion aspect, but the best part is that it is not about me; it is about inspiring someone that may be going through what I did as a young girl, and hopefully they don't wait until 28 to start loving their body! In Montreal, I actually met a lovely model, Maude Jarvis, and as we were talking I found out she was 20 years old! This made me extremely happy, because she is so young and confident thanks to the body positive movement that most of us didn't have 10 years ago."
What mistake have you made and how have you have learned from it?
"A big mistake I made, was not believing in myself sooner. I wish I could go back in time and start modelling at a younger age. I have learned from this mistake by not letting anything get in the way of what I want to accomplish and just going for it! Rejection is not all that bad, it means you are trying."
Do you deal with any insecurities and, if so, how do you manage those?
"There are still many times that I feel insecure, for example, when I show up to a job and I am the only plus-size model or I am the newest model. You can really get into your own head, but I have learned with age to just stop the negativity. The power of positivity and believing in yourself is an unstoppable force. I have accomplished things I never thought possible by really
believing the positive messages I tell myself, such as: I am strong; I am beautiful; I can do whatever I put my mind to. I believe 'I am' messages are very powerful."
Do you have a mantra or inspirational quote that you live by?
"'God answers in three ways: He says yes and gives you what you want. He says no and gives you something better. He says wait and gives you the best.' My grandmother would take care of me while my parents were at work and, like most little girls, I developed a very close relationship with her. She was a very religious, intelligent and strong woman. Whenever I was disappointed, or something didn't go my way, she would assure me that God has something better in store for me. I saw this quote a couple of years ago and it really reminded me of my grandmother, and explains a lot of the no's I have received during my journey."
What, in your opinion, has been the greatest victory for the body positivity movement in the last five years ?
"For myself, Drake telling the world that he likes BBW (big beautiful women). This means I have a chance! See the power of positivity? No, but seriously, there have been SO many amazing victories from Gabourey Sidibe's sex scene on "Empire," to Ashley Graham being the first plus-sized woman on the cover of Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue. These are such big victories, because we don't typically see these things on mainstream TV and magazines. This means we are getting closer and closer to bridging the gap.
What advice would you give to aspiring plus size models?
"Believe in yourself and don't give up, even if you get rejected a couple of times. In the words of the late and great Aaliyah: 'Dust yourself off and try again.' You have no idea what you can accomplish if you just believe in yourself and go for what you want."
For more FFFWeek 2016 coverage, be sure to follow along next week as I take over @HuffPostCaStyle on Instagram and HuffPostCanada on Snapchat.
Every woman, with no exceptions, deserves to feel comfortable in her own body, and to believe that the world is made just as much for her as the next person. That's why with "My Curves Have No Bounds," we're going to get real and talk about our bodies, what we put on them, and how we feel about everything in between. We want to break down the barriers and outdated notions that plus-size women encounter everyday. So check back every other week for more from "My Curves Have No Bounds," by Amanda Montgomery of Latest Wrinkle.