Iskra Lawrence bounds into the room, looking like she’s rolled straight off a beach in the Bahamas instead of a chilly morning in North London, all sun-kissed skin and waves of sunny blonde hair. She takes a seat at the breakfast table and immediate reaches for a stack of pancakes smothered in caramelised bananas and pecans, happily chatting away as she sips a smoothie.
Iskra looks exactly the same as she does in her fashion editorial shots and herInstagram snaps (shared with a not-too-shabby 1.2 million followers): healthy, happy and carefree. And that’s exactly how she wants to be perceived. She’s somewhat of a revolutionary in the fashion industry, making waves for shunning Photoshop and embracing her unique imperfections. It’s her admirable self-love that’s landed her a role of brand ambassador for Aerie, lingerie company and sister to American Eagle Outfitters who will only publish totally unretouched photos of their models.
Seeing the confident, self-assured and proudly curvaceous woman who sits before me polishing off a breakfast fit for a queen, it’s easy to assume that Iskra has always been this comfortable in her own skin. But it’s taken time to get to this stage, and her early days in modelling certainly weren’t easy – she was dropped from her first agency because her hips were “too large”.
“I really struggled with the rejection I felt from the industry,” she says. “In the past I’ve been retouched so much that I can barely recognise myself and it’s made me feel like there’s something wrong with me. That’s why it’s so amazing to be made a Role Model by a lingerie company like Aerie – they take me exactly as I am.”
Like many of us, Iskra resorted to desperate measures to try and meet society’s standards of perfection. “I tried out all that extreme stuff when I was a teenager,” she says. “But then I decided that you only live once and I really do enjoy food. I think it’s important to strike a balance with your diet. It’s about enjoying pizza, but not eating so much that you feel really lethargic and heavy. I enjoy a little bit of everything in moderation.”
On top of a varied diet, Iskra is a big advocate of working, explaining that it not only keeps her knock-out curves intact but it also keeps her fresh-faced and feeling positive. “I warm up with a little cardio, stuff like skipping, boxing and high intensity intervals.” And how does she keep that famous bodacious booty in shape? “It’s all down to squats,” she laughs.
“I was initially told that I was too small to be considered a plus-size model, so I decided that if I needed to put on weight it would be in the areas I wanted it to be. My legs and bum are bigger, stronger and more toned than they used to be and I love it.” As for her stretch marks and little roll of back fat? She’s perfectly happy with them, thank you very much.
The culture of tweaking and retouching is something Iskra is totally opposed to – not just because she doesn’t want parts of her body shaved off with a few clicks of a mouse. Iskra is all too aware of the impact an unobtainable, unrealistic image might have on young women. “It’s really important as a model to realise that you’ve got a huge responsibility, you’re putting an image out there and it’s supposed to be as aspirational and inspirational as possible.”
The influence of Iskra’s inspirational image is clear from the droves of messages she receives every single day. “I get hundreds of messages from girls saying how thankful they are. Some say that I’ve helped with their self confidence, that they’ve just bought their first bikini because they were inspired by me, that they’ve been suffering from an eating disorder and that I’ve helped them realise that they want to get better. It’s incredibly humbling.”
Iskra’s mission to spread body love doesn’t begin and end with Instagram – she’s determined to broaden her reach to young women everywhere. She’s been touring US colleges with Aerie and giving talks to students about body positivity. “I think it really makes a difference to these girls,” she explains.
So what’s Iskra’s advice to women struggling to embrace self-love in a world of Facetuned selfies and strategically posed Instagram photos? “I’d say it’s not real, none of it is real life. Even my own Instagram is made up of my most flattering photos, because it’s a portfolio and clients will look at it,” she admits.
“I really want to encourage young women to stop worrying about their appearance and focus on bettering themselves. Learn something new, do some travelling, experience a different culture instead of comparing yourself to Kylie Jenner.”