The Idealist | Jess Lewis
Photography by Lily Cummings
Jessica Lewis’ evolution through the fashion industry is a testament to intuition. The twenty-eight year old beauty returned to the scene just a year ago after breaking from her 10-year career as an international muse, and it’s on her own terms that she’s hitting career peaks like never before.
Trotting down runways throughout Europe and Asia doesn’t exactly represent the average adolescent experience, but when it comes to societal image and beauty ideals, Jessica grew up in the belly of the beast. Scouted as a model at the age of 15, she was privy to an industry with extra hardnosed views on image. Within the working-model world, girls considered ideal were sometimes the ones passing out from exhaustion on set. If this was happening inside the industry, what was it like elsewhere?
It was at this point when Jess quit the business cold turkey and set off on a solo six-week expedition through the Camino Santiago to have her own Eat, Pray, Love experience of sorts. If anything, this was a chance to connect with herself in a way her lifestyle hadn’t previously allowed. After the Camino, Jess settled into her hometown of Toronto for the first time in over a decade. She found a bartending job at a local raw veg restaurant while prioritizing time to relax, refresh, eat, exercise, socialize, and generally cultivate her life force.
When her agent approached her about plus modeling, a year had passed and the opportunity felt right. The world of plus has truly bloomed over the past few years, allowing luscious babes over the sample size a platform to project a healthier body image for women. While Jessica is not a large woman, her sultry size 8-12 (yep, models fluctuate, too) figure has been classified as ‘plus’ as far as fashion standards go. Crazy, right?
Her dress size isn’t the message, though– diversity is. She knows that skinny women are entitled to insecurities as much as the next gal, and is geared more towards the promotion of quality of life. Being bogged down about your butt is no way to go through the world, ya know?
It hasn’t taken long for Jess to gain momentum again. Since returning to fashion, she’s shot for publications like Interview, Vogue (Elena Miro), C-Heads (incredible shoot by Cameron Davis here), and– this month’s issue– PLAYBOY. Just over the past few weeks, she’s worked with legendary photographers like Kenneth Willardt and Antoine Verglas, who were key players when it came to idealizing the image of a curvatious body in the 90’s. Think: Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Pamela Anderson. Oh my.
Read on as I talk to Jessica more about fashion, beauty ideals, where she’s at, and her decision behind posing for Playboy.
You’ve been labeled “the comeback kid” for 2014. What’s it been like being back in the industry?
Lots of shoots wearing different hats as model, creative director, producer, and advocate. It’s definitely been a lot of firsts for me. I got back into modeling as a plus model, which brought me into doing advocacy work surrounding diversity in the industry. I also stepped on board at GLASSbook as their Creative Director. It’s great because all my jobs right now kind of feed and compliment each other. GLASSbook has been amazing with introducing me to the world of art and sub-cultures which in turn has brought more attention to my advocacy work. I’m realizing just how influential and supportive these underground cultures are becoming to mainstream fashion. Makes me stoked on the next few years.
What’s your mindset this time around?
I feel like now I know the industry on many levels, not just that of a model, which makes me more understanding of the creative process as a whole. Also, you know that older, wiser saying? It’s true.
It must be somewhat empowering approaching the industry on your own terms– how true is the talk about dieting extremes in model life?
I mean, any model that started at a young age will have stories. I won’t BS– extreme dieting, drugs– it’s all true. Though, if you have a solid pair of balls you’ll chalk everything up to experience and translate it into something positive.
Are body image and beauty ideals improving?
Progress is being made. Girls with curves are becoming a more prominent fixture in mainstream media and high fashion.
The thing is some girls are naturally skinny, some aren’t. It’s pretty cut and dry, or it should be. I don’t think the industry should have just one or the other. Be yourself, be healthy, and if modeling was meant for you, it will happen, cause it sucks being in Paris and not being able to eat a croissant.
You’re a big advocate for female nudity. Give me some perspective.
I think the female form is gorgeous. There’s just something very powerful about a woman who can be confident and happy in her body when she has no clothes to cover any areas she may not feel good about.
For me, I started doing nudes because as I got into the plus industry I realized that plus or straight size, women still relied on clothing and makeup to be completely happy and confident in themselves or, that’s the image that the industry projects, which has brought up a lot of questions when it comes to societies standards of beauty, the whole what’s real and what’s not debate.
So it’s about stripping down (literally and figuratively!) and embracing the radiance that comes naturally with confidence…. ?
Very good. Yes– I wanted to put a raw image and be very transparent for women to see just the person when she’s not being a model. My nudes are very lightly retouched, oftentimes I’m not wearing makeup, and don’t have my hair done. If you look really close you’ll see stretch marks or cellulite. I wouldn’t call myself an extremist in any regard– I work out twice a week, eat healthy, drink on occasion, have a healthy sex life, and all these things combined give me confidence. Some women give me props for empowering them, others tell me to put my clothes on. Oh well.
You shot for June’s issue of Playboy. Some may question: how is this a positive message for women?
Playboy is an awesome publication. Honestly, I think people don’t know the story behind the publication and the man, Hugh Hefner. He has done wonderful things for women’s rights and racial equality over the years. Until very recently, yes, Playboy was the go to for the spank bank, however since porn in so readily available these days for free they’ve changed their aesthetic up a bit. There are still naked women, but it’s not vulgar as it used to be.
What do you want to see change for women?
I’d like to see the industry really diversify itself size and ethnicity wise. I think we’re at that point in the evolution of not just our industry, but society where it’s important to project images that speak to everyone.
I suppose you’re able to piggyback your advocacy work between modeling and your role as the CD of GLASSbook?
Definitely. I help our Editor-In-Chief, Jasmine, comb through and evaluate the content we are going to put in the magazine. I also conceptualize and produce shoots for the magazine; this means sourcing our talent, location scouting, making post shoot selects… that kind of thing. Since GLASSbook is bi-annual we don’t concern ourselves too much with trends and just publish what we see as amazing creative images. This means we love publishing projects that can provide added context to popular culture and roll against the grain.
Describe the industry through your eyes.
It’s a very tight knit community and I know many people who aren’t in the industry perceive us as nuts… it’s fashion. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s shocking, repulsive and will anger you sometimes, other times its beautiful, romantic and fantastic. It’s an emotional roller coaster and never lacking in drama. To be honest I think all those emotions happen to your average person in their life too…we just manage to cram them into one day instead.
Very Good, then.