Kendra Austin, a curve model, author, and podcast host knew from a young age that she had a higher calling. During her adolescent years, she was creating head-turning looks that channeled the young girls she saw on television like Raven-Symoné. The San Diego native has always been drawn to loud prints and bold colors—she would often use the first day of school as a reset of sorts since she was often moving to different parts of the country with her mother, older brother, and younger sister. Over a Zoom call from her Brooklyn home, she excitedly recalls being in second grade and wearing an outfit guided by a ‘00s staple: cheetah print. Inspired by Symoné, Austin says her outfit consisted of a suede, textured pencil skirt, knee-high black boots, and a tan zip-up sweater. This core memory allows her a chance to reflect on how she’s always used fashion to express herself.
These same sentiments still exist in the world Austin has created for herself. Her world is one where she is an outspoken truth-teller who is unafraid to share her vibrant outfits, her interest in horoscopes, and also explore her spirituality simultaneously. She has amassed a large following on Instagram largely due to her modeling career, but also due to her poignant essays in her excellent Substack newsletter, Come Home. As an adult, Austin has released ventures into the world that speak to notions she has about who she is: The Realest Oracle Deck. She says the deck is for creatives, writers, and beyond to use to learn more about themselves. Illustrated by Bria Benjamin, the deck also provides ways for individuals to ponder career moves, romantic relationships, and other introspective topics too. It’s a fitting release for Austin, especially because we met when she gave me a transformative, in-person tarot reading a few years ago. “I felt that spirituality should be more accessible and more obvious,” Austin said. “That’s why the tagline [is] finding magic in the mundane.”
One notion that sticks out during our conversation is when Austin refers to herself as a self-proclaimed Trojan horse. On this topic, she shared that she has always felt like she was someone who intended to create deep things. “I am, in myself, a Trojan horse, and that I know that I benefit from a magnetic personality, gifted from my parents and a warm and soft presence and voice,” she added. This magnetism she felt throughout her adolescence is something she has called upon to guide her as she constantly moved due to her parents being in the military.
Years removed from relocating to places like Chicago and Northern Virginia with her family as a kid and teen where Austin felt like she didn’t fit in make projects like Eldest Daughter, the podcast feel so necessary. She is using this newly launched platform as a space to hold expressive conversations with talents including Chrissy Rutherford, Tembe Denton-Hurst, and Kia Damon. On it, Austin and her guests converse about breaking intergenerational trauma, being their most confident selves, and more. Each episode which usually runs for roughly under an hour is shot in a video format which is refreshing since a lot of content we consume is short-form. Hearing and seeing laughter, watching smiles arise, and seeing reactions are what makes the show even more compelling aside from the topics covered on it.
Each of these projects are heavy lifts–none of them happened overnight either. And all combined they make her one of the most interesting figures creating content right now. I ask her about the industry and body positivity, and she shares that she yearns to change the hearts of the people who consume clothing: everyone. She also expresses that she thinks that fashion is an inherently exclusionary space that may never be as diverse as we’d hope. Austin says if you care about style and self-expression, then you care about fashion.
“I think [of] being a voice for our ability to break through those personal barriers, through being inventive and through being genius in our own specific ways, and also being self-serving,” Austin shared.
“And when I say that, I mean serving joy, serving abundance, not serving greed or power, I think that that is where we can really tap into those hearts and minds.”
We recently spoke with Kendra Austin about the dynamic conversations on the Eldest Daughter podcast, using fashion to evoke change, body positivity, creating projects that speak to her inner self, and more.
ESSENCE: I’ve been listening and resonating so much with your show Eldest Daughter podcast, can you tell me when you realized you wanted your platform to be larger than your newsletter and modeling?
Kendra Austin: I think that practice started with me revealing the more superficial parts of my story when it came to entering the zeitgeist with a message of body positivity and body neutrality and really centering identity politics as my message when I first started creating content. I feel like the Kendra so to speak, that people became most familiar with me was the Kendra that was talking about identity politics, the identity of blackness, of queerness, of fatness.
For me, those were really the tip of the iceberg, and I didn’t know that at the time. I felt like that was the whole entire truth was that I was here to tell stories about identity. And as I started doing my own work, my personal work, my spiritual work, my emotional work, therapeutic work, and shout out to our therapists, the unsung heroes of this journey, I realized that it was so much deeper and that not only was my personal work so much deeper but that the work that I was intended to share would be so much deeper.
I feel like with everything that I’ve come to learn about self-empowerment, self-acceptance, shadow work, and personal and systemic liberation, I was supposed to kind of take that information in and then send it back out. And that’s come in the form of the Eldest Daughter podcast or The Realest Oracle, or my newsletter Come Home and of any work that’s soon to come, I hope.
What is your relationship like with your personal style and the vibrant colors that you’re often wearing?
I think that style and personal expression are spiritual practices. You’ll notice that the people whose style you love the most tend to know themselves very well, and they allow their personal style to speak for them. I have always utilized color and patterns, and I think also in essence of comfort, and I think even sensuality within my personal style to convey my comfort within myself, especially as a curvy Black woman. I like to choose things that have been systemically deemed unacceptable or even kind of jarring for an audience, again, as a way to Trojan horse my personal message of body neutrality and comfort within my own skin.
I’m curious about this idea of the big three zodiac signs and how you allow that to guide you with your style?
I feel like my Capricorn rising allows room for there to be kind of an inherent refined nature. And I also think to a level, very pragmatic in a level of simplicity to the things that I wear and also, it very much gives power. My Capricorn rising is going to claim space no matter what. It’s going to give power, it’s going to give dominance, it’s going to give attention and attention in a way that’s not necessarily like Leo. It’s quite dominant for the environment.
I think [with] my Aquarius sun, Aquarius naturally is kind of ruled by this alien essence and this futurism. I think most importantly by the unexpected, and I really, really like that. So I’ve always been interested in pattern play and something a little bit different. If I’m choosing to wear a black outfit, I’m going to choose a black outfit that maybe has a different silhouette or that kind of plays with the state of my body, and that could in itself, be the thing that’s jarring. I really, really like to play with something that makes it unique to Kendra and not necessarily just a black outfit or just a colorful outfit.
And then, with my Taurus moon, she’s ruled by Venus. I really love things that are pretty and sexy and feminine and very Venusian. And I think that Venus is something that doesn’t necessarily need to claim attention. Taurus is also very sensual, and it’s an earth sign, so it’s very earthy and kind of part of a natural state. So I also love to kind of play with tonal [colors]. So it’s like it’s all one color. It’s all one kind of tonal or gradient.
Do you have any poignant style memories or moments from your childhood that you remember?
As young as middle school, I would wake up at 5:00 a.m. to watch music videos, and do my hair. My mom was always really lenient with my choice of expressions. So she let me wear makeup very young, hairstyles very young. And I’ve always really appreciated that because of what I did from 5:00 to 7:00 when I had to go to school. I just sat and looked at myself and felt beautiful.
And because of that, it’s like I got into playing with makeup in my outfits at the same time. And I also moved around a lot as a child. So I had the chance to reinvent myself a lot. I will never forget my first time going to a new school was always the moment that I chose who I was going to be. There are two specific outfits that are seared into my mind because I feel like they very much reflect how I dress and who I am now.
When I first moved from San Diego, which is where I was born and raised [we later moved] to Northern Virginia, a suburb of DC. [I] was in sixth grade and I remember I went from being in a place that was predominantly really, really diverse because I grew up in military housing. So I went from being in a place that was predominantly thin White girls in Hollister.
I was really into velour tracksuits. I would love to watch the “I’m Real” music video with Ja Rule and Jennifer Lopez. She was wearing this matching Juicy [Couture] tracksuit that was like baby pink, and it was like a baby pink short, velour shorts, and a cropped jacket, and she had lip gloss on. I was like, I’m trying to give that. I remember being like, ‘This is me.’ And to this day, I look back at her and I was like, that’s us.
In an episode of the Eldest Daughter podcast, you discussed this notion of body positivity in the modeling industry. Can you expand on modeling because it felt good for you and not doing it to be a role model for others?
I really appreciate that that was something that you noted because I feel that that’s of one of my hottest takes. I think it also tends to be shocking for people because I am such a caring and outspoken person. I think the concept of hearing me say that I do things for myself tends to be a bit jarring for people. I state that intentionally to provoke this idea that there are a lot of compounding systemic issues with the expectation that I as a fat Black woman should be doing things for any other reason than that it brings me joy. I have felt that [this is] my entire life’s purpose, including my creative expression: my creative work and my emotional work are about what I can offer others.
And for a long time when people would ask me why I got into fashion, why I sought to have a public platform, why I sought to be a writer, why I sought to be in media, why I sought to be an author, why I created the deck, they always want me to say that I did it for others. I want to be clear that I think our life’s greatest work is to fill up self, that way, overflow is easy and obvious, and for me, being an abundant person means feeding into myself, feeding into my joy, and embodying what overwhelming joy and personal expression looks like, my overflow is obvious.
What are your two favorite parts of being a curve model?
The first is my ability to collaborate with the best creatives in this industry, and I get to be a canvas for that. That is so fun to me. The second is that we get to change the hearts of the people who consume fashion, which is everybody, and not necessarily have to take on as a singular person, any of us, the responsibility of shifting something that’s really built without us in mind.
So I went from that to being in a place that was predominantly thin White girls in Hollister and I said, “That ain’t me.” So on this first day of school, I wore a matching teal ripped-off Juicy [Couture tracksuit ] because we didn’t have money like that, but I had a teal velour tracksuit, and it was like a flared pant and the jacket. And I had a matching metallic teal winged eyeliner.
This year you launched The Realest Oracle Deck. Can you touch on what led you to this introspective project?
So I founded my newsletter, Come Home in 2021 as a means to express myself and to write more. Prior to that, I’d always been a writer, but I felt like I shied away from really establishing my voice in a longer form for a while out of fear. The second I burst through that, people knew me, and I really, really wanted to take hold of that and establish several kinds of written and published projects. And I felt like the universe heard me and an editor from my publisher I eventually sold this deck to, reached out to me to ask me if I wanted to write a guide journal or if I had any other project I wanted to work on. And I looked on their website and I saw that they had published several divination tools themselves.
I just thought, “I think that that’s my project.” As a spiritual person, I’m such a fierce believer that we’re often thrown into collecting our interest in our next thing far before we actually step into it. And for a full two years prior to that, I had been flung into a spiritual awakening. And I was in that deep and started sharing collected tarot readings in my newsletter, on my Instagram. And I had, at that point, collected dozens of decks.
I realized that what I loved about decks was not just how they made me feel, but I loved understanding the spiritual practice and journey through the context of the person who created its eyes, through the creator’s eyes, and through their lens. I also realized that when I was looking through all the decks that I owned, which were honestly, the majority of the most popular decks on the market through traditional publishing, almost none of them reflected people who looked like me, people I knew, people I loved, or people who I could love. I thought that was a shame because the idea that curvy people, disabled people, queer folks, Black folks, Asian folks, and Southeast Asian folks would have to honestly project themselves into spiritual materials in order for it to make sense to them was ridiculous to me.
What would you say is the core significance of your Eldest Daughter podcast?
The core reason behind the podcast is that I feel that there is a throughline in the changemakers, the troublemakers, the cycle-breakers, and the spokespeople for the next generation and the generations to come. And I wanted to find out what that was. I love telling my own story. I live to hear other people’s stories, and I feel like I had come to a place where I am sure I will live all of my days telling my own story, but I was really excited by the idea of bouncing off this thing we call life with people who have a different experience than me, but also who I have realized through having these conversations have ultimately kind of come to the same few grand conclusions, which is that our purpose is so much bigger than the function of helping others.