Last month, Instagram revealed that they would be connecting with 20 people who they believed would define 2020. Among them is La’Shaunae Steward, a 23-year-old model who is vocal about the modeling industry’s diversity and inclusion problems. After going viral in 2017, her Instagram following increased by more than 50k and she’s been a fashionista to watch ever since. Since her viral moment, the influencer has worked with Teen Vogue, Jeffrey Campbell, covered GMARO Magazine and was crowned the winner of Dazed 100 in 2019.

We spoke with the model about what keeps her inspired, NYFW, and more. Check out our chat below.

ESSENCE: What are you most looking forward to for New York fashion week?

Well, I haven’t been to New York fashion week in maybe three years now, but like I’m really excited for Chromat. Out of all of the runways, for New York fashion week, Chromat is probably one of the most diverse and they always have really good runways when it comes to actual inclusion and actual diversity. A lot of brands say that they’re inclusive, [but] when it comes to runways and New York fashion week, the biggest model you’re going to see is a size 14. [L]ast year when I was watching Chromat’s live of their fashion week, there was like a size 24 model.

ESSENCE: How do you keep your creativity flowing? What keeps you inspired?

Steward: I listen to a lot of Tyler, The Creator, Cherry Glazerr, N.E.R.D, and a lot of hardcore music, too.

ESSENCE: In 2018, you told Vice a story about being penalized for breaking the dress code at school, while smaller girls who wear the same clothes went without consequence. It was a painful reminder that bigger people are constantly critiqued and punished for their bodies. Why is this?

Steward: A lot of people have a problem with seeing people who are not like conventionally attractive, or thinner, wearing certain stuff and they make it an actual issue. [B]ut, it’s an issue within themselves because they don’t want to see people that they don’t find attractive wearing certain stuff.

It’s never an actual issue. It’s always more of people just having a preference of what they find attractive and who they find sexually attractive or physically attractive.

You know the whole Lizzo incident with her dancing at the basketball game? They’re all saying that [there were children] there. The cheerleaders wear like revealing stuff all the time and they never get any shit for it but, when it was Lizzo, everyone went in on her and said that she shouldn’t be showing her ass or whatever to a bunch of kids and stuff.

We all know the real reason why people have a problem with when fat people show their bodies in any kind of way that isn’t like hiding them. It’s because they don’t want to see us doing it. They’re shocked when they see somebody actually not hiding themselves. They’re confused by it…, they’re high key disgusted and they want you to feel the same way they do about your body and they’re pissed off because you don’t feel like that.

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ESSENCE: What is style to you?

Steward: Being free to literally experiment with whatever you’re feeling or thinking. I don’t have a set style because I just wear whatever I find. Whatever I see that goes together, regardless of the label gender on wherever it’s coming from. I wear a lot of men’s jeans and I like wearing a lot of men’s clothing.

Style to me is being able to express yourself, show your personality, show who you are just through clothes, without having to speak for who you are.

ESSENCE: How do you push yourself to be extraordinary?

Steward: I use my voice a lot. I make sure that I’m very transparent with what I’m fighting for and what I believe in, regardless of the people who tell me that I talk too much, or I’m being too vocal about certain stuff. I continue to just be transparent with the people that follow me because I got my following from who I am and from using my voice.

A lot of people have tried to silence me since I became a model and I’m still going. I still haven’t given up. Even if it feels like I’m the only one on my side, I just push to fight for the girls that look like me and to use my voice when no one else will.

Follow La’Shaunae on Instagram.

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