OUR CURVY MODEL OLIVIA
Sit down for a cup of coffee with us as our Jeuje founder, Prue Egan, chats with one of our first #JeujeGirl and model, Olivia Buckham, as they chat about her experience as a curvy model and how she stays body positive in the cut-throat modelling industry.
Prue: Tell me about yourself?
Olivia: Born and bred in Brissie, but I left Brisbane when I was 18. I think I lasted about 3 weeks at QUT and then I thought, ‘no, I have to go travelling, I have to.’ So I had a modelling agency in Hamburg in Germany that picked me up, and I lived in Hamburg for 3 months. It was my first time in Europe, so after that 3 month stint in Hamburg, I ended up backpacking around Europe for another 6 months.
Prue: How was your first gig in Hamburg?
Olivia: I had modelled locally in Brisbane, a few small local things. Yet being an in-between size, I never really could do a lot of work because they never really knew what to do with me, being a size 10-12 back then. So basically I just had to pretend that I knew what I was doing as soon as I got over there. All the German speaking was a bit confronting sometimes! But I just dropped myself into the world over there and managed to swim rather than sink.
Prue: So when did you start modelling?
Olivia: I started dabbling in it when I was 13, yet actually started taking jobs when I was 14. I used to do the Bridal Expos with Queensland Brides on the Sunshine Coast, Brisbane and the Gold Coast as a 15/16-year-old. Yet I have always looked like how I am now from an early age, so no one could really tell I was a 15 year old!
I entered the modelling discovery with a local agency and took a course to build my skills. I actually ended up teaching the course later when I was 16. My mum was really supportive of me because at 15/16 I was earning good money when all of my friends were working at McDonalds, whereas I was having my makeup done and wearing wedding dresses! For me it was just fun, a similar group of girls every time. I probably would have done it for free!
Prue: So you went to Germany for your first international gig, how was Hamburg?
Olivia: I fell in love with it, and now I have a little home base there now. I ended up doing the same thing for the next 5 years, just travelling and splitting my time between Australia, Hamburg and London. I meet great people and the travel is my favourite part of the job. I’ve worked in Malaysia and China too.
Prue: It takes a lot to be able to pack your bag, go work somewhere, be jetlagged and still get up to work.
Olivia: It is definitely not a normal type of work for a lot of people. The week I went to Malaysia and China was a succession of a few days. My bookers got a couple of days mixed up. I did a full day of work in Melbourne, before having to catch a red eye to China. I got off the plane into a car and straight to another full day of work. I had one nights’ sleep after before flying out the next day. It was quite an overwhelming experience. It feels like an absolute comedy act sometimes – you’ve just come straight off a plane and into lingerie, standing on a rotating stage with lights beaming and cameras flicking. I do love that no two days are the same, it’s a different team, different people, different location.
Prue: I find with a lot of people, such as outdoor yoga, that they think they are very exposed to all the people walking past, does that phase you at all with modelling? Did you find at the start that the experience was a bit daunting?
Olivia: Oh yeah it is daunting, but it doesn’t even phase me now because to me I am just at work. But if people take photos of me when I am clocked off and not shooting, I do get a bit uncomfortable because I am not at work, it is not who I am, at work it is a bit of an alter ego or a personality I turn on.
Prue: I guess it’s similar to athletes, and they prepare for a game, but then they walk into a stadium and there’s 80,000 people staring at you and cheering you on. All this noise that you can’t prepare for, yet you just have to focus. Is that just something that comes over time, where you just go with the flow and don’t notice the people walking past and staring?
Olivia: You just have to not give any f___ks basically. You’re making a fool of yourself half the time, so you really have to laugh at yourself. I really just do not get embarrassed or care, because it is my job and I am being professional.
Prue: I know many people who don’t want to do things – don’t want to go to yoga or the gym – because they are worrying about everyone else around them instead of themselves, which is why I want to push and promote this self-positivity further.
Prue: Everyone assumes that the modelling industry is quite cut-throat. Is that a true perception? I know looking at magazine there hasn’t been many curvy models visible in Australia, perhaps possibly Megan Gale was the only one that stood out for me.
Olivia: Yeah Megan was the only person about 10 years ago when I was a teenager, who was a size 10 model in the public eye. She was the only reference I had. Now there is a lot more size range thankfully.
Prue: Have you noticed many changes in the industry over your time? Have you had experiences where people said to you that you are not curvy enough? Or that they want you to have more or this or less of that?
Olivia: That’s basically the whole industry, I guess. You learn from the start that clients or agents or whoever are going to want you to be a different version of yourself and you just have to learn to say no, this is me, this is how I am and how I came made. If I’m not your cup of tea, then that is fine, you can go ahead a book a girl with a bigger bum or whose a size 16, that’s totally fine, but that’s just not me. You spend many years, and some girls still do, spend so much time agonizing over measurements and inches, thinking that you have a job coming up and they want you to be smaller. It’s very much a real thing. I think that’s why the curve side is very positive. I’m often told I am not big enough, that I am too small to be a curve model. I walk on set and I get told, ‘you’re not plus size, you’re not a curve model.’
Prue: Do you see a hope in future that magazines will be more representative of different body types. You mentioned that Big W and I’ve even noticed Nike has introduced representative mannequins. Do you see that things are starting to change in the industry as a whole such as social media and marketing? When you started, there was maybe a couple of people who were seen to be body positive and ahead of the game, do you feel like now there are more different shape models than the standard model type in the industry?
Olivia: I really do think so. It has come leaps and bounds even in the last 5 years. 10 years ago, it was a very, very different scene with curve models, we would only really model older women’s clothing. It was very frumpy. It was as if young curvy women didn’t wear the young style clothes because they were plus size. That was always the thing, yet now it has come leaps and bounds. Now you open any magazine or any website and everyone is jumping on the diversity bandwagon. Some brands are more committed than others, I find some companies jump on the bandwagon just for one shoot or one campaign. Yet anything is a good thing and if enough people do it and keep doing it then that will influence change.
Prue: What advice would you give a young girl starting out now if she wanted to go into modelling, if she’s a curvy 15-year-old as you were when you started out 10 years ago?
Olivia: Probably just the same thing along the lines of that everyone will want a different version of you and you will have to decide what that best version looks like for you and not be too impacted by people’s perceptions and opinions. Basically, again to not give a f__k. There’s a lot of negativity and rejection so you really need to have your head screwed on.
Prue: There’s a lot of negative trolls on social media. I don’t know if you know, but Amy Sheppard has been doing the whole #KissMyFatAss, but there’s even still people who have been criticising her that she is not big enough. A lot of young people these days are looking at social media constantly. Is that something that you need to tune out?
Olivia: Everyone’s always going to have something to say, whether negative or positive and you really just need to tune out and be headstrong. Know that you’re happy and healthy and love what you do.
Prue: So, you’ve been modelling almost 10 years now, do you hope to see yourself still modelling in the future?
Olivia: It’s always been never really my full-time job. When I am living overseas, yes, it is, but it has never been really my dream career. A lot of models do have their end goals when it comes to modelling like clients that they like to land. I do have those goals and ambitions, but I don’t see myself working in New York, just because I don’t see that as the path that I am wanting to take. Every year is different, this year hasn’t been particularly busy for me, yet every year changes and you go where the work is. I don’t tend to plan too much!
Prue: So, can you remember the funniest moment you have had working in the industry?
Olivia: There is one I can think of – I’m sure there’s also a bunch more. Often the teams on set are all just a bunch of goofballs. I never really have a bad time on set, especially with Australians. There’s a lot that goes on that people don’t know about in creating an image besides the photographers, the make-up artists etc. You may have people from the brand, art directors and more. Something that comes to mind is that when I was in China and that whole situation was so laughable. I was shooting and they kept yelling out directions for what they wanted me to do in very, very broken English and I was trying to decipher what they were saying. Then one of them said, ‘sad face, sad face,’ and I was in lingerie. I was thinking, ‘you want me to look sad? In lingerie? Are you sure?’. I eventually figured out they were trying to tell me they wanted ‘side face,’ which was a relief because I was about to start crying in my undies!
Stay tuned for more fab chats with some of our favourite body-positive girl-bosses.