Model: Megan Kimberling
Photographer: Irvin Rivera
Art Direction: Vic Ly
Make-up Artist: Camille Clark
Tell us about you and your story in a nutshell.
Me and my story in a nutshell - well, I’m a redneck kid from a tiny town in Washington State near the Idaho state line. Growing up in a small town was hard, though. Everyone knew your business even if you didn’t share it with them. Gossip spread like wildfire. So, I got out. First, to the University of Idaho where I studied applied trumpet performance, music theory of the 21st century, and radio/tv/digital media production. Secondly, to Southern California. After graduation from UIdaho, I packed up my car and moved to Sunny SoCal. Before I knew it, I was back in school studying fashion marketing and then running a photo studio. That’s when modeling fell into my lap. With modeling came activism, good people/bad people, and a whole lot of self-discovery.
What inspired you to be a model? How did modeling start for you?
The person who inspired me to become a model was Tess (Munster) Holliday. I watched her career grow while I was in college. I distinctly remember talking about her work with a college roommate one night and saying, “if Tess can do this, I can do this.” I mean, part of me never expected to, but part of me believed it. Fast forward a few years from that conversation, I was in Los Angeles running a photo studio when I “casually” mentioned to a studio full of photographers that I had “considered trying modeling.” The next week I was shooting in the studio with hair and makeup, and a huge wardrobe I had some friends help me style. But, the shoot that really impacted my career was with J. William Washington for his Lady19 project about a month after that first LA shoot. He and his wife reached out to me to do a full nude artistic shoot for a series on women over size 12. I was nervous and a little scared - only a handful of people had ever expressed interest in seeing my naked body before. I consulted with some friends and people in the industry I trusted and the response was a resounding “this can be an amazing opportunity for you.” They weren’t wrong. That shoot opened up a whole world for me as a fat model who was not only comfortable in her body, but was willing to show the world that fat bodies are beautiful. I seized these opportunities, and ran (not literally, I hate running.)
For you, what is beauty?
Beauty is finding your true self and loving them. I’ve been thinner, and I’ve been more conventionally beautiful than I currently live now, but I’ve never been more happy as a fat, weird, ugly woman with mental health issues. Beauty isn’t fitting into an agency standard or having long hair or striving for a six-pack. Beauty is being vulnerable with yourself and discovering who you are, then going out into the world as your true self. No clothing size, weight on a scale, car in your driveway, or photo in a magazine can determine someone’s true beauty.
How would you describe your type/style of modeling?
I’ve had this conversation often recently - what type of modelling do I do - and the best way I can describe it is “noncommercial.” My goal is to be a high fashion model. The issues being a) there is very little plus size high fashion, b) high fashion plus size brands are using commercial agency models, c) agencies won’t sign editorial plus models because we are more liability than asset, d) traditional high fashion houses won’t hire plus size editorial models because there aren’t any signed. You see the gigantic catch-22 here? I am a polarizing model; you love me or hate me. I believe the reason behind this is that I push the envelope more than the fashion industry is comfortable with. Not only am I a fat model, but I also have tattoos, yellow hair, piercings, a weird face, and not an “attractive” body shape. I make people question their ideals of beauty and that is uncomfortable. I enjoy shooting fashion, and art, and beauty, and conceptual. I don’t like shooting commercial because I’m not a commercial person or model. I don’t want to fit into the box.
Bullying is a prevalent issue that plagues our time, do you mind sharing with us your experiences with bullying?
Bullying blows. My experiences with bullying are pretty standard with being an unapologetic fat activist and model online. It goes back to the idea that I make people uncomfortable. When you have a society constantly telling you that “fat is bad” and that in order to be happy and successful you have to be “healthy,” someone like me saying “actually, my body is none of your business and my health is a personal issue” pisses a lot of people off. You know in grade school when your parents tell you that bullies lash out because of their own insecurities? Yeah, that happens in adults, too. I can’t control someone’s life, nor do I want to. What I want to do is live mine. I don’t understand why grown adults think their opinion is valid concerning my body. That’s bullying and it’s unacceptable.
In your opinion, what’s the role of social media regarding this issue?
Social media has given a shroud of anonymity to bullies and it is getting out of control. People go off spouting “First Amendment Rights” to be assholes. The First Amendment gives you the right to speak your mind and the government won’t censor you - not to tell Susan that you think she is so fat she should kill herself. Our society has turned into an entity which produces egotistical, narcissistic assholes and then convinces us that we need to worship them. What we all need to do is spend more time working on our own issues. Stop using social media as a playground for hate.
Have you ever felt like you are part of a movement that breaks the mold of the industry’s standard perception of acceptable beauty?
I feel like I am part of a movement breaking the mold of the industry’s standard of beauty every single day. Acceptable beauty is what the industry and society tells us is beautiful. It is telling black girls and women they aren’t beautiful with dark skin. It is telling white girls and women that they need to be blonde. It is telling muslim girls and women they won’t ever be accepted because of their head coverings. It is telling all girls and women their worth is tied to their waist size. It is telling plus size girls and women that it’s ok to be fat as long as you’re “healthy” with an hourglass figure. I’m done. I made the decision to do something every day that pisses off someone who is obsessed with acceptable beauty. Maybe that’s not wearing makeup. Maybe that’s wearing a crop top and my rolls hang out. Maybe that’s just posting a picture of myself enjoying life. There are people in this industry who want to see change and I completely identify with them.
Tell us about some of your memorable experiences from modeling?
Some of my most memorable experiences from modeling have been mostly on set. One of my model/blogger friends from Australia, Kobi Jae, was in the US and we wanted to shoot a fashion editorial for Curva magazine. About a week before the shoot, our photographer bailed on us and we were stuck. Kobi suggested Nick Holliday, a friend of hers from Australia who had recently moved to LA to live with his (now wife) Tess. We reached out and he agreed to shoot it. When we arrived on location, Tess was there. I nearly pissed myself. I knew Nick would be there, obviously, but I didn’t really believe Tess would show up. Not only was she there but she helped Kobi and I on set. Since then, I’ve developed a great friendship with both Nick and Tess.
Another memorable experience was with photographer Gregory Prescott on set for his magazine Human Magazine. There were five of us, all naked, on a beach near San Diego shooting literally all day. Three female models and two male models who had never shot together, just modeling and hanging out (literally) on the beach. I was actually incredibly nervous for the shoot, as I was expecting to be the only fat person (I was) and had no idea if the other models knew there would be a fat model there or how they would react/treat me. People are mean and when you’re different, people are extra mean. However, I was treated with respect by each model and Gregory. It was a beautiful day, a fantastic experience, and something I will always remember.
One more - not on set. I had just woken up, rolled over, grabbed my phone, and checked my emails. I had an email from Irvin (Rivera) with a link to Vogue Italia. I tapped the link and it went to a photo of me. There I was. Vogue Italia watermark on the corner of a photo of me. By the time I had put the pieces together, I was sitting on my bed, just crying tears of joy, achievement, surprise, and disbelief. Listen, a fat nerdy kid like me would have never expected to see herself in Vogue Italia. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience. I don’t know if I will ever experience that same combination of emotions together again.
What do you like most about your career?
What I love most about my career is how many people have been positively influenced by my art. What I create is always very personal to me. Even if the photographer or stylist doesn’t give me emotional direction, I pull it for myself. I don’t just pose with a fake smile on my face because that’s not what makes my work enjoyable for me. I get to wear my heart on my sleeve in each frame, and then have people say to me “thank you for this photo, it made me love myself.”
How do you balance your time?
I balance my time through years of trial and error. I have a day job so I am in the office Monday-Friday. Evenings I use to connect on social media with friends, family, and my partner. Weekends are my days to shoot, or go to events, have a day to myself, or hang out with my guy over donuts or Roscoe’s. I’m a firm believer in “if you want it, you’ll make time.”
Where do you get your inspirations from?
My inspirations come from so many different places - other models, photographers, Pinterest, emotional experiences, a great fashion piece, an insult on social media, someone that rejected me for a job, simply existing as a fat woman. Modeling is my creative outlet so whatever I feel, I shoot. I use my life experiences often, and what experiences I hope to have in the future as inspiration. If i can’t connect with a shoot, I don’t want to do it.
I’m a romantic. Signor Mont is an incredibly talented wedding gown designer from Australia. Daily, I drool over his work with the dreams of shooting in his pieces.
Any advice you can give to any aspiring models out there?
My advice: find yourself first. This is a brutal industry. It will eat you alive before you can figure out who you are. Be prepared to do your homework, engage in small talk, go to events you don’t want to, and meet a lot of shitty people. Along the way, you’ll meet the good ones and find doors opening in front of you.
If you’re a book, what type of book are you and why?
If I were a book I would be one of those crime novels with romance thrown in and you don’t know why. The heroine is some woman who dealt with some shit in her past and now finds the love of her life but he’s the long lost brother of the man who murdered her partner and might be the father of her nephew. Because that is just good entertainment.
If you will be given the chance and opportunity to help a specific charity, what would it be and why?
I am actually incredibly lucky enough to work with Lunch On Me in Los Angeles. They are a 501(3)c non-profit and they feed those on Skid Row every day. Not only do they feed people, but they cook and prepare organic foods that are good for the soul. They also believe in making connections; just because someone is homeless doesn’t mean they aren’t human. On more than one occasion I have volunteered with them for block parties they throw, and I also contribute to the meal fund each month. It is important that people be treated like people. Everyone deserves basic human rights, like food and water. This charity was built out of love, compassion, and needing to see change in the world. I am very happy to see them growing into such a meaningful organization.