India Haylee Barton on bullying and her experiences as a curve model

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Growing up, I was bullied through pretty much my whole schooling experience; from pre-school all the way until I left. Kids can be mean, and often, they home in on the things that make you unique and different – the things, a bit later down the line, you will come to love and appreciate. However, I think the negativity I experienced might have made me into the person I am today. It made me want to succeed. It made me ambitious. It made me want to prove them all wrong. Trust me when I say, success is the best revenge.

I started working in the fashion industry in my early teens; my first experience was volunteering at a Mercedes Benz fashion festival in Brisbane, where I worked behind the scenes dressing models and helping set up the runway. After that first show, I started working at all the fashion shows in the city from Myer pop-up runways to Chanel cruise shows. At 18 I moved to Sydney to pursue my dreams and make new contacts to further my career. I started working at the runway shows in Sydney but I wanted to get more involved with the business side of things, so I applied to intern at a few modelling agencies. I heard back from an agency called Bella Management and went to their office in Manly a few days later for an interview. I walked out of their offices with a modelling contact – which was something I really hadn’t thought possible.

Around the same time I went for an interview at AVA model management and got a job as an intern there. A week later, they formally hired me as a junior agent and scout! After about a year, I still felt ambition burning inside of me. I loved my job but I wanted more out of it; luckily, things were really picking up for the company I worked for, and they sent me to LA to intern for their sister company. I’ve been here ever since!

My favourite part of modelling is shooting editorials – it’s like playing dress-up for adults! I have had the pleasure of working with some super-talented people on some really interesting concepts. I also love the idea that there may be girls or women out there who are inspired by these photographs; if I can feel happy in my own skin, and they can see that in the image, maybe they will find some comfort in that and start to feel good about themselves too! I have been getting a lot of messages lately from young girls who want to get into the modelling industry, some have cited me as the reason why and that is just…the best reward. It feels incredibly empowering.

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Of course, modelling can be a very tough industry – it’s definitely not for everyone, but rejection is just par for the course. It might feel more personal because the rejection is based on your appearance, but you shouldn’t let it get to you. Don’t let it bring you down and realise that you are much stronger than you think. I highly advise to never listen to anyone who doubts you.

Because of the bullying I experienced in my younger years, I grew into a very shy teenager, but modelling really helped improve my confidence and brought me out of my shell. I think in some ways, it must be harder for young people now, especially in the age of the internet where bullying goes beyond the school gates. Also, we have such crazy beauty standards being pushed onto today’s youth, and as a consequence of that, young people are seeking to alter the way they naturally look. Conversely, I feel like curvy women are finally gaining positive representation in both the media and the fashion industry. It is really exciting and refreshing to see so many bad-ass, curvy babes like Ashley Graham, Geo Burke, Robyn Lawley and Barbie Ferreira breaking barriers and succeeding in the industry.

I know it’s not easy to love yourself all of the time, but always try and remember to believe in yourself. I think if you believe in yourself, your confidence will rise up.

India

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Meet the GRL PWR Gang, a collective of girls set for world domination.

We interviewed Artist/Designer Elizabeth Ilsley, Photographer/Director Millicent Hailes and Marketing Consultant Jessica Riches; just three members of GRL PWR Gang, a collective of influential women who have joined forces to promote female empowerment and support other women working in creative industries. 

Founded by Kirsti Hadley and Kylie Griffiths, the GRL PWR Gang works together to provide opportunities for like-minded women to come together for girl-chat, media networking, creative support, team projects and sharing of ideas.

Their objective is to encourage and inspire other young women to access the creative industries as a potential career path, and plan to pass on their collective knowledge to the next generation of young girls via digital engagement and live events. They will soon host talks and mentor young girls on body image, beauty, feminism, social media and how to access that dream job!

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DTL: Our research revealed that 35% of teenage girls believe that their gender will have a negative effect on their career. What are your thoughts on this, based on your experiences?

  • Jessica: It’s true. But if you’re prepared for that, you can be aware of it. Call it out when you see it, know your rights, educate yourself and join any organisations or unions available to you for extra support.
  • Millicent: It’s really sad. There have been shoots in the past where I have been mistaken for the assistant, and my male assistant is assumed to be the photographer, just because he’s an older guy. This has happened before we’ve even set up or spoken to anyone, so it really is based purely on gender, and who is perceived to be the most ‘capable’ or ‘powerful’. It frustrates me, but ignorance isn’t going to keep me from furthering my career.

DTL: Did you ever experience bullying? If so can you tell us what happened and how you dealt with it?

  • Elizabeth: Unfortunately, like a lot of people, I experienced bullying throughout primary and secondary school. I had ginger hair and have a prominent mole next to my mouth, so kids used to tease me constantly about my appearance. I was in such turmoil during that time; I tried to cut my mole off with a razor when I was in Year 8, after a group of boys wouldn’t stop calling me ‘moley’! But my god, I am so glad I never had it removed – having a noticeable mole on my face makes me unique, and it has become one of my favourite features now!
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Elizabeth Ilsley
  • Millicent: One of the many times I was suspended at school, was for not intervening in a situation when I was aware that a girl was being bullied. Maybe the teachers thought that, because I was outspoken and confident, I should have stepped in and helped the girl. My mum always tells that story to my little brother and sister who are just starting secondary school – the tale of when their older sister was a coward. I still feel really awful about it now.
  • Jessica: All you have to do is go online to see the disgusting abuse directed at people – particularly women, LGBT+ people and ethnic minorities. I work with a number of bloggers, journalists and celebrities on their personal profiles online, and it makes them want to give up their platform. All you can do is tell them to focus on the people who are positively impacted by their words; they far outweigh the cowardly, unhappy few.

DTL: What advice would you give to someone who may be experiencing bullying right now?

  • Millicent: Tell somebody right away – a problem shared is a problem halved. Don’t isolate yourself, situations seem worse when you feel alone, there are people out there who are going through the same thing as you. More than you think.
  • Jessica: You are not alone. If you can’t get a support network in real life it will definitely exist online – Ditch the Label is a great example of this. You can visit their website and access support at the click of a button if you need to.

DTL: If you could go back in time, what one thing would you tell your younger self?

  • Elizabeth: You are not ugly. You are as funny and important as everyone else at school. There is no one else like you and life will get really, really fun as soon as you turn 18. Also, stop worrying about the colour of your hair and the socks that you wear.
  • Millicent: Embrace who you are. Wear weird clothes, watch weird movies. You’re great and don’t give a s*&% if someone says otherwise.
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Millicent Hailes

DTL: What are your most prominent challenges, and how do you overcome them?

  • Jessica: Being taken seriously as a young woman in business is hard. So many people have said to me ‘you’ve done so much for a girl so young’. They’d never say anything like that if I was a man.

DTL: What is it like to be a woman in 2016 and what needs to change?

  • Jessica: I have a very specific experience of being a woman in 2016, as a straight, white, cis-gendered woman with a degree and a middle-class background. I deal with sexist comments disguised as compliments, and have probably lost out on some income as a result of this – but I’m one of the lucky ones. There are lots of mainstream movements to make life better for women in 2016, but the majority of movements still need to broaden, listen to, and represent the needs of all women, not just those like me.
  • Millicent: Even in 2016 it’s important to remember how far we’ve come together, and how far we still have to go for gender equality and women’s rights.
  • Elizabeth: I want to keep this positive so, to be a woman in 2016 is…fun! Not in every aspect, of course, but in the main, it is incredibly fun! We are free to express ourselves, and there are opportunities out there for us – you just gotta find them.
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Jessica Riches

DTL: Is there anything you would like to add?

  • Millicent: I’m always available to speak to anybody that needs my help or advice. I might not be as good as Ditch The Label, but I’m still here!
  • Elizabeth: Enjoy being a woman – it’s a blessing, but don’t hate on men. Men are a blessing too!

Learn more about GRL PWR Gang here: Girls Girls Girls

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Read our full Gender Report here: https://www.ditchthelabel.org/gender-report-2016/

Whether you are being bullied, or you are aware of someone who is, Ditch the Label is here to help: https://www.ditchthelabel.org/get-help/