In a social-media driven world, which is constantly fuelled by imagery of perfection, we often find ourselves questioning our imperfections and looking up to social norms of beauty. However, as more and more conversation around embracing ourselves takes place, we constantly find role models who are inspiring us to love ourselves. One such exemplary role model is Kenza. Represented by the incredible London-based modelling agency Models 1, Kenza was scouted at an early age in Paris. However after much rejection and battling the industry standards of perfection, Kenza is now both a leading model (she was recently featured in a global MAC campaign) and a fashion photography student.
Catching up with the talented beauty, we decided to sit down with Kenza to discuss her modelling journey, sources of inspiration & the art of embracing your true self.
The Modelling Journey
Kenza: My mother and grand mother say I was a very creative kid. I have always been into fashion. So when the opportunity came my way, it was like an evidence, I had to do it.
I was tall and skinny, did not really think I had potential for modelling but I knew this was something I could do. I would have never applied to any agency myself though because I thought people would think I am pretentious. I think I was waiting for someone to scout me because I had been told this was the best way of entering the industry.
And it happened. In June 2015, I was almost 16, I got scouted by a big agency in Paris.
I always had some sort of eating disorders but it became stronger at that moment. I pressured myself to be skinnier and skinnier for the meeting. I was scared to be told not to be thin enough and to feel humiliated. I did not know the modelling industry yet but I had already kind of imagined how it was. So I kind of fell in this sickness by myself but I think I can blame the lack of representation of women in the medias that generates one beauty standard. All my teen years, all I got to see on the billboards, on TV was this one beauty standard that is the tall white, usually blonde skinny girl.
I never felt discriminated for my origins. Maybe I once was, but I don’t know it. I heard some testimonies about racism, I cannot deny it exists in the fashion industry.
Diversity and inclusivity really became a thing when I was about 17/18. So things are changing. Not everywhere though, especially in Paris where there is still a kind of conservatism that I personally and paradoxically understand but that I am fighting against anyway.
It took some years for me to finally sign a contract in Paris that did not even lead to interesting things. Then, I took a break from modelling that became something that I wanted to do but that was too unhealthy to me.
When I started to mentally recover, I began to consider applying to agencies abroad. So, In January 2018, I sent some digitals to Models 1 and I met them.
After a test shoot, they decided they would sign me.
Models 1 took me as I am. And I know they took some risks in a way because I do not completely fit the curve board but they took a chance on me and I am thankful they did. I got to meet a nice team of kindly people motivated to promote my profile. They offered me a real official place in the fashion industry and thanks to this I get to discover this world that I am so curious about and in which I’d also like to work as a creative.
The Importance of Body Positivity
Kenza: I think you need to look at your body like you would look at a piece of art. With tolerance and understanding. I am not telling you to consider your body as a piece of art, it is too difficult when you are unconfident. But changing your vision is possible.
Going to drawing classes definitely helped me a lot. Because when you draw someone’s body, the teacher doesn’t tell you to draw ‘a body’, but to draw the shapes that you see and not those you think you see. It is a confrontation between representation and reality. You don’t draw a little fat on the belly, you draw a more or less round shape. You objectivise the body. And when you get that, you don’t judge a body anymore because you see it more objectively so your beauty criteria tend to disappear and you discover other forms of beauty.
So I think that being sensitive to different types of art definitely helped me to accept my body.
The Many Sources of Inspiration
Kenza: I get the most inspired when I am surrounded by passionate, successful (in their own way) people that have ambitions, that are activists, creative people from the fashion industry or not, I am just looking for a good energy. Photography is currently the form of art that inspires me the most, especially fashion photography which is what I’d like to do by the way. At the moment, I love Vincent Van de Wijngaard, Lee Wei Swee and Hugo Comte.
The Art of Multi-Tasking
Kenza: I am from Paris and I moved to Brussels to study photography at La Cambre, in September.
So I live in between Brussels and Paris and sometimes I get to come to London to work. I like this not-so-routine routine. Travelling and modelling allow me to stay inspired and to meet creative people. Observing people work is another way of learning that brought me a lot.
The Insider Tip for Aspiring Models
Kenza: Not to take it personally. I know you hear it over and over again. But I understood what it meant when I started working. As a model, you are a member of a creative process, but also a member of a commercial activity. Money runs the world. If you don’t meet the criteria, admittedly more subjective than objective, you won’t get the job. But it does not mean you are less beautiful or have a less interesting personality. Personality and smartness do not really show through a picture. It is about who can can fake it the best ahah (No, I am kidding, I don’t want people to think there is no authenticity in this industry, there is). But If this casting director does not like you, another will.
And is it really a compliment to please everyone and to be the one that’s going to sell the most? Just think about this.
Moreover being surrounded by a good team of agents like I am at Models 1 is a plus to stay mentally and physically healthy.
Follow Kenza: @kenzasafsaf