21st Century Model: Q+A with Janay Watson

Photography by Khaila King

The face of fashion is constantly evolving to represent a more inclusive market. Today, the status quo is being challenged by Black and Brown faces and bodies of all shapes and sizes. Although the history of the fashion industry has been known to be heavily influenced by eurocentric beauty standards, the brave, the bold and the daring new generation is making a statement that can not be ignored. PATTERN has developed The 21st Century Model series to highlight the new, eccentric and representative faces of fashion’s future!

Twenty-one-year-old Janay Watson is one of many who is challenging the industry’s definition of beauty. Set out to spread positivity with her personal brand Model of the Light, Janay is committed to encouraging her audience to embrace and celebrate their own authentic and unique features. Her riveting looks and vibrant personality sets her apart from her peers. We had the chance to hear her story, as she talks about her journey of self discovery and what it means to be a plus size Black woman with vitiligo in the industry. 

Khaila King: How were you introduced to modeling?
Janay Watson: That’s a good question. I feel like it started in high school. We had a high school fashion show and I decided to get involved in it. I was very insecure in high school. This was a point in my life where I was covering up my vitiligo spots everywhere on my body. I even had foundation on my hands. I wanted to be more confident in myself. I really looked up to Winnie Harlow, she’s a famous model who has vitiligo and I was like if she can do it why can’t I. It started off then. That was in 2015. I was in my first fashion show and when I got out of high school, I realized that I had a love for fashion and I wanted to be a fashion designer but then I thought why not model clothes, why can’t I be the model. I realized that I thought that I couldn’t model, because I had vitiligo and I just wanted to defy the odds. 

KK: Did you always see yourself becoming a model? If not, why and what changed that?
JW: No, I didn’t always see myself as being a model. Actually, I’m a writer at heart. That’s what I love to do, I loved writing. I used to have a blog so actually I thought at this point in my life I would be blogging full time. I didn’t think I would be a model, because I just looked so different. One, I’m plus size. I’m a thick girl. I knew at the time that it was hard to get into the industry as a plus size model if you didn’t have THE look and then also, because of the vitiligo. I didn’t know how the two would correlate together and how people would respond to it, if I would be marketable in the industry. That’s why I didn’t think that I would be a model. 

Khaila King: Can you describe your relationship with your personal body image? Has it grown, changed, always been the same?
JW: It’s been a roller coaster, but I’m in a place where I’m just loving my body. I feel like in the modeling industry, if you don’t have thick skin, it can make you very insecure. Especially when you’re on set and they’re like, “oh this doesn’t fit.” Sometimes you can’t model certain clothes if they didn’t pull the right samples, if your sizing changes and you have to keep a certain image, or if your agent is like “I need you to lose a little bit of weight or tone up.” It’s really tough and it can make you insecure. I really struggled with accepting myself, because I put so much emphasis on how other people saw me. For a while that’s how I viewed myself, how other people viewed me. I started realizing that other people’s perceptions of me don’t matter and I won’t always be someone’s cup of tea. Some people think you’re beautiful, some people won’t  but at the end of the day if you know in your heart that you’re beautiful, that’s all that matters. My perception of myself has changed, because I realized self love comes from within me at the end of the day. 

KK: Where do you believe the modeling industry is at in terms of diversity and representation on a local and a national level?
JW: Locally, I think we could have a lot more opportunity for people who don’t look like the typical model. In the Midwest, if you have the typical model or actress look (very clean cut, slim body, nothing really extra to you) then you can get a job. It’s a little bit harder to get a job for a model who looks different, because the fashion scene here is still growing. It’s still evolving so we still have a way to go. I’ve been awarded some really great opportunities, it’s just that we don’t have a lot of jobs for models that don’t look like the standard model that pay well. As far as the industry on a national level, I feel like we’re really evolving and coming along. Ofcourse there are things that could use some adjusting or can be done, but I can’t complain because I see things changing every year. I feel like acceptance is becoming more prevalent. I think that people are realizing that beauty can’t be defined in one way.

KK: Who are your sources of inspiration?
JW: I’m really inspired by words. I told you I’m a writer so I just love words such as Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Michelle Obama. Reading poems, quotes and books from people who are all about empowering other people, that inspires me even in modeling, even in my day to day life and in my music. I feel like words are what keep me going. Even in the morning I have to read affirmations for myself, otherwise, I’ll feel off that day. Then of course there’s Winney Harlow, she’s very strong and empowering and Ashley Graham.

KK: How did you find the right agency?
JW: The funny thing is, I actually applied to Helen Wells six times before I got accepted. I applied when I was in high school, maybe two times then outside of  high school, three times. On the sixth try I finally got it. I wasn’t what they were looking for at the time and I guess I wasn’t in the quote on quote market. It’s all about what they want that year. Looks can evolve and change. One year you can get a lot of gigs, the next year if you’re not in the market once then you may not get as many gigs. That’s how the industry works. I just kept applying. I’m such a go-getter that it didn’t stop me from modeling freelance. Before Helen Wells, I was doing a lot of runway shows. Now I’m doing solely photoshoots. I just kept applying. I just got signed a month ago to 10 MGMT and they actually had an open call here in Indy. That’s how I found out about them. I did some research online and a few people kept sending me the open call information. When I went into the audition, I actually fell flat on my face. I was heels and then I got up and I was like “I’m okay.”

KK: Does it ever feel as though sometimes you’re meeting a quota?
JW: With the whole Black Lives Matter movement right now, this is very relevant. Talking to other African American models or ethnic models, I realized some things that I just hadn’t noticed before. Sometimes on set, I might be the only Black girl there. It could be a room full of white people and it’s like “well they got the one or  two Black girls they need so they’re good.” Sometimes it does feel like that. It feels like I’m just being brought on so that the company doesn’t look racist, so that they can have that person that looks different. 

KK: What do you practice to build confidence and exercise self love?
Getting up in the morning, doing my hair, doing my skin routine, eating breakfast – just taking care of myself. I pray, I do affirmations. Being centered and in touch with myself helps me stay confident. Also learning to have thick skin. It’s all about your mindset. It doesn’t come easy. I didn’t always have thick skin, I’m very emotional and I used to be a sensitive person. I had to learn to not listen to other peoples comments or to educate people when they say something that isn’t right. Being confident to me is all about taking care of myself, learning to not feed into negativity and affirming everything that I want to be.

KK: What advice would you give to an aspiring model that is hesitant to go for it, because they’re not sure they’re what the world wants to see?
JW: I would say that if you don’t try it you’ll never know. At the end of the day if you try something you can say that you did it. I feel like that’s an accomplishment in itself even if you find out later on that it isn’t for you. If you don’t go for it you’ll never know. You can’t waste time not trying. You can make connections, learn different lessons, you may even find yourself in a different way just by trying. You have to just go for it. 

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