Model, influencer, and entrepreneur Iskra Lawrence joins Yahoo Finance Live's A Time For Change to discuss how the modeling industry has changed over the years, leveraging social media platforms, and what she's learned as she raises her biracial child.
ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Welcome back to "A Time for Change." The modeling industry has not always been kind to women, both women in the modeling industry and the rest of us looking at images from the outside. But a new generation is working to make it a kinder, gentler industry for all of us. Iskra Lawrence is a model, social media influencer, and entrepreneur who just launched her own skincare line. And Yahoo Finance's Ali Canal was able to speak with her about how she's managed to build a thriving career on her own terms.
ISKRA LAWRENCE: As someone who has always been an advocate for self-love and self-acceptance, as a model, it was very challenging because I was met with a lot of barriers. And namely, I was trying to be a straight-size model, and I was always too big. And then when I tried to see if I could be a plus-size model, they said I was too small. So my mission began with trying to change the industry. And it's beautiful seeing kind of the results.
I've been modeling now 18 years, and seeing that there is so much more inclusivity in the modeling world. And that translates so much to me when we talk about body care, because a lot of my self-image issues stemmed from what I saw, the models who I saw representing brands, the messages that I was consuming. And so for me, I always knew that my end goal was creating brands that really truly cared about inclusion, the message they were spreading, and the images that they were portraying. So for me, a body care brand made total sense. And Saltair's tagline is "everybody is welcome here," because we truly want everyone to feel welcome.
And this beautiful serum body wash right here, that is a product that everyone is putting on their bodies every single day. So it was my chance to get to people, while they're literally washing their bodies every single day, and hopefully give them those little reminders that they are enough, that they are worthy of taking just five minutes to themselves every day, and that their bodies are beautiful just the way they are.
ALEXANDRA CANAL: And to follow up on a point you made, you said you were rejected from mainstream agencies for being too big and plus-size agencies for being too small. I'm curious the lesson there beyond the world of modeling. How do you fit in when you're constantly being told that you don't? Because I do think a main issue today is imposter syndrome.
ISKRA LAWRENCE: Mm. Yeah, that's true. I think that everyone, at some point in their lives, has not felt enough, no matter what career they're in, whatever community you're in. We're just pulled in multiple different directions about the type of person that we should be and that we should look like. So it's really, really tricky when you're trying to build your self-worth if it's based-- or any value system based on appearance. So that's one thing I've worked really hard to try and encourage people to step away from, and instead try and build a value and worth system that is based on their characteristics, or their talents, or the things that they put into the world.
So, one thing I like to do is a mirror challenge, where, myself, I use it for a self-affirmation tool, and I've also done a show on Facebook called "Mirror Challenge," where I get people who have had self-esteem issues, body image issues, abuse issues, to get in front of the mirror and break down the definition that they might currently have about how they view themselves or the value system they might place on their worth. Maybe they're brave. Maybe they're creative. Maybe they're funny. Maybe they're the life of the party. And those little tools, even though they could seem throwaway, it is the narrative that you tell yourself every single day.
I'm telling you, you've got to speak to yourself like your best friend would speak to you. And that's a decision that you've got to make every single day to speak to yourself in a loving, kind way.
ALEXANDRA CANAL: And speaking of the illusions of appearances, you have nearly 5 million followers on Instagram. What's your relationship with social media? Because on the one hand, you're able to reach so many people. But on the other, it is the cause of a lot of self-doubt, anxiety, a lot of mixed messaging when it comes to how to love yourself. So how do you navigate that when it comes to sifting through all that noise, not getting caught up in it, while also trying to appear as authentic and genuine and not performative as possible?
ISKRA LAWRENCE: Yeah, I think that's such a valuable question, because that's something that this generation is really trying to figure out, how they use social media in a positive way, but have boundaries set so that it doesn't kind of consume them and make them fall into this compare and despair.
So my biggest thing is I try and think of like a consume and create ratio. As someone whose business is obviously very much based online, and the communities I'm building with Self Funding and Saltair are very much online, I have to figure out when I'm creating or when I'm just consuming, and making sure that that's more balanced, because I feel productive, I feel accomplished, I feel like I'm putting something good into the world over just consuming, where I can go in this downward spiral, where I'm just like, I don't know, 10 Instagram pages and thinking, why am I not in Bora Bora, or why I don't get to work out every single day and have an eight-pack anymore, because I'm so busy with my toddler and these businesses?
ALEXANDRA CANAL: And a lot of what you express to your followers stems from your experience in the modeling world. You had to forge your own path. When doors were shut, often taking jobs with little to no pay, which can be a tricky mindset. I think especially as women, you're like, OK, let me just put myself out there, get myself in the door, hopefully the money and the opportunities will follow. But how did you balance exploitation versus forging your own path?
ISKRA LAWRENCE: Great question. I did not navigate it very well at the beginning. I would say, from the age of 13 when I started modeling up until the age of 23, I would say, I was definitely getting exploited, I was definitely working for free, I was definitely signing a lot of rights away to my images. One time I did a shoot with a photographer who had me sign away my rights to my images. And not long after I saw them used in huge billboards on a really famous gym in the UK. I saw them used in a big drugstore promoting toothpaste, which would have been thousands and thousands of dollars. And I signed those images away, all of them, for the 300 pounds.
So I've learned a lot. Unfortunately, I think there is still a lack of protection from modeling agencies in general. I'm not saying anyone specific. I found a great agency now, and I feel really secure. But there are people fighting. I don't know if you've heard of Sara Ziff. But she has the Model Alliance. And I absolutely love the work they do, because she's fighting for legislation to protect models.
So there's definitely-- there's not much transparency in the modeling industry. I personally felt like I was employed by them, where in a matter of fact, actually, you're the model, you're the client, and you pay the agency a commission.
So I found that the more I grew online, I was able to essentially have a leverage, because I knew the brands wanted to work with me. And I was able to then go back to agencies, and I was able to call out things in the contract that didn't make sense anymore, or say that I would prefer to work in this way. And I realized that I'm actually the client here. And it's really important for models to know that they do have a voice.
We are definitely made to feel like if you're "difficult," you won't work. And I've heard many stories about models who have been "difficult," and then they get put on a middle seat of a plane, or if a client calls, they won't be the model that's bigged up on the phone, they won't be the model that gets the booking. So there's a lot of politics within the industry.
ALEXANDRA CANAL: I want to shift gears here a bit, because you have a mixed race baby, who is so cute, by the way. I know that after the murder of George Floyd, you posted a lengthy Instagram about protecting your child and educating yourself as a privileged white woman. Where are you in that journey? And how has raising a biracial child influenced your parenting style so far?
ISKRA LAWRENCE: Oh my goodness. It has completely shifted my perspective. I have a privileged life. And up until I met Philip, and we lived together, and I really, truly got to spend 24 hours a day with someone who has a completely different life experience to me, who is part of the Black community, and witnessing his thought process and what he has to deal with every single day, that's when it really hit home, just how it's a choice. I was able to choose when I thought about racism.
One of the first things we did was, even before he was born, was go and obviously find books that would feel like he could be represented, that we could discuss race with him, books that we've also encouraged our friends within our friendship group who have white children. The experiences they're going to have are going to be completely different. Or at least right now while my baby's cute and a toddler, how that is different in society to when he's a teenager, and out late at night, and wearing a hoodie, or in a group of people.
There's going to be so many different challenges that will be different for us raising a biracial child. And I'm already aware, because we bought some DUPLO this Christmas, and there was white characters, and there was only one Black boy. And immediately my toddler said, it's me, Mommy!
So there is this just constant challenge of just being aware and having these open conversations from day one, with our child and with my partner, about how I'm doing. What can I do more? Can we make sure that we're going to a church that's diverse? We're having these conversations consistently.
ALEXANDRA CANAL: All right, that was some great perspective there. That was Yahoo Finance's Ali Canal talking to model, influencer, and entrepreneur Iskra Lawrence.