New York-based Alva Claire Mckenzie is a model who has worked with brands like Mara Hoffman and Savage Fenty. Here, she shares her thoughts on movement, body image, and forward change.
Movement has meant different things to me throughout my life, from playing basketball at Crystal Palace Sports Centre as an 11 year old (pushing myself so hard each week, determined to be stronger than the last) to moving forward with my decision to leave my job and model full time—terrified of stepping into a new, unknown world full of erratic uncertainty. Last year, my movement was to New York. I was moving away from my family and friends, moving away from London, a city that I love, and moving away from the warm, soft, feathery bed of a comfort zone.
Today, the word movement means something much bigger to me than just my personal story. It’s a concept that includes everyone. I am part of a movement; I am part of a change in the fashion industry that affects the wider society. Subconsciously or not, everything is changing.
This realization about movement has crept up on me. I am pretty headstrong and have always been wary of labels, but I was always certain of two things: Yes, I am a curve model and no, that doesn’t define me as a person. So when it came to understanding my job and what it really means, it took me a long time to work out my relationship with that. What I wasn’t initially seeing was that there are many different ways to belong to a movement. There is no right or wrong way, and I am evolving in my own way.
As a model, I shoot a lot of lingerie and swimwear. It has been incredible to work with so many brands I love and feel passionate about, but there have been days I went to work and felt quite vulnerable. It can be a very surreal feeling standing in underwear on a set full of people you only met that morning. It was only when I started to see the impact my images had on people that I realized how important my work is. When I walk on set, it’s not about me—it’s about all the women I feel I represent, and this means everything to me. Wider representation is changing the world we live in; it is so important. When you can look beyond your individual fears and see that you are not alone—that there is a community you stand with—you feel free and more driven than ever to keep working for change in the fashion industry and in society.
My relationship with my own body is unapologetic; it’s my vessel. We will be together all my life. I listen to my body, I don’t want to be in conflict with myself. I’m kind to my body. All the freckles, rolls, and quirks are mine—the unique things that set us apart should be our power. Acceptance is key in my eyes. Once I accepted my body for how it is I could focus on living and learning. I want young people to know that they are enough so they can focus on what they want to do in life and be free from any of the negative feelings towards themselves that so many of us experienced at a young age. All that said, I don’t like the patronizing, surface-level phrase ‘love yourself.’ It’s so empty. This has to run deeper.
Not having fixed ideas has been interesting to me—the movement of thoughts. I used to approach lots of subjects with a ‘know it all’ attitude, but I have now learned to listen more. This has helped me to stay curious and keep growing. I am reading more books and articles on subjects or people I’d like to know more about. I don’t want to have a fear of the unknown and am keen to learn from conversations too, even if they are difficult. I have always felt that discussions are healthy, easing the fear of having different opinions. Conversations are how we will keep this movement alive and how we will continue to change this industry.
My body is more than an image—I have moving thoughts, ideas, and feelings. Having worked in lots of different jobs in the past, an understanding of differing life experiences and perspectives has helped me. Most of all, empathy towards others is shaping my life, and I am more open than I have ever been before. Being part of a movement—being part of change—is everything.