How do you define beauty? This is one of the questions we asked ourselves—and all of our models—in our fall campaign, Looking Good Is Only Half the Picture. We’ve always run counter to the traditional beauty industry, and by casting this campaign with an eye towards diversity, we strove to redefine outdated beauty definitions and standards. In hopes to shed more light on these issues, we sat down with French plus-size model and CEO of All Womxn Project, Clémentine Desseaux—one of the faces of our fall campaign. She opens up about body positivity, and how the beauty industry can do better.
Beautycounter: Where are you from?
Clémentine Desseaux: I was born in Toulouse, in the South of France, where I spent all my summers growing up. I moved a bunch and spent my childhood in Alsace until college, then moved to the city of Lyon to study.
BC: How did you get into modeling?
CD: I wasn’t camera shy. I first started in high school, as a hobby. I remember a small agency had just opened in Lyon and was offering to represent plus size; that was the very first in France, but after I signed with them at 17 years old, they closed down three months later, so nothing happened—but the rush of the possibility was inside of me. After that, I signed my first agency contract in Paris at 19 years old after sending some holiday pictures. My first jobs were for Kiabi and Gémo in France. I later signed with a German agent, then a UK agent, before I finally moved to Miami in 2011 to follow my dreams; and that’s when I started taking this a bit more seriously and signed with MUSE, my NYC agency in 2012!
BC: How did modeling fit into your upbringing? What was that experience like for you?
CD: Modeling helped me through my self-love journey. At first, it showed me I, too, could be beautiful. Then, it empowered me in making a change in other women’s lives just by being me and being out there. It really gave me a voice and the independence I needed to be happy, and taught me how to be okay being alone—that was a hard one, but I am so glad I enjoy my alone time now.
BC: Can you describe the arc of your modeling career?
CD: When I first started full-time about eight years ago, I was pretty green. It was before Instagram was a thing, before diversity was something fashion really cared or talked about. I used to be the cool, awkward freckled girl. I was edgy and considered a bit too “different” to book commercial jobs at first. That shows how fashion changes; trends and styles are always evolving and require the market to adapt. I feel like I naturally just grew into who I am today as a model. I am grateful to have a voice, thanks to the inner work I have done in addition to modeling. I couldn’t be a model without a voice—I’d be too frustrated!
BC: What led you to becoming a body positivity advocate?
CD: My own struggles with body image as well as my calling to take care of people most likely created that need to become an advocate, as I struggled a lot growing up as a chubby freckled kid, and I hated my body and myself more often than not. I found some purpose in advocating and becoming an open, uncensored storyteller in order to help and empower others to hopefully save time and free themselves from society’s pressures to fit in.
BC: What kind of responses have you gotten from other models and girls whom you’ve reached via your advocacy?
CD: I will always remember the day I decided to use my career to become an advocate. It was in 2011, I had just moved to Miami from Paris, and my first commercial aired on French TV. That day was filled with all kinds of messages from supporters and haters alike. I decided to focus on supporters and positive messages from women. I received touching messages from French girls telling me how much seeing someone that looked like me on their screen changed their whole outlook on themselves and how they see their bodies. I received tons of heartwarming, empowering messages and, that day, I understood the power of representation. Since that day, I have made it a point to make it a mission of mine to advocate for it.
BC: What are the greatest challenges you’ve faced being a female entrepreneur?
CD: I think my greatest challenge is to deal with critics and expectations. As women, we are expected to be great at everything. I suffer from impostor syndrome and tend to feel overwhelmed by those feelings. This is part of the self-work I am doing for myself. My biggest fear is to be wasted potential—it’s not easy, but it’s a work in progress.
BC: What does being a body positivity advocate look like, day to day?
CD: There are many ways of being one. For me, it starts with self. I am trying to work on my issues first so that I can help others. That means making myself a priority, listening to what I need and want, taking time off, cooking, working out, being in the sun…then it means giving back. Choosing to help and advance others daily by what you share, what you do, how you communicate. Being involved in my community, being part of events, panels, reforms that involve what I am working for…every day is different and takes different forms but most of all, it’s being raw, unfiltered, and true to who I am regardless of how flawed it can be.
BC: What other forms of activism are important to you?
CD: Anything that makes sense to me, I support. That goes from environment to social justice and animal rights. Being an activist is being active, caring, and using our voice.
BC: What does clean beauty mean to you?
CD: Clean beauty to me is a lifestyle. It means caring as much about what I put on my skin as what I eat. It means being conscious and very minimal in the way I use skin care and beauty products. I am simply a no-BS, clean beauty addict.
BC: What does joining the “clean revolution” mean to you?
CD: I believe that clean beauty is closely related to self-love, and so I was so thrilled to work with a brand that truly cares on all levels. Using minimal, non-invasive beauty products to only highlight, not change, your features is key to me. It’s a beautiful way to learn to love your looks. Taking care of my face and body taught me how to actually love both better by bringing care and purpose to everything I apply on it.
BC: What ways of clean living do you pursue in your own life, day to day?
CD: I am trying to be the best version of myself every day. Some days are more successful than others. I care about quality foods and products—growing up in France, that’s something that I was taught very early on. I grew up going to the market, choosing small local farm products, touching them, smelling them, bringing our own fabric bags (and reusing them). I am very respectful of everything I cook and eat. I also am very careful with what waste I generate and try to minimalize it, especially in a country that’s really pushing you to create more waste.
BC: What inspires you to continue being a voice for change?
CD: I personally have evolved, so I understand the power of change. I am dedicated to keep working towards it and hope to inspire others along the way.
BC: How do you want to leave the planet for the next generation?
CD: I’d love to leave a clean, conscious, and loving planet. That’s the biggest challenge of all.
BC: Why did you decide to start www.bonjourclem.com?
CD: I was a model in NYC for six months when I started the blog. I was bored and needed more intellectual activity—something to open me up to the world around me. Modeling can be very lonely and self-centered, so I created my blog, Bonjour Clem.
BC: What makes you feel empowered?
CD: I am empowered being able to empower other women. I am empowered seeing change, and I am empowered when I am able to create it.
Even in a newly awakened world, the expectations placed on women today, let alone female models, still require them to measure up to extreme standards that are often impossible—so how do female plus-size models stay empowered? According to Clémentine, the answer is self-love and advocating for positive change.
Feeling inspired? Learn more about what we’re advocating for here.