Alexis Henry: Q&A
By TADHI COULTER
In light of recent civil & racial unrest around the world, particularly in the United States, this series timestamps the perspectives, experiences and desires of a current selection of talent represented by the Marilyn Agency.
TC: Have you, a loved one, or friend experienced discrimination? Describe that experience or combination thereof.
Alexis Henry: As a black, plus-sized model in a very reserved industry, discrimination has been common throughout my career. If it isn’t my size, then it’s my ethnicity. My family, close friends, peers have all experienced discrimination. It’s almost too common and expected to the point of creating responses to typical, daily scenarios.
Most experiences have been based on not fitting a Eurocentric narrative. My hair texture, which is a curly afro, is usually most notable in all my experiences because as a professional model, I am not always provided a hair stylist on set who wants to work with my hair. I typically come “hair ready” in response to the years of not being afforded proper beauty directives at jobs. The first few years of my career, I was not allowed to wear my hair in its natural state. It had to be “sleek” because my 3C texture was not favorable for what clients expected.
When it comes to my size, that is usually a factor if I do not fit the bill of being an acceptable or marketable size for clients. I am a size 18. However, I lean towards more high-fashion concepts because the love and passion I have for it as a creator, and high-fashion has not been a realm built on bigger bodies. Even with commercial brands, you rarely see above a size 14 displayed. So, it is challenging trying to stand out in a specific space, but I also feel that changes are slowly trickling into fashion and beauty out of their being forced to do so.
TC: Describe the impact this kind of discrimination has had on your life, with special attention to the world of fashion & beauty, and whether you see yourself as a change agent.
Alexis Henry: It brought my voice to the front line. A few years ago, I would not speak up and just accept discrimination as something that just came with the job. Yet, I always felt that I wasn’t being authentic and it was vital for me to step into my voice, so that I could not only thrive in a career field I love, but also set an example for other BIPOC creatives. My dream was to be seen and heard for exactly who I am--Black and big. I realized at the turn of my career that in order to be that, I had to embody all of what I’ve dealt with in the past, while making it clear that being either Black or big or both at the same time is acceptable, despite what we are used to seeing marketed in decades prior.
Being a change agent means that you also must accept the negative aspects of forcing change, even when people do not agree or understand yet. However, I have people looking up to me to stay amplified on these issues because it helps them find and use their voices also. Remaining outspoken in this industry is very imperative for me.
TC. How have you been impacted by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, and what would you like the fashion & beauty industry to take away from it?
Alexis Henry. Seeing my people being killed on the internet daily is traumatizing. Then having to go to work, take care of responsibilities, and just burying that for even a moment is heartbreaking. Every face I see at the hands of racism or discrimination reminds me of someone in my family. It hits home and usually I feel a flurry of emotion because it has not stopped for me, my father, my grandmother, or my ancestors. BLM is a response to the injustice and inhumanity that black people have endured for generations, including the fashion industry, which is now starting to take initiative to fight both blatant and microaggressive racism. BLM is a movement but also a daily reminder of our worth and our voices.
Micro-aggression is indeed a form of racism, and BLM is not a social media movement for profit. We are still people dealing with racism to this day. We are the strong foundation not only to how America has thrived since its conception, but also we are the inspiration behind many “trends” that designers and brands capitalize from. So, when you’re inspired by our culture, I just ask that you pay homage to our people who have often put our lives on the line to simply be ourselves while celebrating our existence. I just ask that while staying inspired by us, you also keep your voice magnified for our concerns.