By Noemi Plaza & Tess Hardy
As we all know, February is the month of love, with Valentine’s Day falling on February 14 each year. This annual celebration is a time for people to show feelings of love, affection and friendship worldwide. In light of this, we thought who better to strike up a conversation with than change maker and fashion model, Emma Breschi.
Originally growing up in Thailand, her dream was to become a photographer and be behind the camera. She says she became a model by accident and explores her own body to connect with her sexuality and femininity through her art.
We’re extremely excited to speak to you in light of Valentine’s month. Please could you briefly describe a bit about your activist journey and transition into the public eye for our readers who might not know?
Emma: So I guess the title of ‘activist’ was given to me by people that follow me, because never once did I think I was an activist. I’m a very honest, outspoken person in the way that I use my platform, interact on my Instagram and take ownership of my own body and representation, but I like to call myself a very passionate enthusiast. It’s quite funny for me…I didn’t realise just loving my body would make me an activist. It’s a shame that it’s labelled that way.
The way I speak seems to resonate with people and make them feel better, and that’s great! But then I’m also not on the frontlines, fighting to the death from a cause. So I don’t really know what people expect of me as an activist. For me, it’s just about trying to do the best that I can without letting perfection get in the way of doing good things.
Being true to yourself, passionate about your cause, and honest about the things that you care about – no one can fault you for doing you.
It’s incredibly inspiring to see your passion for human rights, body positivity and women empowerment. Do you think society as a whole is doing enough to change these issues for women?
We could say that it’s changing and it’s a lot better now. But the fact that it’s taken this long for people to understand that we need to be more inclusive and diverse is a joke to me. It’s not enough. We’re in 2021 – how is it that we’re still having these issues, especially in the fashion and the beauty industry? There’s so much work to be done.
And that alone challenges our own internalised phobias, whether it’s being scared of being fat, or letting go of the validation and praise that say, a ‘thin’ body would give us, or the way we’ve been conditioned to praise anyone that’s lost weight – it’s crazy. I actually fluctuate and it’s been since becoming a model. It’s so interesting for me to learn how people perceive beauty.
It seems like there’s no winning. When I started modelling, I remember being told I was being put in the plus size, the curve division. What the hell is that? I’d never heard of it. In fashion school, I wasn’t taught anything about curve models. So then my idea of fashion, how models should look really changed by becoming a curve model myself. I’m learning so much more than I ever did at uni by actually being in the industry, living the experience.
I don’t know if I can make any great change, but by trying to coincide with my values, I hope that I’m able to provoke thought to the people I work with.
I almost quit modelling because so much of the industry is toxic, I wanted to give up. We shouldn’t be put into this position where models have to teach the industry how to be better, but we’re part of the problem so we have to be part of the solution as well.
I also don’t like the term ‘body positivity’. I think body acceptance is what needs to be added, because the intention was so pure and good when it started, but it’s just been diluted like any trend now. We’ll forget that being positive in yourself is actually accepting who you are.
The magnitude of women who feel they have to conform to societal standards of beauty and perfection has sadly soared in the 21st century. What do you plan to do this year to challenge these ideas and raise awareness of this issue?
It takes a lot of courage and strength to have the heart to do the work, to love and accept yourself. We’ve been conditioned to fear what’s natural and what’s human, e.g. ‘fat is bad’. If you’re too much of anything there’s health risks, but we need to change our perception of that word. Fat people can be healthy and fit too.
For me, it’s important to try and encourage people to take a gentle approach throughout the process of loving yourself… during the ups and downs that your body goes through. When you’re healthy in your mind and soul, everything else will fall into place. My approach this year is to have these conversations to eliminate the fear.
We have huge admiration for your recent Dior campaign featured in the latest issue of Document Journal, Fall/Winter 2020. How did you find the courage to shoot such empowering images?
I actually feel more confident modelling naked, because when I’m put into clothes, a lot of the time you have to become a different character. I was very much in my element, also because I really enjoy shocking people. I get a kick out of people feeling a little bit awkward and uncomfortable around me.
So me and the photographer, David, we’d be standing in the garden having a cigarette and I’d just be naked. I don’t mind being in that situation when everyone around me is being respectful. I felt very comfortable with him. He said to me he needed someone that was so comfortable within themselves, it wouldn’t hold back on the imagery, which is true because shooting in the nude, even if it’s a small team, that’s quite a vulnerable position to be in. You just needed to let go of ego, insecurities and self doubts. And that’s why the images we created turned out the way they did!
You’re in control of how you represent yourself and love your body. No one can take that from you.
What advice can you give to the young generation of girls today who are severely image and body conscious? How can they learn to take ownership of their womanhood and femininity?
A lot of younger generations need to not doubt how amazing they are. Young minds are incredible. Just the other day, I was talking to this 18-year-old girl and she was like, “I feel like I’m not doing enough.” I was like, no, don’t doubt your intellect, don’t doubt your passion, don’t doubt what you believe in. Just because you’re 18 doesn’t mean you don’t have a say in this conversation. Your view and the way you think is just as important as the way I think and see things.
Regardless of age and experience, we can all learn something from each other.
So I just tell younger people don’t be so hard on yourself. Enjoy the process, enjoy the highs and understand the lows so that you just ride this wave that is life. It’s never going to be perfect. Try to learn how to move through with your emotions and focus on doing the best you can.
We’re too obsessed about what people think about us that we forget about what’s actually important, what’s important to you?
It’s positive to see such relatable, witty and unfiltered content on your social media, highlighting the importance of embracing your real self. What do you think are the most significant stages when it comes to finding self-confidence, especially for those at their most vulnerable?
It’s a very hard process because we go through all these emotions while we’re on our journey of self love and acceptance. And when you finally decide that you’re going to work on accepting who you are, rather than trying to change it, you’re going to go through the waves of anger, frustration, sadness, fear.
If you’re into spiritual stuff, it’s like any sort of process of transformation. A lot of the time, all that negative shit you’re holding on to it isn’t even yours! That’s why I say get a therapist. I was late to the therapy waggon because I did all of this stuff on my own. I was very independent as a younger person but, now that I’m older, I have a therapist and we get on so well.
Naturally, everyone experiences their down days where self-doubt may creep back in. On days like these, how do you re-ground and nurture the relationship you have with yourself?
It’s a relationship that I’m going to work on for the rest of my life – the longest relationship I’ve ever had! Ultimately, I’m stuck with myself, right? Till the day I die. So I’m going to be constantly nurturing it. That’s why you have to enjoy it.
I still have so much more work to do and to look forward to. For someone who’s very extroverted, I’m actually someone that needs to be alone a lot. It’s important to recharge those batteries, but then I can also be very isolating.
After the first lockdown, it was an interesting time in my life to learn more about me. That’s one of the blessings; despite how bad it is, I learned a lot about not just the different social constructs going on, but about myself. That’s really important for my journey as an activist, model and person in this world. I’m able to really understand now that I don’t have all of my shit together. I was using being busy and confident as a front to maybe not do the work inside, to not have healed the stuff that I neglected as a child. So even when you think you know it all, you don’t.
We’ve been blessed with the human life, we’ve got to try our best to understand it and do good by it.
Can you recall a memorable moment for when you first felt completely comfortable in your own skin?
At quite a young age, I went through the experience of a really toxic relationship. Even though I’ve always been quite a confident person, when I came out of that, I realised I endured some of the hardest things that took its toll on me, and I felt like now I can just be me. I’ve let go of relying on someone else to give me what I thought would bring me happiness.
I always thought I loved myself, but clearly I didn’t if I endured four years of a relationship that wasn’t healthy for me. I will never ever let that happen again, because now I know the meaning of what real love is. And that lies with me.
I always say thank you to that person in my mind. If I hadn’t gone through that, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’m not going to let the abuse that happened to me define me or consume me. I’m going to use that pain and transfer it into empowerment.
Being approached to become an ambassador for UN Women UK and Bloody Good Period must feel so heartening! How do you find speaking up for women when working on campaigns, such as ‘End FGM’ and the Lady Garden’s International Women’s Week panel?
It’s crazy even the way that I talk got the attention of these huge organisations and charities like UN Women and Period. We had a meeting of all the other ambassadors sat around people that really are fighting FGM, trans rights and other great causes. Everyone was like, “Yes, I’m an activist for this and I’ve written this book”. And then it came to me and I was like, “I’m a model. And I like to talk. So I haven’t written a book, but I’m really good at talking.” I felt so small, it’s quite weird, because I never really feel insecure. But when it comes to my intelligence, that’s when my insecurities come out.
I remember being a young girl thinking I hate being a girl. I was the first girl to get boobs and my period. I was a super tall, curvy girl. So the best way for me to survive or exist was to be like one of the guys, to be funny, because that way no one could hurt me. But then it also had this downside to me being like, who am I as a woman? I don’t know. You know?
As an adult, I’ve really enjoyed the journey I’ve had. Even though there are elements of that young tough, boyish, kooky girl now mixed with this empowered, feminine woman, I’ve really come to my own and I’m still coming to my own, learning what it is to be a woman. I learn so much from the LGBTQ community about how to embrace my own freedom, despite being a cis woman.
I can’t tell someone how to love themselves, but if I can give any advice to help them on their journey, I hope that what I do enables people to start that journey for themselves, because it’s a great, beautiful journey.
I’m no expert, I don’t have all the answers. But being yourself and being true to you, it’s one of the most incredible journeys because I’m living it right now. I want everyone to join, hop in the car and come with me.
Congratulations on all that you have achieved so far for the diversity and inclusivity of women! What has made you feel most proud in your career?
I guess you could say I’m quite proud of the latest Dior – also my first ever solo shoot. It’s interesting in the curve industry, for some reason, all the fat girls are put together and we all get naked, and it’s seen as ‘body positivity’.
I understand the art direction in the sense that they wanted it to be about me and what I represent, and I feel like the jewellery was just an addition. If you told me when I was 13 years old that I’d be doing that, I wouldn’t have believed you. So I think that’s one of the proudest moments of my career right now.
Speaking with Emma Breschi has been wonderfully inspiring. We were completely captivated by her honesty and authenticity. There truly is power in being brave enough to be at one with yourself. So whether you’re celebrating today by yourself, or if you’re in a loving relationship, we wish you a very warm and happy Valentine’s Day full of love!
This interview has been shortened and edited by Tess Hardy.