Khrystyana is not only the top model from America’s Next Top Model, but also the founder of The Real Catwalk (#theREALcatwalk) that started one year ago in New York. During this catwalk that was organised in a couple of days, people of all shapes, sizes and looks promoted body diversity and inclusivity and highlighted that it is better to focus on our togetherness rather than our differences. Catwalk and modelling can be for everyone who wants to be a part of it. The aim of the Real Catwalk events is to show people that there is so much more to beauty than the type of bodies we always see in the media. And that no matter what someone’s own body might look like, they are beautiful too.
“After seeing so many different people blending, you will feel related and you will not focus on the differences of the people and you will stop seeing these differences that for some people is what identifies you. People will see that you are a unique person with so many different aspects” she says and the message spread could not be more powerful.
The latest Real Catwalk, which took place in London, had the most people yet, with an incredible amount of representation. There were beautiful people from all walks of life. It’s exactly the type of event Khrystyana was hoping to put on, something driven by love and positivity to celebrate how diverse beauty really is. There were people representing different sexualities, skin colours, ages, sizes, disabilities, trans people, people with scars, people with mental illnesses, and many more.
YASS Magazine was there to cover exclusively the event and interview most of the people who made The Real Catwalk come to life!
Slideshow Images are courtesy of Luis Carmo Photography, Instagram: @luis.carmmo
Luke Paul Riley
“Well, I’m 21 black British, dancer, student and I’m from South East London. When I heard about this campaign it was through Khrystana obviously. I grew up watching America’s Next Top Model. Recent years, I’ve been re-watching and catching up on the show. Eventually, I kind of started to love modelling a little bit, maybe one day I can do it as a career option. When I watched Khrystana on ANTM, she was someone special to look out for, she brought that extra something to the table. Even though she didn’t win, I think she was definitely the true winner of Cycle 24. When she came to London, I was so excited and just meeting her (three times in a row) was an amazing experience of talking to someone who is in the fashion industry and someone that you can relate to about self-image or body issues. She is so friendly, kind, beautiful and NEXT LEVEL FIERCE. The real catwalk was about showing your true yourself, have uber confidence and redefine what beauty is. It was so diverse, unique and inspirational. For me, my goal was to be comfortable in my own skin by showing off my legs, since I have a skin condition called folliculitis (bacterial or fungal infection on hair follicles) and I have been having it for a year now. For a while, I’ve been hiding from the world but now I decided enough is enough. I just want to relax, breath and not to wear tight clothing any more. With my runway walk, I use my dancing background as a skill and try to do my signature walk to show off my personality. I love runway, I always picture it as a dance performance or telling a story though movement. I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to experience it for the first time ever.”
Instagram, Twitter @lukeydun
“My name is Gabriele, I am 24 and I identify as non-binary. I decided to take part in the Real Catwalk because I believe society standards should always be challenged. There isn’t one way to be and today more than ever it is important to speak up and make ourselves more visible. I walked to challenge gender expectations that so often bring me down and make me doubt myself and I feel stronger for it. It is up to us to be leaders of change and I believe to Real Catwalk is accomplishing that. It was a joy to be part of it.”
“I’m Izzy, I’m 20, a physics student, blog owner, and freelancer, and I’m pretty queer. My sexuality is always something I’ve been quite open with, at age 12 me and my now best friend fell for each other and I decided I was a lesbian. Then I got a boyfriend and realised hey maybe I liked more than just girls and said I was bisexual, dabbled with the label pansexual for a while and then realised it was just easier to use bi than explain. I’ve had the usual not really feeling “truly bi” because I’ve never “really” been with a girl and I always end up with guys. I’ve never actually come out to my parents because I was waiting until i got a girlfriend and, well, I’m still waiting. But everyone around me still believes I’m bi, and that’s good enough for me.
My gender is a different story, I identify as non binary and even writing that sets knots in my stomach. I’m only really out to a few close friends who saw the “they/them” on my twitter and Instagram and asked the right questions. With everyone else I kind of hide it, I don’t want to be asked a million and one questions about my gender and be constantly told “but I just don’t understand” by people when even I don’t understand. I don’t want to be a boy or a girl I just want to be a human being, that’s all. I have felt dysphoria before I guess, there’s a very small band of non-binary people who really “fit ” the label and are celebrated in the community. I used to think I had to be able to pass as a guy and well, I still wish I could, or at least look somewhat androgynous to fit my gender but I’ve realised that’s not what determines my gender. Everyone always assumes I’m and girl and that’s fine, I can’t really blame them but I also don’t have the energy to fight with them or be berated for my identity, questioned about every detail with everyone I meet. How can I make strangers accept me when I’m not sure I accept myself?
I got involved with The Real Catwalk because I wanted to challenge myself as a photographer and as a person. I’d never photographed anything like this before and I thought it was an opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and meet lots of wonderful people, and I did both of those things. What really struck me though was when I said I was non binary in the chat we had before the catwalk no one batted an eyelid. It was just yeah cool nice! I didn’t have to fight, didn’t have to answer any questions and I was accepted. And everything I’ve gotten involved in around the catwalk with Khrystyana it’s been “here’s Izzy our queer photographer” and that’s just been that, it was so simple but I meant so much.
The real catwalk celebrates diversity, body positivity and empowered so many people, including me, to feel good about their bodies. I watched people go from nervous and scared to confidently walking around Trafalgar square with people watching and it was that was magical. But for me it opened my up to a whole world of new people where I was just accepted and appreciated. Sure I didn’t take the best photos there, or even the best I’d ever taken but there was so much more than that to it.
Also a little bit about me! I’m a physics student going into their final year of undergraduate and also run my blog The Quirky Queer with focuses on ethical fashion and sustainable living, and I write freelance mainly writing for Yeoja Mag on LGBT!”
Instagram, Twitter: @muccycloud
“I’m Markos and I’m from Greece. I live for the last 4 years in London. I’m working full time for a travelling agency and part time as an actor and an extra in movies. I get involved to the real catwalk after meeting Khrystyana. I’m a big fan of her since ANTM and especially after I had the pleasure to meet her in person and realise what she stands for. I feel very happy about the real catwalk as it was rejuvenating and uplifting for my confidence and a stepping stone to overcome insecurities and stop caring about people’s opinions. I was so inspired from all the people who participated and the reactions from everyone were very positive and supportive. For me the biggest gain from this experience is the confidence I gained about my body and no matter what other people want or expecting from you,you are already perfect the way you are. I would never ever think I would do such a thing- walking in a swimsuit in a busy area in front of hundreds of strangers because I would think about what they would say and I would be terrified and shy. Although I overcame all these thoughts by doing the real catwalk and I’m really proud for doing it. It was actually lots of fun!”
“As someone who had only just developed the confidence to go into a public swimming pool without a shirt for the first time, you can imagine how I felt when it was proposed I walk 25 meters in a pair of black swimming shorts in Trafalgar square at 11AM on a Saturday. I had little confidence in my body, relating both to my physique, but primarily my face. I have struggled with acne since I was 13, and it had taken control of my life. Therefore, on the day of The Real Catwalk, my main intention was to portray a message. And my defects were something to celebrate.
I was painted from head to toe in the colours of the pride flag – but only on the right side of my body. My intention was to portray a walking statement for LGBTQ+ members. The left side represented the side society sees, and the side society is comfortable acknowledging. The right side is who I am. An openly queer 19 year old who is dead set on destroying the current norm subconsciously promoted by our community.
In my experience, young queer individuals are sexually exploited through media, such as Grindr, Scruff and Her, apps which all sell themselves as romantic relationship apps, but when you dig into it, they are all apps targeting a sexual demographic. And this is what poisons our community. If a gay man doesn’t have a 6 pack and a jawline that could cut diamond, he is tossed aside until the next pretty thing comes along. By taking part in The Real Catwalk, I am proudly showing that each individual deserves to feel relevant, regardless of what is demanded from us by the majority.”
Rebecca Van Cleave
“My name is Rebecca Van Cleave, I’m 30 years old and I’m an artist, actress, model, and singer-songwriter. I was told at 14 that I should become a model. I was the girl that had magazine covers and fashion spreads plastering her bedroom walls in high school. I looked up to these goddesses and I wanted to join their magical world one day.
At 17 my body changed and became more curvy. I remember attending a model scouting event with lots of top agencies. I had stomach flu while we were there and could barely keep anything down. My mum told one of the potential agents how bad I was feeling, that I had been up sick all night and hadn’t eaten in two days, and I remember him saying “well it can’t hurt can it?” I struggled on and off with eating disorders in my late teens and early 20’s until I was told by an agent that I would never be “thin” enough to do high fashion and maybe I should go down a commercial road instead.
It wasn’t until this past year that I really began to embrace all of me. I have a scar above my left eyebrow where I struck a deal with death and survived. I have lines on my forehead from too many excited expressions, lines in the corners of my mouth from big wide grins of happiness and laughter. I have breasts that I once wished were bigger because the boys made fun of them until they grew and men made fun of them and then I wished they were smaller. I have tummy that has known many different shapes and sizes and has starved and stretched and aged so that now it’s skin is looser than it used to be. I have magical tiger stripes on my hips and bum, beautiful little white lightning bolts striking across my skin and little blue rivers that run through my legs. I have scars on my feet and a back that curves and curves, but hasn’t let me down yet.
And all of this, I once let cripple me with fear and so many years of self doubt. Until this past year. This year it all became beautiful. This year I embraced all of me and found so much peace and happiness in doing so. And it was because of people asking questions and making bold statements, and companies and agents being willing to explore something outside of the box and creating campaigns and ads for everyone. Because of models like Khrystyana and events like The Real Catwalk, I finally stopped seeing all my “flaws” as flaws.
I think as humans we try to put things into boxes, but the funny thing is, we’re all unique. There can’t be one a one size fits all set standard of beauty standards, because everyone is beautiful and everyone deserves representation. Walking The Real Catwalk was such an incredible, cathartic, beautiful experience, because there were no labels involved. There was no “straight” or “plus size” or talk of age, skin colour, or disability. It was just a group of diverse, brilliant humans, celebrating all bodies and welcoming everyone. There was so much love and acceptance. And that’s what I hope the industry is beginning to move towards. It would be so nice for future generations to grow up feeling like they were represented too, that they didn’t have to fit into a box, that they didn’t have to worry about “growing old”, that they could be anything they wanted to be.
All bodies should be celebrated. Short, tall, straight, curvy, in between, all genders, all sexualities, all ages, all skin colours, all abilities, all disabilities, hair, no hair, stretch marks, cellulite, ALL of it is worthy. All of it is beautiful. All bodies deserve acceptance and representation in this world. Every single human on this earth is the most beautiful, precious thing. You are all stardust, untamed, raw, unique and pure magic because there is only one of you. Never forget that.”
“When I was asked to write about who I am, how I define myself, I had to stop and think for a bit. I define myself by my passion. Passion for justice, passion for creativity, passion for community. I define myself as a proud bisexual woman, despite those who want to call me otherwise. I define myself as an artist, in a myriad of ways. But who am I? I’m an American living in the UK, I’m a student, l am lazy and hard-working, occasionally mean and usually considerate. I am a million things. A paradox. Just like every other human being.
My work is a reflection of how I define myself. I create political theatre, I shoot as a model and photographer, and I facilitate discussions and workshops with many different communities. No matter what the job is, I want to open a dialogue about current issues and the human experience. I want to challenge my audience, or my participants, to think critically and engage with new perspectives.
To me, those were the values at the heart of The Real Catwalk, and what made it such a special experience for all of us. We were challenging society, we were representing the perspectives of real people, we were expressing ourselves. More than that, though – we were truly embracing the beauty of everyone, inside and out. I have never been surrounded by so much positivity, encouragement and powerful love. I feel blessed to have been a part of such a transformative event.”
Annie Wade Smith
“My name is Annie Wade Smith, I’m 22 years old and I identify as a queer/pansexual woman. I work for a mental health project with teenagers where we teach anti-stigma on topics such as self-harm and depression and teach young people how to practice self-care and we get young people involved in activities and projects.
I grew up in a small town in West Yorkshire, where the pressure to be ‘normal’, to look and act a certain way is huge. I was bullied for my red hair and my height and weight made me feel different and unattractive and because of that I lacked confidence on nights out or on holiday.
About 3 years ago this all changed when I posted my first ever bikini photo on Instagram. I always saw girls skinnier and more tanned than me do it so I finally just thought ‘why not me too?’. The response was fantastic, people started messaging me and saying I’d inspired them and from there I carried on posting on Instagram about body image and being proud of your differences. I realised how important it was to get the message out.
Khrystyana has been a huge inspiration to my posts and campaigning, so when I saw the opportunity, I had to get involved in the Real Catwalk. It was an absolutely incredible and overwhelming experience. With this catwalk being open to anyone, we truly had a picture of diversity.
Everyone there had a different body and a different story. Everyone empowered one another to be confident and proud of who they were. You couldn’t compare yourself to anyone else when everyone was so different to one another. It was a small glimpse into what life could be if beauty standards no longer existed and we will keep fighting and working our way towards that goal.”
“For years I struggled with my sexuality and confidence within myself as I was always afraid of what others would think of me. I would always try and hide under this character so I never had to show the real me as I was to scared to do so.
That was until a few years ago when I came out. It was a difficult moment for me at the time as it wasn’t the way I wanted it to happen, yet I somehow felt more like myself that I had ever felt and it has only been on a upward path since. Although my experience with being open about my sexuality was a positive one and left me with a whole new sense of confidence, I still struggled a lot within my mind and body. That was until I started following Khrystyana on her journey. Since the start she has always given me a sense of empowerment within myself and I slowly began to gain confidence with who I was and how I look.
Once I heard Khrystyana was creating The Real Catwalk in London I knew I had to be apart of it. I wanted to be involved for the LGBTQ+ community with being a lesbian myself as I know a lot of my close friends struggle with being so open regarding their sexuality. I wanted to do this for them.
I myself would say that I am not the most confident person when it comes to appearance as my height, uneven proportions and how I see myself are very difficult for me, I don’t always see beauty when I look in the mirror I usually see the opposite.
The Real Catwalk was such a turning point for me as I felt so empowered, a huge wave of confidence seemed to hit me when I walked in front of so many people (something I never thought I’d do especially in a bikini) as at one point I was close to backing out as I was scared people would see what I saw. This moment was a massive step in the right direction for me.
I can’t wait to create more of these moments in the future so everyone can feel the way I felt that day. The Real Catwalk is raw beauty, everyone deserves to feel confidence within them. We are all beautiful.”
“If you asked me to define myself I will tell you that I refuse to be defined by my injury, I’m just a guy living extraordinarily normally! I lost my arm shortly after returning from Afghanistan I was 23 years old, My injury load was quite sever the fact that I was nearly pronounced dead in the road or that I wasn’t expected to survive the journey to hospital hadn’t really phased me, I mean there are people worse off than me, mine’s a scratch compared some people and the fact that I’ve never suffered any mental injuries does in fact make me extremely lucky. The army was great I saw some of the world, trekking through Nepal and The Himalaya’s is definitely up there! I left the army on medical grounds 3 years later.
My first year outside the army was the worst year of my life no job, no money no prospects even after 327 job applications my thought was “what have I really got to look forward to” and so an attempt to hang myself with dressing gown belt failed. I began rebuilding my life, taking a job as a chauffeur and in a bid to rediscover myself, I had qualified as Scuba Diver, learned to fly a plan, Learned to fly a glider, Learned to ski and an attempt to row the Atlantic Ocean (3000 miles of it) although unsuccessful this remains my greatest achievement, because I never gave up, teaching me that; whilst there is no shame in giving up, there’s no success in either! I now work full time in project management and part time as a model although I am trying to make the modelling a full time commitment, I just love working with so many people in something I never thought in a million years I’d ever end up doing in any capacity I’m extremely grateful.
In 2017 I was signed by agents Zoe and Laura from Zebedee Management and this where I discovered a love of modelling my first job being a Lloyds Bank and Mental Health Awareness commercial. In June 2018 I met Khrystyana and took part in The Real Catwalk, London. My experience of this has been one of complete elation, belonging and utter pride more so by what so many others have achieved and boundaries they’ve broken down to wear nothing but a swimming costume be it trunks or a bikini. This event really has solidified for me where my next direction in life is going, giving me the platform to prove to everyone and anyone that, no matter your circumstances no matter what life throws at you, you can still be whatever you want to be. I look back at my life and losing my arm has been the greatest thing to have ever happened to me, It has made into the man I am today.”
“As you may know there’s been a magnificent event in London called The Real Catwalk in which I decided to take part, mostly to show myself that it’s okay to be vulnerable and half naked in Trafalgar Square! The day before I was in tears, panicking for the upcoming event. Me? Being out there? Celebrating? Not hiding? My brain couldn’t handle it. It’s been challenging and I am 100% sure I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t for the beautiful souls I’ve met along the way, we were there to support each other.
For a very long time I felt uncomfortable with my body. The thought of being seen as a sexual object caused me stress, anxiety and self-disgust to the point of feeling tremendously uncomfortable doing sports or physical activity. Self-love is a journey of discovery, I’ve learned that I am allowed to love my body the way it is, that I don’t have to starve to fit into a category or feel disgusted for feeding myself. Every single body is different, UNIQUE! The only thing you can do is to arm yourself with gentleness and love, have FUN with it, it’s an amazing tool!
I’ve also chosen to walk foundation free, to show my skin, with its acne scars and pimples, wanting to prove myself that my skin is not an obstacle to a happy life or to feeling free and stunning. My aim was to represent everyone who has ever felt less than a person because of their features being classified as not pretty. Growing up I would have loved to see a curly haired girl with acne on the cover of a magazine, but the lack of representation we still struggle with is ridiculous. Me like countless of others, with different ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, disability, features and age have been made believe that with diversity comes loneliness, which is bullshit! The Real Catwalk showed me unconditional love and acceptance and takes place every day!”
“I’m a woman who’s always had a difficult relationship with her body. For the majority of my life I felt nothing but hollow disinterest in my appearance. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I realised this is because I suffer from gender dysphoria, a messy and complicated side-effect of being transgender. Although it’s often described as the disconnect trans people feel between their bodies and their identities, dysphoria is much more complicated than that. It can lead to intense self-loathing, apathy, anxiety, and depression. It’s also deeply personal.
My dysphoria is focused on my face. Seeing how mirrors reflected back my wide jaw, long nose, and my heavy brow, was agonising. When my transition began, I was terrified to be seen. I relied on baggy clothing and floppy hoods to bury my body in fabric. I was convinced that anyone who got a clear look at me would find me hideously ugly and downright ridiculous. All I wanted to do was blend in and disappear.
By the time I started hormone replacement therapy I had slowly grown to accept that traditional beauty standards were painfully restrictive, and there was nothing wrong with being visibly transgender. But translating this belief into action was something I consistently failed at. I was still too afraid to flaunt my identity openly. Secretly, I still wanted to look beautiful like the other women in my life, I would constantly put myself down for looking the way I did instead.
These thoughts kept building until one afternoon I found myself slumped on the floor of a public toilet. My eyes were filling with tears while my breath grew short. I was exhausted from feeling so perpetually worthless and unattractive. It was leaving me tense and miserable. I knew I couldn’t go on like this. With my last sliver of willpower, I forced myself to my feet and turned to look at my reflection. At last, I acknowledged that all this self-hatred was pointless. If I wanted to live and find happiness then I had to stop attacking myself.
I declared that I was done caring what other people thought. It was time to live for me. I would wear whatever clothes I wanted, dye my hair a bright colour, march into the world like I owned the place, and start finally treating myself with kindness. From that moment on, my life turned around. My outlook became one of relentless optimism. I took every opportunity to lift up myself and others with compliments, self-love and support. Regardless of how much my body strayed from conventional standards, I reminded myself that I was still beautiful.
This is the attitude I wanted to bring with me to The Real Catwalk. When I first heard about the event I was enchanted by the idea. It was an opportunity to walk alongside other beautiful bodies which were demonised or snubbed by mainstream fashion. I could showcase my identity as a proud visible trans woman in a huge public place. I knew that if I could have seen such a display when I was starting my transition, it would have been astoundingly empowering. I had to do this for those who still needed to see it.
On the day of the catwalk I felt strangely calm. With my history of social anxiety and former fear, I was certain that I’d be shaking with nerves. But I felt confident, safe, and at ease. When I stepped through the curtain onto the catwalk I threw out my arms and let the trans flag flutter behind me, to leave no doubt as to why I was walking. I channelled all my self-love and pride into that moment. Despite wearing a swimsuit for the first time in my life, and never having been that exposed and vulnerable in public, I felt happy and beautiful. Since the catwalk my body image has been the best it’s ever been in my life. The lingering shadows of my dysphoria have been swept away. The Real Catwalk was an event so full of love, and with such a touching representation of multifaceted and diverse beauty, it was impossible for me to feel anything other than included and accepted for who I am and how I look. It’s a feeling that everybody deserves, to feel happy and comfortable in their body. I hope by taking part I was able to help someone else see that they’re worthy of that feeling too.”
Maria J. Rouco
“My name is Maria and I work as a Special Needs teacher in Reading (Berkshire – UK). I always have issues with my body as I was the “fat” girl in school but also the freak (I have autism and I wasn’t like the other students). I was bullied and this made me become really introvert.
Participating in The Real Catwalk in London made me leave behind all the pain that I accumulated during years and years of bullying. And I made a promise to myself: from now on I am going to be the authentic Maria, and won’t be afraid of showing myself to others. This is me and I feel proud of who I am. Thanks to Khrystyana for organising and let me participate in this wonderful event”.
“My name is Crayola, aka @CrayolaTheQueen on Instagram, and I am a professional drag queen, performer, event host and activist. I identify as a mixed race, multinational, third culture kid, and also as queer and non binary. I am the human embodiment of The Grey Area. As somebody who constantly feels out of place – not white enough or brown enough, not male or female enough, not trans enough – The Real Catwalk was a rare chance for me to feel just that: enough. So, deeply enough. But more than that – I felt celebrated, powerful even. As if the strange cocktail that is my identity suddenly revealed itself to not be a curse of confusion anymore, but a clarifying beacon of light. This whole experience has helped me with something I’ve been coming to realise over the recent past: I am a Human Bridge, living proof that the boundaries that separate us by color, race, origin, geography, culture, language, genitalia, sexuality… they are misleading in how they define us as labels. I am simultaneously Male and Female, East and West, White and Brown. It was a real privilege to represent these ideas in such an impactful, high profile campaign fighting for body positivity. And to get to do so alongside such a beautiful spectrum of diverse models was the greatest privilege. I’m so incredibly grateful to Khrystyana for her activism. She’s my hero.”
Exclusive backstage images of The Real Catwalk
All backstage images are courtesy of Rodney Pedroza Portraits, Instagram: @rodneypedroza