Just ask Liris Crosse, who has been championing the beauty of full-figured women throughout her flourishing 20-year career. The plus-sized model has been on the frontlines of the fashion world continuing to represent “curvy Black girl magic” with numerous campaigns for Ashley Stewart and Lane Bryant, international magazine spreads and various film and television projects.
And although voluptuous beauties of a fairer skin tone, such as Ashley Graham and Kate Upton, have become darlings of the elite media, the Randallstown, Maryland native — known in some circles as “The Body” — has carved out her own niche for a demographic that is often ignored in mainstream culture.
“I think it's a reluctance to embrace full-figured women because truthfully, a lot of people can't deal with the stigma of being plus-sized or fat or ... not being skinny,” Crosse said candidly, on the disparities in the modeling business. “Some people view fat people or plus-sized people as grotesque or we shouldn't be seen, which isn't the case.”
“The average woman is not even a size 14 anymore. She's a 16,” she added. “There's so much money the fashion industry is missing out on. And they’re missing a majority of people that could be buying clothes. If you're really in the business of making money, why would you ignore that demographic?”
Crosse is currently competing on the popular fashion competition series "Project Runway" — as one of the models assigned to different designers throughout the season.
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“This is the first time that they are giving the models a voice,” she said. “They've never done this in all the other seasons… It's a feel good moment, it really is. This is the stuff that I pretty much worked my butt off all these years for; to see moments like this actually come to fruition.”
Crosse played sports throughout high school and embarked on her modeling career at 16. While attending modeling conventions, she met agents and magazine editors from across the country that mostly encouraged her to lose weight.
“It was about, ‘We need you to lose maybe about 15 pounds,’” she confided. “It was more about the measurements. They want your hips to be about a 34. My hips are 48, 49. Back then, they were probably about a 36 and a half, 37.”
She lost some weight and moved to New York City but it wasn’t until she signed to the reputable Wilhelmina Models agency that she realized she was onto something.
“When I signed it was to their plus board. I didn't know that plus modeling existed,” she explained. “For me, I didn't care. I was signed to Wilhelmina and if they wanted to call me plus, cool -- as long as I was able to pursue my dreams in modeling. When you sign to a major agency like that, yes, you feel like you've made it, but I didn't feel like I made until I got my first job."
Her first gig was for an editorial for a magazine called "Black Elegance" which is no longer around.
"They also ran runway pictures of Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbell on the same page with me, so it was almost like this defining moment, like, ‘Girl, you're here,’" she gushed.
Capitalizing on how her curvy figure was seen as an appreciated beauty standard in black magazines such as "Essence," "Honey," "XXL," and "The Source," Crosse also appeared in music videos for Jennifer Lopez, Jay-Z and Puff Daddy — and played an unforgettable stripper role in Malcolm D. Lee’s debut feature film "The Best Man."
The bronze beauty is often compared to Naomi Campbell, whom she calls her “model mother.”
“I met her one time really long ago,” Crosse shared. “I saw her walking to a boutique in SoHo and I remember my mouth dropped. I tiptoed in and I said, ‘Hello, Miss Naomi. How are you? I'm Liris. I'm a model. I just moved up here a couple years ago to model.’ She was like, ‘You're really beautiful and I definitely feel as though you'll make it.’ I've hardly ever told that story to anybody, but I've literally held onto those words.”
A symbol of empowerment and inspiration in her own right, Crosse hosts the “Life Of A Working Model” boot camp where she shares real-life experiences, tough advice and useful tips to women trying to enter the fashion fray. She also recently authored the book ‘Make The World Your Runway.’
“A lot of people are hungry, but they're not getting the quality info,” she said. “I am glad that I could be a person who's definitely educated and pour into these women, especially since I have a lot of African-American women who can learn from me.”