Chrissy PreMilli presents herself as a plus-size model with pure, positive energy and outgoing charisma. Joyfully moving from set to stage, Chrissy is defying the ugly sides of the industry by inspiring others through her genuine, and heartfelt understanding of beauty. Chrissy talks with us about the highs and lows of her journey, and the purpose of her mission to empower.
Interview by Bethany Burgoyne
Photography by Kristine Danne
Hey Chrissy! You told us how, before you were a model, you ran your own events company. What took you down this new career path to start modeling?
As a kid, I always wanted to be on stage, I had this energy about me. My Uncle and Mum tell me I always wanted to be a model, but I don’t remember that, I think it’s because of the lack of representation (when I was growing up a size 10 was plus-size!). It wasn’t until 2017 when I was 25 that my life changed completely. I had booked a trip to the States to network with events companies and ended up staying in Atlanta for three months. While I was there, my sister had gotten in touch suggesting I tried to be a model, she said I had the edge for it. I wasn’t so sure. I'd met a couple of plus-size models the first weekend I arrived so reached out to them to ask for some advice. They both told me the same thing, "Go meet Nedra Phillips".
Nedra is signed to a reputable agency but runs her own Model Start-Up workshops so I contacted her and she accepted me onto her course; she let me pay a reduced fee because I didn’t have enough money and the next thing I know, I’m being booked! It was the most amazing experience of my life. Everything was so aligned, and I think it helped that I had faith in believing I could shift these mountains and move those tables for everything to work. I also think opportunities in America are a lot greater than in the UK (64% of American women wear the equivalent of UK Size 18 and above) but I’m working hard and these things are what make the journey as sweet as it is.
That sounds like a very special experience. What do you love the most about modeling?
How sexy I feel! It’s similar to having an alter ego, like how Beyonce has Sasha Fierce, and there’s a feeling of dominance, you own it, it feels good to have that feeling.
I also love how creative it allows me to be, meeting so many inspiring artists and people with their own stories. That alone makes me feel this sense of wanting to do something, to work on projects, empower the people. Many women online tell me their stories about being shamed; I’ve had people explain how they’ve been told they can’t wear red nail varnish or anklets or African waist beads because they’re linked to prostitution. So instead, I’m going to wear all these things that are deemed to be derogatory, or make me wayward, and I’m going to empower all those people who want to wear them. That is also what I enjoy.
How has your upbringing shaped your mindset today?
I grew up as a Catholic in an African household so I know what it’s like to be restricted by certain things. I have Muslim friends, Christian friends, friends from all backgrounds and I know how women are told they can’t do things, that if they sleep with someone it makes them a whore (says the man on his fifth wife!), the least I can do is make another woman feel better. My dad left and died when I was young, so my mum raised me as a single parent. That in itself is a taboo - not to be raised by the typical African parents - but I have morals and traditions from my culture that were instilled in me from a young age. My mum is a very liberal person, and we have a very close relationship, I’m her carer and everything I do is with the hope of helping her.
Have there been negative experiences that have affected your journey?
Obviously, with every situation, there are pros and cons. I’m not where I want to be and, as I mentioned, the lack of representation makes a difference to my progress. I’ve had experiences of being on set, turning up at 6 am, bare-faced, only to find out the makeup artist has nothing for my skin colour. Or if she does have the right shade, the product has gone off. This is where Nedra Philips’s advice has been so valuable. She told us that every time we get booked, to make sure we have a model bag with our kit and our makeup - this is so important. I’ve seen people get shamed online for not looking like their pictures, but in actual fact, it's because the makeup artist has used completely the wrong shade for their skin tone. It seems ridiculous to be hired by a brand to come and rock their products, but yet they don’t have the right people there to work with my skin type and hair. It’s a problem because I’m not going to feel confident if my make up looks ashy or the way you take a picture means the flashback from the lights makes me look like a scarecrow. Come on! Because as much as I want to own it, I need to look and feel the part.
Everyone’s journey is different, so don’t compare yourself to others and focus, work hard, and get prepared.
How has your level of confidence changed over time?
It’s come from learning to love myself and that contributes to how I live my days. In the past, there were weeks on end when I wouldn’t leave my room but now I try not to let the little things stress me, I’ve changed my attitude and even when I don’t feel great, I can talk myself back into being Chrissy. I’m into gratitude journaling and remembering that telling myself I’m fat and that I should feel sorry for myself, that no one will want to work with me or hire me, will only encourage it to become my reality. So I brush my shoulders off and carry on. You have to have faith and just do it, even if you're scared, fuck it, do it scared. Remember that everyone’s journey is different, so don’t compare yourself to others and focus, work hard, and get prepared.
What has impacted your understanding of beauty?
My own ideology of beauty has been shaped from working with a lot of people who society would deem as beautiful, glorified for their looks, but in actual fact, they’re personality is ugly, they have the bitchiest characters. I realised that a person is beautiful, not because they have nice straight hair, or blue eyes, or perfect teeth, but because you have a conversation with them and they can make you feel amazing. What is the point in making someone else feel shit - there are so many people, including women, who push hatred onto people. It’s an ugly trait and it erases all those aspects of beauty they may have.
A person is beautiful not because they have nice straight hair, or blue eyes, or perfect teeth, but because when you have a conversation with them, they can make you feel amazing.
You see someone like Lizzo (I love Lizzo!) dancing online and people will respond saying stop it or they wish she’d die, shunning her. Yet if it’s someone dancing who is deemed to be body perfect, all slim, then it’s deemed to be alright. That’s crazy! I’ll never sit there and slate someone based on their appearance, I’ll treat others as I want to be treated. I always tell strangers I think they look good and I will always give off good energy - I think that’s my best personality trait.
I have so many aspirations, I want to change the world so bad; all you can do is lead by example. I’m just grateful we even have plus size models today, when I was growing up there were no shops that catered to my size, I had to wear what I had or bigger clothes - the only shop was Evans. I was called every name in the book, but today it doesn’t bother me - they’re all just words and they don’t define me. I have nieces and nephews and I teach them to make different choices, separate from what society tells them to do, see, and say.
You are now an independent model, representing yourself. How do you find that?
I only recently left my previous agent, they weren’t representing me well enough and I ended up getting all my own campaigns anyway so it feels like I’ve been freelancing for a lot longer. I know it will be beneficial for me to sign with the right agency - I’ve done my research and seen how they represent girls like myself, I have a few favourites. But sometimes I’m told by agencies that they’ve already got the black girl. I’m like ‘I’m sure you need more than one!” but they tend to book the same woman for all the jobs. Being a model, you've got to have thick skin because there’s a lot of rejection, but what’s important to me is I don’t compare myself to anyone. It’s a glamorous career but it's very grim too and I’ve known this and I’ve stuck at it because I know that giving up won’t change anything. I’ve had women who are size 10 messaging me when I’ve been at my heaviest, at size 24, telling me I’m inspiring them because I’m wearing a bikini. I don’t care what anyone says, that makes me feel like ‘why would I not want to do this?!’, it’s something I enjoy doing, it’s liberating. The positives far outway the negatives and the faith that brought me here is the faith that will take me where I need to be. So what I’m focusing on now is getting myself ready for the moment.
The faith that brought me here is the faith that will take me where I need to be
What direction do you see your career going in?
I want to be signed internationally, to have representation in the States and the UK, possibly Australia too. I get turned on by fear so being scared of something means I’ll probably try it. I aim to make money from modeling to invest in my own business but for now, I want to continue inspiring women, rocking the photoshoots, and working with people on inspiring projects. I want to leave a legacy behind me.
And finally, who's inspired you to be the person you are today?
Firstly, it’s my younger self, because at a certain point I lost my way. A combination of childhood trauma and insecurities left me feeling so low. So looking back on those days, I feel grateful because I know where I am now, I know where I’m heading. And that inspires me, seeing how this lost young girl is now doing something worthwhile.
And secondly, it’s my mother. I recognise how my mum always dedicated her life to her kids, she was so selfless. She gave me my Nigerian name Nwakaego, which means ‘a child is greater than money’ and she really gave us everything. I now want to do the same in return and give her everything she deserves. There’s a story that my mum tells me about my grandmother visiting her in spirit during a dream, telling her she’s pregnant with a child who would look after her; this scared my Mum because she was already in her forties and 5 months pregnant with a marriage on the rocks. I connected with my grandmother a lot through this, and when I was in Nigeria in December, I visited her grave. It felt really special. I think visiting my ancestors has helped me reset and be ready for the next chapter.
Keep up to date with Chrissy Premilli on IG @chrissypremilli
Photographs and Artwork by Kristine Danne on IG @kushkush.me
Music by Shunaji on IG @iamshunaji