Mélodie Monrose Doesn't Want To Be Put In A Box

Model Melodie Monrose on racism in the fashion industry, supporting other women of color, and the Caribbean non-profit she loves working with
Mélodie Monrose Doesn't Want To Be Put In A Box

“I’d always wanted to travel. When you’re from an island, you feel very limited when it comes to exploring. Martinique, where I grew up, is very small. I was scouted at eighteen, so I moved to New York to live alone and work. Different languages, different religions, different cultures were exciting to me, so when I had the opportunity I thought I had to take it — otherwise I’d regret it. And that’s one thing I never want. Moving here was extremely freeing, and exciting. It was also terrifying. I didn’t speak the language, I didn’t know what I was doing, and I didn’t have much money. But it was also a great way to learn how to find myself.

Mélodie wears the Plunge in Black

As a black girl, a black woman, I felt a lot of pressure [in modeling] to look a certain way. At eighteen, I was like a baby in a way, and growing up to be a woman, on top of growing into being a black woman, in that industry was definitely not easy. There was a pressure to walk a certain way, talk a certain way. It was at a time when there weren’t many black models doing shows, and I was doing them. There were characteristics that weren’t considered ‘cool,’ like my natural hair, for example. I relaxed it — I spent hours and money on really long weaves, and it was a lot of time and maintenance to look basically like a black Barbie. Now I feel like those are just things that are considered cool, and I’m slowly learning how to love my natural features.

I definitely [dealt with racism] as a model. It was heartbreaking, honestly. There used to be one spot for a black girl in shows. Maybe two. So there was a lot of rivalry between black girls, and you felt like you had to fight for that place, or be happy if you were the one girl who was picked. But to me, that was a really negative way to be thinking about it. We should be helping each other, supporting each other, and we should be upset that there isn’t more representation — instead of competing for it. I’ve been in castings and was told to go home because they already had a black girl. Recently, people are more aware — or at least too scared — to say things like that. I feel like for a long time in fashion people accepted the ways things were as just ‘how it is.’ Now, you have the power to actually change those things. Social media gave more people a platform to speak up. To say ‘I want to be represented.’ Brands can’t be openly racist if that’s what they are, because people will call them out — they have a voice now.

Mélodie wears the Balc in white. 

My agents are helpful for sure, but I also try to educate, in a way. When it comes to my hair, for example, [stylists] don’t really know what to do. I try to give options or show ideas. I think it’s because they didn’t train their eyes, so I try to expand their horizons and show what they can do with it. A hairstylist should be able to do any type of hair,  but a lot of stylists don’t get the training for our hair type. And I try to offer suggestions, but if they’re not open to it, you end up looking difficult on set, and it’s not fair. I come to set with literally three different types of hair extensions, and I don’t have to. I spend a lot of money to do this because I want to give options to people. And it’s frustrating because I’m put in a box a lot, like black girls in general, as to how people think things should look on us. When you could just do anything — we’re just as much of a blank canvas as any other girl.

As a model, you get judged on everything about you. Your body type, your skin, your face, even your personality or your laugh. Anything. Basically what you work with is YOU, so when you’re not picked, it’s really heartbreaking and it’s hard. For influencers it’s the same thing. My relationship to social media is a love and hate thing. People are very mean through comments and messages. There is always someone who has something to say whether you post or not. And sometimes they say really fucked up things to you. It’s hard, you really have to block it. It’s difficult [to separate from real life], because social media is such a part of our lives every day now. It can create amazing businesses and ventures, there are people that met through social media, love stories started through it, things like this. And people start businesses and have amazing success stories through it, so it is real life, in a way. It’s not easy. I think it’s just learning how to balance — just like everything in life. Maybe I just want to look like crap one day. Not be on my phone. And that constant need to produce content or record, always showing what you’re doing gives you a little anxiety. Sometimes I’m just sad. Sometimes I don’t want to take a picture of myself. Sometimes my life is not that exciting, and I’m just sitting there with my cat watching Netflix. And when I post things I care about like non-profit work, and I see I get no likes — it’s a bit discouraging.

Mélodie wears the Balc in white

Growing up in Martinique, I loved that the community there, we are people that love to celebrate. [Laughs] We love to live life to the fullest. We enjoy being outside, family is super important, we are very welcoming, we like to dance and eat. We celebrate as many occasions as possible. And I feel alive. I feel like we’re super lively people and that makes me happy. We’re religious people, but not that conservative. Maybe because we’re French, and we’re more open to the rest of the world. Education is really good there. But it’s still an island. Coming from there, I love to wear less. [Laughs] I feel like the sun makes me feel sexy. Hot weather, a beach. I’m more comfortable in my body in that environment. It’s the best feeling [to be in a bathing suit]. It’s freeing! I have days when I feel gross and I’m not comfortable with my shape or whatever. But for some reason when I’m in a bathing suit, I don’t think about it. I’m happy.

When I was six years old, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She luckily only had to have the tumor out, and didn’t have to have a mastectomy. I have a lot of admiration for my mom and how she lived her femininity through the process. She always wore her big fun earrings, jewelry, and she always stayed positive through it even if it was a really tough moment in her life. That pushed me to start working with this non-profit, Amazon, in Martinique. They help women make peace with their bodies after treatment. Chemo, mastectomies, after surgeries. They help them learn how to talk about it, they have a community of women who have been through it, and it’s all to help these women realize you can still feel like a woman without your hair, without your breasts. You can still learn how to love yourself without it. You don’t have to have these two things to be sexy. It’s really important to have the space where they can feel safe, be vulnerable, have access to certain beauty products that are non-toxic — it’s not easy to get them to the islands. It’s an awesome community of amazing women. They’re just strong, beautiful women. My mom does this with me, she’s a coach. You really see these women come out of their shell, and it’s amazing to realize how you can impact someone’s life in a really significant way by just giving time. There is so much you can do by just being there.”

Interview by Anna Jube. Photographed by Deniz Alaca. Styled by Emily Newman

Tags: bodytalk , Self

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