How The Thicc Is Creating a New Space in the Modeling Industry
by Ella Cerón
All images: The Thicc
Jane Belfry couldn’t find a website that was having the kind of conversation she wanted to be having: about bodies, but neither rooted in pain, nor masking insecurities and soft spots with a fake-it-’til-you-make-it optimism that feels OK on some days, and rings hollow on others. So, she started a website of her own.
Enter The Thicc, a website, newsletter, Instagram feed, and newly-minted modeling agency where “diversity” and “inclusion” aren’t buzzwords or a monthly initiative; they’re baked into the brand ethos from top to bottom. New editions are published weekly, and they’re filled with jokes, useful tips and recommendations, and images that make you do a double-take. Sometimes they’re the best sort of hanging-out snapshots, the kind of photos you wish your best friend would capture of you on a night out — wild, carefree, and really feeling your highlight. Or maybe the models are clad in lingerie, and hitting all their angles so precisely you can tell that both people in front of and behind the camera appreciate the body they’re working with.
With over 10 years’ experience in the fashion industry, Jane knows a thing or two about building a business — and the art of celebrating her body is a lifelong lesson. We caught up with her to talk about the work that goes into The Thicc, where she finds her inspiration, and how she’s looking to grow her brand-new agency.
Milk Makeup: How did you come up with the idea for The Thicc?
Jane Belfry: I was leaving my job as a personal shopper and stylist and was trying to get back into writing. I was looking for different platforms to contribute to and wasn’t really seeing the kind of content I wanted to see and wasn’t really sure where it would fit in. My kind of content was definitely more body-focused, but not in a reliving trauma kind of way.
I had talked to some other friends that were writers or different creatives and found that they were kind of similarly looking for a place to publish their writing. I just decided to make my own site; it grew from there and the visuals turned into… a whole ‘nother thing.
MMU: Talking about bodies often feels like it’s really still rooted in trauma, and unpacking how the world has viewed and treated bodies that deviate from the norm in any way. That’s valid because people haven’t really had the platforms to dismantle that. But what made you want to create space for something else?
JB: I honestly just got sick of reading… not that it’s not important, but every time I was reading about bodies I was reading about eating disorder recovery or kind of hatred of your body, or all these things that didn’t feel positive. I don’t think that we want to constantly relive all of that stuff. I wanted a space to talk about more realistic stuff, like what makes you feel good and how to learn how to actually like your body, and that you’re not always going to love it, but to kind of occupy that body neutrality space. I just wanted to have this conversation about what we’re doing to take care of our bodies in a realistic way, whether it relates to mental wellness or food conversations that aren’t rooted in eating disorders. That kind of thing.
MMU: It often feels like the pendulum swung one way in just a very unhealthy territory, where people were really taught they should hate their bodies. But now a lot of the conversation is about how you always have to love your body no matter what, almost to the point where it’s weaponized. It’s like, OK, I have a generally good sense of myself, but some days I feel kind of meh. Where’s the middle ground?
JB: Exactly. I think that’s also how I feel most of the time is, I have a good relationship with my body. I’ve definitely done a lot of work to accept myself, but there are still days where I don’t feel great.
I think a big part of The Thicc was, I wanted to have people see bodies that looked like theirs in a really fun, kind of glam, celebratory way where it would help them like themselves. Like, oh, this person’s body looks like mine, and they look great. Maybe I can wear this thing and not feel terrible about it. I think the imagery definitely helps that. I get a lot of messages from people saying that just seeing their bodies in different ways represented helps them feel a little better.
MMU: How did those images start coming about? What made you decide to dive into that medium?
JB: When we were working on the initial branding and what the site was going to look like, I just pulled together a bunch of mood boards of images I liked. Some were kind of ‘70s, retro stuff and some stuff was from more current shoots and whatnot. We kind of started with this close up, crop imagery; they were sexy but still very much female-gaze photos. Once we started doing it kind of became this formula of how we shot different people that we were working with and grew from there.
MMU: Did you expect the reaction that you got when you began posting the photos to the site, and to Instagram?
JB: Definitely not. It was overwhelmingly positive. People have been reposting our images a lot and sharing them. I think there was a real need for people to see not overly-retouched images of bodies, but also not … Sometimes in the body positivity realm, some of the photos are unflattering at times, and I think our photos make people feel good and still feel beautiful and sexy and a little … I don’t know. I try to shoot women in the way that I would want people to see my body, unretouched but still flattering.
MMU: Where do you find inspirations, whether it’s for the newsletter, or the Instagram, or the site? How do you find the inspiration for new newsletters and new images?
JB: The newsletters are basically the content that I was hoping to read. I love reading about astrology. I love reading about beauty and fitness and everything from a budget standpoint and a more inclusive standpoint. That’s a space we’ve been trying to occupy. I plan the newsletters maybe a month in advance or plan them around interesting content that people submit. The images are usually really collaborative. When we find somebody that we want to shoot with, we try to source a wardrobe, have them come over, and just kind of go off of their energy and how we’re feeling. It’s all pretty collaborative.
MMU: How do you find the people that you would want to shoot?
JB: We find them mostly through Instagram. We get a ton of messages and DMs. We’re only in New York, so that can be a little limiting. But basically, it’s just myself and Kendra, one of our editors who helps me out with The Thicc. She reaches out to people from her Instagram. We send each other amazing people’s profiles all day and reach out to them too.
MMU: What catches your eye? What would make somebody stand out to you or Kendra?
JB: We try to have people on the Instagram that I haven’t seen before — types of people that I don’t see as often. Just really cool people with cool style. Some people send really funny or really interesting messages that stand out a lot. One model that I’m actually representing with the agency sent a video of her doing amazing choreography to “Daddy’s Home” by Usher. It was this incredible dance video. I was like, “Oh, wow. I love her energy. I need to meet her immediately.” She came in the next day.
MMU: How did the agency start?
JB: It wasn’t always my plan to start an agency. But I started my career at a modeling agency doing development and image consulting for a straight size agency. It’s part of my background and it was always a little bit in the back of my head because I worked with these amazing people that had no representation. I tested out the concept of a casting agency with a project we did with Macy’s, and it went well, so I decided to launch into that with a small group of people.
MMU: Is there anything you’ve learned as you’ve been going into the agency side of things that you wished you’d known before you launched it?
JB: The agency’s only been up for three weeks, so it’s definitely a so far, so good kind of thing. I think starting with a really, really small group of people has been really important, and just listening to the clients’ responses and trying to fill a void of different shapes and sizes that we’re not seeing in the beauty world or in advertising spaces.
MMU: It definitely seems that beauty took a little longer time to catch up with inclusive casting and imagery than fashion, which always seemed odd because a lipstick doesn’t come in sizing. Do you have any idea as to why that is?
JB: I don’t know. It’s really odd; I thought beauty would be first. I don’t know why the status quo has kind of been this very one-note thing. So much of the time beauty ads have so much skin in them, but we’re not used to seeing any type of curvy or fat bodies in that space. But at least we’re catching up now with skin tone ranges. I think people are pushing inclusivity a bit more.
MMU: [Laughs] Exactly. Where do you think the industry still needs to do better? What are you hoping that it continues to push for?
JB: A big part of me starting the agency and the site has been that I kind of noticed that we only see one version of curvy women and one kind of shape of curvy models that are full-figured. It seems that almost all of them are hourglass, with a fuller bust, and this kind of very ideal, over-sexualized body. I really want there to be a push that there’s more than one way to be plus-size, there’s more than one way to be curvy, and have more of a shape diversity happening rather than just size. It’s all well and good to have a size 18 hourglass, 5’11” model in your campaign, but it would be a little more representative of the whole picture if people started diversifying their shape, too.
I’ve also seen one version of representation. There’s still a lot of colorism going on with plus size casting. You don’t see a lot of Asian curvy women represented and you don’t see … It’s just not quite there yet. You can’t just have, like, Ashley Graham representing everybody, even though she’s gorgeous. It seems like things are leading in the right direction and that people are exploring that a little bit more, but there’s still a long way to go.
MMU: If teenage you were reading The Thicc, what do you hope she would take away from it?
JB: That’s who I’m writing for, teenage me and teenage versions of my friends. I hope that she would take away that there’s not one way to be beautiful, and there’s not one way to be kind of curvy, there’s not one way to be thick. There’s not one kind of box you need to fit into. Do more things for yourself and do more things that make you feel good. Stop trying to please other people. Own your body.
MMU: Was there an a-ha! moment in your life that crystallized that for you, or was it a gradual learning over time?
JB: Definitely still figuring that out. I think over the past few years it’s definitely gotten a lot better. I’ve worked in fashion for almost 10 years, and that definitely was a tough space to be in as a curvier woman. Even though I’m on the small size of that spectrum, it was still not great. I didn’t really feel that there was a place for me. Getting out of that was pretty great for my personal journey in body acceptance and everything. Meeting all of the people that I work with on The Thicc has definitely helped solidify that.