Meet Erica Matthews: The stylist and influencer who is determined to make a change in the fashion industry
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Erica Matthews is a stylist, blogger, YouTuber and all-round multi-hyphenate when it comes to her career. Over 18,000 people follow her on Instagram, where she posts a mix of outfit pictures, beauty content and career inspiration.
Erica’s career is great right now - her work has been featured in the likes of British Vogue and Stylist, but she’s had her dark times too. She admits that she used to put her career ahead of her mental health, which led to her not practicing self-love and not, therefore, being true to herself.
Erica Matthews // Image courtesy of Pink Hippo PR Fitting in... Being in an industry which is notorious for its lack of diversity, did Erica feel a pressure to fit in and look like everybody else? “At first no, I didn’t care about my curves. I led with my style, dressed very eclectic and that was my identity. As the months went on and my jobs opportunities got better, I noticed how much skinnier everyone was,” she says.
She noticed that the thinner people were, the more praise they would receive: “I repeatedly heard and saw a positive response to how much skinnier was better. models and clients had to be “Vogue ready”. Anytime I worked with designers they were only interested in working with sample sizes models and celebs.”
This drove Erica to losing weight. “This is my dream job so naturally, I wanted to fit in. I wanted to look the part and get the best opportunities. I kept my hair straight so I would look more commercial and I began to do extreme diets and workouts to get as slim as possible. At a size 6, I was told how amazing I looked, it was all positive affirmations for me at that time.”
For some people in the industry, even at a size 6 Erica wasn’t ‘thin enough.’ “Even at that size I still didn’t feel skinny enough especially with a few sly comments on my thighs and how “bottom heavy” they were.” Image courtesy of Pink Hippo PR An industry that is not doing enough...
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As someone who has been through it first hand, does Erica think that the fashion industry is at fault for the amount of young people who suffer with eating-related mental health issues? “There is some improvement as brands reluctantly follow the diversity train by using models from different demographics, but there is still a clear template of who we are seeing published in magazines and reposted on social media from brands. Whether they like it or not, it is human nature to be affected by images and messages we are bombarded with. So, the industry and celebs (who are part of it) need to do more. They have a responsibility to make sure that they are promoting healthy lifestyles and good mental health.”
Not all plus-size women look like Iskra Lawrence and Ashley Graham...What does she think that the industry should be doing to really promote a positive body image? “I would love to see some real diversity; slim, curvy, plus size, etc. I love the plus size model movement, however not all curvy women have an hourglass shape. So, what narrative does this give to other plus size women who don’t look like Ashley Graham or Iskra Lawrence? Editors, stylists, and photographers take inspiration from the catwalk, so it would be good for the change to start there. Brands should take note on the casting for Zendaya x Tommy Hilfiger. Models of different sizes didn’t take anything away from the clothing.”
The need for diversity isn’t just in front of the camera, and Erica believes we need to sort the problem out at its root: “We also need diverse teams who are happy to translate what they see on the runway and make it appeal to the everyday woman. I have always loved the idea of mixed shape mannequins in stores being a shop law, for example, so we can know what clothes will look like on someone other than a size UK 6. I have so many starting point suggestions, but real change begins behind the scenes. It begins inside the boardrooms and group emails of diverse people who make meaningful decisions.”
Image courtesy of Pink Hippo PR Making a change... On her social media platforms, Erica spreads positive messaging surrounding loving yourself and the skin that you’re in. She believes that authenticity is key: “It is important to be your best self. Life isn’t perfect and people like real people. I love an aesthetically pleasing Instagram account like any other person, however, it gets boring after a while. We all have to make sure that we are following people/brands that inspire us and make us feel good about ourselves. It shocks me till this day to know that some influencers I meet look nothing like the pictures they post and that’s really sad. I believe we should all use our platform through fashion, hair, beauty, etc. to change the narrative that beauty has to be one thing.”
Having a platform of over 18,000 followers, she feels a responsibility to connect with women who otherwise might not get exposure because of the way that they look: “Brands are happy to ‘collaborate’ with diverse women, but rarely will I see these girls (who look like me and with my body shape) reposted on their platforms. So I take it upon myself to use my platform to connect with girls who look like me and not only show them but give them tools so that that they can live a fulfilled and happy life by just being themselves and no longer conforming to industry standards.”
It's not just Instagram she uses a tool for change either - she’s starting her own body-positive platform for women. “I'm in the process of creating a platform called Bod-Free, where women can be themselves, be celebrated and empowered. We will be putting on lifestyle events, live sessions such as the Bod-Free Yoga Club and much more. The plan is to create a community of people where we can all focus on being free & living life for you.”
Lead image courtesy of Pink Hippo PR