Sabina Karlsson on Modeling and Becoming a Mom

Sabina Karlsson is more than a singular beauty. The freckled half-Gambian Swedish native has been modeling since the age of four, and over years, has worked for the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier, Armani and others. Starting out as straight-size and transitioning into the plus-sized market, the model has become an advocate not just for herself but women more broadly. Now, the New Yorker, who walked Michael Kors, Christian Siriano and Chromat this past New York Fashion Week, is on the verge of being a mother. Writer Ashley W. Simpson caught up with her to talk about the state of the industry, what needs to change, and what motherhood, and modeling while being pregnant, means to her.

Interview by Ashley W. Simpson
Photography by Steven Yatsko
Edited by Irene Ojo-Felix

What do you think the current state of the fashion industry and what we can do to change things?
I’ve been modeling as a curvier model for about 8 years now, so I’ve totally seen the big changes that have been going on since then since I started in 2010. I get to do beauty campaigns, editorials, which I wasn’t able to do before. There were a lot of things that weren’t accessible to me at all as a size 12. It’s just really nice to see. But I don’t think we’re there yet. Absolutely not. I walked three shows this past NYFW, and I’m pretty sure I could do a lot more, time-wise. So, I think we’re not there yet, but I’m very positive about what’s going on. I’m seeing more and more clients opening up and using a diverse range of models. Finally!

What do you think needs to be done to change attitudes, change practices, and to have a healthier perspective?
First of all, I think it starts with the designers. Christian Siriano, Michael Kors, Chromat—designers like that that I’ve also walked for. When they start using curvier girls and don’t put a stamp on it. J.Crew, I’m working with a lot. I’m one of their first curvier models and I’m really happy about it.

It’s not a marketing thing. But just using diverse types of beautiful women which makes sense.
To me, it’s not rocket science. Why wouldn’t a woman in a size 12 or a size 14 be able to wear a dress like that too?

And to be able to see a beautiful woman reflect what she wants to look like in that dress.
Exactly. More designers have to start doing that—big names—so people will actually listen. What I can remember from being a straight size model, a skinnier version of myself, I remember fashion week would determine how your season would go. If you would do a lot of shows, you would also do a lot of campaigns, editorials, things like that. If more designers were to include curvier models during the shows, that would probably open up opportunities along the year, which will benefit not just other models but also people out there, women and girls. It’s like a water effect. It’s more than just the careers of the models. It’s beyond that.

To me, it’s not rocket science. Why wouldn’t a woman in a size 12 or a size 14 be able to wear a dress like that too?

What are you excited about now? Do you think the industry is changing in substantial ways? I would like to think that as we address all these issues there will at least be a conversation and an opportunity for people with a stronger perspective to create some change.
I’m being very positive. Before coming into the curve industry, without categorizing it too much, I wasn’t really expecting anything. Back then 8 years ago, it was like, yeah, you can do e-comm for this specific plus size brand, but now, I see girls doing Glossier, L’Oreal, which makes me very positive knowing that things are happening and there are so many opportunities coming up. I’m pregnant right now, and I was also a little bit worried with that. Like, how is the industry going to view that? Are they still going to book me when they find out? Or when I start showing? Are they going to dismiss me? They haven’t. I mean, I walked fashion week in February. I told Christian Siriano, Chromat and Michael Kors—all of them knew that I was pregnant, and they were like, okay, you’re pregnant, let’s just dress you accordingly – I didn’t want to announce it at that time. They would just dress me in order to make me feel comfortable and enhance my curvy body like they always do. Sometimes, what I’ve heard from other women before who have become pregnant in the industry—or just women in general, it’s not always appreciated by other coworkers or bosses. So, I’ve had a really good experience with that. I did a regular job, which is to say, not a maternity job, just yesterday. I’m still working even though my belly shows.

Can you talk a little bit about your experiences modeling while being pregnant?
I’ve been lucky that I’ve felt good throughout my pregnancy. I had two weeks in the beginning when I was nauseous and that was not fun. I’m used to the pace of traveling and working so it wasn’t that hard for me to keep going.

What are the challenges and has anything surprised you?
In the beginning, I was a bit worried about how much my body was going to change and on an emotional level too. Thankfully, it’s been a smooth ride and it’s only towards the end that I’ve started to feel that I can’t travel as much as before and long days on sets take a toll on my body.

Has your approach to modeling, either on camera or when walking runway, changed in any way during this period?
I’ve started to appreciate the industry even more and the people I work with. I’ve gotten so much support, especially from my agency that has been so thoughtful and always making sure I’m feeling good. I’ve also realized how big part of me and my life, my job means to me, so happy I can do this for a living.

I’m pregnant right now, and I was also a little bit worried with that…Are they still going to book me when they find out? Or when I start showing? Are they going to dismiss me? They haven’t.

What advice would you give to other expectant moms who are working in the industry?
Listen to your body and don’t push yourself too much. Each person’s pregnancy is different from one another’s – don’t compare yourself and feel less if you can’t do what you’re used to.

Are there models or women in general who you look up to as you prepare to be a mom yourself?
I look up to my own mom on how loving, caring and patient she is as a mom. Also to women that balance mom and work life. It’s going to be interesting to see how I’ll manage to achieve that balance myself.

What are you most excited about as an expectant mother?
That I’m about to love someone in a way I’ve never had before. I don’t know what to expect, but I do know it’s going to be an adventure.

What are you hoping to see in the future? Are there specific clients you are really hoping to work with? What changes would you like to see?
Personally, I would like to walk more fashion shows, and not just in New York. I want to do the whole thing like I used to when I was a bit younger. I want to do bigger things and open up more doors for myself and other colleagues and women and young girls, too, for them to understand that being unique or being different or just being you is something positive. It’s something you should be proud of. I didn’t have a curvy, freckled girl to look up to when I was growing up back in Sweden that I could see in the magazines or on TV or in advertisements. I just want to do bigger things. I know that I could do a high fashion campaign. I know that I could do editorials or be on the covers. I know that. I’m a model and I’ve been doing this my whole life. It shouldn’t really be about my size. It should be more about what I’m capable of doing.

Anything else? A lot of the conversations that are happening, at least with the groups like Model Alliance, are spurred by the conversation surrounding Weinstein and everything happening there. Do you have any thoughts on that conversation?
I just think it’s really good that it’s finally being brought to the surface and that we are talking about it because that’s unacceptable in every single way. But I don’t have any experience on my own so I don’t have anything to talk about in that way. I’m just very proud of all the women and girls who are standing up for one another and supporting one another and also sharing their stories, because that can help other women and girls stand up for themselves and do that, too.

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