One might argue modeling chooses you, you don’t choose modeling. A serendipitous meeting, a fortuitous connection, a competition: though the details vary the familiar anecdote often begins with an invitation. From there on, no two experiences will be identical––throw in underrepresentation of your image and the differences, the challenges, become magnified. Thankfully, Lulu Bonfils is here claiming her modelship, and in turn, helping to bridge that gap. An unquestionably confident blonde bombshell, wanted by the likes of Savage x Fenty for her curve that defies “sample size,” Bonfils is busy rewriting the script with every booking. Models.com spoke to the American model about her journey so far.
Photographer: Matthew Priestley for Models.com
Stylist: Rachel Gilman
Makeup: Ayami Nishimura using Dior Beauty
Hair: Linda Shalabi using Authentic Beauty Concept \
Nails: Riwako using Chanel Le Vernis
Text and Interview: Steven Yatsko
Visit her profile and click or tap the heart icon to favorite Lulu and keep track of her work.
I want to know where you’re from, what were you doing before you were a model? And then we’ll talk about how you got into the industry after that. So––
I grew up in Connecticut in a town called Darien, it’s very tiny. It’s near the Long Island Sound. I lived there basically my whole life until I was 16, and then I moved to Brooklyn. My mom is an artist, and me and my sister both go to Pratt, we are drawing majors there.
Yeah, so a very art inclined family. I went to a couple of different high schools throughout my life. My last high school was what I moved to the city for.
Why did you choose that one specifically?
It was a weird school situation. I went to a high school called Fusion, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it.
No, it sounds cool.
It’s really weird, but they have a bunch of different campuses. It started in California, and now it has migrated. I started in upstate New York [campus], so like Westchester area and I would just drive there. I just didn’t really get along with it. The first Fusion I went to only like five other kids went there. It was so tiny. I just didn’t like it. There was a lot of drug addicts and kids who were getting arrested, and doing crazy shit.
It was very dramatic every single day. I was there because I dropped out of high school when I was 14 and I have really bad problems with anxiety and depression and all of those areas. School was just not an option for me, I ended up just not going for months. My mom was like, “You need to find a way that you can get your degree.”
You ended up at Pratt after that? Were you always into the arts?
I’m a sophomore at Pratt. I think I’ve always kind of experimented with a bunch of different mediums, but drawing is definitely the one that I can tell just makes me really happy. I can do it for hours without even noticing I’ve been doing it for hours. I just knew the only thing I wanted to do was draw all day.
Do you have a specific kind of subject you like to draw? Do you draw from real life? Or what are you working on?
I do, I kind of vary in things that I draw. I mean, everybody does. I do just a lot of body-focused art. I feel when they’re teaching you academic and technical drawing everything starts with the body.
How did you get sucked into the industry? At what point did that happen?
I had just turned 15 and me and my sister have always been really into fashion on the art side: designing clothes, and really getting into vintage clothes and things like that, and finding our own wardrobe through it. She found a brand online called Me and You. They first did underwear, but now they do all types of clothing. They were having some sort of a party at this place, it was going to be a photo show, as well. It was a school night, I remember, and my mom was like, “I don’t want you going out.” It took a lot of convincing, but we ended up going to the party. I’m not a party person. But yeah, so we went there, and I ended up meeting the two girls who owned the brand Me and You, who are now really good friends of mine, Julia and Mayan. They were like, “We don’t know who you are, but we want to shoot you for our brand.” I had never taken photos of myself or anything and I never even thought about modeling ever.
At what point was your Instagram? Because now from Instagram, everyone’s so sort of naturally photographing themselves. But so at this point, what was your Instagram like?
I was definitely experimenting in the selfie world. I’m 19 now, so this was four years ago.
Okay. So right before the big-big explosion of selfies, probably.
I think I was kind of learning, I wasn’t even fully through puberty at the time. I still had very much a babyface and that demeanor. So they asked me to shoot for their brand, both me and my sister did and it was my first shoot ever. Then Cast Partner in Williamsburg DM’ed me, randomly. I was in school, and I just got a DM. I was like, “What is this?” I remember I was in high school like walking through the hallways, just trying to see the legitimacy of Cast Partner. They were like, “Hey, we just want to take a couple of Polaroids of you, and we know that you don’t model or anything, but we just thought it’d be cool if you came in.”
How hesitant were you? Navigating that, there are not that many resources. Did you have anyone sort of guiding you?
I was so hesitant. My mom came with me actually. She was like, “I refuse to let you go to a random place in Brooklyn to get your photos taken.” She was convinced it would be a bikini … I’m like, “No, mom.” I had a rule in my head: No male photographers, no people who hit you up through Instagram in a weird way. I’m very standoffish already. So I was definitely really cautious.
Yeah, yeah, that’s good.
My mom is like that, too. So we were kind of sifting through people. The reason I said yes was because they had a lot of work that they were posting and they were showing people they cast for campaigns and things like that.
What one thing do you wish you had back then in order to sort of guide those decisions?
I wish I knew somebody or had a reference or maybe just a place to ask a question like: Is this a legit and normal way to be introduced to this? Or what should I be afraid of? What should I be cautious of? I feel there’s kind of a pattern of behavior, maybe, in the fashion industry of people who are kind of doing things to take advantage of you, or trying to be shady about stuff, or work around your agents because you’re friends and stuff like that.
It helped me a lot when young girls would just, “You’re my favorite model.” And it was so weird, “I am? There are so many … Have you seen the girls who walk Chanel and shit?”
It’s hard sometimes to tell the difference between the legitimate and the not legitimate as often they may look exactly the same. How has your perspective changed on the industry since that, basically? Because you came in knowing very little about it, besides you were enthusiastic about clothes. But now, what are your thoughts on the industry?
I would say they’ve definitely been de-glamorized. In the beginning, it’s just really shocking. It’s a really weird job and there’s nothing like it. Like, four different people are touching you, and rubbing lotion on you, and you’re like, “What is this? I’m getting pampered, but I’m getting paid for it.” Then there are moments like that that I think, Jesus I’m getting paid so much for this. Then there are other moments where I’m like, “this is the hardest I’ve worked in so long.”
I didn’t know how physically demanding it would be. It’s a lot of getting sick, it’s a lot of being so exhausted. It’s really emotionally demanding. It can be super stressful at times, but it can be really amazing at times. And I never thought I would be able to meet as many interesting people that I really connected with and connected with on an artistic level, as well. At such a young age, I never thought it would happen. There are definitely things I never anticipated such as when you have a 14-hour flight, and then you have to go straight to work the next day. The dynamic with your agents can sometimes be really stressful. It’s just an interesting kind of dynamic, the whole industry. People will say shady things to you and you just have to deal with it. Because people in the fashion industry are like that to each other.
Because it’s kind of the wild west.
It is, yeah.
As a model, what is your least favorite thing to be asked?
I would say I’m definitely tired about people just commenting on my physical appearance just during life in general. I hear it every day. I think because people know that I take a lot of photos of myself, and have photos taken of myself, that, I mean positive compliments are always really nice, it just gets tiring sometimes hearing so many comments about your physical appearance. Not only in real life but obviously on the internet, hundreds of comments every day. It’s weird this kind of compulsion people have to just tell you exactly what they think that you look like. It’s so weird.
Totally an internet thing.
I think because maybe the dynamic of people commenting and saying like, “You look so pretty in this.” It’s kind of carried off into real life, where people, the first thing they say is how you look. I just wish people wanted to talk about something else.
Has being a part of fashion influenced your artwork at all? Or is it separate?
It helps me kind of widen my perception of art. I think just also being around other people who have different ideas from you can help you so much. I’d say that’s where it helps me the most. Inspiring through just working with other creative people.
So what about yourself do you think resonates with your industry admirers?
I love to work for companies that aim towards women. Just like feminine products, or things like that. Me and You is a very feminist-based company, that’s how they started it. I think because I gravitate towards it so much, they can kind of feel that. And I talk a lot about that through Instagram. I think a lot of clients find me through there. So they can tell that’s what I love working for the most.
How long have you been modeling now?
It’s been a good three years, yeah.
Has there been one thing that sort of really made you feel like, okay I am a model?
That’s a good question. I would say, for the first, year and a half, even when I was working a lot of times every week, a lot of days, I would still just not think of myself as a model. There’s a lot of reasons why, but I think because maybe I was so young, and I wasn’t treated as what I felt like a model would be treated like. I was looking for that validation from other people. I’m a model, other people are telling me I’m a model, so I am. I think it’s just changed in my own head the perception of what a model is. Even when I was younger, and there was a good amount of representation of plus girls in the industry, outside of work, I was just like, “I’m not a model.” I just felt like a regular fat girl with a pretty face.
You only felt like a model when you were on set, pretty much? So what experience maybe changed that feeling?
It’s kind of the build-up of multiple experiences. I think it’s also the feedback that I get from people. The internet is weird because it can in your own bubble make it look like you have a lot of fans or something and obviously in real life, you’re not getting mobbed by crowds. But in the internet world, I would say it helped me a lot when young girls would just, “You’re my favorite model.” And it was so weird, “I am? There are so many … Have you seen the girls who walk Chanel and shit?” So comments like that and sometimes a girl will stop me on the street who’s young, and I can tell she’s really excited. Moments like that I think have kind of helped …
Validate your experience? Yeah.
Definitely, validate the experience. And also just talking about it with other people in the industry and having a discussion where I can share experiences and they’ve experienced the same things as me. “Okay, I’m going through the same things you are. I am a model in this industry now.”
Okay, well so talking about this, do you feel your model experience differs greatly or is unique, being labeled plus size? Vice versa, do you share a feeling of solidarity with certain experiences amongst all of your peers in general?
I think it interestingly has a little split in it where the divide is. I’m not really familiar with the straight sized model’s experience, per se, but obviously very familiar with the plus size experience––but, it’s different. You can tell in castings or when you go to groups where there are just models for work things sometimes you can physically see it, where people are grouping off. But it’s a weird dynamic of, I think there’s maybe just some underlying weird competition in there.
Is that amongst all the girls? There’s competitiveness?
No, I think that would be a generalization to say that. Because I’ve met so many straight size models that have just come up to me and said, “It’s so cool that there are plus girls in the industry now, and I’m so happy about it.” And then there are other people I’ve met that kind of feel invaded upon, in their space. I think that’s obviously the minority of people, but there’s just a weird tension sometimes. I think it’s also a personal experience thing because there are a lot of girls that also start straight size and move to plus size, and sometimes they go back.
I’ve met so many straight size models that have just come up to me and said, “It’s so cool that there are plus girls in the industry now, and I’m so happy about it.” And then there are other people I’ve met that kind of feel invaded upon…
Right, as you said, people’s bodies change, especially when they’re starting at 16 and going until they’re 27, especially once you become a model who’s 30, and 35, and you’re having children. It’s not a single experience. It changes. Limiting your perspective to whatever period of your life you’re in is a pretty negative way to think. So anyway, so what sort of feelings do you think all models share?
It’s a pretty demanding job, especially when you don’t do anything else, and you are just focusing on modeling. There are lots of stressful experiences and positive experiences that you go through where you’re going to have to work a 17 hour day, and it’s going to have to be really exhausting. Then it feels really rewarding when you can see the photos and you can see what you created. I would say that kind of rollercoaster of emotions is definitely a relatable thing. The calls that you can get sometimes at night, “You have to be on a plane tomorrow.” That’s a huge stressful moment that I think people kind of bond over. Again, the relationship with the agents can sometimes be really tricky for people. Sometimes, people don’t have really that open of a relationship, and they hide things. It gets messy and people fight and that’s something that a lot of girls relate on. Also just sometimes you’re on set and people just say shady things to you, and you just need somebody to talk to. You’re like, “That stylist just called me fat.” And they say, “Oh my God, he just called me fat, too.” That creates a really tight bond because it’s such a weird job. And dudes stalking you, things like that.
So what is something that you think all models kind of would wish, would change? Is there something that you think every model agrees is like a negative part of being a model?
Definitely, the pressure to be changing your body is always going to be there. Even as a plus size model, when I got sick, and I lost weight, that was an issue.
Yeah, people will tell you to gain weight.
So no matter who you are, you’re having these pressures.
You’re going to have to have a lot of pressure. Whenever you’re working, you feel like you’re renting out your body for the day. People can do whatever they want, and they can make you whatever they want for that day. So it’s really important that when you’re not working, people make you feel like you’re your own person, and that you have control over what you’re going to be and what you want to become when you’re not working. A lot of people don’t really have that control, because they’re being branded as someone, they’re being told what to post, or what to say. I think everybody would benefit a little bit more if they just loosened the reigns a little bit.
Whenever you’re working, you feel like you’re renting out your body for the day. People can do whatever they want, and they can make you whatever they want for that day. So it’s really important that when you’re not working, people make you feel like you’re your own person, and that you have control over what you’re going to be and what you want to become when you’re not working.
Because people are always working now, because of social media and because of email, they can’t separate …
Life and work.
Life in general. Especially for a model, because…
It’s a life job.
Everything you do has to do with modeling. Anything you post on Instagram is potentially going to catch the attention of someone.
Okay, so what are you most optimistic about in the future of the industry?
I’m really optimistic about the effect it’s having on kids and people who just grow up in this time and seeing models that are different people. Like trans models, people never had that back then. I didn’t really even know what a trans person was growing up. And brown people being fucking represented, it’s just starting to happen. That’s what makes me happiest about having this job. Because I know me being a white girl with blonde hair is kind of a starter in some clients’ eyes. They’re being like [because I’m plus sized], “Okay we’re pushing it a little with her.” Hopefully, I will lead to you hiring more different people. I see it as me being able to get in with a client that hasn’t hired plus size people is a huge win on my part.
What role do you have in contributing to your optimism in the future? Do you think just you being yourself is your role? Or is there something active that you think you have to do?
I think the most that people can do right now is just be, especially myself, is just being transparent with people and keeping it honest and not sugarcoated. I think there’s a lot of people who don’t want you to say specific things and a lot of people who tell you to keep hush-hush on things. I feel it’s my job to just be really transparent and honest and tell people, “This is what’s going on, and this is what happened to me today.” I don’t feel comfortable closing my mouth about those things.