Name: Ariel Pierre-Louis
Agency: Dorothy Combs
Some models can afford to wax poetic about slurping ramen noodles in a studio apartment, but Ariel Pierre-Louis could not. “I’m not a model bitch. I am a Brooklyn bitch,” she told Hello Beautiful in an exclusive interview.
The breakout model who has featured in major campaigns for some of your favorite retailers had a difficult time adjusting to the unusual power dynamics of the industry. Her biggest objection was the way finances were handled. Forced to care for her younger siblings emotionally and financially due to serious family issues she was frustrated with being expected to shell out cash to attend castings that could result in nothing more than a ‘maybe next time.’
“I’m not gonna say the name,” Pierre-Louis began, describing a scene many aspiring models have dealt with. “But they made me come all the way fucking down there and spend my hard-earned traveling money. At the time I wasn’t able to pay for weeklies [Metrocards]. Now I can pay for weeklies, so I came up. But I was hopping the shit [turnstiles] or had to get on the bus. But I paid my money to get there just in case. I wasn’t hopping nothing to get arrested or some shit before my meeting.”
Pierre-Louis felt the expense, an extravagant one given her financial situation, was worth it because it might lead to her big break.
“I got so excited,” she explained. Her excitement was short lived as the agency she skipped a meal to audition for rejected her. The encounter started out positively. “They were like ‘you’re so beautiful’ and all this great stuff about me,” she said. Shortly after the accolades came the disappointment. “But we might try to like put you in a development thing because you’re too big we don’t really sign girls this big,” the rep reportedly told her.
“And I swear to God I was smaller than I am today same height and everything just a little smaller,” deadpanned Pierre-Louis. The unexplained rejection stung, and she sprung into action to try and change herself to give herself a chance at making her dreams happen.
“I literally freaked out, had an eating disorder and everything I literally lost 60 lbs in 2 or 3 months and then I contacted them, and they were like uninterested.”
A larger version of the same body they were uninterested in would soon be featured by Issac Anthony in a spread in W Magazine, every curve celebrated for its distinctive appeal but at the time Pierre-Louis had no idea where her career was headed.
Her experiences with body shaming motivate her to deliberately shatter her younger sister’s illusions about the industry. Recently she educated her about size bias why she couldn’t find her size at an event offering prom dresses. She works to unpack every airbrushed image uploaded on Instagram so that her sister will see the value in her own unique beauty. “It’s my little sister and I don’t want her to foster these ideas in her head that it’s normal to only see size one or two dresses,” she added. The self-proclaimed “Liberated Black woman,” discusses that and more on Instagram where is constantly uplifting marginalized people.
She almost gave up after that experience. “I was like if I don’t get signed by 21 I’m not doing this shit no more. This is clearly not for me. This is not what I’m supposed to be doing then lo and behold a few day before my 21st birthday I was signed and I was like okay this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”
When she did get signed, she reportedly had to deal with shady agency tactics including agents taking jobs she brought in and giving them to other girls on the agency’s roster. “I’m gonna have to be really honest because that’s all I can be I really feel like it’s because the other girls were a little bit more palatable. I was one of the only Black girls there. I’m gonna tell you what they do they pretend like you cost more money and they’ll they’ll offer these amount of girls for that same amount of money and all those girls were white and smaller than me. I think one of them were Black and she has two type hair she’s half white, so her hair was like really loose she got good hair quote un quote. They didn’t give it to someone whose more marginalized than me like they never did that shit.”
The lack of inclusion echoed her initial foray into a creative profession.
Pierre-Louis began modeling after exploring acting. “I just really like to act I don’t know if it’s a trauma thing,” she jokes. The things she endured as a child and young adult that required the soothing effect the practice has on her were no joking matter. She reported physical and emotional abuse allegedly taking place in her household. She said these events were part of what encouraged her to step up and take a bigger role in her siblings’ lives. This choice affected her relationship with her brother. “He didn’t like someone who was only four years older than him acting like a mom,” she shared.
Acting was a way for her to temporarily excuse herself from the responsibility of survival. “By being different people, you could really dive into that without compromising yourself in any way,” she revealed.
She refuses to compromise her identity to get gigs. She proudly displays a rainbow flag in her bio along with tongue-in-cheek visually references to her sexuality via strategically selected emojis. She described the “moral dilemma,” of capitalism and stated that while like other working models she is in no position to turn down jobs but she would absolutely draw the line at working with a “morally bankrupt” company.
“A lot of companies pretend to care and the spend half of their funding to make sure certain people don’t have rights,” she stated.
She saw acting as a way to explore all the different sides of herself, but she was forced to draw the line there as well. “I just always like to do make believe as a kid it made me feel like I could express myself by being all these different people because I would say I’m multifaceted.” Sadly, the roles offered to the young aspiring actress who saw herself “Al Pacino but a Black woman,” were not multifaceted.
“There weren’t a lot of roles for women who looked like me and the ones that there were in my opinion weren’t serious enough. They were always like the sassy friend or just somebody who was like ‘mm mm’ and I didn’t want to do that.”
Modeling presented itself as a way to increase representation while soothing her creative itch. “If people see more people like me maybe there will be more roles for people like me,” she reasoned. “I know that I’m light skinned and I know my privileges but I also know the representation of me doing like work with certain brands with my afro and me being a size 18 and being Black and tall from a certain type of class and background. When I was growing up I didn’t think anything was for me,” she said excitedly.
“Like recently even though it hasn’t come out, yet I’m really excited I worked with a really huge brand that I used to look up to and hear fashion shows about on like Sex And The City and stuff. I was like there’s no way you know that’s not something they would do.”
Part of why she thought that way was the unlevel playing field she entered when starting to model. A quick study she swiftly picked up on the fact that the most successful girls at her first agency were the ones with a preexisting financial advantage.
“Outside of like Naomi [Campbell] and Tyra Banks I really didn’t go out of my way to look at other models. I really didn’t know there was a whole industry of plus-size women so when I got into modeling, I thought that everybody who was in my agency or whatever agency was really just grinding and you figuring thing out. As I started knowing more and learning more about the industry, I found out a lot a lot of women who come into the industry tend to have a good background already. They’re so successful because they’re able to do all the shoots. They’re able to just travel to these events or pay to get into these events where certain people are. Whereas me I’m like ‘I hope you see my book that I just spent a grip on’. I’m over on Instagram posting pictures of me like ‘I hope this is enough.’ So, like it’s hard…it really is.”
“We weren’t necessarily poor poor but we were like poor. My mom did her best to afford us things and we did have certain things but sometimes we only ate peanut butter crackers and ramen noodles sometimes we couldn’t put the heat on,” she recalled.
“I mean for a long time we lived in a basement and in what was 1-bedroom basement where me my brother and my sister shared one bed. We eventually got a house which was great but because when you get a house you spend all your money trying to buy this American dream so you eat the same thing every day or you end up with no furniture or like your bed is on the floor. It was really difficult growing up in that environment. So, yea I didn’t think most things were for me I wanted those things I always wanted better things. I wanted to have good things, but I knew what it cost, and I didn’t think it was possible for me.”
It didn’t help that her rail thin mother who reportedly had her own modeling career in her younger years wasn’t exactly supportive. “My mom came from like a generation where it was if somebody doesn’t come up to you and like discover you then you’re not it.”
Despite not having the mythical discovery her mother longed for, and switching agencies, her career has thrived. But even with major campaigns under her belt she doesn’t consider herself to be on easy street.
“A lot of people think it is because they see me post a lot,” she says. “I feel like my agency is better they show me who they’re submitting me to they go out of their way to get feedback from the client. They make sure I’m good. It’s as if I’m their only client they want my ass working.”
She wants to be working as well. She continues to try to help give her brother support and her little sister the healthiest environment possible. Additional income makes that possible.
“I have kids to feed. They not my kids but I got kids to feed.”
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MODEL MONDAY: Ariel Pierre-Louis Talks Colorism And Classism In The Modeling Industry was originally published on hellobeautiful.com