THRIVHER INTERVIEW: Jessica Leahy

Updated: Mar 23, 2019


Photo Credit: Kristina Soljo


Model, Writer and founder of Project WomanKIND



Quick DIVE


Can't start the day without: Making my bed.

Go-to coffee or tea: I don't drink either - I always have apple juice.

Best read of all time for personal growth: I recently read WILD by Cheryl Strayed and I think every woman in her twenties needs to read this.

Favourite quote: Kindness; sprinkle that sh*t everywhere!

Top music track to get pumped for the day or a task: Anything Cardi B.

Most afraid of: Not being myself. Authenticity should be key.

Go-to for fun or to let your hair down: Hanging out with friends at the beach, eating amazing food and relaxing.



Today, you’re fulfilling a vision and a mission. Looking back, can you identify when you first thought about becoming a model?

I think hindsight is such an interesting thing to have in life, I would never have thought to become a plus-size model when I was young, because it simply wasn't something that happened back then. All the models in the magazines were all thin, there wasn't the diversity that there is today. So I never really thought I would be a model.


A lot of my friends fell into the pitfalls of anorexia and bulimia, some so severely that they were hospitalised. I think because of my upbringing in New Guinea, I always had a very different view on body image. The cultural perspective there placed far more emphasis on being grateful for having a working body, which allows you to work and play and that fosters a healthy attitude towards body image.


Of course, I am conscious of my appearance, but I have an appreciation for how I look regardless of external pressures and influences - it doesn't dictate who I am. I think it's that self-confidence which has enabled me to succeed in this industry. There are constant rejections and people turning you down so you need to have thick skin and self-belief.


Of course, I am conscious of my appearance, but I have an appreciation for how I look regardless of external pressures and influences - it doesn't dictate who I am


Photo credit: Amy Hibbard


How did you get into modeling initially?

Through a competition in a newspaper around ten years ago! My aunt persuaded me to enter. I actually missed the deadline for the competition, but I was offered a contract anyway. So it happened by chance really, I didn't grow up dreaming of being a model.



How has your modelling career been shaped over the ten years that you’ve been in the industry?

When I started there were only a handful of companies in Australia doing plus-size clothing and curvy or inclusive styles of marketing. It was really exciting although it felt incredibly patronizing and chauvinistic at times because the thin, tall, leggy look was still very dominant. It didn’t always feel great, but now it has changed so much and so many brands are really starting to embrace diversity, it's a big step in the right direction.


Social media has been central to promoting this, because it has given the public a voice and people want to feel represented. I think previously, the fashion industry operated from the top down, dictating to the public, whereas now, the public can call the shots a lot more.



Photo credit: Les Mijotes


What defining factors have contributed to your success so far?

There wasn't one particular image or campaign that launched my career, it has been a much more gradual process for me. I am now one of the more recognised models in the curvy industry in Australia, but to get to this point, I had to keep doing my best at each job, keep working hard and making connections as I went along.


One key factor throughout my career has been the amazing support I have received from the people around me and my agents. Chelsea Bonner and Katherine Taylor have been incredible and I have some really good friends within my agency. I have experienced so much friendship and support from so many women within the industry, who are all working hard for themselves, but who are also paving the way for other women following in their footsteps. These have been the defining factors in my career, far more so than the jobs themselves. The plus-size models have had to push for diversity - it didn't come from the designers, the art directors or the editors - it was the models who were the driving force.


The plus-size models have had to push for diversity - it didn't come from the designers, the art directors or the editors - it was the models who were the driving force.


I created Project WomanKIND three years ago and that involved a big group of us models getting together and creating something to fight for diversity, so that generations of women after us do not feel excluded from fashion and beauty. It went viral all over the world, which is testament to just how in touch we are with what women want to see in a model.



That’s amazing. Were you surprised by the extent of the success of Project WomanKIND?

Yes, I was pretty surprised. I knew that Project WomanKIND was going to be special just by the energy of the day and everyone being there and the honest, raw emotions involved. But I certainly didn't realize it would resonate as much as it did. When it took off I was getting emails from women from all around the world, sometimes not even English speakers, but somehow the message was getting across and it was universal. This is what people want - men as well as women too.



How would you define beauty in the modelling industry today?

Beauty really does come in all different shapes and sizes, from the ultra-skinny to a big, ultimate curvy girl.


Beauty needs to be acknowledged on an individual basis and from a model's perspective, it's vital to be comfortable with yourself. Ultimately the message I'm trying to get out there is to do what’s good for you until you are truly happy with yourself. Diversity in the modelling industry can really help by making everyone feel represented.


Ultimately the message I'm trying to get out there is to do what’s good for you until you are truly happy with yourself


Can you describe your biggest challenge which has ultimately helped you progress the most in your career?I have always had an inner confidence, but I still feel the typical pressures, being in this industry, to keep myself looking young, or looking a certain way. The challenge for me is to keep accepting myself as I get older. I'm not a teenager anymore, nor even in my early twenties and my looks are changing, but I need to embrace aging as the beautiful thing it is.

I find it helpful to constantly reaffirm to myself, “I am special. I am worthy of my own respect and my own love”. The challenge is keeping that up for life. Self-love is like an ongoing relationship with yourself.


I find it helpful to constantly reaffirm to myself, “I am special. I am worthy of my own respect and my own love”


As women, we tend to second-guess ourselves all the time, cultivating this belief that we are not doing things right the first time. We need to have more belief in the fact that we have good judgment and good follow-through and we should trust that we've done a good job.



Do you have a top “pinch me now” moment in your career so far?

My first overseas trip as a model. I went to London. It was just weird - I didn’t expect to be there, doing that. Even now, anytime I find myself somewhere amazing in the world, it's really special. I experienced that recently when I went to the Caribbean and to Mexico to shoot campaigns. In this job I am very privileged to work with amazing people, experience many places and do incredible things. I just try not to take it all for granted and really appreciate the fact that I get to walk the road less travelled.




If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice when you were first starting out, what would it be?

I think it would probably be to not worry, because everything will turn out okay! Coming from a very straight family background, with very normal jobs and working lives, one of the things I really had no idea about was how everything was going to turn out. So I'd like to go back and tell myself to just enjoy every experience and embrace it all, rather than stressing about every little thing.



For women who want to make a positive change in their life, but don’t know where to start, what advice would you give them?

Any positive change starts with the way that you treat yourself. Being more positive in the way that you think of yourself and the way that you build yourself up, mostly in the way that you communicate with yourself.


Every single day, you can actually tune into that constant internal monologue and make sure you are treating yourself with kindness and respect. By doing this you will really start to attract more positive energy into your life. You can start this very second, just being kind to yourself!


Every single day, you can actually tune into that constant internal monologue and make sure you are treating yourself with kindness and respect.



Is there anything else you’d like to promote or share with the Thrivhers community?


Check out Project WomanKIND! Support your fellow sisters. Make time to like and share their messages. If they’re positive, happy, hopeful and uplifting, get them out there! We really need those messages in the world right now, to remind everyone to spread more kindness and joy, instead of being hateful and competitive. The power of appreciation is so strong and so special, it can really transform humanity!








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