Meet the Canadian Starring in the Body-Positive All Woman Project

Trinidad-born, Mississauga-raised Shivani Persad—a model, blogger and activist—gets honest about the modelling industry’s diversity issues and why the All Woman Project is so necessary

Ishani Nath
all woman project
(Photo: Heather Hazzan and Lily Cummings)

Cellulite and stretch marks are about as welcome at a photo shoot as deep dish pizza but two body-positive models were determined to celebrate the female form in all of its un-Photoshopped glory.

Clémentine Desseaux and Charli Howard are the creators of the All Woman Project, a film and editorial campaign that showcases subjects of all shapes, sizes and colours.

“This project started because we both genuinely believe that huge brands can be more diverse in their choice of models and body shapes,” says Howard, a size-2 model who was once fired from a modelling agency for being “out of shape.”

“Rather than Photoshopping our bodies and our ‘flaws’, we’ve chosen to highlight and embrace them,” says Desseaux. “This campaign is designed to unify women around the globe, proving that we are all woman, regardless of how society and the media often makes us feel.”

In addition to Desseaux and Howard, other campaign stars include gender fluid model Elliott Sailors, girl boss advocate and singer Leaf, the star of F in Fabulous Kamie Crawford and the lone Canadian—model, blogger and diversity activist Shivani Persad. The Trinidad-born Mississauga-raised beauty gave us the inside scoop on how the viral #IAmAllWoman campaign is shaking up the industry’s beauty ideals.

all woman project
(Photo: Heather Hazzan and Lily Cummings)

What was it about this campaign that spoke to you personally?
The fact that they were taking about not only body-image but also about colour with this campaign, that’s what really interested me. When I was younger, it was really hard to visualize myself modelling because I didn’t see myself in anyone. That’s a huge part of why I feel we need better representation, so that young women of colour can see themselves in these positions. It’s really hard to aspire to be something when you can’t visualize it.

You’re able work in the mainstream fashion, but did you still connect with the body image issues the campaign highlighted?
Yes because I’m still not considered a “skinny” model, which I know sounds insane. I started modelling a lot later and for me it’s been an ongoing struggle to maintain my figure—and I’ve had clients and people say things about my weight in the past. But I’ve had way more issues dealing with adversity due to my skin colour than body image.

What challenges have you encountered due to your skin colour?
The thing that stood out to me the most was when I met agencies from different countries and they would straight up tell me that they didn’t book “dark girls”. I had a photographer tell me that I was beautiful because my skin was so dark but my features were Caucasian. At the same time, I also have to realize my privilege as a brown model. One of my agents once told me that if someone wanted to use an ethnic girl, they would rather book me than a black girl—which is f*cking ridiculous. Those are little examples, but things like that happen all the time.

Given the nature of the All Woman Project, was the vibe on set different from other shoots you’ve done?
It felt very empowering. I had worked with a lot of the girls that were on set before [including Aerie ambassador and body-positive advocate Iskra Lawrence, and plus-size model and activist Barbie Ferreira] and we had talked about these types of issues before. The fact that we could all get together and do it, it was like finally. We don’t need to talk about it anymore; let’s do something now.

all woman project
A group shot from the #IAmAllWoman campaign (Photo: Heather Hazzan and Lily Cummings)

After seeing the shots, what do you hope the industry takes away from this project?
Charli and Clém wanted to shoot a campaign with all these different girls, all happy and in swimsuits—where it didn’t matter what size we were. The general message is that it can still be beautiful. The images are amazing, so why can’t we shoot more things like that? Why does it have to be so curated to this ridiculous standard when we clearly just showed that you can have a very inclusive campaign with tons of different skin colours and body types and it can look just as good.

What do you personally hope to achieve with All Woman Project?
For girls to see themselves.

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