How Philomena Kwao is bringing diversity to the modeling world
April 01, 2016 at 10:30 am
Who is the beautifully melanated modeling goddess next to 56-year-old Nicola Griffin and cover girl Ashley Graham in Swimsuits for All’s groundbreaking #SwimSexy Sports Illustrated ad? I’m glad you asked.
Born in London, England to Ghanaian parents, Philomena Kwao has been taking the modeling world by storm since being scouted through a UK modeling competition in 2012. Since then, Kwao has worked with international brands such as Torrid, Nordstrom, Lane Bryant and Evans.
Kwao not only brings much-needed diversity, but she isn’t afraid to talk about it. Below are Kwao’s thoughts on four ways that she is bringing diversity to the fashion world:
Although the modeling world at large has made strides to feature models of varying shades, Kwao tells Elle in a recent interview that skin tone diversity is one of the final frontiers in the plus-size modeling industry:
“I think that the plus-size industry has been great with size diversity, but it hasn’t really been great for skin tone diversity. I still feel segregation along skin tone. There’s not many models in the U.S. that have my depth, like, really dark skin, that are also plus size.”
Kwao doesn’t identify with labels such as ‘plus-size’ or ‘curvy,’ but she recognizes the importance of having size diversity in the media. When asked about the Swimsuits for All campaign, she responded:
“I want young girls to look at the campaign and see confidence,” Kwao said, “We are bigger girls than the standard swimsuit models, but here we are wearing bikinis. We aren’t covered up and we’re happy. I’m especially excited for young black girls who are also curvier to see the campaign, as the fashion industry has been slow to showcase curvy models of color.”
Kwao is known for her signature cropped natural hair, a rarity in the modeling world. When asked by Refinery 29 about what makes her stand out from other models, she replied:
“At first glance, I think my low cut definitely sets me apart from the other girls… How often do you see a plus model with no hair?”
Kwao has a refreshingly balanced view of what it means to be healthy, inside and out:
“I don’t think about ‘maintaining’ my size, really, it’s just about feeling great. I have a green juice every day because it makes me feel more awake; it makes my skin healthier. I try and work out as much as I can because when you exercise, it releases endorphins and makes you feel really good. I also make sure I schedule time with my friends, family, and loved ones because I realize that, as well as your physical well-being, you have to look out for your mental well-being too. We spend so much time worrying about the physical that we don’t remember what’s going on inside the mind, and the mind’s really powerful.”
In addition to being an accomplished model, Kwao holds a master’s degree in international health management. She is passionate about women’s issues in West Africa and has recently served as a spokesperson for Women for Women International. She also runs a blog, The Philes, that gives sophisticated insight into her thoughts and everyday life.