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In a diverse world, it’s not always easy to see yourself represented in the media — particularly in the fashion industry, which has a long history of exclusion, fatphobia, and whitewashing. But as society at large slowly pivots to become increasingly inclusive, more and more faces from marginalized communities are becoming part of the mainstream. Minami Gessel, a plus-size Asian model, is one of those faces.
For Minami, it’s all about intentionality in her field. Whether it’s advocating for more plus-size representation or standing up against xenophobia (especially after the widespread harassment of the Asian American Pacific Islander community over the past year), she’s carefully taking stock of what to give her voice to.
“Representation matters because if we don’t see BIPOC folx reflected in media, whether it be in film, print, or advertising, then that’s an erasure of BIPOC stories,” she tells NYLON. “Our stories don’t ever get to be told, so it is important that media outlets and the entertainment industry — even on the academic level — have a big responsibility to uplifting BIPOC and curve narratives. We should be seeing equal representation as our white counterparts.”
She credits her resilience — both in life and in the industry — to the community that she’s found online, particularly Instagram. “My community means family. I feel like there is a collective understanding, that no matter where in the Asian diaspora, there is familiarity and protectiveness,” says Minami. “I don't know how to describe it. But it is so special and so unique. It’s its own world and I feel so lucky to be a part of it.”
Minami has found her place among female-led, BIPOC-oriented activist groups, and just as importantly, she’s living the dream that her younger self had imagined. When asked if she had any words she would say to her inner little girl, she says, “I would tell my six-year-old self to not compare yourself. Trends come and go. Hone in on what you like and don’t apologize for it.”
And that’s exactly what she’s doing. Whether she’s being unapologetic on the runway or off, Minami isn’t shying away from taking up space in places where people like her have historically been marginalized.
Ahead, Minami reflects on walking in Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty Show Vol. 3, getting her start in modeling, fashion inclusivity, representation, and more.
On Walking For The Savage X Fenty Show
“It was absolutely incredible! Truly a dream come true. At times I felt like I blacked out because it was all so stimulating. We had rehearsals and fittings that would end late at night, then on the day of the show, everything that we rehearsed became reality. I just remember feeling so much gratitude for all of the crew, stylists, hair and makeup artists, manicurists, and, obviously, Rihanna.
A moment that stood out to me in particular was getting my robe with my name on it and seeing my Polaroid digitals on the rack. I was finally in the same room as my role models and friends and finally being considered as an equal — it was definitely a full circle moment.”
On Getting Started In Modeling
“I started out from a DM on Instagram. I had just lost my job and needed to make some money, then The Line by K messaged me asking if I would like to model. I said, ‘Sure!’ and it kind of went on from there. I always wanted to be a model, I think. I would religiously watch America’s Next Top Model and practice my walk in front of the TV. I loved having my photo taken or just loved the camera — not to sound completely shallow. But as I got older, I kind of tossed that thought away because I thought it would never happen for me.
So when I got this gig, I was surprised how natural it came to me and how comfortable I was in front of the camera and genuinely felt really excited to show people that cute clothes can look good on someone with my body type. I guess to be included, really. Modeling has definitely taught me how to value my self-worth and really test my confidence. I feel like I get to be myself on set.”
On The Future Of Inclusivity In Fashion
“I think it’s to actually be included and not feel like an add-on. Sometimes when you're on set you know you’re the token ‘fat’ girl for brands to prove that they are inclusive. It comes down to having clothing options that actually fit you, having the right products for different types of hair, different robe sizes, correct makeup shades for foundation. All of these small things matter to a model to feel like they are actually respected and included. I think that when the fashion and beauty industry finally recognize these things as true, representation won’t feel like such a performative thing.”
On The Importance Of Representation
“Growing up, there was no representation ever. A lot of entertainment only presented the AAPI community in a very stereotypical way. It was either Mulan or Lilo and Stitch. The first person that I looked up to was Lucy Liu in Charlie’s Angels, a true badass woman who looked like me. But as I got older, my body changed and then suddenly there was no one that looked like me on the screen. The only person I remember was Mrs. Quan, the baby sister from the live-action The Cat in the Hat movie. So I started to look elsewhere or to whiteness.
Being half-white (but not really looking like it) made me start to resent my Japanese side. I hated speaking Japanese and looking Japanese. I stopped watching anime and going to Japanese grocery stores; I quit anything that made me look ‘other.’ I even dyed my hair blonde for two years in high school, thinking it would make me look more white.
It took me to fully accept being Japanese and my culture to really feel confident with myself. This is the reason why representation and inclusivity matters. When people in our community don’t feel like they have a voice, or feel they need to change the way they look to fit a certain standard, it creates discontent with who they are, their culture, their family histories. It feels like an erasure of culture, like if we don’t have our stories being told because we hate that we aren’t the norm, then they don’t get told at all. Then all we know is the white narrative.”
Follow Minami Gessel on Instagram.