Toccara Jones joins our Zoom call by informing me of a crucial tidbit: She is feeling just as faaabulous (yes, emphasis on the “a”) as ever before.
The former America’s Next Top Model contestant, who was the show’s first plus-size contestant back in 2004, is returning to the screen with Thick House, a Facebook-Watch series created by The Shade Room. With Jones as host, the show will follow seven plus-size women of color as they compete to be the next modeling sensation. And who better to guide them than the original queen of curves herself?
Alongside judges Kelly Augustine and EJ King, Thick House will bring some much-needed diversity to the reality TV circuit. Ahead of its premiere on Sunday, May 16, Jones spoke with NYLON about why she felt so drawn to the project, the impact she hopes it has, and of course, a little tea on ANTM.
For those who may not be familiar with your work, how would you describe Toccara Jones?
Well, Toccara Jones is the fabulous one, honey darling! But I’m an entrepreneur. I have my own intimates line for big-breasted women, so I’m still advocating for body positivity. I’m still a cheerleader for us curvy girls.
You’ve been busy with your masterclasses and intimates line, but you’ve stayed away from the mainstream media for a few years now. Why did Thick House feel like the right time to come back?
I definitely wanted to be a part of this because it’s full circle for me. I come from an era where I’m the token plus-size girl. These girls are all under the plus-size umbrella, but they’re all different sizes and different shapes. It feels really groundbreaking because we’ve been needing a show like this. The public is dying to see real women, real shapes, real curves. They've been waiting for this.
Obviously only one woman can win, but you’re living proof that those eliminated can sometimes have the biggest long-lasting impact. What is your hope for these seven girls?
You don’t have to win to be successful. On ANTM, I got eliminated, but to a lot of people, I am the winner. I'm so invested in these contestants, because no matter when they get eliminated or whatever place they may fall in, I still want them to do well after the show. They’re all going to be stars in their own light, and so many people are going to be able to identify with them.
Take me through how the show is structured. Will it be similar to ANTM’s format?
Each episode, the women are going to go through a competition, and then they’ll be judged. But it’s not scripted, so we just keep it real. It naturally takes twists and turns. One episode I said, ‘You know what's going to be my final determining factor? I want to see how she walks down the stairs.’ And that was just off of my true feelings. It’s just a real authentic show and because of that, it’s going to keep people tuning in.
If you could go back to cycle 3 of ANTM and give advice to your younger self, what would you tell her?
Let me tell you something: If you go back and look at my younger self, you ain’t have to tell that little girl nothing! I go back and listen to her all the time, I still take quotes from her. Do you remember how she walked in? She said, ‘I’m here! I’m big, Black, beautiful and loving it!’ This little girl really said, ‘Just get me in the door and I’m going to show you how to work it.’ You didn’t have to tell her nothing.
Can we talk about the episode you were eliminated, and how that heinous stylist literally blamed you for not fitting into the pieces she pulled. And then pricked you with the needle…
That b*tch pinched me! Oh, mother, I didn’t want to get kicked out but I wanted to beat her! And then to ask me, ‘Do you think it’s easy to find a rack of clothes in your size?’ Are you the stylist or are you not the stylist? It’s your job, why are you asking me?
While we’re on the topic, the images of you posing on the car that episode were iconic. I have no idea what the judges were thinking when they eliminated you.
Right!? That blonde hair, honey! Thank you. But you know what: Our stylist on Thick House was so fabulous. And that's what I'm excited for the viewers to see, too, because she snatched them girls up, all the different shapes and sizes. They’re going to walk away knowing that it’s possible. They’re going to feel confident and loved.
I love that all the contestants are women of color, because within the plus-size fashion space — and industry as a whole — Black women are constantly erased and refused credit for their needle-moving work. And I’m sure you can speak to that from personal experience.
What other reality shows can you name that has a full cast of women of color? That’s groundbreaking in and of itself. It reminds me of when I was in Vogue Italia’s all-Black issue shot by Steven Meisel because the industry was saying that Black models couldn’t sell. Well actually, we can, because all of the culture comes from us anyway. I'm so proud to be a part of something like this because there is this challenge out there that they put us on a back-burner and don’t give us credit for all our magic that we exude.
What did you personally take away from filming Thick House?
When I look at these girls, I remember auditioning, I remember being in the house, I remember how it felt to be in front of the judges. To be in that whole environment again, the takeaway was just love. The takeaway for me is like, ‘Wow, we did it. Look how far we’ve come.’
And finally, for all the young curvy girls out there, what is your advice to them?
Don’t give up. Don’t listen to the naysayers. You don’t have to add a lot of extra glitz and glam. You have to keep believing in yourself and have a clear vision. Take care of your natural hair, take care of your natural skin, take care of yourself because you are the blueprint. You are the foundation.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.