We spend an afternoon with Detroit’s finest: Leah Vernon

You know when you see someone for the first time and they become an instant obsession? That was social editor Bethany’s reaction to Leah Vernon on Instagram, so when we heard she was coming to London, we knew we needed to hang out…

Editor: Bethany Rutter

Everything about Leah’s style struck me. I pored over her blog, her Instagram, all the pictures I could find, because she just really took my breath away. So imagine my joy when an email dropped into my inbox saying she was going to be in London and did I want to meet up with her. Of course I did- I leapt at the chance, and roped in my photographer friend Michael to shoot some photos of Leah around navabi Towers in London.

What brings you to London?

I came here initially so I could explore,  I’ve always been kind of scared of going overseas, so new year new you, you need to overcome your fear,  I’m gong to go to London. I have no real itinerary or plans, I just decided to reach out to some bloggers and some brands and see where it goes from there. Just suck in the culture and the fashion. Everyone’s been pretty nice, hospitable, fashionable. It’s actually exceeded my expectations.

And what is this a break from for you? What does your day to day life look like back in Detroit?

Well, it’s kind of a break from the whole divorce situation. When that happened I got knocked back a bit, I had a lot of insecurities.  I’m a body positive activist, I was always saying that I love myself and I wouldn’t change myself but then the divorce happened and all these insecurities started to creep up. I was knocked out of the game for like three months, I just wasn’t inspired and I felt really ugly. That was what I wanted to get a break from. I decided if I got any extra money I would go travelling, and that I would go by myself, so I could meet people and have experiences alone. my everyday life involves writing a lot: blog posts, body positive stuff, lifestyle, but I’m also working on a memoir because people are always asking about my life, which was very tumultuous, especially growing up. I’m a black muslim woman and the stories that I’m going to tell are not ‘Muslim-like’, in that it’s not what you would expect a Muslim woman to say or go through. There would be stuff in there that I haven’t even told my family.

That brings me on nicely to my next question which is about your Islam: you asked me to help ‘Muslim-fy’ an outfit for you when we were shooting earlier, so  I’m wondering how being a Muslim affects your style?

When I was younger there were no clothes for fat people at all, and my mom used to put me in boy clothes, because as a Muslim you have to dress modestly. So I wore a lot of big, male shirts which were really unattractive and that got to me a lot psychologically. I wanted to look like a girl, like my little sister, and wear pink and glitter and butterflies, but that didn’t exist for me in my size when I was a child. So even when I was a teenager I thought my fashion sense and my Islam could never come together: I would have to dress westernised or I would have to dress like a Muslim and not be fashionable. Then when I was late teens, into college and adulthood, I started doing a little experimenting, trying to add fashion to my Islam. Sometimes it worked, but sometimes I fell off, like dressing totally ‘American’. There were a couple of points where I took my scarf off too, thinking ‘I don’t want to deal with that, I don’t want to be known as a Muslim’ but then I started hanging out with more Muslims and they were really fashionable, so then I started wondering if I could adapt certain things. We call it Muslim-fying, and there are some things you can’t Muslim-fy, but I feel like I can be more creative, like how we altered the top of that jumpsuit by putting a pin in there, or if you have a short-sleeve shirt just putting a blazer on top of it. So now I think it definitely plays a large part in my style. But for example, am I dressed traditionally Islamic today? No. I do alter my clothes and I think it definitely has a large part in my fashion sense. I think it’s more fun that way. I think wearing a hijab or a turban adds a certain oomph to the outfit. When I put my turban on or I wrap it, it makes me feel regal and it makes me feel respected. I feel like a queen and that’s my crown.

How has your experience been of working with photographers?

When I first started out, no one paid me any attention. They were like ‘what the heck, this is not what we do.’ So I wanted to make them see, and the way I did that was to fund my own shoots. I went to the clearance rack of all these stores and got, like, $5 shirts, $4 scarves, $10 pants and would create this whole bomb project, but where I was the model. So I did two shoots where I funded everything and then people started to take notice, and then photographers started coming out of the woodwork. Since then my experience with photographers has been amazing. I’ve worked with some photographers who have never shot a plus size woman, or never shot a Muslim woman before, and they’re usually kind of shocked because they don’t think this is what Muslim women do, and then they think it’s not what fat women do, so that’s two stigmas that I crush every single time.


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