In this exclusive interview series, we invited Laura Deiss (Leonide), a global plus-size model who is writing “herstory” every single day. She is anything but normal.
Life has an interesting way of unveiling its plans for us. I met this amazing woman, Laura Deiss (Leonide), through an Airbnb group activity in LA three years ago, one in which we were the only two participants. I was in LA for business and Laura, also to figure out her singing contract. While I do admit overusing this phrase, ``it was love at first sight”, or rather after a few dozen touristy-photoshoots all over downtown Hollywood. I fell in love with her powerful, confident, and warm energy that radiated from within and after a romantic night-talk at Beverly Hills Hotel Rooftop, we parted our ways, promising to reunite in the near future.
Since then, Laura has established herself as an up-and-rising star in the plus-size modeling industry, being featured in major global brands campaigns such as Adidas, Bobbi Brown, Huda Beauty, and just last month, a full spread in VOGUE Arabia. While our magical plan was to grab coffee and sweets overlooking the amazing Dubai scenery, we settled for a zoom-date (still with coffee & sweets) to engage in the most interesting conversation, women, beauty standards (do they exist?), body image, and of course, Didier Dubot.
FRANCHESKA DYNE-HONG: Laura, you are literally creating history or rather herstory every single day. This is only your second year in modeling and you started when you were twenty-eight. Yet, you have been a part of major global brand campaigns, including Adidas, Bobbi Brown, and now this full spread on VOGUE Arabia! (Go girl!) Please tell us what it was like when you got the call.
LEONIDE: Oh my god, it was crazy because I strongly believe in manifestation. Five days before getting the call, I had written down “VOGUE PHOTOSHOOT” in my manifestation list. I literally was crying when I got the call and told my husband, who unfortunately wasn’t having the best day but it cheered him up too. I can never forget that moment. It also reminded me how important it is to actually write down what you want to accomplish!
FRANCHESKA DYNE-HONG: I get chills every time I hear that story. Now let’s talk more in-depth about plus-size modeling because it is a relatively new but huge trend that is happening across all industries.
LEONIDE: Yes, now for brands it is not an “option” but a “must” to include plus-size because at least here in Middle East and in the US, average size of women is between 12 and 14, not 0 or 2 that we normally see on the runway or fashion magazines. So this is an important movement that includes and caters to the majority of real women.
FDH: I love that now it is a “must” for all brands to be “inclusive” and be more “real”. For us, Didier Dubot, that is one of the main reasons that this is also a very important topic. We can’t be a brand for women empowerment and not represent real women. For you, Laura, could you tell us why this topic on body positivity and self-acceptance, is important?
LD: So this goes allll the way back to my childhood. I was everything but normal. I grew up in Switzerland and was the only mixed child. My mother had beautiful red hair and my father was black. I was chubby with curly hair surrounded by blondes and blue eyes. Also, my dad's side of the family didn’t live in the country so I had absolutely no-one that looked like me. So from an early age, I came face to face with having to choose between “eat or be eaten”.
FDH: Oh wow, by being “eaten” you mean children bullying and being mean to you?
LD: Exactly. So unfortunately, I became more aggressive to protect myself. I wore tomboy clothes to put up a front but really I was just pretending to be somebody else because at the time, I thought I couldn’t be beautiful or feminine like the others. It took me several years to finally realise that my curves were beautiful and love myself the way I was.
FDH Could you walk us through that process? I think this is very important because there are so, so many young children, adults out there who are struggling with this issue by inflicting pain on themselves or others. Did you have a cultural heroine while growing up?
LD: Can it be a Disney character?
LD: I mean… I think Pumba is pretty great.
FDH: Hahahaha YES, Pumba knew one or two things about life for sure.
LD: You know? I really appreciate his Hakuna Matata lifestyle! But yes on a more serious note, there were two. I read Anne Frank when I was ten, eleven years old, which became the first turning point in changing my violent behaviors because it opened my eyes to what others go through in life at such a young age. And later, around 2004, Beyonce when she came out with her song “Crazy in Love”
FDH: Yes… Queen B. She changed a lot of people’s lives I am sure.
LD: Yes, but Cheska I have to tell you. I know everyone talks about how curvy she is but to me she was… sooo tiny back then.
FDH: AHAHAHAHAHA, oh I LOVE how you can say that about her, while I am here on the other end drooling over her “bootylicious body”.
LD: Cultural difference baby 😉
FDH: Love. It. You opened my eyes yet again to a bigger world. If you could, what would you like to tell your younger self, and to people you are going through what you went through, being hurt and abused by skewed expectations of people and society?
LD: First, I think it's really important to relate to beauties that look like you. We become what we see and believe. There are so many types of beautiful people out there. Find one that looks similar to you. Second, beauty comes in diversity. I don’t believe in the word “beauty standard”. What does that even mean? That word should NOT exist.
FDH: Yes!! I agree! It makes it seem like you have to reach or hit a certain standard or criteria to look “beautiful”.
LD: Exactly, it's all marketing scheme ladies and gentleman so raising yourself above the sales strategy is essential. Beauty cannot be defined by some standards or air-brushed photos. Third and this is very important, self-acceptance and love takes time. You don’t just wake up one day and say “oh, I love myself!”
FDH: YES! Wow, I love that point. Let’s repeat that again. You don’t wake up one day and start loving yourself. It is a forever-on-going journey-slash-process.
LD: That’s right. Let me tell you. It took me thirty years, thirty whole years, to finally enjoy no make-up. And I still have days when I don’t feel the greatest but that’s okay because it is a journey of acceptance. Finally, after you prayed/wished for(not just religiously), put in the good hard work, trust the process. Trust that the greater force (whatever that may be for you) will work in order to bring you the best. That’s what I would tell myself because I could not have been here without all that has happened for me.
FDH: If you could go back, is there anything you would do differently? Maybe jump into the creative industry or the modeling industry earlier?
LD: Hrm… No. Here is why. At first I was going to say working at Procter & Gamble but even that experience is what gave me the strength as a model because I understand branding and marketing from my client’s perspective. Also, I jumped into the Corporate world because I didn’t get call back as a plus-size model the first time I tried. I tried again five years later and got the call from the largest modeling agency IMG. These experiences taught me one, that I could do anything whether it be working at the office or modeling. And two, no doesn’t mean NO. It just means “NEXT OPPORTUNITY”.
FDH: Laura, since the first day we met and every time we engaged in conversations, you are someone I would describe as a “beautiful person”. Having gone through, experienced, and learned what you have so far, what is your definition of a “beautiful person”?
LD: I love that question. For me, it’s never just about physical beauty. It is someone who is so aligned from the inside that he or she is fulfilling one’s mission and truth in life. Giving the best to the world and making changes in people’s lives. I think that’s when their beauty radiates. And that is also what I am trying to do. Because I went through everything I did, if I could just help one young girl, one woman, then I feel like I am living my purpose.
FDH: Laura, I can say with absolute certainty that you are helping much more than one woman and that includes me as well. Sadly, we are onto our very last question…
LD: Already?? I feel like we can talk more!
FDH: I know! We should have the production team go home and just keep talking haha
LD: Haha, I love it!!
FDH: I really could. As you know, our brand, Didier Dubot, is about celebrating and embracing all true expressions of being a wholesome person. What does being, living as a “woman” mean to you? And also, which brand story of ours touch you the most and why?
LD: That is a beautiful phrase. I loved all of them but the one I most loved is the one about the signature symbol D. You know, I think being a woman is being “whatever the hell you want” haha. Let me define that. As women, we have infinite possibilities. So in that sense, the fact that line D, the curve symbolizes the power of women to create life is very touching. Also being a curvy, plus-size model, the sensual line of the woman's body is very beautiful to me.
FDH: That is a wonderful, wonderful summation of exactly the power and beauty we, the brand, want to convey to everyone. Thank you so much, so much love Laura. I miss you even more now that we have had another amazing connecting time. I can’t wait to fly to Dubai to sunbathe with you!!
LD: Come my darling, your guest room is always ready 😊