Crown The Brown: Plus Size Model Yashu Rao
Crown The Brown: Yashu Rao. Yashu Rao was born and raised in Washinton, DC, USA. She is proudly South Indian and speaks fluent Telugu and Tamil! Yashu Rao is currently a PhD Candidate at the University of Florida in Materials Science / Nuclear Engineering. She is also a Plus size Indian Model, Stylist, creative director, and Confidence Coach.
Above all, Yashu is a disciple of International Model Coach & Booker, Thee Danielle Baker, and soon to be graduate of Model Behavior University. She is also the student of Erinesha Hamilton, CEO of SLIICK, an entrepreneurial empowerment and networking company, in which she is also the Lead Communications and HR. She is currently working on creative direction projects for brands and models in the US and preparing to walk the runway in Crusade of Curves 2020 as well as take part in New York Fashion Week (September 2020).
Yashu Rao’s Modeling Journey
Yashu Rao officially began her modeling career in March 2019. Since modeling kicked off, She got the chance to work with many different photographers all over the east coast, including celebrity photographers, Bruce Jackson and Salma Yousif. She won Cover Girl for E.dele, an accessories brand and got the chance to walk in the AlwaysTrue Fashion Show. She also styled and directed a one of its kind, ALL inclusive, Indo Western Fashion Show, where all the proceeds were donated to Asha For Education, a non profit organization.
What a powerhouse! We could not wait to find out more about this spectacular young lady that is making waves in the modeling industry. She is certainly making a name for herself and breaking down those stereotypes and beauty standards in society. We had the privilege of knowing more about her journey. This is what Yashu Rao shared with us!
How would you describe yourself to those who don’t know what you’re about ?
I am a proud,beautiful, strong, intelligent, confident, woman; I am THE confidence coach and one of a kind, plus size Indian model, stylist, and creative director.
What was your childhood like growing up in a Westernized society while being in a brown household?
I am what you call an A.B.C.D—American Born Confused Desi. Now, most people think just because I grew up in America, I must be detached from my Indian roots. But you see, I grew up in a typical South Indian Orthodox Family. I love my roots and I’m actually quite traditional, knowledgeable, and involved with my heritage. And that added even more conflict to identifying who I was. I was always at an identity crisis; do I do it the Indian way or do I do it the American way? It was not until a quarter of my life had passed that I realized that I need to do it MY way—the way that suited me.
Being in such a Westernized society, I’m sure you became more aware of Eurocentric beauty standards in the community, especially the brown community over time. How did the pressure of those standards affect your life growing up?
I grew up most of my life being put down for being a plus-size woman. And to further the pain, in the Indian community, being plus-size is seen almost as a disability or as if I was just a sick forever-some sort of permanent unhealthy person. Growing up, I would hear my relatives tell me to stop eating junk food and run around a bit. But did they know that my mom cooked us home cooked vegetarian south Indian meals everyday?
Did they know that I played soccer and was a Kuchipudi dancer (South Indian Classical Dance Form) all the way until college? I was always healthy, and I still am, according to ALL the doctors who have studied my body. Always just a big girl. I used to feel gutted hearing them talk about me and how big I was. That I would never get married or I was a waste of space on this earth. Especially, as I reached adolescence and into young adulthood.
I remember growing up, I used to see all the teenage ABCD girls wear South Indian Half Sarees (It was a phase). I NEVER got to wear one because I was too fat to wear one, apparently.
Now I get it, my parents were trying to protect me from relatives and other people. I mean I’m Indian, isn’t it always about #whatwilltheythink ? But in the process, unknowingly, I was hating on myself and who I was. I felt deprived of my feminine rights and entity.
To add to all the struggle of being plus size, the name calling and joke making was just making things worse. I remember having nicknames probing at my size. At first it was innocent, but later it became an offense. I wish I could talk about all the mean things people have said and continue to say. I remember these extremely baggy Salwars and sweatpants and shirts I used to wear to cover my body, to hide from the world that was continually attacking me.
Suddenly, going to India, going to Indian parties or weddings here in the US, literally, going to any place that would have indian people, deep down, was a nightmare.
Everyone’s eyes would be on my BIG body. Everyone’s jokes would be around me or about me and my weight!
I remember there was a beautician in my aunts village. I remember I went there to get a facial done. During that session, the lady was conversing with me about why I neglected my health and how I’m so fat. She said If i don’t work on my weight, then Ill always be ugly and Ill never get married. These are the standards that Indians are working with in India.
I remember once I was in India and I was riding a local bus from my aunts city to a village. I was sitting by the window, listening to soothing music, and looking at the beautiful green rice fields as we drove by village after village. At one point, we hit another city, and we stuck in traffic. I remember, there was a bus going in the opposite direction that was also held up in traffic. In the window across from me in the opposite bus, there was a lady (about 30), her husband, and her two little kids. I will never forget this, she sees me, points at me, and exclaims to her husband “husband, look how big she is!”.
Or every summer months, when they have Saree sales in South India. As publicity, they would have all sorts of campaigns. I remember this one year they had a commercial on TV that you get as many sarees as your weight. I remember all my relatives were like, “OH! We have to get Yashu on that scale!” It was so embarrassing.
I hate how it’s so OKAY to make fun of people for being fat.
That is where being an ABCD was tough, because this is not how humor works in America, but its very common in India. This even carried into college when I had a group of friends who were all from born and raised in India. They were my BFF’s and everything, but, at core, their words and what they called jokes and humor, were hurting me to the core. They gave me offensive nicknames which, no matter what, I just could not rub off. And again, being sensitive and American, it was something that was culturally so hard to deal with.
You’ve done such amazing work as a plus size model and you’re a PHD candidate in Material Science and Nuclear Engineering! Congratulations! How do you balance it all?
I believe in one thing, if you are truly passionate, you will find time in your day for it all. My mentor, Erinesha Hamilton, CEO of SLIICK, has taught me the value of having a planner, a journal, and google calendar. All these things help so much! Additionally, I am also fortunate for my doctoral advisor and the kind of research that I do for my PhD that gives me a little more freedom to plan my day than others. That is something I really appreciate.
What inspired you to become a model ? Take us back to where it all began.
Fashion had always been a great interest of mine and it seemed I had an eye for it, however, there was not much I could do to apply it to myself—I was trapped. I grew up being bullied and harassed for being “fat”. I used to hide behind baggy clothes and was told that I would not look good in a lot of things. But my love for fashion did not leave me. I would always visualize looks and put together concepts, thinking “One day, I will wear this and this and this!” I hated myself so much that those concepts remained as mere concepts—they were never gonna happen for me.
But you know, It’s actually funny how when I look back, at my skinniest (Regular size), I was told I was so fat and I hated myself. But now, at the biggest I have ever been (which has been almost the same since college (and actually plus size)), I feel the most beautiful and sexy I have ever felt.
You see, I learnt from a place of self hate to grow into self love and frankly, I’m still on that journey. From being told I can’t wear certain clothing to flipping the narrative and wearing that same clothing but better than you thought even YOU could!
Things just had to change. There was a shift of culture in the American Front, especially on social media about body positivity, but in the Indian front, not really.
I found that through the fashion industry, I would be able to creatively express and show that healthy and beauty looks different on everybody, every BODY! Fashion is the perfect tool to enhance the beauty that every person inherently has.
Right at this time of realization, i happened to master my #selfie game! And When I started to see small accessory brands reach out to me for collabs, that is when I started to think, maybe I should be a model?? But I need more than selfies for that. So I began research. While looking more into this, I came across the company SLIICK–an entrepreneurial empowerment and networking company. Every quarter they throw an amazing networking event called “SLIICK Photo shootout event” where you collaborate with each other to create content. That was my first ever photo shoot.
Soon after the photoshoot, I became part of the SLIICK network and continued to explore modeling opportunities. Along the way, through SLIICK networking, I met international model coach and booker, founder of Model Behavior University, Thee Danielle Baker. I soon enrolled as her student so I could really work on my modeling technique and grow to understand the industry better.
In the modeling industry, diversity is often a concept we hear a lot but hardly practiced especially when it concerns Indian inclusivity, even with various body types. What does representation mean to you?
Representation means that everybody, every BODY, has the chance to be whatever it is they want to be. I pride myself on the fact that on a day to day, If i walk around and say I’m a model, that people go, “Who? You?” I do not look the part, but I AM THE PART. Why? Because I chose this path for myself. There might be women who are more industry accepted versions of beautiful, but they are not models. But I am.
I am a professional model. And the reason is because I believed that I could, I put the effort, and I am. It empowers those everyday women to seek beauty in themselves. “If she can be a model, then so can I!” WELL YES! You can! That is what I am trying to show you!
Nothing else should matter. A lot of times, we create our own barriers. Like this is not where I belong. Yes, if you do not have the determination to make it to the top, or accomplish your goal, whatever it is. But if that is not the case, and you are driven, then I am confident that you will achieve.
Sometimes if there isn’t a market for you, you must create the market. Being the trendsetter will always be HARD. It means you have to get hit by the rocks being thrown by haters or “exclusivists”–those who do not want to open up the market to others. But if you keep pushing through, I believe that you pave the path for all those behind you. And that is my goal.
It’s not just about modeling. It applies everywhere. I’m a nuclear engineer, I am the ONLY female ever to work under my advisor. But I never let that fact affect me and my goal. I just keep moving forward.
My campaign for cover of E.dele was always this “ let’s put a PLUS SIZE INDIAN WOMAN on the cover. Let’s make history happen”. And I believe that seeing this everyday woman transform into a beautiful model is what inspired people.
Why do you think representation in this industry is so important ?
The other day, I decided to get out of my comfort zone (it was hard, but after 3 breaths, I did it) and participate in the #levihighchallenge, where you show off your back white wearing jeans. I chose to do it because everything that was being tagged or posted was these gorgeous petite women with beautiful, bouncy, thick, industry accepted bums. What about the everyday normal woman who have dimples on their butt;
Whose butt is not bouncy and thick, is not shiny, hairless, and just “perfect”! There was no representation of all butts. And that is where the problem is. Because this is how people start to fill in with thoughts that butts are supposed to look round, bouncy, hairless, shiny, etc.
That is not reality. That is not the majority of the world. This is how people, especially the youth, get caught up in false realities.
You can work towards this butt, if that is what you want, but it doesn’t mean you are any less beautiful or will be even more beautiful after you get it. And it also sets unrealistic expectations for partners. Suddenly, someone gets rejected because she does not have a bouncy butt? Or so the girl thinks…
Even for men, society is setting these standards that men should have washboard abs, a six pack. That men should be TALL. And this is how people measure the quality of the guy. It is shallow.
[It is not shallow to not choose a person whom you are not sexually attracted to, its shallow to stop liking your crush because society said he/she is unworthy. Being forced to stop liking someone or committing to someone because they are darker in complexion, have a big butt, have small boobs, do not have a 6 pack.
It is sad. I hear this story one too many times.
So as models, we have the role of influencing. We have the role of changing society, beauty standards. That is why I chose modeling. I am going straight to the root of these societal expectations, and trying to rewrite them and make them more inclusive.
A common misconception is that because I am plus size, I am UNHEALTHY. I am extremely cautious of my health and I am so proud to say that many doctors whom I visited have always complimented me on how healthy I am, how fit I try to maintain myself. They have told me, stop caring about what people say, keep doing you and maintaining your regiment, and nothing can stop you. And I truly believe in that.
As a model, I want to create body positivity in combination with HEALTHY LIVING (Nutrition, Fitness, and Wellness).
Someone once said, “she is making a big deal about telling her parents she is a fat model and how that should be ok. Well, maybe I should call my mom and tell her i have cancer and tell her that should be okay.” But this person got one major thing wrong, I am not SICK!
As a voluptuous Indian female, what are some of the challenges you’ve faced regarding our community, as well as in the modelling industry?
#whatwilltheythink. Indian society is driven by competition, and I understand that is because of many different factors. But because of that, there has been this idea that people have to be the best. And it seems the best is already predetermined based off what others think.
Growing up as an ABCD, I was the model child, a straight A student, I won science fairs, a kuchipudi dancer under the teachings of world renowned Anuradha Nehru, I was a classical carnatic singer under the teachings of Nirmala Ramaswamy.
I was an active member of Greater Washington Telugu Cultural Society, I was religious, went to temple every week and sang, went to every Desi function, and most importantly, my Telugu was perfect. But little did all these parents know that I was facing my own identity crisis. As much as i loved all those things, the minute people started to compare me to their kids, it was taking away all that I enjoyed in those things.
Another challenge I faced was being scared, until very recently, that some family member or Indian kid I grew up with would find my modeling pictures and then tell my parents or spread rumors, or gossip about me.
I still fear that people will torment my parents. And I try to tell my parents that they have to look at the bigger picture; The WHY. Why did I choose this path? Making them understand is very hard, quite possibly the hardest challenge I face. My immediate family, we are all very close, and so not being able to share some modeling wins is hard.
As for the industry, Plus size fashion has a long way to go. There was a recent runway show by Chanel who featured a “plus size model”. It left many people confused because she did not look “plus size”. High fashion industry considers plus size any size above an 8, which I personally disagree with. New york fashion, which is what I am more educated on, also has been limiting in terms of plus size fashion.
My goal is to be THE PLUS SIZE INDIAN MODEL! To create a name for myself, I will have to work with a very limited number of platforms, a very limited number of brands and designer who cater to plus size, especially for the runway.
With that being said, I am so proud of people like my model coach, Thee Danielle Baker, who is an International coach and booker and fashion show producer. This past NYFW (Feb 2020), she was leading the Small Boutique Fashion Week portion of NYFW, and this show was ALL INCLUSIVE (Regular, Plus, Petite), a major win for the industry, in my opinion. Other brands, such as Nike and Calvin Klein have released campaigns including plus size figures. I am extremely proud of brands such as Fashionnova, Fabletics, and Savage X Fenti by Rihanna, which have launched their brands with inclusivity as their fundamental belief.
In terms of Indian plus size women in the industry, there’s almost none. Another one of my major goals is to work with the indian Brand Sabyasachi, who introduced “plus size” model, Varshita.
But again, including a non super skinny model is not the same as introducing plus. I think plus has so many degrees. My goal is to become part of model campaigns as an ACTUAL plus figure and person who is representative of the actual plus woman. Allowing these designers to look past industry standards and creating.
What are future projects you’d hope to achieve when it comes to modelling and creating an inspiring platform for other young women?
I continue to work with my modeling network and SLIICK to grow myself personally and professionally. My goal is to walk in New York Fashion Week in September 2020, as well as other Runway Shows. I also aim to work with more photographers throughout the US.
Long term goals is to model for a major designer on the western front as well as be a part of Sabyasachi campaign.
In addition to being a model, i am also a stylist, Indo western stylist and creative director. I wish to continue my collaborative efforts in regards. I through a one of a kind Indo Western Fashion show, for which I was stylist, director, and producer. It was a successful show which earned a bit of attention. I wish to continue taking that fashion show, city to city, casting everyday men and women and working with them on their confidence and letting them model for what they believe in. All the proceeds of this fashion show was donated to a Non Profit, Asha for Education, so my aim is to collaborate with different non profits to make a fashion show happen and donate all the collections to the non profit.
Lastly, I am planning to launch my brand in the latter part of 2020. This brand will encompass every day fashion, confidence coaching, and self love coaching all into one creative, unique, and beautiful brand. Those who identify with my brand will see the self evolution, that is my goal.
I want to be an Influencer who has a goal for the betterment of society. The voice for the voiceless. I am ready to be the woman who takes hits just so she can pave a path for generations to follow.
I want to be able to make a difference for the plus size community, for every community! The dark complexion community, the bald head community, the short community, the flat chested community. When people think “YASHU RAO”, they think empowerment and truest form of confidence and self love.
It’s inevitable that we all tend to have bad days and pick at our bodies over time. What are some tips that have helped you when you were feeling insecure about your body ?
Practice self love. Do something for yourself to feel beautiful. Whether that is sitting in the shower, and watching the water splash on your beautiful skin and admiring that or wearing makeup, getting dressed up, and having a selfie photo shoot, or taking a walk outside, allowing yourself to feel the breeze and repeating affirmations to yourself that you are beautiful.
Just because you are confident doesn’t mean you are immune to negative emotions or feelings.
We all have those days when a guy or girl rejects us and our instinct is to blame the way we look. But just know, in the grand scale of things, we are still beautiful. Nothing changes that ever. If we believe that truly, no one can tamper with that thought. So remind yourself how beautiful you truly are inside and outside. List qualities about yourself, physical and mental. And remember NO means Next Opportunity.
What advice can you give other women out there that may be struggling with loving themselves and their bodies?
- Fake it til you make it. Even if you do not believe it, tell yourself, re affirm to yourself that you are attractive and beautiful/handsome.
- Get outside your comfort zone when it comes to fashion or even the approach.
- Go shopping, try on clothes you would NEVER think to buy
- Consult a professional ______. (Stylist, therapist, lifestyle coach, confidence coach, mentor)
- Journaling about insecurities or areas of improvement that you have identified for yourself
- Create a plan for yourself.
I strongly believe that when people seek beauty, they find beauty. It is a mind set matter. Start seeking beauty in yourself, and you will find it. It is that validation that is the hardest part. I challenge every man and woman to groom themselves, get dressed, do your hair, smell good. Grab a camera, selfies work too, play around with your angles and lighting and start clicking a bunch of pictures. After you get tired, go through the pictures. You will find THE SHOT! And in that moment, you will be forced by the evidence in front of your eyes, “I look good.”
People say that I am so confident, well yes, I am #theconfidencecoach. But it took me a whole journey to get to where I’m at. I went from a space of self hate to a place of self love before I got to self confidence.
But confidence is not a personality trait or something you are born with. Confidence is a skill, and with practice, you learnt to become better at it. There are days I have low confidence, there are days that I feel scared and anxious, but that has nothing to do with confidence. That’s just being HUMAN. Confidence is knowing I GOT THIS. It is knowing I am amazing. It is knowing, I am ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING I desire to be. And after that, it’s JUST DOING.
I could go on and on and on. I have dealt with all the avenues of being plus size. From every aspect: family, career, romance, health, learning, even spiritually. When it comes to bullying and the degree of hurt I have come across in my life, it’s so much. And that is why my goal to be the face of the plus size Indian woman is so important-because I am ready to share my stories so I can be heard by that one person who needs to hear it.
I’d like to finish by sharing one last thought and story to all those who are trying to be trendsetters, or game changers, or go getters: Don’t Stop.
Once, I was at a brand photo shoot and I was given a short, sleeveless dress to wear. I went and hid inside the changing room closet, nervous, not knowing what to say or do. I had never done this before. Everything my parents taught me culturally, everything my relatives said about me, all the taunts, jokes, nicknames people said to me in the past, everything suddenly started to flash before me. And then one of the support staff came to me, heard me out and replied back saying, “Yashu, sometimes there should be no boundaries. Your boundary should be NO boundary! Break that wall so you can see what is on the other side! Break past all those thoughts so you can break the curse”
It was not until I was 26 years old that I EVER wore a dress, let alone a Sleeveless dress, and that went above my knees. And it was the best decision I ever made because I never felt as beautiful as I felt that day.
Yashu Rao – The Confidence Coach
Yashu shared how long her journey has been with self-love, as well as the experiences she has faced. We resonate with her story and how her experiences are heavy to the heart. Yashu mentioned that her experiences allowed her to connect to others and enabled her to help those struggling as well.
Furthermore, Yashu has received so many messages and stories from others and could relate to their experiences. Being a victim of shaming and harassment, Yashu was able to use that pain and turn it into strength guiding her passion and self-love. She was able to relate through many aspects such as family, career, romance, health, learning and spirituality. This is what makes this young lady so beautiful and amazing!
Yashu‘s goal is to empower plus size Indian women and be the face that others can admire and learn from. It is so important to share her story because she needs to be heard as do many others. We never know who is struggling until we realize that others relate to a certain story and Yashu Rao is one name that most certainly showcases strength, beauty, intelligence and resilience.