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gal-dem in conversation with Kitty Underhill

09 Mar 2016

Kitty Underhill, 23, is a Brighton based model, originally from London. She describes herself as an “inbetweenie” model; not quite fitting into straight size modelling, but on the brink of being too small for plus size modelling. I caught up with Kitty to hear about her experiences in the modelling world so far.

gal-dem: One of gal-dem’s first ever interviews was with the CEO of Neon Moon, Hayat Rachi, back in September. Since then, you’ve now been recruited as one of their models, so congratulations! How did that come about?

Kitty Underhill: I got involved with Neon Moon quite a while ago because I used to chat with Hayat on twitter every now and again, and she messaged me on Facebook looking for models. I remember thinking to myself “I HAVE to do this!” We both have very similar viewpoints, are super feminists and promote body positivity.

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Image: Neon Moon

How did you feel modelling for a brand like Neon Moon? Can you describe the journey you’ve been on up to the Neon Moon shoot?

When I first got a modelling job, I had never actually considered myself to be a model because there wasn’t anyone in the modelling world that looked like me. I have been on my own journey towards body positivity since then, so shooting with Neon Moon was the pinnacle of my modelling career. I had never posed in my underwear before. The photos didn’t get retouched and there was no photoshopping; it was all quintessentially me. I don’t believe that a woman should have to be airbrushed to a certain standard in order for her to be beautiful. So as a model (and a human being actually) Neon Moon was the most empowering thing I have ever done.

That’s amazing. I remember seeing a lot of responses to your Neon Moon photos on Twitter.

Yeah, I ended up getting trolled on Twitter. A lot of the comments were along the lines of “She’s promoting an unhealthy body image”. It was just a lot of people making judgements because they were finally seeing a real body. EVERY woman has cellulite. That’s just the way it is! You can exercise, you can be Kate Moss and you’ll still have cellulite. You’ll still have stretch marks. People are so desensitised to the image of a real woman, which is why I think the photos caused such a furore.

Exactly. And people are so used to seeing airbrushed photos that they get a warped idea of what is natural and what isn’t.

Exactly. Denise Bidot is a plus size model and she created the hashtag “There’s no wrong way to be a woman”, which I used to caption my photo. A girl replied with “well there’s no wrong way to exercise, eat right and love yourself”. This is the thing, people have a completely unrealistic standard of what real bodies actually are. They don’t know that I squat daily; they don’t know that I regularly go to the gym. They just make assumptions because of the way that we’ve learnt about fat bodies

That’s so true. So, aside from the trolls, what positive responses did you receive? There must have been a lot of support as well.

For every one person that said “you’re disgusting” or whatever, I had like four people who tweeted “Oh my god, she looks like me!” or “Now I’ve seen your body I feel much more confident”, and it made me cry. I couldn’t care less about what the trolls said, but the fact that representation meant so much to these people…that’s why I’m a mode. I felt so terrible about myself when I was growing up; I’ve always had a warped view about my body and eating. My aim as a model is to make sure that no one else will ever feel the way that I did. I may not be representational of a big proportion of plus size women, but I know that there are some women who do have that itty-bitty-titty, bigger-on-the-bottom type body that we don’t see enough. It’s good to get those “in-between” bodies out there so people don’t feel so alienated.


Image by Darnell Temenu

Where do you see your career going now? Are there people you want to work with, or particular messages that you want to get across?

Well I’m actually in the process of trying to organise a shoot with Shen Outar, a fabulous photographer. In the wake of my trolling, a lot of the comments I got were about my health, so the project will be focused on plus size models and health. I don’t want to say too much as we’re still planning it, but in my opinion, if you have a platform, you should use it for good.

I’d love to work with Asylum33, they’re an incredibly talented and multi-faceted creative collective, everything they produce is flawless and so effortlessly cool. I’d also love to work with Misha Meghna, Christina Nwabugo, Vicky Grout, Johnny Fonseca Simon Wisbey, Rio Romaine, Calvin Condry Mlilo…to name a few! I love finding new creatives. I’d also love to do some shoots abroad, that’s next on my list!

I’m hoping to keep on showing a lot of body positive messages. I want to do shoots with disabled models and models of colour. There’s such a lack of diversity in modelling at the moment and it’s just not good enough. We need to create the movement that we want to see because the people high up in the industry aren’t listening to us. We need to make that change.

When Kitty isn’t modelling, she turns her focus to acting, engaging in intersectional feminist issues and participating in a feminist panel show called The Rosies (after Rosie the Riveter), which is every Tuesday at 6.30pm on The Latest TV Brighton

Follow Kitty on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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