Exclusive: Myla Dalbesio Takes Back the Power
Myla Dalbesio is a powerhouse. The Wisconsin native has blown up since landing a Calvin Klein ad campaign that deemed her as ‘plus-size,’ which sparked a conversation of body standards in the fashion industry. But aside from being a revolutionary beauty in the fashion world, Myla is also a revolutionary multi-platform artist, creating works that focus on women, sexuality, and the new wave of feminism. Milk Made’s Ana Velasco talked to Myla about the changing tropes in fashion, owning sexuality through her body and her work, and what utopia would look like to her.
What inspired you to get into the industry?
It wasn’t really my idea. I have an older sister who was very supportive of me modeling. I was a teenager and I thought I was going to be an artist or writer or just be a punk until I die. She was like ‘let’s dye your hair back from purple and enter this beauty pageant.’ And then I got scouted through this ridiculous beauty pageant that she made me do in Wisconsin.
Yeah you won Miss Teen Wisconsin! Is the pageant world really different than the modeling world?
There’s definitely some crossover. It’s all about appearances, but the pageant world is so cheesy and cookie cutter. What I think is very interesting about fashion is that there’s a lot of space for people who are unique and there’s not really that space in the pageant world. I’m not super familiar with the pageant world — I only did that one — but I watch a lot of Toddlers and Tiaras [laughs] which I think is terrible and amazing.
I’ve read a lot of your interviews and the struggles of being an ‘in-between model’. Did that ever deter you and want to make you stop modeling?
I mean it’s definitely been frustrating. Of course I have these moments where I’m like ‘Agh why am I doing this? Should I even be doing this? Should I just stop and go to culinary school or something?’ But I’ve never seriously considered that, it definitely has been frustrating and it’s taken a while for me to find my place.
All of your series are very interesting. I’ve always been curious about your ‘Call Me’ series.
Those came from this call girl catalog that I found while I was in Vegas. There are guys on the corner handing out business cards. Like baseball cards of naked women with phone numbers. There’s also these newspaper boxes but they’re full of catalogs for escort agencies and call girls. I was so into them, this treasure trove of amazing source imagery. And then this one ad in particular really stood out to me. I just thought it was so funny. What’s more interesting to me about those ads in particular is that it seems like some man wrote them and is just trying to approximate what makes an attractive woman or what women should like and they’re so silly. They list turn-ons like ‘Thanksgiving dinner’ and ‘riding a horse naked’ which just seems so stupid to me. [laughs] I just thought they were really funny.
You were on The What’s Underneath Project and you have a column for Elle. I feel like nowadays there are more platforms to publicize different standards of beauty. Do you see the tropes of beauty change in the fashion industry? Have you seen that progress at all?
Yeah I have. When I was first scouted 10 years ago I couldn’t sign with any major agency on what is called their ‘straight sized board,’ which is their main board. I was smaller than I am now. I’m a size 8 and I was probably a 4/6 then and no one would sign me. Everyone would tell me I had to lose 15 pounds. I changed agencies recently and I had this moment where I was taking meetings and I went into one of the agencies that told me I needed to lose weight when I was a kid. They were like ‘yes we’d love to sign you.’ I was like ‘no thank you, big mistake. I’m going somewhere else.’ It was my Pretty Woman moment. But the climate is definitely changing and so much of it is because of the Internet. Everyone has a platform to say what they like and what they don’t like, and women who would never have fit into the fashion landscape 10 or 15 years ago, even 5 years ago, are staking a claim. Fashion bloggers too. Everyone is getting a piece and it’s definitely changing things.
In this new wave of feminism there seems to be two opposing sides within the spectrum, with women who think sexualization is counterproductive and the other side which thinks that our own sexualization is taking our power back from the men who exploit it. What’s your take on that?
I would fall into the latter. I really think that’s where the new wave of feminism going. Third wave is all about a lack of gender and queer rights and erasing traditional roles but I think what I’m seeing now is women embracing what makes them feminine. Instead of trying to become asexual, they’re going hyper feminine and re-appropriating imagery and styles that in the past may have been viewed as exploitative, which I think is very interesting. I connect to that because that’s how I feel. I’m very happy to be a woman. I think that blending genders is great and people should be able to express who they are inside however they want to, but I am a woman and am very happy being that. I love to cook, I love to garden and do household shit, and I really want to have kids and I want to have a family and I don’t want to feel bad about that. Of course, I want to have it all. I want to work, and I want to have this family life. I know it’s tough but I don’t want to feel bad for wanting those things.
You create artwork in totally different mediums, like sculpture, performance, and video. Is there a different creative process for each one?
I guess it all comes from the same place. I don’t know, I just get inspired by different materials and then I’m like ‘what can I do with this?’ that falls under the same category as I’m working in otherwise. I painted when I was younger and then I stopped. I was thinking about my old paintings a while ago. I think my sister still has them in her garage and I just hope she burns them. They’re just so angsty with song lyrics and bleeding hearts and shit. So embarrassing. I stopped painting for a long time and then I was at an art fair in Switzerland and saw a bunch of paintings and decided to get back into painting. That’s how I started painting again. I’ve always loved photography. That was another one I let go of a while ago. I was thinking a few months ago, maybe I should sell my cameras and my boyfriend was like ‘don’t do that, you’ll regret it if you do.’ I have a fridge full of film and I decided I should use it and that started this new project that I’m super psyched about. I’m shooting these portraits of these girls in their apartment called Some Girls.
What’s the motivation behind that project?
I’ve been calling them extended portrait sittings of different girls I know inside and outside their apartments. I’m planning to make a book out of them and maybe put them in a show. I just want to create this beautiful overall portrait of young women that are inspiring to me. I want to work with a wide variety of girls and showcase different types of beauty. I feel so dorky saying that kind of stuff. It seems a little cliche but there’s definitely some motivation rooted in that.
If you could give advice to your 15 year old self, what would you say?
Don’t over pluck your eyebrows, which I definitely did. I’m very lucky they grew back— that was terrible. And don’t wear so much makeup. That sounds like such an old lady thing to say, but I’m always saying that. I used to pancake my foundation and everything. Now when I see girls who do that, I can’t believe I used to do that. It’s so embarrassing. I have younger nieces and I always tell them that they should try to be as weird as they can be and follow all of their strange interests and urges. When you’re a teenager you just want to be like everybody else and it sucks when you’re unique and don’t fit in, but when you’re an adult it’s such a blessing. Instead of being the same as everybody else you want to set yourself apart and invest in the things that make you unique when you’re young puts you a step ahead when you’re older.
What is your biggest pet peeve?
I hate listening to people chew. It’s really bad. I’m really mean to my sister and my best friend. They used to chew loudly. I’m really rude about it.
What would utopia look like to you?
I would love to be on a beach for the rest of my life but I’m pretty happy where I’m at. It would be great to see not so much hate and destruction. We’re in the midst of a new civil rights movement. It’s great to see that it’s happening and it’s also so heart wrenching to watch what’s happening. I’d love to just skip forward.
Photos of ‘Some Girls’ courtesy of Myla Dalbesio
Homeslide image by Drew Jarrett