This is the story of Lydia Okello, taken from our ongoing interviews and real-life stories of the creatives in our community. Lydia is a writer, model and an expert on fashion. As a non-binary individual, Lydia has kindly requested the use of “they” as their preferred pronoun.
It felt like a long day at the studio. After hours of photographing my new Prose Collection without break, the camera felt heavy as I held it up. The excitement from seeing my new designs on models had not dwindled, but my energy to make conversation seemed to be decreasing by the minute.
It was then when my third model, Lydia Okello, walked in.
As Lydia stepped onto the set, I was drawn to her radiant energy. We all listened with intense curiosity as she broke the ice and described a documentary in which she was recently interviewed for. The room was rekindled with casual chatter, and I had regained my momentum.
Clad in the Dialogue Sweatshirt and the Discourse Skirt, Lydia had paired the pieces with a bright floral shirtdress — a bold pattern that matched her smile. Her presence immediately brightened up the room.
“The pieces fit!” I exclaimed.
“They sure do,” Lydia grinned with a reassuring nod.
I had been nervous. I had never designed for a plus size individual and Lydia was between size 16-18. Being a short petite person myself, working with their measurements felt foreign.
“I’ve been told by your wife that you are a person of many talents! Other than the documentary, what have you been working on?” I asked. I had met Lydia through their wife Hannah, who described her partner as a writer, model, stylist, and a multi-talented creative.
“This work is currently my full time work — I have a distanced photo shoot for a jewellery brand upcoming, and several brand collaborations. Hopefully I have some more writing gigs this fall as well — it’s nice to have a bit of work as I stay at home due to the pandemic,” Lydia responded.
Lydia was a seasoned model.
Tilting and shifting at perfect moments, they moved around the set with ease. To my delight, Lydia looked beautiful in the Prose pieces. Creating extended sizing seemed like a big challenge, but the hurdle was smaller than it appeared.
The shoot wrapped up on a great note. To unwind, I invited Lydia for a walk at the riverside near the studio. I also secretly wanted to observe the Prose pieces on their body a little longer, to ensure that the designs fit as they should.
“How do you incorporate creativity into your every day life?” I asked Lydia, as we walked along the placid shoreline.
It was near sunset, and the park was quiet with little activity. The sun hung in mid-sky, veiled by a screen of distant smog.
“The most creative aspect of my life is likely my work,” Lydia explained, “I spend time researching trends, editorial imagery and inspirations daily. This research informs my content and also the work I do in collaboration with other creatives. Otherwise — I’ve been known to pick up my ukelele from time to time — music is a perfect creative escape.”
We seated ourselves comfortably down on a log and Lydia showed me a piece of their recent writing. Written for the Fashion Magazine, the article touched on Lydia’s non-binary journey and how that affected the way they dressed.
As a first-generation Canadian-Ugandan who was raised by a conservative family, Lydia later rejected the rigid constraints of traditional femininity and cultivated a style that reflected their queer, black identity.
“How did you get into modelling?” I peered at Lydia curiously. It felt not too long ago that women in magazines were all towering 5’10 sticks in size 0. The fashion industry had always made me conscious of my Asian genes and that glamorous clothes were not meant for my small stature.
“I got into modelling accidentally!” Lydia chuckled. “I had done some modelling work for friends who had seen me on Style is Style. In 2018, I was scouted by my agency and I’ve been modelling since!”
“My first photo shoot was super nerve-racking — I was so scared of disappointing the team. I was unsure of how to pose and also didn’t feel confident that I was the right person for the job. It’s a far cry from how much I love being on set these days!”
“What are your go-to styling tips for curvy people?”
“My major tip would be to find your own style. Curvy or plus size folks are often told a set of rules to dress in a “flattering” manner. I don’t agree with that,” Lydia shook her head.
“Plus size people should be able to experiment with their style! Wear a weird colour! Try pants outside your usual silhouette. Have fun and know this — you deserve to dress exactly how you want to.”
“Have you always had a positive attitude towards your own body?”
“I’ve had a pretty tumultuous relationship with my own body image. Ever since I was quite small (10 or 11) I wished my body was different. I hate my shape and I hated the way I looked, all through my teenage years.”
“In my later teens and early twenties I started to learn about body liberation and started the journey to embrace my body, a journey that continues today.”
Lydia had come out as a queer person when they were 25. “I was scared, nervous and trepidatious. I wasn’t sure if I was even allowed to be queer” — Lydia had penned in their article for Fashion Magazine.
Yet, their warm, dark eyes gleamed with confidence as we conversed. Lydia’s demeanour carried a cheery blitheness, fused with a refreshing straightforward sincerity.
“When I’m feeling negative about myself,” Lydia explained, “I try to ask if what I’m saying is true — or is it based on emotions? I also ask myself if I would say what I am thinking to a friend. Often, I’m much meaner to myself than I would ever be to anyone else.”
“For those who feel lacking — be gentle with yourself. Body image is tough, and I know that society does not make it easier to love yourself.”
“I would tell them to find more media that has people that look similar to them. For me, diversifying my feed to include all kinds of bodies has really improved the way I see my own body.”
I looked at Lydia again as we stood up to continue our walk. Their blush coloured clothing mirrored the sky’s pink haze. Their skin glowed with a warm golden hue. Lydia’s full silhouette was striking against the misty dusk — and glimmered magnificently in the dimming light.
Yes, beauty is but a perception.
A perception that differs from culture to culture, and shifts from era to era. Perhaps it is up to us — designers, models, women, men, non-binary people — to sculpt a healthier ideal. One that functions not to divide and isolate, but to celebrate all.