TUF x TALKS with SASHA EXETER
INTERVIEW BY JESSICA D'ANGELO
Leading up to the FGI-hosted screening of Straight / Curve, I was excited to mingle with industry leaders working to fight size-ism and representation in high-end fashion. I had my hopes set on a quick “Hey, you’re great,” with pro models Denise Bidot or Robyn Lawley, but when my moment came to throw a couple Qs the way of Toronto native Sasha Exeter, it was an immediate connection. She’s everything her blog and social media lead you to believe: a vision of strength, beauty, and intelligence.
Sasha appears as one of the stars of the independently-produced doc, Straight / Curve, which has been picked up by Self Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, and Vogue for its commitment to dismantling society’s unrealistic standards of beauty presented in typical commercial fashion. Alongside her advocacy work for better representation of women in media, Sasha is a blogger, mother, model, athlete, businesswoman, and fashion icon - her job title cannot be wrapped up in one neat box. And like many of us, Sasha is much more than a one-size-fits-all woman.
Jessica: You’re a fitness and fashion blogger, but you’ve also done some modeling and commercial work, right? Where does Sasha Exeter fit in the fashion industry?
Sasha: I’m having a hard time fitting into one box or one category, so after all these years I still haven’t figured out my elevator pitch. ‘Cause I feel like I have hyphens in my title.
But, I was in corporate, and I left and started my blog, and had success there, and [have been] blessed with opportunities in other things outside of the blog. I’ve done commercial work, print work. [But] I think what really catapulted me to the next level were the stories I was sharing about my kidney disease and my health issues and how I overcame fibromyalgia without medication, and [fighting] it with just exercise and diet. I think people got really inspired by those stories. And all the things I was able to accomplish with my body after being told I wasn’t able to lead a normal, healthy lifestyle.
J: That’s incredible. And you’re positioned that way in the film - as the fitness representation? How does it feel to be that figure?
S: I just got goosebumps. I don’t know why.
J: Why did you get goosebumps?
S: Because I feel now, there are still a lot of brands misusing the role of the athletic model, or the fit model. And time after time after time, I’m seeing very beautiful and aesthetically pleasing women getting the jobs i should be getting. But I don’t see any strength, i don’t see any muscle. I don’t see a woman that i would want my daughter to aspire to look like. Or a woman that would be successful on the tennis court, or a great runner because of their build.
J: And since working on the documentary, have you witnessed a change happening in mainstream fashion in terms of representation?
S: There’s been a huge shift. The conversation with Jess [Lewis], the producer, started almost 2 years ago. So it’s crazy to see the evolution [throughout that time.] Even just towards the end of 2017 to early 2018. Like what happened with Rewardstyle. They were called out for using the same type of influencers and models for all of their campaigns and influencer trips. There was no diversity at all. It went viral. And within three days they changed their whole business model. And I’m seeing other brands do the same thing.
J: Do you feel that is coming from a genuine place of wanting to make social change, or a place of fear?
S: Place of fear. You see every brand panicking, like “we don’t want to be the next one called out.” I feel like it’s now almost become a part of each brands’ corporate social responsibility. Even above having sustainable products for beauty and clothing, they’re now making an effort to make sure there’s diversity in their campaigns.
J: Front facing, it seems positive. But it can be tricky because I wonder if that effort is happening from an actual place of pushing it forward, or is it rooted in marketing.
S: I think people feel forced, and it’s a little bit contrived. People are afraid. [I’d say] 10% of [brands] want to do it. It is really sad.
J: Very sad. Can you compare what’s happening in Toronto in terms of breaking away from mainstream images to what is happening in other markets?
S: Toronto, just like every other market, has a far. Way. To. Go. And I still see it a lot even with influencer and blogger campaigns. There’s one particular beauty brand I should be working with. And they never choose women of colour. I have hair - we all have hair on our heads. I shampoo and use conditioner. How could I not have been chosen for this campaign - ever?
J: So you feel like, at least in mainstream media, there is still a box?
S: There is still a box. And with Toronto, we always seem to be a few years behind everybody else, unfortunately. I would like to see us pick up the pace a bit. But I feel confident the more people are talking about these things - I actually invited my friend Lauren tonight, she’s been talking a lot about ‘BO PO’ and people are really opening up about that, even just on their personal social media.
J: What is it?
S: BO PO? Body positivity!
J: OOH! I’m adopting that acronym!
S: I know, I love it, I just found out about it!
J: I feel like there’s a lot of body positivity with younger generations. That part of the film really touched me: the youth aspect. ‘Cause there’s a really big focus with TUF on educating and empowering the next generation.
S: Okay - goosebumps again! I just had a daughter, seven months ago. I feel even more passionate about this now, because I remember all the insecurities I had growing up about how I looked and the ridicule [I faced] and I never want [my daughter] to feel that way. It wasn’t until I was in my early 30s when I realized, like, the muscles in the body that I have is what got me to where I am today. It’s the tools that built the infrastructure for me to be the athlete that I am; for me to have the opportunities to travel, to have a full scholarship to school in the states, you know? Even though she’s only seven months, we’re trying to instill these things in her from a really early age. I want to make an effort that her physical image is not what’s important.
J: I mean that seems like a hard challenge, because of, well -
S: Media? Yeah - and I may be naive to say this but she’s not even a year old yet, but that’s why I’m anal with screen time. We don’t use our laptops in front of her. We don’t watch TV when’s awake. I mean, it’s inevitable that she’ll see it at some point, but I do feel that parents build the foundation, and I want her to be so confident that even when she hears these messages or sees these images, that she’s kind of unphased by it. Not only [will she be] unphased, she can educate her friends and be like “hey guys, that’s not lit.”