I love seeing women who exude confidence – women who smile as they walk down the street and maybe even strut – clearly proud of whatever they’re wearing. I often wonder if they woke up that way, if they had to muster up the strength, or if they were just born that way.
In my quest to find more women living fully in their bodies, I came across Malia Anderson, CEO of Style by Malia, an image consulting and wardrobe styling business based in Santa Rosa, California. In addition to running a robust business, Malia also runs a highly trafficked blog, she is a curvy fashion contributor for “Essence Magazine” and speaks on body positivity.
I caught up with Malia over the phone from her home and ended the conversation wanting to be her new best friend.
I love your style. How did you get into this line of work?
I actually first started out going to college for culinary arts, but when I found out that things like baking bread required me to get up at 3 a.m. every morning, I decided it wasn’t the career for me [laughs]. Fashion merchandising was my second choice, and I quickly got into working backstage at fashion shows for stores like Macy’s, Neiman’s and Saks.
Back then – this was the late ’90s – all fashion shows were required to include a plus-size model, just to show that they believed in diversity. When a model didn’t show up one day, I was asked to walk the runway. I did it kicking and screaming, but once I was up there, I was hooked.
What did you love about it?
I loved the performance of it. I joined a model co-op and walked in every fashion show I could. Other plus-size women would ask me how I got into shows, and I’d tell them I could sign them to my management company.
Wait, did you have a management company?
Nope, I created it on the spot. While in college, I ended up managing 16 plus-size models. We would create opportunities and go to Talbots in San Francisco and stand in the front window and do three hours of live modeling. There was one time that I really had to muscle into an event. A local radio station was doing a women’s day event, and Sharon Stone was speaking. They were going to have a fashion show but didn’t have any plus-size models. I called and called, and they finally let me come in with five of the models from my company.
How’d it go?
It was amazing. Everyone in the crowd loved us because we were women who looked like them. We weren’t 6’2” giraffes wearing clothes unreachable to an urban audience. We were wearing Lane Bryant before it was cool.
Why was being in this show so important to you?
Because I wanted people to understand that size doesn’t equate confidence. And I wanted people to see that you could still be stylish and a big girl. The people in the show were so mean to us; they didn’t want us there. But we didn’t care. It was about telling people: Hey, look at me! You can’t ignore me. You will not ignore me. I’m here, and this is who I am!
Incredible! Did you go straight from managing models to what you are doing now?
No, I left the fashion industry in the early 2000s to work in finance and marketing. I ended up selling ads for newspapers and loved the work. In 2008, I started blogging and sharing my thoughts on the state of the fashion industry. I remember watching the MTV Awards and thinking, what happened to fashion? In 2009, I started taking clients to the mall, and for $50 I’d help them decide what to wear. When I was laid off from my newspaper job in 2011, I went into the business full-time, and things have been amazing ever since.
What do you do now?
At the base level, I go shopping and do personal styling. I help create and curate people’s wardrobes. People come to me when they are in the middle of some sort of change: a new job, new body, recently divorced, recently started dating, etc. I’ll go in and figure out what their lifestyle requires, what their body is capable of what their budget can do—then I create a wardrobe for them.
What do you find consistent with the women you work with?
I find that women tend to hide in clothes. They buy them way too big. I put clothes in their closets that make them feel alive. I find that women, regardless of size, will tell me things that are wrong with their bodies.
Why do you think this self-criticism exists?
I think the fashion industry is a huge culprit in making people feel like their bodies are broken in some way. One problem is that there is no such thing as universal sizing. I can go to Macy’s and try on four different brands and wear a different size in each one. Why is that, when men can go into a store and, if they wear a size 40, everything in that size will fit them? I think that fashion is still very male driven—men making clothes for women.
Women tell me that they’re chasing a size 8, or the size they were in high school. It concerns me that we are basically teaching women from a young age that the number on the back of their jeans determines their worth in life.
Oof. That truth hurts. With society’s challenges, how can women feel better about themselves right now?
I think it comes down to doing the thing that makes you feel good about yourself – that thing that makes you feel amazing and empowered. This doesn’t have to be clothes. For me, working out three times per week is great because it makes me feel good. It has nothing to do with losing weight. I live a stressful life and want to de-stress, so I spend time with women who love me for me.
As long as we spend our days sitting in front of the TV, watching unrealistic ideas of reality, we are going to be stuck in those visions of reality. Don’t determine your worth based on a fake reality. Find your positives and focus on them.