Jennifer Atilémile | Romanticizing Space

Small Moments of Joy

Written by

Emma Raff

Photographed by

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Styled by

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In the suburbs of Melbourne, a 15-year-old Jennifer Atilémile was approached by a scout and asked to pursue a career in modeling, however, it wasn’t until she earned a double master’s degree in international relations and journalism from Monash University that she signed with an agency and began her illustrious career. Since then, she’s become Victoria’s Secret’s first Australian curve model, worked with major beauty brands including Maybelline and Clarins, and shot with Sports Illustrated as a swimsuit rookie in May of 2023.  

Jennifer now lives in Los Angeles and uses her modeling career and  social media following as platforms for her activist work. She promotes body positivity and diversity, speaking up as a panelist at the inaugural Forbes Women’s Summit in Australia last year and writing essays published in various publications. 

The model, writer, and activist continues to push for change, both in the modeling industry and the individual mindsets of women facing discrimination and insecurity, with grace, eloquence, and tenacity. Fashion is politics, and although we’re witnessing a regression in body positivity in the 2020s, Jennifer believes self-expression through clothing can be a woman’s strongest source of empowerment.

In a conversation with FLAUNT, she discusses her career, small moments of joy, and advocating for a more diverse environment in the fashion industry.

What were some of the struggles you faced when you first started your modeling career after grad school? Do you think your education prepared you in any way? 

It’s a struggle that still kind of persists to this day, but it was definitely a lot worse when I first began my career, and that’s the lack of diversity, especially in Australia.  I believe that inclusion is still a box tick, and it’s the same models flying the flag for change. We had to feel lucky to have even been included in the first place.  I really think that in order for me to get ‘noticed’ I really leaned into my Instagram, and am super grateful for the body positivity community that I found on there, which really helped to start a conversation online about the lack of diversity in Australia and media landscape in general. I found people who agreed with me and really resonated with what I had to say, and then, as a result, I feel like opportunities started to come, not just because of what I looked like, but, because my involvement indicated more than just that box tick, there was a bigger message at play. It felt like if you put me in your campaign, whoever I was working for supported what I stand for. 

I definitely think that my education helped me in that regard because I think it allowed me the eloquence to get my message across to people. I think that had I not gone to university, I would’ve only been able to draw from my own, lived experience, but my education taught me how to research, to think critically, and communicate. I always used to laugh that I spent all this money on a degree and now I’m a model, but  I’ve realized my degree has actually helped make me into the model that I am. I actually think had I not gone to school first, I wouldn’t have been so sure of who I was and what I stood for in this world, I wouldn’t have had the same drive or passion.

In the past, you’ve referred to your shoot with Sports Illustrated in 2023 as a highlight of your career. What was special about this opportunity and what did you take away from it?

My shoot with Sports Illustrated was 100% a highlight of my career.  I was so sure of who I was, as a woman, and I feel like I embodied that empowered version of myself, something that I think comes when you’re older - and I love that they championed diverse women. I’ve always been pretty vocal about things that matter to me, and a lot of the time, people think that if you’re too outspoken you won’t get certain opportunities. However, I’ve always been really true to what I believe in, and that really hasn’t changed from when I first started out - I’ve gone back to old interviews from over five years ago, and I still had similar talking points! When people say, "Aren’t you afraid that people won’t hire you if you’re too outspoken?" I think if something doesn’t align with your values why do you want to give it your energy in the first place? Shooting SI gave me an even bigger platform to continue talking about the things that are truly important, and take my message outside of Australia and onto a global scale because even if we all live in different places, we’re all connected by the human experience. I also learned that authenticity and determination pay off. I’m in my 30s now and have been modeling for around 7 years. I’m a sucker for instant gratification, but these big breaks take time and a lot of hard work, but I love that I’ve lived so true to myself, kept fighting for what I believe in, and that I now get to share myself with so many more people. 

How has fashion and your love for it influenced or changed your perspective on body positivity and self-love? Do you think the fashion industry is capable of inspiring confidence as much as it detracts from it?

I was a young girl when I first fell in love with fashion - it was this vehicle of self-expression, you could be whoever you wanted to be. When I first moved to New York, I loved that everyone seemed to have their own unique sense of style, and how they dressed really represented how they showed up in certain spaces. What I loved about body positivity in fashion is that it encouraged people to take up space, especially as women. Getting dressed for yourself was this radical act of self-love. 

I think if the fashion industry allows the next generation of creatives to rise into positions of power where they can really influence change, the fashion industry will be capable of inspiring confidence again. Since the pandemic, there’s been a noticeable shift away from body positivity and body neutrality, and we’ve seen old toxic views about body image resurface - undoing the years of work and progress we made. Seeing is believing, and if we want a truly inclusive and loving society, we have to represent all people, diversity is what makes us better. If you don’t see yourself reflected in the fabric of society, then you’re not going to feel like you belong anywhere. 

I remember wanting to get into fashion so that younger generations didn’t grow up as I did, with an unhealthy view of their bodies, but I worry that the way the industry is going, and with their access to social media if we’re not careful, it might be too late. The industry can change that though, and I have hope that we can turn this all around. 

Can you speak on your upcoming projects, “To Life, with Love” newsletters, and the prospective editorials exploring your own body in space? How do these projects advance your activist work?

I’ve recently discovered my love for cooking. I grew up around food, my dad is a chef, food has the ability to bring people together. Cooking for people, I believe, is the ultimate form of love. At the moment, I’m busy in the kitchen creating recipes and sharing them on my Instagram, but they’ll eventually find a permanent home in a cookbook. I’ve also launched my newsletter, “to life, with love”, which is just a cultural commentary on my love of life, whether that’s fashion, food, or travel - I really believe in romanticizing the little things in life, it makes our everyday routines much less mundane. Part of the newsletter is to release little editorials exploring my body in an ever-changing fashion landscape. Whether we want to admit it or not, the female body is highly politicized, beauty standards are constantly changing, and we’re forever told that we’re not enough. The biggest statement I can make, and encourage others to make, is to show that I am comfortable and confident as I am and take up space in this world. I think especially as women’s rights are being stripped away, the powers that be want us to shrink (both literally and figuratively), and I want to show that there’s another way, the most important thing we can do right now is show up, band together, and take up as much space as possible. 

What is a “little moment of joy” that you savor in the realm of fashion, food, or culture?

Traveling to places I’ve never been, expanding my view of the world and different cultures, when I get literal tingles over a mouthful of food, and when I start crying to a beautiful fashion collection (the last was a Schiaparelli exhibition). 

How do you think your modeling aligns with your activism? How do you think that modeling and fashion connect with politics?

I think my identity automatically makes me an activist. I’m Australian and French, with Afro-Indian and European heritage, and I’m a size 12. Historically fashion hasn’t been inclusive to people that looked like me. But fashion is 100% political, activism has always been present in fashion... trends are political, where our clothes are made is political, how we consume is political. Every decision we make in regard to fashion is political, whether we want to admit it or not. So, what I can do as a model, is show up and advocate for how I want to see the fashion landscape, and the world, and to me, that’s one that is truly inclusive, that encourages everybody to take up space and let their unique selves shine through.

Photographed by Amelia Dowd

Written by Emma Raff

Makeup and hair by Nicole Aquilina 

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Jennifer Atilémile, model, activist, writer, fashion, Victoria's Secret, Sports Illustrated, body positivity, Emma Raff