Women who inspire

#bodylove: An interview with Silvana Denker

… talking about self-love, a realistic body image and her campaign.

Editor: Samrin Conrad

Cosmopolitan US, People Magazine and the French Marie Claire and Elle are just a few fashion industry giants who have already reported about it. But it all began in the small German town of Siegen. We spoke to Silvana Denker about her Body Love campaign which is gaining worldwide attention since late last year.

Earlier, she wore dress size EU 36/38, wanted to study medicine and the first subjects placed in front of the lens of her camera were her parents’ dogs. Now, Silvana Denker is a successful photographer, an internationally booked plus-size model and much much more. Above all, she’s currently best known as the initiator of a campaign in which she is in the process of achieving something she never dreamt she could.

©Léon Valjé

The road to the Body Love campaign was sometimes rocky – paved with wonderful coincidences but also with a few deep holes. The native Westerwald model went from an initial identity crisis (when she threw all plans overboard) to a chance encounter with the German comedian Otto Waalkes (which got her into photography) to the spontaneous participation in a model contest (which made her a successful plus-size model). However, her real success is happening right now. Just as surprising as the course of your life is for you so far.

It all began in Siegen in North Rhine Westphalia. This was followed by another seven German cities where your campaign left a lasting impression. What is the Body Love campaign?

Body Love is a campaign against bodyshaming. Why do people have to offend others? Because they look different or because they don’t have the same tastes as you? I’m not saying that everyone should always agree with everything. Tastes are different. But everyone can and should treat every person with respect. That is the basic idea of ​​Body Love.

How does the campaign work?

Eight people whose bodies are each painted with one letter from the words “Body Love” stand in order and undress down to their underwear at the same time; in a busy area of a city. Mostly we choose pedestrian zones. I photograph it all and then share it on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. I want it to reach as many people as possible.

On average, 30 potential participants compete for each campaign. What are your selection criteria?

Firstly, I should say that it is not only about plus-size, but simply about showing a realistic image of women as well as men. An image that reflects the greatest possible diversity. Just like real life does. I want to show all sizes and facets. Large or small, fat or thin, light or dark skinned. It is about increasing self-love, not about dress sizes. No matter how you look: you should learn to love yourself a bit more and try not to pressure yourself into being as perfect as possible. No one is perfect. We are all different and we’re great just as we are.

So men can also take part?

Absolutely! After I kept getting more and more letters from men who told me their stories about having to deal directly or indirectly with bodyshaming, four men were also in Koblenz with us for the first time. I always love to have male participants. This illustrates even more that my campaign is not just about clothes sizes.

Do you have a special candidate in mind for your campaigns?

As idealistic as it might be: Oprah! At first I actually also thought about involving international plus-size models who I know myself. Candice Huffine or Hayley Hasselhoff, for example. But for me it’s not about models. It’s about showing the woman next door – Jane Doe, just as she is.

We’re talking about self-love. Do you think that is something that can be learned?

Absolutely. It’s a long process and the mindset has to fundamentally change. I’m not a bad person and am not worth less just because I weigh more!

You seem to speak from personal experience. That’s why you seem so strong and confident.

I always find it exciting to see myself how others see me. I couldn’t do that for a long time. I have gradually eliminated all the bad things around me, I only think positive thoughts and give no time to the negative ones. It is often so easy to see only the negative. We shouldn’t do that. Although I was never directly ridiculed in real life, it can always be found, very ruthlessly, on the Internet. Eventually, even at a time when I had a more or less normal weight, I thought I was too fat. Only because of cruel comments. And I had just trained for a triathlon! How crazy is this world?

Was that the trigger for starting the message that you want to contribute to the world?

Yes! I began this task to ensure that people generally get more realistic body images. My photo series “Body Love” was just the beginning, in which I photographed people in the studio of all ages, genders, sizes and skin colours, people with disabilities, with tattoos etc. I think, there is a large part of the industry slowly reflecting on photoshopped bodies who have seen enough and are calling for realistic body images. So I wondered what I could do to get even more attention for this cause. The pedestrian zone in Siegen was the answer. After the campaign there was so incredibly well received, the audience cheered and clapped and the local media were there, it suddenly started rolling. I did not expect that.

Is the feedback consistently so positive?

Of course there will always be negative feedback. Anonymity on the Internet is easy. It is best not to read the comments at all at first. I also tell that to my participants.

So you act as a sort of motivation coach for the participants?

When they tell me afterwards: “I’m so glad I participated Silvana, I was so scared before,” then I get a real motivation kick! To see how a small idea can go so far and that people write to me from around the world to say how much I help them is amazing. I never had the idea of becoming a great motivation coach through this. But to see where it goes and what it causes still moves me to tears every time. I have to keep realising over and over again… what just happened.

So much has happened! Do the challenges grow along with the fame?

The bigger the cities where we want to realise our plans are, the more difficult it is to obtain authorisation. You might not believe it, but so far that was actually always the biggest hurdle. And also hard to believe: finding smaller women is also difficult because many people think it is a plus-size campaign. The funny thing is that the thin women often feel more embarrassed than the larger ones.

So participation is also kind of like self-therapy?

Oh yeah. Some girls were so euphoric that they didn’t want to wear anything at all anymore. You just have to be there to experience this feeling. It is simply grandiose.

Also, I am now only just really at a point where I can say I’m fine the way I am (and it totally doesn’t matter whether I go up or down by 10 kilos. Because that’s not what matters in life). That was personally my biggest challenge. I am glad that I have become the person I am today. A few years ago I often wished that I could be someone else. Today I say: This is how I was meant to be and I am good the way I am!

Will you undress yourself as a participant in a campaign?

Me? But who’s going to take the pictures then? 😉 Maybe one day a very special moment will come when I’ll also join in. Then I’ll be the “hashtag”.

You recently have been to Frankfurt and Paris. What happens next with the Body Love campaign?

The next cities in the pipeline are Vienna, Dusseldorf and London. For these, I have already found sponsors who will support me. Everything else is unfortunately up to the stars. I want to plan a tour in the US because there is a gigantic demand there. But at the moment I have reached my financial limits and continue the project with my own private funds. So I’m happy about every little help to keep Body Love alive and to bring a bit more love, kindness and respect into the world.

Samrin Conrad

Editor: Samrin Conrad

Fashion editor at navabi. Has a weakness for good food, pleated trousers and fresh, crisp notebooks.

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