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Anastasia Garcia’s Superpower

Anastasia Garcia’s Superpower

Twenty-two-year-old Anastasia Garcia sat quietly in the board room of the e-commerce conglomerate where she worked, as her colleagues discussed the launch of the brand’s plus size division. Rather than hiring plus size models, the project’s producer suggested hiring straight size models and pinning the clothes to fit them. Anastasia’s face turned red hot. Before she knew it, she’d yelled out, “NO!” Like a scene from a movie, the entire room turned to look at her. In that moment, Anastasia was acutely aware of her youth and inexperience. This was her first job out of art school, her first chance to prove herself as a photographer. She hadn’t meant to speak out, and now she was terrified.

Instead of ignoring her or ushering her out of the room, Anastasia’s boss asked why she felt so strongly. Then, to her surprise, he listened, and so did everyone else. “I realized they were listening to me because I represented this customer in a way they didn't,” she says. “I was this customer.”

Her outburst paid off. Anastasia was put in charge of the launch of the plus size brand, casting the models and shooting the product and editorial content. Now years later, she has shot for Elle, Marie Claire, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Refinery 29, Lane Bryant, and more. She recognizes that moment in the board room as a turning point. “I realized that I had a responsibility as an image maker,” she says. “I realized I was in a position to speak up for women who didn't have a voice in the fashion industry. From that moment on I decided to use my position to uplift diverse bodies and capture diverse beauty.”

©  Anastasia Garcia for Chromat

© Anastasia Garcia for Chromat

Anastasia grew up in a military family, moving around the world to locales including Germany and Japan. “It definitely gave me perspective on how beauty ideals change from country to country,” she says. “My travels instilled in me from an early age just how much beauty exists in the world. Everywhere I traveled everyone looked so different and was so beautiful. But it also gave me perspective on how US media has a global impact.”

She saw Japanese girls dye their hair blonde and wear blue contacts so they would look more like the images they saw in western TV and magazines. “I often wonder if people working in fashion and media truly understand the global implications of their casting choices,” she says.

As a girl, Anastasia took up photography as a way to document her family’s travels. In middle school she styled her friends in wild outfits at the mall and took pictures of them with disposable cameras. “I didn't know at that time that fashion photography was an actual profession people had. I just had fun dressing my friends up, and I couldn't stop taking pictures.” In high school, a teacher introduced her to the idea of photography as an art form and encouraged her to go to art school.

When Anastasia began shooting professionally, she wanted her imagery reflect the diversity she saw in everyday life, and in the mirror.

“I am a plus size Latina woman and I knew firsthand how damaging exclusive media is,” she says. “I knew that I had to speak to the importance of this imagery in a way that no one else could. No one else is me, and that’s my super power.”

“I am a plus size Latina woman and I knew firsthand how damaging exclusive media is,” she says. “I knew that I had to speak to the importance of this imagery in a way that no one else could. No one else is me, and that’s my super power.”

Anastasia began shooting plus size women in the mid-2000s, when most photographers wouldn’t, which meant that her philosophy and aesthetic were largely self-taught.

“I’ve been trying to build my career and change the industry and shift the way people think, but it’s not like someone paved a path for me,” she says. “I’m trying to be the example so that hopefully people after me can continue the work.”

©  Anastasia Garcia for Straight/Curve film

© Anastasia Garcia for Straight/Curve film

While most photographers disappear behind the lens, Anastasia has developed a public face. She’s published essays about her struggles with body image, she’s been profiled on Broadly and Buzzfeed, and she was featured in the documentary Straight/Curve, which describes how the fashion industry impacts young women. The film follows Anastasia and twelve models of various sizes, races, and ages, as they create a high fashion exhibition on bodies that aren’t often seen on runways.

“For a long time I believed creating the imagery would mean I could forgo sharing my own experiences,” she says. “But the truth is there is so much power in each of us telling our stories. I don’t want people who see me online to think I’m this perfectly confident person who leads this glamorous life. I want people to know the truth. I want them to know that I suffered.”

While recent conversations in fashion have pushed for a range of models, that diversity hasn’t reached other parts of the industry, which is still mostly white and male. Backstage at a fashion show or around a board room table, Anastasia doesn’t see anyone else who looks like her.

“There aren’t a lot of creatives behind the scenes that embody the kind of diversity that we’re talking about in front of the lens,” she says. “So it becomes interesting because, how can you tell authentic stories of people with different backgrounds who have had different experiences if there’s no one behind the scenes to speak to those experiences in an authentic way? People haven’t been forced to confront other identities.”

“There aren’t a lot of creatives behind the scenes that embody the kind of diversity that we’re talking about in front of the lens,” she says. “So it becomes interesting because, how can you tell authentic stories of people with different backgrounds who have had different experiences if there’s no one behind the scenes to speak to those experiences in an authentic way? People haven’t been forced to confront other identities.”

Recently, Anastasia shot a swimsuit campaign for Chromat featuring diverse models, including Mama Cax, who has an amputated leg, and Geena Rocero, who is transgender. Afterward, Anastasia stood on a New York street in front of the completed poster that showed Ericka Hart, a breast cancer survivor, with her bathing suit unzipped and her breasts exposed, scarring and all. On a whim, Anastasia asked a man walking by what he thought of the image. She was startled when he said it was great. He explained that his wife also battled breast cancer, and that she felt like she needed to wear painful prosthetics and tissue expanders because she wanted to “look like a woman.” Standing with him in front of this image, Anastasia wept.

“He had this whole emotional experience just by looking at a poster on the street,” she says. “It was really powerful. That’s what a lot of people in the industry don’t understand. These images, they have an impact when people view them. We have a responsibility to think about what that impact is going to be.”

Click through the gallery below to see more of Anastasia’s work!

© Anastasia Garcia

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