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Body Positivity / Cover Stars / LGBTQIA+ / Relationships

KhrystyAna on Late Bloomers, Runway Rebellion, and Putting Privilege to Use

“I use my privilege to repost voices that I feel touch me,” she explains, “I want to give non-privileged voices a platform. Giving perception to people who don’t have the light to shine always — their words are important."

Written and interviewed by Shay Neary.

Photos by Elizabeth Renstrom.

It would be easy to put KhrystyAna in a box. At face value, the star could understandably be mistaken for a cis-passing white model with little interest in unpacking the privilege she has access to. But boxes don’t interest KhrystyAna. In fact, she’s spent her whole life breaking out of them.

Instead, the curve model and self-love advocate — who you probably stanned on America’s Next Top Model — is passionate about using her platform to create opportunities for everyone and anyone who’s ever felt “othered” by society. Case in point, she’s the founder of a guerilla fashion show called The Real Catwalk, which invites folks of all shapes, ethnicities, and genders to walk proud through the middle of Times Square. This past December, she even worked with Salty to help 30 different participants get photographed for their very own cover star photoshoots. It doesn’t stop there: She also extends this ethos across her Instagram, celebrating catwalk participants and creating a digital stage for the people that inspire and shape her.

“I use my privilege to repost voices that I feel touch me,” she explains, “I want to give everyone an equal voice on my platform. Giving perception to people who don’t have the light to shine always — their words are important.”

“I’m still learning — I don’t claim to be a person who knows everything,” she continues. “I’m still learning to use my privilege, but I know that I want our world to feel safe for everyone, for people of privilege and non-privilege.” 

“I use my privilege to repost voices that I feel touch me.”

Growing up in Siberia, privilege wasn’t a part of KhrystyAna’s lexicon. She describes her upbringing as both poor and marked by intense standards of beauty — which made it hard to see herself as desirable. “Back in Russia, I didn’t date. I was a virgin until 21, because I wanted to be” she says. “I saved my money to find a man to do it. I tried to pay him $100 to take my virginity, and he rejected me. At the time, that was a lot of money! They called him “Mr. Hit It” — and he wouldn’t even hit it!”

KhrystyAna’s exposure to different forms of beauty didn’t really broaden until she moved to the United States, ostensibly to model, but also to seek a home somewhere she assumed everyone could live free — no matter their religion, cultural, or identity. “Beauty is so very different here,” she explains, “It’s so beautiful to see different people, different standards. I became un-jaded to prejudices I had before.”

“I’m still learning — I don’t claim to be a person who knows everything.”

This awakening led KhrystyAna to find the body positivity movement — both in real life and online. On social media, she could find counter arguments to the restrictive beauty standards that plagued her growing up. “Hashtags gave me ways to learn more and love my body for the first time. Through sharing my personal growth and my steps of self-love, I’ve gained a lot of friends within the community. I would share and people would support me — it really helped.”

“Before finding this community, I would always photoshop myself to be so much smaller,” she continues. “Now, I can actually let myself be seen.”

“Hashtags gave me ways to learn more and love my body for the first time.”

As she rose to popularity, though — amassing over 300K followers — a lot of people questioned her legitimacy as one of the “faces” of the movement.

“There shouldn’t be ONE face of the movement,” she agrees. “Nobody should be excluded. Fat people, Black people, and people with disabilities deserve to be at the forefront [of the Body Positivity Movement], where its origins started. People of marginalized communities need to be focused on.”

Ultimately, her goal is to create an equal space for everyone — a space where TRULY anyone can feel safe expressing themselves, the way she did when she first found the movement. She also points out that putting one person up as the “face” or “look” of the Body Positivity Movement incorrectly assumes we all know the internal struggles people face, based on their exterior look.

“Fat people, Black people, and people with disabilities deserve to be at the forefront [of the Body Positivity Movement], where its origins started.”

“You don’t know what people are going through. We all suffer — we can’t always see peoples’ abilities, background, or struggles,” she says. “Anyone who goes through body image issues — no matter what they look like — should have a place to feel safe. This is a big lesson I’ve learned.”

Another big lesson for KhrystyAna came in the form of exploring her sexuality — a milestone she experienced after immigrating to the United States.

After her thwarted Mr. Hit It tryst, KhrystyAna says her standards for love were pretty low. “I let men make all the decisions,” she says of her early days of dating in America. “Just the fact that someone wanted to date me was all I cared about.”

“Anyone who goes through body image issues — no matter what they look like — should have a place to feel safe.”

Feeling “wanted” outweighed finding the right partner, so when she met a prospective guy in the USA, she took it as her chance to finally find love..and have sex. “Now that I’ve waited this long,” she thought, “it better be Hollywood worthy.”

Looking back, she admits her idea of “first time sex” was also pretty damn old-school. She insisted it needed to include music by Micheal Bolton, rose petals, a steak dinner, a nice view, and a huge bed. But things didn’t exactly go as expected. “[My boyfriend] borrowed the house from his friend and planned this lavish affair I had begged for, and the only thing I can think about is how the roses were smearing into the ground and poking their thorns into my back,” she says of that first night. “The thorns hurt way worse than the sex! I came right away, with no blood. So he’s sitting here questioning me about my virginity, and all I can do is stare out at the view and think like, damn, I finally got laid!”

This may have actually helped KhrystyAna shed some of her hang ups around the supposed importance of a “perfect” first time. Now, she’s the first to say the virginity is way too played upon by society, and should no way determine a person’s worth.

“The authenticity of a person is not their boxes or label, it’s their energy.”

Breaking out of her preconceived perfect romance box also helped KhrystyAna explore her place on sexuality spectrum. These days, KhrystyAna identifies as pansexual — though she’s quick so add that she doesn’t like labels.

“I allow myself to be attracted who I want to be, regardless of their gender or identity,” she says. “It’s all about the connection for me — how we vibe. The authenticity of a person is not their boxes or label, it’s their energy.”

She’s quick to add that this is something she feels strongly about sharing and communicating — because it is not a right Russians back home currently have. ““I lot of Americans might not know about the violence against queer people in Russia,” she explains. “It’s definitely another reason I want to share. I can do it here, but I wouldn’t be safe if I still lived there.”

“I’m currently in a heteronormative relationship,” she concludes. “But, I’m still into other people, and I’m honest and open with my partner about my desires.”

Moral of the story: KhrystyAna’s path is one of pretty radical self-growth, with commitment to lifting others up along the way. She’s come a long way from where she began as a kid in Siberia with very little confidence in her body or her sexuality. Now, her unwillingness to be boxed in — to beauty standards, body restrictions, dating tropes, or labels — has become a driving force. She’s on a mission to prove we’re all ready for our runway moment. Who could ever stop her?

Styled by Heather Newberger.

Hair by Kyia Jones.

Make-up by Rachel Toledo.

Assisted by Naydeline Mejia and Sláinne Linnane.

Learn more about Cover Star KhrystyAna on Instagram, and follow the hashtag #therealcatwalk for updates, photos, and inspiration.

Shay Neary is often labeled “The first visible plus-size transgender model to get booked for a US & UK fashion campaign.” With this exposure, Shay is a proud fat trans activist, intersectional feminist, story teller, and a mentor in the routes of self expression. She’s been featured in Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Posture, and House of solo. In her spare time, she enjoys taking in the day and letting the universe guide her desires. She preaches raw, unedited authenticity, the gospel of staying true to yourself, and accepting all the parts of your journey. Check her out on Instagram for more.

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