Sabina Karlsson spills on her body makeover
Sabina Karlsson is beautiful – the kind of pretty that makes you scroll 68 weeks deep into Sabina Karlsson's Instagram, double tapping every single selfie. And when you meet the 5ft 11in Swedish model IRL, all curly ginger hair (she talks about that mane here) how she maintains that mane here) and freckled face, it’s crazy to think that ten years ago she was being told she was ‘too heavy’ to be a model.
Back in 2007, Sabina was a willowy American size 2 (UK size 6), but struggled to stick to the strict diet she needed to maintain those ‘straight size’ measurements. Now? Sabina is back to her natural weight, and happier than ever. We caught up with Sabina to talk all things curvy, and her problem with the term plus-size.
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Why did you stop trying to be skinny?
I was just working too hard for too long. It was like a war between me and my body. After a while, I’d had enough. I was already working out three times a day and going on very strict diets, and I just couldn’t do anything else. I was done.
But you still came back to modelling?
I took a small break, and then went back to my agency in New York in 2010, who suggested I go to their plus-size division.
Are you happier as a curve model?
Oh yes, so much happier. If I was a straight size model, I couldn’t have had milk in this coffee I’m drinking. I’m just so blessed that I’m still able to work as a model in my natural size.
Is there a noticeable difference on set, too?
Oh yeah, totally. Everyone is eating, which helps. As a straight size model, I always worried that I wouldn’t fit the clothes, or would be dropped from shows, but not any more.
Do you think the industry is getting better?
I can totally see a change. Companies that are not branded as plus-size are using bigger girls, but there is still a long way to go. More and more designers need to jump on that train, because we are here to stay.
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You’ve said that you hate plus-size fashion being seen as a trend, but is it better to have one token curvier model, or none at all?
I think it’s better to have one, because that model will make a statement, whether the designer is doing it to be like ‘look at me’ or not. She will still deliver something that the world is not used to seeing.
Is plus-size a term you’re comfortable with?
I’d rather not use plus-size, but sometimes it’s just easier. An actress doesn’t define herself as a plus-size actress! I do the same thing as a straight size model, I might even be doing more than her, so it’s simple to me. I should start now actually, I should stop using plus-size right away.
Is there another word you’d use instead?
Sometimes I say curve model, because I feel like curve is something positive – not that plus-size isn’t.
Who do you look up to in the modelling world?
Definitely Ashley Graham. Just looking at her journey, she’s breaking barriers, and she’s a businesswoman. If I see a colleague do something that no plus-size model has done before, I’m always happy for her because I know that opportunity might come my way as well.
Are you comfortable being a role model?
It’s such a beautiful opportunity to help young girls. I still make mistakes, totally, but I have so many goals. I keep a list on my phone that just keeps on getting longer. I’d love to go and talk to girls in schools, because that’s what I wish I’d had when I was younger, someone to say ‘there are more types of beautiful’. I’d like to maybe do a TED talk one day.
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What would your advice be to someone who wants to get into modelling?
Send simple Polaroids against a white wall to different agencies. No vacation pictures! Work hard, believe in yourself and don’t give up. I’ve had a lot of ‘no’s from agencies before, but if I got a no from Paris, I would book a ticket, go to the agency and they booked me on the spot. Also, being rejected is not to say you’re not beautiful enough.
What’s the biggest myth about being a curve model?
That you don’t work out and hang around McDonalds! It’s changing now, but sometimes I notice the atmosphere at castings when straight and curvier girls work together, they think we’re not really models, that we’re not skinny enough and that we just shoot for catalogues.
It’s nice to hear someone so positive about their body!
I’ve been through those negative thoughts, because I was hearing from the industry ‘you’re big, you’re heavy’, but since last year, it shifted. Now, when I go to my personal trainer, I ask her to give me a bigger butt, the first time I’m asking to gain weight, which is a nice change! I don’t care about cellulite, everyone has it, I’m not going to fight it.
Any favourite brands?
Being a Swede, I love Acne, & Other Stories, H&M, Monki and Weekday. In the UK, River Island and Evans are great. I feel like plus-size companies used to design for older women, but that’s changing a lot.
Are there any curvy girl fashion rules that need to be broken?
A lot of women think that you have to have a flat stomach to wear crop tops, and that booty to wear a tight dress, but no! You don’t have to suffer in shapewear. It’s beautiful just seeing a body.
Sabina is signed to Milk Management.