It shouldn’t have to be an act of rebellion to share a snap of ourselves in swimwear, cellulite and rolls on show. It also shouldn’t be an act of rebellion not to hide acne scars or stretch marks. Basically, it shouldn’t be rebellious to *dare I say it* love our bodies. And yet, it still is. But thankfully, times are a-changin, and while we can’t yet break Instagram’s archaic female nipple censorship, there’s perfection constructs that we can indeed bend. Model and author Charli Howard is an integral voice in this wave of change in the fashion industry – the ripples of rebellion shaking social media through the mouthpieces of body positive activist models such as Ashley Graham and Barbie Ferreira.
Charli’s Instagram feed – peppered with vintage curvaceous Playboy models and snaps of her in her bikini, her thighs punctuated with unedited (and goddamn cute) dimples, has a prowess for taking things marketing has told us are ‘ugly’ for years and pinning them as not only normal and acceptable, but worthy of love. Yet the 29-year-old body image activist from East London hasn’t always thought this way. In fact, it took years of starving herself as a model before she reached her strong, empowered public figure position she owns so well today. Now, Charli has used her positive influence to launch Squish – a skincare brand that’s so glossy, sparkly and fun that even the acne patches are shaped into tiny flowers dotted withdiamantes. Its launch saw models ranging from a size 0 to a size 20, and while inclusivity can’t tick all boxes at once, she’s certainly done a lot better than many big name brands in the industry.On her parent’s property in the UK countryside, Charli spoke to us about learning to love food, her secrets to glowy skin, and what she hopes the world learns once we’re out of this mess.
IH: Hi Charli! How are you?
CH: Hello! I’m doing alright, how are you?
IH: I’m good thanks! Where have you been spending lockdown?
CH: I’m in the middle of the countryside on the border of England and Wales at my parents’ house! It’s beautiful and it’s the longest I’ve spent at home since the age of 15.
IH: It sounds lovely. Who do you have on repeat on Spotify right now?
CH: I can’t stop listening to that ‘Savage – Remix’ by Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé non-stop! And ‘Believe It’ by Rihanna and PARTYNEXTDOOR.
IH: Ah, such tunes. What have you been cooking lately? And drinking?
CH: I actually haven’t had a drop of alcohol in nine weeks and feel so good within myself! Food-wise, we’ve been trying everything: curries, steak, roast dinners, warm salads, veggie wraps. If you can’t enjoy food during this time, what’s the point?!
IH: Agreed! Speaking of which, your journey to accepting your body is widely known, and quite frankly, it sounds harrowing. Reading that you used to eat orange juice-soaked cotton wool to stay thin for modeling… it floored me. How have you learned healthy patterns since these days?
CH: Yes, I used to do anything I could to stay thin. If I skip a meal nowadays, I really feel it – I get lightheaded and dizzy and angry – and I can’t believe I did that for over 10 years of my life to try and look ‘beautiful’. I still don’t know where I got the willpower from, because it takes a lot, but believe me, I never want to go back there. These days, I just eat what I want… in moderation, obviously. I think everyone knows when they’ve overindulged so it’s just about listening to your body and looking at your skin. I’ve known people my age who are infertile from starving themselves. I know people my age with cancer. And in the end, you just realize that life is way too short!
IH: Who are some other body-positive activists you admire? CH: Lili Reinhart has a body like mine and speaks about the pressures she’s faced as an actress at our size. I also love Ali Tate Cutler and foreverplaymates who feature Playboy models before the 80s. I love how these models had cellulite and squish but still looked stunningly beautiful.
IH: I love that you’ve named your skincare brand Squish. Aside from these products, what does your daily skincare routine look like? CH: I have really sensitive skin and so have to be really careful with what products I use. Before I start my makeup, I put a line of Revitalash on each eye – it’s expensive but god does it work! I use my Smoosh moisturizer as a base because it’s really hydrating and gets into pores. I’m using It Cosmetics a lot because it has a high SPF in it – right now I’m using their CC cream, concealer & mascara. I use a Shiseido mousse blush and a Charlotte Tilbury lip liner in ‘Love Trap’. Her products are amazing! And at night I take my make up off with Drunk Elephant’s Juju bars and Simple face wash.
IH: Tell us a little about the process you went through to create Squish. What do you love about it? CH: It’s my pride and joy! I always wanted to start my own skincare brand but thought it would be too expensive to start. Anyway, I couldn’t find an undereye mask that depuffed my cheek area (that’s where I get a lot of swelling) and so drew out an eye mask onto a piece of paper and had it made – I figured it was worth a try. I then decided to branch out and bring out some flower patch acne patches and lip balm that help heal the skin. I love being creative and I love skincare so this has worked out great for me.
IH: What self-care rituals have you been doing to nourish your body and mind during a lockdown? I have been getting into meditating and mindfulness. I’ve been doing a lot of coloring books! CH: Comfiest clothing brands to lounge around the house in? I am wearing a Juicy Couture velour tracksuit religiously. It’s so soft!
IH: Okay we know makeup probably isn’t top of the priority list at the moment, but say we weren’t in lockdown – what are your fave beauty looks? CH: I always do a cat eye, even in lockdown! I love anything old Hollywood.
IH: What would you say to a friend who hates their ‘squish’, as you call it? CH: Your body is literally just that: a body. It doesn’t account for your other attributes or achievements. We put so much emphasis on being perfect and smooth and I don’t know why. Being squishy is normal and healthy and the more images we see of it, the more normal we’ll feel!
IH: What’s one lesson you hope the world learns after this is all over? CH: I really hope we appreciate what good this lack of travel is doing to the environment and I hope governments continue to step up on their eco missions. I can already feel the air in London is cleaner and I’m sure many others can too.