Like most who dare to wear clothing professionally but also happen to be above sample size, Paloma Elsesser is often simply summed up as a plus-size model, but the 25-year-old from Los Angeles is much more than that. Elsesser moved to New York to pursue writing, though it wasn't long before she was signed to Muse and the beauty legend Pat McGrath hand-picked her from her Instagram, which happens to have a cult following, to be one of the faces of her first-ever makeup line.
Since then, Elsesser has only picked up even more steam: So far this season, she's walked Eckhaus Latta, shown up in head-to-toe Fenty at Rihanna's motocross extravaganza after appearing in the Fenty Beauty campaign, and still managed to support her friends who aren't even showing this season, the designers behind Lorod, New York's best up-and-coming label, which only shows off-season. Cozied up in a pair jeans that Lorod had custom made her in size 12—though Elsesser was quick to point out that "most brands do go up to 10s and 12s, except it's this whole cycle because people just don’t know they're available and then they don't get made again"—Elsesser talked what she learned from McGrath, why she doesn't mess around with words like "thick" and "chunky," and why it's her goal to look like a glazed donut.
What's your first makeup memory?
I’ve never been a “makeup girl,” but I’ve always loved makeup, you know what I mean? Beauty has always been really important to me, because it’s also not a size-specific thing—any size can do it, whoever you are, and it also can be really expressive of your mood or where you’re at. It’s weirdly punk: You always have access to it, and you do it yourself, however you feel, if you want to do orange eyeshadow or whatever it is. I guess my first memory is going into my [older] sister's makeup and putting lipstick on my eyelids, just in the mirror listening to that Madonna song,"What It Feels Like for a Girl." I used to listen to that on this big CD player and sit in my mom’s bathroom and mess around, and then she’d make me wash it off, but I was like 11. Then, back in the day, around middle school, I wore so much black kohl eyeliner and my eyebrows were messed up. [Laughs.] Those memories of experimenting and seeing your face in different capacities are amazing, but now, as an adult, some days I want to pull a look and that’s what I do, but now I’ve also learned how to not wear makeup and be totally fine with that also being a look.
Which do you find yourself normally going for? How would you describe your look most days?
It’s pretty minimal. I love uniforms, so I kind of translate that into my style in my makeup routine, which is to always switch up beauty products, but I never really switch up my makeup products. I don’t like too much coverage, so I’ll use a little bit of concealer, or I’ll use this Armani foundation I have—one pump of two different colors to get my right color—and then I squeeze some Embryolisse, which is this moisturizer that looks amazing under makeup. It’s not that great as a daily moisturizer, because it’s pretty greasy, but I kind of like to look like I’m a glazed donut. That’s like, my uniform aesthetic for my makeup look. So I do that so it’s really glow-y, not too much coverage, then a little concealer, a brush of a brow, maybe some [Glossier] Boy Brow stuff or whatever to fill it in a little bit. I’m obsessed with eyelash curlers—obsessed, obsessed, I love them. A makeup artist just showed me a Kevyn Aucoin one that’s really major.
Have you learned a lot about beauty from modeling?
For sure—when I was growing up, I didn't even know the difference between concealer and foundation and powder. I just kind of lumped it all together. I love an eyelash curl, but that's definitely something I found out about later in my life. So I do one of those, though, because it's a really nice way of not wearing mascara but still opening your eyes up, and then maybe some clear mascara or just two swipes of mascara, and some highlighter. And then I like to wear a red and brown lip; if it's red, I always wear this MAC one called Ruby Woo, which is like pastel paint. It's very uncomfortable, but it has the most beautiful pigment and is very matte and impactful. It's that, or Nars one called BLKR that's in one of those skinny twist tubes that's very brown, because my nude is brown—when people say "nude" colors, every has different color skin, so "nude" isn't the same.
Right, you mentioned mixing colors for your foundation before. Is that something you've have to do your whole life?
No—I just would avoid it or look gray. [Laughs.] I didn't realize that I just didn't look right. But once I started modeling, for sure I saw that once I worked with bad makeup artists—well, not bad, but more being like, 'Wait, I don't look like myself, this isn't my color.' Obviously working with Pat [McGrath] has been so eye-opening in how to find a perfect blend—or a perfect eyebrow, or a perfect lip, that kind of stuff. I guess in like the last four years I've gotten into mixing and finding the right materials, because it's hard, because I have a lot of colors in my skin. I blend an eight and an eight and a half [for foundation], which in theory would make me an eight and a quarter—except that one is quite red, one is quite yellow. I started figuring that out and things like applying with a foundation brush instead of my fingers quite a bit later in life. But sometimes I just put it on my hand, like whatever, just keep it moving, no stress. I probably spend more time in putting masks on and doing my whole beauty routine on the skincare side than putting makeup on.
I know you said that you often switch products, but do you have any mainstays or masks in particular you always return to?
Yeah, I love the whole Biologique Recherche range—I, like, live and die by it. It’s such a cult favorite, and it’s a very stinky, expensive skincare habit, but my skin loves it, it needs it, it relies on it. I don’t have very acne-prone skin, but I just like to maintain my skin texture—I've learned that it's better to have good texture with a pimple than than to have like, gravely texture, and no pimples, because pimples go away. I maintain mine with the toner P50, which I live and die by, and which is in every one of my travel bags and which I have in many sizes. As for the masks, I use their Vivant, oxygenating one that you blend together with a dab of baking soda, which I guess is supposed to bring some... whatever. It smells like garbage, but it’s so good—I did it this morning. So, yeah, those two, and then there’s a Tata Harper retinol oil that I really love, and the the Glossier priming moisturizer—the thick one, though: riche. [Laughs.] I just really like thick stuff, not water-based.
What about general wellness and fitness? How do you take care of yourself and make sure you feel good?
I feel like I have a lot of mechanisms that keep me afloat. I’m a super-sensitive person, as most people are, but especially in the industry that we’re in, you have to do a lot of things to combat feeling bad about yourself. That also goes for just being a human being, a woman, living in New York. So I like to keep a strong group of women around me that motivate me and make me feel good. When I'm feeling bad about myself, I want to isolate, and I feel like the nature of my job is isolating, because I travel a lot and I'm alone a lot, so I always try to revisit a sense of home, with my friends, my family, my boyfriend. That’s really important to me, and exercise is really important to me. It’s very meditative, in the sense that whenever you’re exercising that’s all you’re really thinking of, so it makes me feel good. Having a good therapist is really important for me; having a routine is super important for me, because the nature of my job doesn’t really afford routines, so staying consistent with skincare or exercise or getting dinner with my friends or just sleeping really helps.
What's your go-to exercise?
I work out with my favorite trainer of all time, Joe Holder. He’s a Nike trainer out of the S10 gym and he’s one of my best friends. We do pretty high-impact circuit training kind of stuff, almost like CrossFit in the way that we believe that it’s more impactful to do three-minute intervals of things instead of being on a treadmill for 45 minutes. So I can do 45 minutes and burn twice as many calories—not that I’m concerned about calories—but in theory, how I think about things is how to get the most impact. I love that, and I love to do Pilates.
You're known for being one of Pat McGrath's Instagram muses. Has that changed the way you post on there at all since then?
I don’t really like having an Instagram where someone goes to it and is just like, 'Oh, she’s a model.' A blogger, whoever. I want people to go there and be like, 'Oh, I like her outfit,' or 'I like what she has to say.' I want them to be able to connect. Some Instagrams, you’re like, 'This is so model-y.' It doesn’t feel accessible. It still feels very separatist, and that’s not what I’m trying to achieve, because Instagram can be super dark. If I have an opportunity to not make it dark, I’m going to do it, so I try to keep it authentic, keep it cool, keep it accessible, keep it relatable, you know?
Does Instagram affect your confidence at all? Do you read your comments?
Yeah, it makes me so happy. I have this thing called Insight that shows me the statistics of the people who follow me, and 74 percent of my followers are girls from the ages of 18 to 24. That’s amazing to me. I get so many beautiful DMs from girls, saying like, 'You made me psyched to wear a crop top,' or 'You helped me get out the house today,' and that’s so crazy to me, and it makes me feel so full in what I’m doing, even on the hard days. Two days ago, some girl just randomly commented on my picture, 'You’re fat.' And because I don’t have like 3 million followers, I see it, and it's like, either I'm going to delete this and I’m going to block this girl, or I’m just going to clap back. So I was like, 'Yeah, but I’m also successful and intelligent, and if there’s anything else you want to point out about me, let me know.' Also, fat isn’t an insult. It’s so sandbox. 'Fat' is a lazy attack. I call myself fat because I'm not over here like, 'Oh, I’m thick, I’m curvy.' No—I’m chunky, I’m fat, I’m cute, I’m soft, I’m special, I’m chic. I’m all of these things—I can be all that and still be fat. Why do we think that's the most insulting thing? Call me stupid or call me ignorant—that’s more insulting to me.
So you did comment back?
Yeah! Then my boyfriend wrote, 'You're a piece of s---,' and I was like, you shouldn't say that. But I just wanted other girls to know that being fat is not the worst thing you can be. It’s not.
Last thing: How would you describe yourself in three emojis?
I’m the chick popping out of the egg; the little green sprout; the rainbow; and the rose. Oh, and the thinking, questioning one—the inquisitive emoji. [Laughs.]
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