Silvana Denker is a plus size model and photographer in Germany, and the creator behind an amazing global body-positive movement called “BodyLove.” Silvana has been taking her project from country to country, photographing people of all shapes and sizes to promote self-acceptance and diversity. It’s our privilege to interview her and share her work!
Tell us about yourself!
My name is Silvana Denker, I’m 31 and from a small village in Germany called Niederhövels. It’s around 100 kilometers away from Cologne. I’m a professional plus size model and photographer specialising in plus size. I studied photodesign 9 years ago and became a professional model in 2010 when I took part in a model contest (I never expected to become a professional model. I just took part for fun). I love sports, nature and my two little dogs “Killer” and “Stöpsel”!
What has your body image journey been like?
When I was younger and thinner I hated myself, my body being me. Wearing a size 8, I felt fat and I often wanted to be someone else. In 2008 I gained 45 kilos and hated myself even more.
After losing 35 kilos one year later and being a size 12-14 I started (very slowly) to accept myself and like my curves. But it took many years to become the person I am now. It was a process, I went through hard times but now I look back and think it was good all this happened because otherwise I wouldn’t be a plus size model, I never would have met so many awesome and inspiring people and I’m sure I never would have created my BodyLove campaign. I learned to love myself and I made peace with my body. And now is the time I try to help others do it, too – to show them they are so much more than just a number on the scale.
When did you become interested in modeling and photography?
When I was 17 and wearing a size 8 I started modeling as a hobby. I always thought I was too fat to become a professional model so I decided to do it just for fun. I think this was the reason I got more and more interested in photography, too. I had my own ideas, images in my head and wanted to create my own work. So I bought my first camera in 2006 and started taking pictures 🙂
What’s something that you don’t like about the modeling industry?
To be honest until now I was very lucky to meet great people, nice clients and photographers and had great times. I think there’s a difference between the plus size and the straight size industry. Of course as a plus size model you have to take care of yourself and be fit but you don’t have to almost starve because you are not allowed to eat much.
I met girls during a casting who ate nothing the entire day to look as thin as possible. The industry is superficial because it’s only the look that matters. I don’t have a problem with it, because I know it and can deal with it but I’m sure there are girls who can’t.
What inspired you to start BodyLove?
I’m not sure that there was an inspiration. It was just a series I started to shoot in my studio and it grew. I just thought about how to get more attention to grow more and reach more people so I decided to take the pictures in public. I never expected it would become such a big thing.
It’s a part of me. I stand behind the campaign with my own journey, my struggles and fights against an eating disorder, bullying and against myself… That’s how I can somehow express my own feelings and at the same time do something and help others. That’s a great feeling.
How did you go about getting the project started?
After the decision to take the pictures in public, I chose my hometown Siegen as my first location. It first was just planned as one photoshoot. I asked people I knew if they were interested in participating and made a casting call on Facebook.
In the meantime I chose the cities from where I got the most inquiries. In December many magazines and blogs around the world reported about the campaign and since then I’ve received many messages from women (and men) from so many countries asking me to bring my campaign to their city!
It is so awesome all this happened and happens. I sometimes can’t believe my little idea grew and moves so much.
In the cities, I choose places people know, famous monuments or places like the Eiffel Tower or Colosseum so you can recognize from the picture where it was taken.
Have your models found participating in the project empowering?
I’m so happy to say absolutely yes (and me too!). Every BodyLove shoot is amazing. We all meet in the morning and get to know each other. The women get a little styling and we have a lot of fun together and it often becomes emotional.
We talk, some of the participants (who are most of the time not models because I look for everyone) tell their own stories, and their way to love their bodies.
For some, BodyLove is the beginning of this journey. For others, it is another highlight or they want to show their confidence.
One time a woman who participated (she was 45) came to me after the campaign and said: “Silvana, thank you so much for having me in this campaign. It was the first time in my life I took off my clothes in front of somebody. I never did it before – not even in front of my husband. This campaign gives me so much.”
And then we both cried.
It is always a special atmosphere, even people who visited us as spectators feel it. It’s hard to describe – you have to see and feel it.
What inspired you to incorporate men into the project? Have they found it just as helpful?
I already had men in the third BodyLove shoot. I know men who also struggle with their bodies. And I received messages from men who asked why I only take pictures of women.
Men also have problems, eating disorders or are being bullied. The media only shows tall men with muscles and full heads of hair – it puts the average guy under pressure.
I read a lot of comments and received messages from men who were thankful I also showed men in my pictures and that it helps them to feel good the way they are.
What are the reactions from the public when you are shooting photographs?
99% of the reactions are great. People smile, they applaud and cheer. Many ask the models or me what it is, they are very interested in the project. Yesterday in Dresden one woman walked by and said: “Wow, so many beautiful women! These are real women. Great!”
What was your most memorable moment of BodyLove so far?
It’s not possible to name only one. Every city is different, the people are different, everybody has his or her own story. It’s always exciting and very emotional. I love every moment of the whole campaign.
A special moment besides the photoshoot was to find my wonderful collaboration partner Happy Size, who made this journey possible. With the help of my partner I’m now able to visit cities I before only dreamed of. I’m very lucky I found them because they want to leave the campaign my campaign, they don’t want to change anything. I still plan and organise everything by myself. And that’s very important to keep it authentic.
What’s next for you and BodyLove? Do you have plans to expand it further?
I’m so happy to tell you that BodyLove will go on. The next stops will be Barcelona, Munich and Copenhagen. Other cities will follow so stay tuned!
What’s one piece of advice you’d like to give to women and young girls regarding body image or self-love?
Be more relaxed with yourself and your body. You are so much more than a number on a scale. It’s not your look that makes you a wonderful person. And often things that first seem bad turn into something very good in the end. Just look at it from another perspective.