Earlier this summer SI Swimsuit model Myla Dalbesio approached our editorial team with the idea of producing a candid series of photographs and interviews with her model peers (as well as herself), all to be done virtually. Back in July, she delved into this creative process, photographing herself at home along with pondering a series of thought-provoking questions. Here Myla kicks off the project with this thoughtful, telling and relatable self-interview.
What did you learn about yourself during quarantine?
I’m a real planner. Planning is how I deal with my anxiety - if I can plan for something to happen, I can make sure it doesn’t harm me. Coronavirus was a situation no one could plan for. One of the most challenging parts was knowing there was no real way to get concrete answers about what the future would look like. Living in limbo was a very uncomfortable feeling for me. I learned to accept that I can’t predict everything and that I don’t have to hustle at every moment. It made me think more about what I really want out of life. The times I felt most at peace during quarantine were moments where I could be immersed in nature, and I realized that’s what I really want in my daily life.
I also became closer to my friends and family, and that helped me shake off the feeling that I am the only person I can rely on when the shit hits the fan in life.
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And I learned how to make sourdough.
When you feel upset, what are things you do to comfort yourself? How do you find your calm?
I love being in nature. The most cleansing, comforting thing for me is being able to get into the ocean or go for a hike. Having a backyard and working in my garden helped me keep my sanity during quarantine. Digging my hands into the dirt is such a centering, grounding experience, and growing something from a seed almost makes you feel like you’ve performed magic.
Talking through things with my therapist also makes a huge difference. Sometimes there is no real resolution that can come of your situation, but just being able to talk about how it’s making you feel makes a big difference.
Tell us about a moment of struggle in your life, and how overcoming it has affected who you are today.
I moved to New York alone at 18, and my dad died shortly after. He had been sick for a number of years, so I was already pretty practiced in my independence and self-sufficiency. But my mother had passed when I was a child, so when my dad died I felt completely rudderless. Even though I’d been supporting myself for a while, my safety net had totally disappeared, which was terrifying. I dropped out of college and went to work full-time, but I’ll never forget the panic I felt knowing that I had nothing to fall back on if something happened.
I found the cheapest apartment I could, and the day I moved in I sat on the floor of the bedroom and cried. Everything about the apartment felt terrible. The floors were warped, the old carpet was lumpy, the neighborhood felt dangerous, and I was trying to kick an unhealthy Adderall habit (prescribed to me in college, and quickly consumed in increasingly abusive ways), so I hadn’t had a real night of sleep in weeks, maybe months. It felt as if the floor could open up at any second and swallow me whole, along with the roaches and the peeling paint. But it didn’t. The lumpy carpet just kept laying there, I kept living (the roaches, too), and eventually I stopped renewing my Adderall prescription and started saving money. Things got better incrementally. I moved into a better apartment. I kept saving money. Now I’ve built my own safety net. But from feeling for so long like the only person you can fall back on is yourself, the low-level panic lodges itself very deep inside you. I don’t know if I’ll ever shake my anxiety about work or money. It limits my ability to enjoy my successes because I’m always concerned about what is coming next as if I could lose everything if I relax too much. But the flip side is that I’m ambitious, I’m responsible, I’m hard to take advantage of. And I’m always working to find a better balance.
What are the best lessons you learned from your parents/family?
My mom gave me my feminist spirit, and my dad gave me my sense of humor and my deep sense of responsibility.
Is there a rule you live by?
Never check a bag at the airport. Well, unless you absolutely have to, because you’re going on a month-long vacation, or bringing amazing bottles of wine home from somewhere. Or, of course, if they force you to. In all other situations, never ever check. And get to the airport early.
What is your zodiac sign, and do you feel as if you embody the traits associated with your sign? Why?
I am a Cancer, and I think I really embody that sign. I feel very deeply committed to my womanhood, and I really thrive as a mother figure and caregiver. I am incredibly sensitive to other people’s emotions and feelings (sometimes painfully so), and I am a true homebody. I love to travel and experience new places, but my most favorite place to be is my home.
What things are you most afraid of?
My dog getting hit by a car. My sister dying before me. Losing everything and being unable to pay my mortgage.
What is one thing you really love about yourself?
I am an amazing cook. I love trying new recipes and discovering new cooking techniques, but what I really enjoy is taking on one ingredient or practice and attempting to master it. During quarantine, I learned a lot about fermentation and made things like sourdough, kombucha and kimchi. I’m starting to get into foraging now as well, finding wild produce out in the woods and bringing it home to cook!
What’s your biggest vice?
Foooooooood. My whole mood can (and will) be changed by food. Want to cheer me up? Give me food. Want to make me mad? Deny me food. I will try anything once, and I love it all, from Michelin stars to Taco Bell. Chocolate cake donuts. Frozen cocktails. Spicy Doritos.
And the Real Housewives franchise. I love Bravo, and I watch it more than I’d like to admit. I’m a person who needs noise in the background of my daily life, so I’ll often have old seasons of Real Housewives playing for hours on end while I get stuff done around the house. Their petty drama keeps me company.,
If you could change something about yourself, what would you choose?
I often wish I had more patience. If something annoys me, it is immediately obvious to everyone, and I feel like I can’t control my reaction sometimes. It’s like the bitch inside me just bubbles up, and there’s no way for me to mellow out. I’m working on it. Sometimes I try to remember that video of Stormi waiting for the bowl of candy and singing “patience, patience, patience.”
Choose a rose and thorn (the best thing and the worst thing) from your modeling career.
Playing “Rose and Thorn” is one of my favorite games! We always do it on New Year’s Eve, and I always start with my thorn (gotta end on a high note). My thorn would be the years I spent struggling to find a place within the industry at my size. When I was first scouted, all the agencies I met with told me I had had to lose 10-15 pounds to get anywhere. A couple of years later, when I signed to my first agency as a plus-size model at a size 8, I was told to gain weight. At that time there was no market for a model to be anything but straight size (0-2, maybe 4 at the very most), or plus size (12 and above). Being an average, in-the-middle size meant I wasn’t truly part of either category and as a result, I really struggled. It has only been within the past couple years that women of truly ALL sizes have come to be featured widely. Fighting for years to make that happen was incredibly difficult.
My rose is tied quite tightly to my thorn. The best thing I’ve experienced in my modeling career is breaking through those barriers for women at the in-between sizes. The most amazing thing is hearing from women who say that they finally feel represented when they see me in the media. To know that I can help anyone learn to love themselves and their body is the greatest gift. If you never see yourself represented anywhere, it’s incredibly difficult not to find fault with yourself. Only when we feel that representation can we feel like we are really accepted and appreciated. I’m so happy to know that I can help women feel that way.
What, if anything, do you think needs to change in the fashion industry?
We have come so far to finally seeing diversity in front of the camera. Opportunities for women of all sizes and ethnicities abound now. We see disabilities represented like never before. Age seems to be the final frontier. We need to learn to embrace and celebrate aging, rather than fetishizing and commodifying youth. It still feels like there is an age limit in the lifespan of a model’s career, and it’s highly problematic. I want to see more women in their 40s and 50s in fashion and advertising.
Another huge issue we face is incorporating the diversity we see in photos into the crews behind the camera. We need to see more female photographers and crew, and more people of color in positions of power. It’s easy to book a model for a day or two, but brands and publications need to commit in a much deeper way behind the scenes.