From the age of 18, Liris Crosse knew that modeling was her thing—and that somehow, someway, she would make it. Fast forward a decade later and Crosse, now 30, is a pioneer in the fashion industry for full-figured and African-American models. Gracing the pages of magazines, acting in music videos and hosting events, she is now back in the forefront as one of the faces of the new Ashley Stewart spring fashion campaign nationwide.

Voluptuous and curvy, Crosse went through an intense journey looking for her niche to fill in the modeling world. From borderline ridiculous diets for losing massive amounts of weight to finally giving up on trying to “fit in” and find her home within the plus-size modeling community, Crosse shares her experience with, and gives thorough advice to those young women aspiring to follow in her footsteps. 

EBONY: What is your journey? What’s your story?

Liris Crosse: I would say the short version would be a girl who’d always dreamed of modeling. When I was a little girl, I always wanted to model. My father was running for congressman in Baltimore, and he had a photographer come by for brochures, to take family pictures. The photographer was like, “Your daughter is so cute. Do you mind if I take some pictures of her by herself?” So he took some pictures of me by myself. When he sent some pictures of the family, he also sent a big 8×10 of me by myself, and put a little note like, “She’s really photogenic. She should model.” That started to really resonate within me.

EBONY: When did you get your first break auditioning?

LC: In high school I was in the modeling troupes and high school fashion show. Any time I could get on a runway, I would. Then I went to this company called Model Search America. They would take all the agents from all the major agencies and fly them into a town that was closest to you. They would have an open call, and if you got an invitation from an open call, they would invite you to the convention that was happening in D.C. So I got a call and my mom did some research on the company and found out they were legit, so I went.

From the convention, I got callbacks from a few great places like Seventeen magazine and Elite Models. When you get something from Elite, which is like the top agency in the world, you have to go forward with it all.

EBONY: From there, what was the process like booking work?

LC: They all loved me, but they all wanted me to lose weight. I thought, “Lose weight? I’m in shape, what are you talking about?” So I tried to lose weight, doing ridiculous stuff. Running all the time. Let me just have an orange and a chocolate milk at lunch. Let me eat a bunch of salad.

So I lost some weight, and I went back to the convention they had the next year, and I got only one callback, from the agency that was already in my area. So it was like, “What? This is crazy.” By this time I was about to graduate. But I couldn’t stop thinking about modeling. I eventually told my parents, “I want to move to New York.” I’d already enrolled in college. But I wanted to go to NY and try to model before I got too old. So they said okay. I moved on Christmas Day.

After going back to Model Search America, they told me, “You know what? You’re lovely. We want to send you to an agency that has women that are just like you.” So they sent me to Wilhemina Models. They sent me to their 10-20-size board. I went and met with my agent at that time, and she loved me and wanted to sign me that day. That was pretty amazing.

EBONY: What’s special about plus-size modeling?

LC: I think plus-size modeling is a bit more forgiving. You can start later in your career. Also, now there are people who are getting signed off of emailing their agents, or finding their agent’s emails and emailing their pictures.

EBONY: Can you compare what it’s like to be a Black model now as opposed to what it was like when you first began?

LC: I would say slowly but surely the world is becoming more colorless. But you may still hear something like, “We want White, ethnically ambiguous, Latina, Asian or Pacific Islander…” They’ll ask for everything but Black.

EBONY: Right now, you’re a part of the spring campaign for Ashley Stewart. Excited?

LC: Yes! I’m not their face per se, but they had me and another model featured in their spring campaign. They rotate the models there, so right now I’m not an exclusive face for them. But I love it.

EBONY: What advice do you have for Black women who are trying to become models?

LC: You have to understand that when you model, you open yourself up to criticism. You have to be solid in who you are, or this industry can chew you up and spit you out. They also must know that modeling is about illusion and perfection to a certain degree. So yeah, you can be beautiful, but they’re always going to find something that can be improved about you. You have to be adaptable. You get more nos than yeses and you have to be strong mentally to deal with the rejection, period.

EBONY: What’s the deal with ethnic models being “in” one season, and “out” the next?

LC: You have to understand: it happens with more than just the African-American race. Sometimes it depends on current events. It could be the style of the clothing that that designer is doing, that they’re like, “I want strong ethnic looks for this campaign.” Or “We’re going really lifestyle and classic, so we want blondes with blue eyes, and we want a Black woman, but we want her to look like a ‘classic’ Black woman, not necessarily exotic.” As fashion trends change, so do the models. So sometimes your look can be in, and sometimes it could be out, depending on what you look like.

EBONY: What’s your take on “urban modeling”? Is there a stigma against women who do the “ass shots,” and music videos?

LC: There is. When I did music videos and those magazines back in my vixen days, I had to make a conscious choice to be sexy and classy. I never danced in music videos; I acted. A lot of times I would bring my own clothes to set. One, they usually didn’t have something to fit my booty. Two, you’re not just going to say, “Oh, well, all we have is this thong bikini.” Because I’ve seen girls fall prey to that. I would literally go shop before I had a shoot and bring my own clothes. I was very conscious about what I did in those music videos. The sad thing is, there are rock stars who do music videos who have women in bikinis, and they call them models. But for some reason, their men don’t call them hoes, sluts and whores. So it kind of trips me out that our own men and women will automatically call some of these women that.

EBONY: If there is such a high stigma, why do you think women still participate?

LC: Notoriety. They become the hot girl for a moment? They’ll make some money, maybe host some parties. But it’s very short-lived. There’s a very small window. If a market is so oversaturated, you’re only going to get but so much attention. It has to be something that’s so amazing about you that you stand out. Like Amber Rose. Her haircut, her look and her shape made her stand out. Melissa Ford was just a unique beauty, and had a crazy body. And she has a presence to her, so that’s what made her stand out. It’s more than just being a cute girl with a hot body. It has to be presence, poise and something unique about you.

EBONY: What’s new on your plate for the future?

LC: I’m currently in the Ashley Stewart spring 2013 campaign in store windows nationwide. I have a TV show idea that I can’t go into full discussion about, but I am in the beginning stages of producing that. I do have a company that seems to be interested, so I’m excited. The power of TV can bring you so much more. If you have one million people watching you every week, you need to capitalize on that. I’m partnering with the founders of Curves Rock Weekend to bring the second annual Curves Rock Weekend in July. I just got a new acting agent, so I’m excited to get back in the swing of that! I’m excited to get more curvy images on TV. I’m also still doing my hosting. I may be a spokesperson for a hair brand as well, coming up soon. But people can stay tuned with any- and everything that I have going on with my Twitter, my Instagram and my website,