Precious Lee on 'refusing to be put in a box' as a Black curve model: 'I know my power'

·3 min read
Precious Lee reflects on her rise as a Black curve model. (Photo: Getty Images)
Precious Lee reflects on her rise as a Black curve model. (Photo: Getty Images)

You likely recognize Precious Lee from her appearances on major runways, magazines and now the cover of Elle. But before the curve model took the fashion industry by storm, the Atlanta native was working against an outdated beauty standard to make it.

"I leaned into understanding and knowing like, 'I know my power. You may not know my power yet,'" Lee tells the magazine, reflecting on moments earlier in her career when she wasn't booking jobs. "'I don’t have to force you to see. You’re going to see it.'"

One of those moments notably came after she moved from the South to New York City after signing a deal with Ford Models. Even with agents helping her to get her foot in the door, she faced discrimination from casting representatives asking about her ethnicity. One meeting ended soon after she told the potential clients that she is African American.

"I have been real when it has not been to my immediate advantage," she said.

Lee recalls the challenges she's faced in the modeling industry. (Photo: Adrienne Raquel for Elle magazine)
Lee recalls the challenges she's faced in the modeling industry. (Photo: Adrienne Raquel for Elle magazine)

Embracing her background is a huge part of Lee's mission as a model, stemming from her days at Clark Atlanta University, one of the country's Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), where she was chosen to walk in a homecoming show as a freshman.

"It was nuts. You have all these super-fashionable kids who have all these crazy perspectives on fashion, and you get them in one space," she told Elle, noting that it was a honor to be recognized for her fashion sense at the time.

More importantly, she had her first chance to represent curvy young women who hadn't seen themselves in that space otherwise. It gave her the "experience of feeling how magical it could be to represent so many people in that space, because even though it was a Black school, I was the only freshman curve model," she explained. "I just remember feeling so inspired."

From there, Lee worked to pursue opportunities in the modeling space and ultimately put her dreams of going to law school on the back burner when she decided to build a career in fashion in NYC.

"That was one of the most spiritual decisions that I feel like I made in my adult life — to really take that leap," she said. "To say I’m a full-time model after spending thousands of dollars on college. That is a huge risk. Especially being a size 12, 14. Having dark skin, not coming from nepotism. There were so many different things that were aligned for me to have 'a struggle.'"

But from experiences in childhood, notably when she was first assigned as the bottom of her cheerleading team's pyramid because of her height and size, where she fought to prove that she was destined for something greater, Lee wasn't afraid of the challenge.

"[It was] my version of refusing to be put in a box," Lee said of convincing her cheerleading coach to put her at the front of a routine. "I was like, 'There's no way.'"

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