Mapping out an imaginary route beforehand, we arrive in the golden city of Bath with the sun still smiling behind us. Making an accidental detour, we walk up a hilly road breathing deeply and exchanging prickles of talk, and before we know it we arrive in front of a Lynchian red door, press the buzzer and a few seconds later Jessica’s friendly voice let us in. A discreet woody fragrance and a groovy tune in the background fill Jessica’s cosy, naturally-lit living room overlooking the imposing Christ Church and the ascending rows of honey-coloured buildings.
Speaking vibrantly and confidently, Jessica opened up about her journey from feeling lost and being almost invisible as a teenager to becoming an outspoken healthy body image advocate, her take on the notion of “plus size” and “curvy” and why it is important to champion body positivity and diversity in the world of fashion. Taking our conversation out in the streets, we roamed around the city for a while and then stopped by Hunter & Sons for coffee and cake, where Jessica told us about the creative community in Bath, her upcoming projects and her passion for photography.
We said goodbye just as the setting sun began to cover the city in an orange, shadowy light, realising that there is no incongruity between the glamorous model on the catwalk and the self-accepting woman who feels inspired by the beauty of the winter sunlight and who loves to take photographs and explore the world.
For those who do not know you, who is Jessica Greaves?
I’m a 24 year old model and photographer living in Bath.
What is your most vivid childhood memory?
Most probably time spent with my siblings. I am the oldest of four so I used to direct mini shows with a plot and fight scenes and dramatic plot twists that we’d perform for our family. Unfortunately these are all on video somewhere and I’m certain they’re not as amazing as I remember them being!
How would you describe yourself as a teenager?
Lost. As we all probably were. Back then I desperately wanted to fit in and be invisible.
In a previous interview you mentioned that your path into modelling has been carved in by your mother, a model and actress herself. Hadn’t it been the case, what other path would you have followed?
In school I was always into media studies and drama. I very nearly went to university to study one of the two. I think I would have ended up in the back end of the modelling industry doing something behind the scenes.
What’s your take on body image and why do you think people so obsessed with size?
Unfortunately I feel it started with the modelling industry. We’ve all fallen victim to the comparison with the girls and boys you see in magazines. I find it difficult to just say “LOVE YOUR BODY” because it’s really not as simple as that. In a society where thin = good and large = bad, it’s hard to change people's perception of themselves. For me it’s about treating your body kindly. It’s a working machine, and with eating well and exercising, it not only keeps your body healthy, but also your mind, and with a healthy mind your thoughts and feelings about yourself become cleaner.
How do you feel about terms such as “plus size” and “curvy”?
I believe in them as adjectives in the real world, and I don’t believe they should have negative connotations with them. But to create it into a category and lump models into it is unrealistic in my eyes. No one model is the same, and I fall between what is deemed “straight size” and “plus size”.
You’ve been in the modelling business for several years now. How has the industry changed since you’ve started and where do you think it is heading?
The industry becomes more and more inclusive every day, which is wonderful. I’m hoping one day your worth as a model is judged, among a few other things, on your ability to sell clothes and not on your measurements or Instagram followers.
What about your acting career? What do you love the most about it?
I’ve been doing acting here and there since I was a youngster. I love portraying a character and building a whole new person from an idea that’s only ever been in someone else’s head. I’m hoping to get stuck into another acting role in 2018 because it’s been a while since I have.
What’s going through your mind when you’re modelling in front of the camera?
In a lot of ways it’s similar to acting. You’ve got people the opposite end of the camera with an idea of what they want the image to look like, and you’ve got to do your best to achieve that. You have to look believable.
Tell us about your passion for photography. How did it all start and what is your favourite subject matter?
Back in school, I used to do “photo shoots” with my friends, and we’d alternate who would take the photo and who would pose. And I have to say, they weren’t half bad! One of the shots I still use in my photography portfolio!
What kind of messages or emotions do you want your images to evoke?
I always say to people that I want to capture their personality above everything else. It’s all well and good just telling someone to stand there and just taking a picture of them, but then it’s as easily forgotten as it is easily taken. That’s why I often love to work with film, because you have to work to make sure your image is perfect.
What’s your go-to lens and camera?
I currently have a Canon 750d with a Tamron lens, a Pentax Me Super and then a handful of point and shoot film cameras.
Who or what inspires you?
This may sound strange, but I’m currently inspired by winter sunlight. I love the deep orange tones you can get when the sun is low, it gives so much more depth (quite literally, with shadows) to an image.
What was the best advice you have ever been given?
Probably to just go straight to work when the opportunity was there. I started full-time modelling in my last year of sixth form, opted not to go to university, and that was the best move I’ve made. In creativity it’s so much easier to just do it. If it works, jobs will come to you. Don’t study if you can just be doing it anyway.
What is your favourite dish?
What can we find in your wardrobe and how would you describe your personal style?
Relaxed-chic-grunge? Is that a thing? I’ll have something really sleek and dressy and will team it with my staple Dr Martens and leather jacket. I’m also trying to go with simple colours and simple pieces, like a good white t-shirt, you can’t go wrong with that.
You moved to Bath a couple of years ago. What made you choose this city and what do you love about living here?
I first visited only a year before moving here. My partner and I have a lot of friends in Bath due to his band being based here, and every time I’d visit I’d want to come back. We then ended up just browsing flats on the internet, found one that we fell in love with, and the rest was history. I adore it. I love everything from the architecture, to the independent businesses, to the fact you can drive 5 minutes outside of it and be in the countryside. It would certainly be easier for me to live in London, but it’s too big and busy for me.
What are some of your favourite places to hang out in Bath?
Hunter and Sons is a staple coffee and brunch choice. In the summer my friends and I head to the Victoria park barbecue spots.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be and why?
I’ve always said when I (figuratively) retire, I’m going to move to San Francisco, live in a colourful town house and have a dwarf cat. We’ll just have to wait and see how that goes.
What advice would you give to young girls following in your footsteps?
Honestly, do what makes you happy. I find it weird to think that someone would “follow in my footsteps” because I’ve barely been aware of my direction as I’ve been going along, but I have been very aware that everything I’ve done has been on my terms. Also, in modelling, and in any other creative job, rejection is a big part and you’re going to have to deal with it quite quickly. It’s hard not to take it to heart. I’ve been modelling for nearly 8 years and got some rejection that I wasn’t expecting recently and it got to me, no matter how thick skinned I assumed I was. Just value your worth and keep going.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a few photographic projects as well as aiming to venture into the creative side of modelling and working with photographers who’s styles are outside my comfort zone.
What are your dreams and ambitions for the future?
I’ve typed out so many answers to this last question and ultimately ‒ i’m not entirely sure. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing and staying content with it. I hope to work with good and creative people, and create a body of work I can look back on and be proud of.
Can you recommend us:
A song: A Change Is Gonna Come - Sam Cooke
A book: Another Day In The Death Of America - Gary Younge
A film: The Darjeeling Limited
Thank you, Jessica for the lovely insight into your personal and creative realms.