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Rising Star Sarah Hamel-Smith: “At first, people will not understand what you are doing; Do it anyway, don’t worry about other people’s approval”

At first, people will not understand what you are doing- do it anyway. Don’t worry about other people’s approval.
When I first started my blog and Instagram, a lot of people in my community were gossiping and saying terrible things. I was creating a brand and a forum to speak about issues I thought were important but at first people that knew me from before didn’t get it. People also told me it was impossible to achieve the goals I had set out for myself. Now they come up to me and congratulate me on the work I’m doing.

As a part of my series about social media stars who are using their platform to make a significant social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Hamel-Smith.

Sarah is a New York based plus sized model, digital influencer and storyteller represented by TRUE Model Management. She has a deep understanding and passion for the plus sized consumer and love for humanity in all its various forms. After being body shamed for many years she decided to be one of the people who changes the way beauty is defined in society.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I left my corporate job working in Energy communications and I wanted to do work that was meaningful, but I had no idea what that would look like.

I came to New York City and was taking a course at NYU and a woman came in to speak to the class about Influencer marketing, which is something I had never heard of before. I raised my hand and said, “do you work with plus sized influencers?” She said “Of course! I’m so sick of the faces I have. You’ve got great style, if you had enough followers I would use you for my brands.” And then the whole class screamed in a chorus, “Sarah, you should be an Influencer!”

I left the class feeling totally confused and looking onto Bryant Park I said “Universe, if this is what you want for me then you send me the resources.”

I called up a friend and asked if she knew any photographers, she said “I’m sitting next to one right now. Come meet us for a drink in Brooklyn.”

I hopped on a train, met the woman and she loved my story and said “I’ll shoot you for free!” and that’s when I started my Instagram page @thecurvytrini

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?

Through my influencer work, I was signed with TRUE Model Management and able to move from my tiny island of Trinidad and Tobago to New York City, which has snowballed into a lot of amazing and wonderful experiences. I’ve spoken at NYU as a subject matter expert in Influencer Marketing, presented a TEDX talk entitled “Social Media Can Create A More Inclusive Standard of Beauty.” I’ve modeled on Good Morning America and been featured at InStyle Magazine’s plus-sized street style gallery during New York Fashion Week. I’ve also gotten to execute social media campaigns for many major fashion brands including Tommy Hilfiger at Macy’s, Eloquii, and Aerosoles, and to name a few.

Many miracles have happened through this Influencer work, but the best part is when I get messages from my followers sharing that the stories I tell have helped or impacted them in a positive way. That’s always the most wonderful and interesting part for me.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I was first starting out and had around 500 followers a brand reached out to me and said they would like to collaborate and I was so excited I told all my friends. I was so proud that a brand wanted to work with me.

After I agreed, they told me I had to buy the product (which costed about $150) and they would repost my photo on their Instagram page which had a lot of followers so I chose an item and bought it.

When the item came in was so small I couldn’t even get it on my body, the size chart was crazy and the product was very poor quality. I ended up throwing it away.

I learned through this experience that any brand that asks you to buy the product or pay for shipping for “free product” is a scam. Creating content takes a lot of hard work, time, and effort. Brands should at the very least gift your product.

The lesson I learned from this experience is not to devalue myself and accept any offer that comes my way. It taught me to be a lot more discerning when it comes to the brands I choose to work for and align with.

Ok super. Let’s now jump to the core focus of our interview. Can you describe to our readers how you are using your platform to make a significant social impact?

Social media is a powerful tool. The way I use my platform to create a social impact is two-fold- firstly I create and share content that is positive and motivational in nature and secondly I build relationships with brands and other influencers which I then bring together for projects that help others.

Social media gets a bad rep- I’ve chosen to use my medium for something good.

Instagram has provided me with a platform to empower others. I create imagery to help desensitize people from seeing plus-sized women in fashion and I tell thought-provoking stories in my captions to inspire and empower others to be kinder to themselves and gentler to their bodies.

I am also a motivational speaker and had the privilege of being able to present a TEDx talk where I was able to share my personal journey of how social media positively impacted my perspective of myself and my body, as well as contribute to the creation of a new and more inclusive standard of beauty.

In 2018 I co-produced an event with another blogger named Urszula Makowska as well as renowned NYC events producer Catherine Schuller called #BloggersGiveBack

The event was formulated through recognizing a need for applying a social responsibility, diversity, and sustainability component to Blogging/Influencer Marketing. Bloggers have a reputation for being selfish and self-centered and this isn’t true about everyone, we wanted to change the conversation.

The team hosted a highly curated and diverse group of 200 of New York City’s top influencers and bloggers, models, and celebrities including the host of MTV’s show Catfish Nev Schulman with a combined global reach of well over 20 million. Attendees were asked to bring new clothing that they were gifted with to donate.

We were able to provide hundreds of pounds of quality clothing to Housing Works (a New York City-based non-profit fighting the twin crises of AIDS and homelessness).

Through this event, we wanted to re-define the term “Blogger/ Influencer” as being someone who only works for their own benefit, to being someone who uses their platform to affect positive change in society.

We intend to host more events like this again in the future.

I’m also involved with an organization called Fashion Week Brooklyn which seeks to provide exposure and opportunities for up and coming designers and models. I help connect them with brands I’ve built relationships with to provide support for the cause.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by this cause?

When I finished presenting at TEDxYouth@HCCS, a little girl came up to me and said “I want to show this to my mom so she can know her body is good.”

Another little girl came up to me and said, “You’re plus sized. I am plus sized too! You inspire me.”

So much pain and suffering takes place in the world because we have been fed an impossible standard of beauty. Bodies come in all shapes, abilities, sexualities and sizes and they are all good and worthy.

When I went home I sobbed thinking about these little girls and was so thankful that message reached them at such a young age.

Was there a tipping point the made you decide to focus on this particular area? Can you share a story about that?

I’ve always approached life from a perspective of what can I give versus what can I get. I also believe the experiences we have in life when shared, can also help others to feel less alone.

Growing up I was body-shamed a lot and didn’t have access to clothing that fit my body and that was a very shameful and de-humanizing experience.

One day I was scrolling through Instagram and discovered the #BOPO and found a group of plus-sized women who were wearing beautiful clothes and I realized for the first time that nothing was wrong with my body, but the clothing I had access to.

I had an “aha” moment and I wanted to help create that similar awakening for others.

Even though there were a lot of people “in real life” that was plus-sized, I never saw people with bodies like mine being represented in pop culture as something good or beautiful. Body conversations usually centered around shame, self-hatred, and losing weight.

I realized with social media we do not have to rely on big media houses to define what is beautiful. We can create this definition for ourselves. We can use social media to connect with each other and create positive shifts in pop culture. I wanted to help create a change so that is why I chose to focus on this particular area.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Community: Build relationships with those in your community, even if they may look or seem different from you. Help the less fortunate (both people and animals) in whatever way you can, even if it’s something as small as holding the door for an older lady or giving a sandwich to a homeless person. People think charity involves a lot of effort or money but it doesn’t at all. If we each helped and took care of our own little area, the world would be a much better place.

Society: Support brands and companies that exhibit diversity and inclusivity in their campaigns and offer inclusive sizing. Big companies care mostly about profits. If we can show them that this is the type of content and product ranges we want and buy from, then that’s what they will create and offer.

Politicians: Advocate for diversity and inclusivity training and laws that protect humanity in all its forms; not only in the board room but also in the class room. It is important for a culture of acceptance and inclusion of all body shapes, types, colors, sexualities and abilities to be systematically inculcated from a young age and at all levels of society.

What specific strategies have you been using to promote and advance this cause? Can you recommend any good tips for people who want to follow your lead and use their social platform for a social good?

As I mentioned before, I approach advancing my cause from a perspective of what I can give versus what I can get. I think a lot about how others would benefit from the cause and lead with that. I create content that people can profit from and connect with.

Life is a numbers game and power is also in numbers. In order to be successful it’s all about building relationships. Social media provides direct access to people who otherwise may be impossible to find. I spend a lot of time researching and reaching out to various brands and people who I want to connect with; of course, I get ignored and rejected but it is also surprising how much support you can get for a cause by just reaching out and asking kindly.

I would say to those thinking about using their platform for social good, if you have a cause in your heart, don’t be afraid. Just start creating and go after it. There are so many people throughout the world who use social media. There will be others out there who connect with your content. Create what you want with an authentic voice and others will find you and follow.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

1. At first, people will not understand what you are doing- do it anyway. Don’t worry about other people’s approval.
When I first started my blog and Instagram, a lot of people in my community were gossiping and saying terrible things. I was creating a brand and a forum to speak about issues I thought were important but at first people that knew me from before didn’t get it. People also told me it was impossible to achieve the goals I had set out for myself. Now they come up to me and congratulate me on the work I’m doing.

2. It takes time. Keep working and be patient.

When I first started out I would check my follower count every single day and get very anxious and frustrated if it wasn’t growing or if I wasn’t getting as many “likes” as I wanted. All that does is create stress and anxiety. Building a brand and gathering subscribers and followers takes time and patience.

3. Ask for what you want and be professional about it
With the advice of a friend I decided to create a media kit highlighting my stats and the brands I’ve worked for, showcasing what I bring to the table and started reaching out to much bigger brands and to my surprise I started getting to work with them and sometimes even got paid for the content I created. I may not have previously been on the radar of those brands, but by reaching out I was able to be considered for opportunities.

4. Look Out for Scams- Anyone who asks you for money or to buy a product (or even pay for shipping) is a scam.
As I mentioned before I was swindled by a “brand” in my early days. Brands benefit greatly from the exposure they get through influencer marketing. They don’t have to hire a photographer, makeup artist, stylist etc. to get beautiful content. Don’t work for free or sell yourself short. And definitely don’t pay!

5. Build Strong Relationships
When I first started working with brands I would just focus on that single collaboration and then move on. Eventually, I realized I could build relationships with the brands or PR people which could one day evolve into other things. Instagram is not going to be the cool thing forever but the relationships you build with people can last a lifetime.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to create a formal non-profit organization that provides quarterly opportunities for Influencers and Bloggers to give back to society. The events would bring awareness to a different cause or provide assistance to a different underserved group in various communities throughout the world each time.

Ideally, the events would be funded by brands and the bloggers would bring the donations or provide the labor and work together to help others. As Influencers, we have massive audiences who are very interested in what we do/ wear/ say. I think it would be so powerful if we used our voices (and our cameras) not only to work with brands to promote products and services but also to align with causes that resonate with us. It would be easy for the brands to write off the sponsorship money as an act of charity, and the non-profit would handle all the logistical arrangements as well as outreach to influencers to sign on.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” ― Robert Schuller

I had a little magnet on my fridge with this written on it and I would read it to myself every day when I was trying to achieve what seemed at the time impossible. So many times in life we don’t even try because we are afraid of failing. We don’t even ask because we are afraid of being told no. I come back to this quote often because it helped me to imagine and at least try for the impossible, and a lot of seemingly impossible things have happened in my life since I adopted this way of thinking.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Oprah Winfrey without a doubt. She is one of the greatest humanitarians who ever existed in my opinion. She is so very beautiful and kind, and genuinely empowers others. Having lunch with her would literally be a dream come true.

How can our readers follow you on social media?
They can follow me here:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thecurvytrini/

Blog: http://www.thecurvytrini.com/
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC38vwnZI3EPK1hb7M4UJQHA

And they can check out my TEDx talk here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSIqup0p7Ac

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!


Rising Star Sarah Hamel-Smith: “At first, people will not understand what you are doing; Do it… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.