Myla Dalbesio is a Ford model who was discovered at a beauty pageant in her native Wisconsin, and quickly began hacking away at the mold for what constitutes a “normal” size. Having entered into the world of performance art with three shows in 2011—Homecoming, Homecoming: Sophomore Year, and her Young Money exhibition, a garish critique of American culture replete with booze, sex, and hip-hop—she’s quickly emerged as a multitalented force for whom even the rigid beauty standards of high fashion can’t help but bend. Here she is on the dark side of modeling, her Real Housewives addiction, and coming to New York.
You model and you’re an artist. How do you reconcile the two? Is modeling just a way to pay the bills?
Well, it started as that when I first signed. I had another job and it was just something that fell into my lap and seemed like a good way to make easy money.
It seems like that happens for most girls, right? It just falls into their laps.
I think there are a lot of girls who grow up wanting to do it, which was never really my thing because I grew up wanting to write or do art, but it just happened and I’m really grateful that it did. What started as something I didn’t care too much about became something that is really fulfilling to me. I think a lot of that comes from the people that I get to work with, and the opportunities that it has awarded me outside of just the normal stuff like, Oh, I get to travel.
Did you get discovered?
Actually, it came through the beauty pageants, which I’m sure you’re going to ask me about. I was scouted by this couple from St. Louis who had been working with the people that ran the pageant. They originally were pushing me to do straight-sized work, which didn’t work for me because I’m not that size.
When did you start making art?
As baby. My grandfather was an artist—a printmaker—so my earliest memories are of him taking my sister and I to the shop and teaching us how to do lithographs and copper etchings. Every time he came to our house he’d bring a pound of clay, or watercolor paper. I guess it’s always been my thing.
You’ve spoken about the darkness of the modeling world.
Sure, I mean, the only think I have to say about the modeling world is that, yeah, there is a lot of dark shit that happens, but that’s like 1% of it, and that 1% I find really inspiring and interesting. That’s all anyone wants to focus on, because everybody needs a story. But the reality of it is that 99% of the time, it’s fucking amazing.
Do you watch a lot of TV to research your art?
I watch Toddlers & Tiaras and the Real Housewives franchise. What I think is so interesting about the housewives is how it affects these women that are participating in these shows. A lot of it is involving the American public, and it seems like they start these shows and it’s expected that they have this house that’s this size, and these kinds of cars, and carry this bag, and they need to look this way and wear this dress. It seems like it eats them alive, and over the course of 3 or 4 seasons, which I guess translates into 3 or 4 years, it consumes them and they are crumbling in the public eye, but it’s us that did this to them.
I know that you’re tired of talking about your Young Money performance, but what is it like moving beyond such a career-defining moment?
I’m moving beyond it because I’m growing as an artist and that’s the natural process. But it’s definitely affected me outside of art. Just emotionally in my everyday life, it was a really powerful experience. You can’t go through something like that without having it change you a little bit.
Do you ever watch footage from it?
What do you think when you see it?
It’s really strange. When I’m doing a performance, it’s not me. I was looking at it the other day, and I can’t believe I fucking did that. It was one of those moments were I was like, Holy shit.
Are you guilty of any sins?
At this point in my life I’ve gotten over jealousy issues, which is really freeing. It’s part of the reason why for a while I felt uncomfortable working in the fashion industry, because it’s really easy to feel jealous. I’m sure there are a million girls out there who are completely supportive of everyone else, and that’s part of why I love working in the plus side of the industry, because it is very small and we are friends and we all really support each other. If I see someone on the cover of a magazine, I’m like, good for them. That’s fucking great. Way to go, girl. But when you’re not working as much, or when you’re not where you want to be, it’s easy to slip into that mindset of, why her and not me? Once I got past that and started focusing on other things like art, it was so freeing to not care about bullshit like that. I’d say my sin would be gluttony. I like to consume. I love food and drink and the pleasures of life. I love to relax and go to the beach and to enjoy myself. You know, just fucking enjoy what we’re given in the world.
You get a lot of attention because of your body. Was there a time when you weren’t comfortable with it?
Absolutely! Who in high school is ever really comfortable with what they are, or who they are, or what they look like? I wouldn’t say that I’m any different from anyone else in that respect, and it was hard for many years like, this is what I look like and this is how it’s going to be and there’s nothing to I can do to change it.
What about once you got into the modeling world, did that insecurity come with you?
Absolutely! It’s like, you can’t ever really shake it once it’s in your head, but I’m lucky enough to work with people that are really encouraging. There’s not one day where I go up to my agency where I don’t hear, you’re so beautiful, and you’re so great. They’re just so, so supportive; it’s almost insane. That really helps me get my mind right. And also finding other focuses is really important, well it was for me to just realize that the way you look is not everything.
Do you ever go back home? What do you think about where you came from—how do you see that place?
For a long time, it was really hard for me to go home. When I turned 18 and I finished my year of school, I was like, I’m out, I’m done, I want to get to New York. And for a few years after that it was just like, I never want to go back and it was really difficult to go and visit and I would get anxiety attacks. But growing older and overcoming whatever issues I had with family, it’s become so pleasurable to go home now.
You must have been exposed to an entirely new world here.
Oh, absolutely. The first summer I spent here, I didn’t know anyone. I had a cousin here but that was it, and I just figured it out on my own. That year was the hardest of my life, but it so shaped who I am now. It made me so tough. I wouldn’t go back, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. You gotta be tough to live in New York and I really value what it’s given to me. Everyone here is from somewhere else, and is here for the same reason. It’s like the land of misfits. It just feels like I was waiting to come here for years and I didn’t even know it.