'My body doesn't define me'

DARE’s Natalie Ticehurst talks self-love and style with Hayley Hasselhoff, actress, model and daughter of ‘The Hoff’

Hayley Hasselhoff

Photography: Sarah Brick

Being born into a Hollywood family may seem like a blessing, but it isn’t a guaranteed buffer against the almost universal adolescent experience of not quite fitting in. For Hayley Hasselhoff, whose curves came early – the star joined Ford Models’ plus-sized board aged just 14 – finding acceptance in both herself and the media has been a journey.

‘When I was signed to Ford, the industry wasn’t talking about curve and was by no means how it is today,’ Hayley explains. ‘Acting and modelling were emotional releases. They were my way to cope with what I went through as a child. I always strived to be different, which sometimes wasn’t understood.’

While Hollywood hasn’t stopped serving us up a diet of cookie-cutter, sample-sized bodies, the landscape is shifting. Once home to a homogeneous standard of beauty, the worlds of advertising and magazines are beginning to reflect society and all of its nuances.

‘The high street here is brilliant,’ Hayley beams, working her way through the rail of size-18 taffeta and tulle dresses our stylist has prepped. ‘You have places like New Look and River Island that have opened up their sizes, and it’s something to be celebrated. So many people want to put it down and say it’s not where it should be, but we have to remember where we came from.’

Indeed, the once-exclusive fashion industry has seen a seismic shift. The plus-size women’s clothing market is worth an astonishing £4.7 billion* in the UK, while body-positivity hashtags such as #EffYourBeautyStandards and #CelebrateMySize have highlighted how ready we are for the curve conversation. ‘I mean, the time for all of this should have been ages ago,’ argues Hayley. ‘There was Emme – she was one of the first plus-sized models, way before Ashley Graham’s time,’ she says of 90s supermodel Melissa Owens Miller, the first full-figured model chosen for People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People list. ‘But the media never grabbed on to it like they would have now.

‘The average size for a woman in the UK is a 16, so it should be represented. Now, I’m not saying it should only be curve – it should be all shapes and sizes – but I think people are starting to wake up. Not just during fashion week, but with shoots and articles making sure they give fashion tips to all kinds of women.

Hayley Hasselhoff wearing a light blue dress

Photography: Sarah Brick

There should be a guide for everybody who is out there – it shouldn’t be pigeonholed to just one type of person,’ she argues.

Her championing of diversity has seen Hayley rise to the role of body-positivity advocate. ‘It wasn’t deliberate – I don’t think you should ever put pressure on somebody to be a role model – it just sort of happened,’ she muses. ‘When I was 14, I had this amazing opportunity to become a body advocate because it was something that just wasn’t available out there. I learned that beauty comes in different shapes and sizes, and I became a voice for that.

‘My biggest thing is wanting people to find inspiration from my journey – not to embody it. People think that to achieve what someone else has achieved, they have to copy their journey, but the only way to actually succeed is staying true to yourself. Being unique is the most beautiful thing in this world and staying true to who you are is the best gift you could give yourself.’

It’s impossible not to feel inspired by Hayley, but despite her desire for people to embrace their individuality, the star still has her own struggles. Hayley is striking, all pillowy curves stretched on a 5ft 7in frame, with milky skin that could skip our makeup artist’s kit and still look flawless – but, like the rest of us, she has off days. ‘It’s a continuous journey – we have good body days and we have bad body days, and that only makes us human. I don’t think we’re ever going to get to
a place where we think, “Oh, I’m body confident 24/7, all day, every day”, because we’re always growing, right?’ she says. ‘Allowing yourself to grow is the strongest thing you can do for yourself, for your mental health and for your entire being.

‘I never like to use the word confident when I talk about my body. I use the word “connected” because I feel I’m very connected to my being, my self-worth and self-love, so if I’m having a bad body day, I can change my mindset, remember who I am and that my body doesn’t define me. Our body gives us so much and we often take it for granted because we have this perception of what we should look like, when really it’s about what we should feel like,’ she says.

This focus on the importance of feeling good reflects the lessons she learnt during her time as Marie Claire’s curve consultant, as well as on her segment on This Morning. ‘We get empowering women who have amazing stories – they’ve had breast cancer or fibromyalgia, or they’ve gained weight in a way where they don’t understand how to take ownership of their newfound curves. We nurture them to understand the strength that their body has given them, and show how clothing can uplift and change your mindset around your body.

‘Dressing for your shape is all about the right undergarments. Shapewear isn’t about slimming, it’s about smoothing – especially for the holiday season because you’re wearing embellished pieces and you want the garments to lie perfectly on your figure,’ she advises. ‘My other tip is to find out what style works for you. Say you love the leopard-print trend, but think, “Oh, I could never wear it how she wears it.” Then you think, “Well, trousers look best on me, so I’m going to
do that trend with a trouser.”’

When she’s not helping girls love their curves, Hayley is busy reigniting her music career and making an appearance on The X Factor: Celebrity. ‘I’ve been singing for years! When I was 11, I had a Christmas album with my dad called The Night Before Christmas, and then me and my sister had a band together called Bella Vida when I was 18,’ she recounts. ‘We toured, performed at T4 On The Beach and did the Lorraine show. I always say we were pop stars for the summer,’ she laughs. ‘Then The X Factor: Celebrity came into my life and I loved every moment of being able to connect back to my voice and being a performer.

‘I was so busy in the summer, I went from shooting a CBS series in LA straight to X Factor. I was off my social media for a good month and a half, and it was so exhilarating,’ she enthuses. ‘I think the biggest lesson that anyone should learn is that social media is great, but being present is so much better. You have one life to live – it’s not on a computer or phone, it’s in front of you. Being able to connect with other people – whether that’s talking to somebody in passing or giving someone uplifting comments – is so powerful.’

For Hayley, making room for quality time in her busy, burgeoning career is paramount, particularly as Christmas draws near. ‘As you get older, the biggest gift you can give yourself is to spend it with your family, you know?’ she smiles. ‘I’m not a present girl. It’s funny, even when I was younger I just wanted to take classes and to do projects. My boyfriend [Dominic Charles Farrell, actor and marketing director] just took me ring making, which was so interesting. Exploring, learning and trying different things – those have always been the best gifts.

‘I spent last Christmas here in the UK with my boyfriend’s family and, I mean, you guys are literally a Love Actually movie – it’s so different. In America, if you wanted to shy away from Christmas, you could. Here, there’s no way. You’re in for four days of a mad Christmas and then everything shuts down as well, so you’re stuck! I’m always glammed, though. I love a silk PJ moment, but I’ve always been that girl. Growing up, it was my dad, sister, me and my mum, and no matter if it was just us hanging around the house, I’d always be the one to come down the stairs, full glam, full heels, and everyone is like, why?! And I’m like, it’s my party, too. It’s my Christmas as well. Any excuse to dress up!’

Although everything is up in the air for Hayley, with whispers that work could mean a Christmas spent in Australia, and New Year’s Eve in Bali, one thing’s for certain – she’ll be living in the present.

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