Model Joan Smalls on Growing Up: “I Had Skinny Legs. In Puerto Rico That is Not a Good Look.”

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Model Joan Smalls left Puerto Rico to move in with her aunt in Queens, New York and become a model -- but she still has Puerto Rican pride. Here we chat with her about her homeland, growing up, and her “skinny legs.”

Were you into fashion growing up?

“A little. I was kind of a tomboy growing up and I went to public school, so we wore uniform everyday. My only fashion trick was wearing my skirt short, and that would get me in trouble.”

Who is your style icon?

I don’t have a style icon. I appreciate people’s individual style. You find inspiration in others. I appreciate their beauty.”

As a younger girl, you dressed in uniform, but besides that what did you wear?

“I wore jeans, sandals, tee shirts in vibrant blues and yellows, reds.”

What color was your uniform?

Blue, white and black. A plaid skirt in various styles and pleats. My mom put in little pockets inside my vest and on my skirts.”

Did you wear knee high socks?

No, I would wear my socks below the knee. I would double my socks because I had such skinny legs and in Puerto Rico that is not a good look."

At what age did you learn to appreciate your slender figure?

Around 15, I discovered that there were actually models who had my body and that it was normal and ok. My mother always encouraged [me] and told me to pay no mind to the teasing of other children.”

Do you go back to Puerto Rico often?

About three times a year. I always return home, because it’s so breath-taking and beautiful. Growing up in that environment doesn't give you the chance to fully appreciate the beauty of it, but going back now I do learn to enjoy it. It brings me so much peace and serenity.”

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About this author

Verky Arcos, Fashion Director

A  writer and editor with expertise in fashion and lifestyle coverage, Verky Baldonado is currently Latina magazine's Fashion Director. Baldonado has written Latin-inspired travel and food related content and has contributed to celebrity Q&As, red carpet video interviews, and the annual “Reasons to Love Being Latina” feature. Verky is U.S.-born and of Ecuadorean and Puerto Rican descent who speaks and writes fluent Spanish. Prior to Latina, Verky worked as a photo shoot coordinator at Universal/Island Def Jam Music Group. Verky holds a B.A. in Communications Arts from Montclair State University and currently resides in Manhattan with her husband and daughter.

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