• Jesi Taylor Cruz. Courtesy photo.

Michigan’s Poppin: A Closer Look at Prim-n-Poppin Model Jesi Taylor Cruz

By |2021-02-22T10:03:30-05:00February 17th, 2021|Entertainment, Features|

It’d be easy to assume that Jesi Taylor Cruz’s lifelong dream was to be a part of the fashion industry. After all, they’ve modeled for Vogue and been featured in Allure and Glamour. But the Michigan native said that they have long felt ostracized by the “traditional” — white, cisgender — beauty standards idolized by traditional fashion media. Growing up in Union Pier, Cruz felt the combination of their nonbinary and pansexual identities, their experiences being bullied for their vitiligo, and struggles with bulimia made modeling seem like a distant fantasy.
“Fashion was never really my goal, but I did always have an interest in having some part in changing what representation looked like when it came to vitiligo,” says Cruz, now based in New York with years of modeling under their belt. “So, I didn’t know how that would happen, what that would look like, how I would even get involved, because I knew that whole industry, that whole world, wasn’t in a place that I technically belonged.”
Modeling came into Cruz’s life by chance not long after they had moved to New York. One day, when they were out shopping for books at NYC’s famous Strand Bookstore, unprompted, a woman from diverse role model platform StyleLikeU approached Cruz and invited them to be a part of a beauty series on vitiligo.
“I met them and did a series with them for Allure magazine where I was just talking about vitiligo and beauty and bullying and stuff like that. And it was in doing that where they were like, ‘Hey, you should really consider modeling. You have an interesting story, and the way that you talk about some of these things could be really good if you were to enter the industry in some way,'” Cruz says.
It wasn’t long after that Cruz found We Speak Model Management, an inclusive modeling agency that pledges to actively fight against tokenism, systemic racism, fast fashion and unequal wages. They applied, were accepted, and, for the first time, fashion seemed accessible. Cruz is still with We Speak today.
“They’re literally aiming to change not only the face of the industry but really change the values and the mindset and the belief systems of the people in these industries so that the focus is less on perpetuating harmful stereotypes and dangerous norms,” Cruz says, referencing the company’s mission. “So that more of the media that we consume really reflects what the world actually looks like.”
Since joining, Cruz said they feel lucky that We Speak gives them a voice to turn down modeling gigs for brands that might perpetuate noninclusive ideals, harm the environment or otherwise promote systems of oppression. That’s why, when Cruz learned of the Prim-n-Poppin campaign that sought to bring inclusivity to vintage ’70s ads, they hopped on board.
“There are so many deliberate choices made in marketing and advertising that essentially are just perpetuating harmful ideas about ‘beauty’ and what people are supposed to look like and what bodies are supposed to look like,” Cruz says. “It’s so deliberate, but it’s also so normal, that these ads will just fly by us and we won’t even stop to think that what they’re really doing, at the core, is getting us to change things about ourselves to fit some ridiculous beauty standards that are not only antiquated but just actively being pushed out the door.”

Read more about Prim-n-Poppin here. Find out about Cruz online at jesi-taylor.org.

About the Author:

Eve Kucharski
As news and feature editor at Between The Lines, Eve Kucharski's work has spanned the realms of current events and entertainment. She's chatted with stars like Wanda Sykes, Margaret Cho and Tyler Oakley as well as political figures like Gloria Steinem, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel. Her coverage of the November 2018 elections was also featured in a NowThis News report.