Culture / People

Our May beauty cover star Mia Dennis on her South African roots, falling in love with modelling, and finding comfort in her own skin

When the RUSSH team caught their first glimpse of the beauty shoot from our May 'Tempo' issue, shot by Hannah Scott-Stevenson, and styled by Hannah Cooper, there came over us a hushed reverence. The images, diffused in light and depicting the angelic silhouette of model Mia Dennis, were mesmerising in their candour; Dennis's gentle repose and soft gaze taking tender hold of us. Dennis, who heralds from Cape Town, South Africa, has that effect – a likely reason why she was a fixture on AAFW 2023 runways this year, and a muse to designers like Gary Bigeni.

Dennis is someone who stumbled into modelling, never intending to make a career for herself in the fashion industry. But once she was in, she was in wholeheartedly – and now she's ready to take it by storm. We spoke with Dennis about her South African roots, finding space for herself in an industry that's long-struggled to encompass diverse bodies, and where she would like to go from here.


What made you want to get into the modelling and fashion space? Was this a conscious choice or something you fell into?

I was scouted and signed to a boutique agency in 2016 in my hometown, Cape Town, South Africa, but never took it too seriously. When I moved to Australia in 2018, I had no intention of getting into the modelling industry. Although I had thought about it, I never actively pursued it.

When I moved to Sydney and was starting to make friends, I happened to connect with some budding photographers who wanted to photograph me. I started saying yes, as it was a way for me to make friends, and I ended up loving it. The friends that I had made kept telling me to pursue modelling and eventually I started thinking about it more and more. My friend Basjia Almaan encouraged me to send my digis to Bella Management, and so I did. I didn’t hear back from them and left it at that. A few months later, in 2020 I was talking with a friend, coincidentally the first person who photographed me in Sydney. I expressed how I was ready to get back into the modelling industry and the very next day I received a message from Bella Management wanting to sign me. It was definitely an industry I fell into and once I did, it felt right. When I felt I was ready, I feel I consciously manifested being part of it.


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How has the modelling industry differed from your initial perceptions of it?

I was always a bigger girl and growing up in the early 2000s and 2010s, the tail end of ‘heroin-chic’, the peak of Tumblr and the obsession with the thigh gap, I never really felt there was space for me in the modelling industry. In the mid-late 2010s I started to see more diversity in the fashion industry, and I started to feel more confident and comfortable in my skin. However, I still didn’t feel that there was space for me as a model. This changed when I got signed and started getting booked for jobs, I realised that there was certainly space for me in this industry and it became apparent that I could pursue a career in this space, as there is an absence of representation of bodies like my own.


What’s been an unexpected challenge in your career as a model?

The inherent fatphobia in the industry and I guess too, society at-large. There is a certain type of ‘plus-size’ body the industry and I am very aware that my body does not fit this mould. It has been very challenging to combat this as it is so deeply entrenched into the industry. There are very limited designer options and clothing options in general for bigger models, which limits the amount of styling options. It’s very challenging to do my job well when limitations around sizing etc. are still so prevalent. I have had many terrible experiences where clothes don’t fit, or the samples are ill-fitting. These experiences have been dehumanising and embarrassing.


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What’s been the biggest blessing?

The biggest blessing is being able to create magic with and meeting all the creatives who are actively making the industry more inclusive. I’m so grateful for these creatives who have been involved in my career-defining jobs, such as my feature in RUSSH. Having these people surround me and enable my story to be heralded, is just so special. It is through these achievements that change is made, and the parameters are broadened. These moments remind me why I love being in front of the camera.


What would you like to do more of in the fashion and modelling space?

I would love to be involved in more styling and casting. There is a huge gap in the industry in the sense that there aren’t a lot of stylists and brands that have the expertise to style and cast larger bodies. This is a gap I hope to close.


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You can read Dennis's guide to her favourite size-inclusive fashion brands and see her gracing our beauty cover from our May 'Tempo' issue.

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Images: one, two.