Inga Eiriksdottir, the 5’10”, 31-year-old Icelandic plus-sized model calls yoga her beauty secret. Based in the West Village of New York City, Eiriksdottir has been modeling for more than 15 years. For the first part of her career, Eiriksdottir, like most models around the world, worked vigorously to shape-shift and shed pounds in order to meet the impossible and unapologetic beauty standards of the fashion industry. But Eiriksdottir foraged an atypical path towards success, hinged on the notion that “very few women say they love their body, and that should not be the case.”
After Ford Models dropped their plus-size division, Eiriksdottir banded together with a group of models to create a collaborative called Alda, which would aim to reimagine how young girls and agencies alike relate to the “plus-sized” woman. Alda, which has found its home in IMG Models, one of the world’s leading modeling agencies, is part and parcel of Eiriksdottir’s mission: to help young women love themselves more, and for all of us to really “figure out who we are,” without categories or labels.
Eiriksdottir’s striking beauty and genuine humility manifest most patently in her intoxicating presence and smooth, soft voice. In her delicate Icelandic accent, she describes the deep-rooted issue of the modeling world in which women, touted as the most beautiful women in the world, all seem to hate themselves. Even the term plus-size doesn’t resonate, she says. “Seventy percent of women are size 12…we clearly need to change what’s considered ‘normal.’”
The yogic tradition teaches of the impermanence of the body: In this lifetime it is seen as a conduit for the divine, a vehicle of service and devotion. For Eiriksdottir, now a certified yoga teacher and eight months pregnant with her first child, the practice has given her a refuge for peace of body and mind. Here, she shares her path as a model and yogi, along with some of the most transformative experiences of her life.
When did you come to America?
I came over from Iceland when I was 18 years old. I had started my modeling career at 15, and I came here for a job. I was supposed to stay for two weeks, but I just never left. When I came over I was still in college, where I was getting a degree in business, so as work picked up I ended up doing my degree on my own remotely.
You started modeling at a young age, how did the industry affect your sense of self-image?
When I was younger, I was a big athlete. I was on the national tennis team for Iceland, but when I started modeling in London and Paris, they told me I looked too muscular. I stopped playing tennis, and I tried to be as skinny as possible, which wasn’t natural or healthy for me. I continued to lose weight for the job, and I was happy because I knew my career would do well, but I couldn’t maintain that weight and also finish college. It was a lot. I put on some weight, and eventually I wasn’t skinny enough for high fashion anymore.
I went back and forth on whether or not I could go back to my low weight, but I just decided that that lifestyle just didn’t work for me. I studied acting for a few years and then someone told me about plus-size modeling. I started when I was 21 years old and I vowed to never diet again. Years later, and I’ve kept that promise to myself.
I’ve always been interested in being healthy and fit, but I never wanted to be skinny. To be honest, I never felt bad about my body—I was one of the lucky ones, who saw losing weight as just part of the job. When that stopped being a part of my job, I didn’t miss it at all. When you’re a model, you have to be unaffected by the people around you. You have to close out the people who are squeezing your face or pulling your hair. Part of that for me was accessing a meditative state. Even so, that type of manipulation and setting will always affect us, I just learned how to keep it in check.
When did you start practicing yoga?
There wasn’t really yoga in Iceland when I was growing up, but when I came to New York it was everywhere. I tried a class at my gym, and I felt so grounded after the big transition of moving to such a big city after being in Iceland my whole life. Eventually I found Atmananda Yoga, which really drew me in with their sequencing which opened my body in ways it never had before. That said, I really love to mix it up and try all the different studios and methods.
What other rituals do you engage in aside from yoga?
I’ve always known a lot about healthy living because of my work. At a certain point, I realized I was eating 80% of my meals out. Not only was it not the healthiest, but I also missed out on true connection to the food. One of my favorite rituals is going to greenmarkets and picking out vegetables. I love to see what I’m buying, massaging the kale, it is meditative to me. I went to the Integrative School of Nutrition to learn more about how to approach health and food holistically, and I love to keep learning new ways of inspiring myself in the kitchen and beyond.
I also did yogic meditation for a long time, but then started TM. I do it sometimes twice a day, sometimes just once, but I’m always working towards integrating it more. When I first started, I would use TM to rest, but now I see that with my connection to mantra, I can relax anytime and anywhere.
What was your inspiration behind ALDA, and what sort of impact are you most excited about making in the fashion industry?
When you start as a model, you have no control over your career—I certainly didn’t have any. When I co-founded ALDA, I wanted to help young girls regain some of this lost power. I often see this loss of power tied to loss of confidence and desire to control their weight. In the industry, women think if they are going to be skinnier they’ll be happier, but in reality, we look the most beautiful when we feel the most beautiful. In creating ALDA, we wanted more of that—more self-confidence and self-love. We were also looking for more diversity of shapes and sizes, in an industry in which curvy girls didn’t have much opportunity.
If someone only has a few minutes per day to devote to wellness, what would you have her start with?
Connecting with yourself is probably one of the best things you can do. And it can come in many forms. Sit still, close your eyes, and meditate. Do Sun Salutations. Focus on your breath. Modern society attacks us from every direction—the news, so many people, it’s good to find some peace in your self. The happiness comes from within not from the outside. So once you find your practice, commit to it, and create a routine—keep at it! Even when you don’t want to, just do it.
Lastly, work towards figuring out who you are. In the fashion world, you’re never really good enough and there’s always something. Even when I was “skinny” they wanted my teeth whitened. The beauty industry is selling this idea that we’re all not enough. Once you can get away from that, whether you’re a model or not, you’ll find that you’re perfect the way you are. Surround yourself with great people who feel the same.
Photos by Hailey Wist