Name: DaQuendra Elston
Agency: State Model Management
On a balmy July afternoon most members of the Alabama State University graduating class of 2019 are working diligently behind the desks of their entry level jobs and hard-won internships; DaQuendrea Elston isn’t among them. The model and dancer is spending her post-grad summer day sitting on set chilling in her robe between looks.
In an exclusive interview with HelloBeautiful before the next take, she explained how she went from shaking her hips in one of the most impressive marching bands in the world to walking the catwalk for some of fashion’s biggest names.
The rejection that is standard in the modeling industry echoed early experiences for Elston, who started her own plus-size dance troupe in high school in the face of existing groups’ discrimination. “There was no way possible for anybody plus-size to make it,” she said. “They allowed us to audition but we knew at the end of the day that there was no way we were gonna make it.”
Giving up because of their actions was never an option for her. She explained, “In elementary, high school, college it’s always been somebody trying to knock me down and say I can’t do something cause of my size and unintentionally I always end up proving them wrong,” she said.
She maintains that she made the effort to do her own thing because of her passion and nothing else.
“I like to dance,” she stated plainly. Her ingenuity paid off when an adviser suggested she continue dancing in college as part of the Alabama State University marching band.
“He was an alumnus, so he kind of put me on and gave me information about the university and my aunt attended Alabama State University so I was familiar with the school,” she said.
She killed her audition and not long after she was ready to spend four years studying and slaying. “I made my decision after I made the team,” she noted.
Elston brought the charm and stamina she supplied to the ASU Honeybeez with her to a Torrid Model Search.
She entered the competition after being encouraged to do so by her family who were always very supportive cheering her on no matter what activity she was involved in. “I’ve always been an active plus size child. I always cheered, did dance, track field tried to stay involved,” she said.
“They hype me up like ‘go Que, go Que’,” she says about her family. “My family has always been supportive. Anything I set out to do they’ve always been there to support me. They come to the events I’m at and show their love.”
“I never thought to model. I was a tomboy growing up, so I never really was girly and took pictures. But as I got older, I did gain more confidence in myself. I loved to dress nice and look cute,” she said. The way the shift in her style highlighted her beauty led to her family pleading with her to try modeling as she gained more and more followers on Instagram with each outfit post. “Everybody was like you should model! You should go to a casting,” she said. She intentionally brushed off their suggestions but in 2017 they refused to be ignored. “Everybody on Facebook all my family and friends sent me the link.”
On the second to last day before the end of the competition her mother sealed the deal insisting that she take the two-hour drive from Alabama to Georgia and claim her spot. “She was like you better take yo’ butt down there and don’t be late!”
As her support system suspected she was a natural. She was selected as a finalist among thousands of applicants.
But while judges later admitted to her that “they knew I was special,” she did not make it out of the top ten. She chalked up the experience as a fun time and a cool free trip to the Big Apple until the company contacted her later unable to set aside the impression, she left on them.
“After the competition a couple of months later they called me back like ‘This is the people from Torrid we just like loved how you wore our pieces and we would like for you to come back and model for us. And I was just like ‘Oh my gawd! I was still in college.” Like other young women juggling the spotlight with the real world Elston refused to abandon her education.
“It was junior year and I was like this is gonna be hard, but they worked with my schedule,” she recalled.
Just as valuable as her education were the experiences, she had working with brands that wanted to appeal to fashion forward plus-size women. “Being from Alabama a country girl being able to travel to New York for the first time and Los Angeles for the first time that was something new to me and I’ve always been the type to want to go and experience new things but being a part of New York Fashion Week, never ever modeling (before) that was just mind-blowing to me.”
Elston’s energy paid off when she wasn’t on the field as well. One of her fondest memories on set is breaking out her skills at the request of her biggest client. “One time at Torrid they found out I was a dancer as a college student and that I knew how to do cartwheels and splits and everything and they was like oh my gosh do a split for the denim campaign so I had did a split for one of the photo shoots. It was crazy!”
Presenting her body in unexpected ways has had an impact in the plus-size community. She is often tagged in others images on social media sharing how she’s given the confidence to stand out.
“It makes me feel so good to know I have an influence and have people telling me I inspire them. It touches my heart. I be so happy for them,” she gushed. She revealed that the attention can be overwhelming.
“I’m just being myself,” she said. She shared that she often runs to her mother phone in hand after receiving a particularly warm message.
“Sometimes I am speechless because I really don’t know how to respond because I’m just a regular, degular, smegular girl from Alabama! I never saw myself as an influencer or an inspiration to people, but it makes me feel so good to know they see me and want to do something like me. I just hope they do whatever it is they say they want to do. I want them to be happy. It makes my day even brighter!”
Currently she is looking forward to furthering her influence by breaking the stigma surrounding plus-size bodies. She is staring to create content that centers on the journey of plus-size women as career girls and go getters instead of invisible sloths, and illicit sex symbols.
It is her goal to show women modeling, dancing, acting, and living their best lives without being restrained by their bodies, or others’ ideas about their bodies.
“There really needs to be more platforms showing what being plus-size is because many people are not aware,” she said.