Hayley Hasselhoff: I was bullied for being an overweight Hollywood kid... now I'm launching my own plus-size collection
Nobody ever forgets being bullied at school – and plus-size model Hayley Hasselhoff had a rougher ride than most. “I was picked on a lot as a child,” she says.
Despite growing up within a privileged A-list family, the daughter of ex-Baywatch star David ‘The Hoff’ Hasselhoff struggled to fit in. “I was always aware I never looked the same as other girls. I had boobs before anyone else and wore a bra from the age of nine. I found it all very uncomfortable.
“One time that most stands out is during a dance at school. I heard this boy say, ‘I got the fat girl.’ Afterwards, I told my mother, ‘Don’t ever make me go again.’ It was awful. But I just wasn’t formed the same way as everyone else.”
Now aged 24 – a decade after she was signed up as a teenager by a plus-size modelling agency – you could say Hayley is having the last laugh. When we meet, California-born Hayley has just unveiled her first collection for British plus-size fashion retailer, Elvi.
Dressed head-to-toe in a flowing white shirtdress (one of her own designs), she is radiant in the flesh, with flawless skin and sharp green eyes. She wears a UK 16, but at 5ft 7in hardly looks ‘plus-size’ at all. “Thank you,” she nods. “I totally see myself as normal-sized.”
A seismic shift is happening in the fashion world, with the plus-size sector worth an estimated £5.4billion in the UK last year. Key brands such as River Island, M&S and eBay are expanding their “curvy” collections, while social media campaigns such as #WeWearWhatWeWant and #EffYourBeautyStandards have rapidly gained traction, too.
Meanwhile, Hayley’s model agency, Milk Management, was the first in the UK to establish a plus-size roster of talent – with Tess Holliday, the world’s first size-26 supermodel, also on its books.
Ive worked with a plus-size model who often runs marathons – she is a prime example of how you can’t dictate someone’s stamina and ability based on their looks.Hayley Hasselhoff
“The number of bigger girls on the catwalk is ever-growing,” says Hayley. “When I was 14 and starting out, there was nothing, but now there’s so much plus-size on the high street – even in high fashion.”
Earlier this month, designer Victoria Beckham came under fire for using ultra-skinny models during her New York catwalk show – but, ironically, Hayley says Posh has been a big influence on her work.
“I aspire to be her, because she started from ground zero and built her way up to a couture line. That’s what I want to do, and it’s why I’m working with Elvi. I love clean lines and want everything to be chic and simple. That often doesn’t come through in plus-size.”
As for accusations that Beckham’s use of very slim models endorses so-called “anorexic chic”, Hayley says: “It’s tricky. Some of those girls are naturally that thin. I’d also never dictate the creative that another designer uses.”
But what about the models who admit starving themselves for work? “It’s unbelievably terrible. And we definitely need more talks about that to protect those girls.”
A few years ago, one model agent told Hayley she was “unrecognisable” because she’d gained weight. “I told her, ‘Measure me. I will get naked if you want me to.’ So she did – and I’d gained half an inch. I felt I’d let myself down. It shows how it’s cutthroat in plus-size, too, just like in regular modelling.”
Predictably, the rise of outsize has been blamed for promoting obesity; a view Hayley dismisses. “You can’t judge someone’s health unless you’re their doctor,” she says.
“I’ve worked with a plus-size model who often runs marathons – she is a prime example of how you can’t dictate someone’s stamina and ability based on their looks. But you have to be tough in this industry.”
Hayley says her whole family are “very proud” of her new fashion range. “Dad called me yesterday and said, ‘You did it!’ He knows I’ve wanted to design my own line since I was a little girl.”
Aside from fashion, Hayley is keen to further her film career back in LA. “As a kid, I started acting classes secretly. I didn’t even tell my friends. But it’s always been very therapeutic to me, a kind of release. I’d love to work with Julianne Moore and Cate Blanchett some day. They would be the ultimate.”
While the movie world is notoriously unkind to women of a certain size, she says she doesn’t feel pressured to lose weight. “Not at all. I’ve never conformed to society’s standard of beauty.”
That said, she does live by Hollywood’s clean-eating mantra. “I’m not a foodie – I wish I was, but I don’t get excited by food. I usually eat fruit for breakfast, a chicken salad for lunch and fish and vegetables for dinner.” She must have a weakness though? “Sushi, I guess.”
Hayley maintains a a strict workout regime – “I box at home with my trainer, I go to pilates and I spin. I grew up in an active family, so it’s a way of life” – and, by rights, should probably be waif-like. She once had thyroid tests to see why she wasn’t losing weight, and discovered her build is apparently genetic.
But like most women, her weight fluctuates, too. “Sometimes I’m bigger, sometimes I’m smaller, but that’s fine. And I have bad days – everyone does. If I feel tired and puffy, I put on a good outfit and get through those days. I don’t weigh myself, but if I’m sluggish I know I need to kick my butt and get in the gym.”
Her biggest bit of advice for the curvier woman? “Undergarments are so important. Get the right fitted bra, and good Spanx. I always wear those. It’s not about slimming yourself, but smoothing yourself. I have dieted, but never for someone else – only ever for myself.”
Currently single (“and happily so”), Hayley admits that “if a guy came into my life and it felt right, I’d settle down. But right now fashion is my life. I love it, and I don’t want to stop.”