When a young girl slid into Ameni Esseibi's DM's to vent about a group of boys who were bullying her at school — asking Ameni's advice on how to be more confident in this situation — the French-Tunisian model didn't hesitate to show up at the girl's school. "She was being tormented by these boys because of her looks, so I drove over there and told the principal that school is supposed to be a safe environment for girls, and for her it wasn't at that moment," she says. "The principal was like, 'Wait, who are you?'" Ameni laughs.
After recently being signed to Wilhelima Dubai, Bareface, and MA Models as the Middle East's first-ever "plus-size" model, Ameni confesses to Bazaar that her end game is less about more about fame and more about uplifting young girls. "I'm endlessly grateful for every opportunity I'm given, but at the end of the day, I want to do whatever it takes career-wise to make young girls feel more confident and loving towards themselves," she says. "The biggest accomplishment of my career so far has been all of the young girls who've reached out to tell me I've inspired them to feel more confident."
She's only a few months deep into modelling, but the 19-year-old has already set the bar high for herself and others. With aim to be what she describes as "the Arab Ashley Graham", she's already shot campaigns for regional go-tos like Namshi and Elabelz and every step of the way has been outspoken about being anti-Photoshop. "My curves and dimples look so much better when they aren't retouched and giving a false representation of what I look like, so I do everything in my power to make sure my photos aren't edited," she says, scrolling through her phone to point out photos from a recent shoot that showcased her stunningly un-retouched legs — stretch marks and all.
Photographer: Hikmat Wehbi. Makeup: Kasia Gajewska
Ameni grew up in Tunisia, France, and the UAE, so she's been torn between different beauty standards her entire life. "I mostly grew up in a French environment where they're all blonde and thin, and I was this tanned, curvy, completely different looking girl. I'd have people calling me a whale, telling me I was so fat. It definitely got to me," she says.
Now, despite her young age, she moves through a room with all the style and grace of someone who can truly see and appreciate her own natural beauty. Although she's constantly defined as "plus-size" model, she rejects the beyond-dated term in favour of "curvy" — she does like the distinction from the industry's standard models, because "curves are sexy and should be recognized as something special."
When we ask her what her dreams for the future look like, she tells us: "To represent all the Arab women around the world. I want my own people to say, 'She's our representation in fashion, she's our body activist, she's our motivational speaker.' I want them to know there is someone who looks out for you, who can amplify your voice, who cares if you're okay and that you're happy in your skin."
Click play to watch Bazaar's exclusive interview with Halima Aden.