Erica Schenk is making strides for curvy women everywhere.
The New York-based plus-size model scored the August cover of Women’s Running magazine with an empowering photo that is earning praise across social media.
“Honestly, I was astonished. I hadn’t seen any of the digitals and I didn’t think I would until the release date,” the 18-year-old, whose professional name is Erica Jean, tells PEOPLE. “My family is overwhelmingly proud.”
The California native expected to appear in one of the magazine’s inside features about how athletic brands are expanding their products to produce clothes for all sizes. But after impressing the editors, she landed the big cover moment, shot in Brooklyn, New York’s Prospect Park.
“The photoshoot was fabulous,” says Schenk. “James Farrell [the photographer] made sure I was comfortable and relaxed. The whole crew really put the effort in and we got an amazing product.”
WR editor-in-chief Jessica Sebor said in a recent interview that part of her intention was to help readers understand that runners come in all shapes and sizes.
“You can go to any race finish line, from a 5k to a marathon, and see that. It was important for us to celebrate that,” Sebor said.
The young model, who signed with Wilhelmina when she 16 years old, didn’t think her cover debut would sweep the Internet. But she does hope her appearance inspires others. (A fan on Twitter wrote that she nearly cried of joy when she saw a curvy woman gracing the front of the new mag.)
“Our generation has taken leaps and bound towards less judgement and more acceptance. It makes me proud to see people responding positively to a curvy and proud woman who wants to lead a healthy lifestyle,” Schenk says.
The teen’s favorite workouts are fast-paced swimming, sand volleyball or a barefoot run on the beach. Jokes Schenk, “Let’s just say I’m a fish out of water in the concrete jungle.”
“This cover proves anyone can run,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to be curvy and do what you love. You are not alone.”
Schenk joins an impressive list of curvy beauties to land serious print spreads, covers and fashion campaigns in recent months. Plus-size lingerie star Ashley Graham, 27, landed an advertisement in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue in February and then appeared in Lane Bryant’s #ImNoAngel undergarment campaign a few months later.
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PEOPLE cover star and blogger Tess Holliday, 29, was the first woman of her size to score a contract with MILK Management in London in January and has become a social media celeb with her #effyourbeautystandards campaign.
“Health is so personal for everybody,” she told PEOPLE. “It’s really my business.”