Diana Veras is not your typical 21-year-old Afro-Latina from New York City’s Washington Heights. She’s one of the few badass curve models who are redefining beauty standards in the modeling industry. From Instagram It Girl to signed JAG model, Veras has walked down runways, modeled for American Apparel and participated in many major ad campaigns for brands like Aerie and MAC Cosmetics.
While she’s built a robust following — 277,000 on Instagram — by affirming the beauty of curvaceous women and becoming a body-positive advocate, she’s dealt with her fair share of struggles as an Internet personality. “I’m from the hood,” she said, “I don’t like when people talk shit to me. So I get upset…Everyone has an opinion on the Internet. I don’t want people to attack me all the time.”
Veras sat down with PEOPLE CHICA to discuss her burgeoning modeling career, her life on social media, and where she wants to be at 25.
PEOPLE CHICA: At what moment did you realize that you were going to pursue a modeling career?
DIANA VERAS: Well, I got kicked out of college, so it was either model or work a regular ass job. Sometimes you’re going to have to do things you don’t want to do. I told myself, ‘You know what, I’m going to go find an agency, get a little job on the side, and see how it goes.’ Then, I started to put my full focus on modeling and here I am. I was 16 when I got my first modeling job. It was my first door into the industry, and it’s definitely changed over time. I feel like the industry is still evolving. It’s still in progress. It’s evolved in the sense like people hire me and they don’t care that I’m ‘too short’ or ‘too big.’ I feel like that’s so cool.
PC: Your successful modeling career impacted your lifestyle or personal relationships?
DV: I feel like it hasn’t grown rapidly, like I said, I started working when I was 16. And I still don’t feel like I’m anywhere where I actually want to be. I don’t think I’ve blown up. I know I’m cool. I can get into any party, but I don’t want to be just that. I want to leave with a much bigger impact. I feel like I have so much growing left to do.
PC: Is social media a big part of your life?
DV: Yes, but I’ve learned how to separate it from real life. At one point I was like, ‘OMG, this isn’t getting as many Likes.’ ‘OMG, this many people aren’t watching my story,’ and then I had like a spiritual moment like, ‘Step the f— back from that and step into real life, real quick.’ Social Media is real life, but you can’t base your whole personality off it. As I said, the Internet was my life when I was a kid. That’s the only place I ever knew how to talk. My mom was a very strict Dominican, and the Internet was like my safe haven. It was this whole other world that I didn’t know.
PC: Do you ever find yourself having trouble disconnecting from it?
DV: Yes, I still do. I have a mental reminder, ‘Hey, you still have to meditate today.’ I was going through a tough relationship, really rough one, and I kept f—— posting about it. And it was just destroying me. People would tell me, ‘You sound crazy right now, you can’t post that.’ Even though it’s a normal girl thing to do, like so many girls post things about their boyfriends, I always had to be careful because there’s 30k people watching. My Twitter followers sometimes grow like 1,000 people every two days, so I can’t tweet any random s—. I feel like it’s affected me in the sense where I can’t communicate like normal f—— people do on social. You can’t be politically incorrect. I feel like we’re all guilty of it though, at least once. There’s no room to f— up. You have to be the perfect feminist.
PC: What made you decide to open up about your mental health struggles on social?
DV: I’ve struggled with a lot of mental health issues in the past three years. Being a model doesn’t help much. I felt like it was necessary because no one ever told me, ‘you’re going to be okay.’ I remember one day I had the coolest photo shoot, and I was still so depressed. People look at me online and probably think ‘Her life is so perfect, she’s modeling all the time.’ It’s not really like that. People just see what I post. As a Latina woman, I feel like our mental health issues are often dismissed. It’s like our community rejects it. ‘Tu ta loco.’ Stuff like that. That person’s crazy. No: That person needs help. There are so many ways to get help. I feel like it’s so important for people to know that: It is okay to get help.
PC: What would you give a Latina trying to launch a modeling career?
DV: Some advice I would give to a Latina — advice I failed myself — is don’t HIDE being Latina. I didn’t hide being Latina, but I know what it’s like to forget your roots. I did for a while and then took a step back and realized what was going on. Don’t reject your culture. Speak Spanish to the people you can speak it with. Embrace it. It’s so easy to do. Especially in this world that tries to white-wash the f— out of us.
PC: Do you feel successful?
DV: Yes, for my age and what I’ve accomplished it’s cool, it’s f—— amazing. But there’s so much more. By 25, I want to own my own magazine. I want to own a pizza shop in New York with my best friend Ciarda. I want my mom to be rich, so I have to make that happen. I’ve come along way.