manakii's muse: Allison Mills
Who is Allison Mills?
I'm 23 years old and I live in Charlotte, North Carolina. I am currently the general manager for a local ice cream shop, but before that, I graduated from Johnson and Wales University here in Charlotte. I studied food service management and baking & pastries. I have a small cake business where I specialize in birthday and wedding cakes called Allie Cakes and I do that on the side.
What is something about yourself that you love?
Something that I love about myself is my ability to make friends. I think that I’m a pretty social person, and so, if that be like their humility and I have to make a joke or make somebody laugh to kind of break down the barrier to kind of get everyone comfortable with one another, or if it's like just like pulling somebody to the side and asking them a lot of questions. I love that I am very social and I can make a lot of friends.
What's your favorite thing about just being a woman? Least favorite?
Okay, my least favorite would probably be periods. I cannot stand that women have to have a menstrual cycle once a month, because as soon as you finish, and you have the freedom it sneaks back there and it's time again. That drives me crazy. It's my least favorite part about being a woman.
My favorite part about being a woman is probably the communities of empowerment that we can give one another. I don't think that guys have that community. But to know that any moment, a woman could see you and just give you a compliment or encourage you in some type of way. There's this sisterhood of being a woman that every woman gets to experience that I really love. I think it's, as I said, it's empowering to know that a lot of women have this same mindset of ‘we are the best’ like women are superior actually. And it's not something that we have to talk about often. We just kind of know that hey like women we have menstrual cycles, we can have children. We take care of everyone, we are the caretakers of the world - life begins with us, but also, it could end with us. Women are amazing. I think that women are the best gender, of course. But something about the community of womanhood that is beautiful.
Can you think of a time where you felt especially empowered?
Oh, how to just pick one though there's so many. I went to the women's march here in Charlotte. Probably two years ago now, maybe three years ago, and I think I cried the whole time. I was a little embarrassed about how emotional I was. Thinking about it makes me a little emotional as well, because there might have been hundreds or even thousands of women there to support one another and to show up to say that women deserve more than they are given. Throughout the whole march you just heard compliments and encouragement and everyone's making friends with one another. The few men and children that were there were also just there to support, they didn't say much, they just showed up to support their fellow women and their moms and their daughters and their sisters. Knowing of the struggles that women have to face constantly but then there's also this power of when we show up, we show off, we come in numbers - you're not just going to get one you're going to get hundreds. I would say during that march around Charlotte for the women's national march was a beautiful moment. There's probably hundreds of pictures of all the different women's marches, and it wasn't that we were marching for something, in particular, we are marching for everything because everything still needs to be fixed. It was very encouraging to see women, people that identify as female, and children saying that when I grow up like I am I want this to continue and just for there to be and support one another is absolutely magnificent.
The sense of community felt by women you mentioned is built around, in large part because we all understand that we face so many similar struggles. Is there a struggle you wish more women maybe understood?
I think the one that I probably think of the most is body image. So many women struggle with it on so many different spectrums, but I think that there's always that middle ground of how to still be sensitive and take care of yourself when you need to but also be sensitive to other people. I am very proud to be a plus-size woman. I wasn't always proud of who I was in terms of my body shape and I think that was just because of the representation around me. I never really saw anyone that looks like me - that was my shape. And so, a lot of my insecurities derive from there not being a lot of representation for a lot of different body sizes. I also had to deal with a lot of friends going through their insecurities and confiding in me. Their sizes were not even in double digits and you are very beautiful to my eye. How can you complain when I am the polar opposite and also feel this way? If a size six can feel that insecure, what does that say about me a size 20? Somebody that is society's standard of beauty who feels so insecure and struggled with an eating disorder makes me feel like, then, where do I come in? I’m not the world's standard of beauty so how do I find beauty in myself? I wish that more women would appreciate their image, a little bit more or even have a better understanding that while you might not feel beautiful yourself in that moment there are people that are struggling on a different spectrum of not feeling beautiful and themselves that is their equal. I wish more women understood that their body insecurities do affect other women as well.
You mentioned that when you were growing up you felt like you didn't have representation in the media for people who looked like you. Has there been anything that's emerged since then, or like something in your childhood that finally made you feel seen?
As a kid I did not have that much representation of plus-size black women, let alone, plus size women in general. I think that the most that I had was Jennifer Hudson from DreamGirls and the main character from Hairspray. Which is a great movie but that was all that I had. Now, I would say that 10 out of 10 a pivotal moment in my self-improvement/my loving myself was Lizzo. I remember hearing her music and thinking ‘wow, this is a woman that loves herself’. Better yet, this is the first time I'm seeing a woman that looks like me loving herself in the way that she is and just living. Maybe she's insecure, maybe she's uncomfortable, but to me, she's just living and I'm allowed to live that way as well. I'm allowed to just simply exist in my body and nobody has to care. It doesn't matter. I can have relationships in romantic ways. I can wear whatever I would want. All of these things that I was constantly aware of - Will I ever find a guy that finds my body beautiful? Am I allowed to wear shorts? Am I allowed to wear tank tops? Am I allowed to wear crop tops? Then to see Lizzo out there just shaking her ass and doing her thing I was like wait a second, she's right, I am 100% that bitch. When did the world tell me that I wasn’t beautiful? When I saw her and saw her performances and listened to her music, it was a big breath of fresh air to finally see somebody that looked like me loving themselves. I wish I had more representation when I was younger, but it also was a big pivotal moment in my life, to say that I am also allowed to be a woman that loves herself. Now I get to be part of a generation of women to teach other women confidence by simply existing and loving myself. I don't have to do anything more than being myself to show somebody that I love myself.
If there's any advice you could give to your younger self, what would you tell her?
I could probably talk about that pretty much everything that you thought you were gonna be as a kid you're not. But who you are is perfect. I would tell my younger self that of who you are is enough. You do not need to change a single thing about yourself, even when you're not accepted in areas and friendships like you don't have to change. I'm tearing up. You don't have to think that you'll find love in a different body size. You don't have to think that you have to make yourself smaller to fit into friend groups. You don't have to think that you're too much because who you are is not only enough, but if somebody says that you're too much, then they need to look for less. Because you are enough as you are in every way possible; in your size, in your beauty, in your style, in friendships, and your family and your career choices. It's enough you don't need to do anything more to live - you are enough. I probably say that to myself. I probably need to say that to myself every other day as well, maybe wake up with that energy.
Do you have a mantra or like a motto that you live by?
Ooh so many. I'll do the PG one. I always say ‘with grace in her heart and flour in her hair’. Which might throw people off because I have since shaved my head. However, for a lot of my high school & college career, I would go away and work over the summer and work in these kitchens and they would just be a crazy mess. I would get overwhelmed and it was very easy to be stressed.I would find myself covered in flour from brownies and cookies every single day. I was coming home from working as a pastry chef covered in a mess and just absolutely exhausted. I think it's a Mumford and Sons song that they say, with very grace in heart and flowers in her hair and they obviously mean flowers. But when I like to say I like to say flour as in f-l-o-u-r. It reminds me that even in the midst of a crazy storm, even in the midst of a stressful situation you must give grace. You must give grace not only to yourself, but to the people around you to get through. So I always say with grace in her heart and flour in her hair.
What is like a headline you would love to see in the news?
Fashion designers having size-inclusive lines. Because it is hard to be fat and stylish. We are so limited as to where you can find clothes that are actually size-inclusive & priced reasonably (that are actually cute). There's maybe four plus-size stores that I can think of that are not stylish; you're either wearing a Disney T-shirt, sparkles, or floral. None of those scream my name. Other than that, some places will have a plus-size section. However, they either use really cheap material or the sizing is off. Just giving plus-size women the chance to wear quality,fashionable clothes, which sounds maybe sounds odd but there's a lot of fast fashion that is size-inclusive. And so, that is where I think a majority of plus-size women have to find clothes that fit their personalities. Therefore, to have more designers say ‘oh, I recognize that these people of this size also deserve to wear clothes that make them feel good about themselves’. That is what I would want to see ASAP.
How has working with manakii and being a model for manakii affected you?
It has been the coolest and most fun thing ever. First, I would have to say that the group of models that Sowmya (Founder, CEO) kind of collected have become some of my closest friends - like group chats all the time, hangouts, they are truly close friends of mine now. I'm so thankful to have a community of women that not only want to encourage one another but are focused on educating each other in all the different ways that are so diverse in shape and size, in race and gender. It is truly beautiful to have them as my community now. On top of that, I think that it was a very pivotal step for me in feeling comfortable with my body. Just because to a stranger through social media I might look confident, but the person that was behind the camera knows that I was freaking out the whole time we were taking a photo. And so, when we went to have the photoshoot, I was walking into the photoshoot (or into the studio) and getting in our underwear and being thrown in front of the camera and literally not knowing each other's names by heart, yet, but having so much fun and hyping each other up, giving one another encouragement and just laughing and dancing. To be able to see that in a photo and be proud of it, because I know that at that moment, I felt beautiful. Tearing up again. I felt so beautiful when I was with them and they were complete strangers seeing me very vulnerable in my underwear.
Now, the world gets to see it as well and I’m proud of that. I’m to be able to see the photos on Instagram and know that a whole bunch of strangers are seeing my body. Not like people haven’t seen me, in shorts, or a tank top before but this is in my underwear. But to know that people are going to see me in that and to be okay with that has been a crazy step in my journey to self-confidence. I’m not saying that I will be posting my photos on my social media, but I didn't feel held back. I felt proud to not only be part of this brand, and to be a model for them, but also proud of the body diversity that we got to show in that photoshoot. To be able to share that with all the people that I know and say like ‘Hey, here's a picture of me and my friend in our underwear for a brand that is amazing. You should be part of this as well.’
Tell us more about the energy behind the photoshoot.
We were maybe there for like an hour and a half, but as I said, we didn't know each other, I didn't know anyone in that room and I felt safe and felt protected and beautiful and secured. You can go up to a lot of different women and feel encouraged by them by simply being a woman, and so I think that love in the room changed the whole game. I mean we had so much fun that we were all like ‘Oh we're done? Can we do this again?’ I don't want this to end, you can take as many photos as you want, videos all of it, I just want to be here with you guys in our underwear.
What do you hope that people take away or feel or understand when they see your photos on our Instagram, TikTok, or website? What do you hope they understand?
I hope that they understand that women have bodies and that they are all different, but they are all worthy. They're worthy to be cared for. They're worthy to be loved. They're worthy enough to have good underwear that supports them where they need to be supported in every season of life. That who they are is enough. That there's a community of women that all have differences that are accepting of one another, just as they are. I hope from our photos you can see the joy that we have with one another; that complete strangers can find comfort in one another. We also believe that our bodies may be flawed but they're still beautiful - they're beautiful enough to dance around in our underwear and have photos taken. I hope to hopefully change the way that the world kind of views underwear. It's not a conversation that most people have. ‘Oh what underwear do you have on? Is it comfortable? Does it support you where it needs to support you?’ It's normal, like we have to talk about these things because we all have them. So hopefully our photos and our videos from that photoshoot show that these things that are specific to women we have to talk about them with one another. To the world, there's no shame in your underwear. You need it.
Tell us a little bit about your experience as a woman of color in the workplace, or in life if you're comfortable elaborating.
I grew up in a community that was not very diverse. In school, I might be one of two other black girls, and so, I didn't really have that abundance of representation outside of my family. I think that my parents did a great job of making sure that I was surrounded by family and family, friends, but it wasn't so much people my age that I saw that looked like me. So not only did I struggle with being a plus-size young girl but also being a black woman as well. It wasn't until I got to college that I truly understood what it meant to be black and in every way what it meant to be black: to society, to myself, and my workplace, in my community, and my friend groups. I didn't understand that there was a difference between being black and white outside of the history of the 1800s. That just came from moving into the city and it being more diverse. In classes, being black wasn’t the minority, we filled the majority of our school most of the time.
Feeling almost uncomfortable being around so many black people because I didn't know how they would welcome me. Because I grew up around so many white people that were welcoming, I didn't think that my own people would accept me in the same way. I quickly learned that that was all in my head that they didn't care that I grew up in my community and had different hobbies than them or interest in music like there is a very diverse group of African Americans once I got to college and since then that are very interested in different things.
In college, I saw more of what discrimination looks like and racism, and it absolutely broke my heart, because I also saw young adults in the surrounding areas think that what they had was enough or what they had was all that they could get. Simply because I grew up in a community where you could go to school to become a pastry chef and that was okay and you are accepted for that. To then go to a community where all of these teen moms and young adults think that they would never make it or become anything or make a great name for themselves. So I started to understand the weight of trying to be a successful black woman in my career. It was very heavy because it didn't just feel like my life was on the line, but I had to also prove to so many people that you can have a dream and follow it, and that no matter how big your dream is, you can achieve it. I would say that, and within my career field I've kind of chosen interesting paths. A lot of people go to culinary school and start to work in a kitchen and that was never really my greatest interest. While I do love baking and love food service, I wanted to experience the other elements of it within photography or food writing. I worked a lot in smaller kitchens, where I still was the only black woman. I was the only black person and probably the only woman of authority and even now in my job as the general manager, I am the only person of color and it still holds a lot of weight in my heart to know that I am able to achieve this because I know that a lot of effort young African Americans don't think that they are capable of achieving bigger and better things.
Last year, in particular, was an absolutely exhausting year in every way for so many people, but for me it was just another reminder that sometimes people don't actually see me. Sometimes people don't remember that I am also black & that these problems that you see on the news and as headliners and seem so far away, are actually right in my backyard. That even though I don't talk about it or express it or show it, I still live in constant fear, not only because I’m a woman, but because I’m black and I do feel low on the pedestal of who people respect. It’s not a hidden element that black women are some of the most disrespected women because we get hate from everyone, and nothing that we do seems to be good enough. And so, to want to achieve so much with my life but feel that way of ‘will I get there?’ I know I’m capable of greatness, but will the world and society let me get there? I feel like I have a target on my back constantly and everyone's just waiting for me to fail. I know I can do it if I’m given the opportunity, if I am safe, if I can live to see the day I will do it. And so that constant reminder eats you up, but you kind of find ways to celebrate the small moments. Especially where having a strong community and a strong diverse community that wants to understand every point of view, comes in. To have these girls [the other manakii models], specifically, to sit and talk to, and then for them to say ‘I don't know but I care.’ is a game-changer. You know only a black woman will understand the struggles of being a black woman, but to have another woman say ‘hey that's hard, and you can do it, I believe in you and I will be here with you as you do’ is encouraging and life-changing. One thing that I had to explain to a lot of my friends, because while they do see me as ‘Allison the outgoing bold bold beautiful woman’ that I am, I had to remind them that at the end of the day, to the rest of the world, I am simply a black woman.
Follow Allison on Instagram @allison_mills
Follow Allison's cake business @allie.cakes
Author || McKenna Robertson
Interviewer || McKenna Robertson & Hanne Wilson