Everyday Icon: The Body-Positive Stylist, Malia Anderson

We chatted with this multi-talented style maven about self-love, time management, mentors and more.
By Barbara Sueko McGuire ,

Image Credit: Vox Media

Malia Anderson has her tongue in her cheek when she says she was born stylish. But given the success she's had in every fashionable slash of her job title, it's not hard to imagine that she emerged from the womb destined for the runway. Malia is a master of all things en vogue, from modeling and writing a column for Essence, to public speaking, styling and personal shopping.

What's special about Malia is that she doesn't just focus on outward appearances. She also inspires women to find what makes them beautiful on the inside — not an easy task in today's image-obsessed social media stage. And it's a task that's all the more difficult, because she's trying to bring change to the plus-sized world.

Malia is not, however, intimidated by the challenge. She practices turning positive belief into tangible reality first thing in the morning — when she wakes up, before anything else can flood her psyche, she reminds herself, "I got this."

"I teach women to find their mantra," she explains. "If your mantra is 'fake it until you make it,' so be it. If we can't get ourselves out of bed to face the world, then the haters win and that is not going to work for me.”

We read an article in a recent Lenny Letter that said nearly 75 percent of women between the ages of 25-45 report an unhealthy relationship with food or their own bodies. You're obviously confronting this issue head-on. Can you tell us about some of the things you talk about to help women see both food and their bodies in a more positive light?

I teach people to think of their bodies as without flaw. It's how I think of mine. It's not perfect, there are parts I'd like to see a little higher or a little tighter. However, my body functions and deserves to be treated well. I eat well, I exercise, and I wear clothes that showcase it in all its glory. Most importantly, I'm not ashamed of my body, it's mine.

Can you talk about the history of your relationship with your body and how you got to where you are today?

I entered high school six feet tall, 145 pounds, [with] long legs and already a DD. I already hated my body. It was funny and gangly — it took me 25 years to work out that hate. I had been told I was ugly since I was nine years old and did not realize that people had influenced me into thinking I was ugly. These people made me feel like I was nothing, and unfortunately I saw myself through hate-filled eyes.

Self-love and body positivity means I choose this body as a way to find the real me. I knew I was more than boobs and legs. My body is the powerful vehicle I use to achieve my highest potential. Is it magazine-perfect? Goodness no, but when I get my first magazine cover you will see the powerful body that carries a powerful woman with an important message.

What are a few style tips that you believe can help women think they look awesome?

Dress the body you have now. Why wait to look good? You deserve to look great now, no matter your size.

Dress for the life, the love, the job you want. If you want to be the boss, dress like it. If you want to be treated well, dress well. The only thing stopping you from looking good is your inner voice.

Spend the best money you can afford. You do not need to go broke getting dressed. If you invest in a great basic wardrobe, you can invest in the fun stuff on a budget.

What are some of the questions you first ask a new client, whether you're styling or shopping for them?

I always ask what clothes make them happy. It is usually a tough question, and most go back several years. Then I ask what they own, and that makes them sad. That comes easier, then we start working.

You write a bimonthly plus-size style column for Essence magazine. What inspires the topics you address?

Writing for Essence is a lifelong dream that I never would have guessed would play out. For me, I always want to educate people on what is possible with clothing. It is not about spending the most, it is finding what you respond to and rocking a look. With Essence, I get to go a bit deeper into style and fashion. I speak to a larger audience, so I get to look at a broader scope of fashion than my own local microcosm. Yes, I talk about trends, but I also teach people to build wardrobes, and to me that is where getting dressed starts.

You have a lot of plates in the air. How do you find the time for everything? Do you have any time management advice?

I wish I had a great answer for this question. I am a person who likes to be busy, and I am a bit of a workaholic. I do find that when I stop trying to make it all equal and balanced, things get easier. Some days, writing is the entire focus of the day, some days it is shopping, and what I had to learn is to go with what is a priority versus trying to break down my time into small chunks for everything.

I will say the pencil is my biggest time management tool. I do write almost everything down. I still love a paper planner! I go through and make lists — it is the best way to keep me on task. I also have a full-time studio manager who manages my clients' time, my own and my calendar. She also helps me by taking on tasks that I dislike.

How do you carve out time and space for yourself? And what do you like to do in your free time to relax and unwind?

This is a goal for me this year. I do make sure I get into the gym a few times a week. I spend time with my girlfriends at least once a month, and my hubby and I eat dinner together almost every night of the week. I do have a sacred nail appointment that I make every other week, that people know not to mess with, but "me time" is very hard for me, as you can imagine.

Do you have any mentors who have helped you along the way?

I was mentored as a kid by various individuals, and each person taught me something different about me and showed me new things. If not for them, I never would have found about myself. My love of the arts comes from my high school mentor who took me to The Nutcracker when I was 15, and it literally changed my life. My need to give back comes from another high school mentor who taught me what it means to be of service to my community and why it was important. I also have a mentor who has no idea they mentored me — a former boss who showed it was okay to be soft and caring while still being tough as nails in business. I think mentors come from different places and show up in your life when you need them.

How do you think growing up in San Francisco has helped shape the woman you've become? What do you love most about SF?

Being from the Bay Area is very special. San Francisco is a big city, but within it are so many wonderful things. I was born and bred in SF, and I think it taught me to see the world full of possibilities. It is possible to be successful and still be down to earth. I think SF taught me to be humble. I can be on the bus with billionaires sitting next to homeless people and it is all good. I think being from SF made me work hard and take every opportunity.

If you could time travel, where would you go, and who would you want to meet?

Wow, that is a very hard question. I would want to do so many things and meet Coco Chanel, Edith Head or Ann Lowe, but if I could pick just one, I would want to meet my grandfathers. I am not sure why, other than wanting to know where I come from.

Do you have any personal mottos or mantras that help keep you positive?

I think for me there are three:

1. With God, all things are possible.
2. I got this.
3. You were born to be outstanding.

I try to meet those expectations every day.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

p.s. Have you met this classical trumpeter? 

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