All That Jazz: Jazzmyne Jay Is A Queer Rebel In The Age Of Influence

Producer, activist, and model Jazzmyne Jay is a queer rebel in the age of influence. — Interview by Mandie Williams. Photography by Courteney Morris.

Shaved head, bright lipstick, bold eyeliner, and an ever-iconic outfit, Jazzmyne Jay Robbins stands apart — quite literally — at 5’11”. The plus size model, activist, influencer, and Buzzfeed video producer curates a joyous Instagram feed celebrating color and curves. Her posts consistently rack up thousands of likes, whether she’s dancing alone in her bedroom (in Fenty lingerie, of course) or vlogging her first time rocking a string bikini on the beach in Los Angeles. This past year, you may have spotted her stomping the runway at New York Fashion Week, holding court on the GO Mag Pride Float with her partner Kate, or hosting Buzzfeed’s Queer Prom.

Shortly after her 29th birthday (she’s a Libra!), Jazz rented a car and set off for four days of cross-country soul searching. When she spoke with GO, she was squarely in the middle of her trip, somewhere in the mountains between southern California and Illinois.

Unsurprisingly, she looked just as fabulous on the road as she does on Instagram. When we spoke, she was rocking a cropped turtleneck and ASOS chunky white boots. Her new fall standby, a fake fur coat, sat in the front seat. She was “trying to be sensible,” which, in her world, means packing a variety of leggings, joggers, long sleeved crop tops, and silk scarves.

It’s the perfect road trip wardrobe for someone who has made confidence her brand. “I get dressed up for me,” she says. “That’s my motivation no matter what.”
As she drove through the mountains, we discussed body positivity, coming out to Katy Perry, and her biggest style risk yet.

Mandie Williams: Let’s set the mood. You’re on a road trip. What’s your soundtrack?

Jazzmyne Jay: I have a whole playlist! “Can’t Believe the Way We Flow” by James Blake, which was recommended to me by Hunter Schaefer. Also, “Come and Talk to Me Remix” by Jodeci, Brown Sugar by D’Angelo, “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes, and “Africa” by Toto.

MW: You’re representing lots of genres.

JJ: Yeah. There’s been a lot of Solange, a lot of Alicia Keys. You can just drive and belt to her. A lot of Kelly Clarkson. I also have a playlist called Awesome Fucking Women. Megan thee Stallion, Drake. Some Danity Kane. I’ve also been listening to the score of Euphoria. Euphoria is my literal everything.

MW: You’re driving through the Midwest, and you’re from Illinois. How did growing up in that part of the country impact your confidence?

JJ: My hometown is pretty small. Like, less than 10,000 people. My parents raised me and my brother knowing we were different. My dad’s black, my mom’s white — there’s not a lot of people in our area who look like us. At that time it wasn’t something that I was going to see on TV. Growing up, I always tried to fit in. I tried straightening my hair, and it didn’t match the other girls. When my friends were wearing their Abercrombie pants and Limited Too, I was not fitting into those clothes like they were. I was always a thick kid. I had a very mature, curvy body. There was always something inside of me that was like, “This isn’t working out.” And then once I moved away from that area I was like, “Oh, that’s not a norm. That doesn’t have to be the only thing that’s out there.” My parents always raised me and my brother to believe in ourselves and believe that we’re leaders. I’m very thankful now.

MW: Can you tell us a little bit about your queer journey?

JJ: I came out when I was eighteen. I was still at home, still in high school. It was more a “find out” than a “come out.” I was dating my best friend at the time, and my mom walked into my room and we were holding hands on my bed.

MW: That is the most wholesome “find out” ever.

JJ: So then I had to tell my family I was dating my best friend, all while it’s Super Bowl Sunday. Katy Perry was [on] the halftime performance singing “I Kissed a Girl and I Liked It.”

MW: She’s part of so many coming out stories!

JJ: Legit as I’m saying these words, good ol’ Katy Perry is singing.

MW: I’m from the Midwest as well. It’s not always easy to follow trends when you’re in a small town. Where did you pull looks growing up?

JJ: I’ve always had a thing for fashion and style. In third grade, I had this book of my own designs that I named J Wear. It was pretty outrageous. I thought I was going to be a huge designer. I think fashion has always been a true thing for me. I was born in 1990. I had an aunt that was only 10 years older than me and she was always very hip. TLC and hip-hop culture fashion were a big thing for me. I remember watching shows like Sister Sister and Saved by the Bell, and seeing real dope late nineties and early 2000s looks.

MW: If we were to relaunch J Wear right now, what would it look like?

JJ: If I could launch something right now, I would want it to definitely think of plus size women first and the stuff that we don’t have in our market. I think it would be very trendy, but with good material, and it would show a lot of skin. It would be pretty sexy.

MW:So, we’re thinking more bodycon than late nineties?

JJ: Yeah. If I did late nineties, it would be a little collection. The late nineties look is so about oversize stuff and color blocking, but we often can’t find that in plus sizes. Not a lot of places make oversized plus size clothing.

MW: How has living in L.A. influenced your style?

JJ: I’ve been in L.A. for five years. I moved out here because I liked that there wasn’t a specific fashion. It was very open to people just looking however the fuck they wanted to look. I was deciding between LA and New York. For plus size, I felt like New York was a little stuffy. Everything was a lot of brand name and designer. I wanted to move out to LA where I felt there was more acceptance of street fashion.

MW: Did your look change at all when you moved?

JJ: When I moved out to LA, I feel like I really opened up. I stayed really true to myself. I’m gonna do me. I’m not putting on any show for anybody but myself. I’m not going to follow anybody’s rules. I’ll color my hair however I want. I shaved my head when I came out here.

MW: What about social media? How has Instagram influenced your style, either as a content creator or as an observer?

JJ: I feel like I’ve gone from really caring a lot to not caring whatsoever. At the beginning of me being on social media, I was like “What can you do that’s safe?” And now I see my Instagram and I’m like “Wow. I’m really out here.”

MW: It’s pretty great.

JJ: I feel like the biggest thing to me is that I keep inspiring myself. I very much feel like I am still a lot of my own inspiration. I feel like there are people that I follow that I look at and I’m like “I wish I could wear what they wear for a second.” But when it comes down to it, I have so many different things that I wear and so many different styles.

MW: You’ve made a career out of inspiring others. Who inspires you? What are you loving right now?

JJ: Definitely Gabi Fresh and Nicolette Mason, who are my very good friends. See, here’s the thing: A lot of the people that inspire me are a lot of my friends. It’s really fun because I have these badass friends. My friend Kellie Brown is absolutely amazing. When it comes to celebs, I’m on this Zendaya kick right now. I’m obsessed with everything Zendaya does. She just floats across the board of so many talents. I put Zendaya in the category of Yara Shahidi, Marsai Martin — just dope black girls doing dope black things. It’s really cool to see young Hollywood pop off.

MW: I have a chicken or the egg question about your place in the body positivity movement. Did the existence of the movement help you become more confident? Or did you find your own voice and then join the movement?

JJ: The two people I followed the most were Gabi Fresh and Nicolette Mason. Those two were my first intro into “fat people can be cute too, and I am cute like these fat people.” Then it came to a point where the stuff that I had been doing fell into that category. I’ve always fought a lot and worked a lot on a body positive mindset. I’ve always dabbled in body positivity without even knowing it was a thing.

MW: You were part of the movement before it was a hashtag.

JJ: Yeah. I didn’t know there was a movement to be a part of, but here we are. My big thing when I started at Buzzfeed was that people were allowed to dress and look however they wanted. It looked like a pretty open, free place to be who you were. I want people to be free. I want to do whatever I want, I want to dress however I want, I want to be able to open my mind and talk however I want. After working at Buzzfeed for a little bit, all of my stuff started fitting into a body positive role on the internet. It helped shape a lot of what certain channels on Buzzfeed are now.

MW: Speaking of Buzzfeed, I’m a big fan of the vagina sketch episode. I’ve also watched your six-week body makeover. What is it like to be vulnerable in that way while also being a spokesperson for body positivity?

JJ: Honestly, it’s hard to do. People talk about being body positive and fat forward. A lot of people will say that when you decide to go and work out, it can come from a place of wanting to change your body and it can get really negative. For me, anything that I do physically, and I say this in any video I’m in, it’s for me and my mental health. I make it a point whenever I do any workout videos with Buzzfeed or changing around my eating to not be weighed. Or, if I am being weighed, I don’t want to know the number. There’s a fine line between doing something for your mental health and doing something that can trigger your entire past. I know when it comes to working out I have to be very much in control.

MW: You put so much of yourself out there. Are there things that scare you, or videos that have been particularly challenging?

JJ: I’ve hit a few challenges recently, actually. I was just in a big shoot for a makeup company and I ended up bleaching my brows. That really scared the shit out of me! I’ve been talking about bleaching my brows for some time now and I thought, “You know what? I’m not gonna do it because I’m already a lot.” I was literally talking about it at breakfast on that shoot. Then I went into the makeup trailer and the makeup artist was like, “I would love to bleach your brows.” And I thought, “Ok, well I guess this was a sign!”
It’s been probably a month. It’s taken me quite some time to get used to my face which I wasn’t expecting to be so hard.

MW: I would not have guessed that!

JJ: I know! Eyebrows! Whether it be clothes or makeup or putting something on Instagram, I’ve done that I’ve opened myself up, I’ve told my stories. I was feeling really damn secure in myself and then I bleached my brows and I didn’t know who the fuck I was.

MW: Now that you’ve conquered bleached eyebrows, are there any trends you want to try? What’s coming up this season that you’re super excited about?

JJ: I’m really into neutrals, which is new for me. I’m always in bright clothes. I like hot pinks, lime greens — together, with a blue lip. I’m always in color and now I’m very much like. … I want nudes. I want mauve, light pink, black, white, grey, tan. That’s very much my vibe right now. I also think more mesh and more leopard print.

MW: Leopard print is a neutral.

JJ: Leopard’s totally a neutral. I want to find a big leopard print fake fur coat.

MW: Will we see any of those trends on ASOS or on your Instagram?

JJ: Yes! I’m waiting to take pictures with this fake fur coat that I have in my front seat right now. It’s tan, and it looks like a trenchcoat. It goes all the way down to my ankles with these huge buttons. On my main Instagram, I put more funny videos. It’ll just be me dancing half naked. It’s nice that I have another Instagram for my fashion.

MW: So we need to follow both to get the full Jazz.

JJ: Yes.

MW: Do you have any dream collaborations with other brands or influencers?

JJ: I would love to work with ASOS fully. Currently, I run my own Instagram where I feature my favorite ASOS Curve pieces that come out monthly. I would love to do swimsuits or lingerie. More shoes. Shoes, shoes, shoes. I love tennis shoes. Note: Jazz previously designed a sneaker for the NIKE BY YOU series. I can also see myself doing some tiny glasses. I’m real obsessed with sunglasses, so I think that would be a move. If I had to go makeup, I would probably do something with liquid lipstick because that’s all I wear. I really love Sephora Collection liquid lipstick.

MW: Are there any upcoming projects you’re excited about?

JJ: Not that can I say!

MW: Ha! You have to keep us in suspense.

JJ: Yes. I’m really excited for next year. This past year I’ve been working a lot on myself and my mental health. Next year I want to go really hard and pitch myself more. I would love to talk at schools and colleges, or hold get togethers across the U.S. I’m just chilling with this year, making my money and getting my health all together.

MW: Do you feel pressure now that you’ve built this huge platform to stay so confident? How do you deal with being the face of a movement?

JJ: Luckily, I talk very often about my mental health. I’ve talked about eating disorders. I’ve talked about my anxiety that I have, and that I go to therapy. Sometimes I’ll post pictures and be like you know what, yesterday was a really damn bad day. Since I started working at Buzzfeed and growing more of a social media following, I started with the thought that no matter what, I was always going to be myself. When anybody would come and talk to me, when anyone would say hi to me, I wanted to be the same bitch that you saw on Youtube, that you met in person, and that you saw on Instagram. I don’t really feel trapped in what I do because I know I can’t put on a face. I always feel pretty much myself. I have a decent relationship with social media. I put the picture out, and that’s it. It’s taken me a while to get here.

MW: You represent so many groups, and are proudly LGBTQ, a woman of color, plus size, left-handed, and bald. Is it ever difficult to juggle all those parts of your identity?

JJ: Yes and no. No, it’s not difficult. 100%, that is just me. I never think of myself as that sectioned. That said, I do have to recognize some privileges I have in this world and how I move about and also some disadvantages I have because of the many minorities that are within me. It’s not hard for me to think about until I have to put it in an everyday world and think about how something isn’t made for me. I don’t have trouble with it, but the moment I apply it to society, that’s when I notice things.

MW: What about engaging with fans? How do you keep up with people in the comments or sliding into your DMs?

JJ: Whether it’s comments or DMs or in person, there is a lot of expectation to be available. I’m not by any means famous, but I do have people that will come up to me. Some people will cry. I know I’m not just living as I was in college, where I could do anything.

MW: What does that feel like, when people cry? Is it overwhelming to have such an impact?

JJ: It feels so sweet. Like, I’m gonna cry. I’m an emotional ass bitch. Overall, it’s amazing that I can make people feel a little bit better about themselves. Regardless of my social anxiety, or my anxiety in general, I am so thankful to anybody that feels inspired by me and that will come tell me. It’s nice to know I’m hitting what I want to hit.

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