How Fashion Freak Show Jovel Ramos Became a Model at 5’5″

Self-proclaimed freak show Jovel Ramos is setting fashion norms on fire, challenging them one by one. When it comes to modeling and fashion standards, height is something you might not immediately think of.

From a successful Hood By Air campaign, to walking in their New York fashion show, Jovel has beaten everyone who told him he couldn’t become a model. He might be 5’5″, but along with others like Shaun Ross and Winnie Harlow, he brings some much needed diversity to fashion.

We talked to Jovel about what it’s like to be a person of color in the fashion industry, and how he is changing that, one skirt at a time.

What was your childhood like, growing up hispanic and gay?

Growing up in a traditional, religious Hispanic home, I went to Catholic school and I grew up on the idea that being queer was wrong. I always knew that I was queer and attracted to the same sex. My parents sort of pushed the idea of being with women without realizing it. They would ask about who I was dating, which in retrospect, made it scarier to come out. But when I did come out they were completely accepting, and still support everything I do to this day. I’m lucky to have amazing parents, and a huge support system. Growing up Hispanic and queer, you’re a huge minority but I take a lot of pride in who I am.

When did you decide that you wanted to become a model?

I never knew much about modeling while growing up to be honest, or what it meant to be a model. I remember flipping through magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar at an early age and thinking “I want to part of this. I don’t know what I want to do, but I want to be apart of this.” Flipping through these magazines, there was no representation. No one looked like me, not one person. I couldn’t relate to anyone in these magazines, and I wanted to change that. And that’s exactly what I’m doing. 

You said that you want to change the industry’s norms and standards for beauty. Do you think that the norms are oppressive to those who are different?

I definitely want to change the industry’s norms and standards for beauty, I want to bring something to the table that makes people think. Coming into this industry, I wasn’t welcomed whatsoever. I’m everything fashion hates. I’m not sample size, my head is disproportionate to my body, my limbs are abnormally long, and I look like fucking ET. When I first moved to New York, I would go to castings with the same 6’2 brunette cookie cutter agency boys and I would show up in a skirt and a hoodie and I got a lot of backlash for it. No one really took me serious, I would get weird stares from the other models and I confused a lot of casting directors. For a long time I did feel that the norms were oppressive. And even today I run into situations where I’m working and someone will be like “that dress looks great but can we try these pants and a button up?” and that’s not what I’m here to do. I want people to see how beautiful different or ‘weird’ is. I’m a freak show and I’m fabulous. 

How do people like Shaun Ross and Winnie Harlow influence you?

People like Shaun and Winnie are responsible for a lot in this industry. If you think about it, not too long ago what was accepted as the “norm” isn’t the “norm”. Shaun and Winnie have paved the way for kids like me. I’m very inspired by what they do. I respect anyone that uses their platform to spread a message. 

If you had to pick a dream designer to model for, who would it be and why?

There’s so many designers that I want to work with to be honest. My ideal situation would be to model for a brand and take it in a different direction. I would love to work with Marc Jacobs. I think it would be cool to do a campaign with a bunch of freak show street casts like me in platforms and dresses. I appreciate what Marc Jacobs does a lot. 

Have you ever had anyone tell you that what you’re trying to do is impossible? How did you react?

Over the past couple of years I’ve had so many people tell me what I’m trying to do is impossible. Majority of people, actually. In 10th grade I told a teacher I wanted to model, she laughed in my face. She said I wasn’t nearly tall enough. Within the last year I’ve done a campaign with Sephora and ID magazine, a campaign with Hood by air, and I walked Fall/Winter 16. I’m 5’5, don’t ever let anybody tell you that you can’t do something. I e-mailed the teacher my vogue screenshot. 

What would be your long-term goal career wise?

My long term career goal is to do everything I possibly can, I don’t just want to be a face. I want to be a voice. I want to inspire people. I don’t just want to wake up in 30 years and be like “Wow I should’ve said that.” I want some queer kid on the other side of the globe to flip through a magazine and see a freak like me in a huge spread and be like “I can do this too”. Growing up I never got to see that.

What are you doing right now to get the word out about your modeling goals?

Right now I think social media is a huge factor in my career. Right now I’m just building my brand so I can get to my goals. I was casted for fashion week through an Instagram DM. Walter Pearce, a casting director at Hood By Air, dm-ed me a selfie and said “let’s work We want you exclusive for our New York show” and I said I’m there. Instagram is a huge platform to showcase who you are.

Do you think the modeling industry is more or less accepting of diversity now than it has been in the past?

Not to discredit anyone, I do think the modeling industry has come a long way. We’re more accepting of diversity but I want to take things to the next step. I want all the content I put into the world to scare you, in a good way. I want more weirdos in this industry, fashion is so serious for no good reason. We should be embracing diversity more than ever. 

How do you aim to differentiate yourself from other models who might be doing something similar?

I don’t think I try to purposely differentiate myself from other models, I genuinely think I’m just built much more different from other kids in this industry. Physically, I’m half the size of an average male model and no where near the ideal ‘norm.’ Here I am 5’5, bright red hair, bug eyed, with a childlike body. I’m genuinely this weird. A lot of kids try to give out this image of someone they’re not. Everything I do is completely raw, this is me. Take it or leave it. And to any other young model trying to change this world, more power to you. I don’t want to be the only freak on a runway. 

If you could give advice to someone who, like you, might not feel represented in the modeling world and wants to get into it, what would it be?

If I could give any advice to someone who wants to get into modeling and doesn’t feel represented it would be don’t give up. Whether you’re petite, plus sized, sample size, there is a market for you and there’s room for you to tear it up in this industry. Let your freak flag fly dude. Doors are gonna close, casting directors are going to send you home, people might laugh in your face, but don’t give up. If 16 year old me could see where I am today, he would be really surprised. 

Fishnets: American Apparel

Top and Skirt: Saga NYC

Choker: Wake Up The Witch

Bodysuit: Stylist’s Own
Skirt: Saga NYC
Shoes: Hood By Air

Photography: Amber Asaly
Styling: Philip Gomez

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