Plus-size influencer Madeline Jones on her MS diagnosis: 'I had to learn to love my body again'

Beth Greenfield
Senior Editor
Model and influencer Madeline Jones. (Photo: Stanley Debas)

Madeline Jones, like most other plus-size influencers, has oodles of hard-won confidence. But for this model, Plus Model Magazine blog editor, mentor, and mom, the biggest hurdle on the journey to self-love was not a deflating shopping experience or romantic heartache (though they certainly played big parts in her story). Instead, it was a mid-career health crisis — being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis — that forced Jones to rethink the whole notion of loving your body.

“I was already in the plus-size industry, on panels, telling women, ‘Love yourself, love your body,’ and then I get diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which was the biggest sucker punch you could’ve given me,” Jones, who will join a panel at theCURVYCon this week, tells Yahoo Lifestyle about her “reawakening” 11 years ago. “So I felt like, wow, that’s really messed up. How am I going to tell people, ‘Love your body’ when my body is attacking me?”

Her illness led to a host of new physical challenges — from the loss of vision in one eye to trouble controlling her movement — along with psychological ones, which she’s dealt with through years of therapy.

Photo: Avenue

“I had to learn to love and validate my body again, because I hated her. I was really feeling betrayed by my own body after that diagnosis,” Jones says. “[The illness] goes and comes, and right now I’m going through a good time. But when you find yourself needing a steroid infusion, wondering whether or not you’ll be able to walk or move your arms or see, it’s tough to be in that confident space. I’ve learned to appreciate the good days, and in turn be able to tell that to women — to own your own space and don’t be sorry for who you are.”

“[Valery] said to me, ‘No one is focusing on the models.’ No one knew who they were. They were shooting amazing stuff, but no one was seeing it,” Jones says, explaining the publication’s original focus. “For 12 years we morphed into more than that, but that’s where we started. It turned into fashion, bloggers, working with all the brands … and we’ve pushed the envelope with age diversity.”

Madeline Jones, a plus-size influencer, said her MS diagnosis meant she had to learn how to love her body again. (Photo: Avenue)

The publication, which attracts readers ranging from their 20s to their 40s, would have been life-changing for her in her youth, Jones says, when images of women like herself were impossible to find.

“I think the most difficult part of being a plus-size child and teen was not having any clothing to wear. Back then it was like: Madonna, distressed jeans, neon — and we didn’t have those options,” Jones recalls. “There was no Torrid; it was just Lane Bryant, but your grandma’s Lane Bryant. We didn’t have anything cute. So I would literally save my money — I always had a job — I would buy men’s jeans for like $55, come home and distress them myself, with bleach and razors.”

She was only about a size 14 or 16, she says, but still, finding trendy teen clothing was not possible. And that had an impact: “It’s very hard to be a confident person when the world is set up not to validate you [and] when fashion doesn’t include you.” Her self-esteem wasn’t horrible, thanks to constant support from her “strong Latina woman” mom (her family is Puerto Rican), “but it was very hard to be a teen girl in this society without having proper clothes to wear.”

Now, although the industry is changing exponentially in positive ways, Jones feels it still needs to do a better job of infusing young girls with nondiscriminatory confidence — a belief she’s become more attuned to since becoming a mom (with photographer husband Luke) to Madison, now 10. “I think we don’t do enough of that as an industry — we try, but we need to get to kids before bullying starts,” she says. Further complicating the issue for her is the fact that her daughter has autism.

“Trying to teach confidence to an autistic child has been very difficult,” she admits. “But it’s in what you say and how you carry yourself. If I walk around the house saying, ‘Oh my God, I’m so gross! Look at me, I’m so fat!’ — then she will think like that too.” Instead, Jones says, she’s focused on telling Madison she is beautiful and kind and smart, and on exercising and meditating together, which helps both of them.

Further, Jones has made it her business to bring body positivity to her twin nieces, who slightly older than her daughter and in middle school. “They are very thin, but one is 10 pounds bigger than the other, and they call that one ‘the fat twin.’ I was like, ‘That is not going to happen in this family. You will not be defined by 10 pounds.” To make her point, the model recently invited the girls on a shopping trip to a New York outpost of Avenue, the plus-size retailer, where she’s now starring in a store campaign, unbeknownst to the twins.

“As we’re driving by, one of the girls said, ‘Oh my God, that girl looks like you.’ And I said, ‘Yes, that’s me in the front of the store — yes, your 45-year-old, size  18 aunt in the store.’ I have pictures of them looking at the pictures,” she says. “I wanted them to see you don’t have to be young; you don’t have to be super thin. You can be whoever you’re going to be in this world if you’re confident enough.”

theCURVYcon takes place Sept. 6–9, and will be live streamed exclusively on Yahoo Style

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