Models used to face standards and limitations on size, but Katya Zharkova’s story keeps leaving those limits behind. This hot Russian plus-size diva doesn’t only boast of her voluptuous body. The many battles she’s won are evidence of the true warrior that lurks behind her stunning image. Katya fights for every woman’s right to be what she wants to be and look the way she chooses to look.
Katya’s beauty doesn’t distract casting directors from her fit phisique. She enjoys yoga, loves kiting and snowboard and does flying trapeze. She has graced the cover of Cosmo, posed with stretchy asanas for Fitness mag, hosted popular TV shows and demonstrated an incredible flexibility in “Dancing with the Stars.” Oh yes, and this woman found time to complete her PhD.
The word “perfectionist” often gets mentioned by those who have worked with Katya, although she insists that she just wants to have fun. There's really no one else like her in the modeling business.
If you can take it, read on.
Katya Zharkova (Russian pronunciation: [‘katja zar‘kova]; born 30 October 1981) is a top Russian plus-size model, actress, TV show host and TV producer.
Katya was born in Minsk, Belorussia, the daughter of military officer Nikolai Zharkov. When she was just 7 months old, Katya’s family had to move to cold Chukotka in the Far East of Russia. Katya remembers those days as the coldest of her life: she had to wear a fur coat for her day nap in the preschool. There was no milk back then in Chukotka due to limited food supply, and all the oatmeal Katya ever ate was prepared with melted ice cream as a substitute.
Katya could tell you a dozen such facts – details that she still remembers with warmth and affection. “These things build your character and influence your life since the very beginning,” Katya says.
Chukotka was followed by Moscow, then Smolensk, then Germany (where Katya attended school from 4th to 7th grade), then Smolensk again. That nearly jet-setting lifestyle forced her to grow up quickly.
Katya’s mother, Nadezhda Zharkova, was a photographer who headed up pioneering photo club “OblPhoto” in Smolensk. Nadezhda loved shooting images of her family, especially her only daughter. Katya confesses that her mother was probably the first person who influenced her to get into modeling. Nadezhda took many of Katya’s early photographs and encouraged her daughter to follow her dream.
Katya started making her moves in the plus-size model industry in the mid 1990s. In 1997 she joined the “Podium” modeling agency in Smolensk, where she was the only plus-size model. Unfortunately, life was harsh for plus-size women in fashion; as her plus size model career languished in the province, piling up numerous rejections, Katya’s stubborn faith in her work drove her to relocate to Moscow. Moving to Russia’s fashion capital - an idea she'd been kicking around in her head for years – happened in 2001. There, in a city of 12 million people, she continued building (or rather, creating from scratch) her portfolio.
After appearing in a number of minor Russian fashion publications and catwalk shows, Katya caught the notice of Cosmopolitan’s editor-in-chief. In November of 2006, she became the first plus-size model to appear in Cosmopolitan Russia.
In 2010 Katya made another gamble. After getting a Green Card as “an exceptional alien” she left her primary job of Russian TV producer to relocate to the United States. There, she made modeling her professional priority.
In January a controversial editorial "Plus Size Bodies, What's Wrong with Them Anyway?" appeared in “PLUS Model” Magazine. It was accompanied by images shot by photographer Victoria Janashvili and conceptualized by Katya herself. The photoshoot went viral, receiving thousands of shares online, while Katya continued to fight for curvy women’s equality in fashion and in society in general. The editorial brought plenty of criticism as well. Critics claimed that plus-sized models are an unrealistic standard to follow, writing, “Not only are they perfectly proportioned in a way that most women (big or little) aren’t, they’re also airbrushed and styled to a point that makes their bodies just as removed from reality as thinner models in Vogue.”
Bloggers also claimed that it is wrong to eliminate health issues while talking about society’s acceptance of plus-size women and their sizes. They argued that larger bodies can be unhealthy as well, and that fuller figures should not be promoted by the fashion industry.
Interestingly, Zharkova’s modeling for plus-size fashion brands such as Fashion To Figure or Marina Rinaldi did not interfere with invitations to front advertising campaigns of “standard” size fashion labels such as Forever 21 and Silver Jeans.
Zharkova was selected as one of “Plus Model Magazine's Women of the Year” for 2013 as an advocate for women choosing to be healthy and to not submit to society's standard for beauty.
In March of 2013, Katya was the first Russian plus-size model to appear on runway of NBS’s show “Fashion Star.”
Later that same year, a new wave of mixed responses to her work was generated by a feature in Italian Marie Claire on the Marina Rinaldi “Women are Back” campaign. Katya’s photographs – revealing her “plump” body, with no shyness – brought plenty of critique on whether the fashion world should promote women’s obesity.
In her interview with the biggest Russian website for women, Katya said that she will fight overusing Photoshop that changes body presence and facial features.
In 2014 Katya was invited by Marie Claire Magazine (Russia) to run a monthly column on style and fashion trends for plus-size women. Her extensive experience in fashion and expert view on “big girl wardrobe” made her Marie Claire page so popular, she writes it to this day.
Katya was honored to be one of the 20 Cosmopolitan Russia cover girls for the magazine’s 20th anniversary issue in October 2014.
Katya is also a passionate spokeswoman for Greenpeace Russia. “I find the work of making waste sorting and recycling a popular practice in Russia very weak and I’m doing the best I can to urge people to sort garbage,” she said. “Never since humankind started to produce trash was the situation as dangerous as it is now. I want to leave this planet to my future children a beautiful place, not a polluted mess. That’s why we all should join the movement.”
The start of 2015 saw Katya cast in a new season of top Russian TV show “Dancing with the Stars.” She made it to the final six, dancing a new dance every week for two months and overshadowing even those who were not new to dancing at all.
Katya Zharkova is signed to three agencies representing her modeling interests: Wilhelmina Models (US), Brigitte Models (Europe) and BGM models (Australia).
Katya Zharkova is also a film and television actress, as well as a producer and host.
Katya graduated from Moscow Culture and Art University in 2003, majoring in “Entertainment Production.” Up until she embraced her modeling career in 2010, Katya was a TV and music award producer at MUZ TV Music Channel.
In 2010 Katya co-hosted a two-hour morning show at TNT channel (Russia).
In 2012 she co-hosted another popular TV show for women “Women Say So” broadcasted at “Domashniy Channel” (Russia).
In 2013 Katya was invited to be the face of “Friday” TV Channel in Russia. In September of 2013, she started hosting her first woman's daily TV show “There's One Secret,” in which she advised women on style, beauty and health.
In November 2013 she became the host of a two-month dating reality show called “American Bachelor,” produced in Miami.
Feeling she could do more, Katya started to audition for various roles in cinema. Her biggest film appearance so far was in “Ivan Kupala” movie in 2012, and she aspires to achieve something in that field that’s as groundbreaking as what she’s done in the modeling business.
Whether you like plus-size models or not, their emergence on the fashion scene spawned a wave of more womanly models in general, which affected - or rather changed - the public stand on what is “normal.” Now definitely among the A-list plus-size models, Katya doesn’t plan to stop. Not a stock version of a model, but a unique, one-of-a-kind type, she’s dedicated to help women accept themselves as diverse and beautiful, no matter what size they are.
Katya divides her time between New York, Washington, Brussels and Moscow.