Meet the Insta model using her platform to induce change.
These days Instagram is awash with influencers who hope to utilise their massive following for their own personal gain. But while gifting and SponCon is a top priority for many, London-based Insta queen Sonny Turner is hoping to use her massive platform to benefit others.
While she’s already helping to promote body positivity via her signature curves, she’s also teamed up with Nando’s as part of their #FightingMalaria campaign, which seeks to raise money for spray teams to enter homes in Mozambique (where the brands PERi PERi chilli’s are grown) with insecticide which fends of Malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Turner recently travelled with the brand to Africa to witness first-hand the impact that the Nando’s initiative was having on the people of Mozambique. Since then, she’s been wearing her Nando’s Fighting Malaria bracelet with pride, and hopes to spread the message via her dreamy Instagram grid.
We sat down with Turner to discuss what it means to be an influencer, the highs and lows of social media and the impact she’s hoping to make.
What was life like for you growing up?
Life was fun and I had a good upbringing. I’ve got great friends in my area which I still have. My parents were always very serious about my education and kept me focussed on school.
How did you find school?
School was fun. I particularly liked sixth form; sometimes I wish I could go back because I had an amazing friendship group!
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I’ve always wanted to be a social worker. I like helping people in need. I love my job now but I only appreciate certain things by stepping outside of it and doing something totally outside of modelling. When I first started modelling I was volunteering with vulnerable teenage boys and recently I’ve been on a trip to protect at-risk areas in Southern Africa from Malaria.
You have a big online following. Why do you think so many people are attracted your Instagram?
I don’t think about my following in terms of numbers. I’m not obsessed with that part as it’s unhealthy, I really just put out there what things interest me or the things I like. I think people like me because I’m unfiltered and they can tell it’s authentic. I’m not afraid to speak or post if I’ve just woken up or if I’m glammed up on a shoot. A lot of the people who follow me have grown with me so they have seen the struggles and they are part of the journey so they understand.
Is social media a force for good or bad?
Honestly, a bit of both. It can be a force for positive change or downright dangerous at times. We all need to remember it’s only a very small part of life, not life full-stop. We all have a responsibility to think about what we put out into the online world in the same way the mainstream media does.
It’s been great for me as it’s helped my career and it’s helped me to show my personality and to also spread important social messages.To be honest, I use my platform to be the voice that I needed when I was younger. I’ve started to do talks in schools so I know the issues out there that young people have to deal with. I want those struggling with weight or body confidence issues to relate to me and gain confidence within themselves so in that respect social media has helped me spread that message.
The negatives are that I’ve seen how depressed some people can get from negative comments on social media so we have to be careful as it’s effect on mental health is there to see. It doesn’t matter how many likes or followers you have, it’s about keeping focused on your journey and having good people around you. It’s so easy to get caught up in the rat race of wanting to be accepted by everyone but you have to be stronger than that and keep your focus on the bigger picture of your life whether that be your school work, exams, your job, family… it’s important to live in the moment not via posts. Enjoy the world around you with your own eyes. Enjoy the next concert you are at with your own eyes not via a phone. Enjoy the moment more or at least have that thought.
Tell me about the responsibilities of being an ‘influencer’. What does it mean to you?
I have a responsibility to be authentic at all times and to be socially aware of how anything I post will impact other’s lives. Im only 20 so I have fun but I have a responsibility to be diligent as a lot of young people follow me. When you have any kind of platform I think you should think about others.
What kind of things do you want to use your platform for?
Brands ask me to post products from time to time which is great business wise, but I’m a lot more bothered about the bigger picture of empowerment and helping other young people. I use my platform to talk about social issues and the struggles I have or that other people have.
Do you have a secret Instagram account that’s just for friends and family?
[Laughs] That wouldn’t be a secret if I told you.
Obviously you’re followed by a lot of people, particularly young women. Do you consider yourself to be a role model?
No, I consider myself a very fortunate 20 year old where things have worked out in my life so far, however I still face the same struggles as other young women and it’s important for me to discuss those issues. I am not ignorant of the fact that others see me as a role model and I’m very mindful and thankful of that but I owe it to them to be my authentic self. I am not perfect and neither is life.
Do you feel any pressure as a result of this?
As long as you are your authentic self you can’t worry about that pressure. The only real pressure I feel at the moment is to get my dissertation done to the best of my ability and to pass my exams, honestly that’s real pressure. I have to allow myself to focus on that and not worry about any other external pressures.
There’s been a lot of talk recently about brands like Victoria’s Secret promoting an idealised, and somewhat unattainable body type, do you think brands should be doing more to be inclusive?
When I first started modelling there were only a few brands being inclusive but now a lot more are starting to open their eyes to REAL people. Sometimes change happens slowly and one day I believe we will be in a place where anyone can buy anything in any size and there will be no issue. Victoria’s Secret will also change their perspective eventually… the people will demand it. So maybe one day you might see me on the VS show runway!
There’s more talk about representing diverse body types more than ever, why do you think this is?
Because of the rise of social media more people have a shared voice and the community is demanding it. More than 50% of women are a size 12, 14 and above so it’s insane that brands aren’t more diverse but it’s all slowly changing. Last year I never thought I would be the face of Nike or walk at NYFW and now look at me. We just have to keep on pushing forward and use our voices constructively.
I know you’re affiliated with Nando’s, tell me what your involvement is there?
I’ve grown up loving Nando’s, just like most people my age. I started to see that they have activations and projects away from the food and that they cared about the growth of emerging talent and helped them. I always felt that was cool as you can see the humane side of a brand and it made the relationship organic. When I saw that they were selling the #NandosFightingMalaria bracelet in Nando’s, I wanted to be involved. They were giving something back to the community and they were educating people so it’s great. I found out that a child dies every 2 minutes from malaria and two thirds of all malaria deaths are children under 5. I was discussing this with some of my friends and no one knew so I wanted to be involved to spread the message.
How did that come about?
My personal management Above and Beyond has worked with Nando’s for years on lots of other projects so it was a very easy and real process and he told them about my interest in empowering my audience. We felt the relationship made sense. When we met with the Nando’s team, they in turn told us that they were doing a trip to Mozambique which is the home of PERi-PERi but also a high-risk area for contracting malaria and I wanted to help so I dived straight in and wanted to use my voice and platform. They wanted to partner with me as well so now I’m an ambassador which I felt was cool and I wanted to show everyone what they were doing behind the scenes. I got to travel to Africa and met the most amazing people. It was a life changing trip and I saw that even though Malaria is an easily preventable and treatable disease it still kills thousands of people every year.
Why do you feel this is so important?
I saw first hand how Nando’s were helping to try and solve the Malaria problem. I saw the struggle of local farmers and they needed help and it’s important that Nando’s have partnered with them for the long-term. I was happy that Nando’s weren’t one of those companies taking advantage and not giving back. I love the Nando’s Fighting Malaria bracelets which they have to purchase in restaurants – for £3.50 that will protect 2 lives against malaria for a year. But I really want everyone to donate any change or any they have whenever they make an order, it all makes a difference. Also, all of the proceeds raised from the bracelets will go towards the project – they aren’t one of these companies taking a cut. I back this campaign so much.
Tell me about other some projects that you’re working on.
Right now the only project I’m working on is my dissertation and exams! Afterwards I will be spending a lot of time in the US next year as that is becoming a key market for me and I hope to travel the world a lot more. I will also make sure I go back to Africa to see some of the people I met and will partner with Nando’s on a few more projects.
What are you hoping to achieve?
To pass my exams… It’s important for me to be continue to be inwardly and outwardly happy and make myself and my family proud and I don’t look further than that really. I see the smile on my Gran’s face and that means the world. I want to take her on another holiday and make her proud. I am so fortunate to do a lot of the things I have done. I take nothing for granted and as easy as it’s come for me it can easily disappear so that makes me work harder. I have a great team around me (Above and Beyond, Milk and JAG in US) which I am thankful of and the recent Nando’s Trip to Africa has really made me think about life differently as we are so fortunate.