Lingerie Designer x Ballerina x Cool Girl
@elmalingerie | San Francisco, California
Meet Elma Valerio. Self-proclaimed Japanese-minded woman with a California soul. Born in Japan, raised in Hawaii, and now based in California, Elma is the founder and designer at Elma Lingerie and the newest addition to the YBS interview series.
I first discovered her on Instagram when her gorgeous lace bralettes caught my eye. Then, come to find out, I learned that she designs her pieces to flatter petite busts. Check out her site and you’ll see that she uses small-chested models in all of her photos.
I had the pleasure of meeting her in San Francisco, and we bonded over our shared desire to help women embrace their natural figures (small boobs and all).
In this interview, she opens up about her personal confidence journey and shares her top tips for celebrating her body and feeling like the best version of herself.
On growing up. . .
I grew up in Hawaii, it was pretty multicultural, and it opened my eyes to the idea that everyone is different.
I always looked up to my mom. She was a single mom, always working several jobs, and she still managed to get us to school on time (well mostly), feed us lunch, etc. She was always a pillar of strength to me.
But because of that, vulnerability always felt like a weakness.
On body image + boobs. . .
I was definitely self-conscious about how flat I was.
I grew up looking at all the Vogue and Victoria’s Secret catalogs my mom had around the house. It was hard not to compare myself.
I started wearing bras really late. I remember always wanting to wear one. It was like getting your period, shaving your legs, you know all those things. . . to me, it was part of becoming a woman.
I remember in 9th grade I got my first bra that fit well. And I only wore that one bra. It made me feel filed out. I think it was the only bra I wore for a year [laughs].
I also did a lot of ballet growing up. And when you’re lined up with all the other 12-14-year-old girls who are all starting to develop, and you’re in very tight leotards. . . you definitely feel self-conscious.
On her confidence journey. . .
Things changed when I started dancing more and it became my passion.
I realized there’s a lot more than pretty boobs.
I felt like, “at least I can dance. I’m good at something.’”
I started focusing on me and my strengths. It was the biggest turning point when I stopped comparing myself to others.
Brene Brown’s book Rising Strong also changed the way I think for the better. Growing up, vulnerability always felt like a weakness. It wasn’t until I read that book that I realized it can be a strength.
On feeling like a woman. . .
Even now I still sometimes feel young. I definitely still have those moments, especially when people tell me I look like I’m 16. . .
But I realized that when I take the time to take care of myself, that’s when I feel most womanly.
I’ll get my hair cut once or twice a year, and on those days I feel like a new woman. Even little things like taking the time to get your nails done. . . you should spend time doing that. It’s like, OK, I managed my time well enough, and now I have to work on my beauty.
Once a week I try to do my facemask. It’s one of those Korean ones. I spend 15-20 minutes, just working on my skin, working on my beauty.
I also like how I feel when I dance. I go once or twice a week. Working out at the gym isn’t the best fit for me. But I still do love to dance.
I love seeing the older ladies at my dance studio that are so flexible and strong and beautiful. They’ve been taking care of their bodies for so long, and I hope to be like that when I’m 50 or 60.
My mom is also one woman who really takes care of herself. She would even wear gloves and a hat while she was driving . . . like she looked ridiculous [laughs]. But she wanted to protect herself from the sun.
She was always really beauty conscious. As a teenager, that actually turned me off. I was like ‘eff that.’
But I’m 29 now, so I now realize that taking care of yourself is important. But it’s not only about the outside, it’s the idea that you’re taking time for yourself. It’s really all about mindfulness for me.
A lot of times, I’m just overwhelmed with running my business. So when I can take an hour and a half out of my week to dance or focus on myself, it feels like a victory. It means I’ve managed my time well enough to take those moments to dance or work on my beauty. I feel in control.
My advice to women who want to feel more confident with their bodies would be:
- Stop comparing yourself. The biggest turning point for me was when I stopped comparing myself.
- Know that everyone is different. For instance in Asia, small boobs and petite figures are gorgeous. Beauty means something different to everyone. It’s like that cliche – “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” – it’s really true.
- Focus on being the best you. Just work on yourself.
HER PERSONAL STYLE
It’s interesting as a designer, my personal style is one of those things I feel like I don’t spend enough time on to really develop.
I do love Audrey Hepburn. She’s so petite. It’s like that quote that Givenchy said when he was dressing her for Sabrina, “Audrey, you’re going to make big breasts a thing of the past.”
I also love the cool girl vibe of Jane Birkin and Kate Moss. Their style definitely influenced me in high school and college.
But I find that more and more lately, I’m starting to dress how my mom used to dress in the early 90s.
She used to wear turtlenecks and mock neck tops, which made absolutely no sense in Hawaii. But she wore those with high waisted jeans, and it looked so elegant. So I’ll try to do that. It makes you feel pulled together, but not uptight.
I love the high-neck top look, but I also love the really deep plunge. One of my favorite tops is this one that doesn’t button in the front. . . it crosses over and gives that extra deep plunge so your bra will show. I love that.
That’s the great thing about small boobs – you can get away with being slightly more scantily clad, without looking slutty
As for bras, I pretty much wear my own products every day.
Ever since I launched my essentials bralette, it’s been my go-to bra for every day. I also like the Sophie style with the front closure and Y-back. And my Sylvia bra is the one I travel in – its light padding and easy to pack.
I also love La Perla bras, of course. And Agent Provocateur – but only when they go on sale. I found this site, Avenue 32, that had a La Perla bodysuit, which was originally several hundred dollars. . . but I got it for $100. I don’t think I’ve even worn it yet, but I just love it.
-As told to YBS
Do you relate to Elma’s story? Scroll down and leave a comment below and let Elma and me know what you think!