June 2019 Playmate Yoli Lara

Yoli Lara

When Hurricane Maria hit back in 2017, it was devastating to my hometown of Toa Baja, which is on the outskirts of San Juan and right near the beach. I was living and working as a model in Los Angeles at the time. I wanted to go home immediately and help my family and my people put the pieces back together, and I had an idea how I could make the biggest impact. I told my mom, “I’m moving back, and I’m going to compete for Miss Puerto Rico in the Miss Universe pageant.” My mom said, “You’re crazy—you’re already established in Los Angeles. Why do you want to come back to the island?” I told her, “I want to use that platform to say something and for people to hear me.”

I moved back to Puerto Rico the following April. ­Nobody in the industry knew me, and I’d never done a pageant in my life. While I was there, I worked with Waves for Water, a nonprofit that was installing handmade water filters all over the island. They sponsored a project I did for the pageant: One of the schools in my hometown didn’t have any water, so we installed a cooler and did a presentation where we ran dirty water through the filter so it was totally clean. They do wonderful work, and I was blessed that they helped me use that experience in the pageant.
I didn’t get this opportunity because I look the way I look. I got it because I have something to say.
Winning Miss Puerto Rico would have been a dream, but it wasn’t in the cards for me. Around the time of the pageant, my modeling agency in Los Angeles dropped me because I wasn’t there. (Luckily, they ended up giving me a second chance.) When I came back here, I had nothing; I had given up everything to go back home. It was frightening, but I didn’t care. I gave 110 percent of myself, and even though I didn’t win I felt like a winner with everything I had done—the pageant, the rebuilding, everything.
And if I had won, I wouldn’t have been able to do this story! It wasn’t even two weeks after I got back to Los Angeles that Playboy contacted me. I remember thinking, This is it—my validation. If I work hard and treat people with respect, the universe follows through. I said yes because I think any chance a woman gets to showcase her power is a great opportunity.

I didn’t get this opportunity because I look the way I look; there are 10,000 girls who are more beautiful than I am, who have all the things a magazine would be lucky to have. I got this opportunity because I have something to say. I fell down, I got up. Even though one door closed, it doesn’t matter, because down the road I’m going to have a good time. That’s what I want people to say at the end of my journey: “She did it.”

YOLI LARA'S DATA SHEET

THE FACTS

BIRTHPLACE
Bayamón, Puerto Rico
CURRENT CITY
Los Angeles, CA
INSTAGRAM HANDLE
Theyolimarlara
PLAYBOY ISSUE
Spring 2019
ON HAPPY PLACES
For me, the beach is everything. I’m an Aquarius, and my full first name has the ocean in it—the mar in Yolimar. I was born on an island, so I feel very tied to the ocean. Most people are like, “Oh, we’re going to the beach!” But for me it’s a spiritual, cleansing adventure.

ON CAUTIONARY EXAMPLES
I was very influenced by Disney movies. My favorite is Pocahontas because she stays with her family and her tribe; she doesn’t live her dream. When I saw that story I was like, “No. Even though it will kill me in my heart, I want to reach for my dreams.” I left Puerto Rico and all my family; I knew I had to step out of my comfort zone.

ON PAIN AND GAIN

Growing up, I couldn’t see my mom that much ­because she worked full-time, so I spent a lot of time with my grandma. She would braid my hair for school, fixing it in two little pigtails. It hurt so much! My hair is really curly, and she would make those braids so tight. But they were always intact, even at six p.m. when I returned from school. I always looked fabulous, thanks to her.

ON OPPORTUNITY
I did my first photo shoot when I was 14. They were looking for models for a hair show, and I remember my mom saying, “You’re not going to dye your hair.” But I knew I would take the opportunity. They wanted to dye my hair blonde with streaks of red and ­orange—very ­futuristic. I said, “Let’s do it. Whatever it is, let’s do it.” I went to school the next day and got sent right back home—­literally, walk in, walk out.

ON REJECTION
I wasn’t a conventional model; like all the women in my family, I have a tiny waist and big hips. I’m used to it now, but at those early castings I would ­always hear, “You’re perfect, but your hips are too big.” I would be like, “I can’t do anything about it, because that’s ­literally how my body is. I can’t just grow or shrink.” I learned that the job entails rejection.

ON PROGRESS
I’m grateful that industries now are more inclusive regarding race, shape, size, color and gender. I think people are more open to change and diversity and to accepting different things.

ON RIRI
Rihanna is one of my idols. She’s from Barbados and was discovered on the island. She sings, she dances, she does it all—and she has a tiny waist and big hips. When I was growing up I would watch her singing “Umbrella” and say, “I want to be like her.”

INSIDE THE ISSUE

Spring 2019: The Speech Issue

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