How and when did you get started as a plus-size model?
I entered a singing contest in Seattle, WA and Bill Heffner was a judge. He asked if I’d be interested in “large size modeling” – I was completely offended! I did not understand the meaning of “large size model.” Don’t you think that sounds negative? I took it that way and promptly said “no thank you!” and marched myself to the nearest McDonald’s and had a shake and fries!: If he wanted a fat girl model, then he would get one!!! Very healthy attitude huh? In the past, I had the notion that I would have to lose 50+ pounds to be a model. I was not interested in doing that. I had struggled to accept myself at a size 12 (at that time), so I was not going to agonize over losing weight. I guess God really knew what he was doing because I did go see Bill in his office a couple of weeks later. I looked at these beautiful women on the composite cards… same measurements, same curvy figure as me. I truly felt honored at that point to be placed in the same category as these women!
Who are some of your clients?
Surprisingly, most of my work is out of the US. I work in Italy with Elena Miro (brilliant client!), Canada with Reitmans, Germany with many big houses (Neckerman & Otto), and in the US – Lands End, Eddie Bauer, Target, Nordstrom, Federated Group and so on.
Was it difficult to be patient when you first began, or were you fortunate enough to have the jobs pour in?
I had to be very patient. I was still in my senior year at Washington State University. It was important to me to finish school before going down the modeling path. So a lot of times, I wasn’t available for a booking. Or I would finish a test and drive all night to Seattle for a next day booking. It was hard, definitely. I always tell girls who are starting out that it takes a good 2 years before you start seeing the results you might want to see. That means test, a small shoot, another test, another test, a small shoot etc… You really have to put your time in to make this career work! It’s not as easy as people perceive it to be. It is a very rare case that you jump into the spotlight in under a year. I was fortunate enough to land great jobs in the beginning… I worked with BBW on my very first paying job! And I had the fortune of working closely with The Bon Marche and Meier and Frank crews. They were wonderful to me! Really helped me along the way.
As far as frequency of work goes, is the year fairly predictable for you or can it change drastically from one to the next?
YES! It can change from year to year. Especially with the birth of my baby in 2001, I saw a lot of changes in my career. Some are good and some are not so good. I can definitely count on a certain base salary happening, it is just the “icing” that is not always predictable.
You are known for being a client favorite. As a model, what do you think encourages clients to use you repeatedly?
WOW! I really take that as a compliment:… I guess I would have to say it is a fine line between being friendly and being professional. You are always somewhat in the spotlight even when you are not in front of the camera. So, for instance, when you are in the make-up chair, people all around you in the studio can hear your conversation with the hair and make-up artist(s). It’s important to be open with your own life, without sacrificing your own personal privacy. It’s really hard to explain it, but I would say that I really try to open up to everyone on the crew. It’s about being vulnerable in a way. Learning all the names of the crew members, remembering what the makeup artist did last week with her family and asking about that, giving a compliment to the photographer when you see good lighting, sending a thank you note to the art director after a particularly enjoyable shoot, etc. I think it is just who I am as a person as well, so it’s not fake, but it’s appreciating my life and what God has given me and then sharing that thankfulness with who makes that possible.
How do you feel about being idolized? Do you see yourself as famous or does attention and adoration surprise you?
It absolutely surprises me! (I’m famous???) I think it is so interesting to hear people say that they are inspired by a project that I am involved in. I am humbly honored…
What is your most memorable on-the-job experience (casting, booked job, etc)? Any funny stories or mishaps while shooting?
Oh my : … YES – I have a funny one! It is so embarrassing though!!! OK – it was my first time in Italy. I was very excited about working with this certain photographer so I am sure I was nervous. We were getting changed for our next shot and I had to put hose on… well I walked out on set not knowing that my hose were over my skirt with my bum hanging out… let me tell you how many gorgeous guys were on set too!!! I could have died – but you know what? it was really funny so I just laughed too:! It’s kind of a joke now with that client – we sometimes talk about that day!
How do you keep your body and skin model-perfect?
It’s in the genes…:! In reality, I try to walk a few times a week about 40-50 minutes. I have a 2 year old too so that keeps me busy! But I really don’t have a genuine “workout” routine per se. I enjoy brisk walking so that’s what I try to do. As far as the skin care goes… I really have to use very little product. I try to exfoliate once a month. I use Ummelina Spa treatments for that. But my daily routine is Cetaphil and Clinique moisturizer(with SPF).
Do you do anything special to prepare for a job?
Aesthetically I usually have a manicure and pedicure using nudish tones. Make sure my hair is in good shape with a nice cut and the color done. I almost always blow dry my hair out before the job. I have learned that some hair stylists might not have time to do my hair well. It is usually due to having several girls in one day! So I try to make their job a bit easier by having a base done on my hair that they can easily work with (rather than showing up with wet hair.)
I have a routine with going on trips… 1. Call airline for seat assignments (hate that middle seat!) 2. Give airline my mileage # (my family has been on lots of free trips using mileage!) 3. Have hotel and travel details printed out from agency either in email or faxed (it’s a GREAT idea to have everything in writing – call time, contact phone numbers for the art director etc…I’ve had to learn this one the hard way!) 4. Make sure I have the “brings” info. (special undies, padding?, shoes etc) 5. Pack my photos of my little girl:… Basically I have a check list!
What is your favorite photograph of yourself and why?
By far it is the black and white photo in Italy. I have a body suit on under the silk cloth, blowing in the wind. I love that because it was so spur of the moment… we just did it because we were inspired by the beauty of the beach and the wind blowing and I felt beautiful! Loved that shoot!
Have you ever encountered size prejudice as a model, either through industry professionals or the general public?
Absolutely. I have been on several jobs (mind you, it was several years ago now) where I was shooting with straight size models. Some of them were really turned off by the fact that they were shooting with a BIG girl. Some photographers had problems shooting plus size too! But what is so amazing to me is that we are seeing changes in our industry. Kate Dillon is shooting with amazing photographers. We are seeing attitudes changing with other “smaller” models when we are on shoots. I really thing MODE did that. I think Emme did that. I think designers are doing that. I think WE did that! And I am proud to be a part of this attitude change!
What do you love about being a plus size model and what would you change if you could?
I love that young girls are looking at us and are inspired in a way. I love that I work with such amazing people in the industry. I love that I can talk about my body with pride now. I love that this job helped my own attitude about size. I love that my daughter will have a chance to love her body, no matter the size, in a way that I didn’t have an opportunity to because of our societal views. I love that attitudes are changing – and I get to be a part of that!
I think the only thing that is bothering me right now in the industry is the use of size 10′s for “plus.” I really struggle with this because I think there has to be room for every size range in our industry. But where should the cut off point be for the plus model? I have learned that this industry is like a pendulum on the size issue for plus models. Right now we are swinging to the “small” side. Four or five years ago, you couldn’t work if you were smaller than a 14. So it is a catch 22 you know?
I always say to the newer girls, “do not change who you are or your size for ANY client! The jobs will come to you – be healthy and be true to yourself – no matter what.” It’s been a hard lesson for me to learn. In the beginning, you try to mold yourself to every clients liking. I guess because you want to work for everyone! But this is exhausting and really unhealthy for your mind and your body. Another hard lesson learned…
You are famous for so many reasons. What modeling accomplishment has made you the most proud?
I think it was when I spoke at a church youth program. I showed the young ladies (all in their teens) photos of many different women I work with who are plus models. I did not show them their sizes though. Then I asked them to throw out some comments about what their first thoughts were… some said gorgeous eyes, great legs!, cool hair cut and so on. When I finally told them their sizes (anywhere from 14 – 18), they were shocked! But they were really open to the idea that beauty can come in all sizes. It is a state of mind really. I am so blessed to be able to share my story with people I work with, friends and family, but most importantly it’s about these girls. The fact that being a plus model might change a young girl’s perception is really the most honorable thing I can do with my accomplishments as a model.
What advice do you have for aspiring models?
Be patient, be true to who God wants you to be, be honorable in all ways, share your gifts, share your heart, give back to those who help you along the way. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Talk to your bookers. Know the owner of your agency(s). Ask him/her questions directly if you don’t understand something. Ask them for guidance on your career – let them know your goals too. WOW – there is just SO much to say here. But I think the most important piece of advice is to stay true to who you are as an individual. Do not change who you are for someone else. That includes mind and body! God made you perfect – make sure you know that as well.
What would be your dream job outside of modeling?
To be a public speaker – to share my experiences – to make other women feel beautiful. I guess that’s more than one job huh?
What do you see yourself doing after your modeling career is over? When do you envision retiring from modeling?
I want to provide myself some sort of outlet from the experiences I have been given in my industry. I would love to go on public speaking tours someday. I am currently working on a plus maternity line and I think that this will give me the outlet I am looking for. I love the fact that I can give back by providing women with something to feel good about! Really – it’s all about giving back.
What is your next modeling project?
I am going to NY to shoot with Federated and then I am doing a couple of tests there as well. November was pretty busy with a couple of trips to Miami, a trip to LA and also on to Italy for Elena Miro.
Barbara can be booked through Heffner Management – firstname.lastname@example.org