In the Beginning
When I was about 15 years old, I worked as a receptionist in a large photography studio for the summer. I was not a model at the time. One day, a model didn’t show up for a shoot or the studio forgot to book one and I was asked if I wanted to fill in. I ended up being the body on a treadmill. I was told my head would not be in the picture so we started joking around and I made all kinds of weird faces thinking that the shot would be taken from the shoulders down. I didn’t know at the time that it would be cropped later and all the pictures got passed around the office and everyone got quite a good laugh out of it! That, if you like, was my first “shoot”!
Years later, after I had finished university, a scout stopped me in The Toronto Eaton Centre and suggested I try modeling. Plus modeling was not well known then so I was very skeptical. After looking into it, I realized it was legitimate and went to meet the staff at Plus Figure Models (now defunct) in Toronto. After talking to them and showing them a few pictures, I was booked to shoot a catalogue two days later, which excited and terrified me at the same time! I modeled part-time in Toronto for three years, then quit my job, crossed my fingers and without much of a plan headed to Chicago where I joined Elite.
My mom always promised she wouldn’t let me starve if it didn’t work out and encouraged me to take the chance. There were many times that first year [modeling] full time that I was counting my pennies (as a Canadian in the US with a US visa , I am only legally allowed to model) but since a career in modeling takes time to develop, I’m glad I stuck it out.
I love to go for long walks. I am trying to do regular abdominal work as I want to strengthen my abs and also want to support my lower back as it tends to bother me. I stretch almost every day. I don’t like cardio classes but put me on a dance floor and I’m there for four hours straight!
In my teenage years, I was usually about a size 10-12. I don’t believe in dieting and have always loved my body at any size. I don’t own a scale and have no idea what I weigh. Frankly, I think it is unimportant. I am now a size 14 and it feels natural to me. I have lost a bit of weight this year which was not a deliberate effort. This I know because my jeans fit differently! It came about because I changed my eating habits when I found out my cholesterol is high (ugh!). I either had to change my eating habits or go on medication which I refused to do.
I think the size demands in the plus size industry fluctuate all the time and models would drive themselves crazy trying to accommodate the size requirements of every client. Models will sometimes get looked over for jobs because one client deems them too big and another will think them too small. I am happy with my size because it feels natural to me and I feel healthy. I model with size 12s and size 18s. A sexy woman is a sexy woman!
This Crazy Inudstry
When I was a teenager, and a size 10, I went to an open call for regular size modeling and was told to come back every week for a “weigh in.” The agency actually had a large scale in the office! I thought that was crazy and didn’t pursue it. As a plus model, I have never been asked to lose weight. However, it is common knowledge that if one wants lingerie work, one must be toned (but yes, still voluptuous!) regardless of size.
I did cut my hair into a bob once for a steady client who loved it but other clients were not impressed! My long hair works for me now and I would never cut it that short again. I did have the choice to say no at the time but I thought I would take a chance. I always let my booker know when I’m getting my hair cut especially if I’ll be cutting off more than an inch or two. Some clients are very picky about hair and if you’re on hold for a big job and you’ve just sent off a recent Polaroid, the client is expecting your hair to look a certain way.
When I am in Miami the go-sees and castings are numerous. Depending on the season, there may be two per day. Castings and go-sees can take place at all times of the day and night. I have been on go-sees at 9:00 pm on a Friday night, on location in RVs, in hotel lobbies, hotel rooms (don’t worry this is legitimate- because most shoots in Miami are done on location, the hotel room becomes the shoot office and all the merchandise is in there). It also depends in New York what time of year it is and if you’ve been in town regularly or not. If I stay there sometimes for long periods, I will usually get a minimum of 2-3 castings or more per week. But as I said, no week is “average”.
Does your social life revolve around modeling or do you shy away from the industry in your off hours? Do you find that travel and work get in the way of a social life?
More than half of my really good friends are models but I don’t think of them as part of the “industry.” I just think of them as my friends. One perk of traveling is that I can see my friends in the city I am going to for work. I call my friend Diane, who lives in New York, “my American roomie” (although she is originally from France) and we get to see one another every 2-3 weeks through work which is great. I love going out for dinner with a big group or having a girls only night and getting five or six of my friends together and laughing all night long. My phone bills are really high as a lot of my good friends are scattered across North America.
I usually spend the winter season in Miami and I will go out to industry events here and there. The clubs and restaurants there fascinate me as I would like to get into event planning one day and the décor usually gives me great ideas. I do tend to do a lot of dancing there! Most of the time when I am there I run into models and other friends in the industry who live in other cities and we will get a group together for dinner. Sometimes they are only in town for one or two nights so it is nice to be able to relax and talk. Travel and work really make it difficult sometimes to plan a social life. I often can’t RSVP until the last minute because I don’t know if a hold will be booked or not. But you know what? I chose this job and I love it. No two weeks are ever the same!
How do you feel about internet fan sites and being discussed in forums? Do you see yourself as famous or does attention and adoration still surprise you?
I’m blushing. When I first found out someone had started a fan site about me I was in shock. I thought my friends were joking. I thought they were mistaken. It seems everyone knew about it and forgot to tell me! I kept asking, “Are you sure the pictures are of me?” and “Does he/she know what I look like in the morning?!” When I saw how tasteful it was and how much thought had gone into it I was flattered. I still find it hard to believe that people know of me through my work!
I recently looked at some sites on the internet and was so happy to see how far the industry has come and to see the support behind so many models. I think forums are great and that a lot of information is shared about the industry but I could not sit at a computer and look at comments about me from other people! I won’t even watch any of my television work or interviews if someone tapes them for me! I am a very confident woman but I feel better not analyzing things too much because you may drive yourself crazy. I’m just an average person with a job that happens to involve people seeing my pictures.
If I am recognized, people will often have a very puzzled look on their faces because they can’t place how they know me. I once stood beside two girls who were scrutinizing a poster of me that happened to be in front of us in the subway. They were saying all kinds of comments (they didn’t like my hair, shoes etc.) and I was trying so hard not to laugh! They then stared at me and their faces went crimson and they spent the entire subway ride trying to figure out if I was the model in the ad. Now that was funny!
How did you feel/what did you do when you held your MODE cover in your hands?
I felt so thankful and happy. When I had first started in the industry there was little possibility of a plus model getting a cover. When I held Mode in my hands, I realized how far perceptions had shifted.
What is your most memorable on-the-job experience?
My favorite job was in Tunisia. The people, culture and geography fascinated me. I will never forget the children I met. I learned so much while I was there. The trip did have some interesting twists. I was the only plus model and there were about four regular size models. We were there off-season so we really stood out especially since three of the women in our group were stunning redheads!
In North America , I have become accustomed to the fact that male onlookers are usually interested in the regular size models when shooting on location. Therefore, I became more and more baffled and amazed as the days went by because the men were giving me more attention than the regular size models (one man tried to ride away with me on his horse into the desert and there were even multiple marriage offers).
After a week of strange and hilarious incidents, I was quite perplexed and finally asked our guide what was going on. He told me that many men there preferred larger women. Being a curvy woman was looked upon quite favorably by society. It was such a great feeling to be in a place where being a plus size was not only accepted but celebrated. I was set to stay!
What is your favorite photograph of yourself and why?
My favorite photo is one my cousins used to call my “cat picture.” I believe it was from my second test. At the time I told everyone I wanted to do a picture with a boa. They all told me it would be tacky but they had no idea what I had planned. I put a green boa around my face and had the photographer (Dan Couto) crop it really close. When he developed the photo, he put a color wash on it which really made it vibrant. I’m really proud of this photo for a couple reasons. First, I did it at a time when photos in plus modeling were very conservative. This really stood out! It stood out so much then that nobody wanted to put it in my book because I was told “clients weren’t ready for it yet.” Secondly, I’m really happy with the picture as it was only my second test! Thanks for letting me share it!
Do you encounter size prejudice as a model, either through industry professionals (photographers, stylists, MU artists) or the general public?
I did when I first started modeling but opinions have definitely shifted over the years. I thank models like Emme and Kate Dillon for really making themselves known to the general public. Together with companies like Lane Bryant, the profession of “plus modeling” is now known to many. When I used to go through airport customs I would have to explain my profession every time as I would get the once over and was not a size 4. Now, people are proud to say they know what a plus model is. I’ve had people beam when they have told me that of course they know what plus modeling is as they just saw a television spot about the industry or saw an article in a magazine.
About four years ago, I was trying to explain my profession to someone who must have assumed I had spent lots of money on classes and never got a job because I was “too big” as he kept looking me up and down suspiciously. This doesn’t happen now but back then it happened quite often and I became quite frustrated. Tired of his disbelief that I really was a model at my size, I told him (with quite a straight face), that I was a world renowned knee model and that I had very sexy knees that were in demand all over the world and that it was a very exclusive profession. I thought he knew I was pulling his leg until two of his friends came up to me later asking about my famous knees. My, how times have changed!
What do you love about being a plus size model?
Because of the experiences I’ve had modeling, I am unfazed in most situations. Doing live television work and runway shows force you to react quickly to problems. You cannot take time to think. Reacting versus thinking first becomes natural. I do wish there were more high-end fashion shows. I am thankful that companies like Lane Bryant and designers like Brain Bailey (a fabulous Canadian designer) stage incredible shows that feature plus models. I have done shows for both and there is no more intoxicating feeling than strutting down the runway in stilettos and a sexy outfit! We need more large-scale runway shows!
- If you haven’t started to model yet, go to as many local shows as possible to watch how the models carry themselves. How do they turn? How do they hold their heads? What are they doing with their arms? If you are just starting out enjoy the process! If you are in a local fashion show and make a mistake, don’t let it get you down. Don’t even let it register on your face! Always remember that it will be a really funny story years from now (trust me I know).
- Please do not think you have to spend a lot of money on classes and photos to get placed with an agency! You might end up spending money on pictures that are highly editorial thinking you know your own look and then have an agency sign you wanting to promote you as the sweet girl next door! You will then have to re-test. If an agency wants you, it will help you develop your book and your look and send you to the proper photographers.
- I often hear new models complain that they are not working. When I ask them how many times they have tested, they often tell me “once” and go on to complain that they are broke and that their bookers aren’t working for them. I then like to use the following analogy. I tell them to imagine a store with a few products but mainly consisting of empty shelves. You, as the owner, hire a manager to sell your products. You eventually get mad and frustrated with your manager because sales are not good. How is this person supposed to entice people into the store when there is nothing for customers to look at? It is the same with modeling. How can your booker promote you if there is nothing in your book? Modeling is like opening your own business. You need to make an investment. It may take time to build your book, to develop your cards. There are many other models out there with full books competing against you. Be patient as it probably will not happen overnight! If finances are tight, save your money and set goals for yourself.
- Watch experienced models on set if you ever get the chance. This is the best way to learn. Pose in front of the mirror. Pose with your best friend. This may sound silly, but if you are uncomfortable doing this, how will you be with a room full of people staring at you on set? Look through magazines and note poses. How do the models hold their heads, their hands? What do their lips look like? What expressions do their eyes hold? To this day, I rip pictures out of magazines for ideas for future tests.
- If you are on set and you are doing a laughing shot, really laugh! You don’t have to do it very loud (more like a quiet chuckle) but trust me, if you are exhaling like you would if you were really laughing, the picture will look more natural. Go in front of a mirror to try it. Do a fake laugh and then do a real laugh and notice the difference. Your eyes will look unnatural if you fake the laugh.
I am so happy with the evolution of plus size modeling. The industry can only get better. More companies are creating more diverse lines of clothes to suit all tastes. Advertising budgets are getting larger. Ten years ago you would never see plus clothing ads in magazines such as Glamour, In Style, Marie Claire and Vogue etc.
Big, stylish runway shows like Lane Bryant’s were not in existence. Not only has the market become more noticeable, the press deems it newsworthy and devotes print space and airtime to it. Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood and other big entertainment shows feature plus industry events. They would not do this if the general public wasn’t interested. I hope the industry continues to embrace models of various ages, ethnicities and sizes because it can only make everything more interesting.
What are the differences, pros/cons about the Canadian market vs. the American market?
The Canadian market is great but it is small. The majority of plus work takes place in Toronto with some taking place in Montreal as well. I could not live in Toronto as I do now and make a full-time living working only with Canadian clients. We only have a few department stores nationwide which is generally a large percentage of plus modeling in comparison to the US which has many department stores either nationwide or throughout certain states.
Because the market is smaller, and there are therefore a lot less models, you risk saturating the market with your look. Therefore, it would be great to start out in a Canadian market and continue in it, but don’t expect to be in it all the time. Smaller markets are good as they allow you the opportunity to develop your portfolio, your comp card and your experience level. Canada has always enabled me to get some great tearsheets.
What are your thoughts on how separated “regular” model/advertising differs from plus?
I think it has taken a long time to get to where we are today and we have a long way to go but society is definitely changing its perceptions and therefore magazines will reflect this. Vogue tested the waters with its “Shape Issue” and Glamour published something similar. While not every page had a woman of a different size or height, the point is that this would never have happened five years ago or even two years ago for that matter. I don’t see magazines fully merging shapes any time soon. It may take baby steps but at least they are finally being taken!
I now do editorials and there is no mention of me being a plus model. Five years ago I would have had a banner over my head in pictures announcing “plus size fashions” or something of the sort while the regular model on the opposite page would have no tagline. This makes me very happy. The contents page in magazines used to list “plus size fashions” but most magazines have even stopped doing this too. A fashion spread is a fashion spread! I can’t wait for the day that a plus model makes it to the cover of Vogue. I will personally send her a note of congratulations!
Liis’ website can be found at http://liisweb.com. She can be booked through Ford LA, Ford Toronto, and The Campbell Agency.