Just be honest with yourself and with what you’re bringing to the table.
When I started modeling, I wanted to do plus size because I was curvy. And I was still the petite plus, I barely had my toe in plus. If you’re around my size it’s glamour modeling, it’s more sexual modeling – you know, you’re on the hood of a car. If you have any kind of shape then they want you to make it hypersexual. So it goes from couture, to commercial, glamour, then plus size, and plus size goes back to couture where they want to put you in something nice and you don’t have to be oversexualized. I wanted to be in plus size because I still want to have my dignity and I want it to be about the clothes. Being a sexy chick is not my thing. When I told my ex-boyfriend I was getting into modeling, he showed me this video – someone had recorded a live performance and this girl comes up there and she’s voluptuous and she has a lingerie outfit on. He’s like, “I see you doing stuff like this if you’re modeling.” And I’m like, “That’s not modeling, she’s just up there with this group, standing there. That’s not modeling to me and I know I don’t want to model lingerie.” And he kept telling me, “You’re going to have to do that. You’re going to have to do this type of modeling and you’re going to have to sleep with people to get ahead. That’s just part of it. Do you think all these people didn’t have to get on the casting couch?” I think some of them did and I think some people didn’t. I think some people, their only option was that because the person was a dirtbag and would have held it over them and they wanted their career more than that moment. It all depends on how you see it. Some people never auditioned in their life and someone just plucked them and they started working… there’s a whole array of ways to make it. But you’re telling me it’s guaranteed I’m going to have to sit there and lose my dignity and degrade myself just so I can have a career doing this? I don’t think that’s correct at all. No, you don’t have to do that and take those routes. You can still have your integrity. It might take you longer. I feel like it’s taken me longer because I didn’t do certain things or I didn’t model a certain way, but it would have taken me somewhere I don’t want to be. Can you look yourself in the mirror and say, “I’m proud of her”?
As a curvier Black model, you definitely have to work other jobs because the pay rate that they give is very different if you’re a minority and then if you’re a curvy minority. You’ll see the pay scale and they’re like, “Don’t you want to have exposure and work for free, or work for $100?” And then you’ll see other people’s castings and it’s like $400, $600, $700 to do these types of things. Or even just the body type: if you’re a zero to two, money’s coming at you to do these castings. For fashion shows, those models will get paid but the bigger models, they’ll want you to work for free. It’s changing, but it hasn’t changed. The last show I did, that’s exactly what it’s like. When I’m doing LA Fashion Week, that’s what it’s like. Unless you go through your agency, and then they’re taking something.
I’m a Black model so you don’t have a lot of people who know how to work on different colored skin. You have to make sure that you know what you look like when you come to set, and have your own kit. You’ll see a lot of Black women in the bathroom redoing our makeup and our hair. Which is unfortunate because everyone else got to have their stuff done professionally and they look good, now they’re just reading magazines on their phone, getting ready for the show. And after they do our hair and makeup, we have to go get our kit and go fix it because they have us looking grey instead of brown. Or with the hair, they touch your hair like it’s straw, or foreign, and they call people over… all the time. If we’re being honest, the beauty standard is white in the United States. If people are like, “This is the standard,” you’re going to go to school and learn how to do hair and makeup for the standard. That’s the standard, that’s what we’re going for, so that’s how all the schooling and the makeup is focused on that. They’re not thinking, “I’m only learning this one thing,” they’re thinking, “Ok, I’m learning what the teacher is teaching me,” and no one is stopping to think of everyone else. Definitely, if you’re going to do hair and makeup, think of everyone. That’s how you have to learn how to take care of yourself to make sure that you look great because you know that you’re not the standard.
I was born in the Midwest, just for a second because I’m from a military family so as soon as I popped out, they were like, “Go to Japan.” I think I was like eight months and we flew to Japan and we were there for three or four years. Then I came here, Edwards Air Force Base. Have you been by Edwards, like when you’re driving to Vegas and you go to Barstow? You’re going through Mojave and that ugly desert and you pass an exit and there’s all these little streets and you might see a car, like, “Where the hell are they going?” because they’re just going to nowhere. That’s where I’m from. Seventeen miles off that exit is a whole military base that’s been out there since at least the 60s, maybe the 40s. We didn’t get to bounce around everywhere, we thought we were going to but my dad had put a freeze on it so we’re like, “Hey! When are we going to Germany? Let’s get out of here! This place is not it!” So we got dumped there and my parents went to buy a house, 20 minutes away in ugly California City. The whole time, I was like, “How am I going to get out of here?” It didn’t feel like home to me and my whole life felt out of place. It took me forever to get out of the desert. I didn’t move to LA until 2014.
I initially wanted to be an actress, so I started looking at magazines, and I thought, “I’m seeing a lot of celebrities on the covers of these magazines now. It used to be models, but now I’m seeing Drew Barrymore and Halle Berry and these actresses on the cover of every single magazine so I have to learn how to model.” That’s what got me into it, because I don’t know what I’m doing – I grew up a tomboy, playing sports, not this. Then I went onto Model Mayhem looking for photographers, and I happened to stumble into working with a photographer who was like, “I’ll work with you” even though I was like, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” We tried it out and for like six to eight months I was driving from Valencia to Torrance and all day, twelve, fourteen hour days, we’d just shoot and learning angles, different outfits, learning how to pose and all of that kind of stuff.
I went to Barnes & Nobel and you have to get the acting book – 101, how to act, how to get into the business – so I was like, “Maybe they have something on modeling” because this was back in the day when the internet’s not helpful. I happened to find Roshumba Williams’ book The Idiot’s Guide to Being a Model. I pick up this bible, volume 2. No other modeling books unless you’re trying to build a train. Luckily, she was smart and she wanted to get people prepared and I happened to get that book and that was how I learned how to brand myself and be ahead of the game. The A to Zs to look for, how to save your money, what type of model you are… like, as much as I want to be Linda Evangelista, is that really me or am I more of a classic beauty type? Or the way I’m shaped, am I more of an Amazon? It has those breakdowns – this is me, this is not. I’m not Beyoncé, I’m not Grace Jones, who do I look like? You start looking at yourself and what you want to do. I may look really editorial but I don’t want to do that every day, maybe I want to do more commercial. Just be honest with yourself and with what you’re bringing to the table.
Runway, lifestyle, commercial, there are all these different forms. There’s so many different breakdowns, you have to learn how to do all that. It’s like if you work any other job, there’s all these facets that you have to know that all come together. You can’t go to your job like, “I know how to do Excel but nothing else, I don’t know Word.” You have to learn it. I like doing all the different types of shoots… some are the worst but then you survive them. Like doing background work, sometimes that’s the worst but you survived it and then you have these new friends that were in the trenches with you so now it’s a great experience. With a lot of the different modeling photoshoots, the people that I’ve been able to work with have been so cool. I haven’t had to work with any horrific people to make me hate any experiences. I’ve lucked out in that. But when you see people or you’re in an environment that might be like that you can side step it. You don’t have to dive into the energy, you can just go, “I don’t have to mess with that,” and then you can still enjoy the shoot and what you’re doing.
I think if I had to pick one, editorial might be the most fun because you can get more into costume. They’re bringing their clothes and they have an idea and you can become whatever that is. I can leave Magdalene a little bit more behind versus like in those ads you see where I’m playing more of a senator, so I’m bringing my clothes and I’m in that podium set and I can only stay in this little restricted area. It’s fun and I love the people on set but it’s a totally different experience. With editorial, you’re in a different location, on the side of some mountain in heels… ruining your shoes. But then you’re wearing a fantastic outfit! And you see the pictures and you’re like, “Ok, those are good! Still mad about those shoes…” So I think editorial, but with my body type and my look, I don’t think I’ll book as much of that because I think I have more of a commercial look. You know, the smile… “Colgate!” “Life insurance!”
Usually, you get there and meet the person you’re working with. Hair, makeup, that discussion. It’s just a long day. Say you’re doing runway, for some reason they want you to be there all day. You’re like, “My show’s not until 8:00 tonight, why do you want me to be here at 8:00 a.m. to sit around and do nothing?” It’s not sexy. You go and get fitted, you can do fittings earlier or the same day. I can’t eat or pee when I’m working, or drink water. For some reason my body shuts down. You get energy and adrenaline, that keeps you going throughout the whole thing. Once I see the clothes or the outfit – depending on when I get that information, if it’s the night before, a week before, or on set – then I’m choreographing. I’m already starting to think of my poses. If it’s swimwear or gowns, what vibe are you going for? I’m definitely in my head thinking of poses the entire time. I’m already thinking of what I need to crank out and in what order. It’s a lot of mental work. Because I want each client to think, “I’m so glad that I chose this model. This is how it’s supposed to be done.” That’s a big piece for me; for other people, I’m not sure what their head game is because they seem very relaxed. I’m not. I’ll be sitting there but I’m in the zone that whole time. But I love it. I love, love, love it. It’s eustress, not distress. I’m not there killing myself, it’s good stress. And the next day I’m exhausted. When I finish a shoot, I’m exhausted. I left it all out there.
You’re working for yourself, so you’re submitting constantly, all day. When you wake up, you check your e-mails and you start submitting: LA Casting, you see what’s available and you start submitting. You haven’t even brushed your teeth yet and you’re scanning to see what’s available. And all day you’re checking your phone and submitting, so you’re always working if you’re working for yourself.
Even when you fail, you know yourself better. Auditions that you don’t book and call-backs that you don’t book and you’re worried about going… you know now about your anxiety, you know how you deal with it when you don’t get it. Am I going to be bummed out for three weeks, or do I have the car ride home to be really fucking pissed about it and then shake it off? It’s not all smiles, there’s so much rejection, it’s crazy. And it’s silent rejection. You have to grow thick skin, you have to know it’s not about you. You’re a hanger – when you see couture, those are hangers that are walking down. So you have to think of it as not personal to you, they want their clothes to look well on whatever display or mannequin that it’s on. You have to remove your ego from a lot of it. Everything happens in waves and seasons, so maybe it’s not the season for me. Calvin Klein I think had a whole season where he used blonde models with long straight hair and they had these huge gaps in their teeth. And that was the whole catalogue, a very specific look, very uniform. He’s an artist and he had a vision for how he wanted this whole thing to be displayed and that’s ok that I’m not a part of that. Everyone’s submitting, it’s one out of a hundred or whatever, then you play the numbers game and the likeliness that I was going to be the person – it takes a lot of the weight off and then you start rooting for the person who got it. Good for them. And if you’re navigating your own career, you’re already moving on to the next thing and you don’t have time to dwell on that. Unless it’s a direct call back, those are the only times that you know it’s you and then usually you have a reason or you talk to the person and maybe you don’t fit the attire. I was so brokenhearted, I couldn’t do this one gig; it was for bras and it wouldn’t fit on me perfectly because it was supposed to go against your sternum and bras never do that for me. But you know then that you’re not the person for it. And you met cool people in the lobby and I hope one of them got it. That would be cool if someone I met, I can see them on the ad. That’s how you can deal with a lot of the rejection: it’s perspective. And rooting for the other people; I hope they do well, there’s room for all of us. I want to win, I want you to win, I want all of us to win.
I think you need an agent. But you don’t need to work through an agent. The thing that I’ve seen is that if you say you have one or even if they haven’t booked you work ever and you’ve been with them for 18 years, as long as you have that agency rep or you can flash that and you can say, “Oh, you can go through my agent,” that’ll up the stakes and the professionalism. But always work for yourself, always book yourself. A lot of agents’ top models are already booking them work so sometimes they just need filler so their catalog looks like they represent a lot of people. But then these people down here, they’re never talking to, they’re never sending them out for stuff, or they might send them out to like a massive call, but you don’t hear from them any other time. They have their top people, their earners that are keeping them working. Until you get into that loop, they’re not really worried about you as much. So if you’re booking yourself while you’re with them – and you’re not in this upper level so you want to book something, that’s upping your value. Then they say, “Oh, we see that you booked that,” and then you remind them, “Yes, I just booked this, see that?” If you just waited for someone else… you have to be your own Cinderella. You’ve got to save yourself. It gives you that freedom because then you’re like, “I’m independent, I can totally book myself.” So if I switch agencies or if they’re not booking me – some are like, “Hey we haven’t booked you in a year” and then they want to drop you after a year, you’re not feeling defeated because the agency dropped you because they didn’t book you. You’re like, “I’m booking myself, I didn’t even notice. I’ve been booking myself so much I didn’t even notice you guys didn’t book me.” Your perspective changes. It’s liberating when you do book and work for yourself because you’re out there negotiating and getting more comfortable with your rate. No, I don’t want to put on my makeup and be there for eight hours, ten hours, and I do my hair and makeup, for a hundred bucks or for “exposure.” And I’m driving there, too, parking. What number would make me want to do these things? You keep checking in with yourself.
When you go to agencies, you also have to break yourself out of what they want to see you as. When I first started with a lot of acting agencies, I weighed more, but I don’t think I ever looked like middle-America mom. Different agencies were trying to make me look Roseanne-ish, classier, but like, ”You’re thick and you’re black and we see you as a mom in the Midwest,” and I’m wearing clothes that are contemporary and cat eye liner and I’m like, “That’s what you see?” And they’re like, “Yeah. Black woman weighing over 150.” I think it was like, if you’re plus size, you have to be a nurse or a caregiver or a best friend type – there’s a thing that they like to push you into, a certain category. You have to definitely be aware of that so you don’t get pushed into that. Because you’ll just end up being the best friend or someone in the background, why are you putting me in these frumpy clothes that look crazy? Maybe this isn’t the set I should be in, it’s not the right people, we don’t have the same vision in mind, so you have to always be aware of that when you’re working with agencies. If they start sending you out on castings – why are you sending me out as this 45-year-old, three kids, working in a factory, you always send me for this! This is the eighteenth time you’ve sent me for this. You have to pay attention: are you guys taking me the right way?
You know how people are like, “You’re right where you’re supposed to be”? The universe has a plan for you and you’re right where you’re supposed to be. That relieved me from a lot of pressure where I could just sit back and breathe and not have this constant anxiety and fear that I’m not doing enough. Because if you’re doing this business by yourself, if you can’t find a good uplink… like, I haven’t been able to find a mentor, physical or anyone to talk to over the phone or anything, so I’m just fumbling around. I always knew I wanted to work in entertainment. I wanted to be a kid actor, so I feel like I’m behind. If that’s what you want to do, you’re like, “When is this going to start?” All the years going by and you’re like, “When is this going to start?” I’m 20 years behind where I wanted; I had this clock in my head that I should have already been going that whole time. So that was kind of mentally wearing me down. And I didn’t have an uplink to be like, “No, you’re doing fine.” I’m just working and I’m not even looking at what I’m doing. You also have to pause and look back at your accomplishments to keep you going, like, “Ok, I am doing some stuff.” It’s ok to make mistakes and fumble around and you don’t have to put all that pressure on you to meet a certain gold standard. If you’re going for it every day or at least in your heart still thinking about it, then you don’t have to get as stressed out and enjoy the ride a little bit more.
I didn’t even realize I was living my dream until this last year. I have my wall affirmations and I re-do them every year and I put some of the same stuff from before. One of them is agencies I’m with. Before, I had it as a goal, I want to be signed to these agencies. And then when I was doing my affirmations every year, I’d do another poster board and I didn’t realize I was already in it. So SAG was a goal, and then next thing I know I was in SAG. I was just looking at, “I need continuous bookings from SAG, I need to keep booking commercials, if it’s backgrounds I get upgraded…” I’m just working on that, go, go, go, versus I’m actually accomplishing the dreams that I put up there. I’m looking at this stuff that I wanted to accomplish and I’m like, “I have that.” I have a sociology degree and you hang up the things you’ve done because you’re supposed to look at them. But you don’t. You get blind to them. You have to validate yourself. Just say it out loud: “I’m proud of myself, I did that.” That’s very important. Give yourself praise. I thought I did that because I would be like, “Yay!” but that was it. But that little “Yay!” is not enough so this last year I had to go through and learn how to do that, have that self-validation.