Amy Lemons and I, as models, traveled in different circles of photographers, magazines and runway shows. We eventually crossed paths on the subway during NY fashion week. She looked so young. How could this child be the same person on billboards and magazine covers? Were her parents in town? Where was she staying? Did she feel safe traveling alone?
Our schedules for the next few hours were the same so we decided to travel the city together. Durning those few hours I found out about her childhood and how she got into modeling. I found out what steps her parents were taking to protect her. ”But,” she said, looking at me with a knowing smile, “there’s nothing they can do to really protect you from this fashion world once you’re in it.” That comment stuck with me for years.
Amy and I reconnected a few years ago in Malibu. Both of us were no longer modeling full time. She was enrolling at UCLA and I was involved in product development ventures. We openly exchanged stories about what happened to us and how the modeling experience affected us.
The thought occurred to me, there’s a real need for other model’s to hear these stories, isn’t there? If I had known that I wasn’t the only one experiencing the pressures of the modeling world alone, perhaps I would have transitioned from and integrated the experience a little easier.
Perhaps, but then, would I have listened or would I have just rolled my eyes and moved onto the next job? For so many models, the hope of winning the fashion lottery is always just a job away that even those in the enviable position of having consistent, quality work will accept poor treatment and simply survive until it’s over.
For Amy, it isn’t over. Her work is beginning. For her, it begins with speaking out about what it was like for her and what change she’d like to see.
Craig Palmer, The Cultural Omnivore, and I interviewed Amy.
You have worked both as a straight sized and plus sized model. What have you learned from this experience?
I’ve learned that I’m really not a straight or a plus sized model. My size does not define me and my management recognizes that and represents me as the individual I am. That hasn’t happened to me before and it has been the best experience of my career so far. The modeling world can categorize me and I am fine with that but I represent a size in between the two worlds and there is a huge gap in that market. Why do we have to be a size two or a size 12? There are a lot of sizes in between that need representation. I think it’s important for models to know that there is a choice out there.
Some people accuse the modeling industry of body fascism, others see thinness as part of the territory. On what side of the conversation do you stand and why?
I think all body types are part of the territory. A whole other world has been opened up to me in the fashion industry. My curves were embraced and no one has tried to pin me as stick thin which I will never be.
Eating disorders are endemic in the modeling industry while the majority of Americans struggle with obesity. How do you define wellness and health?
I define wellness and health by my own standard. Every body type is different and there isn’t one approach to fitness. It takes work but I have found a balance where my body should be naturally and I believe that is where a woman looks her best. It’s different for everyone. Some girls look great as a size four, like Sara Ziff, because that is where they are naturally. Some girls are a size 14 and look amazing like model Ashley Graham. I don’t feel I have to compromise myself any longer and I am being embraced by the fashion industry. That is a great feeling.
When I left for Los Angeles and went back to UCLA I found a whole new happiness and stability that I never felt before. I realized I wasn’t defined by my looks and the modeling business.
What do you think about the unobtainable images perpetuated by the media?
I think women want less illusion in their fashion images. There’s an emerging ‘let’s get real’ mentality that makes women less competitive and more supportive of each other.
How is your experience now as a model different than the beginning of your career?
I wish the Model Alliance was around when I started in the business. I wasn’t able to properly talk about my struggles and therefore they got worse. It can be very alienating. The Model Alliance brings girls together and gives them a voice. It advocates for models so they are not compromised and we asks for standard rights in the work place just like everyone else has. It is even more important when you are dealing with minors. We are also working to provide health insurance and I believe that is a great place to start.
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