Plus Model Nicole Lebris is a classic beauty.
Deep brown eyes accompanied by a soft and inviting smile. Never would we think that as a young child her playmates would call her names because she was growing at a faster rate than most. With her supportive family by her side Nicole began to appreciate her body and declared her independence from low esteem in one of Marie Claire’s most well known articles about body image.
It was a pleasure to sit down with Nicole for a heart-to-heart on plus modeling and curvy life…[Maddy] Were you a curvy girl in your earlier years? [Nicole] I was always a big, curvy girl. I was tall and very womanly early on. Middle and high school were not my favorite years. All the popular girls were small and cute, and I was called ‘ogre’ and ‘hulk’. I had very low self esteem and was constantly yo-yo dieting. My mom and older women I met would warn me that things would turn around as I got older, and they did. I absolutely love my body now. [Maddy] How did you begin your modeling career? Were you discovered or did you discover “it”? [Nicole] I first got into modeling by taking some snapshots with my digital camera at home. I did some fresh makeup on myself and went to the window and took some pictures and put them on the computer, made a mock up card, and submitted to all the agencies listed on plusmodels.com. Ikon wrote back and I went in. The booker told me she wanted me to test. So there went my first test with well know photographer Fadil. Shortly after I tested, I booked my first showroom job doing lingerie… in a thong no less! But it’s a client I still work for today almost five years later. [Maddy] I remember you telling me that you had tried modeling when you were a teen? [Nicole] My parents brought me into Ford when I was 15 but I was too “plump.” I was around a size 8 and they said I had to lose weight and then they would see me again. I never did go back.
People always told me I should try modeling and then one day Emme came into my parent’s restaurant while I was working as a waitress and she told me I had a good shot at plus modeling! Speaking with her gave me the boost I needed to, at the very least, send in my pictures.[Maddy] Most of us recognize you from the Marie Claire article and Fruit of the Loom ad. Where else have we seen you? [Nicole] Yes, those are my two biggest jobs I’m most proud of. Otherwise I have also worked for Wal-Mart, Kohls, Charmming Shoppes (Fashion Bug), Mon Cherie Bridal, Torrid, Target and Gloria Vanderbilt. The bulk of my modeling work is actually in Fit and Showroom for clients like Vanity Fair, Marina Rinaldi, Warner Co, Jones NY Apparral and Gelmart. [Maddy] What was your process when Marie Claire approached you about this project and how did you finally come to the decision to do it? [Nicole] The Marie Claire project just kind of happened. I went on a casting thinking it was for some fashion editorial or regular ‘before and after’. At the casting they just had me try on a black bikini, which I thought was weird, but that was it. Then I got booked for the job, with still no info. I wasn’t going to question or contemplate not taking an editorial in Marie Claire just because I didn’t know what exactly it was for… I was just happy to be booked. But maybe had I known what it was for, I wouldn’t have even gone to the castings, so it probably was a good thing I didn’t know 🙂
Anyhow I got there and they told me it was a story on body image, and that I would have to pose in a black bikini in very ‘neutral’ poses, not too sexy, not too timid, not too anything. I thought in my head, well I’m sure they are going to retouch at least… EVERY picture in EVERY magazine is retouched. Little did I know it would have been against the whole ‘moral of the story’ but again I didn’t know that at the shoot.
Then they asked me to come to the offices a few days after the shoot to show me pictures… and I thought, this is strange, that never happens. They usually don’t care at all about the model or what the model thinks about the pictures. I really LOVE Marie Claire for this.
When I arrived at the Marie Claire office they said, “OK we want to show you the pictures, you look beautiful.” it felt weird, different than any other shoot. Then she told me about how they were going to put it on a billboard truck in Times Square the day before New Years Eve, a full newspaper ad, and on the Marie Claire website. I started sweating… LOL!
First she pulled out from a folder the shot that said ‘I think I’m sexy do you?’ I looked at it and was okay with it. Next she pulled out the ‘I think I’m fat do you?’ I could just imagine everyone I know seeing me exposed in my tiny little back bikini, with the dreaded ‘F’ word printed right next to my body.
So I said well you guys still have retouching to do right? It hadn’t even occurred to me that they weren’t going to retouch. Then she said they didn’t want to retouch and the convincing began. Once she really told me about what the story was about, I thought about how this will affect the readers with low self esteem, the same low self esteem that I was in the process of shedding. And they were all so nice there, and told me how amazing it was when I was doing it. I thought OK… I couldn’t say no to them, and to such a great message.
This all happened at the beginning of my career and I look at that story as something that really helped build my confidence. Especially seeing how positively it affected women with low self esteem.[Maddy] How do you feel models self confidence affects how she projects in pictures? [Nicole] Self confidence can show through a photograph and in the way you model. If a model is feeling good about herself and her curves, it will show in how she moves and how she interacts with the camera. If she is feeling self conscious and unattractive, she won’t have the confidence to move freely and let herself go. That was a big part of modeling for me, I was so uncomfortable in the beginning, I couldn’t just let loose and let my body be natural. [Maddy] How did your relationship with your family, in particular, your mother help to establish a positive self esteem? [Nicole] My mom Heidi (shown here in this picture with me 🙂 was an awesome role model. She’s a fan of, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” So I only heard positive growing up, never any negative. She’s incredibly supportive and always tells me how beautiful I am (inside and out). I grew up in the restaurant business so I could’ve grown a pretty bad relationship with food, but instead I was taught balance and that it was OK to eat chocolate every once in a while. [Maddy] And I caught up with Nicole’s Mom… here is what she had to say: [Heidi] I always wanted Nicole to have a healthy relationship with herself, not so much with her body. When she began to gain some weight I told her if she’s comfortable and happy then that’s all that matters. If everyone followed what everyone did, our world would be quite boring. Listen to your inner voice not the magazines. Feel proud of yourself and always do what’s right for you.
Photographer: Gail Hadani