This plus model not only breaks the rules, she stomps them in the ground and creates her own. In four short years this determined diva has single handedly molded her career from unknown to an up and coming curvy mogul. With the overwhelming success of Love Your Body Day, Flawless Calendar, and a hit show on BET under her belt it seems that this diva has the Midas touch! PLUS Model Magazine ends 2007 with our very own Empowerment Editor and you’ll see why Chenese Lewis is flawless!
[Maddy] 2007 has been a really great year for you, you appeared on Dr. Phil as a self esteem expert, became a cast member of a hit show, was a keynote speaker at a national convention, and started your own company just to name a few. What was your mind set going into 2007 and what’s your key to success?
[Chenese] Last year, Dec. 31, 2006 I was in Baton Rouge enjoying my family for the holidays. I didn’t go out to party for New Years like usual instead I stayed home with my parents. I watched a New Years Eve countdown on television and when the clock struck midnight I jumped out of bed stood in the middle of the hallway and screamed “2007 is going to be my year and I claim it in the name of Jesus!” I’m not a super religious person but I believe. I believe that if you stay positive, believe in yourself, believe in your abilities, and stay focused you can achieve anything. I’m far from famous and still have a long way to go to achieve my career goals but I’m extremely happy in the direction everything is going. My key to success is never giving up, for every achievement or success you can list for me I can list two things I’ve been rejected for or failed which you don’t know about. I can’t dwell and be depressed on what I failed because I’m too busy trying to succeed!
[Maddy] When did you first become interested in modeling and acting?
[Chenese] I took acting classes in high school and college because it was an easy A, I wasn’t thinking about pursuing it professionally at the time but I thought it was fun. Modeling, I never thought was an option for me because of my size until my friends and I heard an advertisement on the radio that a modeling convention (scam) was coming to my town scouting for plus models. I decided to pursue modeling and acting at the same time as a result of attending the convention (which I stress was a scam), however it sparked my interest and I continued pursuing it ever since.
[Maddy] How did you go about researching the industry?
[Chenese] I researched the industry on-line. I lived in a small town and didn’t know anyone that modeled professionally, especially plus size, to get advice from. I found websites that stated everything I needed to get started. I was saddened to find out that I wasn’t in the range of the stats the industry looks for to represent, but I studied the information I found on-line and followed the rules and conducted myself as if I had the “perfect” industry stats. I never lowered my standards because my opportunities were scarce and never participated in anything an agency plus size model wouldn’t. As a result I’ve been lucky to have had a few small successes over the years and gained the respect of my peers in the industry.
[Maddy] This past year we watched you on BET’s top rated show Hell Date. Tell me about the audition and your experience on the show.
[Chenese] If you watched the show you know that it’s mostly improvisation, so that’s how the audition was as well. The breakdown was very vague about what they were looking for, it said “sexy plus size woman”, but no story line, concept of the show or anything, it was very secretive which made me very suspicious about what kind of show it was and I almost did not go. I went to the audition and was given a scenario on the spot and the camera started rolling! I had to do improv and be funny, so it was nothing I could have prepared for in advance. To my surprise I was hired on the spot!
I enjoyed my experience on the show. I think it was ground breaking that I had an opportunity to be one of the daters on the show because you don’t really see a lot of plus size people on dating shows. Even though it was a comedy prank show and I had to act crazy and fall out on the floor, I still think it was positive to see on television that I was telling this guy how gorgeous and beautiful I was and he totally agreed even with my extreme behavior.
It might have seemed silly, but I’ve learned with whatever you do, you never know how it will affect someone. So I’m extremely proud of the small part I was able to contribute to the show and I am blessed to have had the opportunity. I’m still shocked when people recognize me from the show!
[Maddy] Where else have we seen you?
[Chenese] I’ve modeled for Torrid, Cenne V, Greater L.A. Woman, Zaftique, Apprecia Fine Jewelry; I’m in the 2008 Flawless Calendar, as well as a few other things. In acting I’ve done a couple of major music videos, a promo for the Tyra Banks Show, a promo for the second season of Mo’Niques F.A.T Chance, BET’s “Hell Date”. I was a Thick Madame Magazine Model in Phat Girlz. I’ve also made appearances on Dr. Phil and The Insider. I was a contestant on an ABC primetime game show “Set For Life” and I’m also the spokesperson for the Love Your Body Project!
[Maddy] The Flawless Calendar has been a huge success so far. Tell me about what it means to produce such a well received calendar.
[Chenese] Well I know from personal experience that there hadn’t been a calendar produced that represented me. There were beautiful plus size calendars, but they didn’t use a wide variety of ethnicities and sizes and there was no one in it that I could identify with. On the other hand, there were plus size calendars more diverse with larger sized models but it strayed away from mainstream modeling and were too risqué for many. I think Flawless Calendar filled the void for the consumer like me, that couldn’t find what they were looking for, which is why I think it was so well received. With that being said I think there is a market for them all, because everyone has different tastes, and I certainly wish everyone the best and support anyone that’s trying to do something positive.
[Maddy] People have a misconception with what a model is – what does a model mean to you?
[Chenese] I think that the word model is so vague that it can be used to describe a plethora of things. So when someone says they are a “model” plus size or not and doing something unorthodox though you might not agree that what they are doing is considered modeling, if someone uses the most basic form of the word they are right. However when you add a couple more adjectives to it such as professional plus-size model then it defines it a little clearer and the misconception should disappear.
Professional plus size models, model as a form of employment, it’s a business, therefore they market themselves accordingly. Professional models only shoot with experienced photographers that produce “magazine ready” high quality images, and work for legitimate business that pay and/or give major exposure (preferably national or greater).
[Maddy] Tell us more about Love Your Body promotions.
[Chenese] Well first I have to clarify the two projects I’m involved with that people mix up! I’m the spokesperson for the Love Your Body Project (www.love-your-body.org) and I’m also the chairperson for the Hollywood NOW Love Your Body Committee through which I created our local event (www.loveyourbodyday.com). These two projects aren’t related, they just carry the same message.
The Love Your Body Project is the brainchild of Cathy Miller who was kind enough to give me the opportunity to be the spokesperson of her project! This project sells wristbands, t-shits and other cool items with a positive affirmation and gives a portion of the proceeds to various size positive organizations.
Love Your Body Day is an annual event celebrated by the National Organization of Women (NOW). I’m a member of the Hollywood chapter which is why my event will remain in that area. Other chapters have similar Love Your Body Day events during that time across the country, however to my knowledge mine is the biggest celebration! Since the success of Hollywood NOW’s Love Your Body Day I have been noticed on state and national levels of the organization and have been offered higher level positions over the Love Your Body campaign. This will give me the opportunity to eventually expand to other areas, which I am extremely excited about.
This year I chose Mia Tyler to host the 2007 festivities in Hollywood. She was an awesome host and brought a great dynamic to the event. This year Entertainment Tonight /The Insider covered the Love Your Body Day photo shoot with Mia Tyler and I, the mock casting call, Love Your Body Day kickoff/Flawless Calendar premiere party, and they stayed the entire day for the main event! My goal next year is to get more celebrities involved and more press!
[Maddy] What is your advice to aspiring models that are looking to begin a modeling or acting career?
[Chenese] My advice would be to quit asking questions and just do it! There are women that always ask “Can you help me be a plus size model?” as if they want personal coaching, a hook up, or industry secrets…if you Google you will find all the information you need, there are no secrets! The woman that is most likely to succeed and break into the industry is the one that takes a pro active approach and jumps in. So if you go to an audition or open call and don’t know what you are doing the first time at least you’ll get your feet wet and it’s a learning experience! Some will disagree, but I think experience is the best teacher, because I didn’t have anyone guiding me and that’s how I learned everything!
[Maddy] What does 2008 look like for Chenese?
[Chenese] Well I have a lot of offers on the table for 2008! The first and most exciting is the opportunity to possibly have my own clothing line, which is something I never had intentions of doing. I mentioned creating a clothing line on “Set For Life” for lack of not having anything better to say, and I spoke it into existence. I was recently approached by a fabulous designer with the opportunity and we’ll see what happens, no release date has been set yet.
I’ve also been approached with an opportunity to possibly be a spokesperson for a mineral cosmetics line for women of color, and maybe the opportunity to do a reality show, nothing confirmed yet, everything’s in the air. I’ll still be promoting the 2008 Flawless Calendar (make sure you have your copy) and working on the 2008 Love Your Body Day. Plus more modeling, acting, and speaking gigs! I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m just excited about the possibilities and the opportunity to do positive things!
Get to know Chenese:
Favorite Color: Gold
I never leave home without My: Blackberry
One beauty product I can’t live without is: Lip Gloss
My inspirational role models are: Oprah & Queen Latifah
My dream modeling job would be: A national campaign of a company which I am CEO