My Life on the B-List: Tales of a Headless “Almost-Supermodel”

by Suzanne Lyons

People ask me all the time what it’s like to be a model.

“Is it glamorous like in the movies?”  “Do you get to meet celebrities?”  “Do people recognize you?”  For the most part, the answer is “No,” but it IS a heck of a lot of fun, and more work than most people think.  So this month, I’d thought I’d take you inside the world of professional plus modeling and give you a glimpse of what it’s really like on a job.  January 13-18th, I traveled to Columbus, Ohio to model for Lane Bryant – definitely a dream job, but one where I’m not likely to be recognized.

You see, I’m a “headless model” for Lane Bryant‘s website, modeling scores of their products but only showing my physique from the chin down.

Do I mind that no one but my mom and close friends will know that those are my hips throwing out that S-curve and making that multicolor keyhole dress look like something you’d want to buy?  Not on your life!  Not only are commercial jobs like these solid, lucrative opportunities, but the people I get to work with are amazing and make the time fly by!  And Lane Bryant is a total dream job, so I figured it would be the perfect one to use as a sneak peek into the (sometimes) glamorous world of being a commercial plus model…

13 January – I fly from San Diego to Columbus and hop a cab to the “model apartment” that Lane Bryant rents for the two models who fly in every 1-2 weeks for product shoots (my “model partner” for this week is the stunning Nicole Lebris, May 2007 PLUS Model Magazine cover model).  The “Lane Bryant Models’ Pad” is a ginormous third-floor two-bedroom apartment a block from LB Headquarters with a total square footage that’s probably twice the size of my house (which was three girls living in it).  Sweet!  An hour later, Nicole arrives and we both unpack and settle in.  I am totally psyched she’s shooting with me this week as she is not only a consummate professional, but a hoot and a half to hang out with.  My model partner back in November, Randi Graves (of Mode fame), is the same way and it made that work week fly by!  Since Linda Bozik (the Lane Bryant Ecommerce Merchandise Coordinator and our main point of contact for making arrangements and not getting lost) is picking us up at 8:20 the next morning, we both rack out early.

14 January – Although headquarters is only a block from the apartment, Linda picks us up on her way in so we don’t have to walk through the snow (did I mention it’s snowing?).  The folks at LB are so nice – they picked us up every morning since they knew Nicole and I are weather-wimps (Nic had just flown in from Miami).  At headquarters’ front desk, we’re checked in by Cindy, get our temporary IDs for the week, and head to the studio for hair/makeup/breakfast.  OK, breakfast is actually in the cafeteria, but while I get MU done, Nic gets breakfast and vice versa.  The LB cafeteria is small but fantastic.  They have everything you could possibly want, from egg white omelets for breakfast to black bean veggie burger wraps at lunchtime (two of my favorites – Yum!).  The best part?  No charge.  Yyyyyesss!  I love being a model.  And being a plus model means I can EAT! Wahoo!  Mark’s sweet potato fries rock!  Oh.  Sorry.  Back to the story… Nicole and I meet up with Mikah Brown (our MUA) for hair and makeup, while Christopher McConnell and Scotty Moody (our stylists) get the clothes ready.  These three are hysterical and it feels like I just saw them the week before instead of two months ago.

I’m first up, so after I get the nod of approval from Mikah, Christopher gets me into the first shirt and starts pinning.  Most customers have no idea that the clothes they see online or in photos are pinned to fit the model in as flattering a way as possible.  For me, as with most models, that usually means taking in the waistline to show off curves, though Lane Bryant has some fabulous new tops in their spring campaign that tie in the back and, as a result, don’t need any extra pinning (I can’t wait until they pop up online as I will be first to buy them).

Next stop is shooting with the all-star team of Steven Conway (the ping pong MASTER – we’ll get to that later) and Henry Leiter (the ping pong Handicap – ditto on that story).  I get into my first pose, Christopher smoothes any wrinkles and makes minor adjustments to get clean lines, Henry tweaks the lights based on Steven’s directions, and VOILA!  We’re on!  Click! Click! I move my hands to a new pose. Click! Alter my feet.  Click!  OK, time to review.  We all look at the shots on the computer screen and Steven tells Henry to throw a crop on certain ones he likes to make me headless (as they’ll appear on the site).  The consensus is the first shot is the best.  Yyyyesss!  Nailed it first shot!  Yeah, it’s pretty dorky to get excited about that, but I can’t help it.  I’m a dork.  *grin* Steven calls out “Got it!” in a funny fake British accent and I go back out to change tops while Nicole shoots in her blouse.

By mid-morning, we’re all joking and laughing and Steven has started calling me “Number One” because my first shot was the one we kept picking.  I laugh because I know that it’s because Christopher is such an on-point stylist that he has me looking “just right” in the first shot.  Of course, Monday is “shirt day,” and shirts are usually easier to shoot than pants because they don’t crease or wrinkle as much (knit shirts are by far the easiest because you don’t worry about having to smooth wrinkles each time you change poses), so we sailed through the day and were ahead of schedule by early afternoon.  That means it’s time for a short game of ping pong (Did I mention headquarters has a ping pong AND an air hockey table?  This place rocks)!  Little did we know, but Nicole is a ping pong rock star, so Steven and I ganged up on her and gave her Henry as a partner to even out the talent pool.  Our rules?  If it bounces on anything, it’s still in play (that included bounces off Henry’s head).  The winner?  Who knows?  Who cares?  Back to work!  We finish out the shot list for the afternoon and by 5:00 are on our way out the door, with Scotty dropping the two of us off at the mall so Nicole can pick up some warmer clothes for the week.  Three hours of shopping later (including a visit to the Lane Bryant store, of course to look for those new shirts and some Cacique bras), we hit Cheesecake Factory for some takeout (where I discover the best turkey burger ever) and head back to the apartment to chill out.

15 January – Today’s Good Samaritan is Scotty, picking us up at 8:10 so we don’t have to walk through the snow.  Same morning routine: egg whites and oatmeal for breakfast, Mikah does our hair, and Scotty’s steaming clothes.  However, Jackie fills in for Christopher as he is working another job the next two days.  It’s another “tops day,” so again, we’re moving quickly and are well on our way to hitting our target of 146 pieces for the week.  The best part about being a headless model is that you don’t have to worry if you blink and it’s okay if your smile isn’t quite right because no one will see it, so you go through less film than in regular shoots to get the “perfect shot.”  Admittedly, the pay isn’t as high as if they show your face, but the tradeoff is definitely a fair one.

No ping pong today as we are right on schedule and right after lunch we’re visited by Michael Wyss, the Senior Manager of Ecommerce to see how everything’s going.  It’s funny when Michael visits because, on the one hand, he’s incredibly intimidating since he is the head of Ecommerce and so runs all the shoots, but at the same time, he’s extremely personable and tells the funniest stories so you can’t help but laugh whenever he’s around.  Again, we shoot until 5:00 and then Nicole heads to the mall while I hit the gym at the apartment complex for some biking and weights, followed by leftovers from the night before and a movie at the apartment.  The last time I was here, Randi got up each morning to work out with me (which made it way easier to stay motivated), but Nicole didn’t have gym clothes since she’d come straight from Florida so had to settle for a “mall-walking” workout. *grin*

16 January – Repeat of the day before, with Scotty picking us up, though today we start on pants, which can take a lot longer than tops, depending on the material.  Stiffer material would seem like it’s easier, but any movement can cause slight wrinkles that the light picks up.  This isn’t a problem in real life, but you want the smoothest look possible in a photograph, so it can be hellish when you’re shooting heavy cotton.  One pair of pinstriped pants took almost an hour to shoot front and back because they were made from a stiffer material and were pinstriped.  Don’t get me wrong.  I LOVE pinstripes and these pants looked great in person, but pinstriped pants show EVERY lump and bump in photos so “smoothing time” can take forever.  Meanwhile, as the model, you’re trying to keep your legs from shaking because you’re holding the pose for so long while the stylist is at work trying to make the pants look perfect.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to hear Steven say “Got it!” in my life.

By lunchtime, however (today was a Caprese Panini with pasta fagioli and Kim-the-cashier-lady’s homemade baked apple crisp! Yum!  I love Kim.  What other company has employees who are cool enough to bake homemade apple crisp for their cafeteria?), we’d made up time and were once again ahead of schedule, so Steven and I snuck in a couple minutes of ping-pong-practice to prep for our much-anticipated comeback.  Then back to shooting pants, followed by an evening trip back to the mall (Nic and I are nerds and went to the Apple store), PF Changs’ takeout, and home to watch American Idol auditions (a riot as usual).

17 January – Morning was the same as the rest of the week, with Christopher back as head stylist and capris and shorts on the “to do” list.  Woo hoo!  No pants!  The morning zooms by as Nicole and I work our poses for the camera and enjoy the sounds of Morrissey and the Smiths (Steven and Henry have different music in the studio each day) while Christopher, Scotty, and Leslie Magee (subbing in as stylist for the day) pin, tuck, and smooth any imperfections.  Lunch is a chili potato and salad, followed by an amazing homemade cupcake (who MAKES these things?!) and a couple rounds of ping pong.  Admittedly, our trouncing of Nicole’s team did not materialize as it appeared that Henry has been secretly practicing and managed to perfect his off-the-knuckle-hit-the-ceiling-scoop-over-the-net move that was giving him problems on Tuesday.  Drat!  Later that afternoon, Michael comes down to check on our progress and, as always, entertain us with his animated storytelling about a recent trip.  By 5:00, we have only 15 pieces left, meaning 20 shots (since some of the pants have back shots as well) for the last day of shooting.  After work is another trip to the gym, followed by the Changs leftovers from the night before and watching Project Runway.

18 January – Last day.  I convince the folks at LB that Nicole and I can just walk in since the weather has cleared up so we pack up our things and head to the shoot.  Today we’re shooting dresses (my favorite) so should go by quickly.  Mikah, the makeup master, helps us look beautiful (while we chow on breakfast) while Christopher and Leslie again prep the clothes.  Shooting goes quickly and by mid-day, we’ve shot our whole list, so Linda and Michael bring in a couple extra items which need to be re-shot.  I’m always amazed at how well these two are dressed.  Michael should be in a Ralph Lauren ad and Linda always has the best trend-setting styles (today she’s wearing a fuschia crushed velvet crop jacket over cuffed capri jeans and biker boots).  Everyone on the set is like that.  They have great individual style and you can tell they all work in fashion.  Nicole and I hit these last shots and everyone seems pleased with the week’s results.

As we’re wrapping up and break out a champagne toast to celebrate a successful shoot, I ask everyone how they got involved with LB and what they like about working with them, to which Christopher immediately replies, “Creative freedom.  The people here at Lane Bryant allow us to have freedom with the shoes, makeup, and hair.  They respect our creative vision and trust our talent and abilities as stylists.”  Mikah agrees.  So what about plus models in general?  For Steven, there’s no difference between shooting a plus model and a straight-sized model.  “I don’t change anything whether I’m shooting plus or straight sized,” he says, “It’s all about how a model works her curves.”  Mikah smiles and says that he prefers plus to straight-sized models (a man after all our hearts!) because “Plus models are real and easy to work with.  They bring an energy and a vibe to the shoot.”  Christopher comments on how plus models respect each other and work well together and that they help each other with their careers, which is not seen as much in the straight-sized modeling world.  He mentions how Nicole and I had been looking at a copy of Figure Magazine earlier in the day and commenting on how beautiful or nice or professional each model in there was (we’d worked with quite a few of them) and that we always had something positive to say.  I realize he’s right and that’s one of the things I love about the plus modeling community: how much we support each other.  As I pack up to head to the airport, I smile to myself and think just how lucky I am.  I wouldn’t trade a thing about my life as a “headless almost-supermodel.”

[divider]PHOTO CREDITS[/divider]Credits:

Hair/Makeup – Mikah Brown
Lead Stylist – Christopher McConnell –
Photographer – Steven J. Conway
Photographer – Henry Leiter –
Assistant Stylists – Scotty Moody, Leslie Magee, and Jackie