Interview With PLUS Model Magazine Cover Model Whitney Thompson
by Suzette Banzo
One year ago Americans witnessed a victory in our lifetime that so many before us fought to achieve. The most powerful office in the world was redefined. It no longer stood for a specific color; it was replaced by a very specific message, hope.
Times change and silhouettes should too. When the hit television show America’s Next Top Model awarded Whitney Thompson that very title, it was the first time a plus size model was recognized as the Next Top Model, not the next plus size model; the category melded into one.
Whitney is trying to be a role model for young women everywhere and shares a similar trait with the Supermodels of yesteryear; she is making a name for herself in more than one industry. Along the way, she is also shedding light and raising awareness on an issue she embraces, eating disorders. Whitney, a beautiful woman who celebrates her healthy body, hopes to broaden the definition of beauty, making it inclusive rather than exclusive.
[Suzette] We have so much to talk about in such little time! Let’s start with how you became a model, life after America’s Next Top Model (ANTM), and then let’s chat about your exciting new venture “Supermodel”. Were you a plus model before you signed up for ANTM?
[Whitney] No, I was in college when I was on ANTM. I modeled on a local level when I was 15 while living in Jacksonville, Florida. I was skinnier then, but I constantly heard that my hips were an inch too big.
As I tried to lose weight, I was told, “We’d send you to Milan tomorrow, and you would be phenomenal because you have perfect bone structure, but your hips are an inch too big”. I went to Miami to work with an agency and lived in a model apartment while I was in high school. There was a man there who had me eat a half a can of tuna and half an apple all day. Then he would have me get on a treadmill and watch me run until I threw up and then he had me get back on the treadmill. I didn’t want to live that way so I quit. I have never had an eating disorder, and didn’t want to get one because of this man watching over me. I never modeled again and decided to go to school to be a pediatric surgeon.
One day while vacationing in LA, I was approached at the airport by a woman that identified herself as someone from ANTM who asked if I would be comfortable being considered a plus size model on the show and I said “Absolutely! Yes, I have a story to tell. I don’t want other girls to go through what I did!” I get so upset hearing stories about how fourteen-year-old girls are measured each week in modeling agencies. I find it disgusting. I think that one of the reasons I am so confident is because I have been on the other side where I was never skinny enough, never good enough. I am very passionate about not letting other people go through that. I’m actually writing a book right now about those experiences; I don’t want people to be so naïve.
[Suzette] How did you like working for Cover Girl?
[Whitney] It was good, interesting. My product was Lash Blast Mascara. I had an ad in People Magazine and the billboard in Times Square was really cool. I also shot 10 commercials for “My life as a Cover Girl”.
[Suzette] What was it like to see the billboard? That is every models dream!
[Whitney] It was FUN! I had no idea my billboard was up because Cover Girl doesn’t tell you. I was just walking around with some friends, we turned the corner, and there it was, huge above the Virgin record store, a prime location. That was awesome! I hope to have another billboard again.
[Suzette] Was switching from Elite to Wilhelmina a personal decision?
[Whitney] Yes, Elite did not have a plus model division. I went on go-sees for size 0 models. We had a three-year contract, but I got out of it. I didn’t want to be blonde anymore, my hair was falling out, and there came a time where I had to put my foot down, so one day I walked in with dark hair and my agency was not happy with that.
[Suzette] Rebelling opened the door to transition from Elite to Wilhelmina?
[Whitney] Yes, I needed to take some control back. For example, nobody was concerned that my hair was falling out from all of the processing. I felt it was time to go and I moved to LA. In fact, that is partially why I got into a jewelry line. I wanted to be in control and make my own decisions. As a model, someone else decides your hair, makeup and what clothing you wear. It is nice to put myself into something else that I can control, makes me feel good, and brings joy to others.
[Suzette] Well, Wilhelmina is doing great now for plus models!
[Whitney] Yes, they are the #1 plus division in New York and I adore Wilhelmina LA, they are really working me. I am thrilled to be signed with Wilhelmina L.A., NY, and Miami.
[Suzette] Which companies have you worked with since ANTM?
[Whitney] I was the spokes model for Fashion Bug. Saks ran some ads in the NY Times that featured me. I also worked with J.C. Penney, Macy’s, Bloomingdales and I was on the cover of Supermodel Magazine. I just shot with Forever 21; the Faith 21 line for extended sizes. Their clothes are insanely cute! I even have posters inside the store now, which is pretty cool, and I’m already on the website. I love that store!
[Suzette] I saw photos of you at an event where you worked for Torrid as the emcee for House of Dreams.
[Whitney] Yes, I hosted a show for them. I haven’t shot with them yet but I really want to. They are interested in carrying some of my jewelry line in the store and we are even talking about doing a smaller size Supermodel candle to sell in the stores.
[Suzette] You also did a local morning show segment in LA.
[Whitney] Oh, Yes! KTLA actually called this week to do another fashion spot with them.
[Suzette] Is that the direction you would like your career to take?
[Whitney] Talking? Yes, I love to talk! I’m actually working on a voice over for an animated movie right now. I’m contractually obligated not to say more about it, but I will share that I’m very excited. It was my first audition in L.A. and I got it. I would’ve never gotten that opportunity in NY, but a producer friend of mine encouraged me to try out for it. They love me in L.A.!
[Suzette] Let’s talk about your new soy candle and jewelry line, Supermodel. How did you become interested in jewelry design?
[Whitney] One day a designer suggested putting my name on their jewelry line and offered me a percentage of the sales. Just before I was supposed to start shooting with the jewelry, I realized that I had no idea what it looked like, if it was good quality or if it would break easily, or if it was even something I would want to have my name on. I bought the company from her because I knew I wanted to do jewelry but needed someone to make it for me. A year ago, I met an exciting jewelry designer named Leah Thompson (no relation) in New York, who was working for another designer at the time. I reached out to Leah because I knew we would be a good match; she needed my name to help launch her designs, and I needed her skill. I can put something together, but Leah makes it beautiful, wearable and durable.
[Suzette] What kind of metals, objects, and innovation will we see in the designs?
[Whitney] Four different design lines make up Supermodel. “Dakota Lee” is entirely Leah’s design esthetic. These designs consist of gold-filled chains and silver chains mixed with raw stones like turquoise or hand beading with intricate detail. We also have what we call our lucky coins. These are coins from different countries like Tanzania, Somalia and Ireland, just to name a few. We’ve drilled a little hole in them and wear them on a chain. The overall look is for “Dakota Lee” is open stone, raw, laid back, and hippie.
“Supermodel” has more glitzy glam concepts like stars and feathers. I love to travel and live on an airplane, so there are airplane earrings in the “Supermodel” line.
“Best Friends” is a line for teens that is very affordable. They can spend their babysitting money on cute symbols like a peace sign and other whimsical charms all priced under $20.
“Haute Couture” consists of one of a kind items. We deconstruct antiques and estate pieces. In fact, one of the looks we created incorporates medals from the Daughters of the American Revolution.
[Suzette] Who is your target audience?
[Whitney] Since there are four collections, there are pieces for women and men of all ages. We love our gays! Even though we don’t market our stuff to them specifically it’s not gender specific, and after all… boys just wanna have fun too! So far, they love our creations. We offer different concepts for different occasions, so there is something for everybody.
[Suzette] A small suggestion, especially since your audience is also made up of full figured girls that admire you from the show, can you please make some jewelry that is a little longer to fit a wider wrist, or a necklace that will lay a little lower on the neckline? A 16″ necklace no matter how gorgeous, will not lay in the right place for someone that is a little fuller in the neck and shoulders.
[Whitney] Hmmm, that is something we can do on the website. I’ll add some choices like 16″, 17″, 18″ on the website, and make it custom made. We’ll also be adding a choice of gold filled or silver. The customer can also decide which charms they want. We will only be making around five of each item; we don’t want to saturate the market with just one look since we want customers to know they bought something uniquely special.
[Suzette] I understand that a portion of your jewelry goes towards an organization for preventing eating disorders. Can you tell me a little about that?
[Whitney] Eating disorders are taking over our nation and the world. The majority of nine-year-old girls have been on a diet. I remember being in 7th grade and all of my girlfriends were drinking Slimfast for lunch instead of eating a healthy meal. People don’t realize how terrible it is.
Kate Moss was quoted saying, “Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels”. This is someone that is considered an icon. People love her, look up to her, and they put her in so many ad campaigns. It’s disgusting! She has used drugs, yet her image is running on so many ad campaigns and she is saying things that are completely inappropriate. She makes millions of dollars and considered beautiful. That’s what the media calls beautiful.
[Suzette] Are you concerned that associating your line with an organization for eating disorders could turn some potential buyers off?
[Whitney] It is necessary to support people and groups that are doing something to prevent eating disorders. People have become so messed up about food and eating. The media has really messed up peoples perceptions. If it turns anyone off then I don’t want them buying my jewelry in the first place; they can go buy and wear someone else’s line.
[Suzette] How do you feel about the size debate? Any model over a size 6 is considered as plus sized.
[Whitney] People think plus sized is obese. In the industry, a size 6 is considered plus size. If you are anything over a size 4, you’re too fat to model. Saleicia the winner of ANTM Cycle 9 went into Elite as a size four and was told she would be considered a lifestyle model. She wasn’t skinny enough. Size 0 is a model, and a size 2 is pushing it. Size 4 is too big. I speak at various schools and modeling conferences, I’m very straightforward and say, “Size 4 is too fat, and size 6 is plus size”, and the girls gasp. When the average size American woman is a size 14 then I’d like to know who we are selling to. I went to a Baby Phat show and holy cow! Those girls were a double size 0; the spandex was falling off. Those girls must be starving themselves. When I see that I think, I don’t want to buy that! I want to see what it would look like on somebody my size.
[Suzette] What was the PLUS Model Magazine shoot like?
[Whitney] VERY sexy and a little scandalous. I can’t wait to see how it comes out. Everyone was really sweet and phenomenal to work with.
[Suzette] What are your goals in terms of modeling?
[Whitney] My end all be all goal is to be on cover of American Vogue, but I understand that it will take time, and you have to build up to that. An overnight success takes ten years; it’s something I’m willing to wait for. I have to keep modeling and practice. I know I’m not perfect but I have done really well. Fox News recognized me as one of the most successful plus size models. The most important thing to me is to affect other people and help get them to feel better about themselves. I want people to relate to me and embrace their curves.
[Suzette] What advice would you give to other women that want to pursue modeling?
[Whitney] Stay in school. I wish I had my business degree now that I’ve started my own business. When it comes to modeling definitely don’t give up, that’s the biggest thing. There are so many girls around you, and there is always someone prettier than you are, someone younger, and hotter than you are. What you need to do is stand out and persevere. It’s a difficult industry and people don’t understand that.
[Suzette] What is it about you that stands out?
[Whitney] I’m very talkative and confident. I walk with my head held high and try to project an attitude that says, “I’m curvy! Handle it!”
While we still need to cross a gender barrier on the way to the White House, we do have the ability to reclaim our bodies, love our curves, and focus some attention on women like Whitney who see the importance in supporting each other rather than allowing anyone to measure us and then say we just don’t cut it. You have to have enough insight to know what is acceptable to you. Real beauty has more to do with connecting with who you are and seeing the value of your own body, rather than conforming to the decisions imposed on you and what you should look like. Plus Model Magazine recognizes the importance to celebrate women and redefine the plus size mentality.
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