Plus Size Model Liis Windischmann On Modeling and Self Esteem

Plus Size Model Liis Windischmann On Modeling and Self Esteem

Plus size model Liis Windischmann remembers the modeling industry when plus size models were actually “plus”, she has seen change and has been able to stay competitive in a market that is always changing. As a staple in the industry, she is now sharing her knowledge with women of all ages by offering lectures and contributing to a magazine with her own column. Read about this inspiring young lady who is far more than just a pretty face.

Maddy: You have been modeling for quiet some time now, can you tell us about your modeling career? How long have you been modeling and how did you get started?

Liis: I love my career! I am a nomadic individual so being able to travel and work with different people all the time feeds my soul. Modeling has enabled me to work and live in Toronto, Miami, New York and Chicago as well as working in Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. It has been fascinating for me to have started modeling in the 1990’s when the plus industry was still in its infancy.  To have been able to work while watching it grow has been so interesting. I started 17 years ago when I was stopped in a large shopping mall by a scout.  Back then I had not heard of plus-size modeling; there was no talk in the media of it and stores were just starting to use larger sizes.  I thought at first that the scout wanted me to lose a ton of weight or was trying to scam me into paying for classes. When she told me not to lose a pound I was interested!

Technically at that point I guess I can say my career had already started in high school.  One summer I was a receptionist at a large photography studio and did 2 shoots, one being the headless body on a treadmill when a model failed to show and the other a very glamorous tracksuit shot for my boss.  I was a slim teenager and tried to pursue modeling back then but one agency wanted me to return for weekly weigh-ins and another told me my lips were too small (hilarious as they are quite naturally plump).

These negative experiences caused me to put my modeling dreams aside for years until meeting the scout in the mall.  I’m glad it all played out the way it did.

Maddy: As a Canadian Native, can you tell us about the plus modeling industry in Canada?

Liis: Compared to the USA, the Canadian industry is much smaller.  The bulk of studio shoots take place in Toronto followed by Montreal. A plus model wishing to make a full-time living would have to work outside of Canada as well – perhaps in the US with an H1B visa or in Europe. I went back and forth for many years and it worked well for me. Although there is opportunity to shoot some great creative, editorials here, we just don’t have the same amount of stores as a larger country and thus less catalog work. The boards here are much smaller.  I’m with Ford Toronto and we have less than 10 plus models. This would be standard in other Toronto and Montreal agencies.  We do have some great companies shooting here; however they book from many agencies and not necessarily always Canadian. Many of our magazines have been ahead of the curve, shooting plus models long before others.  This is something, which makes me quite proud!

Maddy: How have you seen the modeling industry change since you first began modeling?

Liis: Biggest change – I don’t wear elasticized, flammable clothing anymore! When I first started, I thought retailers had lost their minds.  Plus models would always be put in senior’s clothing.  I remember thinking “Ok, I may be a bigger size…but I am not 90!” I still laugh looking at some of the photos.  The clothing has changed SO much. Retailers are finally starting to realize we want the same great clothing straight sizes have, just a little bigger.  (But 17 years later, there is still a long way to go!)

The best changes are happening right now with the inclusion of various sizes in editorials. Finally we are starting to see amazing outfits on curvier models. (But we still need a bigger size range in cooler clothing so more plus-size editorials can take place – this is why you aren’t seeing more – the availability of clothing hasn’t caught up with the shift in mentality)  Years ago if I did an editorial, I would have a giant title over my head – something like “Living Large!”, “Bigger is Better!”  It drove me crazy like the magazines felt the need to explain the use of a larger model. This is happening less and less.

One of the biggest changes is the amount of agencies and models now on the market. It has been amazing to watch this sector expand.  Model sizes were bigger when I started – many were an 18.  Even though I am a 14, I believe larger plus sizes need to be used more.  It bothers me that agencies and retailers don’t use larger sizes – that they don’t truly represent their consumers. (I promise that when I have a line one day, I will use a variety of sizes!) I refuse to call a size 8 “plus-size” – that’s insulting. But I think all sizes need to be represented in fashion – currently straight sizes 6-10 and plus sizes 16/18 & up are barely used – we just have to stop putting everyone in labeled boxes.

Maddy: What tips do you have for models that are looking to enter the modeling industry?

Liis: My number one bit of advice is this:  Please DO NOT pay any money for photos to take to an agency.  You will be wasting your hard earned money. I can’t tell you how many emails I get from potential models who have either just dolled out big money or are about to for photos an agency will reject anyway.  I have yet to see one single person have “professional” photos taken that an agency would accept. Not one. I know it’s hard to believe but simple photos without heavy make-up, in simple clothing is what they are looking for. Agencies see 1000’s of models – they know what they are looking for and could spot their desired look a mile away. Agents want to set up shoots for their models and have specific ideas in mind for your look, your hair and make-up and the styling.  And secondly: Be yourself.  Ignore what you have seen on TV. A pleasant, fun, professional girl with a sparkle in her eye will go a long way in this business. Divas need not apply! People love working with others that make their lives easier.

Maddy: I remember meeting you at a Divabetic event, at the time I believe you were promoting two projects. Walk the Catwalk was an interesting project because it speaks to the problem that we have in this industry with sample sizes. Can you explain to everyone about “Walk the Catwalk”.

Liis: The need for Walk the Catwalk came to me after producing the Fenomenal Calendar. We received so many deeply moving emails about body image and self-esteem issues after its launch – many made us cry.  Around the same time, 3 models had died around the world due to eating disorders related to trying to remain ultra-skinny for the runway.

So much happened that year and I felt the fashion industry was dancing around issues.  Everyone was pointing the finger at someone else and all were avoiding taking any responsibility for the state of the fashion industry. I decided to start breaking down how the fashion industry works in order to explain to the general public why no changes were taking place. My most important message was this: Change the sample size – Change the world.  I wanted the general public to know that the constant creation of size 0 sample sizes was leading to who we saw in magazines and on the runways of the world. It was controlling the size of celebrities who were trying to fit into the best dresses in order to be photographed at events on the red carpet. The sample size was dictating how we thought about so many factors in our lives – beauty, body image, sexiness, health etc. It was creating a far-reaching ripple effect.  With Walk the Catwalk, I wanted to explain how this ripple effect starts and how we can change it.

At first, I wanted to create immediate changes but quickly realized this needed to be an ongoing educational process.  Many of my lectures explain aspects of my initiative and I feel this is one of the best ways to help change the way we view the fashion industry while at the same time urging change within it. I speak with the media often and participate in projects that promote the WTC philosophy. Please visit the site for more information – Please take one of the surveys and follow it on Twitter. I am happy to say finally changes are starting to happen but with your help we can have a greater impact.

Maddy: The Fenomenal Calendar in 2007 was BEAUTIFUL and so well received in the industry. I still have mine and love to look at it for inspiration. How  did the calendar come about and will we see another Fenomenal Calendar in  the future?

Liis: Thanks so much for saying that.  Makes me feel good! In 2006, I was speaking with my best friend and fellow model Diane Pellini. At the time there were virtually no interesting, creative projects for curvier models. I think I had just done a shoot in hideous clothing and was frustrated beyond belief. We decided that if the creativity wasn’t out there, we would create it. We put it together in a very short period of time and later found out the lead up to producing one was 18 months. Oh, that’s why we were so stressed over a few months! The team that put it together was incredible and to this day, we are so proud of the images.  People loved the calendar. I would love to do another one in the future but what I have in my head involves a VERY large budget so it would take a lot of planning.

Maddy: We’ve seen an amazing outpouring of support for the plus size modeling  industry in the past 6 months. In your opinion, is this a Fad or permanent change in the industry?

Liis: This is no fad I promise you that. Technology has increased our ability to interact with the fashion world, with magazines and retailers. Technology has also increased our response time to changes in fashion.  10 years ago we may have written a letter to a company to praise or protest its actions. Others may have done the same but the content and numbers of these letters would not have been made public. The ability to publish this information was not where it is at today.  Look what happened with Glamour magazine and the permanent changes that have taken place there. The magazine’s very public comment page received over 1000 comments about the infamous Lizzie Miller belly photo. That does not include Letters to the Editor and direct emails to the magazine or Twitter or Facebook comments.  An entity cannot hide from public view 1000 comments of praise and demanding the need for change!  Thus consumers are determining more and more how the fashion industry will unfold. Consumers are being heard. There have been many cycles over the decades of what the “ideal” body type is. Think Marilyn’s curves, the Twiggy era, the waif look… I truly think we are moving into the only era in history that will not be defined by one body type. Consumers of all body types want to be represented in fashion and the media and they will be.  Right now, every week brings about exciting changes.  Bring it on!!

Maddy: What can we do as consumers to have our voices heard in the fashion  industry?

Liis: Fill out comment cards in stores.  Email retailers who are getting it right.  Email those not getting it right. Support and praise those bringing about change – please tell retailers when they have exceeded expectations! They need the positive feedback. If a TV show has done a segment about fashion that makes you feel great, go to its site and leave a comment. Go to Twitter or Facebook and sing its praises. I promise you, Comments=Change. Most importantly, your dollars speak. You must shop to support those getting it right. I make a point of buying Glamour every month since it implemented changes. They may be small changes right now but I know they will grow with the support of readers who say, “I support what you are doing and know you will continue to do more.”

Maddy: I read in your bio that you are taking a more emotional approach to women in general by offering self esteem lectures and seminars. I think this is wonderful! How do you keep such positive self-esteem?

Liis: Through doing my lectures, I have thought deeply about why I think the way I do, why I have such positive self-esteem. I realized it was important to know in order for me to pass along the positivity to others. I am being very honest in saying that I truly don’t ever beat myself up no matter what size I may be, whether I am exercising regularly or not, or whether I have eaten too much over the holidays. My friends joke that I am abnormal!

I felt I really needed to know why I think so positively about my body when most women don’t and why my self-esteem has always been so positive.  One day I was answering several questions for an interview about beauty. The answer hit me like a ton of bricks.

My dad, sister and grandmother all had cancer. I had watched my dad’s body get ravaged by the disease. I watched him sit in a chair with a trembling lip while his barber shaved his head as he couldn’t stand it falling out in clumps anymore. The night before he died, I watched a murder victim die before me. 6 months after my dad’s death, my sister too was diagnosed with cancer and I was with her as she went through radiation. A few years later, my grandmother was too embarrassed to attend my sister’s wedding as she had bandages all over her face from having cancer removed. I thought back to all the instances on this journey that made me appreciate beauty, health, life and our bodies.  My father would have given anything to gain 10 pounds yet women beat themselves up for gaining 1. Women worry about how their hair looks and what people think when my dad and sister just wanted to keep theirs no matter what it looked like. We worry about a zit on our faces yet my grandmother hid at home for weeks, missing an important family event because she thought she looked ugly and awful because of the bandages on her face.  I thought she was beautiful. I watched 2 men die within 24 hours and realized quickly how very, very sacred life is. I had the opportunity to see how very precious life is, what the true definition of beauty is.

Sorry, you probably weren’t expecting such an intense answer. I look upon all this as the most profound way the universe had to teach me about the true meaning of beauty.  Life is precious.  Our bodies are precious, great gifts. Every single pound makes us beautiful. So perhaps I went through all this in order to be able to tell women and truly believe it from the core of my being: You are perfect just the way you are. You don’t need to change a thing.

Maddy: oh my goodness! That’ is such a sobering answering. It really does make us look at the big picture. What should every woman do to help maintain good self-esteem?

Liis: Get rid of your scale. Stop worrying about numbers – your clothing size, your weight. Work out regularly – to feel great, to be active, for your health.  Don’t feel the need to know your exact weight every day of your life – find out at your yearly physical. If you wouldn’t put a 5-year-old girl on a scale every day of her life, why would you do this to yourself?  Surround yourself with positive, empowering friends who love and support you. Know that you are a unique amazing individual and we love you for that.  We don’t want you to look like or be anyone else!Maddy: Where will we see you next?

Liis: You can find me regularly reporting for LOULOU magazine 2 times per week. This is a great Canadian fashion magazine with a fabulous online plus-size section.  And, the magazine puts out a mini plus magazine 4 times per year too with great editorials. I have been working on several projects around the fashion industry including writing a book and doing more TV work as well as promoting Walk the Catwalk’s philosophy through lectures and the media. I swear in all this I am still modeling but you just might find me on your TV or in a bookstore first. As I said earlier, I love my career!  (And give me a few years but want to create my own clothing line too!)

Maddy: Thank you Liis. You are a true inspiration to all of us and one of our favorite plus size models. We look forward to following your column in LOULOU Magazine.  We wish you much continued success.

Photography Credits:

Picture #1

Photographer:  Lily and Lilac

Picture #2

Homemakers – Photographer: Alvaro Goveia

Picture #3

Canadian Living – Photographer: Seed9