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Up Close And Personal With Cover Model Jessica Lavoie

Plus size model Jessica Lavoie and I met for breakfast very early one morning; we were discussing working together for PLUS and how we each became involved in the industry. After 10 years in this business, she is still every bit as beautiful and interested in matters of the plus size modeling industry. As she now transitions into her new phase of life as a photographer, I was happy to learn a new side of Jessica. She is more than just a model and photographer, but a business woman who is not afraid of hard work. With an industry who supports her efforts, we are sure to see great things from her.

Maddy: The plus size industry has been on everyone’s lips since the end of last year in the mainstream media. As a veteran plus size model, how does this make you feel?

Jessica: It’s very exciting to see how all the work the plus models have done before today have paved the way for this to finally happen! Do I wish it had happened 10 years ago? Yes, of course! It’s not like plus size women didn’t exist before the end of last year, haha! Still it’s great that it’s happening, let’s take it and run with it… if the media needs something to talk about, let’s give it to them and make it stick this time. Getting the word out is much easier today with the Internet and social networking sites, and it’s hard to deny the industry now!

Maddy: Take us back to the very beginning. Did you always dream of becoming a model?

Jessica: I said it a time or two when I was a little girl, but sports took over that dream as I grew up. I actually played basketball in college and wanted to be a physical therapist. I had no idea at that point that, one day, I would be worried about whether my teeth were white enough or if I was “lingerie ready” for my job!

Maddy: Every model has a funny story they can still remember from their early years as a model. Do you have any?

Jessica: I really can’t tell any of the good ones since I’m still a working model and so are the girls who would be involved in those crazy stories! But I do remember when I first started how someone told me I had to have a “model’s bag” that contained everything I needed for a shoot (portfolio, shoes, makeup, undergarments, cutlets, hair tools, etc.), but what they failed to tell me is that I didn’t need to carry this 50lb. bag around with me on a daily basis to castings! So I must have been the most prepared model ever at every casting I went to for the first month until I just couldn’t do it anymore!

Maddy: I remember seeing you on numerous Lane Bryant and The Avenue campaigns. What other clients do you remember fondly?

Jessica: Not only have I had great clients, but the lifelong friends I have made on certain jobs make the jobs memorable as well. I met some of my closest friends while working in Germany for Ulla Popken. When on trips so far away from home and for several days or weeks at a time, you’re either going to become the best of friends or tear each other’s hair out… and luckily I got along great with the girls I had to work with.

Maddy: Many models agonize over their relationship with their agency.  What advice do you have about building a good lasting relationship with your booker(s)?

Jessica: First of all, if you are given a choice between agencies, it is very important to go with an agent who is excited and interested in representing you and pushing you to clients, and not just taking you on so you can sit on the shelf and never work. Keep the lines of communication open with your bookers, and voice your concerns, but definitely be open to their ideas of what to do or change up in order to go further in this business. If you are with a reputable agency, they do this every day and know what clients are asking for.

Maddy: Being a model is not always easy. How do you maintain your healthy self-esteem?

Jessica: There is a myth that becoming a model will help you gain self-confidence, when in reality, if you don’t already have a really good amount of it before starting in this industry; there is a chance it will pull you down even further. I’ve been told every possible thing that could ever be wrong with me, and if I took it all personally, I would be so beat down. You’ve got to be able to hear that you’re too big by one client, too small by the next, and then just the right size by the third but that they don’t like your ears or nose… all in the same day. And then be ready to get back up and do it all over again the next morning. This industry is about looks, and you have to know this is what you will deal with on a daily basis. It can mentally destroy you if you don’t have self-esteem. You need to stay grounded and keep yourself surrounded by family and friends who love you no matter what! Volunteer at a charity you really care about and don’t underestimate the fact that giving your time to others who need it should make you feel great about yourself!

Maddy: Is there a charity you are fond of yourself?

Jessica: Yes! I have been involved with the mentoring program at Good Shepherd Services for 6 or 7 years now. That part of Good Shepherd provides residential care to mostly inner city girls who are taken away from their families. There is a huge need for mentors for these girls who are usually of high school age and dealing with everything girls that age deal with, and then everything else the streets have had to offer them. I recently started a new project that teams up the models I work with, and the girls in the program together for a fulfilled day.

I’ve had plus model Nicole LeBris volunteer her time and talent as a makeup artist, and also plus model Tricia Campbell, who is a crowd pleaser (Seen on BET’s Rip The Runway and Essence Magazine). The girls, many of whom have never owned makeup before, get mini-makeovers and then get to have a little photo shoot. It’s like magic to see each girl go from not wanting to smile, and having a tough exterior, to doing the exact opposite by the time we leave! When I start to show them their photos on my camera… BAM! It all turns around and now they’re excited! In the middle of everything that they’re dealing with in their personal lives, they feel like a million bucks. It’s an awesome transformation and we have a great time doing it! The girls end up with a photo of themselves to either send home or keep for themselves, and we like to think they also take with them all the fun talks we have with them while hanging out in between shooting!

Maddy: This is so nice of you and the models to do. Sounds like a wonderful organization.  Where can we learn more about it?

Jessica: You can get all the details at www.goodshepherds.org

Maddy: Most recently you started a photography career. What inspired you to commit to another career?

Jessica: Photography feels like a natural step for me after being around it for over 10 years while modeling. I’ve always been interested in taking beautiful pictures, and in the beginning, I used it as a way to spend time with my little cousins. I’d have them in all kinds of situations… sunrise on a freezing December morning, or running around in puddles during a rainstorm. They were always up for anything! Even to this day, they let me torture them with my camera! This year, I finally decided to make a business out of it and have not looked back since. I feel this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing right now!

Maddy: I can remember the first time I went behind the lens, there was a light bulb moment for me about why photographers always say things like bring your chin down or soften your eyes. Have you come to your light bulb moment yet?

Jessica: Every moment is a light bulb moment for me! I’m still learning as I go along and there are a lot of “ah-Ha!!!” moments when I figure out how to do something exactly how I want to! There are also moments where I want to bang my head on the wall, but there are less and less of those, thank goodness!

Maddy: You have been shooting moms and newborns. What has been most rewarding about shooting this special time in a family’s life?

Jessica: It’s a great feeling to use what I know as a model, to guide and position a pregnant woman in a way that is the most flattering for her body, and see her get so excited about the results. So many moms-to-be come to me and tell me they are not comfortable with their bodies, they don’t feel like they look good, and are just overall unsure and uncomfortable with themselves at that point. I remind them that this is only a short period in the grand scheme of things and remind them to enjoy what is going on at this point! It feels great being able to give them a final product that makes them happy and feel good. And when the newborns come along, it’s just another one of those times that will be over before you know it, and there’s nothing better than to capture those fleeting moments and have them to cherish for years down the road. And they’re just so darned cute!!!

Maddy: Life as a model and photographer is very fast paced, what is your advice to aspiring models and photographers?

Jessica: To get anywhere in either of these jobs, my best advice is that you must be a business person first, and a model or photographer second.

Models:  No one has your back on your career like yourself. Talk to a financial advisor and make a plan for yourself. Start a retirement plan and save for rainy days. Look into incorporating yourself. Nothing is for sure in this business and you have to play it smart with your money or you’ll find yourself without it like I’ve seen happen to many top models.

Photographers: Out of  all the time I dedicate to my photography, about 20% of it, is spent shooting, and the other 80% is editing, updating my website and blog, editing, returning emails to clients and potential clients, editing, marketing, research, and did I mention editing??? This is a commitment like no other, and to make it happen, you will have to invest a lot of time not behind your camera. It’s one thing to play around with photography as a hobby, and a whole other ball game to make a business out of it. Make sure this is something that you really want to do, and if it is, go for it! Also, read everything you possibly can about photography and get to know your camera inside and out. Photoshop is a great tool, but should never be a reason to not try to get the best possible photos in your camera first.

Maddy: What are your goals as a photographer?

Jessica: My goal is to always stay passionate about what I’m doing, and to turn this into a well-respected business. I want to take beautiful photos for my clients, whether it’s a model I’m testing, a bride, or the newborn of a couple, and make them want to spread the word because they love the photos I took for them!

Maddy: Lane Bryant is giving our readers a SNEAK PEAK of a very special graphic Tee that will be coming out on 7/19. Tell me about this wonderful opportunity.

Jessica: It’s really sweet to see my face on a tee, and at Lane Bryant of all places! I’ve been lucky enough to do some really fun jobs through LB over the 10 years I’ve worked for them! I’ve walked a runway in lingerie while KISS was playing live on stage, I’ve modeled bras on top of Mt. Hood in Oregon with fake snow all around in the middle of July, and I’ve even been lucky enough to have had their full-figured mannequins made from my body! The t-shirt with my face on it is really surreal though! I told them that I can guarantee that at least two handfuls of people will buy that shirt… and they will all have the last name Lavoie. haha! I think they had a great idea for a graphic tee and it came out really cool!