Finding Healthy at Size 12 – Our Interview with Plus Model Kayla

Finding Healthy at Size 12 – Our Interview with Plus Model Kayla

Sometimes, it takes letting go of something, to obtain what we truly should have. In Kayla’s case,  the realization of being in the straight sized world, made her walk away from a thriving career. Her path led her to a 12 year career as a plus size model, in the body she can be happy with. Today, she’s a model, Pilates instructor and happy with the choices she has made.

Maddy: Tell me a little about yourself.

Kayla: I’m originally from Titusville, FL. I was a “regular size” model for 5 years, and have been a plus size model for 12 years. I now live in White Plains, NY in Westchester County with my awesome husband, James Cawley, who is an Executive chef for Rosa Mexicano. I’m passionate about fitness; I teach Pilates and Indorow for a company called Apogee at their Westchester studios and occasionally at Power Pilates, their studios in Manhattan. I’m still a size twelve and believe that a person can be strong and healthy without being thinner than what is natural for their own body. I like to balance enjoying life and good food, with eating healthy and staying fit. I am finally learning to enjoy and accept my personal journey through life, and not try to force myself into anyone else’s ideal or reach some ultimate destination (that hasn’t been easy to learn!). I love comedy and making people laugh and being kind of a clown sometimes. I still work as a model and love it.

Maddy: How did your modeling career begin?

Kayla: My “regular” or “straight” sized modeling career began when I was 17 and a senior in high school, I was discovered when I won a bikini contest at the Eastern Surfing Festival by a man that was producing a swimsuit calendar, the calendar was shooting in Miami Beach and other professional models from the top Miami agencies were being used in the calendar. He introduced me to L’Agence Models, Elite Model Management’s Miami affiliate at the time. They signed me, told me to lose 10 lbs (of course); I was a size 6. I moved to Miami Beach a couple months later; I ended up on the cover and 4 months of the calendar so I had some tear sheets and was set up with test shoots for my book. I got really lucky to book Quelle, a major German catalog a few weeks later. I was never able to become smaller than a size six no matter how hard I tried, but luckily at that time size 6 was acceptable for German catalog. After 3 very successful years as a “regular size” model, it was becoming impossible for me to maintain a size 6, I struggled with my weight and fluctuated for a couple more years, because of that, bookings dwindled and I ended up spending all of my money and gave up.

Shortly after, I found out about plus modeling when I saw Emme on TV one day. I was super excited.  I was a size 10 at the time, I was still trying to diet but not starve myself. I found out that my last agency, Michelle Pommier, had a small plus division and re-joined them. Also, the same scout that found me when I was 17 sent my photos to Wilhelmina New York and they signed me as well. I used padding to increase my size at first, but when I realized I didn’t have to diet anymore and the fact that my boyfriend (now husband) was a chef and loved my curves, I happily settled in at a size 12. I commuted back and forth to NY and Europe from Miami, and eventually was so successful with Wilhelmina NY that I talked my husband into moving to NY, we had just gotten married.

Maddy: Was it difficult to maneuver around the modeling industry, how did you learn the ins and out’s of the business?

Kayla: I had done some modeling in high school for a couple of agencies in Orlando, FL. The jobs were mostly unpaid fashion shows, but the runway coaches were helpful, and I did a few unpaid shoots that helped me learn a little.  The real way I learned to be a professional model was, once I was in Miami and booking catalog jobs, I watched the seasoned models work on set. I practiced my poses and expressions in the mirror, and the rest just came naturally. When I started making good money, I was young and naive so business wise my mom tried to help me manage my money, I set up a retirement fund that I still have, but I eventually spent the rest. Everything I learned from that first round of modeling helped me to make the most of my successful plus-size modeling years. I made sure I handled my finances more wisely by investing and saving. I was hoping to stay super busy with modeling a few more years but I knew it wouldn’t last forever.

Maddy: How long was it until you booked your first job, can you remember what it was, the experience and what you learned from it.

Kayla: Both of my modeling careers took off rather quickly.

As a regular size model, I consider the Calendar and Quelle catalog my first real modeling jobs. I learned how to model and the Germans really taught me how to be professional and disciplined. Most of my “regular sized” work was catalog because I was considered too large a size for editorial.

As a plus-size, the first job I remember was for Mode Magazine, the “Spy Girls” spread. I was finally doing editorial for a great magazine. It was wonderful and Mode continued to book me on a regular basis for the rest of the time they were in business. Also, the German catalog Ulla Popken booked me right from the beginning. German catalogs was the bulk of my work at both sizes, we just clicked.

Maddy: What were some of your most memorable jobs in your career?

Kayla: The Lane Bryant fashion shows were always exciting and fun, but my favorite was their KISS show. We walked the runway while the rock band KISS played. We walked through them on stage onto the attached runway. It was great meeting and working with icons of rock!  It was also great for my career to do the Lane Bryant campaign for 2 years and also their Internet lingerie bookings.

The Slimfast commercial was an amazing experience. It was fun to shoot and it played often for over a year. They also put me on a billboard in Times Square that stayed up for about 10 months. Because it was a Screen Actors Guild union job that paid residuals every time it played, it ended up being by far the highest paying job of my career for one day of work, and I was able to have Screen Actors Guild health insurance for my husband and I for 2 years.

The European catalogs I worked for on a regular basis for a number of years shot in a lot of wonderful locations, Morocco, Italy, Ibiza, Capetown, Spain, just to name a few. The work was the same, but being able to see the world was a huge blessing with lots of amazing memories.

Maddy: Years ago, plus size modeling jobs consisted mainly of catalog shoots. Tell me about your experience in watching the industry begin to change, and how your career was affected.

Kayla: For me plus modeling opened the door to editorial shoots, runway shows and campaigns instead of just catalog because as a regular size model I was never really thin enough to do high fashion. Plus size modeling was awesome! I still did catalog, but all of the other stuff as well because I was now considered a good size. I was actually modeling sexy designer clothes in Mode Magazine and sexy lingerie for Lane Bryant. It made me feel great and way more confident than I ever felt as a hungry size 6!

When I first became a plus model, most of the top plus models were in their late thirties and a size 14 or 16. I was in my twenties and have always been a 12 or 14 since I have been a plus model. I had hoped that I would still be working a lot well into my late thirties, since that is the age the first top plus models were at the top of their game. Unfortunately for me, the industry eventually changed and to quote my booker from Ford, “the industry has skewed younger”. I had a lot of wonderful years that I’m grateful for, but I feel like my career started to taper off a little early. I always thought that since the greater percentage of the plus-sized customer demographic was older that it didn’t make sense for the whole industry to “skew” younger, just get broader to include younger customers and models. The recession and the fact that there are tons more plus models now than ever, also changed the industry. I’m glad that there is more high profile plus size work being done these days to raise awareness that curvy can be beautiful, and still healthy instead of super skinny being the ideal. I love the fact that we can now find cute, fashion forward clothes in sizes 12 and larger. I remember 10 years ago not even bothering going into most of the stores in the mall because I knew that none of their young hip clothes would fit me.

Maddy: What do you want today’s up and coming models to know about the years that led to today’s plus size modeling industry?

Kayla: It has been an interesting journey. The general public didn’t know plus sized models existed for a long time. When people found out I was a model, I had to explain that I was a plus size model and was supposed to be full figured. Now, more people understand, respect and embrace the industry. There was occasionally some prejudice towards us full figured girls in the beginning because a lot of people in the industry were stuck on the idea that a model should be skinny. Some photographers, skinny models, clothing stylists, hair and makeup artists would occasionally be rude or disrespectful to us because they didn’t believe we were valid models. Over the last decade things have changed enormously for the better in that aspect.

Work wise, years ago plus models in their mid to late thirties or even early forties still booked magazine covers and campaigns. I want to believe that once the economy gets better, there will be more work for a broader range of models, but the bar is set higher every year for the high profile, high fashion jobs, the plus models that book those jobs these days are younger and more flawless and sometimes as small as a size 8. That fact is resulting in shorter lived careers for a lot of models. The pay rates for the regular catalog, Internet and advertising jobs have gotten lower in general or are the same they were 15 years ago. That might also have to do with the fact that there is a large supply of plus models and a smaller demand because of the struggling economy.

So hang in there and save your money models! Don’t be a diva and stay humble and grateful. Once the economy heals, there is nowhere to go but up, and the sky is the limit! Beauty comes in all shapes, sizes and ages and hopefully the world sees and understands that more every day.

Maddy: Are there any projects you are currently working on?

I still model, with Click Models in NY and have a wonderful booker, Aida Brigman. I am also a Pilates instructor. I have one of the most well-known and respected comprehensive classical Pilates certifications in the world from Power Pilates and love it. It gets a little crazy juggling both careers sometimes but I love both jobs, and am incredibly grateful for the modeling work I still get.

You can reach Kayla for bookings at