Her Rise To Super Model Stardom, our Interview with Cover Model Natalie Laughlin
With all mom duties taken care of, plus size model Natalie Laughlin, sits to talk about her rise to “Super” plus model stardom, and what she learned about herself in the process. As a teen, and into young adulthood, Natalie struggled with self-esteem and an eating disorder. Natalie was able to turn things around for herself finding inner peace and genuine love for her body and spirit.
Maddy: How did you get started in the modeling industry?
Natalie: I was studying and acting at New York University, and when I was graduating I needed to get acting headshots. I went to this photographer, and he asked me to do this hair/magazine shoot with him. So I thought, “Great, I’ll do it to make some extra money.” He asked me if I considered modeling, and at that point I had tried, when I was 18 years old, but I was too big for modeling. He then told me about “plus size” modeling, the industry was really small at the time. There was only one agency; it was called “Big Beauties, Little Women”. They handled petite models and plus size models.
I visited the agency and they wanted to work with me, but my look was a little exotic so I did some “testing”. My career really did not take off until I went to Miami and started working there.
Maddy: I know a lot of models go to Miami for “the season”. How did you make the decision to leave NY and take your chances in Miami?
Natalie: Well BBLW was bought over by FORD Models, and during the holidays I went to visit Ford in Miami. I met with Cory Bautista, he was running the division down there. He sent me on a go-see to JC Pennys and I booked it, so he asked me to move to FL for the season. While in Florida, I stayed with family and friends, and sublet my apartment in NY. I was there when the “Miami boom” was just beginning I worked constantly with all German and European clients doing mostly catalog work.
Once “the season” was over, I went back to NY and I did not work at all! I was staying with friends, because I had sublet my apartment and I remember sitting down and realizing my money was running out. I was reading an issue of Vogue Magazine, with Kate Moss on the cover, and at that time the “in” thing was that grunge, emaciated look. I looked at the cover and said, “this is crazy, we should have full representation of women”.
So I sat down and wrote a letter to every fashion magazine editor, put my Ford comp card in the envelope, and sent them out. About two weeks later, Glamour Magazine had made a request for my book from Ford, and not long after I was given a six page spread and interview.
This is when my career took off, and I worked all the time.
Maddy: I had no idea; we had so much in common. My writing career in the plus size industry began as a result of me writing to every editor at ALLURE Magazine over their weight loss story. They contacted me, printed my letter and the pictures I had submitted of me and two model friends (we re-created Allure’s AFTER pictures in our size 18 bodies). Great minds think alike!
Natalie: Good for you! It’s important to exercise your voice. My motto in life is, we all have something to give. We may think we have nothing to contribute in this world, but we all have something unique that we can give and put out into the world. If you act on that, you will get something in return.
Maddy: Most people think, plus size models are full of confidence and do not have “bad” days. How did you find your confidence?
Natalie: I was a classic chubby kid; the kids would make fun of me in school. I struggled with my weight growing up. Looking back, who would have thought, “that” struggle would actually pay off in the form of a career? The thing I thought paralyzed me throughout my life is what ended up giving me my greatest reward. My weight paralyzed me; I abused laxatives from age 13 to mid twenties. I binged and exercised excessively and then I would try and starve myself. I could never throw up, but I was struggling because when I would lose the weight I would get such great feedback. I thought, unless I was thin – I would never be successful, unless I was thin – I would never find peace in my life, unless I was thin – I really did not belong in the world. That’s how I felt when I was growing up.
Maddy: Many women today, still feel this way. Even with the development of plus size communities, fashion options and the popularity of plus size models, many women still struggle with self-esteem.
Natalie: Even with all the success I had, with billboards in Times Square, traveling and having the time of my life, I still struggled with self-esteem. In the plus size industry, you only work well when you are on the smaller side. Being a plus size model, and having to stay within a certain size, in order to book work, means you are still focusing on your weight and body.
Maddy: I’ve seen young models with potential suddenly give up because of the rejection, gossip between models and constant scrutiny. How do you suggest models handle this?
Natalie: I have a saying, what you think of me, is none of my business! You have to stay focused. After working in the industry, living a self-acceptance life and becoming a mom, I broke free from those feelings that crippled me.
When we were shooting, you wrote something I said, “Happiness Crusader”. What that means is that it takes daily diligence in your life for you to wake up every morning, accept yourself, and focus on the inside. I call it feeding your soul, this will help to free you and you won’t be obsessed with food or your weight.
Maddy: What are you currently doing to spread this message?
Natalie: Well I’m re-launching my site and new blog where I will be able to speak about my life experiences and correspond with women. I do speaking around the country, mainly on College campuses, and I’m also hoping to write a book. My life as a mom, coming back to the modeling industry, will give me a lot to share. My main focus is being a mom, and I’m sure I can relate to so many women who are dealing with daily pressures.
Maddy: This industry can wear on the models emotionally. Do you have any tips for models or women in general on how to maintain their own “Happiness Crusade” in their heart?
Natalie: For me, in my life, I take 20 to 30 minutes a day just to connect and focus on myself. Like you said, this is a relationship you have to develop with yourself, so it may take time to understand what that relationship is, and how to develop it. This may mean sitting by a window and staring out, or taking the TV off and all the outside noise and sitting in silence.
I also work very hard on separating myself ,from my “ego self.” This is very useful in the world of modeling. When you receive advice or your agent says “you don’t look good in this picture, you have to do this instead”. You have to be able to want to do better, because it’s your job. You just can’t let it connect with your “real” self . You have to know the “true you”. Whenever there is anything negative, or I’m responding in a negative way, I know that’s my ego, so my trick is to stay quiet, breathe and center myself.
Feel your feelings; if I get hurt, I feel it, but I try not to hold it. We are not perfect beings so this is not as easy as it sounds. Once you allow yourself to feel, it dissipates into something else. The moment I hold something in, I want to numb myself with food, TV, shopping or anything that will distract me.
Maddy: The new wave of plus size models seems to be this very young, small plus size model. How do models who have been working in this industry, deal with the changes, and how do you feel about where the plus size industry is headed?
Natalie: This is a tricky business; there were times in my career when I was told that I should quit because I was never going to make any money. I really started in the industry to make some money, so I can focus on my acting. In turn I really enjoyed what I was doing; I was traveling the world and making money so my point is, you have to believe in yourself. The only way to get to that place where you feel strong is to work on you! This may mean reading inspiring books, going to therapy or taking some self improvement courses.
The other thing is, I was one of those models who moved around agencies often. It’s not really a popular thing to do, but if I felt an agent was not really working for me, then I moved on in the most polite way. It’s easy as a model to give away your power and I succumbed to that myself.
I also tested a lot; my book was fresh. I treated everyone I worked with no matter who they were, or if it was a paid job or not, with respect. Most people don’t like to hear this, but you are responsible for everything that happens to you in your life. A lot of people in our industry, especially models conform to that “victim” trap. If your not working, then have a meeting with your booker and find out why. You may have to make adjustments, and it’s not to say that everything they say is “law”, but by listening from a “non-ego” ear you will be able to implement those things that will help your career.
As for the smaller models, I’m not sure how to really answer this. It is very frustrating to be coined a “plus size model”, and then if your too big you can’t get a job. I really do think it’s up to the customer; they are the ones that really book the models. The mighty dollar is the voice, so if the models are no longer representing this woman, then the companies need to know and the customer will have to be the one to carry the burden of relaying this message.
Maddy: You were named the Cindy Crawford of “plus sizes”. At what point did this happen for you?
Natalie: It was around my third season in my Miami. That phrase came from an article in South Beach magazine where they mentioned what this well known makeup artist had stated during a shoot. I was working constantly with all catalogs and stores and many times you work with the same hair and makeup people. This one well known makeup artist referred to me, as the Cindy Crawford of plus size modeling, because I was working so much and the when they printed the article, they included it.
Maddy: As the plus size industry really took off, the most popular faces were Emme, Kate Dillon and Natalie Laughlin. You were the one that took sexy photos and had no issues showing images that were different than the normal catalog work you were doing. Your appearance in MODE Magazine really brought you to the forefront for us.
Natalie: Abby and Michele, editors at MODE Magazine, really helped to give my career another jump start. At one point I was thinking that the work may not come as often for me, and then I got the cover of MODE Magazine. That was one of the biggest highlights of my career, even more so than the some of the billboards in Times Square. I loved that I was going to be seen as a beautiful sexy woman, as opposed to a pretty fat girl.
Maddy: You are the only plus size model to have five consecutive billboards in Times Square.
Natalie: Well that is an interesting story. I remember walking into the offices of Liz Claiborne. They were trying to go into a more modern direction and I had this picture with me that was from a test that I did, with a new upcoming photographer. When they saw the picture, they booked me; that was the picture that booked me the job because it was the direction they wanted to go.
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