“One Job Changed My Life”, Our Interview with Tracie Stern

“One Job Changed My Life”, Our Interview with Tracie Stern

With 17 years under her belt, Tracie Stern has one of the most recognizable faces in the plus size modeling industry. Her story is inspiring, it speaks to those aspiring models that are working and investing towards their career. There was nothing easy about this career choice, but with good advice from her agents, her willingness to listen and hard work; Tracie’s life changed and she has never looked back.

Maddy: Tell me a little about yourself.

Tracie: My name is Tracie Stern and I have been a Plus size model for almost 17 yrs now.  I started my career in Toronto, Canada in 1993 and in 1995 I signed my first major contract with Elite Model Management.  In ’96 I moved to Chicago to pursue my love of modeling full time.  Since then I’ve traveled the world, from S. Africa to Poland and across the US and Canada.

Maddy: How did your modeling career begin?

Tracie: I started modeling at 5 yrs of age in the small town of Stratford, ON.  I always wanted to model but I didn’t have the frame of the traditional “straight sized”model.  During my first year of University, I was having a lot of people coming up to me telling me I should be a model, so I contacted a local agency who suggested I either gain weight to round out to a full size 16 or lose weight to try to be a straight size, leveling off at around a size 8.  The agent said I first needed to do a test to see if I was photogenic.  That test showed I was, and resulted in me scouting out Toronto agencies and finally signed with an agency that was specific to Plus Sizes.  After a few years in Canada I took the leap to try the US market.

Maddy: How did you learn the ins and outs of the business?

Tracie: I learned the hard way, for the most part.  The modeling industry isn’t necessarily the friendliest.  Every other model you meet is your competition, and most businesses aren’t really into helping their competition succeed.  I watched other girls on set who had modeled more than myself at the time, and I started out by mimicking their moves.  After a few years it became 2nd nature, and I was able to develop my own style and comfort in front of the camera.  I was also blessed to have had some of the most knowledgeable and caring agents in the business early on in my career who weren’t afraid to set me straight if I needed it, and who knew how to work this business the right way.

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?

Tracie: It was a good year into my professional career; by the time I booked my first major job.  I can remember sitting in my agent’s office in Toronto crying because I was pouring all of this money into my career to test and I wasn’t seeing any return.  I think I spent about $1000 that first year on building my portfolio.  It may not seem like a lot now, but when you are working 2 minimum wage jobs, in a major city and paying rent etc. it was a lot to put out and not see any return.  My agents said that all it takes is one job; one client and that I needed to hang in there.  One day I got a call that a national Canadian clothing company had hired me to do their spring shoot, the problem was though that it was 5 hrs away and the client was offering no transportation or lodging.  I made the shoot…lets just say I got very creative thanks to some good friends and imagination.  That campaign changed my career.  That one job paid me almost as much as I had put into my career and I was on posters and fliers etc. all across Canada.  After that, my career changed.  I learned to listen and trust my agents, to this day the good ones, have always been right on the money.

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

Tracie: Hmm….I remember one job in Greece shooting for Quelle Germany.  Our location was about a 4 hr drive outside of Athens in a salt mine.  When salt is photographed it appears like snow, so myself and another model spent all day in 90 degree weather, shooting in blinding white backdrops, winter clothing, gloves, hats etc.  But in the photo we look like we are having a blast on a beautiful, crisp winter day.  Another memory, I shot hang tags for Vanity Fair Lingerie and when I showed my Grandmother the tags in the store she started to rip the tags off of the bras so she could take them back to her retirement condo to show all of her friends.  I think it’s a combination of my personal memories and the memories I have of my families pride that continue to motivate me. I’m still fortunate enough to still be making memories having transitioned to film and hosting as well as continuing to model commercially.

Maddy: Years ago, plus size modeling jobs consisted mainly of catalog shoots. Tell me about your experience in watching the industry and fashions change.

Tracie: It’s a great inspiration to see the fashion options provided to today’s voluptuous woman.  I can remember modeling “moomoos” and one piece suits that gave the illusion of being a 3 piece suit…there were so many little tricks needed in order to model such outfits to make sure clients were able to see the ‘space’ the clothes provided.  I love the fact that European, Australian and Canadian clients recognize women of all sizes without having to segregate or make excuses as to why they are ‘focusing’ on a certain size.  The American market, for the most part, is starting to warm up, but we have a long battle ahead of us before we get to the level of other fashion markets around the world.

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?

Tracie: It didn’t come easy.  There are generations of models who fought for equality in the industry prior to the current new faces.  Emme & Christine Alt were the pioneers when I started my career and during my start in the US came Kate Dillon and Mia Tyler with their more famous backgrounds, one as a high fashion straight size supermodel crossover, and the other a rock stars daughter who really started to bring a more equal focus to our industry.  There is so much room for plus to grow and I praise any young model who is willing to take it on.  My advice is to think big, outside the box, understand this is a business and approach it as such.

Thank you for time Tracie, we look forward to seeing more of you in the future.