Stepping Away From The Modeling Industry, Our Interview with Former Plus Size Model Tarrah Grant

Stepping Away From The Modeling Industry, Our Interview with Former plus size model Tarrah Grant

What do you do when your job requires you to stay a certain size, but your health is at risk? This was the situation plus size model Tarrah Grant saw herself in. With clients under her belt, and a thriving career, Tarrah had to choose health over career, but this was not the end of her journey. Read about this “Icons” life changing decisions, and how she will be working within the plus size industry real soon.

Maddy: Hi Tarrah, tell me a little about yourself and your decision to step away from the plus size modeling industry.

Tarrah: First I’d like to thank PLUS Model Magazinefor inviting me to join the PMM Icon Issue and allowing me to be featured. It’s an honor and I am humbled after working in the modeling industry for over 20 years.

Unfortunately I had to retire from modeling in 2005 but not by choice. I was diagnosed with extremely high cholesterol, over 500, at age 22y.o. while I was only 125lbs. It’s a heredity condition. No matter what I ate, weighed, or how much I worked out, nothing seemed to work. I’ve been on every medication you can imagine and my lowest level was 270, which is still very high. I still take 2 cholesterol pills daily. The next suggestion was to lose the weight or have a heart attack/stoke and die. I’m a direct person so I listened, researched and took immediate action. This was a life-changing event for me.

Though I was gradually losing clients, and income, because of my weight loss my heath came first. Do or die as the say. Now five years later I have gone from a size 16 back to an 8, which feels like a normal weight for my bone structure. Trust me I do miss the work, the great people I’ve met along the way, the fashion and events.

Next I moved into freelance photography testing with models. I later gave that up because I prefer shooting documentary photography when I travel to different countries. Photography is a wonderful escape for me now. I have experience in marketing, as a creative art director, fashion stylist, media sales and a personal assistant. I’ve also been fortunate to have traveled the world from Cape Town to New Zealand to Russia to Hong Kong.

In the past few years I have found a way to inch my way back into the business. Currently I’m planning a move to Los Angeles in the next 6 months. I’m up starting my own Pubic Relations Multi Media Company in Los Angeles. Also I’m a freelance publicist, writer and I’m currently pitching show ideas to networks. I’m also the Director at TopModelPortfolio.comwhere I’m happy to announce that we will be adding a Plus Division in the spring. As a freelance publicist I work with actors, models, artists, and photographers. I’ve signed the famous international photographer Wahb Wabkhout. You’ll find his link on my website. Recently I contacted all of my old contacts when I thought of starting my own company and everyone has been extremely receptive. Never burn bridges; you never know when you might need help to the other side.

Maddy: How did your modeling career begin?

Tarrah: My mother and I began submitting Polaroid’s to all of the big agencies in New York (Ford, Willy, Elite, etc.) when I was 16y.o. I was already 5’10 at the time and naturally a size 6. Back then agencies were nice enough to send you a standard “not our type” letter and return your picture as well. What I eventually came to realize was I had more of a commercial look, yet I was always testing editorial, which clearly wasn’t working for me. We always want to be something we’re not.

How I actually began modeling is your typical story. I was picking up my actor’s headshots and an advertising photographer approached me. We met at his studio and he turned out to be one of the most successful ad photographers in Chicago. He created an entire book for me, which consisted of mostly lifestyle/catalog looks. Very clean makeup, if any at all. He didn’t understand why I wasn’t working at 18y.o. Within a month I was with Suzanne’s A-Plus, which later merged with Aria, as my mother agency in Chicago. They were wonderful to work with but it was a slow start. A lot of go-sees, paying for tests, comp cards, etc. At the same time I was traveling out of town with my fulltime job 3-4 days per week. Therefore I was at a disadvantage by being unavailable for local opportunities. My first year I was booked on average 2-3 times a month while taking acting classes and booking non-union commercials.

Chicago already had 4 strong girls with my look who had been working for years, and were well established before I came on the scene. These girls later went on to do Sports Illustrated, Victoria Secrets, FHM, and high end catalog work. As usual I am always up for a challenge so in 1993 I went for Miami Beach where I was turned down by Ford, Irene Marie and all the agencies you think you “want” to be with. A smaller, but strong, agency named Select Model Mgnt. on Washington Ave. signed me. They were great. All of my test shoots were free, including comp cards. I was booked within 2 days off of my first go-see! South Beach became my home January-April for the next 4 years and there was a lot of work. If your booker is not excited about you and isn’t pushing you, move on.

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

Tarrah: Ah the ins and outs of the modeling business! It certainly helped that I was a magazine whore. I knew my designers from A-Z and all the top models and photographers as well. Kara Young was my idol when I was a teenager. She was one of the first models that I could really relate to that had my look. She graced the cover of ELLE in 1988 and German VOGUE in 1989. She was my girl crush. Years later I would run into her weekly at my neighborhood gym in the West Village. 4 years ago my ex-husband and I were seated outside in Soho and there was Kara Young! She popped by our table and said I looked like her son, who she had in the stroller at the time. I’ve never been star struck, having lived in NYC, L.A., Miami and London, but this woman was simply stunning!

In my opinion, if anyone approaches you about a “modeling school” or asks you for money upfront, they aren’t legit. Don’t get discouraged. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have modeling potential.

Starting off as a straight size 6 model, I had a very difficult time finding work as a size 10 for 2 solid years. At that time I mainly focused on acting and booked a few young mom national print ads at home in NYC. I just wasn’t paying attention to what the market wanted at the time so please pay attention to size in all markets. Though there is always the exception to the rule.

Maddy: What was your first booking like, what did you learn from the experience?

Tarrah: It was several months before I finally booked my first print job in Chicago. I was frustrated but never gave up on myself. It was catalog work and the client was on a very tight budget. It was a rush – rush take a shot with as many prom dresses as possible in 3 hours with 4 models. I can also say this was the only shoot that I’ve ever encountered with an extremely catty model. She had been modeling for a few years and was 3 years younger. She knew it was my first shoot and she did not want me to forget it. She only inspired me to be the exact opposite of who she was.

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

Tarrah: Wow! There are so many fun jobs. I truly love runway and only as a plus size model did I have the opportunity. It was great! Neiman Marcus and Just My Size were my most enjoyable shows to be in.

Working for Levis was the best ever! Not only do their jeans fit me perfectly, but I had already been wearing their line for years. They were great to work for and I met quite a few great model friends from the numerous bookings over the years. Unfortunately I lost the bookings because I had to lose weight and I was no longer a junior’s size 16.

I’ve had the pleasure to work with Figure Magazine on many occasions, Kmart, Sears, Ebony, Glo Jeans, Hallmark,  Jet, Target, Proctor & Gamble, Bombshell Magazine, Levis, Hanes, Kohl’s, Just My Size, numerous catalog work (mostly international) and the brilliant PMM in this issue to name a few. I also had a campaign with Fashion Fair cosmetics for a few years. When I first moved to New York I booked 3 commercials in 6 weeks. I was truly blessed. The NY market gave me a warm welcome and I truly knew I was home here. If you can make it in NYC you can make it anywhere!

Maddy: Tell me about your experience in watching the industry begin to change, along with the fashions.

Tarrah: In my opinion the plus size modeling industry has been very erratic throughout the years. A perfect example would be the rapid change in the plus model size requirements. I started plus size modeling in 2000 after a bad knee injury that had me in a cast for 8 months. 70 pounds later, depressed and insecure I walked into CLICK NYC and there I met my true mother agency and family. Aida Brigman (CLICK Plus Size Division) welcomed me immediately and I signed on the dot. Aida had 2 or 3 Tara’s on her board so we came up with going with a name that stood out. My last name GRANT! Clients remembered me! At the time a 14/16 was in high demand in NYC. I worked on the print, fit and plus runway board which was steady work for a solid 3 years. At the time my fit booker, Dorene Rivera, moved over to DNA. Ladies there is money to be made. Please do not forget about FIT. Inquire if your measurements to see if you qualify. I have a male friend who worked for D&G as their in-house fit model for years!

Honestly, catalog work pays very well. It may not build your book unless you land a campaign or you’re doing high-end catalog such as Saks, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom’s, etc. I do love seeing the beauty and editorial spreads. The steady pay will get you where you need to be in the industry.

Tarrah: Plus fashion has finally become more progressive. Now we have more edgy designers getting the wake up call while some will always be resistant. When you see beautiful plus sized women on the covers of French magazines and walking the runways in Milan, changes are happening. Of course every style will not be made to fit every woman. This also goes for something designed for a size 18 woman, but made in a size 2. It never seems to work. If you don’t know who Richard Metzger is please take the time out to look up his info. He really paved the way for many plus sized actresses and models with his original designs and concepts. He’s a lovely soul.

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?

Tarrah: It’s been a long and ever changing road you must be fully invested and flexible. New York might demand a size 10/12 this season, while L.A. and Miami might prefer a size14. I remember when girls who were a size 18 were in high demand in New York. The great thing is that everyone gets a chance! Be ready to test, update your book and get a new look. Network! Network! Network! Have an open mind and go with the flow.

I feel that the plus size industry is slowly becoming more mainstream and accepted. The marketing has stepped up 100% since I left in 2005. Ashley Graham’s commercial is a perfect example. Thank you America for all of the press!

PMM is definitely a wonderful magazine that displays plus size women of all sizes as sexy, beautiful, intelligent and classy. Thank you!