Besides working long, grueling hours, while still jet-lagged from the flight (likely squished into coach), shacking up in a “model apartment” with several other women, and being shoved and pinned into too-small or too-big garments, they then have to endure the criticism of everyone from casting directors to online commenters. They’re told they’re not skinny enough, or they need to eat a cheeseburger, or maybe they’re not big enough to be considered a plus-size model.
To correct those stereotypes (both good and bad) and delve into the truth of what it’s really like to be a model, we sat down with curvy models Liris Crosse and Whitney Thompson (winner of America's Next Top Model) after they wrapped up Evans' holiday shoot. And, thankfully, they didn't hold back.
How did you break into the modeling industry?
Liris Crosse: "I got started through a referral via a company called Model Search America. They introduced me to my first agent, which was Wilhelmina Models. I am now signed with Dorothy Combs Models in the U.S. and Hughes Models in the U.K. Early on in my career, I worked the urban market, which I felt as though embraced my color as well as my curves more, and I just continued to build from there. "
Whitney, do you feel there's a stigma attached to you because you appeared on ANTM?
Whitney Thompson: "Absolutely. People think that they know me because they watched me on the show, but you only get a blip of what actually happens or who someone is, so that's always difficult when meeting new people. That being said, I am extremely happy that I did the show. I would not have the career I do today without it."
What advice can you give aspiring models?
LC: "Modeling isn't for the faint of heart, you have to really want it and work hard for it. Less is more, try not to do crazy hair and makeup, keep it simple but beautiful when you're trying to find an agency and get started."
WT: "It's a lot harder than it looks. Standing in front of a camera is not the hard part. Having a hair stylist burn your face, and the stylist putting you in shoes that are two sizes too small after a 23-hour flight is what makes it difficult. You have to keep your head high and believe in your work or you'll never make it. I also think it's important to have a greater purpose behind modeling. Don't model just because you're pretty and you want to make money. Every girl wants that. You have to stand out from everyone else and on those really hard days, that is really the only thing that will keep you going."
What's been the most challenging thing about being a model?
LC: "It's hard to get consistent work, so some months can be great and other months be slow. You just have to work hard and build up your clients so you can get consistent money!"
WT: "Traveling constantly. For the past five years, I have lived on an airplane. It sounds glamorous, but after a 20-hour flight to Australia in the middle seat in coach, you begin to understand how not glamorous it is. There are also lots of situations where you don't feel safe. You go to a country where no one speaks your language and are surrounded by foreign men with no way to communicate. It's definitely trying, and you really have to be smart."
LC: "They vary, some have been really good, some not so good. But, truthfully, I love the plus industry! It embraces a lot of women who would otherwise disappear into the background. I truly love what I do! It's like a sisterhood."
WT: "Really positive. I've been able to travel the world, meet amazing people, see incredible sights, eat the best food in the world, and pay my bills by doing it. It's not always easy, but I wouldn't trade my experiences for anything."
Do you feel you're treated differently as a larger model?
LC: "Yes, I feel as though the media doesn't give us the same coverage as it does straight-size models. We also don't get paid as much as straight-size models sometimes, or get the opportunity to go out for the same big-time designer campaigns. But, I feel as though the climate of the fashion industry is slowly changing, so I try to pay it no mind and just keep doing the work! They'll catch up."
WT: "Not in the industry. I feel that people who understand the horrible things that young emaciated models go through really champion the cause of realistic standards in fashion. You only have to see one person suffering to understand how truly horrible the industry is to these girls. On the other hand, it's hard to explain to people who are not in the industry. They get mad at me for not being 'big' enough. It's very frustrating to have to constantly defend your career."
What would you be doing if you weren't a model?
LC: "I would be heavier into my acting career and would own my own boutique and bar/lounge. But, actually I still plan to do it, it's just on the back burner right now."
WT: I wanted to be a pediatric surgeon. I always wanted to go to medical school, but I think I've been able to help people in a different way, and I'm happy for the journey I've taken.
Has the plus-size modeling world evolved since you became a part of it?
LC: "The clothing has gotten better. Retailers are starting to see that we want better style. We want the same clothes the straight-size women wear but just in bigger sizes. Look at how Evans is pushing the envelope with its #TheCut collection. Also, there's more size diversity with the models, I've seen clients use some 16-18 girls which you never saw in the past."
WT: "When I first began modeling, there was only Lane Bryant and Torrid. If you wanted plus clothes, you had to go to a specialty shop. Now — Ralph Lauren, Chanel, Forever 21 — HUGE brands are selling plus in their stores. I'm not saying that I did it single-handedly, but I think that winning ANTM, and people all over the world seeing a curvy girl succeed, really shook the fashion world and forced people to take note."
What's something surprising about plus-size modeling that people might not know?
LC: "We aren't lazy, overweight models. We work out and must maintain proportionate bodies for work. Plus models are curvy and fit. Don't let the scale fool you. Plus doesn't always equal unhealthy, just like skinny doesn't always equal healthy."
WT: "We're not obese, or lazy, or stupid. Plus models have personal trainers and go to college. I hate being stereotyped and reading the hateful comments on blogs and Facebook. It really is hurtful."
What is your style mantra?
LC: "Dress for your body type, and Spanx are your friend! This goes for all body types. There's certain pieces that some skinny women shouldn't wear, just like there's certain pieces that some plus-size shapes shouldn't wear. That's why designers create all types of different garments because we are all shaped and made differently."
WT: "Classic. I am not very adventurous when it comes to style, but it makes me regret very few fashion choices!"
Whose closet would you most like to raid?
LC: "Beyoncé's! She wears designer stuff but also low-end and indie pieces. She rocks her style, very sexy yet classy. I would hope her closet would include her wig collection, too!"
WT: "Tyra Banks. She knows how to dress an hourglass figure, and she has an amazing sense of style."
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
LC: "Earlier in my career, it was when I shot the Lane Bryant campaign with Walter Chin in the Moroccan desert. Recently, it would be this Evans holiday campaign I shot since I've wanted to work for them for years! It was on my vision board for three years, and it finally happened. Blessed!"
WT: "Shooting for Italian Vogue in Milan. I never thought I would shoot for Vogue in a thousand years. It was seriously a dream come true and a huge check on my list of modeling jobs."
What has been your worst experience in the industry?
LC: "Worst experience would be any time when someone doesn't pay you for job you've already rendered. That hurts, but it's a lesson learned."
WT: "That's a really tough question. I try to see the good side of everything and at least chalk it up to an experience, but I have been burned in the face with a curling iron. I've had a chunk of my hair burnt off. I shot over 200 outfits per day and got paid a fourth of what I usually make in a [foreign] country. I've had rude clients and screaming photographers. I did an entire shoot and then wasn't paid because the photographer decided my hair was too blonde afterward. But, between the blisters and the glitter and the caffeinated breakdowns, I wouldn't change any of it for the world. It made me who I am today."
LC: "If you don't like it, what term would you rather use? Plus size is fine with me! When I first started modeling, I was a size 8/10, and they called me plus size. I always embraced it as I have some extra meat on my bones, which the men happen to love."
What do you think of Tyra Bank's labeling of plus-size women as "fiercely real?"
WT: "I think that it's a nicer way of saying 'plus size' but it's still a way of separating later sizes from the rest, and that's the real problem."
Do you consider yourself "plus size?" Have you ever been asked to lose or gain weight for a shoot?
LC: "Yes, I do. I wear a size 14 — sometimes, 16 if you catch me in the winter — haha! I have been asked to gain and to lose weight for jobs, and I have done both before. It's really up to the model's discretion. I haven't been asked in a long time though. Clients just love me the way I am!"
How do you feel when people complain that most plus-size models don't look "plus size?"
LC: "People don't understand that [real-life] plus-size women are different from plus-size models. Modeling is about fantasy, getting people to buy into a lifestyle and a vision. Designers also like the clothes to look neat. They like to do as little pinning of the clothes on set and as little retouching afterward, which is also a reason why they use plus models of a certain size."
WT: "I completely agree. The average woman is a size 14 but 'plus' models start at a size six. The industry wants you to feel bad about yourself, and they succeed. I find it to be disgusting."
What made you decide to open a restaurant, Whitney?
WT: "I've always cooked and baked, and my fiancé has been a head chef for over a decade. We had talked about opening a restaurant, and when the opportunity arose, we jumped on it! We had been looking for a reason to move back to America, and we're having a lot of fun with all the changes."
Besides modeling and your new restaurant, are there any other business ventures you're working on?
WT: "Absolutely not. We don't sleep anymore, and on top of the restaurant seven days a week, and modeling in my 'spare time,' we're planning a wedding in Scotland! We have very full plates right now."