9. Shape Shifting

9. Shape Shifting

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident

Shape Shifting

Successful people have fear, successful people have doubts, and successful people have worries. They just don’t let these feelings stop them.

~T. Harv Eker

It was the morning of my first big photo shoot as a plus-size model and I was excited — and hungry! On the way to the location, I picked up a big box of chocolate and cinnamon rugelach from my favorite bakery for everyone to nosh on as we worked, then wondered if they would all say, “Of course the plus-size model would bring in something fattening to eat!”

I wouldn’t care if they did. I was in such a great mood that nothing could bring me down.

My recent career after studying on a full rowing scholarship at Syracuse University was as a local reporter for NBC in Arizona. Then, at age twenty-six, I transplanted to New York to embark on a new career as a plus-size fashion model with Ford Models. I loved my new vocation because I enjoyed exploring what we considered “beautiful” in our culture and other cultures, and why. As a plus-size model, I would be challenging and expanding society’s definition of “beauty.”

I arrived early at the West Side loft rented for the shoot to find a crew of ten people already prepping — make-up artists, hair stylists, two wardrobe stylists, and various assistants. The only ones who hadn’t arrived yet were the photographer and his assistants.

The room was abuzz with activity. We were photographing an ad for blue jeans that day. It would be one of the first full-figured ads to be published in major magazines and on billboards. It was a big deal, and I was the model the client chose!

I was about to earn more money in one day than I usually made in a month. But it wasn’t about the money. I could feel something great was going to happen. We were on the verge of a new way of looking at women, we were nurturing a change in attitude about body shapes, and this shoot would symbolize it.

Enter the photographer, who has worked with the biggest publishers and fashion magazines in the world: Vogue, Elle, Harper’s Magazine, Marie Claire, and Cosmopolitan. I was beyond thrilled that I was going to be in front of his lens that day. Except, he wasn’t quite what any of us expected. He showed up to the loft looking dirty and disheveled, and seemingly drunk (or hungover?) from the night before.

“I am not shooting this fatty!” he yelled.

Barely giving others a nod, he strode to the back of the loft where I was being made up, my hair in Velcro rollers, and looked around.

“Where’s the model?” he asked everyone, and no one in particular.

We all looked at each other, wondering if he had bad eyesight or something. I was sitting right there, three feet away from him. I raised my hand slowly.

“Hi, I’m Emme. Nice to meet you.”

The photographer looked at me blankly, and then his whole face pinched as he grew horrified.

“I am not shooting this fatty!” he yelled, and stormed across the room and out the door, slamming it.

We all froze and no one said a word. A minute later, I could feel someone expertly place tissues under my eyes — it was the make-up artist and her assistant, worried I’d start crying and ruin their hour and a half of careful make-up application.

They didn’t have to worry; I wasn’t upset, I was angry! How dare he speak to me, or anyone, that way? I got on the phone with my agent and explained the situation, telling her I wanted to leave.

“No, you have to stay! He’ll be back. No one turns down a commercial job like this if they want to work in New York.”

Over the next hour, everyone took turns apologizing to me for the photographer’s rude behavior. I just wanted to leave; I didn’t want to face that idiot again. But as my agent predicted, he did return . . . four hours later — angry and pissed off to be there, too. He didn’t say a word to anyone, especially not to me, as he prepped his equipment for the shoot, insisting he’d “only shoot the fatty” right where he was already positioned. He refused to budge an inch.

I wasn’t so thrilled anymore to be in front of this guy’s lens, but there I went. The photographer walked up to me, placed his hands on the neckline of my shirt as if he was about to choke me, and proceeded to sloppily stretch out the neckline until it fell around my shoulders. “If I’m going to shoot you,” he sneered, “I’m going to shoot you sexy.”

“Well,” I replied, “if you’re going to act like this, then let’s get this over and done with.”

Somehow, we made it through the rest of the workday and created some great photos and the campaign was a success.

Fast-forward five years, to 1994: I’d been featured as one of People magazine’s coveted “50 Most Beautiful” that year and my fledgling career had taken off. I was in Miami for a photo shoot and we were set up near a café, when I noticed a familiar face at a nearby table. Flanked by two beautiful women sat that idiot photographer. But now he was clean-shaven, spiffed up, and looking very handsome.

At first, I remembered the horror of his words and felt angry. But then as I stared at him for a few moments, it dawned on me that because of this man and others like him, I fought hard in my career and was determined to never give up. Women have always fought to gain respect and fairness, even if it’s with other women, too. That photographer’s attitude toward full-figured models, and perhaps women in general, showed me that the road to a new way of thinking about what makes a woman beautiful would not be an easy one. There would be many hurdles. But in those five years since that photo shoot, I’d found my life’s purpose — empowering women to be the best they can be. And my work and message were being seen and heard in the fashion industry and all over the world.

I decided that I was meant to face this photographer that day so long ago, when his beliefs and stereotypes about women were at their worst. He represented exactly the kind of thinking I wanted to change.

So now it was time to thank this man who had made my life hell for a day. Because, as actor Dustin Hoffman once said as he accepted an Academy Award, “I want to thank those who kissed me and those who kicked me.”

I went up to his table.

“Excuse me, I hope I’m not interrupting you . . . my name is Emme.”

He looked up from his coffee and smiled. “Emme! Yes! Oh, we have to work together! I’d really love to shoot you. Congrats on all that you are doing.”

I was stunned, and more than a little confused. He obviously recognized me and knew me from my photos, but he didn’t seem to remember that I was the model from that day in the loft, or what had happened there. He didn’t remember causing me pain on a day that was to be bright and hopeful for me.

“Oh, I’d love that,” I replied. “Actually, we did work together one time a few years ago . . . and I wanted to thank you for that.”

He looked puzzled, but he shook my hand and smiled anyway. I left for my photo shoot with a smile on my face, too — knowing that despite one man’s limitations, we can all expand our horizons and change our attitudes toward each other.

~Emme

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