I am a six foot tall woman. I would be a billionaire by now, if only I had a dollar for every time someone has said to me…
“Wow! You are tall.”
Really? No kidding. That must be why my pants are too short.
”Do you play basketball?”
No. Are you a horse jockey?
”I would hate to be as tall as you.”
Well, good thing you’re not.
”Are you a model?”
Yep, strange things happen when ya walk around being tall. I had never really thought about modeling when I first moved to Chicago. I was going to be an actress, a serious thespian. But, I had a speech impediment. I stuttered and there wasn’t a high demand for stuttering actresses in the theaters of Chicago. So, when a talent scout from the Elite modeling agency asked me if I was a model, I was like ‘Huh?’ A model? You mean those girls who have their pictures in magazines and catalogs? Yes, this was back when there were catalogs. You don’t know what a catalog is? Think Amazon in paperback. A model? You mean those girls who get to work in front of a camera, but do not have to talk? They literally say nothing. They just smile and point to the fancy watch on their wrist. I can do that. Oh By Gosh By Golly, my prayers have been answered! I get to perform in front of a camera without speaking! And here I was considering giving up everything and becoming a mime.
A week later I had signed my first contract with the Elite Modeling Agency. There was only one condition, I had to lose 15 pounds. Ok, easy enough. Wrong again. Weeks went by, months went by, and I just couldn’t lose the weight. I was twenty years old and six feet tall. My body had finally stopped growing up and started growing out. My modeling agent sat me down and told me that I was just too big. I couldn’t be a model if I wasn’t at least a size 4 or maybe a 6. A size 4 or maybe a 6?!!! Are you crazy? I am six feet tall! If I could fit into a size 4 dress, I’d be hooked up to an I.V. somewhere. I was crushed and hungry. My modeling career was over before it began. My agent then told me that the agency was forming a new modeling division. It would be called the Plus Division. It would be for models size 12 - 16. I would most likely be limited to just catalog modeling. I would have to gain weight and not let myself drop below a size 12. Are you KIDDING?! That is RIDICULOUS! Are you telling me that I can eat Chicago pan style pizza and all my Grandma’s homemade buttermilk biscuits and still be a model? Well, ain’t that the cow’s cheese. Damn, don’t gotta tell me twice. Where do I sign?
All joking aside, I was a ‘Plus Model’ for seven years. It was a fun way to pay the rent. I had no idea that I was a part of something that would eventually change the fashion world and how women saw themselves. Today ‘Plus Models’ are referred to as ‘Curve Models’. They are not just limited to modeling department store clothes anymore. They grace the covers of major fashion magazines. They walk the runways around the world. My pal, curve model Hunter McGrady, landed the centerfold of Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue in 2016. She was deemed the magazines ‘curviest model ever’. Way to go Girls!
The best part of being a ‘plus’ model for me, was getting to meet and work with Oprah Winfrey. If you were a model in Chicago in the 1990’s, it was just a matter of time before you wound up modeling on the Oprah Show. It was spring of 1992 when I got my call from Harpo Studios. I could just hear Oprah shouting, ‘You get a car. You get a car, You get a modeling job’. I was thrilled. Not only would I be modeling on national television, I was going to be wearing a gown designed by Bob Mackie. The very gown that Oprah herself wore to the Oscars when she was nominated for her role in the ‘Color Purple’. Oooo-la-la. Take that, ‘4-H County Fair Queen of 1988’ who called me an overgrown-carrot. I mean, who says that?
I watched The Oprah Show everyday after school. For this little farm gal raised in a town of 1100 people, it was like attending the University of Life extension classes. For an hour a day I learned about people, places, and ideas that I had never been exposed to before. My favorite part of The Oprah Show was the final ten minutes called ‘Remembering your Spirit’. Oprah talked a lot about gratitude and self love. Self love? That’s easy for Oprah. She doesn’t look like an overgrown carrot. I even started my own ‘Oprah Gratitude Journal’ in my 80’s Trapper Keeper notebook that I would safely tuck away behind my ‘Dolly Parton Greatest Hits’ album. Oprah and Dolly were my two Sheros.
The night before the show, I had to drive to Harpo Studios for a fitting. It was late. The building was dark and almost everyone had gone home for the day. Oprah was most certainly home by now writing in her gratitude journal. The wardrobe lady told me to go down the hallway to a dressing room, try on the gown, and come back and show it to her. The hallway was long and dimly lit. When I entered the dressing room, the gown was hanging there shining, glowing, almost saying, ‘Come try me on. You’re gonna love me’. No one was in the room with me, so I jumped in the air, giggled, and skipped around in circles before I finally stepped into the gorgeous flowing gown. The gown was a perfect fit, except for the bodice. Oprah was obviously more well endowed in the bust area than myself. Oh well, nothing a padded push up bra stuffed with a couple pairs of socks won’t take care of. I spun around in a circle one last time and headed back down the long hallway to the wardrobe lady’s office. Half way down the hall, I felt something, like someone was in the hallway with me. I stopped in my tracks. ‘Oh my GOD, Oprah is behind me.’ I smiled and slowly turned around. The dimly lit hallway was empty. That’s weird. As I continued down the hallway, I felt that strange feeling again. I wasn’t alone. Someone was there. Oprah? I looked over my shoulder. No one. Damn…maybe all the spinning and jumping around in my Bob Mackie gown made me dizzy.
Just then I heard footsteps and Oprah Winfrey walked around the corner, smiled, and shouted, “Hellooo!” I froze. I couldn’t move. I just stood there like a deer in the headlight of an eighteen wheeler. I couldn’t believe it! I had felt Oprah before I saw her. Is that even possible? How did she do that?
Oprah walked up to me smiling. “Ohhh…I remember that gown. It’s my Color Purple gown.” she said. I literally couldn’t speak. All I could do was smile and nod. “You wear it well.” Oprah added. I just stared.
Finally like a little mouse I squeaked out, “Thhh-Thhh-Thank you.”
Oprah then took me by the hands, looked me in the eyes and gently said, “Stop slouching. Your height is beautiful. I wish I was tall.” What? Really? Oprah doesn’t think I look like an overgrown-carrot? “See you tomorrow,” Oprah said as she waved and walked down the hall. “Own that height. It’s a gift. OWN IT!” Well, I’ll be damn. Maybe being taller than all the other girls isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe being different isn’t so weird. Maybe…being different could be … beautiful? Maybe? Wow, never thought about it that way before.
I grew a couple extra inches that day. Maybe not literally, but I did start to stand up straight and walk tall. No more slouching. No more hanging my head low. Now it was shoulders back and chin up. To this day whenever someone says to me ‘You’re too tall’ ‘You’re too much’ ‘Take it down a notch’, I remember that day in Oprah’s hallway, and the life lesson she taught me. Some things in life you simply can not change. You just gotta accept it, own it, and love it. ❤️