“I don’t believe in waiting for change – I believe we need to make change happen.”
By Jesse West
For the past 15 years, Liis Windischmann has been one of the most successful plus size models working in North America. Her caring and outgoing personality have helped land her jobs all over North America, and as far away as Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean. She has been featured on numerous television and radio programs, and has also been the face (and body) of top brands like Addition Elle, Reitman’s, and Laura – the list goes on. Along with modeling, she is working on her own personal projects – including giving self esteem talks to young girls and teaching them to “rethink how you think.”
When you first started out in the industry, did you ever feel the pressure to “lose weight, and do sample size modelling” or have you always been comfortable in your genre?
My first modelling job was as a slim teenager. I was a receptionist one summer in a large photography studio and a model didn’t show up for the shoot. I was the body stand-in on a treadmill. I did another shoot for my boss and this got me intrigued with modelling. I visited 2 agencies and each wanted me to change who I was making me highly uncomfortable. The first had me stand on a giant scale in the middle of the agency for a “weigh-in.” The agent told me to lose weight and come back the next week lighter. I walked away mad at myself for having stepped on the scale in the first place and never returned.
Years later, after finishing university and by then a size 14, I was stopped by a scout in a mall. At first I was defensive thinking she was trying to scam me into paying for classes because I knew one had to be quite slim to model. I told her I was not about to lose weight to fit into the “norms” of fashion. She then told me I was perfect the way I was and explained plus-size modelling. I was intrigued. You have to understand, this was 17 years ago and even I hadn’t heard of plus-size modelling – it was a very new and growing market. I started working right away – at the exact size I was.
Considering you are one the most successful plus size models in North America, what do you attribute your success to (aside from your beauty)?
You are very sweet. Early in my career, a photographer told me models may at first get booked on their looks, but getting rebooked had everything to do with how she moved on set and how personable she was. I never forgot this. There are many wonderful people in the industry but some divas as well. I believe it takes a village to make a shoot come together. As a model, I am part of a team of talented, creative individuals, all important in determining how the final shot looks. Therefore, it’s important to treat everyone with respect and be professional while having fun. I used to work with one producer on several shoots each year. By the time I was shooting, the crew was pretty exhausted having been on the road working on the campaign for weeks. She told me that she always booked my shoot last so they could end on a positive, fun, drama-free note. I was shocked and flattered. That was one of the biggest compliments I have ever received. You see, looks really aren’t everything.
How did you get involved with Self Esteem workshops, and projects like Walk The Catwalk and The Fenomenal Project?
Over the years, I have learned a lot while working within the fashion industry. There was much I appreciated but much that needed to change. I created the 2007 Fenomenal Calendar because I didn’t feel there were enough creative projects for curvier women. If the projects weren’t out there, I decided to start creating them myself! Out of this came the need to start creating a deeper change within the fashion industry which led to the creation of Walk the Catwalk in which I encourage the use of more sample sizes in fashion and therefore more size diversity of models. I take my message to the media and schools so the everyday person can better understand how the industry works and why we are all so affected by the images we see daily. I don’t believe in waiting for change – I believe we need to make change happen.
What advice do you have for young women entering the industry, both plus and sample size?
My biggest bit of advice is this: If an agency asks you for money upfront, RUN! No legitimate agency will ever make you hand over your credit card on your first meeting or in the future. Do not let anyone convince you into taking classes. A true agency will help you get developed in the manner in which it sees fit.
If you have been accepted by an agency, remember you are starting your own business. You are setting up shop. Treat it as such. It will take you time to develop your portfolio, get new photos and looks to show clients. Don’t be upset if a model with more work gets jobs over you. If you view your photos as a resume, what can you do to improve your resume, sell yourself to the client? Modelling is fun but it is a business. Be a sharp business woman and you will not just have a short job but a long career.