Hi my name is Caressa Brown, I have acne prone skin, stretch marks on my hips, I pluck unwanted hairs from my chin and neck and I was 28 years old the first time that I felt pretty without a hair weave or straight hair. When I was a kid I had bugged eyes, bucked teeth, dark gums, and would go home crying every day after getting picked on by classmates for being so tall and skinny–they called me names like Skeletor, Jimney Cricket, and Nappy-Go-Happy to name a few. I didn’t get into modeling because I thought I was cute; in fact it was quite the opposite— at the age of 11 with my self-esteem 6 feet below the basement my mom enrolled me in Betty Massie Modeling School in Centerville with the hopes that I would learn some skills that would boost my self-esteem and confidence. After that first class the instructor told my mom that she wasn’t going to charge me to attend because I had the potential to be signed in a larger market or a major agency and at the age of 12, I signed my first professional modeling contract.
At the time it was the norm for agencies to only have one black model if any–and it was a rarity for any agency to have two– if they did, the models were instantly pitted against each other. So there I was – an insecure 12 year old model, the only black face at casting calls, and I wasn’t getting booked for any jobs. Seeing the affect that it had on me my parents put my career on hold until I was in high school, when ironically, I was scouted and signed on the spot by the President of Click Modeling Agency and the very first “plus-sized” model signed to the Click.
I said all of that to say this – I know that there was some disappointment based on the size restrictions for Dayton Fashion Week and I was immediately called out for it—one person questioned how could our city’s very first International Fashion Week put such size restrictions on models. After all this is the city that brought you Toccara Jones – a “plus-sized” model who appeared on America’s Next Top Model. And this is the Midwest where the vast majority of people don’t come close to fitting into those sizes—and I couldn’t agree more. I’ll be the first to tell you that it pained me to add those restrictions so much so that I reduced the height requirement from 5’10 to 5’8 and I raised the dress size from a 2 to a 4.
Before I go any further please understand that I would love to have women of all shapes and sizes rocking the runway of DFW–but the sad truth is, when it comes to finding designers of “plus size” clothing–pardon the pun but it’s slim pickings and when you add the fact that DFW is an inaugural event it becomes even more difficult. As of right now we have not had any designers of “plus-size” clothing to sign up–but it’s my hope to find local boutiques that cater to women of all sizes to step up and participate. So I encourage everyone REGARDLESS of your size to come on out to De’Lish Café and give it your best shot.
When I was offered the opportunity to write this column by DMM Publisher Bill Pote, he admitted that he didn’t know much about the fashion or modeling industries and he requested that I helped to educate readers about the industry and share some of my experiences. So without further ado—
Lesson #1 – Image is Everything
This can be a cruel and vicious industry– and if you don’t fit into that image you will be chewed up and spit out. As mentioned when I started modeling I was the only black model at all of the casting calls—when I returned to modeling the first photshoots I booked were for my comp cards. I spoke with the photographer over the phone the night before, he asked me my race, and I told him that I was black. I arrived and I was immediately ripped to shreds for not being “black enough”–for an hour the photographer fussed at me because my nose wasn’t wide enough, my lips weren’t full enough, I had golden undertones in my skin, my eyes looked Asian, my cheek bones were too high, and he demanded to know my family history. I told him that I was black, Blackfoot, Cherokee, and Irish. Then he snapped at me “that’s how you need to identify yourself from now on” and then he went on to tell me that I’ll never get cast as a black model.
Lesson # 2 – The Skinny on Skinny Models
There are several reasons why models are so thin: 1) It’s very expensive to start and maintain a clothing line and the less you spend on fabric the better–hence the sample size 2 that is often seen on the runway. 2) Most designers want their clothing to appear on the runway as if it’s hanging on a hanger which means no curves. 3) Somewhere a standard of beauty was set saying that the thinner you are the more attractive. The good news is that there has been a movement to ban super skinny models on the runway, but the bad news is—it came from governments and the industry fought against it claiming that they were being used as a scapegoat for eating disorders.
Lesson #3 – If You Wanna be on Top—You’ll Need a Strong Support System
I can’t even begin to imagine where I’d be or what my mind set would be like if I didn’t have strong, active and supportive parents in my life. My education always came first, so during those years of low self-esteem I gained inner confidence based on my academic performances. I was an honor student, a volunteer, a Who’s Who Among American High School Students, etc. By the time I was in my 20’s and I had contract offers from the top modeling agency in the world Elite, I didn’t feel the pressure to fit into any industry standard because I was focused on college. When people come to me about getting involved in modeling I tell them how important it is to have a support system in place. I don’t mean having a “yes man” – you need to have someone willing to tell you when you are wrong, pick you up when you are down, and be your voice when yours is lost.
Lesson #4 – True Beauty Starts from the Inside
I know it’s cliché but it’s the truth – if you don’t like what you see in the mirror there’s no amount of makeup that can cover that up. I started this article talking about my insecurities – the majority of which I have overcome by not allowing them to define me as a person. I set my own standards and I don’t waste my time comparing myself to anyone. I look myself in the mirror everyday literally and figuratively speaking, and if I don’t like what I see I adjust my mind set and slowly but surely I work on those things until they are no longer an issue for me… no cosmetics or designer clothing needed.