Laura Wells and Jesse McNeilly are Australian models who have forged a successful career in the "plus size" modelling industry. If you're similarly big 'n' beautiful, their advice could prove indispensable in landing your first modelling contract. Read on to discover what you need to get started.
Laura Wells is one of Australia's leading plus-size models who has worked for a range of local and international brands, including Embody Denim, Australian Women’s Weekly, Cosmopolitan, City Chic and This is First Base. Her partner Jesse McNeilly was the "face" of Johnny Bigg; a leading menswear company catering to larger males.
The couple typify a shifting trend in the fashion industry that has seen realistic body shapes finally being represented at the mainstream level. For consumers, the plus-size movement is a positive change from the usual images of unobtainable beauty. For wannabe models, it means that the doors aren't necessarily shut and bolted just because you're on the wrong side of skinny. In short, there is now a market for bigger body shapes — whether you're male or female.
We recently interviewed Laura and Jesse about their modelling careers and how budding plus-size models can get their foot into the industry. Much like regular modelling, it involves a lot more than looking good in a certain outfit. Here are their tips.
What pointers can you share for plus-size modelling newbies?
Laura: When going for jobs, you need to be confident in yourself, know your body shape and be completely happy with your body. You also have to invest money in a good portfolio to be able to approach an agency and have them understand what you want to achieve.
Perhaps most importantly, you need to have a really thick skin: you are judged on how you look every minute of every day, whenever you walk into a casting or a shoot. When people are judging you they’re not exactly judging you on who you are, they are seeing if you fit their brand so you have to really be able to separate yourself from the industry in a way.
Jesse: I think men and women have different sorts of rhythms in fashion. Talking about men, it’s important to be confident in what you’re wearing. Having clothes that fit you right and that you feel comfortable in makes a huge difference. So find brands that you feel comfortable in.
It’s important to be well-rested too. I exercise the night before a job, which makes a huge difference. You need to be relaxed on a job because if you’re not it shows through in the images and can affect the shoot.
What do you need to get started?
Laura: You need to practice, know your body shape and know how to move. Find out what your good angles are, your good sides, what shapes look good on your body.
Constantly practising is probably something that is a good thing to do, so when you get in front of a photographer you really understand and know what to do. Also it’s important to really understand the industry and what you want out of it.
Jesse: You need to understand that it’s a long haul and it’s not a career for everybody. So make sure you’re 100% sure before you commit to the industry because there are not many jobs, particularly for plus-size men.
Do you need a particular "look"?
Laura: It’s always different and it depends on how comfortable you are with your body and what shape your body is. Not all plus-size models are the same — we are curvy in different places. I have a small waist, some girls have a bigger waist, my legs are bigger and other girls have smaller legs, so for me I like to accentuate my waist because it is the smallest part and it shows off my shape the most.
It really depends on what you’re comfortable with and sometimes what the client is looking for as well. Clients will specify what they want to see, so you usually dress towards what the client wants, but other than that, go in there being your most comfortable self because if you go in there and are insecure and uncomfortable about your own body, then you can’t represent yourself completely and the casting agent or the client is really going to see that and know that you’re not comfortable within yourself and you won’t do the best job you can.
Jesse: For men it would have to be upper body. It’s that alpha male sense, you’re demonstrating your strength and your ability through that triangle physique.
Where do you go for proper representation?
Laura: You definitely have to go to a reputable agency. In Australia there are a couple of plus-size agencies. I’m with BGM but I’m also represented overseas with Willamina Models (US) and Milk Model Management (UK) and I have a German agent as well. You really need to go to an agency that obviously specialises in plus-size modelling and is well known if you want to do well.
Some agencies are plus-size specific and then others have a division of plus size. I’m with both, so my agency here in Australia is specifically plus size and then Milk and Willamina both have plus-size divisions.
Jesse: You need to go to a modelling agency, you need to get an agent and you need to understand that it’s a long haul. You can contact any of the plus-size model agencies in Australia and do things over time to get your name out there.
How old should you be?
Laura: It’s different for everyone. I was older when I started, I joined the agency when I was 22 and I was almost 24 when I started full time modelling. I think realistically, especially for plus-sized models, the longevity in a career is a lot better than standard models so you can afford to start a bit later.
As a general rule of thumb, early twenties is a good time to start. In your early twenties you have started to accept yourself for who you are, have more confidence and a better idea of what your goals and aspirations are compared to your teenage years. I finished university before I started full time modelling; for me that was the best thing I could have done because I see other girls within the industry who don’t have a backup plan, who don’t have qualifications behind them and when they exit the industry are often lost and quite stuck.
Jesse: I think the ideal age would be 25 to 40. Personally, I like models with a bit of life experience and character about them. You find some really interesting shapes and sizes out there so age shouldn’t be a barrier for people. If you’ve got a unique style and want to put that out there I think you should go for it.
What else can help you to be successful?
Laura: Just be you. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not because it all falls apart around you when you have to keep up an act. Just go in there and be as confident and as playful or reserved as you need to be. Put your best foot forward and be true to yourself. Are there any appearance "hacks" that can improve your physical attractiveness and chance of employment?
Are there any appearance "hacks" that can improve your physical attractiveness and chance of employment?
Laura: Be healthy, drink lots of water, eat well, be yourself and work out every week. Staying hydrated is probably the best thing for your skin and moisturise regularly. Make sure your hair is cut well and looking healthy. Also, that your eyebrows are manicured. Have a manicure and pedicure and if you need to get a spray tan, get a spray tan. Keeping on top of that is quite important and is an important part of the job. Because it’s all about your appearance!
Jesse: Make sure you look your best at castings, as if you already got the job. I’m always dress in Johnny Bigg for a casting so I have a stylish look that will set me apart from the other models. When you're comfortable you can be confident with who you are and what you look like; people will always notice that.
This story has been updated from its original publication.