A PROFILE OF KAILEE O’SULLIVAN
by Heinrich Saint-Germain
(Continued from Part I.)
Having learned so much about Kailee the model, I was now eager to discover more about Kailee the person, to find out who she was, independent of her illustrious career.
I began by asking her if she considered herself an old-fashioned girl, or modern, or a bit of both. Naturally, I was hoping that she would choose the former.
“Well, if by old-fashioned you mean traditional, then no,” she replied. “But both my brother and I, we’re kind of old souls. We both gravitate towards anything old.”
“Yeah. I love collecting antiques.”
“You do?” I repeated, growing more intrigued. Her initial response hadn’t been what I had hoped for, but this seemed promising.
“Yeah. I love everything and anything that looks like it has a soul to it, or a story behind it. And I love the classic looks of beauty too. I don’t consider myself modern. I don’t like the modern look.”
As so often during the interview, my delight was tempered by a suspicion that I was dreaming. This was simply too good to be true.
“Who doesn’t love a computer, though?” she added. “Because it saves your life, basically.”
“Absolutely,” I agreed.
“But I guess… Yeah, I think I’m more old-souled. Not old-fashioned because that can kind of mean a lot of different things, but—”
“At the Judgment of Paris,” I pointed out, “that phrase only has positive connotations.”
“No, I love the old ideals of beauty for women,” she reaffirmed. “It was just more realistic and more feminine. It was soft, like you said.”
I could have dwelt on this topic all day, but I knew that Kailee’s fans would want to know more, much more, so I proceeded to the next question. “How would you describe your personality?”
“Oh, God, that’s a… I don’t know. I mean, kind of… Definitely old-souled, like I said,” she began. “But I like to think of myself as earthy. I just love everything about the earth, and natural, and organic. I’m more of a nature person. I love cities, but I think I’m just more in my element and happier in nature. I don’t know what adjectives I can use to bring out my personality, but I love nature, and travelling.
“I’ve been reading a lot of books about living in the moment,” she continued, “and enjoying life as it is, embracing everything, even the simple pleasures of life, and that’s a huge part of me. I’ve been studying a lot about spirituality, and that’s a huge part of me too. But there’s so many things that I don’t know how to just sum it up.”
“Because you have to leave by 7 o’clock, after all,” I reminded her.
She chuckled at that.
“What’s your own fashion style?” I inquired. “What do you like to wear on your own time? Because fans undoubtedly picture you perpetually wearing ball gowns.”
“Well, I would dress like a fairy princess when I was little,” she reminisced with real glee.
“Did you really?”
“Yeah. I would dress in this pink, right-out-of-the-Disney-movies type of tulle gown, like a little girl.”
“Oh, my gosh,” I exclaimed, picturing it in my mind. “That’s wonderful.”
“But these days I like natural, just simple clothing,” she related. “I used to love fashion—like, high fashion. I went through a phase where I really, really liked fashion. And fashion can be so beautiful, and it can be really nice on the right occasions. When you’re dressing up, it’s great to really dress up. But in terms of every day, I love cottony, organic clothing. Again, organic. I like white, flowy, cotton shirts, and just simple…”
“You once did a set of Polaroids in which you wore a white tunic,” I recalled, “and it looked wonderful on you, because of your fair complexion.”
“Yeah. I just like simple, unadorned for everyday life.”
“You need no adornment,” I told her.
She chuckled. “Well, no, for a while, I loved adornment. Don’t get me wrong. I loved tons of jewellery, tons of makeup, but I realized that wasn’t really me.”
“It’s sort of like your hair colour,” I observed. “You’ll try different things.”
“Yeah, as I said before, I’m kind of indecisive,” she explained, “but I’m starting to realize more what I like. My preferences. Who I am, really.”
“You’re discovering yourself,” I suggested.
“Where do you shop?” I asked, imagining a cluster of handmaidens sewing tulle gowns for her to wear.
“Let’s see. The Gap. Urban Outfitters. Any kind of flea market, I love,” she enumerated. “If you’re talking about clothes, then the Gap is good, simple. American Apparel, simple. I don’t really shop in one specific place. If I find a shirt or something, or an outfit, I don’t really discriminate.”
I had been looking forward to asking her the next question for a long time. “Do I have it right that you were a cheerleader?”
“I was,” she admitted; then quickly added, “Not anymore.”
“That’s beautiful,” I sighed.
“Oh, really?” She seemed surprised by my approval of cheerleading. “That, again, was another phase.”
“Just think of the archetype: a gorgeous, full-figured cheerleader. How perfect is that?”
“Yeah,” she agreed, following my train of thought.
“Because just as girls need to see plus-size models,” I proposed, “they need to see plus-size cheerleaders. Not resembling a frumpy character actress—”
“Right, right, right.”
“—but a plus-size ingénue,” I continued. “And even though I personally despise football players and jocks and all that, the head quarterback—or whoever your high-school alpha male might have been—should have been madly pursuing you.”
“Isn’t there a high-school movie in that scenario?“ I submitted. “With him choosing you over an underweight cheerleader rival?”
“Yeah, you’re right,” she granted. “That could be an interesting… Yeah, definitely. High-school movie.
“But the cheerleading was me trying to find my place in high school,” she continued. “I did that for a year and a half. No, more, actually. It was two or three years. And then I realized that while it was fun, because I loved the girls that I did it with, it really wasn’t me. That’s when I joined the theatre group, and I thought, ‘Yay!’”
“It testifies to your well-rounded personality,” I commended her. “Cheerleader by day, actress by night.”
“Right, right. Like I said, my personality is kind of all over the place. It’s not just, like, one… Scattered.”
My enthusiasm got the better of me, and I interjected, “I could not have written you any better in fiction. You’re a 19th-century heroine in the modern day.”
“Oh, wow. Thank you. That’s a huge compliment,” she said graciously, in the manner of someone who is used to receiving ardent praise.
“How would you evaluate your own look?” I inquired, still trying to draw out some self-adoration. “What do you think is your best feature?”
“That’s a hard one,” she admitted. “Well, probably everything that I like now, I hated at one point. So now I like my fair skin. I hated that when I was younger. And now I love the fact that I have curves and I look feminine, and I hated that when I was younger.”
Once again, I was completely astonished. I couldn’t believe that she could ever have doubted her beauty. “You did?” I asked.
“Yeah, totally. Because I was different from everyone else in elementary school, and when it’s like that in elementary school, you know… I was really young, but thankfully I was able to grow out of that phase. Let’s see. I like the fact that I have blue eyes.”
“Of course,” I said, nodding in agreement.
“But that’s another thing that… When I was younger, I wished I had brown eyes more than anything.”
This almost rendered me speechless. “How is that possible?”
“No, I don’t know. I don’t know. But you know what? I like the fact that I’m also… I’m just definitely more accepting of… I love my look, and I like everything all together.”
“What’s your natural hair colour?”
“It’s a light brown,” she revealed. “Whatever you see right here.”
At this point, Kailee ran her fingers through her hair in a most bewitching manner, just as earlier she had flashed her “I’m-so-gorgeous” look without even thinking about it. Being beguiling is in her DNA, I realized. She can’t help it.
“You can just keep doing that if you want.”
“Oh, really?” she said, entertained by my fascination.
“Has your family been supportive of you being curvy,” I asked, remembering her mother’s encouragement of her career, “or have you faced pressure at home to diminish yourself?”
“No, not at all. They’ve totally been supportive, my whole family. I’m lucky because I come from a very supportive family. They’ve all been so excited for me every time I have any job, and just really supportive. I’m lucky, I have to say. Everyone’s been extremely supportive and excited for me. My friends say, ‘What you do is inspiring.’”
I wanted to hear more about this. “That’s how your friends at school react?”
“Yeah, my friends that I hang out with from day to day randomly will say, ‘You are so inspiring.’ I say, ‘Really? You think like that?’ My best friend that I see every day, all of a sudden she’ll say that, and I respond, ‘Oh, well, thank you.’”
“But how can that surprise you?” I asked. I was pleased that her friends acknowledged her beauty and significance, much as I was amazed by her modesty in not expecting their tributes. Any other girl so prodigiously blessed would have considered it her due.
“Well, because I hang out with them every day,“ she replied. “It’s not something we always talk about or think about. But when they do, I think, ‘Wow, that’s a huge compliment because you know me more than anyone, so thank you.’”
The graciousness was completely natural to her. “You’re also fortunate,” I indicated, “because the other reaction that they could have had towards your success is jealousy.”
“Well, I guess modelling is put in this glamorous light.”
“A fantasy,” I concurred.
“Yeah, yeah, it is. But you know what?” she observed. “Sometimes it can be really fun and really great and I’m so grateful for the fact that I’ve gotten the opportunity. And other times it can be really tough on you as a person.”
“Well, first of all, I’ve been trying to go to school full-time for a while, and every time I would try to sign up for a full schedule, I would start getting jobs here and there. I’d say, ‘Oh, I can’t turn this down now.’”
“No, you can’t,” I echoed emphatically. Every campaign that Kailee did was a revolution unto itself. Each of her pictures could change minds and stir hearts.
“Yeah, it’s really hard to turn it down when you know you have an opportunity, but I also want to be in school,” she stated. “I want to learn, and I want to study. That, plus you do get a lot of… Maybe it’s different for other people, or other models, but you do get criticism, and you do get things that people tell you: ‘You shouldn’t do this, you should do that.’ It’s hard. Especially being young. The fact that I started so young. Had I started now, I don’t think it would have bothered me as much as it did when I was younger. But overall, it’s been amazing. I cannot complain really at all. I love it, and I love the opportunity that it’s given me.”
It pained me to hear of Kailee enduring any criticism whatsoever, but knowing the industry, with its persistent ambivalence towards true feminine beauty, I wasn’t surprised.
“Well, always remember that you’re not just doing it to make money,” I reminded her. “It’s for a cause as well.”
“Right. And you know what? I did not realize that when I first started out. I had no idea that anyone even cared,” she recalled. “I know that sounds funny, but it didn’t even dawn on me, as a 15-year-old girl in high school. High school is a different world. It’s a different world from the real world. But it kind of opened my eyes to a lot of things, and then I realized, wow, it is sending a positive message to people.”
It was extremely encouraging to hear such sentiments from her. I hoped that the site might have played a part in this awareness. “When did you discover The Judgment of Paris?” I queried her.
“You know, I didn’t. My best guy friend, Chris, he Googled my name once, and he said, ’Oh, my God. Come here.’ And I said, ‘What? What is this? It’s so great.’ I was amazed, and really happy.”
”Absolutely,” she affirmed. “And that’s when I was kind of starting out too, so that was really…”
“I’m glad,” I told her. “I’ve always said that the site exists for the public, not for the models; for the positive effect that it can have on society in general—”
“Yeah, absolutely,” she concurred.
“—but I’m glad that you enjoy it.”
“Yeah, I was very happy when I saw it. And thank you.”
Her gratitude seemed very sincere, and I, in turn, was deeply honoured by her appreciation.
“Do you realize that you’ve already had a more notable career than most models have in a lifetime of modelling?”
“Wow, I don’t know if I really noticed that,” she answered. But it was true.
However, the discussion was turning back to modelling, and I knew that fans still wished to know more about her.
“Okay, with a name like O’Sullivan,” I began, “the answer to this question is self-evident, but for the record, what’s your ethnic background?”
Like so much about Kailee, the answer was anything but straightforward.
“Well, actually, my father is Irish, and a little bit of Scottish, English in there, I’m sure. But he was born in Brooklyn, but raised in Ireland. And my mother is actually 100 percent Ukrainian.”
“Then she could definitely have contributed to your look,” I conjectured, although I was about to be proven wrong. “The Slavonic face is more of a round shape. By the way, I don’t know if you’ve noted this, but fans love the fact that you have more of a traditional round-shaped face, as opposed to the oval, elongated, androgynous face that’s so much in fashion now.”
“Right, right. Well, I’ve always had kind of a round face. And I like that now,” she said with a laugh. “I didn’t like it when I was younger.”
Again, I found it incomprehensible that she could ever have rued the very features that made so her pretty. “What a 180 you’ve done,” I remarked. “Your perceptions have turned right around.”
“I have to say yes. Definitely.”
“Well, all of your current opinions are the correct ones,” I insisted, grinning.
“Thank you. But, you know, the funny thing is that my mother is also actually 100 percent Jewish, so I’m half-Jewish, and I really don’t have any—”
“Yeah. My mother doesn’t have blue eyes or fair skin,” Kailee mentioned. “Truthfully, my mother has tanned, darker skin, brown eyes, dark dark brown hair.”
“Goodness, so it is all from your father’s side,” I expressed, referring to her fair features.
“All from my father,” she conceded. “Although I look at some pictures and I go, wow, I look like my mother there, because I have the same body type as her. Something about the face shape is similar, but her skin is way darker. Her hair is way darker and really thick and curly.”
“One person whom I think you resemble somewhat is the most beautiful of all plus-size models,” I proposed, “although she’s not currently modelling, and that’s Shannon Marie.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen her pictures. Yeah.”
“You have a bit of her look,” I ventured.
“Okay. She’s blonde and fair-eyed too,” Kailee recalled.
“Yes, that’s right.”
The conversation was going so well that I decided to broach another topic that I knew would be of particular interest Miss O’Sullian’s fans.
“Are you a gourmand? What are your favourite foods or desserts?”
“Ooh,” she breathed, with a look of real pleasure. “Well, I’m definitely a foodee.”
“This is getting good.”
“But, like I said before, I love Asian food. You know, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian. Every kind of Asian food. I love it,” Kailee gushed. “And then after that I love Hispanic food. One of my best friends is Cuban, and her grandmother cooks the most amazing homemade Cuban food. And those are also some of my favourite foods, Spanish foods. And then Italian too. But my favourite is all the Asian.”
To hear Kailee speak with such visible relish about her favourite delicacies was paradise on earth.
“That’s hard. I love flan.”
“She says with a smile,” I noted. It was true. She was beaming.
“I love flan,” she repeated. “I love chocolate anything.”
Better and better. “You do?”
“Yeah, absolutely. I love Greek desserts, like baklava. With honey, it’s really good. But who doesn’t? I like every dessert. I don’t know. It’s hard to choose.”
“I’ve never been a dessert person, myself,” I confessed, “but I love the fact that you are.”
“What’s funny is for the longest time, I didn’t even like dessert,” she recollected. “I didn’t like sweets. It was weird. For a long time, up until about three or four years ago, I liked food instead. I would choose something savoury over sweet. But now I’ve grown into a sweet tooth.”
“Well, they say that chocolate cake is the best fashion accessory (because of how it improves the female figure),” I advised her.
“Oh, wow. Well, I love chocolate cake. Let’s say that that’s true.”
Kailee’s enjoyment of eating was another topic that I wanted to pursue at greater length. I could tell that she wasn’t simply playing to her audience. Her admission to being a “foodee” seemed genuine. I thought of how she had described her Gourmet shoot with such pleasure, and how the first compliment that she had given her main client, MXM, had to do with the quality of its catering. There is nothing in this world as attractive as a goddess who has a penchant for self-indulgence, and this aspect of Kailee’s character was irresistible. But I knew that the fans had many more questions, so I had to move on.
“You’re in school full time as well as pursuing a modelling career. Is it hard to juggle the two? And what field are you going into?”
“This is the first semester where I’m finally a full-time student. I’ve tried to do that a few times and it hasn’t worked out,” she confided. “Modelling was slow for about six months leading up to the beginning of semester, and then the minute I had my first-day classes I started getting castings, jobs here and there. But somehow it’s been working out. I’ve been able to juggle both. I haven’t really had to turn down any jobs yet. Let’s see what happens.
“But, yeah, it is a challenge,” she continued. “Definitely a challenge. The other day I had to do a morning show, and I had to wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning and then go to class, and I was constantly falling asleep.”
“Was that for The Early Show?” I queried.
“I saw that.”
“Did you?” She sounded surprised and pleased.
It had been a wardrobe makeover segment, and I told her that she had looked just as pretty in the “before” pictures as in the “after” photos. I lamented that the premise of the program hadn’t been wholly size-positive, and apprised her that when I posted the video online, I would replace the host’s dialogue with a classical-music track.
“Oh, and by the way, please let everyone know when you have something exciting coming up,” I requested. “If it’s something like an MXM campaign, your fans will undoubtedly find it. But who would have ever known about Gourmet magazine?”
“Yeah, that should be the May issue. And Glamour too, May issue. It’s another piece about do-and-don’t bathing suits.”
I had to pause for a moment, to make sure that I had heard her correctly.
“Did you say…bathing suits?” My heart skipped a beat.
“Yeah,” she replied, then added, “It’s a one-piece, though.”
She clearly realized how eager her fans were to see her in two-piece bathing attire. Modest she may be, but Kailee does recognize how much her beauty is adored, and she graciously acknowledges this fact.
But it was time to explore a different aspect of her personality.
“What kind of music do you like?”
“Oh, everything. Everything,” she reflected. “Let’s see. I like folk. I like blues. I like zither music.”
“Really?” Nothing about Kailee was ever conventional.
“I do. I love it,” she expressed. “I’m into raw voices. A lot of a cappella groups, and stuff like that. Because I love when it’s just minimal, not with instruments, and you just hear the voices harmonizing. And I love guitar, Chinese guitar.
“Actually, I didn’t even mention this,” she continued, saving her best revelation for last, “but I’ve been singing for a long time, and not really studying but singing opera.”
“Yeah,” she affirmed, seeing my delight.
“I love doing it,” she stated. “I’ve been doing it for years now. But I think I’m more into the a cappella kind of harmonizing, the folk kind. That’s more me. But I still love singing opera.”
“I shouldn’t be surprised,” I declared. “It’s just another utterly amazing facet of your character. Your first Ford video revealed that you have a soft, lovely voice. For whatever reason, most plus-size models are more mezzo, or even contralto. But you must be a pure soprano.”
“Yeah, I am. I am,” she agreed eagerly.
“Of course you are. How could you not be? And here’s something interesting,” I submitted, allowing myself a tangent. “In opera, dramatically, the soprano voice is invariably the ingénue, the heroine, while the contralto, the darker voice, often represents the evil antagonist, the jealous one, the aggressive one who is trying to subvert the soprano heroine, who is so vulnerable. (But then, of course, the heldentenor comes in and rescues her.) It’s just so wonderful that you sing opera.”
“Yeah, I’ve been doing it for a while now, when I think about it. But I’m working with a voice coach. I’ve been singing—”
“With a voice coach?” This obviously wasn’t just a hobby for her, but something that she took seriously.
“Yeah. I’ve sung at a concert for school, just a lot of school stuff. School programs. Been doing it for a while. Yeah, I still love to sing opera, but I’m branching off more into the guitar. I’m learning the guitar now too.”
I shook my head. “There is no end to your talents.”
“Nor to your interests,” I appended.
“Well, I don’t know how good I am at the guitar just yet, but I’m probably going to keep practising, because I want to learn.”
“What sort of books and movies do you enjoy? Literature, for example. I read on your Facebook page that you like Dracula.”
“I loooove Dracula,” she enthused.
“Dracula is a great novel.”
“I love that,” she professed. “I read that in senior year of high school, and I love it.”
“You would make a great Lucy Westenra,” I submitted, thinking of Stoker’s fair-haired beauty, and how well Kailee matched her description.
She chuckled. “Maybe. Maybe in theatre school, when I go. But I like that question, because I’ve always loved books and movies.”
“Yeah. I’m such a movie buff. Such a bookworm too.”
“You are?” Every answer revealed another facet of Kailee’s brilliance.
“Yeah. I mean, I can’t call myself a super-smart bookworm, but I love, love books.”
“You don’t have to be,” I assured her. “What matters is how you respond to them in your heart.”
“No, but usually when people say they’re a bookworm, they mean that they’re really smart,” she explained. “That’s not what I mean. I mean, I really love books. But let’s see. What kind of books do I read? I read a lot of, like I said, spirituality books, but I also love—and this goes for movies too—anything with sort of a whimsicality to it, just sort of quirky and out there. And one of my favourite movies is Moulin Rouge.”
“Did you see the actual Moulin Rouge in Paris?” I inquired.“I don’t mean inside, of course,” I quickly added, remembering the club’s naughty reputation.
“I did. Yes,” she remembered. “But it was just kind of… But I did see—”
“But the hill, Montmarte,” I interjected, completing her thought.
“Ah, I love it,” she said dreamily.
“With that white chapel at its summit. Paradise.”
“Yeah. Sacre Cour.”
“Sacre Cour, exactly,” I attested. She even knew the church’s name.
“Ah, I love that. Love that,” she raved.
And there it was. The beauty of the experience overwhelmed me yet again. It was such a joy to be reminiscing about Parisian vistas that we both adored.
“You are so wonderful,” I blurted out. “I have to pinch myself. I’m having a dream, and suddenly I’m going to wake up back in Hamilton, and none of this will have happened.”
“Because here I am in the Met, speaking with Kailee O’Sullivan. She’s talking about being in Paris, and loving books, and… And it can’t get any better than this.”
“Thank you,” she said happily, taking it all in stride. “One of the movies that I love is Amélie. Books and movies are my life. It’s a passion of mine. I do love all different types of movies. I love indie movies too. As much as I love the whimsical type, I also love really real… I just saw the movie Rachel Getting Married and everything is so real, you know, such reality, and everything about it was just kind of grounded, and I really, really loved that.”
I hesitated for a few moments before asking the next question, but the conversation was going so well that I didn’t think that she would mind.
“Feel free to decline to answer this. And I’m not inquiring for myself, of course, but for the site, and since this is Valentine’s Day,” I rambled. “Now, I’m not going to ask you if you have a boyfriend—and please don’t say if you do, so as not to break your fans’ hearts—but…are you a romantic?”
She turned the word over in her mind before responding.
“I think I’m kind of an idealist. Not just a romantic when it comes to romance. A romantic within life. I would consider myself a romantic.”
“Oh, yes, a capital-R Romantic,” I qualified.
“Yeah. But that’s not just romance,” she stipulated. “I said I love those whimsical types of movies and books. That’s all romantic. Yeah. I’m definitely a romantic, now that I think about it.”
“Because, of course, Romanticism as an art movement favours dramatic scenes of nature,” I expounded. “Thunderstorms, seascapes, waterfalls, ships running aground—everything depicting the power of creation.”
“Yeah, absolutely,” she concurred, realizing how well this fit with her own interests. “Yeah, I consider myself a romantic.”
Having ventured into the personal with my previous question, I decided to drop the other shoe and ask the inevitable follow-up.
“Again, feel free to decline to answer. What do you look for in a guy?”
“Honesty,” she answered, without missing a beat. The question hadn’t thrown her at all. “Honesty and confidence. That’s what I look for in every person that I come across.”
“Confidence,” I repeated quietly. “That’s difficult.” I’m not sure why that word gave me pause. Perhaps it was a reminder that goddesses exist on a plane far beyond mortal ken.
But Kailee, as gracious as ever, noticed how her response had confounded me, and she elaborated quickly.
“Well, you know what? Maybe I should take that back, because confidence can also be almost borderline cocky. So I don’t mean confidence. I mean, someone, even if they’re not confident, they’re not afraid to just embrace that. Because I’m not always confident. Please. It’s not like I’m a big, confident… There are times that I’m very self-conscious, and there are times that I feel really good about myself. But I think the most important thing is just honesty. Any person who’s honest with me, I so appreciate that. And I look for that in friends, and any person, really. Not just the guys.”
Softly, I replied, “You can be cocky, if you want to be.” To which she chuckled.
After all, I reflected, if there is anyone in whom pride would be justified…
I now threw some tougher questions at Kailee about the industry and about body image, questions that have confounded the public for years. I began with a query that I included in every Judgment of Paris interview: Why does the media resist plus-size beauty?
“Well, I think for a while, plus-size beauty was really embraced, and…” Kailee trailed off, then changed tack. “The fashion business is all about being trendy, so right now the trend is… And there’s some change, but the trend has been for a while that thin kind of look of quote-unquote ‘perfection.’”
“I’m glad that you put that word in quotes,” I commended her, “because what they push as ‘perfection’ is anything but. Your Glamour tear sheet—that’s perfection.”
“Thank you,” she accepted. “But, I mean, it’s just my opinion, but when anything, when any trend is unrealistic and kind of extreme, it’s bound to go out of style. Whether it takes a while, or whether it’s a short thing, when any trend is extreme, when any belief is extreme, maybe people will follow it at first, because they think, ‘Wow, okay, this is new.’ But I think any kind of fashion trend or belief will go out of style. But I think right now, slowly but surely, plus-size beauty and full-figured beauty, natural body shapes, are definitely coming back in style.”
“Do you think so?” I pressed her. I wanted to agree, but I had seen little evidence of this.
“Yeah. Yeah, I think that it’s a slow process—”
“A very slow process,” I emphasized.
“But I think it is becoming a lot more accepted, because people are realizing that it’s so unrealistic to try and measure up to what supermodels look like,” she elucidated. “Because everyone has their own body shape. We’re all different. Why try and all be the same? It should come back in style because it’s better to be more natural.”
“Do you think that glamorous and fashionable images of beautiful plus-size models can help undo the damage that images of underweight models do to women’s self-esteem?”
“I do,” she stated emphatically. “I do. When I first started out, being around a lot of the confident women who were very full-figured, that helped me as a young girl. And definitely it undid a lot of the damage that I even soaked in from the media at a young age. So I do think it can undo damage. It can repair.
“And I think it’s so important for young girls,” she continued. “They are the prime targets for what the media says is right and wrong. Because women, older women or young women, sometimes they’re a little bit more confident in themselves. They know what’s right and wrong. But young girls, we’re all kind of waiting to hear what’s right and wrong. It’s hard when you’re a young girl and you’ve got an ideal of what beauty is, especially in high school. But, yeah, I think it’s important to send out a message to especially younger girls.”
“How did you feel when a number of straight-size models died from anorexia?” I questioned her. “Do you think the fashion industry responded appropriately?”
She thought about this for a moment before answering. “It was sad,” she lamented. “I was sad and I just thought, what a shame, because if only they knew that they didn’t have to do that. They didn’t have to starve themselves. They didn’t have to kill themselves. But it’s just sad. It’s upsetting.
“At first, definitely the media responded… People were outraged by it,” she recollected. “Which is good. It was eye-opening for a lot of people at the time. I think it was kind of a step for people who hadn’t realized, wow, that’s really dangerous. And that it’s dangerous to hold these women who are not treating themselves well in a good light. When it comes to glorifying that body type as the only body type, that’s where it becomes extreme. That’s where it becomes dangerous.”
I phrased my next question in a somewhat leading manner. “What do you think of the commendable efforts to ban size-0 models from the runways?”
“I think that it’s probably a step in the right direction. It’s too extreme. It’s too unrealistic. It needs to be done away with.”
“What can be done,” I asked next, “to prompt the fashion industry—designers, photographers, magazine editors—to choose more plus-size models?”
“That’s a good question.”
“Isn’t it? I’ve been running my site for ten years, and I still don’t have an answer,” I admitted.
“I guess it just takes time,” she speculated. “It’s step by step.”
After a moment of reflection, she appended something more characteristically optimistic.
“I guess the more confident that plus-size women are with themselves, the more we feel good about ourselves, eventually people are going to pick up on that more and more. I think we’re going in the right direction.”
Once again, I was struck by her upbeat outlook. “You are an idealist.”
“I am,” she confirmed enthusiastically. “You’re right. I am. But I really do think that we’re going in the right direction. I just don’t think that people are going to hold on to this idea of beauty forever. It’s not going to be like this for a lot longer. I really believe that. And that’s not me kind of wishfully thinking. I really think that when it’s so extreme, people are going to start to lose interest. They are going to think, ‘Listen, I can’t do this anymore.’”
I designed my next question to be a lead-in to the final part of the interview.
“We’re here in a museum that is holding an exhibition of Renaissance images of feminine beauty. In fact, throughout the museum there are representations of femininity from past eras, and the figures that they depict are all curvaceous.
“This is the headline painting of Art and Love in Renaissance Italy, the most curvaceous version of Titian’s Venus.” I indicated, showing her a postcard reproduction of the canvas. “How do you react to the ideal of beauty that it celebrates?”
“I love it,” she replied.
It was just what I had hoped she would say—so much so that I wondered if she were simply telling me what she knew I wanted to hear. She sensed my doubt.
“No, really. I really do,” she emphasized. “I love it. I’ve kind of been looking at paintings like these recently and going, ‘How beautiful.’ I love it. It’s feminine.”
“Do you find it empowering to know that this, the look that you embody, was the ideal of feminine beauty throughout most of human history?” It was a question that I had always wanted to ask of a plus-size model.
“Yeah. Yeah, that also kind of confirms what I said about things having to go back to a… Less extreme.”
I placed the postcard of Titian’s Venus alongside her Glamour tear sheet.
“Do you see that?” I inquired. “Past and present. There is a marked similarity of figures, isn’t there?”
She acknowledged that there was, and added, “I hope this, and this, becomes more prominent in the industry.”
“Should girls be encouraged to put down the fashion magazines and turn to the world of art, or is that unrealistic, with fashion being such a powerful draw?”
It was not a rhetorical question on my part. I was genuinely curious as to how she would respond.
“I was really, really into fashion magazines when I was younger,” she began, “and then I kind of just said, ‘I don’t like this anymore.’ I lost interest. It’s not that I don’t like fashion magazines. I was so obsessive over them, and then thought, I can’t be obsessive, or I don’t want to be obsessive. So I put them down. They were very influential over me. But I kind of just looked to other things.
“I still like fashion magazines,” she continued. “Some of the fashion is so beautiful—you know, the make-up, the hair, and the stories, a lot of them are wonderful. But I stopped being obsessive over them. Because a lot of young girls are. They just are. They’re obsessive over fashion and fashion magazines. And I was one of them. So I don’t think all the girls are going to all of a sudden just put down all the fashion magazines and say, ‘No, I’m going to lead a life not…’ See, I think, step by step, if we can make fashion magazines more size-accepting, then that’s good. I think young girls will always love fashion magazines. Well, not all of them. But it’s just what happens. It’s what young girls like. But, hopefully, people will just be more accepting, and if they can put that in fashion magazines, then that’s good.”
Having concluded the Q&A section of the interview, I asked Kailee if she would be game for another little experiment. I pointed out to her that we were in a museum with some of the greatest representations of feminine beauty ever created, and inquired whether she would be willing to take a short tour of the galleries, and share her reactions to several artworks, just as she had previously offered her thoughts about her modelling images.
She responded with an enthusiastic yes, and off we went. I had less than an hour left for this whirlwind tour, but I knew the museum well enough to locate each canvas fairly quickly.
Naturally, I wanted to begin with the centrepiece of the Art and Love in Renaissance Italy exhibition, Titian’s celebrated Venus, which I had just compared to Kailee’s Glamour page.
The crowds in the rooms housing the special exhibit were formidable. However, I knew that the Venus was positioned at the very end, where the exhibition funnelled into the Met’s permanent European collection, so I devised a shortcut through the European galleries directly to the show’s exit.
As we moved briskly from one room to another, passing through centuries of art history in split-seconds—my heart aching that we couldn’t discuss every single masterpiece—I made brief remarks about several paintings along the way, particularly the various renditions of the mythological Judgment of Paris.
But as we passed Rubens’s Venus and Adonis (c.1635), with its sumptuously full-figured depiction of the goddess of beauty, I simply had to stop and linger over it. I asked Kailee for her first impressions.
“Just beautiful,” she praised. “Her body is beautiful. And I just like how they portray it in pictures that they’re all so comfortable with their bodies. I like how it’s not a prude society.”
“No,” I agreed.
“They’re just comfortable with their bodies, and it shows,” she admired. “It’s nice that they are able to just walk around freely like that.”
“Notice the contrast between the masculine ideal and the feminine ideal,” I pointed out. “He’s bronzed and muscular and so forth, and she is, by contrast, fair—”
“Fair. Yes. Soft and white and…big.”
She spoke those words in a quiet, sensual way, “soft and white and big,” with the last word uttered almost as a verbal caress. Her pleasure in the aesthetic of the painting, and in the beauty of Rubens’ s Venus, was unmistakable and genuine.
“Every detail of her appearance is something that you don’t see in modern fashion,” I indicated. “She has a ‘slight rise’ under her chin. You would never see that in a fashion magazine. But it makes her attractive, doesn’t it?”
“Yes. But you know what I think I like the most?” Kailee noted. “Is her hips.”
“Right,” I acknowledged, intrigued that this particular feature had caught her eye.
“I mean, that’s the thing that stands out the most to me, is her feminine hips,” Kailee underscored. “They’re beautiful. That’s what I like most about her.”
“This is Venus on the right, of course, the goddess of beauty,” I lectured. “And that in itself is significant. Think about it: An artist sets out to paint the goddess of beauty, the most gorgeous woman of all time—”
“Yeah, you’re right,” she chimed in, knowing exactly what I was going to say.
“—and what does he paint?” I continued. “He paints a plus-size model. Because she is, isn’t she? She would work today as a plus-size model.”
“Yeah, you’re right.”
“Notice also that even though it’s a mythological scene, there’s the man, the woman, and the child. That’s Adonis, the male archetype. The goddess of beauty is the feminine archetype. And that’s Cupid. But it’s a family, isn’t it? You could interpret it as—”
“Mommy, Daddy, Baby,” Kailee concluded, and smiled at the thought.
“If you clothed her,” I asked, “do you think that this could make an interesting editorial, updated for our time?”
“Yes, update it.”
“I actually love nude editorials,” Kailee disclosed. “I do. Only with the right lighting. When it’s not so in your face. When it’s tasteful.”
She had brought up the subject, so I couldn’t help but ask, “Would you ever appear in a nude editorial?”
“Well, I was offered to do one right before I was 18,” Kailee revealed, “and my agent wouldn’t let me.”
“It’s right that they didn’t,” I insisted, referring to her age at the time. “This was for a test shoot?”
“No, no. It was an editorial,” she specified. “I thought, ‘Yeah, that’s fine.’ But they wouldn’t let me.”
How interesting that she had initially consented, I mused. It testified to the extraordinary self-confidence that she had acquired through modelling, and how she had truly cast aside the self-consciousness of her youth.
We moved on, and located the room in which Titian’s masterpiece was displayed. It was positioned at the very end of the entire Renaissance exhibition—the climax, as it were. The room’s walls were painted a deep crimson colour, which suited the warm-blooded subject matter. The temperature and humidity were kept higher here than anywhere else in the museum. No doubt this was done to protect the painting, but the sultry environment fit the theme of the work—one of the most sensual paintings ever created.
There she was—the softest, most full-figured of all of Titian’s Venuses; lavishly well-fed, without even a hint of muscle tone, her body sumptuous and replete. The concentrated lighting bathed her in a million candlepower while keeping the rest of the room relatively dark, making her body seem almost luminescent. An awed hush pervaded the room. Onlookers grew dreamy-eyed gazing upon her, aware that they were in the presence of a goddess.
“It makes more of an impact when you see it in real life,” Kailee whispered.
“The postcard is very badly reproduced,” I conceded. “It looks much more attractive up close.”
“Yeah,” she agreed. “Again, she has hips. Having hips is such a feminine symbol. I’m taking a cross-cultural-studies class, and they have a universal statue that almost any culture ever created of a woman, and it’s just big-boobed, and huge hips. And again, she’s soft, and white, and ivory.”
“Very soft, isn’t she?” I echoed. I was delighted that Kailee was picking up on that particular characteristic. “It looks like she hasn’t ‘worked out’ a day in her life. And that’s what makes her beautiful.”
“Can you guess the theme of this painting?”
“He’s kind of playing,” she described, “but it seems like he’s more interested in her.”
I was dumbstruck. I knew this canvas very well, but that particular reading had never occurred to me.
“That’s an interesting way to look at it,” I mentioned. ”I rather like that interpretation.”
“Well, look at it,” Kailee enjoined.
“It’s not the most traditional reading,” I cautioned, “but it’s extremely insightful. See, you know the truth. Only someone who is a beautiful plus-size model would come to that conclusion.”
Kailee chuckled. “Oh, yeah?”
“Because she would be used to such attention herself.” I was fascinated by how Kailee’s own life experience, the perspective that she had gained from personally being beautiful, had enabled her to interpret the painting in such an original manner.
“Anyway,” I let her know, “the customary interpretation is that she is his muse.”
“And her full-figured beauty is inspiring him to compose music,” I expounded. “It’s representative of any type of artistic creation, the music that he’s playing. So he’s looking to her for inspiration. Her beauty is bringing out his talent.”
“Yeah. I mean, that makes more sense than mine,” she consented.
“No, but I like yours: ‘I can’t concentrate on my music. I have to look at her!’”
“But I agree with that. She is his muse,” Kailee stated. “[The artist is] saying that he’s inspired by her beauty, as you said. It’s beautiful.”
“Notice that she’s not lying on a bench or something hard,” I commented. “Rather, she’s on the softest possible material. The pillows are supposed to echo her own physical softness. Technically, you can see how the vertical lines of the pipes work against the parallel tilted lines of his body and her body. And of course, there’s that gorgeous landscape in the background. Do you remember the picture of yours that I singled out, the one from Battery Park? You can see how a similar effect is achieved here, where the lush landscape—”
“Yeah, it’s all kind of blended,” Kailee concurred. “It’s all natural. It shows connection between natural beauty outside and natural feminine beauty.”
“And of course, it’s a painting about an artist being inspired by beauty,” I testified, “and then the painting itself is a work of art that has been inspired by beauty.”
Next, I took Kailee to the Met’s 19th-Century galleries, where I intended to show her the loveliest painting in the museum’s permanent collection. Along the way, though, in the anterior room, we encountered two famous canvasses by Pierre-Auguste Cot, which the Met had prominently displayed. I couldn’t help but stop for a moment and sound out Kailee about these Romantic dreamscapes.
First, we approached Cot’s idyllic Spring (1873).
“I was just looking at this again before I met up with you,” I told her, “and it reminds me a little bit of your sinuous MXM picture. It’s not quite the same look, this being more of a smile, as opposed to your expression, which is vain and alluring. But it’s the same idea of melting vulnerability.”
“Yeah, definitely. The vulnerability is really big in this picture. She really likes him,” she said with a smile; and then added, in the cutest of voices, “And he likes her too. Again, she’s fair, fair-haired…”
“Yes. Notice that it’s not an angular pose. Very—”
“Very S-curve,” she finished for me, repeating my description of her MXM photo. “Yeah. It’s such a cute picture. It’s sweet. Because they look very young.”
I marked again how she referred to youth from a curiously distant perspective. “You know, I keep having to remind you of this, but you’re pretty young yourself.”
“You keep speaking of your ‘younger phase’ as if you were—”
“Well, my young phase wasn’t that long ago,” she admitted. “You’re right.”
“How old are you?”
“Nineteen,” she divulged.
“Nineteen?” I repeated in amazement. “You’re very young.”
She giggled again.
“You’re only 19? I didn’t know that.”
“Yes. I think Christina Schimdt is 20, so you’re—”
“Yeah. I’m friendly with Christina,” she mentioned.
“You’re young,” I reiterated, shaking my head.
It occured to me how people experience the passage of time differently at different ages; how the weeks and months seem to pass slowly in youth, with each school year feeling like an Šon, each grade an era, while in adulthood, five years could pass in the blink of an eye. I personally made little distinction between the Kailee of her first campaigns and the beautiful young woman who stood before me, but Kailee looked upon her early career as if it had happened a lifetime ago.
Then, a question about her craft came to mind. “From a modelling perspective, if someone asked you to replicate this pose, this expression in particular, do you think that you could do it?”
“Oh, yeah,” she asserted.
“It’s one of those modelling talents: Take this picture and replicate it. Can you do that?”
“Yeah, yeah,” she affirmed. “But you know what? Modelling can be like acting sometimes. You have to get into that character and that role. But, yeah, I think I could do that.”
I mused for a moment about how blessed the suitor would be whom Kailee would someday favour with such a glance.
“Once again, note the natural, lush background—”
“That’s what I was thinking,” she interjected. “It’s beautiful. It looks like a rain forest, almost. It’s not, though. It’s an English forest.”
“That’s exactly right,” I attested. “An ‘English garden,’ in fact. If you’ve heard that phrase, ‘English garden,’ it refers to a park that’s deliberately been cultivated to look like a wild, natural landscape.”
“Oh, really? Okay.”
“It’s an outgrowth of Romanticism,” I informed her. “The French approach to gardens was traditionally very formal. They arranged their gardens in geometric lines—hedges, mazes, carefully laid out paths, and so forth.”
“And this is about freedom. The idea was to ‘let nature be nature.’”
Next, we turned our attention to the Met’s other famous Cot canvas, The Storm (1880).
“This is by the same fellow,” I noted. “Also very nice. A couple running for cover before the rainstorm. I love the gossamer drapery that she’s wearing. It creates a suggestion of nudity, but without having her be completely unclothed.”
“Right. Yeah, she’s very curvy. I like that he’s holding her close,” Kailee cooed, her eyes bright and blue.
“Tenderly,” I suggested.
“Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Exactly.”
“This is the place to be on Valentine’s Day,” I murmured as we moved on.
Cabanel’s Birth of Venus was displayed on the inside wall of the second room of the 19th-Century wing. I wanted the painting to make a dramatic first impression, so I led Kailee forward through the entranceway, enjoining her to keep her eyes straight ahead. I brought her to the centre of the room, a couple of metres before the painting, then asked her to turn around and gaze upon the canvas.
“Wow!” she exclaimed. “That’s very sexy.”
“It’s called The Birth of Venus. Notice how often Venus keeps coming up. History’s greatest plus-size model.”
“That’s one of my favourite ones,” Kailee determined.
“You like it? Here we see how the 19th century interpreted the same theme, while employing contemporary painting techniques,” I delineated. ”She is very fair, of course. And note the relaxed pose.”
“That’s so beautiful. This is definitely my favourite one,” Kailee decided. “Stunning.”
“Alexandre Cabanel is the name of the painter,” I informed her. “She is lying on a bed of hair, as it were.”
“Yeah. And she’s in the ocean,” Kailee observed.
“Did you take classical mythology in grade school?” I quizzed her.
“Oh, yeah, well, we did do some… We read a lot of Greek myths and stuff like that.”
“Okay. Venus is the Roman name, Aphrodite the Greek name, for the goddess of beauty and love,” I reminded her. “And she was born from the sea. That’s why the famous Botticelli painting The Birth of Venus shows the sea in the background, as does this painting. But no one else has ever depicted Venus’s water-borne origins as literally as Cabanel did. It’s is as if the sea is delivering her.”
“Right. Yeah, you’re right.”
“The white crests are like pillowy down, but they are part of the ocean as well.”
“This one’s gorgeous,” she rhapsodized. “Gorgeous.”
“Come a little closer,” I requested, and led her near the canvas. “Have a look at her eyes. Can you tell that they’re slightly open?”
“What do you think of that expression?”
“She’s not closing her eyes. She’s looking at you. She’s kind of engaged,” Kailee remarked, then added, “It’s a sexier pose.”
“It is, isn’t it?”
“It’s a sexual pose,” she repeated. “I mean, when she looks at you with her eyes like that, kind of half-open, it’s sexy.”
“Can you do that pose?” I asked her.
“Yeah, sure,” she assented. “Right now?”
She caught me off guard with that response, and I paused for a moment, then affected nonchalance. “Well, no,” I chuckled. “I would probably have a heart attack if you did.
(“But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t,” I added under my breath, then refocussed on the work.)
“Anyway, as you can see, cupids are rioting all about. And there are the hips that you were talking about.”
“Yeah, I love that,” Kailee effused. “Love that.”
“You’ll notice that in all of the paintings, the poses are designed to accentuate the hips, as opposed to today’s models, who are taught to pose in such a way as to minimize—”
“Right, right. Definitely,” Kailee interjected.
“That’s not the case here at all,” I concluded.
(A few weeks after this interview was conducted, Kailee wrote to me and told me that she had made Cabanel’s Venus her desktop wallpaper. That, more than anything else, indicted to me how sincere her appreciation of this work had been.)
My intention had been to follow up the Cabanel painting, a masterpiece of Beauty, with a starkly different work representing the Sublime. However, right across the room from The Birth of Venus was Franz Xaver Winterhalter’s magnificent Florinda (1853), another favourite of mine. I noticed that it caught Kailee’s eye too, so I took her towards it, and asked her what struck her about the painting.
She gazed at it intently, then observed, “It’s clear that there’s a man in the background, kind of peeking in.”
I looked hard at the section on which she was focussed, and discovered him for the very first time. I had never discerned this figure before. Once again, Kailee’s sharp eyes had detected a new element in an artwork that I’d known for years.
“That says something,” she asserted about the presence of the male figure. “He is intrigued, obviously.”
“He’s almost like a Greek satyr,” I suggested, thinking of a similar visual cue in Fellini’s La dolce Vita.
“It’s so feminine to have not just one woman,” she declared. “It’s a gaggle of girls. There’s a bunch of them, so [the artist] kind of brings out even more femininity in the picture when you see more than one woman. But obviously they’re all fair, they’re all—”
“Luscious,” I finished for her.
“As if they draw confidence from one another. No, not even confidence,” I restated. “There isn’t even a question of inhibition, in this reality.”
“Right, right,” Kailee acknowledged.
“It’s a perfect world. Why wouldn’t they feel comfortable with their appearance? But can you imagine featuring such women in one of the modern fashion magazines?” I proposed. “Instead of waifs, if the magazine used models with figures like these, it would show women that this is what they’re supposed to look like.”
“Yeah. Oh my God, imagine an editorial like this: ‘It’s all plus-size women!’” Kailee cheered, anticipating readers’ reactions: “‘Oh my God, they look so cool.’”
“Right, right,” I jumped in.
“And if the guy could be in the background, that would be awesome,” she appended. “I love that, because obviously the artist didn’t just put him in there for nothing. He’s showing them how sexy they all are, how intriguing.”
I was pleased by how favourably she interpreted the presence of the male onlooker. Once again, Kailee’s comments demonstrated what a blessing life experience can be in interpreting art. As a beautiful girl who was undoubtedly used to considerable male attention, Kailee discerned similar admiration in the male figure in the painting, and appreciated it.
Her reaction also buoyed me personally, as the curator of a Web museum showcasing female imagery. It touched me that Kailee would view the aesthetic appreciation of femininity not only in a positive way, but as something that honoured the women on whom the male gaze is bestowed.
I wanted to tell her all these things, but instead I merely quipped, “You’re such a non-prude,” garnering a chuckle from her.
I speculated that the male figure might be a representation of the artist himself.
“And consider these two women who are clothed, off to the right,” I advanced. “Do they envy the rest? It’s as if they are too modest for the artist’s world.”
“But both actually wish to be among the group. And note how the light is specifically falling on the unclothed ladies—”
“Oh, yeah. Yeah,” Kailee perceived.
“—but it doesn’t reach the two prudes. It’s almost as if, they could enter this beautiful paradise, if they could only free themselves of their inhibitions.
“Notice one other detail: the water at the bottom of the painting. Observe how the one girl is looking at her own reflection, transfixed. Remember me asking you how you feel when you look into the mirror? She’s having a Kailee O’Sullivan moment,” I submitted, “looking into the water and saying to herself, ‘Wow, I look good.’”
She laughed merrily.
Having heard Kailee’s fascinating reactions to these depictions of Beauty, I was eager to discover how she would respond to an expression of the Sublime. I prepared her by expounding on the polarity of the two aesthetic traditions. Having shown her many works of the former style, I told her, I now intended to show her one of the latter.
Thus we turned the corner, and for the first time in her life she laid eyes upon Arnold Böcklin’s eerie Isle of the Dead (1880).
“I like it,” Kailee uttered in a hushed tone. “I don’t just like light, pretty, airy beauty. I like when things are dark. I feel they’re…maybe not going to scare me, but it shows another side of the human—”
“The one balances the other, doesn’t it?” I offered.
“Right. Exactly. It’s like Yin and Yang,” she compared. “It’s like this hidden castle. I love that. You know, I’m a big fan of fairy tales.”
“You are?” I inquired, wide-eyed. It seemed so right that a living princess such as Kailee would appreciate fairy tales.
“Yeah, yeah. Definitely,” she acknowledged. “Fairy tales and, like I said, whimsical stories. And I love stuff like this.”
“The Isle of the Dead, surrounded by water. Observe the dark trees erupting out of the island,” I indicated. “It almost looks like a hand, doesn’t it? A colossal, Satanic hand reaching up out of the earth.”
“Oh, yeah,” she affirmed.
“This figure could be Charon, the boatman who ferries souls across the river Styx in the classical underworld, and the ghostly figure—”
“Yes. It’s creepy,” Kailee admitted.
“Is it a ghost?” I asked rhetorically. “Is it a human being ferried to the Isle of the Dead? Why is a living entity being carried to the Isle of the Dead? And yet there’s a coffin. What’s the relationship? Is the figure the wraith of the coffin’s resident? The spirit of the person? And what are these weird structures on the side of the isle? Can you imagine what could be inside those caverns?”
“It’s kind of creepy—but in a good way,” Kailee expressed. “It’s mysterious. You’re not sure what’s going to happen. I mean, obviously someone is going to die, but… I don’t know what to think of the light figure. It looks almost like a mummy to me. That’s my first reaction.”
Yet again, Kailee had drawn a conclusion that had never occurred to me. Once she said it, however, it seemed so obvious. “Hey, that’s true,” I exclaimed.
“But this isn’t, you know, ancient Egyptian art,” Kailee conceded.
“They do have an Egyptian section in this museum,” I mentioned as an aside, although I knew that there wasn’t enough time left to take her on a tour of that gallery.
“Yeah, the Egyptian treasures. I love [them],” Kailee enthused.
“The Egyptians were obsessed with death,” I commented. “They were more medieval than the medievalists. They were exclusively focussed on what would happen in the afterlife. Life was a temporary, unimportant interlude before death. What did they do from dawn till dusk? They built tombs.”
“Yeah. It’s very unique. I was just actually talking about this yesterday,” Kailee recalled. “They were the only civilization that took so much time to mummify their dead.”
“The physical self. That’s right,” I attested.
Turning to the side, I happened to notice Moonrise (1885) by Henri-Joseph Harpignies, and employed it for an impromptu comparison.
“This work shows us a less malevolent environment, a kind of dark beauty—an antipode to the Cot paintings,” I delineated. “This is a moonlit scene. It’s Romantic, but in a milder sense. One can imagine this vista transposed to a daylight setting, with flowers and sunlight, but here everything is in decay. There are just the last few leaves of the trees. But it still has a haunting charm, doesn’t it?”
“That kind of reminds me of a place close to where I live,” Kailee volunteered. “It certainly isn’t that dramatic, but when I go to the nature preserve and the park, and when it’s dark out, it has a haunted… Especially in the middle of winter, it’s haunting. It’s just dark. It’s almost scary, but in a good way.”
Had I heard her correctly? Could she actually be fond of evening walks in landscapes such as this? Nocturnal strolls were a longstanding habit of my own, but I never imagined that a girl like Kailee could be similarly inclined. Her revelation evoked a scene out of a European fable—a beautiful maiden walking through the dark forest.
“You would have been quite a person to have known growing up,” I observed. ”So do you just do this for fun—wander the dark woods?”
“Well, yeah. I’ve always loved dark fairy-tales. I just like that. They’re interesting. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Harry Potter?”
“I have. Of course.”
“This reminds me of Harry Potter,“ she remarked. “I love Harry Potter. It’s a fantasy world.”
Kailee’s whole existence resembled a fantasy world, I told her. How appropriate that she had nature preserves, wheat fields, and moonlit forests right beside her house. It wouldn’t have surprised me if her Long Island home resembled a castle. Her fascinating revelations about herself, and the topics that we had discussed over the course of the afternoon, coalesced for me into a single question.
“How would you feel if some artist drew inspiration from your beauty to compose at the organ, or to paint a masterpiece?”
“That would be really flattering. Really flattering,” she replied. “That would be amazing.”
“Because I have a theory. Let me run it by you,” I requested. “Just as the ideal of beauty has changed, art itself… I don’t know how much modern art you like, but art as a whole seems to have abandoned beauty as a guiding principle. You don’t see gorgeous paintings any more. Everything has become so abstract.”
“Right,” she confirmed.
“And I wonder if there’s not a connection there,” I submitted, presenting one of the core theories of the Judgment of Paris. “Once artists no longer had that full-figured ideal, the goddess Venus, to admire, then all of a sudden they couldn’t play at the organ any more, as it were. They couldn’t compose great symphonies. There are no more Beethovens, after all.”
“Yeah, it’s true,” she agreed. “Well, you know what’s funny? I always say, I’m not the biggest fan of modern art. I’m really not. It can be very interesting, very, like you said, abstract. It is. It likes turning things that are aesthetically ugly into what someone would say, ‘Oh, it’s beautiful.’ But I’m more a fan of the soft, flowy, whimsical art, and those types of stories. Not so much modern.”
No response could have been more perfect.
I dearly wished that I could have taken Kailee to the Met’s American wing, to show her the epic works of Thomas Cole and Albert Bierstadt. With her love of nature, she would have adored Bierstadt’s magnificent vistas of Yosemite, as well as Cole’s Romantic fantasies. But alas, it was time for Kailee to depart.
She invited me to accompany her to the museum entrance, and once outside, she resolved to take the subway home rather than a cab. I offered to escort her to her station, because if anything had happened to her en route, I would have never forgiven myself.
She amazed me along the way by using her cell phone to digitally locate the nearest subway stop. Her earlier disavowal of technology had obviously yielded to practical necessity.
The station turned out to be a considerable distance away, but I didn’t mind at all, as it gave us a chance to talk further. We debated the relative merits of the 1960s—with Kailee expressing enthusiasm for the idealism of the times, but conceding my points about the excesses of the contemporary political movements.
It was a crisp, clear night. Walking the New York streets alongside her, chatting about life, the universe, and everything, was pure bliss.
When at last we reached the station, I remembered our business-like introduction, and offered to shake her hand. Instead, she favoured me with a warm embrace.
And then she was gone.
My hotel was over 5 kilometres away, near Times Square, but as I walked back my feet never touched the ground. The experience had been magical. Any “goddess” terminology that I had ever used in reference to Kailee’s images was now fully justified by the extraordinary qualities that she had revealed in person.
Not only is Kailee even lovelier in real life than in her images, but she is brilliant and fearless. Modest and gracious, yes—but beneath her humility she shows a captivating awareness of her own beauty and charisma, an awareness that is all the richer because it has grown over time.
Her European travels and self-identification with Classical beauty have enabled her to reject the modern world’s “aesthetics of guilt,” and to embrace the full-figured feminine ideal. Her experiences, her intuition, and her imagination have given her a keen insight into art and life.
The youth of today couldn’t ask for a better role model than Kailee O’Sullivan, and the industry is fortunate to have her as one of its brightest stars.
You may contact the author of this page at:
You are cordially invited to visit: