A Dream of Beauty: A Profile of Kelsey Olson

Part I: Ideal of Fantasy

Test photograph by Rick Day

by Heinrich Saint-Germain

It would be a dream-come-true moment, the ultimate Christmas gift: a chance to meet Kelsey Olson, the most gorgeous of all plus-size models, for an interview. Throwing caution to the wind, I had written to her requesting a one-on-one chat, and she had kindly consented.

      But what, I wondered, would be the ideal setting for such an encounter? Although Kelsey currently resides in Seattle, she grew up in the Orange County area, and I had always thought of her as an L.A. girl. The Pacific Northwest just didn’t seem like the right environment.

      Then I learned that Kelsey would be returning to her California family home for the Christmas holidays. This was my opportunity, I thought. It was now or never.

      But where in California? What location could provide a backdrop worthy of a meeting with this dream-princess, this embodiment of timeless beauty?

      Ideally, I would have loved to have met her in an ancient European castle, a storybook fortress with soaring towers and spires that pierced the clouds. But alas, we were in the New World, not the Old.

Test photograph by Rick Day

      I pored over a map of the environs east of Los Angeles, looking for any trace of fairy-tales and fantasy. And there is was, as if wishing had made it appear.


      Of course. It was perfect—a kingdom that had been created to evoke magic and wonder, a location that was synonymous with fairy-tale princesses and fairest-of-them-all beauty. And it was all due to a visionary genius who had wanted to import European folklore to these shores and to share it with generations of Americans whose forbears had come from the Old World, but who had lost their living connection to their ancestral home.

      As surely as American-girl Kelsey was actually a Norse goddess living in a foreign land, so was Walt Disney’s realm an outpost of the Old World in the New, occupying several acres of American soil like an embassy from the land of myth.

      But would she go for it? Did I have the courage to ask? She might consider the idea infantile—or worse, she might think me mad. Was I not fortunate enough simply to have been granted an interview? Surely a proposal of Disneyland would be going too far.

      Hesitantly, I submitted my idea and waited. Several days passed with no word, and my worst fears appeared to have been confirmed.

      But then she replied with a yes. And not just a yes, but a most enthusiastic yes.

      It was actually going to happen. Fantasy would become reality, and the fairy-tale would come true.

* * *

      Everything about the trip had to be perfect—even the place where I would be spending the night prior to our get-together. I browsed the Historic Hotels of America and found just what I was looking for—the Mission Inn in Riverside, California. In the midst of this otherwise unremarkable town, occupying an entire city block, stood an extraordinary historical structure that was nearly as wondrous as Disneyland itself: a massive Victorian-era edifice displaying every traditional European architectural style, from Neo-Gothic to Neo-Renaissance to Orientalist and more. It was a testament to the outlandish vision of another master builder, one Frank Miller, and his desire to import the beauty of the past into the present.

Flying buttresses adorning the Neo-Gothic wing of the Mission Inn

      I arrived late in the evening of December 22nd, after nearly having my flight cancelled due to inclement weather. The shock of taking off from Canada in a snowstorm and arriving on a balmy California night was overwhelming. It immediately set the dreamlike tone of the entire experience, as if I’d left behind the cold world of reality and now had one foot in the warmer clime of fantasy.

      I had indifferently asked the rental-car company for whatever automobile was available, and they obliged me with a sleek black Mustang fit for a Hollywood private investigator. No knight’s steed was ever so fleet-footed. The California hills flew by as the car took me to Riverside in the blink of an eye, its engine roaring with untrammeled power.

      It was long past midnight by the time I checked in, but I couldn’t sleep. After all, the very next day I would be meeting Kelsey Olson in the happiest place on earth—all the happier because of her presence in it. The courteous night manager offered to show me around the Mission Inn if insomnia got the better of me, and I gladly took him up on the offer. Over the next two hours I was given a personal tour of every nook and cranny of one of the most historic structures in America, a grand complex where presidents and governors and movie stars (even Lillian Russell herself) had stayed. At one point, in the Neo-Gothic wing, I walked beneath buttresses identical to those that might have graced a European cathedral of the Middle Ages.

      The mood was set. I was ready.

* * *

      The next morning was bright and sunny—California weather indeed. Not a cloud marred the sky. Nothing could blemish the perfection of the day.

      I arrived at Disneyland two hours early, giving myself just enough time to obtain tickets and to do some preliminary scouting. Inside the gates, I was astounded by the sight that confronted me—a long avenue of Victorian-era architecture laid out like the downtown of a turn-of-the-century American city. “Main Street U.S.A.” is what Disneyland calls this idyllic boulevard, a Main Street characteristic of Middle America in the late 1800s. Timeless though its architectural style may have been, it looked fresh and new and idyllic, as such a street might have appeared in Disney’s own childhood. Yet this was no empty museum reconstruction but a vibrant setting, teeming with people.

Modelling for California Costumes/Costume Craze, Hallowe'en 2008

      Even more wondrous, though, was the sight that loomed at the end of the boulevard, towering over every other structure in the kingdom: Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.

      Of all of the German fairy tales, I was delighted that the Disneyland centrepiece was specifically associated with Sleeping Beauty. Kelsey herself had once shot a Princess Aurora editorial, and had even appeared in Sleeping Beauty guise in many acclaimed costume campaigns. No model resembled a Disney princess more closely than she did.

      The castle was much larger than I had expected. No mere toy or prop, it was comparable in scale to an authentic European palace. It immediately brought to mind Schloß Neuschwanstein, the great Neo-Gothic fantasy castle erected by King Ludwig II in the Bavarian Alps—the creation of yet another dreamer who willed his visions into tangible realities. And sure enough, in a small museum called the “Disney Gallery,” I learned that Neuschwanstein had been the direct inspiration for Walt’s iconic edifice.

      As I approached the castle, I was astounded by its beauty. I found a seating area right beside the moat and to the left of the drawbridge that looked like it would make a perfect spot for our chat. But the time for the interview was drawing near, so I quickly made my way back to the main gate to meet Miss Olson at the appointed hour.

      En route, I received a text message on my cell phone:

"Hi. It's Kelsey. Just wondering where you are."

      It was 1:54. She was six minutes early—the mark of a great model.

      I tried to steady my nerves. I couldn’t wait to meet her.

* * *

      Though she was facing in the opposite direction, I recognized Kelsey right away, even from a distance. The curvaceous figure, the long, blonde hair illuminated by the sunlight—there was no mistaking her. She was standing by one of the pillars in front of the main gate, accompanied by her sister, Mallory.

Test photograph by Rick Day

      I approached the pair and introduced myself, attempting to be cool and casual.

      “Hi,” she said sunnily, as she turned in my direction. “How are you?”

      My equanimity failed me. There, standing right in front of me, was the most gorgeous girl whom I had ever seen with my living eyes. I had met numerous other plus-size models in the past, even curvaceous Celtic singers, but in sheer attractiveness Kelsey surpassed them all. No matter how many pictures she had taken in her career—some of the greatest in the history of plus-size modelling—no photographer had yet captured the full measure of her beauty.

      Point for point she embodied the timeless ideal: the long, flowing blonde hair, the perfectly round facial features, the voluptuous figure—a figure that surpassed any Classical sculpture I had ever seen, any physique I had ever beheld. But above all, what transported me were her eyes—so large, so blue, filled with such wonder and delight that I could hardly believe them real. The term “doll’s eyes” is much overused, but never had I see any mortal being with eyes like these. Looking into those eyes, one experienced a soothing sensation, a feeling of calm and peace that cushioned the humbling power of her beauty.

      All of the emotions that her images characteristically evoked flooded me in an instant—the desire to protect such loveliness, to keep it safe, to preserve its innocence amid a world of pain and despair.

      She was a fairy-tale come to life, beyond any doubt. Though her attire was wholly casual, one couldn’t help but imagine her in an elegant ballgown. Dressed in fitted jeans, a grey pullover, and adorned with a yellow scarf, she was a princess disguised as a contemporary California girl. But nothing could hide the aristocratic splendour of her soft, golden tresses, the Nordic perfection of her round face, or the magical wonder of her china-blue eyes.


      I steadied myself and made as professional an introduction as possible. Having already purchased an admission ticket for Kelsey, I now offered Mallory one as well.

      “No, no, no, no,” Kelsey stated. “My mom’s here. She’s going with… They’re going to go—”

      “We’re going shopping,” Mallory finished for her.

      I asked her if she was sure, and she said yes, but added, “Thank you, though.”

      Before she left, I promised Mallory that I would be on my best behaviour with her sister, which elicited a chuckle from Kelsey.

      And then she was off, leaving me one-on-one with the loveliest goddess whom I had ever seen.

      I told her my real name—for no one could look into those eyes and tell a falsehood—and how honoured I was to meet her.

Modelling for Torrid, summer 2006; photo by Michael Anthony Hermogeno

      “No, this is so exciting,” Kelsey replied, and her response seemed genuine. “I can’t believe you came all the way out here. That’s just—”

      “It’s my privilege,” I assured her.

      “No, it’s mine, really,” she insisted, again with complete sincerity.

      “You’ve never been to Disneyland?” she asked.

      I told her that I hadn’t, and observed that she, being from the region, must have visited before.

      “Yeah, many a time. Except for this year, since I moved to Seattle. My parents usually get an annual pass. We all come together.”

      So Disneyland had been an ideal venue after all. I was delighted. It was just so innately right that Kelsey should love the place, since she personally brought to life the storybook beauty that it celebrated.

      “Is there anything you want to see specifically?” she asked me, seemingly oblivious to the fact that nothing in this kingdom was as magical to view as she. “I mean, you’re going to go and explore Disneyland, right? I think we should do that a little bit together.”

      A part of me longed to spend the day enjoying Disneyland as a traveller might, even going on the rides and attractions. But I had come here to interview Kelsey, and I could only do so in a formal, sit-down environment. I suggested that we conduct the Q-and-A session first and then make plans based on how much time we had left, given her schedule.

      “I don’t want to monopolize you at Christmastime,” I observed, thinking of her mother and her sister and reminding myself that her family surely had plans for the holidays.

      “No, we can hang out for a little while,” Kelsey offered, then jokingly added, “Unless we totally hate each other by the end of it.”

Editorial layout in ''Figure'' magazine, April 2008

      “Well, that’s only a possibility one way,” I said, laughing nervously, for she had identified a private dread of mine, given my renowned unsociability. I resolved to remain in Kelsey’s good graces no matter what.

      I was becoming mesmerized by her beauty, particularly by her round, angelic face and those heavenly eyes. I tried to think of something poetic to say about them, but all that I could manage was a bashful, “Your eyes are very blue—as it turns out.”

      “Yeah,” she agreed, chuckling. This was no mystery to her, and she expressed no false modesty about her incredible look.

      “The pictures don’t lie,” I confirmed. “Yours don’t, anyway.”

      “Aw, thanks.”

      At that point, we were both stopped in our tracks by the sight of the most massive Christmas tree that I had ever beheld in my life, right in the entry square of Disneyland.

      “Wow,” I reacted, no more eloquent than before. “Now, that’s a tree.”

      “That’s really impressive,” Kelsey uttered.

      I asked her if she thought it was real.

      “No way. That would be too awesome. But my friend’s father-in-law actually works for Disneyland, so he sets it up. They do it all in one night. It’s just this epic thing,” she enthused, describing how all of Disneyland’s Yuletide decorations appeared in the park overnight.

      Fortune had smiled on me. Not only did Kelsey obviously love Disneyland, but she even had a family connection to it. I literally could not have chosen a better venue for our meeting.

Main Street, U.S.A. - Disneyland, California

      “It’s so pretty,” she mused, looking back at the towering tree.

      We now turned our attention toward the avenue of beautiful, historical buildings before us, and I opined, “What’s interesting about this place is that in building it, Walt Disney wanted to create a Main Street evoking old-time America, the America of people’s youth. But today, people no longer have this vision of America from their childhoods.”

      She nodded in agreement.

      “For example, you didn’t grow up near a Main Street like this, did you?”

      “Well, La Verne is very, very old,” she explained, “And it was an orange town. The downtown looks a bit like this. My house was built in 1901, so it kind of has this look to it.”

      I told her how delighted I was that amid vast stretches of suburban shopping malls and industrial sprawl, she had grown up in a Victorian-era home, in a quaint old town that apparently evoked the Disney spirit.

      “Yeah, it’s really pretty,” she agreed. “But, no, the majority of people don’t get to experience something like this.”

      “That’s what I was wondering. When people look at this now, instead of feeling the nostalgia that Disney must have experienced for this bygone, simpler time, how do they react?” I mused. “Is it something alien to them? Is it like something from another planet?”

Modelling for Igigi, Spring 2007

      “I don’t know. It’s a shame, because it’s almost like, this is what it should look like,” Kelsey affirmed. “But people say, ‘Oh, it’s like a movie set.’ You know what I mean?”

      “It’s like a movie set,” I assented in dismay. “Right I see what you mean. At what point does it become…inauthentic? Fake?”

      “Exactly. Yeah.”

      Her response told me something wonderful about Kelsey. Whereas others might have superficially dismissed Disney’s turn-of-the-century Main Street as mere stagecraft, she responded avidly to its idyllic charm, and saw in it a glimpse of a the world as it should be. She was a dreamer, then, an idealist—and in that, her heart was right in tune with Disney’s.

      Now it was my turn to learn something from her.

      “Do you see the fire department?” she queried.

      “I do. Yes.”

      “Okay, the window above that? That’s Walt Disney’s office. That’s where his apartment is,” she indicated with considerable reverence, then added with a chuckle, “When he was around.”

      “Where his spirit inhabits,” I volunteered.

      “Exactly. They keep a light on at night. A lamp will go on,” she explained. “That’s the fun part. You learn all these little secrets.”

      “You do know this place, don’t you?”

      “You know, you live here…” she commented modestly. But I was delighted. Once again, I wished that I had merely come here as a tourist. Spending the day learning Kelsey’s Disneyland secrets would have been a marvellous experience.

      Before we made our way to the area that I had scouted for the interview, I wanted to see her reaction to the model of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle inside the Disney Gallery, which offered a wonderful, detailed view of the structure. I took her inside the gallery and pointed out the castle’s similarity to Neuschwanstein—how it had the same soaring turrets and towers.

Sleeping Beauty's Castle - Disneyland, California

      “I wonder about the whole idea of doing this,” I put to her. “Was it madness to take a castle from Europe and place it here? After all, it’s not indigenous to this area. California’s heritage is Spanish, and Native American, and desert beforehand. To situate a Bavarian castle right in the middle of it—is it folly, or is it wondrous?”

      [AUDIO] “Well, I think that was the whole point of his design, was to make it this magical thing, and to take elements of the frontier, and Fantasyland, and just kind of make it this really magical place for people,” she said with complete sincerity. “I think it’s great.”

      I stood there, rapt with admiration. She chuckled at my starstruck look.

      “I’m so glad you feel that way,” I gushed, and mentioned that Sleeping Beauty was my favourite Disney movie.

      “Oh, yes, definitely,” she agreed.

      “The story itself, or the film? Or both?”


      “Both! So you do know the movie.”

      “Yeah. [AUDIO] Just something about it, the way it looks. The grain of the film. The colours that they used. It’s just so cool. When I was three years old, my biggest memory with my dad was when I got really, really sick, and I woke up, and I asked my dad to watch Sleeping Beauty with me,” she recounted fondly. “We ate celery sticks with peanut butter.”

Test photograph by Stanley Debas

      I marvelled at this touching story from her childhood. “And you were three years old?”

      “Yeah, I remember it. So I love Sleeping Beauty. It’s so romantic.”

      Romantic—the very word that I had been looking for. It was true, then. Kelsey was a romantic. I couldn’t have hoped for anything better, anything more perfect.

      “And tell me honestly,” I requested, “when you saw that film growing up, did you dream of yourself in that role?”

      “Yeah, she’s the prettiest,” she professed eagerly, as if she were reading my mind. “She has this beautiful blonde hair. And especially the music back then. Disney had all these great artists singing for them. They’re not well known, but it’s so pretty.”

      Wonder of wonders—Kelsey even loved the soundtrack to the film, which was Disney’s finest, largely based on the Sleeping Beauty ballet score by Tchaikovksy. Miss Olson appreciated classical music.

      “It’s just pretty romantic,” Kelsey went on. “And really, if you look at the early Disney films, they’re very intense. Snow White too—they’re always trying to kill them.”

      I concurred. “Even in Sleeping Beauty, for all that it deals with a gorgeous princess, it also has the knight slaying the dragon—and a really ferocious dragon at that.”


      “Yeah, really,” she granted. Changing the topic, she questioned me, “So why are you into the whole admiration of plus-size beauty?”

      I treated her to a brief history of the Judgment of Paris site, whereupon she asked me my profession. Another question about me, I thought. I was amazed at how gracious she was, and how sincerely she seemed to be thinking, not of herself, but of the person she was with. Most of the individuals whom I had interviewed had been more…self-focussed.

      Heading up Main Street, as we passed the Plaza Inn, I inquired if she wished to have lunch now, or later, or at all.

      “Are you hungry?” she asked—once again thinking of me before herself.

      I stressed that it depended on her, because any time I had ordered food during my model interviews, I had always been too nervous to eat it.

      She smiled and declared, “Well, let’s do the interview, and if you want to eat afterwards—if you’ll really eat—then we can go do that.”

Kelsey Olson with Christina Schmidt - Torrid outtake by Michael Anthony Hermogeno, winter 2006

      “So you’re good for now?” I clarified. “All right.”

      My comment about being nervous struck a chord with her, though, because she admitted, “I was really nervous about coming today. I don’t know why.”

      She laughed when she saw my stunned expression. Had she said it because it was true, or just to put me at ease? Either way, I felt reassured in her presence. Something about her manner was very soothing, despite her incredible beauty, which still dazzled me every time I looked at her. I thought of how pleasant she must be to have on set, what a dream she must be to work with.

      I joked and told her that her nerves were probably due to the dry, academic tone of voice that I invariably adopted on the forum. “I spent many years in university,” I admitted, half apologetically, “so it’s the only way that I know how to write.”

      “It’s beautiful,” she assured me. “Some of the things that you say, and how you say them…”

      “Really? You don’t mind?”

      “No. Why would I? That is the biggest compliment.”

      “I don’t know,” I said, a bit abashed. Over the years, I had expressed myself quite ardently in the posts about Kelsey’s images, and a part of me had always dreaded that I had been embarrassing her with the florid prose.

      [AUDIO] “You don’t understand,” she explained. “Sometimes you feel down about whatever happens to you, and you go to where these total strangers, who don’t even know you, say the most beautiful things, and you’re just, ‘Wow.’ It really, really helps, sometimes. It’s not always easy.”

      This was the first—but not the last—indication I had that while Kelsey displays tremendous confidence and self-assurance in her modelling work, she does have a vulnerable side. I was deeply touched by this, and gratified to hear her words.

Modelling for Igigi, Spring 2007

      We were now by the castle, and I invited Kelsey to have a seat at the tables. Although the park was very crowded, this section was relatively quiet, as if it had been set aside just for us.

      “I was thinking that we could have a seat here, because…well, look at that,” I enjoined, indicating the castle right behind us. Its turrets and towers framed Kelsey’s beauty, confirming her identity as a princess in her realm.

      “Okay. Perfect,” she said with a smile. “Very fitting. Anyway, your site is amazing,” she reaffirmed, returning to the earlier topic. “I remember when I first got into plus-size modelling, Tami Nehrer said, ‘Oh, you have to check out this site, Judgment of Paris. This man, he writes the most beautiful things about these women.’ I had no idea going into it. I knew some people, like Mia Tyler, Barbara. But I didn’t realize how large the world of plus-size was.”

      “It’s interesting that you should say that,” I ventured, “because from the beginning, your images attracted special consideration. I don’t know if you were aware of this, but the very first day that your pictures appeared on any agency Web site—which was Wilhelmina L.A.’s—I put up a post about you. I’ve never done that before or since for any other model.”

      “I’m surprised at some of the pictures that get posted,” she mentioned. “I wonder, ‘How did you get those?’”

      “Well, I’m very fortunate to have a group of avid readers who share any new images that they find—particularly yours, because, as you might have noticed, you’re very popular.”

      “Oh,” she said, grinning.

      “They gladly post your work. And it’s always a big event: ‘Oh, my God, I found some new Kelsey pictures.’”

Test photograph by Maria Rangel

      She laughed merrily—but I wasn’t sure whether it was at my comment, or the fact that, as I was pulling out my notes for the interview, she saw the Mapquest printouts that I had used to navigate from the airport to the Mission Inn, and then to Disneyland.

      “Oh, yes,” I acknowledged. “That’s how I found my way here—Mapquest—because I don’t know the area.”

      “L.A.’s very big, very large,” she remarked.

      “Yes, it’s quite expansive. It may not have more people than New York, but it’s spread over a much larger area. And I still can’t believe the climate. I mean, this is…”

      “Isn’t it lovely?” she beamed.

      “Yes, this is perfect.”

      “It’s so cold in Seattle,” she observed. I refrained from pointing out that if she thought Seattle was chilly, she would have considered Canada an Antarctic ice shelf.

      I outlined the plan for the interview: a bit about modelling, a section about her own personality, a few conceptual questions about size celebration, and then a discussion of some of her images. “And please don’t hesitate to admit how beautiful you are,” I proposed.

      “Oh, gosh,” she laughed. “Oh, no. That will never happen.”

      I didn’t know what to say.

      “But we’ll get into that later,” she appended.

      “Okay, we have to begin with two crucial, preliminary questions. Would you ever betray the cause of size celebration by appearing in a diet ad, a weight-loss TV show, or some other media propaganda vehicle designed to make women feel bad about their appearance and to brainwash them into losing weight?”

      “No,” she replied immediately, and asked me, “I don’t know if you noticed, on the way over here, the billboards for—” (Here she named a particularly barbaric, body-disfiguring diminishment procedure.) “Did you see any of that?”

Modelling for Fashion Bug, spring 2007

      “My mind blocks them out,” I claimed.

      “That’s good. That’s really good. But I don’t,” she stated with considerable gravity. “I was driving from Orange County into Pasadena last night and I must have seen 25 of them. [AUDIO] I don’t think I could do something like that. I don’t feel that I, if I was a young person having role models, would want someone I looked up to to be doing something like that. It wouldn’t make me feel like I was doing something right, you know?”

      I was tremendously impressed by her answer and by the conviction behind it. Modest as she was, she did consider her influence over the young girls who looked up to her, and felt responsible for setting a good example.

      “Here’s a tougher one,” I began. “Would you ever betray the cause by diminishing yourself into a smaller size?” Without waiting for her response I whispered, “Please say no. Please say no.”

      She laughed—and Kelsey’s laugh is possibly the most life-affirming sound that anyone has ever heard. She laughs with her whole being, yet the sound is sweet and melodious.

      “What? What was that? Who said that” I exclaimed in mock surprise, looking left and right, as if my whispered entreaties had come from a foreign source.

      “I’ve been asked many times by my agents to lose weight.”

      I growled. “A pox on all their houses.” Yet again I was confronting the appalling scenario of agencies trying to diminish a plus-size model’s beauty and reduce her subversive impact. This despite the fact that the public continually asks for fuller-figured models.

      “But I never have,” she added.

      “God bless you,” I commended her with the greatest earnestness. “It was so worth coming to California to meet you.”

Editorial layout in ''Teen Prom'' magazine, 2007 issue

      She laughed again. Feeble as my humour was, Kelsey very kindly allowed me to feel like I was charming her. Again it occurred to me how thoughtful she was, and how wonderful it was to be in her presence.

      “That’s a struggle that I’ve had to overcome my whole life,” she confided.

      “You have?”

      “Oh, yeah. I mean, every girl has insecurities, and I do too,” she admitted. “Straight up.”

      “You could never tell from your pictures.”

      “Oh. Well, thank you—very much. And that’s something I’ve tried… I just want to be positive and project that positivity, so other people would pick that up.”

      Again, her response indicated how conscious she was of setting a good example. But the very frank references to her insecurities astounded me. I couldn’t understand how this heavenly beauty could ever have thought of herself as less than perfect.

      “Okay, so let’s go back to the beginning of your career. You once said that you wanted to model since you were 13. Were you already thinking of plus-size modelling at the time, or were you thinking of straight-size modelling?”

      “Oh, no. I was always plus,” she mentioned. Somehow, this pleased me.

      “I was 13, and it was right when V-Girls was out for Lane Bryant,” she proceeded to explain. “And there was a modelling contest going on, but you had to be 18 to apply, so I told my mom that when I was 18 I wanted to be a plus-size model. And luckily enough, I met Tami Nehrer through my aunt Beth, and she introduced me to Carol at C.E.D. She was my first agent. And then from there I went to Wilhelmina.”

Editorial layout in ''Figure'' magazine, May/June 2007

      The sun was streaming towards us, bathing Kelsey in a golden light. It was as if heaven itself were illuminating her in the manner in which angels are lit in Old Master paintings. Beautiful as the effect was, though, it occurred to me that it might be uncomfortable for Kelsey to be in the sunlight, and I asked her if she wished to turn.

      “Oh, I’m good,” she noted, characteristically adding, “Are you good?”

      “Are you kidding? I’m ecstatic! I’m going to wake up tomorrow and this will all have been a dream. This will not have happened.”

      “No, it’s real,” she assured me, with a laugh. “It’s real.”

      “What prompted you to think of modelling?” I inquired. “What was it about modelling that drew your interest?”

      “I didn’t know there was plus-size modelling before I’d seen the V-Girls,” she recalled. “Well, Emme was doing a television show at that time. She was the first plus-size model I ever saw. I thought, ‘Wow, that’s amazing.’ But for juniors, there’s not really a lot of plus-size stuff. I think it’s aimed a little bit more towards…the more mature woman.”

      “Say it,” I egged her on. “Old women!”

      “No! No!” she emphasized. “They’re not—”

      “That’s one of the reasons why the careers of younger models like yourself are so exciting,” I elaborated. “Because you bring a degree of youth that is otherwise lacking.”

      “But with Torrid it’s coming around, I think.”

Test photograph by Maria Rangel

      While she said this, she plunged her hand into her tresses and flipped them over in a breathtaking manner. Her locks spilled loosely through her fingers and tumbled over her shoulders in a golden cascade. I was awestruck, dazzled, yet she seemed oblivious to the motion, as if she had done it absent-mindedly, without thinking. In no way did I detect any affectation in the gesture, yet it was the most captivating and feminine movement I had ever seen. It was a sight that I would be treated to numerous times over the course of the day, and in each instance, it stopped my heart.

      I refocussed on my questions.

      “Your first test images, which were posted at Wilhelmina L.A., caused an absolute sensation. As I said earlier, I posted about you the very same day that those photos first appeared online, so the Judgment of Paris has literally been following you since day one. As a matter of fact, let me show you,” I offered, and pulled out a printed copy of the first-ever Kelsey post that had appeared on the forum.

      “Wow. You have them.”

      “February 8th, 2005,” I relayed, and quoted a few passages from the post: “The debut of just such a talent…” “Angel descended from heaven…”

      Readings these words in front of her made me feel self-conscious, so I asked her, “Do you get sick of that effusive praise?”

      “It’s just, like, ‘Oh, wow, I can’t believe someone thinks that about me,’” she answered. “No, it’s so flattering.”

      Her kindness was unbounded.

      “Maria Rangel is fantastic,” she stated, deflecting the praise away from herself and toward the photographer.

      “Indeed, I was just going to ask who took those pictures.”

Test photograph by Maria Rangel

      “She has such a creative mind. She does the majority of hair and makeup. This was in Venice [California] and Corona del Mar.”

      “This is all part of the same first test?” I was amazed that a single shooting session could have yielded so many masterpieces.

      “Yeah. She was so generous with me. Because I had no idea what I was doing. Like, you think you have an idea of what modelling—”

      “Oh, yes you did,” I corrected her. “In the midst of all of this verbiage (‘perfect plus-size model,’ ‘peaches-and-cream complexion’ ), that’s one of the things that I wrote: ‘One can say without hesitation that this is as successful a first test as we have seen from any plus-size model.’ Because this was your first test, wasn’t it?”

      “Yeah, yeah.”

      “I still to this day can’t believe how accomplished these images are.”

      “I was just so scared,” Kelsey recollected. “Maria really guided me. She had some assistants and makeup people there, and everyone was just really relaxed and helped me. I think that’s the most important part, when you’re shooting, is just to be completely comfortable. I mean, as much as you can be. Just be confident, and just go, and let it flow, and absorb everyone else’s energy, and have a good time. If you’re not having fun, then what’s the point? Especially on a test shoot, when you’re paying for it, you know? At least have a good time.”

      Her words were very insightful. I thought of how much they could benefit other young curvy girls who might feel self-conscious in front of a camera.

      “That’s a wonderful philosophy,” I stated, then asked who did the wardrobe styling for the test, since the feminine fashions had perfectly set off her girlish beauty. She told me that she had done it herself, with her mother’s help. I inquired if she ever dressed like that in real life.

Test photograph by Maria Rangel

      “Sometimes,” she granted. “The bold colours and stuff like that. Yeah.”

      “It’s such a look,” I commented enthusiastically, and she agreed, saying, “It’s really pretty.”

      I pointed out how much of a natural she was, to have modelled so well during her very first test shoot, and asked if she’d had any formal training. She shook her head.

      “No? Never took a course?”

      “No. When I went to college, I was a theatre-arts major, so I don’t know if that necessarily helped with posing and stuff.”

      “Do you think it did?”

      “I think it helped a little with being body-conscious and knowing where my strong points are, and working that,” she reasoned. “But I mean, all you do is practice. As silly as it sounds, you need to know what your angles are.”

      More excellent advice for aspiring models. “Do you ever practice in the mirror?”

      “Oh, yeah. And I’m a camera whore,” she said with a chuckle. “I’m always taking pictures with my friends. So, yeah, always practicing.”

      Here I had to stop her. “That video would sell a million copies. There’s Kelsey Olson, and she’s posing in the mirror, admiring herself. I don’t think I could survive seeing that,” I raved. “That would be the way to die.”

      “That’s so funny.”

      “What have been your favourite shoots, or your favourite images?”

Promotional video for Heffner Management; click to view

      “Hold on. I need a minute,” she requested, ruminating over her modelling experiences. “Favourite shoot would have to be working with Torrid’s team, because I feel like they were the ones who helped boost my career. I think that’s when I really developed as a model, because they were the ones who coached me through. Especially for catalogue. It’s very, like, ‘Pose!’ and stuff like that. But then when we went and did campaigns, their attitude changed to, ‘Oh, now it’s fun.’ And they were a big part of me becoming…whatever.”

      It was so characteristic of Kelsey that she couldn’t bring herself to say, “Becoming a great model.” Her modesty wasn’t just an affect. She was more genuinely humble than any other model I had ever met.

      “What about your all-time favourite picture? If you had to choose one photograph to take with you to the grave…”

      She chuckled at that. A little more and I’d have believed that I was actually entertaining her. “I don’t know. It just depends,” she decided—and then added something that made my ears prick up: “They’re all really pretty. That’s what I think I like so much about modelling—because I love photography, so it’s a nice…”

      What was this? Had I just heard Kelsey give her work a compliment, saying that all of her images were “really pretty”?

      “I loved hearing that,” I told her. “Hearing you say that all of your pictures are really pretty.”

      “No, no, no, no!” she jumped in. “I meant…! That’s not what I… That’s not what I meant! I mean, like, the picture…”

Test photograph by Stanley Debas

      “You do know that I’m going to single out that quote when I format the interview, don’t you?”

      “No, don’t do that! Don’t do that!” She had to make sure that not even a trace of conceit could be deduced from her words.

      “All of my pictures are really pretty…” I spelled out slowly, as if transcribing her statement.

      “No, that’s not what I—”

      “All of them,” I repeated.

      “No, I… Oh, my gosh. That’s really horrible. I didn’t mean it like that.”

      “But you should,” I exhorted her.

      “No, I just like the teamwork of it.”

      “Yes, it’s all coming together,” I uttered in a mock-Machiavellian voice.

      Kelsey chuckled. “Oh, man.” But I could tell that she knew that I was just kidding with her.

      “You’ve made some significant agency moves over the course of your career. You began, it turns out, with C.E.D., then moved to Wilhelmina L.A., then to L.A. Models, then to Dorothy Combs and Heffner—the two agencies that currently represent you,” I enumerated. “What prompted these moves?”

      “Okay, I’m obviously not going to name names,” she began, after I reminded her that she needn’t answer the question if she didn’t wish to. “I just think that sometimes you just do better with other people.”

Modelling for Torrid, winter 2007

      “And did you notice a difference in quality or quantity of work with different agents?”

      “Yeah. I did. It was interesting about one of them. I thought I was doing well, and then there was an agent move. That’s fine. Dorothy Combs is a fantastic agent. She works really hard. And you know her board. She has the most beautiful women.”

      “From the beginning of your career, fans have loved the fact that you are genuinely full-figured,” I began, then stopped for a moment, as again it occurred to me that what sounds good on paper might be off-putting in person. “I hope you don’t mind being called that.”

      “No, it’s fine,” Kelsey accepted very graciously. “I think it’s really funny. But it’s nice.”

      I continued reading: “And especially, that you have—”

      (I broke off and warned her: “It gets worse.”

      “Oh, great,” she lamented with a mock eye roll.)

      “—that you have a soft, natural physique rather than an androgynously toned one. Have you ever been pressured to change your look, and how have you (commendably) resisted such foolish pressure?”

      “Yeah,” she answered to my dismay. “I’ve heard that a lot of German clients like smaller girls, which is so weird to me. But I feel that my agents, purely from a monetary standpoint, [believe] if I want more work, that I should be a smaller size…”

      She halted, seeing my look of utter horror.

      “But I obviously didn’t,” she quickly mollified me, laughing at the aghast look on my face.

      “It would be like carving a piece out of the castle,” I admonished, indicating Sleeping Beauty’s Castle right beside us. “Please don’t do it. What will it will take to prevent that from happening?”

Modelling for Torrid, Valentine's 2009; photograph by Michael Anthony Hermogeno

      “Just recently, I told my agent, just put me at the size I am, on the board. These are my measurements, and that’s what I am,” Kelsey recounted. “Because I just feel this overwhelming pressure… You know what I’m saying? I kind of have issues with self… I don’t feel like I need to…” she trailed off. This was obviously a very sensitive subject for her, which turned my emotions inside out, for if there was any model who deserved to feel that her figure was perfect, it was Kelsey. Her figure is perfect.

      Imagining a conversation with her agents that she wished to have, Kelsey asserted, “Stop nagging me about it. I understand where you’re coming from, but I still book jobs. Not as much, but I still book them.”

      “And those jobs matter so much more,” I encouraged her. “One picture that you create, the way that you look, is worth any number of campaigns from a smaller model.”

      I thought of how disappointed the public continually was with the industry’s faux-plus girls, and how they kept asking for fuller-figured representatives. Here was an ideal example of a genuinely full-figured and gorgeous model, right before me, so it seemed appalling that anyone in the industry could try to ruin her look.

      “That’s why your work matters so much. It’s not just a job,” I elucidated. “The skinny girls who work for those German clients, they’ll do hundreds of shoots a year, but those pictures will all disappear and be forgotten. But your work will live on, like…like that castle,” I compared, again indicating Disney’s Neuschwanstein-inspired masterpiece. “It’s eternal.”

      Kelsey laughed at my intensity. “Oh, wow,” she joked. “No, thank you so much.”

      “So don’t ruin the masterpiece.”

      “I’m not. I’m not,” she promised, possibly just to mollify me. “No. No plans of doing anything.”

      I switched to a different topic. “Although sometimes you appear tanned, you’re admired for your fair skin tone. How do you remain fair-skinned in sunny California?”

Modelling for Igigi, spring 2007

      “I don’t know. I usually tan.”

      “Do you?” This was thankfully not apparent in her images.

      “I mean, not now, when I live up north. There’s no sun anymore. None at all,” she described, with the genuine amazement of someone who had grown up in the California sunshine. “And that’s funny because I always thought, ‘Oh, you should be tanned for pictures.’ No. No, you should maintain the same complexion all year.”

      More excellent advice for young models. Heartened by this answer, I followed up with, “Do you think that you looked prettier tanned, or fair?”

      “I feel like my skin improves when I tan.” Seeing my disappointment, she added, “But that’s just a summer thing. It’s a California thing.”

      “That touches on one of the themes of this chat,” I noted. “On the one hand, you live in the modern world, and you have modern inclinations. To be tanned is the modern look. But on the other hand, you were born with this timeless beauty, and I’ve always wondered how one factor intersects with the other. But anyway, I’ll tell you something in confidence.”


      “The answer to that question is, you look better fair.”

      “Okay,” she said, laughing.

      I returned to my question list and began reading the next entry. “If there is a signature Kelsey Olson look—”

      “Oh, God,” she interrupted me in mock exasperation. I reminded her with a smile of my prior warning that the effusive admiration would only get worse.

      “If there is a signature Kelsey Olson look, it’s your gaze of vulnerability. How did you develop that? What goes through your mind as you generate those expressions? Because there’s no other model who does those looks as effectively as you do.”

Test photograph by Maria Rangel

      I showed her a famous image of this type.

      “I don’t know. It’s kind of like in the theatre—well, theatre has it a little bit bigger—but you put yourself in the situation and what you feel like when someone is really thinking about something, that’s when you see it.”

      “What many people derive from these images is a compelling sensation of the model entreating, ‘Protect me,’” I specified. “And it’s so charming. It’s irresistible.”

      “Aw, thank you.”

      “It’s very different from what one generally sees in modelling today, which is hard—”

      “Hard,” Kelsey echoed.

      “—aggressive looks,” I went on. “This is such a refreshing change from that approach.”

      “Yeah. I think it is. It’s soft, and… It’s a pretty picture.”

      I sighed, which amused her. This was the closest that Kelsey would come to acknowledging the beauty of her art.

      At this point, something about Sleeping Beauty’s Castle caught her eye, and she mentioned, “It’s so pretty at night when they light it up.”

      “They light it up?”

      “Oh, yeah. At night, everything is surrounded by Christmas lights. It looks like icicles. It’s very beautiful.”


      “This is so generous of you,” I was compelled to utter, enraptured by her lovely description. She felt about this place just as I did—more, even, because it had been a part of her youth.

      “Yeah! This is so great. I literally cannot believe that you flew a day before Christmas…”

      “Originally, I was thinking, ‘What’s the best way to propose this as a location so that I don’t seem crazy?’ I thought about claiming that I was just coming for Disneyland, and asking if you would care to be interviewed while I was here. But then I thought, ‘No, she’s won’t buy it.’”

      “No,” she attested with a laugh.

      “I have to admit, I came to interview you, and Disneyland is merely the accessory.”

      “I can’t believe that,” she repeated. “Wow, thank you.”

      “It’s my pleasure,” I rhapsodized, delighted that she didn’t mind my flights of fancy. “Later on in your career, you developed more confident, Look-at-me-I’m-so-gorgeous-and-don’t-you-know-it expressions.’”

Test photograph by Leslie Delano

      “Oh, did I?” She felt comfortable enough with me to tease me a little.

      “Did these reflect a boost in your self-esteem as your career continued?”

      “Definitely,” she assented. “Definitely. Because I think when you become more confident, you’re more willing to experiment, and I know that with Torrid you can see it—the transition. Yeah. That’s definitely what it was. It’s just being more confident.”

      “So you do feel that your work, your craft, has improved over time?”

      “Oh, I hope so,” she laughed. It was another characteristic Kelsey answer—responding to a question that seemed to require an expression of vanity with a comment that contained no ego at all.

      “Well, you were exceptionally good right from the beginning, as I said earlier.”

      “No, definitely I feel that it has. I hope it has,” she qualified.

      “Do you ever have moments when you look at one of your pictures and think, ‘Wow, I look good.’”


      “You do?”

      “Yeah. I mean, ‘Wow, I look really nice—all the elements aligned.’ That’s what I was saying earlier (‘Oh, they’re all really pretty’), with the lighting, and the angle, and it’s just a really beautiful picture—minus that it’s me. It’s almost like a removed thing: ‘Oh, okay, that’s really nice.’ But, yeah, it’s nice to see a good picture of yourself.”

Test photograph by Stanley Debas

      She was still deflecting the focus away from her own talent, but was at least acknowledging the quality of her work, which delighted me. “Well, I’ll tell you a little secret,” I proposed. “It really is you who is responsible for the beauty in your shots. And do you know how I know that? Because when you take Polaroids, they turn out to be just as good as the best editorial work that any other plus-size model has done.”

      “Aw, thanks.” she expressed humbly.

      “What prompts you to choose whether to project vulnerability, or happiness, or sexiness when you’re modelling? Is there a cue from the photographer, or do you decide your demeanour on your own?”

      [AUDIO] “Usually the photographer, or whoever the art director is, they’ll give you a general idea,” she delineated, and offered an example: “‘Oh, this is more edgy.’ And then you go for sexy stuff. And then you think, what would you do if the photographer were someone that you were trying to attract? And why are you trying to attract them? Is it a sexual thing, or is it just, ‘Oh, I need you.’ You know what I mean? There are different elements.”

      I was fascinated. Like a method actress, Kelsey added an extra layer of depth to her work by envisioning a narrative scenario, a rationale for her expressions.

      “I think it makes it a little bit more fun too,” she continued. “Some of the catalogue stuff, you’re just, ‘Bleah, okay. Yes, look at this horrible shirt.’”

      We both got a big laugh out of that. Her deadpan comment acknowledged the less-than-impressive quality of some of the wardrobe that plus-size models are required to showcase.

      “Kelsey trashes plus-size industry,” I mock-whispered into the audio recorder.


      “No!” she interjected. “You cannot say that!”

      “The truth is that no one has yet made the dress that is good enough for you to wear,” I professed, suggesting a vain state of mind that was actually the opposite of Kelsey’s own.

      “No, no,” she insisted, then returned to the original question. “But yeah, you make it more fun, and I think it’s more believable.”

      “That’s an interesting approach—the idea that you’re thinking about why you’re trying to attract the specific person, what the story behind the image might be,” I said, referring to her earlier explanation of her modelling technique. “Do you take that from your acting background?”

      “Yeah, I try to incorporate that. Like I said, it’s more fun.”

      This provided a segue into an aspect of her modelling work that explicitly required her to portray different characters. “You’ve done many costume campaigns,” I began.

      She burst into laughter at the very mention of the genre.

Modelling for California Costumes/Costume Craze, Hallowe'en 2008

      “Well, you have,” I pointed out.

      “They’re so funny.”

      “Four Hallowe’en shoots for Torrid.”

      “Four for Torrid?” she repeated, seemingly surprised.

      “Yes,” I noted. “One per year for four years.”


      “And then the series for California Costumes and Costume Craze.”

      “Theirs are the nicer, more expensive costumes. Those are great! Those are really fun,” she professed, with obvious delight.

      “What do you enjoy about doing those kinds of shoots?”

      “The photographer that I’ve shot with for those—not for Torrid, but the other company—he works with children, so if it’s Cinderella, he’ll put on classical, waltzy music, so it’s really fun,” she reminisced. “And he’s a really animated guy, and he’s super funny. That kind of stuff, it’s very, very mellow, and it’s more fun, and you can see it in the photos. It’s super easy.”

      I formed a mental image of Kelsey swaying in time to waltz music in a princess-like gown. I could hardly imagine a lovelier vision.

      “You always manage to be entertaining in those, but you never go over the top into caricature. How do you achieve that balance? Because other models, I have to say, sometimes—”

      “It’s too much,” Kelsey completed the thought. “That’s exactly it. It’s too much. It’s a costume. We get it, you know? You’re Little Miss Muffet. You still play with it, but it’s not…”

      “And I love the fact that in some of those images, you play against type,” I volunteered. “It’s not just a Little Red Riding Hood. It’s a very naughty Red Riding Hood.”

Modelling for California Costumes/Costume Craze, Hallowe'en 2008

      Kelsey laughed. “Well, that was a sexy outfit, so that’s the direction they wanted.”

      It was a very professional answer, and no doubt true, but I’d often wondered whether being in character brought out certain aspects of her personality that she otherwise kept hidden. I tried a different tack.

      “Which costumes do you enjoy the most?”

      “The last shoot that I did for Torrid,” she answered immediately. “They created a booklet, and it was all done with a male model. That was just so much fun because it’s usually all for catalogues or packaging, while this was an actual—”

      “It was like a magazine editorial,” I suggested.

      “Yes, exactly. So that was super fun. And they always put me in, like, the fair ones, like Alice, or Cinderella.”

      “But you know why.”

      “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” she confessed with a laugh. “Yeah. Not the vixeny… But those are fun. It’s all good.”

      Still, I got the sense that she would have enjoyed modelling some of the vixeny costumes too. A wild streak waiting to be unleashed? Perhaps.

      “You said earlier that when you were young, you loved the film Sleeping Beauty and would watch it with your dad. Are you living out that fantasy when you model a Princess Aurora outfit?”

      “Did you see the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ editorial by Jason Vrolijk in Inspire Magazine? He did a whole thing about couture, and I was Sleeping Beauty.”

      “Certainly I saw that,” I commented with a smile. “That’s one of the reasons why we’re here. Was that image your idea or his?”

Editorial in ''Inspire'' magazine; photograph by Jason Vrolijk

      “I had said, ‘Oh, I’d love to be a part of it,’” she recounted. “He said, ‘We have Sleeping Beauty. That would be great.’ I was, like, ‘Uh, yeah. Super cool.’”

      “Born for the role,” I observed. “Type casting.”

      “That was the best. Kind of like a childhood thing. It was a lot of fun, and I was really honoured that he picked me for that, so it was cool. Yeah, I really enjoyed it.”

      “Some people have likened the prettier costumes that you wear to Lolita fashion, with the bows and the ribbons and so forth. Could you ever see yourself wearing Lolita styles in your daily attire?” I inquired. “Or do you think that it would be too much for you to, say, put a bow in your hair?”

      “No, it wouldn’t be. I’m all about exploring different fashions,” Kelsey shared. “I’m very simple. But, I mean, why not? I don’t know if I could go to the extreme of the Lolita look.”

      “Right. There’s a point where it becomes costume.”

      “I mean, I think it’s great,” she admired. “You go on these Web sites and you see all these little girls, and they’re super cute, and they put so much time into it…”

      “They do.” So Kelsey was aware of Lolita fashion—so much so that she had actually visited Lolita-related sites. It was a delightful discovery. Moreover, she respected the craft and the attractiveness of the look. Once again I noted her ardent appreciation of beauty, her keen aesthetic sense.

      “I mean, I take a long time to get ready, but that would take me—”

      “Do you?” I interrupted her, somewhat surprised. “Don’t you just tumble out of bed looking like that?”

Test photograph by Leslie Delano

      “Oh, you’re sweet,” she said, a bit bashfully.

      “I bet you do.”


      “I bet you do,” I reiterated.

      “Oh, no,” she said with a chuckle. “No. No, getting ready is ‘my time.’ Some people meditate or go jogging; I get ready.”

      I was honoured by this disclosure. It felt somewhat intimate.

      “You just kind of relax and do your thing,” she elaborated. “But no, I take a while.”

      “In front of your mirror.”

      “Exactly,” she testified, smiling, knowing where my thoughts were taking me.

      “Because you can’t tear yourself away from it.”

      “Right.” Playing along, she added the most exciting statement of the entire afternoon. “Yeah, it’s just soooo amazing. I say, ‘God, you are fantastic, Kelsey. Really.’” She paused, then added for effect, “And then I kiss the mirror and I leave.” [AUDIO]

      I gasped, and whispered, “Oh, my God.”

      “No!” she said with a laugh. “I’m kidding.”

      “You have been reading my site,” I emoted, shaking my head in wonder. “You know everything about me.”

Modelling for Torrid, Hallowe'en 2009; photograph by Shannon Brooke

      Kelsey laughed heartily and clapped. She knew that she had just described one of my most cherished fantasies.

      “So, yeah. But I’d definitely wear a bow,” she granted, adding, “Why not?”

      I still hadn’t fully recovered, though. The image of Kelsey kissing her reflection in the mirror wouldn’t leave my mind.

      “See, you joke about that, but don’t think that I haven’t had dreams…” Then I cut myself off, prompting more laughter on her part.

      “Okay, let me try to find my place,” I rambled, looking through my notes, trying to refocus. “You once mentioned your desire to work with Annie Leibovitz.”

      Kelsey drew a breath before responding. “Oh, my gosh.”

      “Did you know that she once shot a Disney-inspired fairy-tale editorial?”

      “Yeah, she just did that,” Kelsey stated, indicating her awareness of the photographer’s work.

      “Could you see yourself appearing in something like that?”

      “I wish,” she fantasized. “She’s so brilliant in everything she does. Her range is so fantastic. She’ll do something really raw, but then she does these fantastic Disney things. It was great. I thought it was amazing stuff for Disney, especially with the media nowadays, when celebrities are these…gods, you know? It was still really, really beautiful. I remember seeing Scarlett Johansson in it, whom I love. I think she’s wonderful.”

      “You’re the second model who has praised Scarlett Johannson to me.”

      “I think she’s so attractive.”

Test photograph by Maria Rangel

      “And it’s true that she doesn’t completely embody the modern look,” I remarked. “She has a little bit of a—”

      “Little bit. Yeah, yeah. She’s petite, but she’s very pretty to look at. And she works with all of these amazing people, Woody Allen and what not, so…”

      “But to me, when I hear someone like you praising Scarlett Johansson, it’s like…Beethoven praising a mere guitarist.”

      “What?” she asked with a laugh.

      “The praise should be going in the other direction.”

      “You’re so… No,” she resisted, her modesty coming out again.

      “She’s the one who should be admiring you.”

      “Do you write these things down?” Kelsey asked of my penchant for giving compliments.

      The irony of her question hit us both at once.

      “As a matter of fact, I do,” I pointed out, gleefully holding up the printout of my first Kelsey-related forum post.

      “Yes,” she acknowledged, laughing.

      “It’s funny you should say that,” I proceeded, as if explaining something that she didn’t know, “because it just so happens that I have a whole Web site where I write things like that—”

      “—all the time,” we finished in unison.

      It was one of the funniest moments in an afternoon of good humour.

      “Okay, what would be your ideal photoshoot in terms of setting, theme, and wardrobe?”

Editorial layout in ''Figure'' magazine, November/December 2008

      “I guess fairytale-esque would be nice, a really beautiful gown,” Kelsey mused. “Something that Annie would do. Did you see the Snow White photo with Rachel Weisz? It was just so vibrant. Everything was so lush. It was such an amazing photograph. Every aspect of it was so wonderful to look at.”

      Turning from poetry to prose, I reminded her, “You appeared in at least three editorial layouts for Figure magazine—a publication whose demise was much lamented, if only because you were in it. What was it like working for them?”

      “Oh, they were so, so, so much fun,” Kelsey recollected fondly. “Yeah, just very relaxed, and I really liked their concepts. Especially the day-and-night look. I was really proud of those pictures.”

      “They were stunning.”

      “They were really, really beautiful,” she consented. It was a pleasure to hear her finally giving her own work the praise that it deserved.

      “One of your editorials was also photographed on a schooner on the open water,” I prompted her. “Where was that shot?”

      “That was in Miami. That was amazing.”

      “They flew you to Miami?”

      “Yeah. That was really, really amazing,” she said in a dreamy manner. “And it was this 1962 sailboat. They don’t even make boats like that anymore. We got to go out… I am horrified of sea creatures and sharks, so I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ And it was summer, and they come there, and they mate, and it was just… That was so much fun. I’ve never really gotten to do something like that. It was kind of like a vacation but with someone taking pictures. And Miami, it’s really beautiful there. You see why people live there. And it’s hot. It was just hot. It’s so beautiful. It’s so lush there.”

Editorial layout in ''Figure'' magazine, May/June 2007

      I felt like I was falling under a spell as she recounted the experience. I could easily imagine her in such a warm, idyllic climate, an earthly paradise made all the lovelier by her presence.

      “Have you ever travelled to any exotic locations in your career?”

      “Just New York,” she related. “I’ve never been outside the United States with respect to modelling, unfortunately. I would die to go to Europe. Oh, my God. I cannot wait. I would die.”

      “You would love that?”

      “I can’t wait. I’d like to move to New York and then get myself established there. But I want to go to Europe so badly. I just want to be completely submerged in things I don’t know,” she said with a laugh. “Smells and food and language and culture. I cannot wait. I can’t wait. One day.”

      “It would be quite a thing to take you on a tour of Neuschwanstein Castle,” I blurted out.

      “Sign me up.”

      “Don’t say that,” I cautioned her. “It’s dangerous to say things like that to an obsessive person. It might actually happen. Remember, I came all the way out here, to this world of dreams, to meet you.”

      We exchanged a laugh. Kelsey tossed her golden hair in her characteristic manner.


      “And it really is, isn’t it? A world of dreams, I mean,” I rhapsodized. “But I wonder—the visitors who walk through here, do they glean something from this realm of beauty that they take with them into their daily lives?” I gestured towards the crowds crossing the drawbridge to the castle. “Do you think it leaves them a bit happier, even after they’ve left the park? Do they carry some of its beauty with them?”

      “Yeah, you hope so,” she said earnestly.

      “So if people can derive that sensation from these physical artefacts—the sight of a castle, for example—can they feel the same way when they view an image of ideal femininity?”

      “Oh, yeah. Yeah, I mean, when you see things that inspire you, they make you feel a certain way,” she conjectured. Knowing what my next assertion would be, and careful to avoid any hint of ego, she added, “I don’t know if I do that, but I’ve been touched by things I see, so definitely.”

      “You do, by the way.”

      “Oh, well, you’re just really nice,” she suggested, smiling.

Modelling for Torrid, summer 2008; photograph by Michael Anthony Hermogeno

      “You once mentioned not being especially fond of showcasing lingerie. Have you become more reconciled to that aspect of modelling?”

      “I think I’ve become more numb to it, definitely. Just, like, ‘Okay, let’s do this really fast,’” she deadpanned, which got both of us laughing. “I’ve met very few people who are comfortable being, you know, down to their knickers in front of a lot of people. But if it’s done tastefully, then sure. I’m not opposed to it.”

      “I like that attitude very much, actually. A touch of modesty,” I commended her. “Some models practically make careers of undressing, and at some point, one thinks, ‘For God’s sake, put some clothes on.’”

      Kelsey laughed.

      “Your catalogue shots do more to create a vision of ideal beauty than any nude editorial that just looks crude,” I declared. “Following up on that, though, will we ever see you do a swimwear test?”

      “Swimwear? I did a test last summer in a bathing suit.”

      My eyes extended past their sockets like those of a cartoon character. “You did?”

      “Yeah, I have some of them,” she replied, chuckling at my expression. “I’ll send you some. But they’re not anything…”

      “Have you heard of the Disney Vault, where they keep Disney films under lock and key, so that no one can see them? Well, it appears that there’s a Kelsey Olson Vault—one that contains your swimwear images.”

      “I hide the scary ones.”

Test photograph by Leslie Delano

      “You hide the best ones,” I corrected her.

      “No, it’s just a case where you send your test to your agent and then they pick what goes on their site. No, that was interesting. It was fun. I worked with Leslie Delano, and she was great. Yeah, that was a really nice test. I thought it was good.”

      “Well, if you ever feel like releasing those…” I entreated.

      “You will be the first one to see them. I promise. Yes, you will.”

      “You’re just saying that to be nice.”

      “No. I don’t usually do things like that.”

      “Be nice?”

      “Say things just to be nice,” she clarified, laughing. “Honestly, I will definitely send them to you.”

      It took four months, but eventually she did, and the results exceeded even my wildest expectations, and turned out to be the most gorgeous swimwear images that any model has ever created.

      “Who has been your favourite photographer to work with so far?”

Modelling for Torrid, Hallowe'en 2009; photograph by Shannon Brooke

      [AUDIO] “They’re all really great. I feel that on test shoots, you get to know them on a more personal level. Michael Hermogeno, he’s a friend. The whole Torrid team—they really helped me progress as a model. So he’s really fun. And when you get on a personal level with a photographer, then you’re comfortable, you’re flowing, you can talk, joke around. But as for a favourite, I don’t know. Maria Rangel was great. It’s hard. I don’t know.”

      I realized that I had put her on the spot, since she understandably didn’t wish to single anyone out, so I thought I’d lighten the mood. “What’s the strangest thing that has ever happened to you on a shoot?”

      She paused before replying.

      “I’m thinking of the secret things that happen, the pinning and all the prodding and all these little baby lies that happen. I remember going on one shoot,” she recollected. “And it was just a catalogue shoot. They had this pair of pants. I remember trying on these jeans and I said, ‘There’s no way ever in my life I would have fit into these pants—from infant till now.’ They were so small. They said, ‘Well, we have to shoot them.’ I thought, ‘Okay.’ So they cut the back off of it, and they taped it to my leg. So that was really interesting. Yeah, I think that was the strangest. I thought, ‘Wow, this is really important to you.’ Just little things like that. ‘I’m not a size 7! Those are size-7 pants.’ You know what I mean?”

      During this remembrance, Kelsey had been playing with her yellow scarf, draping it over herself. I asked if she were cold and mentioned that I had a jacket that she could put over her shoulders if she wished.

      “No, no, no, no. I’m just kind of nervous, still, so I’m playing with things,” she confided with a chuckle—which surprised me, as she seemed so easygoing and comfortable in our discussion.

      “As you stated earlier, you recently did a Hallowe’en shoot with a male model. What was that experience like? Some of the images were a bit intimate. Was there any embarrassment or nervousness on either of your parts? Or was it just amusing? Or wholly a professional experience?”

      “No, he was a very sweet guy,” Kelsey reflected. “I’m usually really good with names, but I don’t remember his.”

In-store poster for Target, spring 2010; photograph by Pamela Hanson

      “He’s never been the same since. He’s still dreaming of the experience.”

      “Yeah, right,” Kelsey commented sarcastically. She simply would not accept how rapturous her beauty was. “No, it was kind of fun. You have to put on this thing and say, ‘I don’t know you, but come here!’” she stated, making a pulling motion like a secretary drawing her boss toward her by his tie. “So it’s kind of intimidating, I guess. But he was really nice. And you just go with it and make light of it. The photographer was Shannon Brooke. She does pin-up stuff. She was super fantastic, and she was all about plus-size shooting. She’s a super-great lady.”

      “What exciting campaigns do you have coming up? You have Target in the spring, yes?”

      “I did that. Yeah, that was so much fun. That was two weeks ago. Heffner booked it for me,” Kelsey outlined. ”And so I got to come down, and they set me up in L.A. at the Sunset Marquis. It’s a really, really beautiful hotel. It was so awesome. My friend picked me up, so I got to hang out with him for a little while, and then I went to the job. It was for Merona for Target. Pamela Hanson was the photographer, who is absolutely brilliant. She is such a great photographer. I briefly talked to her. She said, ‘Oh, great job’—and that’s always nice to hear. I don’t know if she was serious or not. But that was fun. It should be out at springtime. We’ll see.”

      Kelsey’s modelling reminiscences had proven to be utterly fascinating. She had been remarkably forthcoming about her experiences, and had shared insights that were sure to captivate everyone from aspiring models to her many fans. However, the second portion of the interview would prove to be even more revealing, as she would candidly disclose many personal details about herself and address numerous challenging questions about art, beauty, and size celebration. As I was about to discover, not only did Kelsey physically resemble a storybook heroine renowned for her legendary beauty, but she also possessed all of the noble characteristics—from grace and intelligence to compassion and idealism—that distinguished fairy-tale princesses throughout history.

(Continue to Part II.)

Kelsey Olson Galleries: One · Two · Three · Four · Five · Six

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