A PROFILE OF KELSEY OLSON

A Dream of Beauty: A Profile of Kelsey Olson

Part II: Ideal of Tomorrow

Modelling for Alfred Angelo, 2009

by Heinrich Saint-Germain


(Continued from Part I.)

Throughout our discussion of her modelling career, Miss Olson had offered numerous tantalizing insights into her beliefs and principles, her dreams and aspirations. I was therefore eagerly looking forward to the next section of our chat, which focussed directly on her character.

      I began by asking the most obvious question: “How would you describe your personality?”

      “Loud, obnoxious…”

      We both laughed, but I wasn’t sure whether Kelsey found her observation humorous because she actually believed it of herself, or because it was the opposite of the truth. Based on the conversation that we’d had so far, those would have been the last words that I ever would have used to describe her. Although she was lively and animated, she was also well-mannered, gentle, and sweet.

      “No, I don’t know. See, this is always weird. The whole interview thing,” Kelsey admitted. “I don’t like talking about myself. It makes me uncomfortable.”

      “You’re in the wrong place,” I joked.

      “Yeah, I know! Exactly. I just don’t know what to say.”

      “I flew across country for this,” I scolded her humorously. “You are going to talk about yourself!”

Test photograph by Leslie Delano

      “I know! Sorry!” she apologized, laughing. “Um, I don’t know. My personality. I’m a Scorpio, so I’m very—“

      “Do you believe in that?”

      “I do. [AUDIO] [Scorpios] are the most stubborn. We’re very jealous. But we’re very…sexual. Not sexual, just sensual people.” Then she thought about the word for a moment. “Sexual? Yeah, okay. No getting around it. But if we’re there for you, we’re there for you. We take care of our own. But, yeah, jealousy. It really makes sense. I’m not a creepy jealous person. But I get jealous about things.”

      I found this fascinating. By describing the characteristics of Scoripos, Kelsey was actually speaking of her own disposition. It was easier for her to talk about herself in the third person, in this manner, than to directly delineate her character.

      “I feel like I’m a good friend, and I have a very close family,” she went on. “I’m very family-oriented. My family are my best friends, and my friends are part of my family. I’m a good friend.”

      Then she reiterated a previous observation which still seemed surprising. “I’m loud,” she claimed. “I’m usually the outgoing one. But I’m very mellow.”

      That mellow side, it occurred to me, was what made our conversation so easy and free and comfortable. I appreciated this very much about her, as much as I appreciated every other aspect of her character.

      “What sorts of books or movies do you enjoy?”

      “I love to read,” Kelsey avowed, much to my delight. “It’s kind of all over the place, really. I read all the Twilight. I just read an autobiography—”

      “You’ve read all the Twilight novels?” I broke in.

Test photograph by Leslie Delano

      “Oh, yeah. In, like four days. It’s really ridiculous.”

      “When you read the descriptions of Rosalie—”

      “Oh, stop,” she interjected, instinctivley knowing what tack I was going to take.

      “Did you not think that she was—?”

      “No. I didn’t,” Kelsey insisted. “But that’s—”

      “But of course you did. You must have. How could you not?”

      “I don’t know,” she claimed with a laugh.

      “When Meyer wrote that character, she was inspired by Rosalies from throughout literary history, and you embody everything that she had in mind.”

      “Well, I’m glad you thought of it like that,” she assented, and added with a grin, “Next time I read it, I’ll totally think of myself.”

      In truth, though, I recognized that while Kelsey fit the physical description of Rosalie, her personality was profoundly different. She had none of the negative qualities that resentful female writers invariably impart to their blonde goddesses. Rather, Kelsey’s kindness and good-heartedness, as well as her playful side and her easygoing manner, were her defining traits.

      “A lot of friends, too, we’ll cycle books. Like, ‘What are you reading right now?’ I want to read Lovely Bones before it comes out into theatres. Have you read it at all?”

      “No, I haven’t,” I confessed.

      “It’s supposed to be really intense. Movies? I don’t know. Indie films are great. I like those. But then the blockbusters and the romantics are good. I’m not a huge action person, but, you know, when you do see an action movie, you get pumped, totally into it,” Kelsey enthused. “Quentin Tarantino, love him. Baz Lurhmann, he is my absolute favourite director. I think anything he does is fantastic. I think his work is beautiful.”

Video for Torrid, Hallowe'en 2009

      “You were still in high school when you began modelling,” I noted. “How did your friends react to this? Was it a case of people introducing you as, ‘My friend the supermodel’?”

      “Yeah, right,” she scoffed, again dismissing any thought that someone could be deeply touched by her work. “No way.”

      “Yes way.”

      “I think I had just finished high school when I started. My close friends, they were really excited. And it’s really weird now when people… Because I don’t really tell people that I’m… I’m not very up front with it.”

      She was careful to avoid even suggesting that people might recognize her from her work. I pointed out to her that, by contrast, many models used their social-networking outlets as running advertisements for their careers.

      “That’s probably smart,” Kelsey speculated.

      “Well, here’s how I feel about it,” I offered. “On the one hand, it’s really useful to me, as a Webmaster, if a model keeps her info updated. But the public has an instinctive aversion to anyone who is too much of a self-promoter. There is something very classy about a model who lets her work speak for itself and doesn’t self-promote.

      “And that brings me to my next question,” I continued. “You’re very modest about your career. Looking at your Facebook page, no one would even know that you are a model. You don’t include your campaigns in your personal photos, for example.”

      “Sometimes,” she mentioned. “The ones I’m particularly… ‘That’s me. I did that.’”

Modelling for Alfred Angelo, 2009

      “You did put up one of your Alfred Angelo bridal pictures,” I stipulated.

      “Those are… That was so beautiful. That was done in the Hamptons. I was sweating. I’m sorry, that was gross, but…”

      I laughed at the unexpected comment.

      “Sorry, it was so hot there. That’s funny. All these behind-the-scenes…”

      I leaned toward the voice recorder and stated, with great emphasis, “Kelsey finally admitted that she’s hot.”

      “No, no.”

      “She just talked about how hot she is.”

      Now Kelsey leaned toward the recorder. “Wrong! Absolutely wrong.”

      “That’s going to be the another quote that gets bolded in the interview.”

      “My God,” she rejoined in mock horror, but with a tinge of genuien uneasiness. “But no, that was kind of fairy-tale, their whole idea. That was fantastic. It was shot at this really beautiful mansion. It was nice. But as for modelling, I don’t know. My friends are more of my publicists. They point out, ‘Oh, she does this.’ And I just feel that people kind of have a judgment on it. Their attitude is, ‘Oh, well, what have you done?’ Like I have to justify myself to them. And I don’t want to do that. ‘Oh, you want me to name all the people that I’ve worked for? Well, here they are.’ I don’t want to do that.”

      I could tell that this was a sore point for her—understandably so. If models engaged in this kind of snarky one-upsmanship, then I could well imagine Kelsey’s dislike for such pettiness. It spoke of something quietly dignified about her, something chic and ladylike, all the more because it was genuine and not a pretense.

Test photograph by Rick Day

      “What do you love best about the way you look?” I quizzed her, hoping to coax out some self-adoration. “A quality? A feature?”

      “I feel like I’m very expressive with this,” she indicated, making a circling motion around her face. “From when I was younger, being self-conscious about other parts of my body, I really focussed on my face, so I’m a little bit more comfortable…” She broke off with a chuckle and appended, “I don’t know if it’s good to admit that I’m self-conscious.”

      “No, it’s honest. It’s honest,” I assured her. “It’s astonishing, though, and I keep thinking, ‘How can you feel that way?’”

      “Thank you. But yeah, I focussed a lot on working on this part, as opposed to the rest of it, so there are things that I like. Like my eyes. They’re very expressive. And I like my mouth. It’s pretty.”

      “They are, by the way,” I sighed, marvelling again at those incredible eyes. “They’re so blue and so open.”

      “Yeah, they’re huge!” she beamed, laughing.

      “They are.” I was delighted that she was at least willing to praise certain features. “I’m drowning in them.”

      “Oh, you,” she said with a smile.

      “Are you mostly free of the self-consciousness of your youth?”

      “Um, yeah. Sometimes you want your jeans to fit when they don’t, but overall—”

Modelling for LucieLu, spring 2010; photograph by Leslie Delano

      “There’s a solution to that.” I submitted. “Buy a better size.”

      “Bigger size.”

      “Better size,” I emphasized.

      “Better. I like that.”

      “See? Terminology is important. I work very hard on my site to craft good terminology and to expunge the bad.”

      “You really do, though,” she said. Her kind words touched me deeply.

      “And there are a lot of negative words out there,” I lamented. “Many stock phrases falsely and misleadingly imply the superiorty of emaciation. But when one talks about a richer fullness as ‘improving beauty,’ ‘augmenting beauty,’ ‘enhancing beauty,’ it creates a positive avenue of thought. So that’s the way to think about it. A better size.”

      “A better size,” Kelsey absorbed. “It really is. And it’s nice, especially for the younger readers you have.”

      “Was there an incident that you can recall that made you realize how attractive you were? Was there a flashbulb moment, whether through modelling, or through something that happened in life?”

      “Yes,” she replied, and mentioned the case of a family friend named Meg. “Her husband wrote to me, and said that he had seen me on the Judgment of Paris—”

      “Ah, so someone is reading all of this.”

      [AUDIO] “Oh, yeah,” Kelsey affirmed. “I have another person who contacted me and said ‘Oh, I saw you at Judgment of Paris.’ A few girls did.” Then she returned to her story. “His wife had the same measurements as me, and she had always been really… She was more of a brainy person as opposed to a beauty. She was always super self-conscious. And he wrote to me and he wanted to say ‘Thank you’ because she saw that we had the exact same measurements, and that I was being successful with my body. So he wanted to thank me for sticking true to being a plus-size woman. And that, right there, that helped me. I felt like, ‘Wow, that’s really moving, that someone could feel good…’ Things like that really make me feel better about stuff that I have issues with.”

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

      “That’s a wonderful story,” I told her earnestly. “And just so you know, many people feel that way about your work and about what you do for them. Truly.”

      “Wow,” she uttered. I could tell that this really mattered to her. It revealed an altruistic side of her nature, the fact that she seemed so honoured and gratified about having a positive influence on others.

      “Do you think that your look has changed over time, or has it remained more or less consistent?”

      “I think I’ve grown into myself,” Kelsey gauged. “Matured a little bit. But I still look pretty young. As far as the pictures go, it’s just becoming more confident in myself, but I feel like they’ve gotten… I think they’re… I’m the same person.”

      How characteristic of Kelsey to stop herself short before admitting that her pictures had gotten better, though they surely had. Brilliant as they had been from the beginning, her skill had increased tenfold since then.

      I concurred with her assessment that her look had remained consistent. “Some models do alter their appearance over time,” I noted. “For example, one of Kailee’s signatures is changing—”

      “Her hair, yeah,” Kelsey finished for me.

      “Don’t. Ever. Do. That,” I urged her with all of the emphasis I could muster, prompting a laugh.

      “Not that you wouldn’t be gorgeous with any hair colour, but your princess-like blonde tresses… It’s amazing what you do with them.”

      “Thanks very much,” she accepted modestly. I was spellbound looking at her golden hair, and couldn’t collect my thoughts. Finally, I blurted out, “Okay, now we’re going to have five minutes where I just look at you, and—”

      “Ohhhh, my God.”

      “I’m kidding. I’m kidding,” I stressed—although the idea was very tempting, and if I could have gotten away with it, I would have.

Modelling for California Costumes/Costume Craze, Hallowe'en 2009

      “What’s your ethnic background?” I queried, still thinking of those flaxen tresses. “Olson sounds Anglo-Saxon, but your mother’s maiden name is Germanic, yes?”

      “Yeah, my dad’s side is Danish.”

      “Danish,” I exclaimed. So that was the secret to her Nordic look.

      “And then my mother’s side is German-Russian, so Catherine the Great, you know, the movement of the Germans to Russia.”

      “Yes!” The story of how Catherine the Great invited German settlers to come to Russia in the 18th century, where they lived for generations, was very well known to me, but I was impressed that Kelsey knew it too, and thrilled that she had such a fascinating lineage.

      “Yeah, that’s my family,” she informed me. “Escaped that war, and—”

      “That’s so exciting.”

      “Yeah, so it’s big Vikings and Germans and Russians, resulting in this big, white lady,” she said with a chuckle.

      “Oh, my goodness. That’s so fascinating. I couldn’t have created a better fiction than your reality. Did you script that in advance?”

      “Yes, I did,” she teased me, pretending to express a pre-interview plan: “He’s gonna love it.”

      “And your physical appearance confirms the tale, because you have such a Germanic look.”

      “Yeah. One of my very good friends, he’s from Denmark, and he’s very little. And the women on my dad’s side, they’re very small. And then my dad’s tall. It just all kind of blossomed from that,” she elucidated. “But it’s funny because to my dad’s relatives I say, ‘Oh, you’re Vikings. I’m you. But you’re so tiny.’ I don’t know. My aunts are very petite.”

      “I was going to ask, do curves run in the family, or is it just you?”

Personal photograph with sister and mother

      “Yeah. My mom’s very pretty. She’s little on top, but she has… And my sister’s… My grandma, my dad’s mother, is very…”

      It was intriguing to note that in describing these three close family members, all curvy, she couldn’t quite bring herself to call them “full-figured.” It was a mark of her respect for them, not to express anything that could even remotely be construed as negative (though no one would ever have taken her remarks that way).

      Since she had brought up her mother and her sister, I offered to tell her which image had been the specific catalyst for the interview.

      “It may surprise you,” I suggested. “It was actually just a snapshot showing the three of you. I think it was taken with a Web cam. It shows your mother on the side—”

      “And my sister and me.”

      “Your mother is in darkness. Your sister has some reflected light. And then there’s you—”

      “Bam!” Kelsey broke in, knowing exactly what I was thinking.

      “—with this explosion of blonde hair. It’s like you’re illuminating the whole room.”

      “Yeah, well, you know…” Kelsey mused, playfully adopting a superior tone that suggested, of course she was lit from within.

Modelling for LucieLu, spring 2010; photograph by Leslie Delano

      “And I thought, ‘Oh, my God, this is just a snapshot. This is how she looks for real. I have to see if it’s true,’” I told her. “That finally sent me over the edge into madness and ended up with me here in California.”

      “That’s so funny,” she remarked. She knew exactly which image I had in mind.

      “What’s your own fashion style?” I inquired. “What do you like to wear on your own time?”

      “I think it kind of varies. Since I moved to Seattle, I can’t really wear high heels anymore, because you walk everywhere, and it’s wet, and you can just die.”

      “Did you wear heels beforehand, here in California?”

      “Oh, yeah, I love to dress up in the ’50s kind of body-conscious style, pencil skirts.”

      “You do?” I conjured a vivid mental image of Kelsey in ’ 50s attire.

      “Yeah, when I go out.”

      “That would be something to see.”

      “This is everyday kind of stuff,” she said of her current, casual wardrobe. “Just relaxed.”

      “Many fans think that you look especially beautiful in youthful, pastel shades like pink or baby blue—hence their love of your costume campaigns. Do you ever wear colours like that? Pink is a ’50s colour.”

      “Yeah, kind of,” she disclosed. “I don’t know. I wear a lot of darker colours, but I’m just kind of everywhere. Just whatever looks nice, whatever you feel good in, I’ll try it.”

      “Do you consider yourself feminine—a girly-girl? Or if not, how do you manage to project those qualities in your work?”

      “I think I’m girly when it comes to icky things.”

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

      “Icky things?”

      “Like, ‘I don’t want to touch that. It’s gross.’ But overall, I’m—”

      “Tell me more about that,” I prodded her.

      “The icky thing? I don’t know. Gross stuff, I don’t want to be around.”

      “So you’re not one of those girls who insist that they can be as mannish as the men,” I determined happily. “As an aside, that’s something else that I really don’t get in fashion—the whole ‘androgyny’ fetish. The industry frequently promotes models by saying, ‘Oh, she can be androgynous.’ But why is that seen as a plus? Instead, show me a model who can be especially feminine—”

      “Feminine, yeah,” she chimed in, finishing my sentence.

      “Would you not agree that that’s—?”

      “Definitely. There’s high fashion for you, though,” she said ruefully. “They want that so badly. And I feel that with these women, they’re just a blank slate, almost. It’s not a specific, ‘Oh, she’s really pretty.’”

      “You’ve been celebrated for your prom campaigns both for Torrid and, notably, in a rare plus-size editorial layout for a mainstream prom magazine, Teen Prom. You looked really beautiful there.”

      “Thank you,” she acknowledged softly. “Yeah, the prom shoot was so awesome. That had very beautiful dresses.”

      “Did your high school have a prom?” I inquired. “Did you attend?”

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

      [AUDIO] “My prom was so silly. What a waste of money. I went with my dear friend Chad, and it was just a group of friends, and it was nice. But we went there for, like, 45 minutes.”

      This was not the answer that I had been expecting, since Kelsey seemed to be the very vision of a prom princess. But her subsequent comments indicated that her teen years had not all been sunshine and light.

      “High school was weird. La Verne’s a very, very small town, and everyone knew each other since they were in Kindergarten, so it was just knowing people that you don’t like for a really long time, you know? So it was… It was okay.”

      “They were all jealous of you,” I advanced.

      “No.”

      “On some level, deep inside your heart, you know it’s true.”

      “No, way,” she reaffirmed, then thought about it for a moment. “Maybe. I don’t know.”

      My next question was tailored for Kelsey’s more fashion-conscious fans. “Where do you shop for clothing?”

      “Torrid, usually.”

      “You do? For real?”

      “Uh-huh.”

      “Have you ever bought something that you modelled? Because that’s a perfect way to try on something and get paid for it.”

Test photograph by Kicka Witte

      “Sometimes. I steal a lot of clothing from my sister,” Kelsey divulged. “I shop anywhere that fits, really. Nordstrom…”

      “By the way, I inquired earlier if modelling helped with your self-confidence, and I once asked your mother the same question. This is what she wrote,” I said, pulling out a copy of a message from Mrs. Olson.

      “Here we go, Mom,” Kelsey said with a laugh.

      “I had told your mother how much confidence you inspire in other women and asked her if she was the one responsible for endowing you with so much self-assurance. She responded:

“The funny part of Kelsey being able to influence other girls is I think modeling has done so much for her. As much as I would like to take credit for Kelsey’s confidence, I believe she has gained much of it by modelling, rather than the other way around. When she gets those emails or is noticed in another way, I think it still surprises her.’

      “Yeah,” Kelsey admitted immediately.

      “I found it interesting that, according to her, modelling helped you become more confident.”

      “I feel that it has. I’m getting booked purely on the way that I look. Because I’ve always been confident in who I am, so now it’s just, like, ‘Well, I guess I’m okay,’ you know?”

      “Has your family been supportive of you being curvy? Have you ever faced any pressure at home to diminish yourself?”

Test photograph by Leslie Delano

      [AUDIO] “Never,” Kelsey asserted. “Because my mom has gone through issues. Everyone has. My mom’s just been supportive of what I want. So if I wanted to do that, then she supports me in that. But never has she been, like, ‘Oh, well, you need to do this, because of that.’ Never would my mother do that. She’s my favourite person in the world.”

      “It was a pleasure corresponding with her,” I shared. “And she seemed to like the site. I was always worried that someday, a mother might write in and complain: ‘What are you saying about my daughter?’”

      “No, but you’re so… Everyone who participates in the site, the words that they say are so beautiful.”

      Her comments gladdened my heart. “I try to keep it that way,” I promised her. “It is a moderated forum, of course. I try to keep it civilized. It’s like…” I grasped for an analogy, then realized that I had one all round me. Motioning toward Disneyland’s manicured lawns, I compared, “Well, look at this place. This is cultivated, isn’t it? They keep it pretty. You don’t see—”

      “Trash,” Kelsey stated, completing my sentence for me. We were perfectly in sync.

      “—along the streets. The gardens are well-tended, and so forth,” I proceeded. “This is analogous to my idea of the forum. I think there’s some value in editing, or pruning, to bring out the beauty—as in a formal garden.”

      I realized that I kept trying to justify myself to her, which was an odd impulse on my part. I usually didn’t feel this way, but somehow, Kelsey’s good opinion mattered.

      “Are you a gourmand? What are your favourite foods or desserts?”

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

      “Oh, my God,” she whispered, indicating that she was very much a foodie. Then she spoke the magic words: “I love eating.”

      If I hadn’t realized it before, I knew it then—I was truly in paradise.

      “Do you?” I asked dreamily, wanting her to say so as often as possible.

      “Oh, yeah. I’m a huge diner. I love to eat and drink. I love Italian food. All of it. Anything that’s just… Well, sometimes it’s a little much. Italian food, it’s just really intense, so my girlfriend and I, we go out all the time (which I totally should not do)…”

      “Of course you should,” I said quietly.

      “No, we’ll just go out. Thai food, just, everything. I always try everything.”

      “Tell me more,” I egged her on. “So for your favourite food, you said that you love Italian. What about desserts? Are you a dessert lover?”

      “Yeah, sure. I mean, who doesn’t love sweets?”

      “I don’t, actually.”

      “There. One of the five in the world,” Kelsey calculated.

      “Except for one thing. From the time that I was a kid, I’ve always liked Jell-O.”

      “Ugh! Can’t do Jell-O!” Kelsey scoffed, evidencing obvious distaste. “Ugh! No!”

      “I enjoy taking someone out to dinner and having her revel in it, but me, I’m not much of a gourmand. The sensation is, ‘It’s so alien to me, but she’s loving it so much..’”

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

      “What do you like?” Kelsey asked, and once again I was put off-balance by having a question thrown in my direction.

      “Food-wise? I suppose I appreciate German food, just because that’s where I love to travel. In Germany, it’s a part of the culture.”

      “You’ve been there a lot?” Kelsey queried, and although I wasn’t used to talking about myself during model interviews, I found myself speaking at length about my European journeys. Whether her interest was genuine, or whether she was being incredibly charitable and polite, I don’t know, but she sincerely made me feel appreciated. Again I thought of how wonderful a presence she would be on set. Shooting with her, I realized, must be the most effortless and enjoyable experience in the world.

      But enough about me, I resolved. I wanted to know more about her.

      “You once said that besides modelling, one of your other ambitions was acting. Since then you’ve appeared on stage in several productions, yes?”

      “Yeah, just through school and stuff. But nothing professional,” she specified. “That would be awesome. I still have that passion, but I’ve just kind of… My whole move to Seattle was a very transitional time in my life. It was kind of like a growing-up thing. As far as theatre goes, I’d love to pursue it eventually.”

      “Can I ask why you moved to Seattle? Or is that personal?”

Quote

      “My best friend just finished going to Cornish, which is a College of the Arts, so she just got her degree in jazz voice, a study of jazz music,” Kelsey outlined. “It was just an opportunity that I wanted to take, and I thought it was a good growing thing for me, so I did it.”

      “Which do you prefer, L.A. or Seattle?” I was expecting Kelsey to favour Los Angeles, but I wasn’t sure.

      “They’re just too different. I feel like Seattle has a lot more character, but L.A. is just home. And it’s so big. There’s so much to do.”

      “Yet you plan on moving to New York.”

      “Hopefully,” she clarified.

      “Oh, hopefully?”

      “Well, I mean, it is going to happen,” she insisted, clapping her hands together as if to firm up her own resolve. “But I don’t think it’s going to be as soon as I thought. It’s not going to be until summer.”

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

      “This interview is taking place during Christmas,” I pointed out. “Are you sentimental or nostalgic about this time of year? What are your favourite Christmas memories?”

      Her big, blue eyes lit up like a child’s when she started talking about the holidays. “Christmas is the best. I love it,” she cheered, clapping. “Tomorrow, my family’s having a dinner—my immediate family.”

      “I feel so guilty,” I interrupted her. “I shouldn’t have asked you for an interview so close to Christmastime. Are you sure that this is okay?”

      “This is great,” she beamed. “This is the start of my vacation. I’m at Disneyland. This is awesome. (I just can’t believe you came.) But, yeah, like I said, my friends and my sister and my brother’s friends are all incredibly, incredibly close with my family. My mom and dad, my brother and sister are the most beautiful people you’ll ever meet. We’re all getting together and drinking and eating and playing games. And then, like, Christmas morning is just… Oh, it’s so exciting. I love it. I love this time of year. And you can almost smell it in the air when it’s Christmas. You just get this feeling.”

      No one, not even the saddest person in the world, could have felt anything less than boundless joy in his heart upon hearing Kelsey speak with such exuberance about Christmas, and seeing the happiness in her angelic face.

      “It’s true,” I concurred eagerly. “It’s as if the whole world takes on a touch of Disneyland at this time of year.”

      Kelsey was never happier than when she spoke about Christmas. “I totally agree,” she said. “Yeah, it’s like there’s Christmas in the air, and then the lights, and just… I don’t know, I love it. I really enjoy Christmas.”

      “Have you ever seen Christmas with snow?” I inquired, remembering her upbringing in L.A. and thinking of the bare ground and snowless trees all around us. “Have you ever been to a part of the world that had snow for Christmas?”

Test photoraph by Michael Anthony Hermogeno

      “No,” she answered. “Well, if you drive from here for an hour and a half you’ll be up in the mountains, and although it’s really not good right now, yeah, you can see snow. But the first time I ever saw it snow, that I can recall, is when I moved to Seattle. I came at the end of winter and it was so cool. It was like a snow globe.” Her eyes sparkled when she said that. “I thought, ‘This is very magical.’”

      “Christmas without snow. I can’t imagine it, having lived in the frozen wastes of Canada my whole life. But this place,” I said, indicating Disneyland with a sweep of my hand, “which is festive anyway, even they ratchet it up a notch for Christmas. Even they are more decorative. Especially with that colossal thing they call a tree.”

      “That’s huge,” Kelsey agreed. “Yeah, I know. Disneyland, they set the bar.”

      “I was so worried when I suggested this as the site of our chat, because I thought, ‘I don’t know Kelsey. I don’t know how much of a modern girl she is. When I propose Disneyland, will it be, “How, cool,” or will it be—?”

      “Why? No, I think it’s great.”

      “Some people think it’s kids’ stuff.”

      “No way,” she attested.

      I still couldn’t believe how well it had all worked out. She treated me to one of her hair flips.

* * *

      “Okay, we’re heading into the ‘conceptual’ section of the interview now, beginning with what may be the toughest question of all,” I warned her. “Why does the media resist plus-size beauty?”

Test photograph by Kicka Witte

      “Because I think people have a misunderstanding of what being plus-size is. They think that this is an unhealthy thing, and I feel like nowadays, being thin means that you’re healthy. And that is a lie. That means that you’re either a cocaine addict or—” She stopped herself at this point and backpedalled a little. “No, I’m kidding.”

      “But in your profession, it’s all too true,” I observed. “The celebrities, especially the so-called ‘party girls’—”

      “And that’s what they do. And that’s supposed to be beautiful,” she lamented, shaking her head. “That’s just trying to be something that… I don’t know. It’s a little intense. It’s very sad, because you have these people who are idolized, like your Lindeys, and it’s, like, ‘You’re 22 years old. Where are the people who care about you?’”

      I thought back to her comments about how close she was with her family, and I was reminded yet again of how important a traditional, stable, nuclear family is to a girl’s well-being. All of the plus-size models whom I’d interviewed—the healthiest and most beautiful and popular girls in the industry—were blessed by having grown up in traditional families, in caring, loving environments.

      “And then when these young girls (or women, it doesn’t matter the age, because people are influenced regardless of how old they are)…when it’s constantly pushed in their face, they’re going to start believing it,” she grieved. “But I think it’s gotten a little bit better.”

      “You do?”

      “Little baby improvements.”

      “I sometimes think it’s getting worse,” I mused.

      “I don’t know. Who is the woman from Mad Men?”

Image from ''Flawless'' calendar project, 2008

      “Oh, Joan Holloway? No, that’s the character. Christina Hendricks.”

      “She’s gorgeous,” Kelsey admired. “And then you have special covers of Elle, and it’s all plus-size, which is nice. I feel like they just did that recently, so it’s more prominent than it used to be. But I still think it’s not anywhere it should be.”

      “No, it’s not. The majority of women are size 14 or over. And that’s just the median,” I pointed out. “So how is the media representing them in any way?”

      “Yeah. It’s not.”

      “Do you think glamorous, fashionable images of plus-size models can undo the damage that images of underweight models do to women’s self-esteem?”

      Kelsey’s answer to this question struck me as very thoughtful and perceptive.

      “I think it’s going to take a long time. I just think that until TV and all popular media… [AUDIO] It’s not going to do anything,” she reasoned, expressing more realism than optimism. “People need to stop comparing themselves to celebrities. I’m guilty of it too. Like, you’re not that. You don’t have a team of people surrounding you. You don’t have those beautiful lights on you. It’s not real. It’s not real. And people don’t understand that. You’re a 45-year-old woman who has just had three kids. It’s okay that you have a… You know? It’s okay that you’re 14 and going through puberty,” she continued. “It happens. Don’t worry about it so much. Work on yourself, because what a waste of time.”

      Her response was impassioned and determined. I thought of how effective a spokesperson for positive body image she would be if she ever decided to add that to her endeavours. Her words came straight from the heart and were backed by the sincerest conviction.

      “Plus-size models are getting more editorial work, but this is often going to girls who are the least plus-looking. Is plus-size modelling diminishing the size of its girls in a slavish attempt to be more like straight-size modelling?” I queried. “In other words, if plus-size modelling keeps compromising itself to conform to straight-size standards, what kind of success is that?”

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

      “It’s not,” Kelsey perceived. “I just worked with someone recently, and I’m a full 16/18, just depending. But I looked at her, and I thought, ‘Are you…?’ But I didn’t want to offend her by asking her, ‘Are you a plus-size?’ I really didn’t know if she was. And she was wearing plus-size clothing, so it was, like, ‘What is this doing? You don’t fit into that.’”

      “And how tragic for the women who are seeing this and thinking, ‘That’s plus-size? What am I, if that’s plus-size?’” I observed.

      “Exactly. I’m not that. I’ve never been that. And I won’t be that. That’s what you’re booking, and that’s what’s being projected out there? I’m sorry, no. That’s not what it is,” she declared, meaning plus-size. She added a laugh, but there was a serious undercurrent in what she was saying.

      “Do you think the fashion industry resists models with a gentle, soft, traditional kind of beauty? Does the plus-size industry do this as well?”

      “I feel that the fashion industry is ever changing,” Kelsey speculated. “One thing’s hot for a minute, and then you go to something else, and then it’s not. Since the ’80s, really, it has kind of been edge, and hard, and not as feminine. But I think that the plus-size industry caters a little bit more to the feminine…”

      “I would agree with that.”

      “Definitely. Even with Torrid, because they were based off Hot Topic,” she noted. “If you’d seen them—”

      “Yes, they’ve evolved in a good direction.” The small size of some Torrid models, however, was a source of great disappointment to many customers.

Test photograph

      “What about the resentment of beauty in general?” I asked, identifying the other side of the problem. “There is a movement afoot now to eliminate beauty from fashion altogether. For example, one German magazine doesn’t intend to use models at all in the future, but ‘real women,’ non-professional models. Also, there is a related drive to use only models who are old, or deliberately unattractive-looking.”

      “I think it’s a dras— Not a drastic step,” Kelsey amended. I sensed that she was conflicted about the issue. “I see what they’re doing, because they’re trying so hard to be the opposite of what fashion is doing. But part of me is for it because it is a step in a more positive direction, because they’re real—something that a person can relate to. It’s good, but it’s a little drastic. I feel like they’re trying to make a point. Which is fine, but I think they can do it in a different way.”

      Her answer was interesting, but surprised me a little, since she herself embodied Beauty so vividly. However, the effort to combat the thin-supremacist mantra clearly was the most important factor for her, which was something that I could appreciate.

      “You just have to understand, they’re trying… There is a pressure for people to relate, so how are we going to do that? This is what we’re going to do,” Kelsey outlined. “Because how many plus-size models are there really who are truly plus-size? So why not just get real women and just do it? I’d rather have that than someone who I know is not attractive and has all this crap on them. I see where they’re going, but it just kind of needs to…”

      She trailed off, but her point was compelling, and challenged my own thinking. She was right: The industry accepted very few true plus-size models. Indeed, the agencies seemed determined to keep out fuller-figured girls. With such a brick wall in place, Kelsey believed that perhaps using “real” women was the only solution. It was hard to argue with her reasoning, although the anti-aesthetic element was still troubling, and prompted my next question.

Quote

      “When people react to beauty, do they respond to it positively, or do some seem to resent it, for whatever reason?”

      “Bitterness,” Kelsey bemoaned, identifying many people’s reaction to beauty. “Not towards me,” she followed up quickly, characteristically avoiding any hint of ego, “but I feel that people sometimes don’t feel so great about themselves, so they take it out on others. And just because they’re not this idea of beauty… See, they project that in their mind. They have this idea of what it is, but just because they don’t fit that idea doesn’t meant that they’re not beautiful.”

      “Would you say that your personal taste is oriented more toward the timeless than the modern?”

      “It depends. Painting-wise? Yes. Sure,” she acknowledged, meaning that she favoured the timeless. “Photography, you can have something that isn’t what an idea of beautiful is, but you see that this is your perspective on it, and I think that that’s the important part, is to have that perspective. Because, I mean, why not? That’s why you’re you.”

      It was an engaging and thoughtful answer. I marvelled at the fact that she was still able to relate such fascinating insights after I had been bombarding her with questions for over an hour.

Test photograph by Leslie Delano

      “You must be aware that your beauty embodies an ideal that was celebrated in works of art throughout history,” I reminded her. “Do you think that photographs of real-life, full-figured models give the public something that they cannot derive from painting or sculpture?”

      “Well, definitely. When you look at a painting, many people feel, ‘Oh, it was made up,’” she elucidated, then indicated that she doesn’t feel that way herself by rhetorically asking, “‘As opposed to what? This is truly a painting of a woman.’ But many people don’t really think of it like a photograph. So I think a photograph is just a modern way of showing women that, yeah, plus-size roundness to the body, it exists. And it’s not this fairy-tale thing. It’s actually there. But when I look at those paintings, I find them amazing. You just pick up any history book and you read about the Roman and the Greek women, and they were full-figured. If you were thinner, you were lower in the chain.”

      “That’s the sensible way to organize a society,” I advanced, grinning.

      Kelsey laughed. “But it’s true. I don’t think people really look at paintings and realize that that was real.”

      “See? You are inspiring—for the reasons that you describe; not just to me as a writer, but to society, as an embodiment of beauty. An image of a living human being offers something unique to people. It’s more immediate, isn’t it?”

      “Yeah, it is,” she remarked. “It’s something they can relate to.”

      “—And discover that this ideal lives on in our own day and age, that it didn’t exist solely existed in the past,” I completed for her. “What do you think the value of beauty is, both in modelling and in life? What does it give to people?”

''Crouching Aphorodite'' (3rd century B.C.) juxtaposed with a test photograph by Stanley Debas

      It was as difficult a question as I had ever asked anyone in an interview.

      [AUDIO] “Physical beauty, it’s nice to look at, but when something is truly beautiful…” she broke off, then offered an answer of the deepest significance. “I think that word should be used only when it’s necessary, because when something is beautiful, it’s almost an emotional thing. It really is. It kind of overtakes you. [AUDIO] Beauty is something that almost can’t be described. That’s why they give it that name.”

      I sat there, awed by her response. In her earlier comments I had discerned an artistic sensibility, but now I discovered the depth of her aesthetic reverence. She disliked the casual use of the term “beauty” because, for her, true beauty was so powerful that it constituted an epiphany, a revelation, and was beyond verbal or written expression.

      “That’s very poetic. That’s such a lovely answer,” I underscored. “That’s a very elegant way to put it.”

      “Thank you very much,” she accepted quietly. I think even she realized how meaningful her comment had been. When I listened to it again, some months later, I reflected that it was probably the most poignant statement that anyone had ever made in one of my interviews.

      Continuing on the topics of art and beauty, I asked her whether or not, when she looked at pictures of Lillian Russell and goddesses in Baroque paintings, she saw the similarity of her look to theirs. She didn’t answer directly, but offered an intriguing tangent.

      “Could you imagine doing a photo like that?” she fantasized, her enthusiasm apparent. “I met a really brilliant painter, and I actually lost touch. He’s fabulous. But he wanted to paint me, and that was, like—”

Torrid outtake by Michael Anthony Hermogeno

      “He did?”

      “Yeah. I’ll forward you some of his work. It’s absolutely beautiful. But I’d like to get in touch with him. I’d love to do a classic piece.”

      She laughed when she saw my reaction, because I was starry-eyed at the thought.

      “That would be incredible,” I professed. “I hope your modesty doesn’t prevent you from seeing your beauty as a gift that you’ve been given. It would be a service to the world to immortalize it. That’s why we have such a rich historical legacy of beautiful art: because the Old Masters believed that mortal beauty needed to be preserved for all time, so that later generations could admire it and take solace from it. I hope you can feel that way about yourself.”

      [AUDIO] “Yeah, going into how I talk about all the dynamics that go into a picture, that’s what I like so much about it,” she clarified—as always, deflecting the focus from herself to the overall craftsmanship of an image. “Because it is art. A very, very beautiful photograph is something that you can look at later, and it says something about the time, or about what’s going on. Those are things that should be preserved. That’s why I like doing what I do.”

      Again, her response struck me as deeply insightful. I was eager to nudge her toward realizing this project.

      “If an artist wishes to paint you, please, do take him up on the offer. That’s a fantastic idea.”

      “I’m going to forward you his information,” she promised me. “He is so very brilliant.”

      The next question was one that I had just added earlier that morning, inspired by Disneyland itself. “Do you think that dreams and ideals and fairy-tales still have a place in this modern, materialist world in which we live?”

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

      “Oh, you hope so,” she volunteered.

      Following up on that, I noted, “You’re an American girl. Yet much of the great beauty of his region—like the castle behind us (modelled on Schloß Neuschwanstein in Bavaria), or the Mission Inn where I’m staying—is an import, or an adaptation of European culture. Indeed, you yourself possess an Old World beauty. What, then, is the value of that Old World heritage to modern life? Because many of the people here today are probably several generations removed from the land of their forebears,” I speculated, indicating the tourists crossing Sleeping Beauty’s drawbridge. “Does this heritage have a meaning for them?”

      [AUDIO] “Well, you should always know where you come from. That’s you. That’s who you are, and your family, and why you were raised the way you were raised. If I look a certain way, there’s a reason for that, because that’s who I am. I think it’s important that people know about those things. Why would you want to keep yourself from that?”

      Again, I was overwhelmed by the truth of her response and overjoyed that she felt this way. Kelsey didn’t merely physically embody the Old World vision of feminine comeliness. Deep inside, she possessed the appreciation of beauty, and the reverence for cultural roots, that was characteristic of her people, her blood, her heritage.

      Like a fairy-tale princess or a heroine of romance, she seemed too good to be true. Yet I knew that every word she had spoken had been sincere. Moreover, as I would learn in the final interlude of our get-together, hers was not an enchantment that solely affected me. I was about to discover, from first-hand experience, that others viewed Kelsey just as I did, with the same mixture of reverence and wonder, the same instant recognition that she represented an archetype of loveliness, a truly noble soul. She genuinely brought to life timeless ideals that the world had almost forgotten, but which slumbered in the human heart, ready to be awakened.

(Continue to Part III.)



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

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