An Interview with Whitney Thompson

On May 14, 2008, Whitney Thompson achieved the impossible: She became the first full-figured girl to win America’s Next Top Model. No one thought it could ever happen. Previous plus-size contestants lacked looks, talent, and determination. But Whitney brought greater beauty and modelling ability to the competition than any of her predecessors, and kept her nerve, despite harrowing near-eliminations, and challenges that were biased against her. In this interview, we learn about Miss Thompson’s experiences on the show, including behind-the-scenes secrets that have never been revealed until now, and we discover how Whitney became…America’s next top model.

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HSG: Good afternoon. This is Heinrich Saint-Germain. How are you?

WHITNEY: I’m good. How are you?

HSG: I survive. I survive. So, do you have a moment for an interview?

WHITNEY: Yeah. I just walked into my apartment, so you’re fine.

HSG: I’m not sure if your brother—who is a great fan of yours, by the way—

Test photo from her official winner's portfolio; click to enlarge

WHITNEY: I love my brother.

HSG: Oh, yes. He’s terrific. He very helpfully tipped me off about your television appearances.

WHITNEY: Yeah, Ryan discovered the Web site a long time ago. He’s a big supporter, and he’s the one who got me hooked.

HSG: That’s great. So first, two preliminary questions about worst-case scenarios that I hope never happen. Okay?


HSG: Would you ever betray the cause—and by that I mean the cause of size celebration—by appearing in a diet ad, or on a weight-loss TV show?


HSG: You would not. Because—

WHITNEY: I’ve thought about that too, because everyone’s doing the—

HSG: Yes.

WHITNEY: —[name of diet company] crap.

HSG: Oh, it’s horrible. And you can imagine how frustrating it is for fans of plus-size models, especially for the young girls who look up to them, when they see their supposed role models doing that.

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WHITNEY: On diets.

HSG: Yes.

WHITNEY: Yeah, I know. I really don’t understand all that. Especially Queen Latifah. No, I would never do that.

HSG: Okay. And now, the second preliminary question. A decade ago, Sophie Dahl—I’m not sure if you’ve heard of her or not—


HSG: —Sophie Dahl was touted as the first plus-size supermodel, but she succumbed to industry pressure and starved herself into a minus size. Will you be able to resist this pressure and remain full-figured?

WHITNEY: Yeah! I’ve never had any pressure—I mean, so far. No one has told me to lose weight. Obviously, I understand the industry. I get it. But that’s not me, and I would never, ever, ever go for that. [AUDIO] I don’t think that that’s sexy, and if I’m not happy with myself, then…I’m not happy, and I’m not going to starve myself to look how somebody else wants me to look. And if I don’t have curves, then I’m not going to feel sexy.
      And then, it’s really a snowball effect. You lose 10 pounds. Okay. Suddenly, just 10 more—

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HSG: Right.

WHITNEY: —just 10 more, you know? And it really messes with people’s heads. And I don’t think that those people are happy, just because they’re skinnier.

HSG: Right.

WHITNEY: Sophie Dahl, I don’t think she’s happy that she’s super, super skinny. I’m sure she’s obsessive about calories, she doesn’t want to be big. It becomes an obsession, and I just don’t think it’s healthy to even think about it. [laughs]

HSG: I am so delighted to be interviewing you. You are saying just the right things. I couldn’t have written you better as a fictional character.

WHITNEY: [laughs]

HSG: Okay. In a pre-show interview—which, by the way, won you many fans—you said that your greatest challenge was going to be “Waking up every morning and saying, ‘I’m more beautiful than all of you because I have a body.’” That was such a revolutionary statement—pointing out that you were beautiful because you were full-figured, not despite this fact. How were you able to turn fashion-industry thinking so completely on its head?

WHITNEY: [chuckles] I’m thinking it’s good timing. The whole industry is starting to change. Big designers are starting to use plus-size girls. There was a curvy girl in Vogue. Dolce & Gabbana is using plus-size models. A lot of things are coming out, and that doesn’t affect me, but as far as being in the fashion industry, I’m so happy that things like that are happening. It’s opened a world of opportunities for me in this industry, being a model.

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[AUDIO] But I have a really good support system, I’ve got a really great family, and I’ve been taught that it’s good to have curves. I’ve always been taught that. And so in the modelling industry, when people go, “Oh, if you would only lose 50 pounds, you’d be so incredible,” I’m, like, “Ew, no.”

HSG: You’ve mentioned the positive influence of your family before. Conversely, if you think your family had not been so supportive, if they had joined the chorus telling you to lose weight, do you think it would have been harder to resist the pressure?

WHITNEY: [AUDIO] Absolutely. It’s really so much a tribute to your environment. If I had been raised differently I wouldn’t be as strong in myself as I am. And I see that in so many girls who write to me online and go, “My mom is always saying I need to lose weight—”

HSG: [hisses]

WHITNEY: —“My mom is always saying, ‘Those jeans are too tight on you.’” And I know moms are going, “That’s my daughter. I want her to look her best.” But they just don’t understand it. And I try to explain to [these girls] why [their moms] do what they do, but it’s just heartbreaking. And I know that if I had been raised in my family with “Oh, you don’t look good in that,” or “Your butt’s too big,” then I wouldn’t be as mentally stable as I am. And I wouldn’t be able to go through everything that I’ve gone through. I mean, honestly.

Whitney on the cover of ''Jacksonville'' magazine, August 2008

HSG: How sad. As you say, the moms’ intentions may be good, because they want their daughters to look their “best,” but how tragic that for them, “best” means “skinny.”

WHITNEY: Exactly.

HSG: Okay, here’s the “big question,” and I might as well get it out of the way right now. Why does the fashion industry—and the media in general—suppress full-figured beauty?

WHITNEY: Oooh. It hasn’t always been like that, so I don’t really understand it. I know in the ’50s, and all that, the Marilyn Monroe, va-va-voom, it was great. “Curves? Yay.” America loved women with curves. So we went through the ’70s and the ’80s, “heroin chic,” and all that crap came out, and it just stuck. And people go, “The angles are better,” “The bone structure really shows,” which… Yeah, your bones do show. People like the extraordinary, so people who are freakishly bony, who look like they’re about to collapse from starvation, [seem] “extraordinary.”
      But some designers are changing. I know Pamella Roland only uses models that are size 2 to 4, but she’s, like, “I don’t use 0s, and most designers do,” and she pats herself on the back for that.

HSG: I was going to ask you about that later, but since you brought her up, everyone saw that episode, and saw how good you looked in one of her dresses. Did she ever give you any rationale as to why she wouldn’t use you, other than what she said on camera: “A size 10 wouldn’t work.” Because it looked like a size 10 worked very well.

Modelling for Pamella Roland; click to enlarge

WHITNEY: I just know that she uses sizes 2 to 4, and she’s really… She wasn’t as bad as she looked on the show. Obviously, body-wise, I think it’s sad that she won’t use anything other than size 2 to 4, but she was so complimentary, and was, like, “You’re so beautiful, and I feel so bad saying this, but I don’t use your size.” And obviously, in real life, I would never go to a booking for a skinny-model client; show up and go, “Hey, give me my size-10 dress,” because that’s just embarrassing to me. It’s degrading. But that’s the TV show. So I think Pamela, who is a size 8, was sort of broken-hearted too, because I think she felt like an idiot: “I’m a size 8 telling you that you’re too big.” And I actually met up with her last week, and she was, like, “I looked so mean on that episode. Please don’t hate me.” It’s okay. You never want to burn bridges, because maybe one day Pamella Roland will use me in a runway show. We’ll see.

HSG: As a consolation prize, she should at least have given you that dress.

WHITNEY: I know. Her dresses are built for women. They’re made for curvy women.

HSG: Yes. Her dress was actually better than that of the other designer, even though the latter was more pro-plus.

WHITNEY: Well, because her dresses actually fit a woman. They’re very curve-cut, whereas [the other designer] just has a potato sack. “Oh, it looks so good.” I’m, like, “Yeah, okay.” I want something that hugs the body.

Modelling for ''Seventeen'' magazine—a prize for a challenge win; click to enlarge

HSG: What do you think are the advantages of a young girl hearing a “love your body” message from a model rather than from, say, a guidance counsellor? Do you think a model can be more persuasive, owing to the glamorous associations of the fashion industry?

WHITNEY: I definitely think so. [AUDIO] It’s amazing how many people define beauty by what’s cool in the modelling industry. People go, “Oh, that girl’s a model. That means she’s pretty. She’s super-skinny? I want to look like that, because then I’ll be pretty—like a model.” And people really feel that way. But I can’t even tell you how many e-mails I get from young girls all over the world. Just because they saw me on the show, they go, “You know, I sought help for an eating disorder,” or, “I’m really working on my confidence issues.” Really changing their lives, because I’m saying, “I’m a model, and I’m not super-skinny, and I am still on magazine covers, and I am still working, and people do think that that is beautiful.” And it’s making my own path, and it’s amazing what it’s already done.

HSG: So you do believe that fashionable images of plus-size models can undo some of the damage wrought by the thin-supremacist fashion industry?

Shooting her ''Seventeen'' magazine cover; click to enlarge

WHITNEY: Oh, 100%. People really define what their idea of beauty is by what they see in the media. And then you put me out there, well, I’m normal, and relatable. It’s achievable. Whereas putting Posh Spice on the cover is not. It’s just not good. Not good for anybody.

HSG: What do you think can be done to encourage the industry of which you are a part to feature fuller-figured models, and to market to curvier women?

WHITNEY: A lot of it is already changing, but it’s about the designers. And another thing too is that the designers really follow each other. If Louis Vuitton uses a curvy girl, then Dolce & Gabbana is going to use a curvy girl, because you don’t want to be the last to do it, and it’s great publicity. Each designer has their own opinions and all that, but it’s really just… [AUDIO] Realistically, it’s the designers. Because you know the people that they’re selling the clothes to don’t like seeing skeletons walk down the runway in their clothes. It’s not attractive. It doesn’t make me want to buy a dress. What it comes down to, it’s really just… It’s the designers, at the end of the day. Each one has their own opinion. One at a time will be changing.

Head cheerleader Whitney; click to enlarge

HSG: Here’s a question out of left field. During the show, one of the your competitors likened you to a “cheerleader,” and on message boards, some viewers compared you to a “prom queen”—these familiar archetypes of Americana. Yet many of the young, full-figured girls who are your fans accepted and embraced these descriptions of you. They liked the fact that you embodied these roles, but as a full-figured prom queen, a plus-size cheerleader. Do you have any thoughts as to why this was so, why they responded so enthusiastically to these associations with you?

WHITNEY: It’s so funny. I was never a cheerleader or a prom queen. But it’s so funny because immediately after Fatima said that, I went online and saw [that] there was a whole Web site created of cheerleaders who were angry at Fatima, and were, like, “What does she mean, that she had to be a cheerleader?” I mean, yeah, I’m very, very all-American—blonde, busty, normal. I’m normal-looking. And I don’t think people see that as a bad thing. And when you meet the prom queen, and when you see the cheerleader… You know, you have to have…“cheerleading thighs” is a term. “Cheerleading thighs” are big thighs. You’re doing squats, you’re doing flips, you’re out there on the field. And it’s not something—

HSG: That’s a really interesting point. I never thought of that.

WHITNEY: Yeah. There are very few super-skinny, itsy-bitsy cheerleaders. They have to have bodies.

HSG: It’s probably the Hollywood idea of the cheerleader, who is usually portrayed in teen films as—

Shooting her ''Seventeen'' magazine cover; click to enlarge

WHITNEY: Stupid.

HSG: Perhaps many of your fans, however, live vicariously through you, in identifying you with these archetypes. They want to see a full-figured cheerleader dating the quarterback. They want to see a full-figured prom queen.

WHITNEY: Yeah, I think it’s just…however, people can relate to me. And the cheerleader thing… I was never a cheerleader, but because of that, a lot of people relate to me, and go, “Oh, my God, I can do that. I can be…” [It’s] all about being relatable, so even though I wasn’t that girl, [if] people picture me like that, then I don’t mind, if it makes them relate better.

HSG: After all, being a model is about assuming identities, isn’t it?


HSG: It was hard to judge the show’s attitude toward your figure. In the lingerie episode, Tyra mentioned that she wanted the stylist to give you more revealing attire. But then in the Roman castle episode, she was telling you to pose in such a way as to cave in your chest and minimize your curves. But subsequently, in the very next episode, Seventeen editor Ann Shoket said that you should “own” your figure and show it off. Do you think this represents a schizophrenia in the fashion world about curvy figures? Are they of two minds about it, between accepting/celebrating and hiding?

WHITNEY: It depends on who you’re working with. The good thing about modelling is you have a new boss every day, whereas on the show, you have Tyra, who’s your boss every day, so if Tyra doesn’t like something…you know. But she flip-flops her mind like crazy on the show. You see it all the time. “You’re too serious.” “You’re too happy.” “You’re too…” this. It’s all about finding a happy medium. But I’m fine with my body, so I just kind of did what I wanted to. But it’s frustrating when you’re doing a high-fashion shoot and they go, “Cover up your boobs,” and my boobs are covered in lace. There’s nothing else over me, and I’m, like, “I can’t.” So it’s difficult, but I think Tyra does that for a reason. I don’t know what the reason is, but she does it to girls all the time. And maybe it’s just to mess with us, to see if you can psychologically handle someone going, “Do this.” “No, do that.” “No, do this.” “No, do that.”

HSG: Right, because if a girl pursues modelling as a career, she is sure to get contradictory feedback from various different photographers and clients.

Roman castle shoot with Tyra; click to enlarge

WHITNEY: Exactly. The photographer says one thing, and Nigel says something, and Tyra… It’s just [a matter of] trying to put it all together and make some sort of sense out of it.

HSG: Coming back to your Roman castle shoot, most fans preferred your original style of posing, which was about exhibiting curves, rather than the approach that they were asking you to adopt, which was about exhibiting “angles.” Why does the fashion industry favour “angles,” when curves are, for most people, far more attractive?

WHITNEY: I don’t know. I guess they think it’s aesthetically pleasing, but [AUDIO] I don’t think that angles are sexy. I don’t want to see hot Victoria’s Secret models with “angles.” And it’s become something that you see everywhere now, and I think that we should focus a little more on curves.

HSG: Although you were covered up for the lingerie shoot, the stylists’ approach did seem to change afterwards. You wore a bikini in the runway show the very next week, and altogether you wore more revealing clothes than any previous plus-size contestants.

WHITNEY: I know. And my Seventeen shoot was all bikinis.

HSG: So do you suppose that Tyra’s vocal intervention prompted them to dress you in a more revealing way?

Lingerie shoot with Elle Machpherson; click to enlarge

WHITNEY: Oh, yeah. Definitely. Well, the thing is, for the lingerie photoshoot, it actually wasn’t the stylist who did that. Elle Macpherson was the one who put me in a skirt, and put everyone else in lingerie.

HSG: Oh!

WHITNEY: The skirt was a size 2, and the stylist had to cut it and sew it onto me. It was really ridiculous. Of course, Tyra is, like, “Oh, the stylist did this,” but it was really Elle who was the one who put me in clothes.

HSG: That’s fascinating.

WHITNEY: After that, the stylists were, like, “Well, we’re going to make sure Tyra doesn’t say this again.” It doesn’t make them look good, [and] they’re not the ones who did it. So it was kind of funny. But I don’t mind.

HSG: Hmmm. So Elle was the one who tried to cover you up in the lingerie episode, then Vendela had issues with you in the Benny Ninja episode, and then Paulina made some less-than-flattering comments about you as the show aired, which leaves me wondering: Are the former supermodels (Tyra excepted) the ones who are most resistant to plus-size beauty, most resistant to seeing a plus-size model succeed? Is there a pattern here?

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WHITNEY: Probably. I mean, I don’t know. I didn’t talk to them about it, but they’re kind of going out, and I know when your star is about to burn out, you want to grasp on for whatever you can. And I’m sure it’s hard for them, because they don’t want their whole way of modelling that they’ve done for the past 20 years to go down the drain. I wouldn’t mind if it did go down the drain.

HSG: I wonder if there’s also an element of, “Well, I starved, so how come you don’t have to starve? You have to suffer as I have suffered.”

WHITNEY: Yeah. I wonder, from Vendela… I mean, Paulina was really nice to me on the show. I had no idea that she said the things that she said until I watched the show, and I was mortified. I’m, like, “What? What a jerk! She didn’t say any of that when I was filming.” So I was totally shocked by that. But Vendela was actually really, really horrible to me every time she worked with me, and I don’t know why that was. Was she jealous?

HSG: Were there other incidents that weren’t shown on the program? Because her criticism, “You’re not serious,” seemed to come out of nowhere.

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WHITNEY: Yeah. When I was in panel that time with Vendela, I walked up and my picture came up, and all of the judges were, like, “Oh, wow, I really like it.” The paint photoshoot. “I really like it.” And Vendela goes, “I don’t like your hair,” because I had it in a ponytail, I guess. She’s just, “I don’t like it.” And I’m, like, “Okay, I’m sorry.” How do you respond to that? “Tell Tyra.”

HSG: That’s right. You don’t have any control over that.

WHITNEY: And then the other judges were all really silent. And she’s, like, “And I don’t like your hand in that picture.” It was just… It was really awkward. You could tell that all of the other judges were kind of awkward too about it. So I don’t know what her problem was, though. Seriously rude.

HSG: And then Tyra commented at the end of the panel that you stayed in because “Vendela saw something in you”—no doubt knowing that the show would have been bombarded with negative feedback towards Vendela if her harsh comments had stood without any mitigating follow-up.

WHITNEY: Yeah. I don’t think they’re allowed to make the guest judges look bad.

HSG: How were you able to maintain your confidence in the show even after so many gruelling panel critiques and near-eliminations?

Walking the runway in a Versace dress on the final episode; click to enlarge

WHITNEY: Oh, that’s a good question. I definitely credit my roots, my parents, and the way that I was brought up. [AUDIO] And a good thing too is that I had a purpose. Many plus-size models have gone on and are, like, “I refuse to diet,” and, “I’m pretty, and I want to be a plus-size model,” whereas I’m, like, “I want people to stop starving themselves. I want to change the industry. I don’t want my 13-year-old cousin to be on a diet.” And I think with that mentality, when I fell short, I was, like, “No, I can’t stop, because if I stop, then this epidemic… These 9-year-old girls are going to continue to diet.” And there’s just so much going on that no one else is changing. And I felt like it was really my mission. So even though I definitely had [moments] where I cried, and was very sad, and was sick of the competition, I was, like, “No, failure is not an option.”

HSG: What was your favourite scene on the show, as it was broadcast?

WHITNEY: Hmm. I don’t know. I had trouble watching the show. I have anxiety problems, and I would hyperventilate during the show.

HSG: Really?

WHITNEY: You never know what they’re going to show, you know? So I… Yeah, I had a lot of trouble watching it. I really didn’t enjoy that.

HSG: Well, at least during the first half of the show, it seemed like they were presenting you in a favourable light. Then, I don’t know what happened.

Being interviewed during the 7UP challenge; click to enlarge

WHITNEY: Yeah. Well, there was that one episode where I look really bad. That one episode where we went to that party, the 7UP party, and Anya won the challenge. They don’t show that Stacy Ann and I also won the challenge. It was a three-person challenge. They completely cut me and Stacy Ann out of it, and make me look like a huge idiot on the show. That was my worst episode, and I was, like, “What do you mean, they’re not…? Why am I not on the challenge? Why didn’t they show that?”

HSG: Wow. Talk about editing.

WHITNEY: I know. Yeah. Yeah.

HSG: That’s just astonishing.

WHITNEY: I expected, like, “Oh, I won the challenge. This will be a good episode.” And I walked in… I was hyperventilating, freaking out, phoning the producers.

HSG: Oh my God.

WHITNEY: Can you imagine? I’m, like, “I accomplished something, and you cut it out.” People say, “Oh, you didn’t win that many challenges, and Anya won all…” And I’m, like, “You don’t even know,” because they cut it out of the show.

HSG: Wow.

WHITNEY: People are very accepting of things that they see on television.

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HSG: And that comes back to your point about how influential the fashion industry is in dictating standards of beauty to the public. Another example comes to mind: when, halfway through the cycle, the judges cooked up two critiques of you: “fake” and “pageanty.” As soon as they did, all of the sudden, that’s what many posters on message boards began saying—as if these were self-evident truths. Yet they had never made any such comments before the judges voiced them. It was like plugging a coin into a slot and having a machine start up. Plug in the word, and the public blithely follows along.

WHITNEY: Yeah, and the cheerleader thing too. People are, like, “She’s such a…” And I’m, like, “I’m not a cheerleader. I don’t do pageants. I’ve never done any of this stuff,” so to say it…
      That was such a stupid critique anyway. I mean, to say “pageanty” to a girl who’s not in a pageant. Why? Because I’m busty? Because I’m blonde? Because I’m from the South? It was so stereotypical. I’m, like, “If you’re going to critique me, give me a real critique. Tell me that my picture sucks, or something. Don’t just make something up.”

HSG: Yes, it’s so amorphous and insubstantial. It’s a convenient, non-specific comment that they can use when they want to cut someone.

WHITNEY: It’s something you can’t defend yourself against. “Too pageanty.” What? Okaaaay. Yeah. I saw the boards light up right after that, and everyone was, like, “They’re just setting her up to cut her.” They were freaking out.

Makeover photoshoot; click to enlarge

HSG: I certainly did. I thought, “Oh, no. This is the angle that they’re going to use to justify a bogus elimination.”

WHITNEY: But I knew, so I was, like, “Ha, ha, ha.”

HSG: Everyone at The Judgment of Paris loved your makeover, by the way. Loved it.

WHITNEY: Oh, thank you.

HSG: Do you think it helped you win, and would you ever grow your own hair out to that amazing length?

WHITNEY: I love the length. I really did not like the length that my hair was at before. It was a lot of layers, and too short. So, yes, the length is incredible. The colour drives me a little nuts, because I have to dye my roots every week. Which is fine on the show, when someone else is paying for it and handling it, and I had nothing better to do, but now, I’m going to castings with two-inch roots. It’s hard. But I would love… I’m actually trying to grow my hair out right now. Eventually, I would like it to be my natural colour again, because I feel like my features stand out more, and I get a lot of… You know, I am very Anna Nicole, which is fine, but I want to be Whitney Thompson. And I think once I’ve really established myself, and I’m recognizable with my dark hair, then I’ll go back dark. But it won’t be for a while. I have a contract with CoverGirl that won’t let me do my hair anyway.

HSG: Well, your suffering is our good fortune, because many of us have a soft spot for blondes.

WHITNEY: [laughs] Yeah, well, I loved the blonde at first, but it’s been a year, and I’m a girl. I’m, like, “I want to dye it.” “I want to cut it.” Always changing. It will be blonde for a while, but eventually, I’ll have to go dark.

Arriving for the Roman castle shoot with Tyra; click to enlarge

HSG: While the hair/makeup people dressed your hair for the photoshoots, many fans remarked on how gorgeous you looked already, anytime you showed up on location. When you had just arrived at the Roman castle, for example, fans noted how beautiful your hair already looked. Did you arrange your own hair in those circumstances, back in the house, or was it done for you?

WHITNEY: Well, the great thing about those extensions that they gave me is that they’re basically pre-styled. I shower, I get out of the shower, and they go into that wavy mode, the “mermaid hair” look. My hair’s naturally wavy, but it doesn’t look like that. No, I’m really not good with hair and makeup. It’s not my forte. [laughs]

HSG: Although you did receive a compliment in an early Walmart challenge, in which you and your fellow contestants were tasked with doing your own makeup.
      At any rate, in many episodes the show made a point of filming you eating, and you yourself commented on your fondness for steak, for potato pancakes, etc. Was this a conscious choice on your part, to deliberately show the public a model who enjoyed food, because you knew that this would have a beneficial effect on young girls watching the program—to see a model actually eating, actually relishing food? Or was this incidental?

Deservedly indulging herself; click to enlarge

WHITNEY: No, I didn’t even think about it. And the show, those are the people who edited it.
      I though it was so funny whenever there’s nothing going on in our house, all the girls are sitting around, and it shows me eating a whole pizza. It’s so funny how they edit it. I mean, just to make… You’re very aware when you’re watching it that I’m eating, and no one else is doing anything.

HSG: True, but there could be a good side to that. After all, you won. You were the girl who was eating, and you won.

WHITNEY: Exactly.

HSG: And that is a positive message.

WHITNEY: Yeah. Absolutely. I’m glad that they edited it like that. But I wasn’t thinking, “This is what’s going to happen. I’m going to change the world, so I’m eating anytime I’m on camera.” I baked a lot too.

HSG: Yes, and unlike one of the other models who nearly cut a finger off, you did it safely.

WHITNEY: Well, it was filmed over Christmas, and I would bake cookies, and have all the girls decorate them with icing…and then I would eat them. [giggles]

HSG: [sighs] Extra scenes that one dearly wishes the DVD would include.

On the runway for Badgley-Mischka; click to enlarge


HSG: Many fans appreciated the unique, come-hither glances that you displayed, for example in the runway show for Badgley-Mischka, or in the much-loved (despite what the judges said) Italian CoverGirl commercial. Do those come naturally, or do you practice them in front of a mirror?

WHITNEY: [laughs] They come naturally. I don’t know what that is. I just… I have a lot of personality. I used to do theatre when I was in high school, maybe. It’s just fun. You see things, and you think things, and you don’t really do them, but when I model, it’s like playing dress-up. It’s playing a character. It’s like acting to me, and it’s fun. Maybe walking down the street I wouldn’t look like that, but on a runway, it’s good.

HSG: Well, I think it would be pretty captivating on the street too.

WHITNEY: [laughs]

HSG: Okay. In the Gai Mattiolo challenge, the prize for winning was a size-2 dress, meaning that you were basically precluded from winning. Did that go through your mind, and if so, how did you manage to compete so effectively anyway?

WHITNEY: That went through my mind on several of the shows.

HSG: I mean, “Here’s the prize dress for winning. But it’s in a size 2.” So basically, you can’t win, no matter what you do.

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WHITNEY: I know. And for the challenge that Anya won, we got to the set, and they had an ad [and were saying], “This is what we want Anya’s ad to look like.” And the girl in the ad looked just like Anya. She had bright blonde hair, super-skinny. And I’m, like, “Is it a coincidence that the girl who hardly speaks English is the best interviewer?” Things like that are very frustrating. And Top Model, of course, says, “No, no, it’s never rigged. We would never do that.” But at the same time, it does make you wonder.

HSG: That occurred to us too. When was the last time 7UP used a plus-size model in an ad? It’s possible, I suppose, but hardly likely that they would break new ground.

WHITNEY: Exactly. Yeah, that was frustrating. Especially [because] that’s that episode that they cut me out of winning the challenge, right next to Anya.

HSG: Were there any other notable scenes that were filmed but never broadcast?

WHITNEY: No, I mean, they usually… They show the worst of everything. The bigger moments they always show. But the challenge was the most shocking thing. “Whoops. We left that out.”

Click to enlarge

HSG: Talk about revisionist history. Okay, you said that watching the show was nerve-racking for you, but how did you feel when you were voted CoverGirl of the Week in the second-to-last episode—meaning that you went into the final three as the fan favourite?

WHITNEY: I was so happy. And that’s one of the things, right after I won, where you would see negative criticism, “I wanted Anya to win.” And I’d go, “Well, you know, the majority of fans did vote for me the last episode, so apparently, the majority of fans wanted me to win.” And that definitely makes me feel better. It’s frustrating when Claire won five times in a row.

HSG: Well, at least it shows that CGOTW wasn’t rigged. If a girl who didn’t last long in the competition was given five wins, then your win was authentic as well.


HSG: Something in which you can take comfort.
      Okay, fans loved your Italian CoverGirl commercial, and even Tyra did. Do you have any idea why the judges critiqued it so harshly? Do you think viewers might have been even more enthusiastic about it if there hadn’t been the negative voice-over from the judges? Even the first time it was shown, it was voiced-over by Jay Manuel, who described it in negative terms, which never gave viewers the chance to form an objective opinion of it.

Click to enlarge

WHITNEY: I think after the whole “pageanty” thing happened, every single thing I did, they went, “It’s pageanty.” And it’s so frustrating to me, because I have acted before. Yeah, I think maybe it was a little over the top, but it was very Tyra. It had a lot of personality. And I thought Fatima’s—I thought it was horrible. I thought she looked like she was drunk!

HSG: Or drugged or something. It looked like she sleepwalked through it.

WHITNEY: That’s not a CoverGirl to me. And they’re, like, “Oh, it’s so good.” I could have gone out there and acted like that, but I didn’t. I thought that they wanted effort [laughs]. I always feel that anything worth doing is worth doing well, and I do my best, and if they don’t like it, that’s all that I can do.

HSG: It was a definite crowd-pleaser—like the time when you did the splits.
      Did you ever get a disc or film of the other shots that you did in the program, or did you only get the ones that they showed during the episodes?

WHITNEY: I only got the one, of course.

HSG: That’s unfortunate. Watching the show, and seeing some of the screencaps of the photoshoots, did you ever think that you must have created better photos than the ones that they chose?

WHITNEY: Absolutely. Yeah, with several shoots. I mean, they pick pictures that are interesting to talk about. It’s a TV show. And they say they pick the best pictures, and maybe they do. I don’t know. But I had modelled before. I know what to do. I know how to make my face look good. Especially my lingerie shoot. I was shocked that they picked that picture. My face isn’t posed. It’s not… I’m a model. I know how to model. And that picture doesn’t even look like a model. It looks like an in-between picture. It’s so frustrating. You go, “Okay, well, I’m in the bottom two, and why? And can I see my other film?” And of course you don’t say that, because it’s Cycle 10, and you’ve seen girls that do go, “Um, this is not my best photo,” and Tyra goes, “Yes, it is. Go home.” So you don’t do that.

HSG: It was also the case during the Fuerza Bruta shoot. The “fetus” photo was certainly interesting, and a great conversation-piece, but from the screencaps it looked as if you had many more gorgeous poses.

Fuerza Bruta shoot; click to enlarge

WHITNEY: Well, the good thing about that one was that Tyra—And they didn’t show this either.—Tyra said, going through my film, she saw tons of photos that she could use, but she chose that picture because it was different, because no one else had a position like that. They didn’t show it. They just show them going, “Oh, you look like a fetus.” Tyra’s, like, “You had so many options. I didn’t even know if this is your best one, but I thought it was the most interesting one.”

HSG: Fans often thought that there were probably many moments of praise for you that were never aired. For example, in the very last episode, there was an extra clip of you doing the runway walk with Tyra during the “Posing with Pain” lesson, and Tyra said about you, “This is the one to beat.” That was never shown during the original episode.

WHITNEY: Yeah, when I was walking with Tyra, and she said that I had the best runway walk. “This is the girl to watch out for.” And they don’t show that stuff. But I guess they don’t want people to assume that it’s going to be me. They want it to be a mystery. Because when Allison got kicked off, her goodbye letter was… All it said was, “Whitney had better win, bitches.” That’s all that she wrote. And they cut it out. Because I did win, I guess, and they didn’t want it to be foreshadowing.

Note the cupola of St. Peter's Basilica in the background; click to enlarge

HSG: Well, in the episodes in Rome, they did feature you against backdrops such as St. Peter’s Basilica and the Monument to King Emanuel—all of these pontifical, royal images of preeminence. Anyone who knew their history would see these images of primacy as foreshadowing your win.
      Incidentally, in one of your interviews, did you not say that you were part of a Classics Club or a Latin Club in school?

WHITNEY: I was vice-president of the Latin Club.

HSG: And you went to Rome. How perfect is that?

WHITNEY: I know. It’s so funny. I was so excited to go there. Yeah, I was kind of a dork in high school. I was president of the Chess Club for two years too. President of the Marine Biology Club. Class Historian. I was very involved.

HSG: You’re ruining your cheerleader image.

WHITNEY: That’s unrelatable, right? I could meet with a magazine for dorky 13-year-old boys, and I could spout off everything I’ve done. It’s pretty funny.

Never so beautiful as when she is in tears; click to enlarge

HSG: Many fans thought that the scene of you crying in the final episode, when you were up for elimination alongside Fatima, was the most touching moment in the entire cycle, apart from your tearful final victory. Even Anya said that it was beautiful to see—to see you looking so vulnerable. Do you have any idea why it generated such a response?

WHITNEY: [AUDIO] I think because, on TV, they edit me to look really…very strong. Which is good, but I look kind of impenetrable. People see me on TV and think that I’m a TV character. They don’t understand that I’m a real human being. And I think when someone cries, it brings them down to earth, and people go, “Oh, I get that. I understand that.

HSG: [laughs]

WHITNEY: Yeah, that was so hard. It’s difficult being so close, especially when you’re a plus-size model toward the end.

HSG: Sure. You can see it right in front of you.

WHITNEY: Usually in panel, I was just angry that I was in the bottom two. I was giving Tyra a dirty look.

Click to enlarge

HSG: Well, your “angry” looks actually appeared quite stunning on camera. You should consider incorporating those into future tests. But anyway, you mentioned during the show that you were “near tears” during many a panel. But what made you finally break down and cry in the last episode, at that moment?

WHITNEY: [AUDIO] The final three! It’s a Versace runway show. Versace doesn’t use plus-size models. I’m basically, like, “This is it. All right. Okay. This sucks. I’m going home.” And I didn’t, and that was such an…“Oh, my God.” I was just blown away. And you’re so stressed out. And you’re doing so much. You’re not sleeping. It’s really so hard to be in that competition. And, yeah, I just let it loose.

HSG: Don’t feel bad about it, because it was a beautiful moment, and it may have even helped you win. In fact, you should have planned it. “Okay, now I’m going to strategically cry.”

WHITNEY: [giggles softly]

HSG: I imagine sleep must have been difficult. How often did the camera catch you just when you were waking up—

WHITNEY: Yeah, that’s so annoying. It’s, like, “Have the camera in your face.” I’m getting out of bed. “What are you doing?”

Looking angelic, first thing in the morning; click to enlarge

HSG: Well, credit those amazing extensions again, because they arranged themselves perfectly. It was almost as if you got up, arranged your hair romantically, then went back to bed, and said, “Now, film me.”

WHITNEY: [laughs] Nope! I know. They were good.

HSG: What surprised you most about America’s Next Top Model? What about it was different from how you expected it to be?

WHITNEY: I thought it would be a lot more glamorous. I thought we would be treated a lot better, but we’re really not. You think you get there and it’s all, “The life of the model,” but the crew is always first. They get the good food. You get [name of catering company]. It’s not good food. They bring it to you. You’re not allowed to talk when there’s not a camera around. You’re not allowed to call your family. You have no freedom.

HSG: You’re not allowed to talk when the camera’s not on?


HSG: That’s very interesting. I guess it’s to ensure that when the camera is on, you girls do talk, because you have all that pent-up need to get things off your chest.

WHITNEY: And to make sure they don’t miss anything. So I mean, it’s so much stress, and it’s not glamorous, and it’s… It’s hard.

With Aimee Wright, the second-most-beautiful competitor ever to appear on ''America's Next Top Model,'' and Whitney's only true competition in Cycle 10; click to enlarge

HSG: That occurred to me when I saw the sleeping quarters. The room was painted bright blue, but you were just sleeping on bunk beds. It was like…camp.


HSG: Okay. Now that you’ve been on America’s Next Top Model, what would you change? If you were the producer, what would you do to improve it?

WHITNEY: [laughs] I don’t think I got that far into it. Being on the other side… Production is so different than being on it, and being on it, I would go, “Don’t touch it. Don’t touch the show,” because they’re just going to make it worse. “The girls are now living with…live crocodiles!”

HSG: [laughing]

WHITNEY: Just ridiculous. It’s pretty fine in itself, and people really do love it, so whatever. I’m glad that I’m not still filming.

HSG: It’s funny. Fans like to identify themselves as being part of a “team” for the model whom they support. They’ll say they’re on “Team Whitney,” for example. And I suppose that’s nice, but really, when it matters, “Team Whitney” consists of only one person: you.

Pouting seductively during the Roman castle shoot; click to enlarge

WHITNEY: [laughs] Yeah.

HSG: I guess they imagine that the show could be happening in real time.

WHITNEY: Oh, they do. Yeah. Lots of people do.

HSG: You did a lot of major TV interviews as a part of your publicity tour after the show ended. What was your favourite?

WHITNEY: Probably Regis & Kelly because it was just so… That’s a big talk show that I remember watching when I was younger, that my mom has always watched. I did a lot of other talk shows too, but it was just so, “Oh, my God, it’s Regis & Kelly.” And you know what? That was a good feeling. And they weren’t even sure if I would do it. They were, like, “Oh, we don’t know,” and blah, blah, blah, and I was just… It was awesome. I felt like I’d really gone somewhere. Because it’s a show that I’d watch. There’s lots of talk shows that other people watch, but I’m, like, “I’ve seen this.”

HSG: Well, you were also on Entertainment Tonight, and that’s something.

WHITNEY: Oh, yeah. Entertainment Tonight and Extra. Yeah, I did all those. But the Regis & Kelly one was live, so it was, like—

On the cover of ''Supermodels Unlimited'' magazine, Sept/Oct 2008 issue; click to enlarge

HSG: Oh, that’s right. Can’t mess up.

WHITNEY: Yeah, right.

HSG: Can you let us in on any campaigns you’ve shot since then?

WHITNEY: I do castings like every other model. I’ve talked to several, like Teen Vogue, Allure magazine, all these people. But it’s hard because you don’t book jobs for, like… “Oh, you got the job. In three months. So we’ll see you.” But I did just shoot for the cover of Supermodels Unlimited magazine, and that’s coming out in September. I’m also, catalogue-wise, I’m going to be in MetroStyle and Silhouettes.

HSG: Oh, yes. Silhouettes creates some decent campaigns in good locations. They might fly you off somewhere nice. I don’t know if you’ve done it already, or—

WHITNEY: It’s a monthly booking, which is good. Rent money.

HSG: [laughs] Sure. You’ll meet some of the Ford girls there, the Wilhelmina girls.

WHITNEY: Yeah. Yeah, I have already.

HSG: By the way, there’s something very cool about the fact that you are the Elite plus-size model—with the definite article, “the,” and the double meaning of “elite.” You’re the only one.

Whitney's winning CoverGirl ad; click to enlarge

WHITNEY: They just hung a big picture of me in the office, a huge poster of my CoverGirl ad. I’m, like, “That’s so cool.”

HSG: If Elite is promoting you that way, that’s a good sign.

WHITNEY: They’re really excited. And they’re really supportive.

HSG: That’s so astonishing, because the main reason why people didn’t expect you to win was because Elite New York has never represented plus-size models. That’s what I kept telling your brother: “I know she can’t win, but I’m still supporting her…”

WHITNEY: My brother knew the whole time. I told him the second that I got back in town. So he knew that I’d won.

HSG: He told me later how hard it was for him to keep the secret.

WHITNEY: He didn’t tell his wife!

HSG: I asked him if you were going to be doing any publicity, whatever your final position would be, and he simply said, “The winner would be on Regis & Kelly.” And for a moment I thought, “Could it be?” But then I thought, “No, no, it’s too much to hope for.”

WHITNEY: [laughs]

Modelling for ''It's Eclectic''; click to enlarge

HSG: What’s your own fashion style? What sort of clothing do you like to wear?

WHITNEY: [AUDIO] I’m pretty laid back. I like girly clothes. I really like Juicy Couture. I love ruffles, and, you know—

HSG: [whispers] Ah, perfect.

WHITNEY: [laughs] —and, um, fluffy, girly, comfy stuff. [giggles]

HSG: You really are too good to be true, because that’s exactly the style which Judgment of Paris readers favour. I’m so happy you prefer that over…the business-suit look.

WHITNEY: Yeah, I don’t like that.

HSG: There’s a synchronicity there, of course: The industry produces angular, utilitarian clothing, and showcases it on angular, utilitarian models.

WHITNEY: [laughs] You know who I do like, though, as well, is Diane von Furstenberg. I was never really into her stuff, and I’ve been trying on her clothes, and wearing her dresses, and it’s what I wore on Regis & Kelly. Her cuts are so flattering on women with bodies. When I do a wrap dress, she elongates the waistline so that it fits better, and everything that I’ve worn from her thus far has been really femininely made. I think it’s awesome.

HSG: Do you have a dream editorial or dream photoshoot in mind?

Warrior princess challenge; click to enlarge

WHITNEY: I love Russell James. I’d love anything dealing with Sports Illustrated, Victoria’s Secret. Mostly everything I shoot is pretty much naked since the show. Everything is bikinis, or lingerie, which is good—

HSG: Which is good.

WHITNEY: I mean, if they can put Beyoncé on the cover. I’m smaller than Beyoncé, so you know…

HSG: [dismayed] Is that true? You’re smaller than Beyoncé?

WHITNEY: Beyoncé’s got booty. I mean, granted, she’s airbrushed like crazy. But when you see her on the red carpet, she’s got to be… I would not say less than a 10. Though she does fluctuate. The last time I saw anything on her, she was… Yeah.

HSG: But then the airbrushing comes in, as you said. How regrettable. That happens in the plus-size industry all too often. Even when they do feature a full-figured model, they electronically whittle her down to look straight-sized. It’s very sad.

Page from Whitney's editorial layout in ''Seventeen'' magazine, June 2008; click to enlarge

WHITNEY: Yeah. Well, my Seventeen magazine wasn’t airbrushed. Ann Shoket said she walked in, and they were about to do it, and she’s, like, “Don’t touch that!”

HSG: Really?


HSG: She impressed everyone. We all responded cynically when, during the paparazzi-shoot episode, she opined that you should “own” your sexiness and reveal yourself more, because we said to ourselves, “We’ll see how she dresses you for her own magazine”—expecting her to put you in something formless. But boy, did she prove us wrong.
      Everything about your
Seventeen issue was terrific—the interview, the wardrobe, the photos.

WHITNEY: Yeah, that article was really, really well-written.

HSG: What styles or fashions do you think look especially good on curvy girls? Or is there a difference? Can curvy girls wear anything and everything?

WHITNEY: Well, I definitely think so. It’s just so important that you make sure that you’re wearing the right sizes, and you’re fitting clothes to your body. Of course, when you go into an Abercrombie, and you have to get the girl to fetch a stepladder to get your sizes…

HSG: [laughing]

Channelling Blair Warner; click to enlarge

WHITNEY: No one wants to deal with that, so I understand why girls buy sizes too small, because they don’t want to say that they’re a size 14, or whatever. But that’s not me. They go, “Okay, these are my measurements. This is what I fit into, [but] I’ll try to squeeze into something that doesn’t fit.” That’s the biggest problem, I think, that bigger girls have. They go, “I’m an 8, but these jeans are a 4, and by God, I’m going to wear them, and tell everyone that I’m a 4, because that’s more accepted.” And it doesn’t look good, and so I think that’s where the issue comes into play, where…business suits, and all that. Well, yeah, if it doesn’t fit you right, then it’s not going to look as good. And so I think that people, as long as they embrace their size… When you’re fitted into something, it works, and trust me, I go to the back and get all the size 14s that no one else picks up. Try that on, because that’s what really fits, and if it fits you, then you’re going to feel better, you’re not going to feel squeezed into something too small, and then you’re going to look better.

HSG: Do you think that younger girls are more comfortable about being full-figured than past generations were?

WHITNEY: I think probably the opposite. I grew up with a lot of girls who aren’t big at all, but are bigger than Victoria Beckham, and so they think that they are full-figured. Well, you’re not. You’re normal. Stop it.
      And of course, it’s not their fault, but I think it’s very difficult for them to deal with. This girl is growing into her body. She doesn’t understand everything, but she knows that she doesn’t want to be considered bigger than the rest.

HSG: That’s so difficult isn’t it? One wants to encourage them to embrace their plus-size identity, but it’s hard for them to do that.

Click to enlarge

WHITNEY: If we said “normal” and called skinny girls, you know, “freakishly-skinny models,” then I think that would help. But going, “Embrace the fact that you’re bigger than everyone else—even though you’re not, basically,” people go, “What? Huh? No, I don’t want to be that girl.”
      I did it, and I was, like, “I’m plus-size. Yeah!” I think the impact that that had alone was so great.

HSG: Absolutely. That was the point that you made in your Donny Deutsch interview. You said that you took what could be construed as a negative—your size—and turned it into your calling-card.

WHITNEY: I understand it’s difficult, because it’s been going on for 20 years—Kate Moss—so I get how hard it is for them. And I talk to these girls, and I totally understand where they’re coming from. But I think it’s good that they look up to me, and that I be an inspiration, since I’m not in that division.

HSG: Well, I can’t even begin to say how many people you’ve inspired, and how much change you’ve effected, so keep going.

WHITNEY: Oh, I am. All the time. Lots of publicity.

HSG: You’re in New York right now?


HSG: And how are you enjoying that? First time living away from home?

WHITNEY: Yeah, but I love it. I really do. My family is all coming to visit me this week, and… Well, not my brother, but my mom, and sister, and my 13-year-old cousin. They’re going to be in my CoverGirl commercial.

Paparazzi shoot; click to enlarge

HSG: Oh, really?

WHITNEY: Yeah, so I’m really excited about that, and I really do love it up here. It’s great. And I get stopped all the time by people, all day, every day in New York, who are so supportive. And people that I meet, or designers, [or] people at magazines are, like, “My God, thank you. What you’re doing is so great.” Even if I don’t get booked, they’re still very appreciative of my message, and everything that I’ve done, and am doing.

HSG: It’s nice to hear that there are a few people in the industry who are supportive. Maybe if more people with that mindset enter into the profession, things can change.

WHITNEY: Yeah. Let’s hope so.

HSG: Well, those are all of the questions that I had on my list.


HSG: Do you have anything else that you’d like to share? I’ve taken just over an hour of your time, which is what I promised (or threatened) I would take, so…

WHITNEY: [laughs]

HSG: I’m feeling guilty. What’s your hourly rate? I can’t pay it, whatever it is.

A Classical beauty amid Classical ruins; click to enlarge

WHITNEY: [laughs] That’s okay. I won’t charge you. No, I’m really appreciative of the support that I’ve gotten from the Web site. It’s really great. It’s actually where I go to look up things that I haven’t seen—interviews and stuff. We’re big fans in my household, and I do check it quite often. Oh, and, if people want to contact me, I have a Facebook. So my Facebook is for my fans, and messaging, and all that. If anyone needs to talk to me, or wants an autographed picture or anything, they can always message me.

HSG: I’ll definitely provide a link when I write up the transcript.

WHITNEY: Awesome.

HSG: And it’s actually you who responds, eh? You don’t have a secretary or something?

WHITNEY: No. It’s me. I’m mobile Facebook. I’m on Facebook all day, every day, in between everything else that I do. I’m there. So, yeah, if you ever need anything else, if you have any questions, you can Facebook me, or call me, or text me, or whatever.

HSG: Thank you so much for the interview. Wishing you continued success. Have a great day.

WHITNEY: You too. Bye.

(Interview recorded July 25, 2008.)

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