“America’s Next Top Model”: Chatting with winner Whitney Thompson

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So what will you be up a few weeks from now when things settle down?
Everything: I’ve already booked out the next couple weeks. It’s pretty exciting. I meet with my representative form Elite today so I’ll figure all of that out. This upcoming week I’m in In Touch magazine, People, and then Seventeen comes out and my billboard comes out.

Are you happy with how you turned out on the show? Do you feel like we saw the real you?
Yeah, I do. It’s funny because most of the girls say, ‘No, they didn’t show it right,’ and I, obviously, was not shown that great on the show. I don’t look like the nicest person in the world. I’m going to tell you straight up, that’s me, that’s my personality. It was edited pretty appropriately. That’s just the truth. In real life, I’m a real person. You have ups and downs and sometimes you’re nice and sometimes you’re not and that’s just me.


Do you keep in touch with anyone from the show?
Oh, yeah. Anya and I are still best friends: I just visited her in Hawaii. I still talk to Marvita, Stacy Ann, Lauren, Claire, Aimee. I just went out with Fatima this past week in New York. We still talk, but it’s different after the show’s over.

I saw some pictures on a Web site of you modeling pre-ANTM where you didn’t look full-figured. What’s the story with that?
I’ve only ever modeled locally in Jacksonville, Florida. I didn’t do any big campaigns. Those are from Jacksonville Magazine. I had a great photographer who does some great airbrushing too, but I’m not small in those pictures. I’m about maybe a size 6 or an 8, because those are from high school.

I wasn’t sure if you had to gain weight for Top Model or anything like that.
Oh, no. I went on the show, and I’m the one who said ‘I’m a plus-sized model.’ Which is so funny because when I was when I was there, all the other girls there that were my size were like ‘Oh, you know, I’m a size ... 10.’ And I was like ‘Pfft. I’m a size 10! Yeah!’ I think that’s why they took me out to L.A. I didn’t expect to make it that far. People always told me, ‘You should be on that show!’ And I was like, ‘Please, I would never get on that show.’ And look at me now! Never say never.

It’s weird because those of us who are non-models say that a size 10 is not at all plus-sized or even full-figured.
It is because it’s not. It’s below average.

Did you have to adjust your mindset to the fact that in real life you’re just a beautiful woman but on the show you’re kind of a special case?
I think the fact that I didn’t adjust my mindset is what took me further. Instead of being like ‘Oh no, I’m big!’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m making pancakes for breakfast!’ I think that really did help because you have to keep your hopes high and your mentality going. At the end of the day, you don’t have anyone but yourself. All the quote-unquote friends you have are still your competitors, which is really really difficult for anyone. There were times that I locked myself in the bathroom and cried. It got rough, but I think what made me go further than any other plus-sized model, especially on this season, was the fact that I didn’t just come in and go, ‘Hey, I’m not skinny, but I’m really pretty.’ It was more like ‘OK, almost the majority of all 9-year-old girls have been on a diet, and why isn’t anyone changing that?’ I’m not supporting that, and I’m not supporting being emaciated and starving yourself, and I will go further.

Did the girls ever give you crap about being full-figured?
You saw when Stacy Ann was like ‘Whatever, you’re fat.’ And I was like ‘Uh, perhaps you meant P-H-A-T,’ which is totally my personality. There were a few times. I think the girls were a little jealous that they had to diet and they had to do this work to be super skinny, and I was like ‘Well, I don’t, and my pictures still came out better than yours.’ I think it was difficult for them because the plus-sized models usually lose their confidence within the first week or two. I think they were like ‘What? Well you’re big!’

It was refreshing that you didn’t keep hammering that ‘I’m big, and I’m beautiful’ and that on the show you strove to be a model and not so much a role model.
Even though there are disadvantages to being bigger, in the long run the best thing that’s happened to me is that even before everyone knew that I won, I got e-mails from girls and boys from all over the world saying ‘I’ve dealt with an eating disorder and you’ve had me seek help and I see your confidence and how you do it,’ people who were really looking up to me just for my ideas on the show, not even knowing I had won. I think that’s really the best reward I could possibly have.

Being plus-sized didn’t seem to affect you too much on the show, except maybe on the go-sees. Was it an issue other times?
It was an issue a lot because the clothes didn’t fit me ever, which they don’t show on camera because I didn’t make it an issue, like, ‘What, why don’t the clothes fit?’ I anticipated the worst at every challenge and photo shoot, like when they handed me a size 2 skirt and said ‘Put this on’ and the stylist was cutting it and sewing it on. It’s embarrassing. What girl wants to be told ‘You’re too fat so we’re going to glue you into the skirt.’ That is difficult, but I anticipated the worst. I was prepared mentally for that. Thank God, because that could really drag you down.

Was that an issue at the Versace show?
Do you know how many dresses I tried on to find two that fit? They were like, ‘OK, stop breathing.’ All the girls there are very small, and and I’m not. The guys were so funny, though. Donatella’s head henchmen were like [in an Italian accent] ‘Oh, it’s so good that you’re here. Those girls were so skinny.’ It was good to hear from them that ‘Eew, these models are grross.’

I thought it was nice that Paulina Porizkova said that while Anya might be the one you buy the dress from, you’re the one men want in the bedroom.
Yeah, but at the same time, why would a girl rather buy a dress from a stick figure? The designers are the ones that make that popular. When I see a skeleton walking down the runway, I don’t go, ‘Ooh, wow, I want to look like her.’ It’s like, ‘Um, where’d she go?’

Tyra’s made body image an issue on her talk show. Do you think she favored you at all because you represented something she had been a proponent of?
I wish. I think that in the beginning Tyra felt that I would fall flat like everyone else. I don’t know because she hasn’t told me, but when I watch the show, I see what she says about me when I’m not there. She’s like, ‘Well, Whitney’s not that great,’ and then toward the end then he starts thinking, ‘Well maybe she is.’ But the truth is, Tyra is not the panel. There are five people there, so even if Tyra did want me to win, which I don’t think she did in the beginning but hopefully she did in the end, it wouldn’t matter if nobody else wanted me to. Plus, the show’s been on for five years, if she really wanted a plus-sized girl to win ... come on.

What kind of work do you see yourself doing further down the road?
I’m not saying that I won’t do anything because I really want my name and my face out there and I want people who don’t watch the show as well to to see me and go, ‘Hey, that girl is twice the size of the girl on the cover next to her, and she’s still a model and that is beautiful.’ No one from the generation behind me has anyone to look up to. Truly all of their role models are in rehab or have eating disorders, and I feel like it might be a lost generation because of that. I’m not saying no to anything. I really want to work and work and work and just get everything I want to out there.

So you see yourself aspiring to work as much for Versace as you do for Marina Rinaldi?
I want to throw it all out there, but definitely the high fashion ones are more difficult. They are the ones that do the skinny models. Some people are starting to change a little. Vogue had a plus-sized model in a couple issues ago, which is a big deal. She was my size. She wasn’t a 16 or anything, but that’s a start. This is just one step. But it’s a big step. I think it’s going to go well, and I’ll go far.

Do you care to dispel any myths about being full-figured model? For instance, I imagine you don’t sit around eating bonbons and then show up on set.
It’s about being healthy. Being obese is no better than being emaciated, and I have to keep telling people that. I don’t sit around and eat donuts all day. I still wear bikinis and look good in them. It’s just about being the best you you can be, and you can’t do anything other than that. Another myth is that being a plus-sized model means you’re fat. Guess what: it doesn’t. It means that you’re normal, which is considered plus-sized. Why in the world are we saying are we saying that’s fine, designers? Yeah, let’s tell my 9-year-old daughter that a size 6 is too fat.

I interviewed some of the girls who exited the show who do have daughters, and when I asked them what advice they’d give them about the modeling world, they didn’t mention anything about body image or anything like that.
I’m so glad my parents never put me in any modeling when I was young. Girls get really mentally messed up about that stuff.

-- Claire Zulkey