TV personality and plus size model Alison Stanley has gained many insights about the modeling business and women's body image through her work and life experience. You may recognize Allison from her appearance on TV's Starting Over, but she has been much busier and more active than two seasons on television would have you believe. In this exclusive interview, she opens up about how she battled cancer, overcame a poor self-image and made it into the world of modeling.
LoveToKnow (LTK): Allison, you were diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in February 2004. You really turned your experience with cancer into something positive! How are you feeling these days?
Alison Stanley (AS): I feel pretty good, thanks. After surviving cancer, I was inundated with information from doctors and the cancer community about being faced with a "new normal" - a nice way of saying that I would never feel 100 percent right or "normal" again. Most folks worry about how they are going to accept this, but I think it is similar to seeing a scar on a person and accepting the idea that it enhances their beauty instead of detracting from it. Life after cancer, for me, is just that.
LTK: How did your appearance on Starting Over change your life?
AS: I often say I had "chemo brain" when I decided to audition for this very intimate daytime reality TV show. I wasn't nervous in the interview at all because the thought of being one of the women chosen to fly to Hollywood and move into a house with five others who learn to change their lives by airing their problems on national TV was so far-fetched.
I sat there bald from chemo, fat from steroids, and with one supple breast and an extremely heavy prosthetic to hide my concave remains from my mastectomy. Yet I found myself at ease, authentic, and funny during the interview. Who would have thought that going through this revealing experience would turn me into a beautiful model both inside and out? The transformation took place, and the world watched as I broke through the cocoon and changed into a butterfly.
LTK: As a plus size model, can you tell readers how being a full figured woman has impacted your life, negatively or positively?
AS: Life is so funny. I was much smaller years ago at a size 12, and I couldn't get past the fact that I was so much bigger than all of my friends. I was always the "fat" one. I was in half sizes as a kid, so essentially, I have always been wearing plus sizes.
I remember doing my first photo shoot shortly after I returned from Starting Over. My story line was not airing yet, and no one knew who I was. I was treated so professionally and told over and over again how the camera loved me. This new love affair was so empowering and at the same time, I felt sick when I saw the large lady in the picture. With reassurance during every click of a camera and turn of a page, I humbly and happily learned to smile for the camera because I knew what people saw was my inside shining through.
LTK: How has being "plus size" affected your image of yourself? Is this different from how you feel others perceive you?
AS: I think being "plus size" and feeling "plus size" are two completely different things. I have always been bigger than all the other girls. I was always too fat to be thin and too thin to be fat. I blamed every failed relationship on the fact that I was "too fat" for the boy and that is why it ended. "No one truly loves a fat girl," I thought.
To make matters worse, I would wear bigger clothes so no one could ever "see" me. I now have learned that wearing something fitted actually makes me look smaller than hiding in a blouse two sizes too big.
Path to Modeling
LTK: How did you get into the modeling business?
AS: I have dabbled in the art of performance. Whether it was on the New York stage, community theater, cruise ship, or reality TV, I have been in some part of the public eye since I was a little girl. It was no big deal to have "press pictures" or professional pictures taken of me.
However, after having breast cancer, I felt not only fat, but also deformed. I only had one (very large) breast from March 2004 to June of 2005. Feeling so imbalanced made me even more insecure. I thought that having no breasts would be better than just one. For health reasons, I had my second breast removed and a full (26-inch incision) hysterectomy in June of 2005. I also had double tram flap reconstruction which took fat from my stomach and produced two new breasts.
I thought I would never be "pretty" again. Scarred with no nipples, I began sharing my story with others. I started to see the beauty of what was on the other side of my experience - the beauty of my friends, my life, and what was still out there for me to conquer. That's when I started to model because I realized it was an avenue where I could showcase the beautiful story my body could tell.
LTK: What would you tell readers who want to break into the modeling business?
AS: I am a model because I believe in the unification of fashion and beauty with communication and inner beauty. Recently, I did a photo shoot with another popular plus-size model where I watched as she added padding to her breast and butt to fit the clothing. She was a size 10. Great strides for plus size models are being made, but it still can be very cut throat and negative if your head and heart are not in the right place. Stay focused on the product, the cause, and the influence you may have to encourage another to feel beautiful on the inside and out.
Inspiration for Plus Size Women
LTK: What tips do you have for our readers who want to live a healthy and balanced life while not being Western society's version of the perfect size?
AS: I believe that there is a huge difference between being physically fit and physically active. While being physically fit may look good, staying physically active is a simple but effective way to maintain your overall health. I think the most important tip that I can offer is to constantly work not only your outside but also on your inside. If you don't feel good about yourself on the inside, you will not feel good about how you look on the outside, no matter your size.
LTK: What would you like women who struggle with their weight to know?
AS: If a woman is struggling with weight, she is most likely struggling with another, more pressing issue. Weight, though mismeasured often in our society, has everything to do with inner strength and energy. If you or someone you know is a plus-size gal who is angry or sad about the way she looks and would rather hide in larger clothes, take a look at what is going on the inside.
I'm over 40, have scars and imperfections all over my body, and weigh more now than ever before, and yet, I feel more beautiful now than I ever have. It shows - on the other side of the camera, on the page of an ad I've done, and in the big smile on my face as I walk confidently down the street.
LTK: You established the Chemo Cafe, where cancer patients are visited by people and given homemade goodies while receiving chemo. You've also volunteered for Race for the Cure, and been involved with Laugh for the Cure and Charlotte, North Carolina's Sing for the Cure. What plans do you have for your future?
AS: I am working hard on being an activist for the authentic, real woman. I will continue to speak to women about breast cancer and the effects, both physical and spiritual, it can have on a survivor. I'll continue to speak about learning how to balance our lives, and I want to continue to model. I love all the fuss of make-up and fashion, but more importantly, I want to be a role model for the flawlessly flawed, authentic, inner and outer beauties!"
Inner Loveliness and Outside Beauty
Whether you're interested in becoming a plus size model or are simply learning to appreciate and embrace your beauty and your body, Allison Stanley's story is inspiring and profound. Her message of loving the inner strength and loveliness as well as the outside appearance is one that women of every size can appreciate.