Modeling for Jean Paul Gauthier, Thierry Mugler and Christian Lacroix, gracing the pages of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Le Monde, Essence and Flare, appearing in campaigns for Calvin Klein, MAC, Mexx, Nordstrom, Barneys and Banana Republic and appearing on TV as a judge on Canada’s Next Top Model, Stacey McKenzie has definitely made it to the top of the modeling world. Despite her huge international success, the Canadian supermodel hasn’t forgotten her roots and is giving back to her community. Having experienced an impoverished youth growing up in Toronto, McKenzie is launching a free, self-esteem-centric summer camp for 20 hand-selected inner city girls who intend to pursue careers in fashion, the arts or entertainment. McKenzie would like to equip the participants with the tools they will need in those very competitive fields.
Having already established her Walk This Way Workshops across North America, McKenzie conceived of the self-esteem camp to benefit girls from her own community. McKenzie has engaged some well-known Canadian celebrities and personalities to co-mentor the camp including CityTV Breakfast Television‘s Dina Pugliese, Gabrielle Miller of Corner Gas, Chelsea Chute of Lise Watier, Shawn Hewson, TV personality and Creative Director of Bustle Clothing, VAWK fashion designer, H&M Canada’s Emily Scarlett, artist Andrea Bolley and jewelry designer Rita Tesolin.
Self trained as a model, McKenzie knows first hand how important self esteem and confidence are in the fashion and entertainment world and shared some of her own struggles making it as a model in an email interview with Torontonicity:
LB: How did you develop and maintain the self esteem and confidence to enter the high-powered world of modelling? Did modelling help develop your self esteem or did you have to have strong self esteem before entering the field?
SM: I developed a strong sense of self and self-confidence by deciding to love and own who I was. At first, I thought I needed to be “accepted” by others to fit in, once I realized that it’s not what anyone thinks or wants of me, but it’s what I think and feel about myself that counts, I took control of me. I had a strong sense of self before entering the world of modelling, because I was teased and bullied from a young age, so you can say I was somewhat used to it and a little prepared. However, I am human and at some point in the beginning of my journey the harsh criticisms started to affect me. I continued because I truly felt in my gut that I belong in the modelling/fashion world.
LB: Do you believe that self esteem is more important for those considering careers in the arts, fashion and entertainment industries and if so, why?
SM: I do believe that self-esteem is very important in life period. In the fashion and entertainment industry it is extremely important, as these industries are based on your looks more so than you as a person. The talent has to have a strong sense of self and thick skin to aspire to be in these fields, if they don’t they can become insecure to the criticisms and fall prey to conforming in order to fit in. That is why I created the “Walk This Way Workshops Camp” to prepare young girls for the harsh criticisms they may receive in this industry.
LB: What one piece of advice would you give to girls struggling with their self esteem?
SM: My one piece of advice to these girls would be, to realize that you are all you have and to make the best of the one vessel you have to work with, enjoy the life that you were blessed to be given.
LB: Do you believe once you achieve strong self esteem that it remains a constant throughout one’s life?
SM: I believe that once you love and own you, a strong self-esteem will be a lifelong commitment.
LB: Can you discuss an experience in your career where your self esteem helped navigate you through a difficult situation?
SM: When I first arrived in Paris, I was signed to an agency within the first week. However, the owner of the agency wasn’t present when this decision was made, so when he came back from his vacation and saw me, he was very angry. At a models’ dinner we had a few days later, he called me terrible names and encouraged the other bookers and models to laugh at me as well. I was humiliated, but amidst all the jokes, I tried to stay calm. At some point, I decided to put him in his place and upon doing so, the table roared in laughter at him. He was not pleased and the next day when I arrived at the agency, I was told I was no longer represented by them and my portfolio was nowhere to be found. I begged them for my portfolio, but was escorted out.
I had one week to get new pictures, which I didn’t have the money for and one week to find an agency because the Paris Fashion Week castings were about to start. I begged a photographer friend I met if he could take the pictures for me with an IOU. He agreed and with new pictures, I went back out to see all the agencies. They ALL said “NO.”
My photographer friend told me about a small agency and I rushed to get there before they closed. The booker, Gaspard, wasn’t sure at first because I was very quiet and seemed to not care. Finally, I looked up and said to him “I need a modeling agency, I have $25 CDN left, and I want to know right now if you are going to give me a chance or not because I don’t have time to waste. With that attitude, he decided to give me a chance. He sent me out to a casting for Jean Paul Gaultier show the next day, which I booked.
I pushed through so many NOs that I quickly learned that NO means TRY HARDER! This is why “Walk This Way Workshops Camp” is important to prepare girls for the challenges they will face as they pursue their dreams in the arts, fashion and entertainment industries.
LB: What steps can young women take to improve their self esteem?
SM: The first and most important step is LOVE YOU. Second, set and create your own path, accept that life comes with the good, the bad and the ugly; you just have to make the best of it.
LB: What outcomes would you like to see from participants in your Walk This Way Workshops camp?
SM: I would love to see my girls leave the camp confident, empowered and equipped with the knowledge to go out into the fashion and entertainment world / life with confidence.
LB: To the participants in your workshop who see a large disconnect between their self images and yours, what would you say?
SM: I don’t see a large disconnect between the girls and myself, because I’m one of those girls. I don’t hesitate to let them know that I was in the same position as they are. I encourage them with the experiences and lessons that I’ve learned throughout the years, helping to make their journey a little easier.
LB: What do you love about teaching your Walk This Way workshops?
SM: I’ve dreamt of creating these workshops from my years in Paris as a struggling model. I love that I was given these opportunities in life so I can give back and help others. Seeing my students so excited, happy and hopeful is the ULTIMATE feeling!