Kelsey Heitzman: Having Hunger to Achieve More
I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, spending my time between playing guitar, singing, photographing my surroundings, making alterations to my doll’s clothing, and constantly being intrigued by the arts. As a kid, when asked “what do you want to be when you’re older”, it wasn’t uncommon for me to respond by simply saying “famous”. I wanted to be the next Hannah Montana or Selena Gomez. I have a family of photographers and I constantly had my photo taken. I have a vivid memory of dragging my brother to our neighborhood park for a photoshoot during a Chicago snowstorm. We shot around for hours until his fingers were literally too cold to click the button on the camera. Looking at my childhood pictures, it is obvious I was full of sass and confidence in front of the camera. But being from a conservative town in the midwest — unconventionality was discouraged. So, modeling became at that time more like a hobby, always coming second to my schooling.
In college, I pursued a career in finance. My first semester I was admitted into the honors college and, eventually, I became the president of the most prestigious management consulting club on campus. I carried myself with confidence and I was able to make my voice heard at (the male dominated) table. I credit most of my success in business to modeling. I had experience on set talking with executives of companies, managing myself as a business, and networking within the industry. The stigma that modeling lacks professionalism made it difficult for my peers to make this connection. I took an advanced business administration class spring semester of my Junior year and had taken honors classes with this professor before. She was one of the most respected professors at the Business College. One of our assignments was to get our CVs ready for post-graduate job applications. Prior to the due date, I went into office hours to get her opinion on my first take. My formatting was perfect, but she advised me to take ‘Fashion Model’ off my resume for a lack of professionalism. While I didn’t let the comment discourage me, I did realize there is a huge disconnect from modern academia and unorthodox career paths.
At the beginning of 2021, I drove from Chicago to Los Angeles to start my career as a full-time model. I packed everything I owned into my car and drove all 30 hours, just me and my dog. I remember driving by the fashion billboards on Sunset Strip for the first time and crying because I had dreamt of living here my entire life. As soon as I got here I was hungry to start shooting. Within a week of moving I chopped off my long hair, dyed it dark brown, and scheduled my first editorial photoshoot. Since then I’ve been published in numerous magazines including Vogue and Mega Magazine, shot campaigns for Adidas, Timberland, & The Hundreds, walked in 5 seasons of LA Fashion Week, and even now when I am writing this article — I am on a plane heading to my first New York Fashion Week. I have accomplished a lot in almost three years living in Los Angeles, but I still have the hunger to achieve more. It is easy to get caught up in the rat race and compare your success to that of other models. I have been in plenty of waiting rooms with 20 other models that look identical to me. It’s hard to look around in a room like that and remember that you bring something unique to the table. I like to remind myself that if 15 year old Kelsey were to see me now, she would think I turned out pretty cool.
Contrary to the midwest, Los Angeles has been nothing but encouraging of my career. I finally have peers that believe in me and are pursuing their own dreams as well. It is important to keep your drive and passion for your craft because no one is going to work as hard for you as you do and I think that is especially true in LA. The market is so saturated with models, actors, and influencers — unless you’re pulling in clients like Bella Hadid, it would be impossible for any agency or a management team to give you their undivided attention. Not to completely negate my team, but I do think my drive and work ethic has brought me to where I am today. Holistically Los Angeles is a very unique market for modeling. It is the home of the influencers and the city of stars, so where does modeling fit in? Having had modeling experience in Chicago, I was very surprised by the criteria agencies were asking for in meetings. On top of the standard measurements and digitals submission, most agencies asked for Instagram links and follower counts. Some agencies didn’t even ask to see my book. If I’m being honest, my initial response to the prioritization of Instagram was frustration — I poured good money into creating a portfolio to grab agencies and clients attention. Sure, from a marketing perspective it makes sense. Why would a client pay a model with no following when they could pay the same amount to a model with 1 million followers and double the exposure of their campaign? On the other hand, I have been a part of shoots where followers don’t always equate to one’s ability to perform on set. But all of that to say, I think it’s grown to be a beautiful part of the industry. Clients are given a window into who we are as people. It encourages models to use social media to publicly celebrate their uniqueness and stand up for causes they believe in. The emphasis on Instagram has also allowed me to become my own creative director. I pick the wardrobe, I do the hair and makeup, I create the moodboards, and I carry out my own vision.
While not perfect, Los Angeles is a beautiful place for so many reasons. I’ve found a community of support and kindness I had never had before. I have so much appreciation for all of the art that comes from this industry and I have grown to acknowledge the power this job has. Modeling has drastically shaped my relationship to my body, societal standards, men, social media, rejection, and my creativity. And my job shapes all of those things for the consumer as well. I am so grateful to continue to be surrounded by amazing people that make me proud to call myself a model. As I continue in my career it is my priority to work on projects that fuel me creatively and keep making that 15 year old Kelsey proud.