Just Life: Starting Over

When I was a sophomore in high school my family had a conversation about moving to a different city. I think it was the most terrifying and exciting thing to happen to me in my lifetime. If you go on social media you are likely to find any number of teenagers posting about wanting more than anything this very opportunity:  I wish I could move, I wish I could start over, I wish I could get out of this town, I wish, I wish… I think everybody thinks about it at one point or another. But let me tell you there is a cold, hard truth about starting over. It is hard, the hardest thing I have had to do.  But had I not experienced it I would be a completely different person today. Sometimes getting pushed out of your comfort zone as far as you can go changes everything about you.

First, I was completely on board with the move. In Wisconsin we have open enrollment so I had the opportunity to choose the school I would attend in our new community. I based my decision on two elements only, who had the best academic courses and who had the best dance team. The latter part of my decision making process would determine the course of my last two years of high school. It would give me both some of the biggest opportunities and the biggest lessons of my life.

The best dance team in the area we moved, wasn’t just a good dance team, they were the best and had years of competition trophies to back up the claim. Problem was, I was a mediocre dancer. I was the captain on my previous dance team, but I was also the dance captain of the show choir,  played roles in the drama department, in local community theatre, sang in multiple choirs and was involved in several volunteer organizations and I pretty much knew every other student at my high school, plus their parents (and their dogs). That school afforded me the opportunity to do lots of different things and be really good at some of them and mediocre at others, it gave me the chance to be involved in a million things and the small community supported my ‘all over the place’ attitude.  I didn’t have to be the best I just had to do my best. My new school would teach me that to compete with the best, when you are not the best, means you have to work hard and harder than you ever imagined you could.

I missed tryouts for that team but the coach(es), there were three, agreed to let me tryout a few weeks before summer practices began. I made the team, still to this day I am not sure how. One of the coaches of the team recently wrote it was because she knew I had the “heart of a champion”, and that had to be it, because I had the feet and skill level of a newborn calf. Making the team was the easy part, that summer I struggled to keep up. After a few months I was made an alternate on the competition team. From a captain to an alternate. It was a brutal awakening. Now, school hadn’t even started yet, I could have been done right there, heck I could have very quickly enrolled at another school and pretended the whole thing never happened. But I didn’t, I stayed. I had grown to love my fellow dancers and I knew alternate or not, at least I would be starting in the fall with a group of new friends.

Somehow that first year on that team taught me almost everything I would need to know about life. Don’t quit when you hit your low point, ask for help when you need it, work harder than you think you can, don’t expect things to be handed to you or to be easy, set goals and priorities, find a good mentor or two, believe in the process and don’t settle for being an alternate (in dance or in life).

That summer I asked for a lot of help. I was fortunate to find it in my coaches and a few older dancers who were willing to stay after on their own time to help me learn. By the first fall football games I had accomplished my first goal, just fit in, don’t be the girl who falls or is off by two beats or looks crazy compared to the whole team, just fit in. I did. No one could pick out the new girl from the crowd. I wasn’t in the back, but certainly wasn’t in the front. By the time we started to prep for competitions I had been moved to the competition team and was no longer an alternate. The dedication and skill it took to be on a team like this is hard to explain. The team not only practiced daily but sometimes twice a day, once a week we had an a.m. practice before school and we did strength training, LOTS of strength training. It was all summer, most of the school year and tryouts happen about a month after the last competition and the process began again. There was not time to be in a hundred other activities. This team became my priority.

By the time the team went to state that year,  not only was I up to the caliber of the team but I was able to lend some perspective.  This was my third year dancing and my first time at the ‘big show’ and I appreciated that fact and shared it with everyone who would listen. I think my pure joy was a reminder to the others on the team that the accomplishment was truly something special, even though the team expected to go to state and has done so every  year under the current coaching staff. It was a triumph hundreds of dancer in the state would never experience.

By senior year the newness of the school and the dance team had worn off but the lessons continued. That year we would go on to not only be among the best in the state but earn the championship title for our pom routine, for you non-dance team folks a D1 Pom title is the ultimate, and it is some fierce, brilliant and amazing competition. A title not lost on a girl who moved half way across the state and worked her tail off just to make the team. Among the many defining moments of my life, this was one. I think it was the first time I saw really, really, really, hard work, big goals and dreams realized. For me it was never a dream I even thought was a possibility in my life, so it also made my scope open up widely. After that day becoming a model didn’t seem so far fetched, becoming Miss USA didn’t seem completely unthinkable. I never had fathomed that I would someday be a state champion dancer so certainly all the other things I had never thought about suddenly became possibilities.

Starting over gave me a lot of gifts,  the greatest of which was the confidence to believe that if you want it badly enough, accept that you aren’t perfect and sometimes need a lot of work, are willing to do that work and earn your place you can pretty much accomplish the unimaginable.

(If you are interested in that championship routine you can actually watch it here, years later and I still get chills!)

 

Dream Big, Skylar

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BTS Videos

So many cool projects this month featuring some of the finest photographers and hair and make-up artists I have had the pleasure to work with. And as a bonus they are Wisconsin based.  I love behind-the-scenes videos that give people a glimpse into a shoot.

Thank you Brandee Anthony Photography and Joey Emerson at Estilo Salon

Model Life: Creeps

So there is a deluded myth out there that the modeling industry is full of nothing but porn directors, scam artists and rapists looking for their next victim. Well those people exist (unfortunately in the world at large), for the most part it is easy to identify and avoid the creeps. More so, the industry is filled with many, many, many girls with stars in their eyes who sometimes ignore the red flags in hopes of finding their big break and making a quick buck. So creeps will seek you out and you can easily find creeps but here are my personal tips for staying safe and creep-free.

First, vet everyone. VET= to investigate (someone) thoroughly to see if they should be approved or accepted for a job! This seems like a lot for every person who reaches out to you but it is a necessity. Here is my standard practice. A full check of their Facebook, Instagram and website if provided. If we have mutual friends whom I have worked with and trust, I always reach out to them to get a reference. This can not be stressed enough. A dear photographer friend saved me from a very uncomfortable situation once by merely being honest, ‘he is a creep, don’t do it’… problem averted. Stay within your known network and market even if you don’t have a mutual connection you are likely to find a reference with ties to you. It’s like the 6 degrees of separation game. I am not afraid to reach out to someone who knows someone and introduce myself….also this is how I have built my network over time. If you have no connections ask for references!

So what if there is no connection and no references available what-so-ever but you love their work and from your basic research they seem on the up-and-up? It may seem a bit nuts but if they are Wisconsin residents you can run a quick background check through the court system. Yep, it seems like a lot but if someone has sexual assault charges you probably want to steer clear. Of course if you don’t have court access, google is a simple and amazing tool….pictures seem too good to be true, the name seem a little fishy, do they claim they are with an agency. Find out, it is not that hard. Legitimate business professionals do not hide their background.  Learn how to do an image search to make sure the photos are real and belong to the photographer. Seriously, I am that cautious.

My other recommendation is a simple and effective one, bring a chaperone or escort. Now I might get guff from photographers or industry folk out there for this one, but if it is not a paying job set up through a reliable agency or with a known professional who either provides references or has been fully vetted, only agree to the shoot if you can have a chaperone present. I have brought someone with me when I don’t know the photographer and don’t feel comfortable meeting them in some remote studio or location, this just seems like common sense to me. So far the wonderful photographers I work with completely understand and welcome this. I also remain extremely professional and ask my chaperone to do the same, basically come along and stay out of the way! Like drop me off and wait outside (but within reasonable screaming distance:) Seriously my sweet mother has sat outside in a car for hours just waiting for me.  Actually most of the time photographers love her, she is one heck of a stylist and creative director.

Only once I have been told I could not bring a chaperone and guess what its the same person who I was warned ‘he is a creep, don’t do it’ that incident confirmed my logic. I am fortunate that in my network there are Facebook groups dedicated to sharing information about creeps. Sometimes there might be a smear campaign, sour grapes and crazy competition you have to weed through.

Also be completely upfront about expectations for shoots and jobs. I tell every photographer I work with I do not do nude and I do not do full out see-thru lingerie or overly sexy boudoir. No implied sex, and I keep my bits covered at all times.  I would say I’m PG for sure.  This is a hard line, high fashion and editorial photographers sometimes are looking for more edgy than I can provide, and I have turned down good gigs due to the fact it isn’t the type of work I am willing to do.  If that is what they are looking for they can simply look elsewhere. I have done a few shoots in my Calvin Kleins, with cleavage peeking and  a bra, strategic placement of things,  panties and over-sized shirt but those were at my request and for my personal portfolio. For those saucy shoots I had my mother along with me, because if anyone knows my personal line better than myself its her!

There are extreme stories out there about girls getting sucked into what seemed from all fronts legit opportunities that turned into absolute nightmares. So far I have not been in that severe a situation. My network continues to grow and I continue to vet and so far I have been blessed with safety and security. Creeps be warned, don’t bother reaching out, I have no interest in being your victim. I take my caution a step further. I will not respond to DMs, chats or other social media messages from people I have not met or who are not connecting for business purposes, even at that I prefer people reach me via email. If they are a photographer I prefer they send along a link to a portfolio of their work.

Finally two points that make me sound like my dad but I appreciate his advice the older I get. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is and It is OK to say NO! So stay safe out there my fellow models.

Dream Big, Skylar

CREEP

Just Life: Being a size 0

I like to share different stories/experiences on my blog and this one is difficult for me to share, because it’s difficult for me to admit. The other day I was at the mall with my mom shopping for an event. I was trying on all of these adorable outfits yet nothing fit right and made me feel great (like any good outfit should). That entire week I had been struggling with my body in general, I just felt like each time I looked in the mirror I was unhappy with what I saw. That shopping trip to the mall ended with me in tears and my mom attempting to comfort me by saying “honey, you are a size 0 why are you self-conscious there’s no reason to be upset, you literally can’t be any skinnier, or you will have to buy kids clothes!” She was right but it didn’t make me feel any different in that moment.

I want to take a minute to discuss body image with you all because I think it’s important and I hope that everyone I know can read this and take what I learned that day and often have to remind myself. No one can be confident 100% of the time. Fat shaming and skinny shaming don’t help. People judge you no matter what you look like and it is OK to look in the mirror and not love every ounce of yourself (every once in a while). Love the skin you’re in is a great and wonderful tagline in the world but the reality is no one, regardless of size, is without flaws. You are always your harshest critic.  People can be horribly mean and tactless and it’s ok to not love all of you all of the time.

After all was said and done I look back and think how silly I was acting, but you know what…it happens. Everybody has off days where they just don’t feel they are looking their greatest or their body is in the shape that they want it to be. A part of life is moments where you are self-conscious, and that’s OKAY! And it doesn’t matter if you are a size 0 or a size 24. Moving past those moments is where strength and confidence converge. Being able to brush off a horrible criticism….She needs to eat a burger, she looks sick….She needs to workout, look at how fat she is…these words sting, and man do we all hear them, and sometimes they seem impossible to move past.

When I decided I wanted to model on a regular basis it was the acceptance that my healthy lifestyle now had to become my permanent lifestyle times about ten. It is more pressure than I could have imagined when the decision was made. Not only do I have to stay thin and fit but I have to make sure I don’t get too thin or too muscular. It is a wild balance and it takes a lot of time. That being said, I am not even close to perfect and nobody is, who the hell is to say what perfect is anyhow!!  And sometimes with all the pressures I face, I break down and after that mall catastrophe I want to say a few things to anyone out there who has felt the way I did that day:

You are beautiful because you are you. I have talked about this previously,  but at the end of the day I am the best Skylar Witte that I can be. It’s okay to have imperfections, but embrace them and remind yourself why you are beautiful…I guarantee there are an infinite amount of reasons. Work for the things you want (in my case lady abs) but love what makes you–you, and I guarantee it will never be lady abs. I think I am kind and compassionate. I would like to say people who meet me enjoy my company, I am extremely outgoing and my smile is often both made-fun-of and complimented because it is unique and frankly I love it, I think it is my favorite feature. I know I work hard and have a lot of work ethic because I wouldn’t be doing what I am today if that wasn’t the case. Lady abs are completely unrelated to any of those things which I am confident make me beautiful. Your beauty is not found on you it is found inside of you, plain and simple.

Respect your body and accept the things you have, be able to separate who you are from how you look, even on the bad days!

 

Dream Big, Skylar

Fashion Life: One Piece

Over the years I have developed into an unexpected fashionista! I have always enjoyed trends and fashion but working as a model has opened up a whole new level of appreciation. The process that it takes for a designer to go from sketch to concept to creation is amazing. When I look at a dress, a piece of jewelry or accessory my mind now considers all of the work and craftsmanship that went into making that item happen.

My “girl crush” designer is Chelsea Muneca Stotts and her Moda Muneca line, first because she gave me a shot at my first runway and two because her dresses are AMAZING and she is a Wisconsin based designer. If I ever made it really big, Chelsea would just have to live with me and make my entire wardrobe, all day every day, I truly adore her.  We just shot her Fall Look Book and although I’d love to share the photo,s the best I can do is this sketch….from the mind of a great artist. (follow me on insta to see when the full book is released)

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It is easy to build a look around an amazing singular piece like a gown but my favorite challenge comes from building a look around a much smaller piece.  My personal style is to find the most unique and original piece possible. I truly like to find a smaller piece like jewelry which I get every month from Rockbox or a fun clutch…my newest obsession is this piece from Milanblock.

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It is an inlaid acrylic eye or evil eye  with every single detail down to the Hamsa clip accounted for. I recently styled my own shoot where the clutch was the star. I own several pair of shoes that also have been the focal point of many an outfit.

I find that when I have one-piece that becomes my focal point it is easy to build a look around it. Sometimes the inspiration is small and less obvious. I will never probably become a fashion blogger, but today I was inspired by the other part of my life, which I can attest to by the fact I own a closet the size of a studio apartment and it is completely FULL!

 

Dream Big-Skylar