Name: Jamie Lea
Claim to Fame: Lea is one of the founders of the body positivity movement “Too Tall For What.”
The list of acceptable occupations for a conservative preacher’s daughter generally doesn’t include modeling in the city of angels. Despite the fact that they too are exploiting their bodies in exchange for recognition and opportunities determined by metrics and scorecards athletes typically gain more respect than models in the Bible belt. Making a name for herself while dealing with family dynamics has not been super easy for Jamie Lea but she’s done it with the strength and taste level the task requires. The Too Tall For What co-founder talked to HelloBeautiful about her time as a college athlete, her struggles as a model, and where she wants to see the body positivity movement evolve to.
“I was actually recruited and scouted by Ford when I was younger,” revealed Lea. “But my dad is a pastor. So growing up in a southern state, North Carolina and having a very strict household and a dad, that’s a pastor. Um, yeah, they definitely weren’t going for me to be a model.”
“I know it sounds like super-cliche, but I’ve been wanting to do it,” she admitted about modeling.
An activity her family did approve of was sports, an area she excelled in. “I’ve just been playing volleyball since I was about, uh, let’s say eight years old. I got into it ‘cause my older sister plays.”
Her skills earned her an opportunity to play at the college level which further restricted her chances as a model since NCAA athletes are often not permitted to seek work.
“Playing NCAA, you’re not able to promote for yourself, advertise for yourself or do anything other than your sport.”
She followed the rules diligently setting her dreams aside so she could dominate on the court. Not long after she was done with college, she found herself curious about the modeling industry again.
“I did that in college for four years ( first at the University of Tennessee and then Loyola Marymount) and then moved over to LA. And then, you know, that’s kinda where I got a little bit more interested in trying out potentially, like seeing what my possibilities were as a model.”
Those possibilities are often thwarted by the outdated physical standards imposed on models nowadays, she admits.
“I’ve had lots of agency meetings out here in New York. There’s either one or two things. It’s like they want you to be, want me to be, smaller, with my hips. Or they’re like, ‘Oh, you’re like half an inch too tall. ‘So you don’t fit our market or whatever the excuse may be.” The cognitive dissonance of being told how desirable portions of her appearance was by agents who were dismissing her was hard to grapple with. “They’re liking certain bits and pieces of me,” she said.
Those pieces still out earn the whole that was a college athlete. “I feel like a lot of people think that just because you’re on a full ride and you have tuition, your living and your books covered. Like that’s enough. But we literally can’t work. You can’t work to support yourself different things like that. So to be able to do that now I feel very empowered.” That sense of empowerment has encouraged her to embrace her body fully and try out different aspects of the industry including swim and lingerie. “But before, you know, I was never really interested, I guess more of just like loving myself and being more confident that way. So, I mean if, if that’s where the demand is right now, I just want to be into it. It’s something that I’m open to exploring.”
These areas are often the go-tos for models that exceed the average height for runway but she doesn’t “want to be put in a box.” Despite securing amazing ambassador work with Adidas, Rocha Swim, Calvin Klein, and Swim Lounge she is still determined to touch every avenue of modeling including the elusive high-fashion sector. She and her fellow model Taylor Rhoden are often staging their own shoots to highlight the fact that women above 5’8 can be as editorial as their counterparts. She “definitely thinks” that designers changing their perspectives is the key to all aspects of appearance being considered high-fashion and feels taller women have been left out of the body positivity conversation in a meaningful way. “I definitely feel like we’re still forgotten.”
Lea has been able to stay afloat as a working model but she is open about her struggles getting to where she wants to be. “I don’t do what I do for compliments or anything like that but, I feel like a lot of times what I do can go overlooked.”
Some people who might benefit from overlooking her career are the busybodies reporting back to her family. A situation like hers is especially difficult at a time where a model’s digital presence is considered currency. “I post stuff on Facebook, like of me, you know, trying to model, build up my portfolio and some way, somehow it would get back to my parents. My dad was not having it. So I would say my mom is way more open to, you know, learning about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.” She appreciates the positive feedback from this in her growing online community that always seems to arrive just when she is experiencing doubt.
“Actually, I had this one random person just approached me recently and they were just like, ‘Oh my God, like I follow you on Instagram. I love your work and like where you’re headed. Keep it up!’ And, but I mean for me that was like, it’s something so small like that. Like, okay, you know, someone is watching. Cause I feel like a lot of times it’s about being around the right people, being in the right circles. And I feel like I haven’t been in those positions just yet. So, I’m just waiting for my opportunity to, you know, get my face and my work in front of the right person so I can kind of take off that way. Just having someone randomly like approach me, like I feel like that was really touching for me. Like okay I should keep going. ‘Cause there are times in the industry where it’s like I feel like I’m working and trying so hard and it’s not really worth it.. So you kind of get down on yourself and you’re like, maybe I should explore other options. Like at one point I was completely like, maybe I should just give this all up and just continue with my corporate life. But I was like, nah, let me just keep going. This is what I really like doing.”
Sometimes it really likes her back. She recalled an affirming experience where she got a taste of the top perks of the profession. “I got flown out to do like this one like Fall collection out in Los Angeles and that was really fun. Just like start to finish everything was taken care of. I was spoiled, I was on set and they were like “whatever you want”. They were like totally catering to me and just making sure I was comfortable in my atmosphere and just like that I was taken care of. So that was, that was really special to me. And that was my first big gig that I had got. Especially going from like East coast. Like I was in New York at the time. They flew me all the way back out to California. So that was really fun.”
She believes self-love is one of the keys to accomplishing more career success. “I have a lot of little girls that do message me and they look up to me that I embrace my height. That’s just something that I want other women and little girls to just know. Recognize, like just embrace what God has given you and know that you can get opportunities. Like someone else is gonna acknowledge that, but you really just got to truly love yourself.”