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Chenese Lewis

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Many people have an idea of what beautiful looks like: great bone structure, clear skin, a gorgeous smile, and a well-proportioned body. Plus-sized model and beauty queen Chenese Lewis is proof that beauty doesn't stop (or start) in a dressing room. On Dec. 8th, Lewis saw a casting notice for Torrid.com, a clothing company that caters to plus-size women, searching for print models for an upcoming campaign. "I had been pursuing modeling. [Any] castings I can apply for are priceless because I don't have an agent or anybody submitting me, and the bigger you are the harder it is to be successful in the plus-sized [modeling industry]," she says.

According to Torrid.com photographer Michael Hermogeno, physical beauty is important to making a good model, but personality is the key to making a great one. "Torrid is all about the real girl, the real deal," he says. "If you look at a lot of her pictures you see her personality coming out in the photo. It was the smile, the warmth she had, and that young everyday girl-type vibrancy to her. That's what sold me."

According to Lewis, the plus-sized modeling industry has more requirements than their twiggy counterparts. There are still a lot of misconceptions about the plus-sized modeling industry. "So many people are plus-sized — 60 percent of America is overweight — so plus-sized [modeling] is very competitive now and everybody wants to be a model no matter what size they are. Just like in "regular" modeling you have to have clear skin, nice teeth, [and] healthy hair," she explains. "Some people don't realize that plus-sized modeling starts at size 10, sometimes even an eight."

In 2003, this Louisiana native was named Ms. Plus America, a contest which she described as "the Ms. America for size 14 and up." In addition to her work with Torrid, Lewis has modeled in campaigns for Zaftique.com, Big on Batik, Apprecia Fine Jewelry, and Xenico Realty. She was also Ms. November for the 2004 calendar for Elegant Plus. Today she is the spokesperson for Love Your Body, a nonprofit organization that urges women to learn to love their bodies no matter what the size. To other aspiring models she says, "Do your research. It's important to know the field [so you are] able to market yourself. Being a model is more than just being photogenic." Her website is www.cheneselewis.com.

— Nicole Porter

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