House lights go down. Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” blares from the speaker system. In towering high heels and tasteful lingerie, the models appear at the top of the staircase before descending to strut down a 50-foot runway with confidence and sass.
But this isn’t London, and these aren’t Victoria’s Secret models.
In fact, just the day before this show, these women may have been sitting in the cubicle across from you, or picking up their children from school, or shopping in the grocery store.
These are the everyday women who took a risk and applied to be a model for Yvonne Denault’s Pinup on the Plains event on Oct. 2. They never looked back.
Back in May, Denault distributed her casting call for models online and to her mailing list. The announcement reached Amber Vallera and Amanda Wilkinson who both immediately knew they wanted to apply.
“I’m not outgoing at all,” Wilkinson explained at the runway practice the day before the event. Clad in a nondescript black top and comfortable maxi skirt, Wilkinson looked like any mom of two sons you might meet at a bake sale or coffee shop. “I’d never been to the event, but I wanted to model, so I dropped my application off. My husband had no idea I’d done it until I got called back.”
Tracy Burchill is another self-described introvert. She has three children and never pictured herself doing anything like this… until someone dared her to. Once Burchill secured a spot as a model, she realized the event offered a special opportunity she doesn’t always have.
“It’s a big treat for me,” Burchill explained. “My family owns a construction company, so I don’t have a lot of ‘me time.’ This is like treating myself… being able to get all dolled up. I get to feel special.”
Not to mention the incredible confidence boost modeling in the show provides. Carly Olson, who was born with a cleft palate, never thought she would be able to muster the courage to model for something like this. She’s attended the event several times, but still never imagined herself on the runway. “But I saw the other women doing it, and I thought, ‘If she can do it, I can do it,’” Olson said. “It’s about being comfortable in your own skin; if you don’t love your body, who will?”
Being comfortable in your own skin is important. Being comfortable in your own skin while wearing lingerie in front of strangers is another story. “At the first rehearsal, everyone was very tentative, but as soon as you put the clothes on, it’s like everyone became a different person,” Olson explained. The other models laughed and nodded in agreement.
“I’m still terrified,” Wilkinson confessed just 28 hours from the moment she would bare everything in front of nearly 700 event attendees. “But once I get my hair and makeup done, I’ll feel so different.”
Feeling different comes not only from the styled hair, gorgeous makeup, and delicious couture — it also comes from the crowd. Men don’t attend Pinup…by design.
“We’re not doing this to be sexy for men,” 20-year-old Caitlyn Day said. “It’s about being comfortable in our own skin, no matter what size we are.”
And no matter what they’ve experienced in their life. Naomi Orre was one of two African-American models in the show, and Orre recognized the importance of representing her race and the difficulties she’d overcome.
“I was bullied because of my race because the rest of my family is white, and it hurt,” Orre explained, her voice catching as tears welled in her eyes. “I just didn’t think this would ever happen to me, but anyone can inspire another person. I’m just so honored that Yvonne picked me.” As Orre wiped at her tears, Day put her arm around her while Olson gently patted her back.
The camaraderie the women demonstrated is not surprising, considering how close they grew in preparing for the show. The models practiced together a handful of times, but also connected on social media and enjoyed an evening drinking wine and getting to know one another.
Those bonds were evident on the runway as models beamed at one another while meeting on the runway, or hugged during the final walk to the rousing Rachel Platten song “Fight Song.” Each model described the sense of empowerment she felt as a model, and the environment for Pinup is designed to accentuate that feeling to encourage the women… and inspire a few others.
Pinup on the Plains offers women a chance to imagine themselves in a way they never have before. That’s the point of the boudoir photography Denault creates, and it was the impetus for including a runway show in the event for the first time last year.
Nadine Swee, Denault’s best friend and event organizer, explained that last year’s runway show was an experiment they weren’t certain would go well. Fortunately, they were pleasantly surprised.
“We knew it could have been really good or really bad. We were standing in the corner watching, and when the models came down the runway, we just started bawling,” Swee laughed. “Those women had more confidence on the catwalk than we had ever seen.”
Denault echoed those thoughts. “It’s so cool to see these women transform in front of your eyes; no matter what they’ve experienced—surgeries, losing weight, being abused, going through a divorce—we all have a cross to bear,” Denault explained at the runway practice.
On the night of the show, her message was clear: “As individual women, we have the power to help other women, whether with a kind word or gesture,” she proclaimed to the nearly 700 women attending the event. “Together, we can change the world.”
For the 19 women who modeled in the show, the world may not have changed just yet, but something about them certainly shifted.
“I don’t want my boys to be afraid of being in front of people,” Wilkinson explained at the runway practice. They know that their mom was involved in the show, but didn’t really grasp the concept of what she was doing, she said.
But that’s okay. Because Wilkinson recognized the gift she’d given herself by taking a chance and applying. On Oct. 1, she was a regular woman answering questions and smiling shyly. On Oct. 2, Wilkinson had ditched her introverted tendencies and strode down the runway oozing confidence.
Olson, the sweet woman born with a cleft palate, emerged from behind the curtain sans glasses and sporting lustrous waves that gleamed in the spotlight as she sashayed down the catwalk.
And Burchill, another self-identified introvert who just wanted to enjoy feeling special, rocked sky-high heels and owned the runway as though she was Heidi Klum during Paris Fashion Week.
Many event attendees left feeling inspired… and motivated to apply next time Denault sounds her casting call. Sisters Becky Mace and Jana Gunderson embraced the pinup theme by donning petticoats, ruby red lips, and peep-toe heels. Both women gushed about the experience.
“It’s just so awesome to see women who look like me up on the runway,” Mace explained. Her sister nodded in agreement, adding, “It’s such a women-positive event for all ages and sizes. It’s amazing to see women supporting other women,” Gunderson said.
So did they take Denault seriously when she asked at the end of the show, “How many of you want to see yourselves up here next year?”
Definitely, they exclaimed, in unison, smiling.