Sunday, July 31, 2016
Mandi Kay: Model of Empowerment
If a photographer is fortunate, they might connect with a few special people who go above and beyond the typical photographer/model relationship. I started working with Mandi in the summer of 2013. Nearly three years, later, and over 10,000 photos, I’m honored to share a glimpse into the heart of one of the most special people to grace my life and lens — Mandi Kay.
Mandi, first, came, to me, looking to freshen up her modeling portfolio. A connection was formed. She loved my work, and I became her go-to photographer, chronicling her life’s journey, from modeling to maternity to her newborn son. It’s been a complex, often challenging, journey, including a divorce, a soul-searching stint, around the world, and heartbreaks, big and small. She chose to embrace her vulnerabilities, in front of my lens, and show them, to the world. As a result, Mandi has become an inspiration, a role model, and a voice of empowerment, for so many women.
AB: How long have you been modeling?
Mandi: Since high school. My first modeling gig was a commercial for Springfield College.
AB: How did you get started modeling?
Mandi: A lady at the mall scouted me and asked me to join her local agency, called Norma’s Modeling. I joined and the gigs and opportunities started rolling in, from all over.
AB: What do you love most about modeling?
Mandi: It's almost an alter ego for me, when I model. I get to become another person, as if I'm acting. Sometimes, I will look at my stuff and not even recognize myself because the "look" I give off is so not who I am in real life.
AB: What advice do you have for young girls who aspire to model?
Mandi: Be exactly who you are, no matter what. You do not need a boob job or to alter yourself in any way, what so ever! No matter what that agency, scout, or wacko says...you're just fine. I've been told, for years, that I'm too short, too petite, too flat chested, and far more. I have always said, screw them, and kept true to myself, no matter what. It never stopped me or my success.
AB: How do you describe your personal style?
Mandi: Extremely laid back/hippie/boho/yoga pants. I hate shoes, purses, and not a fan of a lot of makeup. Most of the time, you will see me with my hair untamed, flowy, or in a side braid, while wearing little, to no, makeup. I’m usually wearing a comfortable outfit and some type of natural stone or leather jewelry.
AB: As a model, you’ve been published, around the world, including Maxim Magazine. What has been your most memorable modeling experience?
Mandi: Definitely, a bikini contest I won in Vegas where I was up against veteran bikini models with boob jobs galore and legs up to their necks. And, I nailed that shit while being a shrimpy at 5’-0” with size A cup boobs…I was shocked, as were so many others. lol
AB: What is your favorite part of a photo shoot?
Mandi: Making silly faces during the test shots! ‘Cause, I know the photographer will go through the pics and see them, afterwards.
I want to make sure they smile at my ridiculousness and remember who I really am.
AB: We’ve worked, together, as photographer and model, for several years. In the process, we’ve chronicled a lot of phases, in your life. What attracts you to the work we do?
Mandi: The compatibility and understanding. It's always a "nailed it" shoot. The shots never fail and the shoots always are successful, with perfect guidance and communication.
AB: You’ve also transitioned, behind the camera, working with me, as my hair and makeup artist. What has been the most rewarding part of that experience?
Mandi: Getting to know the person in the chair and helping them feel comfortable.
I always love making them laugh and letting them feel eased. I want them to know that they are in good hands.
AB: How do you define beauty?
Mandi: Eyes that see reality through love. Just love. Love is the most beautiful thing out there, whether it's loving yourself, others, or acting in love...that is beauty to me.
AB: Over recent years, you’ve publicly documented your personal journey of self-exploration, on social media. In doing so, you have been a leader in the movement to re-define beauty by embracing your own imperfections and inspiring many others to do the same. 3 questions — What was your inspiration to do this, what has been the feedback, and how has it changed your life?
Mandi: It was yoga that changed me. It was what ignited my fire to accept myself, completely and entirely — physically and mentally accepting myself.
I was always comparing myself to other women and always concerned about "how I am.” I was always watching how I should act and feel about things, just so I could be accepted. I had too many incidents — from being in an unfaithful relationship with my ex-husband, being in a church where I was judged, daily, for how I dressed or spoke, and being with a man who remarked on how my body needed altering (boob job and tummy tuck on stretch marks).
When I dug deep into my yoga practice, it soothed my struggle of trying to be perfect and accepted by everyone. It's just fucking impossible to please everyone and look the part to everything. Once I started just being completely me, I was free.
And, once I started bravely being me, publicly, I realized that so many struggled with the same thing. I, then, realized that there needed to be more voices on this topic, and I took that crazy leap to be a voice.
Once I did, I never looked back and have changed so many lives doing so. I have helped women embrace every part of themselves and show them that there is far more in life than killing themselves on how perfect they need to be.
Helping women, in this way, has empowered me to continue empowering them! No matter how hard ya try or how much you love yourself, there will always be people out there that will not accept you and try to dim your light. I will always, from now on, be that person to help others keep that light shining, bright.
AB: You are also a mother to three young boys, including a newborn son. Tell me about your family and what they mean to you?
Mandi: They mean the absolute world to me. They make me who I am. There are many ups and challenges to all three, for sure. While my oldest is 9 and very logical, the 3-year old is extremely emotional.
And, my youngest is yet to be determined. lol. So far, he's been a wonderful baby.
It's definitely a whirlwind, at times, and I wouldn't be able to do any of it without my hunny, who is the most amazing father to our children.
He is my rock, and we make one hell of a team to make our crazy, loud, and fun family, function.
AB: Who is your favorite musical artist?
Mandi: Bon Iver and X Ambassadors are a current favorite. I can't pinpoint a favorite of all time, because I change all the time! I love anything and anyone from reggae and indie to country. I appreciate it, all.
AB: What is your favorite non-modeling hobby?
Mandi: Yoga! And, I love absolutely anything outdoors, such as hiking, rock climbing, biking, and kayaking.
AB: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Mandi: Freaking sugar-filled Starbucks coffee drinks! They are the devil. lol
AB: What 3 words best describe you?
Mandi: Spontaneous, passionate, fire cracker.
AB: What is one thing people do not know about you?
Mandi: I'm not as social as most think I am. I prefer to be alone, most of the time. I like to do most things, alone, like, shopping and biking. I actually love going to the movies by myself, too.
AB: What are you most proud of?
Mandi: Being a mother. There is something to be said about women who put children above all else. That is absolutely something to be proud of, in my eyes. And, I take pride in it, fully.
AB: What do you want to be remembered as?
Mandi: An inspiration, a leader, empowering, and beautifully-strong — mentally and physically.
AB: Where can people find you, on social media?
Mandi: IG: mandikayoga, FB: mandi kay
My sincerest thanks to the lovely, Mandi, for the opportunity to share your story.
Allan Burch is a published glamour, boudoir, and portrait photographer, serving the Springfield and Branson, Missouri area, and beyond.
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