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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Non traditional models find their niche

Non Tradition Model, Tara Page
If you call Tara Page a model, she will laugh.

Even though she knows better, she still feels the stigma in the label.

She prefers to call herself an artist. But technically, Page is a model. And simultaneously nothing like a stereotypical model.

The Boulder woman has black hair and pale skin and was born a genetic contortionist. She has a rare gene that allows her connective tissue to stretch, and she has more elastin in her shallower-than-regular hip and shoulder joints.

That means Page can jump-rope with her arms, dislocate body parts on command and hop around with her leg around her neck.

Not exactly the cover of Glamour magazine. Not that Page strives for that.

Page is among the many models who defy the runway and glam model archetype. Talent agencies say that even though they don't get as much attention, nontraditional models make up the majority of models landing gigs and making the money today. Some are plus-sized, short or tattooed; some are just run-of-the-mill folks with nice skin and teeth.

Ironically, Page's mother used to compete in beauty pageants, winning some and landing first runner-up for Miss California.

But at 5-foot-7, Page is too short to do runway. Her look is too distinct to play the girl next door. At age 28, Page looks too young to play a mother and too old to be a teen.

"So I just found my own niche," she says.

Page modeled hair styles in the Wella Trend Visions Tour, which features the latest in hair trends. She was a body-paint model in Denver Magazine. She also poses for the Suicide Girls, an edgy modeling Web site with a self-proclaimed "unapologetic, grassroots approach to sexuality."

Page, trained in ballet, toured as a dancer with the band Panic at the Disco. She also appeared in Train singer Pat Monahan's music video for the song "Her Eyes." She has modeled for yoga and fitness photos. Her image has appeared in the New York Times, AP Magazine and Rolling Stone. Any time a company needs circus people or "freaks," she says, she's there.

"Watch TV, look at commercials. There are so many types of people," Page says. "Every business has to campaign, and everybody uses people in that. All you have to do is find where you fit."

Ain't It Good Productions is a national talent agency that recently opened a branch in Boulder. The agency looks for models of all shapes and ages, starting at age 4. It represents body-part models, a 59-year-old widow and a 12-year-old "fit model" -- that would be the body one company tailors its clothing to fit.

Sandy Clemons, who was born in Brighton but now lives in Idaho, is the agency's president and owner. She is also a plus-sized model: 46 years old, size 14. She says she is constantly battling misconceptions about her industry.

"The vast majority of models you don't think about," Clemons says. "In the Best Buy ad, if there's a picture of a TV set and a game on the TV with a referee waving his hands, that referee is a model."

And that referee -- whom Clemons knows -- is the one making good money, she says. Landing the cover of Glamour pays less than you'd think, she says.

Consider the classic beauties, says Lisa Sherritt, of Boulder. Marilyn Monroe was no waif, and Bettie Page is yesterday's Suicide Girl.

Sherritt, a 21-year-old Fairview High graduate, is a pin-up model. But she puts a nontraditional spin on even the most traditional style of modeling. Sherritt models for Denver-based Chiks on the Hill, a photo and performance group that fuses the looks and style of burlesque, rockabilly and '60s go-go.

The Chiks make appearances at hot-rod car shows, do burlesque performances and have a Web site,, that people can subscribe to for extra photos and information about upcoming events.

Yet despite the old-school Elvis vibe, Sherritt recently got a tattoo of a chain saw on her arm. She also has ink of a spider, brass knuckles, a gun and a radio -- and on her stomach, the words "shut me up" with handcuffs.

Her definition of a model: "Someone who can interact with the camera and express something more than just what they're selling, even if it is just themselves. You can see them and who they are."

Which is the spirit of Chiks on the Hill, according to owner Eva Hilburn. She says her models are good-looking, yet tangible. They are not airbrushed beyond recognition. They have regular jobs -- a plumber, retail sales associate, a student -- and are the kind of people you will see walking through town. They strive to stretch society's narrow boundaries of beauty, not only in the name of art, but also empowerment, Hilburn says.

"They're not just a fantasy; they're something that is tangible and real," she says. "And by making them a real person, it gets rid of the objectifying of women."

She says that also gives women an outlet to feel sexy without feeling shameful.

That resonates with 25-year-old Adrienne Jadwinski. She is a fetish model. She once posed for a bondage photo in which she was tied and suspended in the air by her feet, spinning. She had to hang there for 20 minutes and try not to look like the blood was rushing to her face.

She performs as a burlesque dancer and aerialist. She also models for fetish glamour and fetish clothing publications. She teaches dance, and she and a friend started Denver's Oracle dance troupe.

Jadwinski, who trained at the Boulder Circus Center, says she never wanted to look like a cover girl. Some people ask if she is Goth because of her black hair. But she says she doesn't fit in any genre. Except a self-proclaimed "weirdo." She means that as a compliment.

She thinks it's important to get different faces in the public's eye to continue challenging the field of modeling. And she thinks it's changing.

"Even watching something like 'America's Next Top Model,'" Jadwinski says. "They still have their boundaries, but I've definitely seen a lot more diversity and alternative people on that show. They even do the makeovers to try to make them more edgy."

As Boulder's Tara Page, the contortionist model, sees it, life -- and representing slivers of it on film -- is about finding yourself and becoming comfortable with it. If you are authentic about who you are, even if your style is nontraditional, she says, it shows in your photos and on stage.

"Just own what you have," she says.

Which ties in to the large tattoo on her back of a fairy breaking through a rose vine. The rose vine symbolizes the pain of breaking through the confinements of traditional beauty, she says.

She says her mark is symbolic of her story: finding beauty in awkwardness and owning that.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Aimee Heckel at 303-473-1359 or

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