Everywhere In Between: Episode 4: Health and Beauty

MORGAN: The spectrum of health and beauty is evolving and expanding every year—and that’s a good thing. But it can be hard to keep up.

Today we’re touching on just a few of the stories in the fast-paced world of beauty. From the glamour of it all to the darker side of things, we’re diving into what it looks like in the midwest.

First up, modeling in the midwest. Sydney Kava talked with agencies that have found a way to thrive, despite the lack of attention from other fashion centers of the world.

SYDNEY: You might assume that models only come from Los Angeles, New York, London or Paris. But that assumption is far from the truth. Some of the industry’s biggest names originate from the Midwest. Karlie Kloss, who has walked some of the biggest runways in fashion, is from the heartland of Missouri while heartthrob Ashton Kutcher was discovered in Iowa City. The Breadbasket of America isn’t short of beautiful people.

But how do these individuals go from making sandwiches in a Blimpie’s gas station to walking some of the biggest runways around the world? I sat down with Alyssa Dilts, owner of Develop Model Management in Omaha, Nebraska to see exactly what the modeling industry looks like in Middle America.

Alyssa originally began her career in Chicago working for Elite Model Management as a scouter. Her role was to travel not only the United States but the world to find talent for the agency. Originally from Omaha, Alyssa found herself continuously scouting great talent in her hometown. She knew the ins and outs of the modeling world and she knew exactly what the area was missing: an agency that could legitimize the business of modeling in Omaha.

ALYSSA DILTS: “When I moved back here, a lot of models weren’t being paid for the work that they were doing. I called it, it was kind of like the Wild Wild West and I’m like, wait a second, no, you are amazing you need to be compensated. This is, you know, these people are using your image and making money off of that. You need to be paid for that.” {1:40-2:00}

SYDNEY: Even though the market is smalle r, it’s booming. Big box stores have gone to the wayside, but small boutiques have come into play. These boutiques use a mix of social media, e-commerce and influencers to sell their clothes online instead of in-person, which provides great job opportunities for models in smaller markets.

ALYSSA DILTS: “And so, for us, um, when the brick and mortars are closing these smaller stores and fast fashion is in place where they’re getting clothes all the time. Once a week they’re getting orders in, they want to shoot it, they want it on the website and it’s up. So, for us, it’s almost more beneficial that some of these bigger retailers, um, you know, that those changes are being made and that we can accommodate smaller clients.” [3:50-4:11]

SYDNEY: Aya Zacaharias works at Develop Model Management as a scouter, but she also works at one of those boutiques in Omaha called The Fold. This high-end boutique sells designers such as Mara Hoffman, Rag and Bone and Veronica Beard.

Although the boutique is located in Omaha, they have a booming e-commerce site, which means that more than Midwesterners are seeing the models and the clothes. One-third of the profits come from online orders and a lot of these orders are from the East and West coasts. In order to keep up with digital trends, they launched their newest site called, Shop The Fold 3.0. This site was designed with the customer in mind making it easy for users to navigate and shop the luxurious styles.

But with an e-commerce site comes a tremendous amount of work and finding models that can get the job done.

AYA ZACHARIAS: “Yeah, so, so we shoot for The Fold about every two weeks and that’s when you have enough shipment to get about a four-hour shoot. It’s about, I would say a hundred garments in a shoot. Um, and it’s just one after the other rapid pace. So what I look for is the kind of girls who are professional and don’t need any guidance and that we can kind of just flip through the clothes because e-commerce for models, I think stylists and photographers alike, is one of the most high paying jobs you can do aside from runway, which is really selective, and in a few certain places. But e-commerce is so booming and growing right now that a lot of people just want to be able to basically get, you know, good modeling for their money. So, we really look for girls who are just super fashionable and know all their angles and just can kind of do it without any coaching.” 8:04-9:01

SYDNEY: Finding models can be a difficult task. A task that has to be taught. Alyssa trained her scouting team, which includes Aya on how to find the next “It” girl or boy. This includes spending hours and oftentimes months of looking at pictures to grasp the before and after concept. Understanding this concept is the most important part of scouting. They have to consider what the person looks like without makeup and then what they will look like with professional hair and makeup that will give them that “wow factor.”

The team always carries business cards and wants to make the experience as authentic and natural as possible. When their agency is looking for the next big star the biggest factor they consider is body proportion. This includes their height, size, look and the way they carry themselves naturally. The scouting team is always on the lookout and oftentimes attends concerts or festivals in the area where there will be a number of younger individuals who could potentially have talent.

Miranda Tingley, who also works at Develop, really knows her way around the industry. She’s modeled, scouted, influenced and pretty much done it all. She explains what she looks for when scouting models in the Midwest.

MIRANDA TINGLEY: You know, you kind of look like for the girl or the boy that would be maybe a fly on the wall at school. So that really awkward, tall, maybe introverted person. I mean we just look for people that you wouldn’t necessarily break your neck for, but are different and stand out in a good way obviously. Yeah, it’s definitely an eye that you have to kind of train yourself to have because it’s not, you know, your girl next door. It’s that person that’s maybe a bit awkward or shy and introverted. (11:18-11:56)

SYDNEY: But looks aren’t the only important aspect of modeling anymore. Since the rise of social media, it’s even more important for agencies to understand who they are working with and to source girls who are genuine.

ALYSSA DILTS: We especially look for girls that are lovely. We really like nice girls. That’s really important to us at our agency. And I said girls, but of course and guys, because really in modeling and what’s happening in the world today and modeling there is a need for brands to know who their models are because of things like social media. So, before you take a picture of a girl and no one would know who she was, now that part, that girl might repost though behind the scenes on this or that. Well, if that girl’s values and beliefs in who she is, isn’t in line with what the values and beliefs of the company is, it’s not a good look. It’s just too much crossover. So, from day one, we like to source, good people and nice people because it goes so much further in this business. (6:20-7:09)

SYDNEY: And Miranda fully embodies this herself. Originally from Ohio, she was scouted at a mall and signed with John Casablancas Model & Talent Management. After doing a few shoots here and there, Miranda’s family moved to Omaha where she met Alyssa and signed with Develop. From there, her career took off.

With the help of Alyssa, Miranda was able to sign with an agency in Hong Kong where the first job she booked was Chanel. She booked a great deal of work, from runway shoots, editorial, print and live showcases with designers such as Giorgio Armani, Hermes and more.

Even though Miranda has traveled the world and practically done it all when it comes to modeling, she says that she is proud to be from the Midwest and that her background helped keep her humble throughout the experience.

MIRANDA TINGLEY: “But I find that, you know, going into such a high profile, fast-paced life, being so humble and coming from the Midwest, it really has helped me make the connections that I’ve made because I think we all kind of stand out when we leave Nebraska and go somewhere else because I just think, you know, our people are the best. And so I appre ciate it a lot more when I was over there just because it was so foreign to me, literally and figuratively. You know, being from the Midwest really just helped me appreciate the position that I was in.” (8:25-8:58)

SYDNEY: Miranda has now returned to the Midwest and doesn’t so much model professionally but gets to use her creativity by being a social media influencer. This path gives her the ability to style and shoot the content for companies all over the world, which includes Sabo Skirt, Tiger Mist and the Midwest’s own The Fold.

Modeling in the Midwest might not be as glamorous as some of the larger markets, but it’s still an exciting industry to be in and models can go far in the industry no matter where they are from. Some might argue that being from the Midwest is actually beneficial for models.

ALYSSA DILTS: I think, um, we at Develop especially, really work hard to create a community. So when you’re in Chicago, um, there’s no friendship that with your, I mean there is, you’re going to like your agent but you’re not there. They are not invested in you here, you’re invested with, you know, I know your mom, I know your dad, I know you know your grandpa over here and we ran into to each other at the grocery store. There’s this other sense of duty for me to not only do well as an agent and to make you money, but for them to have a positive experience that’s going to affect their lives forever. (20:51-21:34)

SYDNEY: Sometimes those Midwestern roots are the “it-factor” that helps a model stand out no matter their location.

MORGAN: So it might look a little different here, but Midwesterners are keeping up with the beauty trends. The newest one? Organic beauty.

Maric Salocker met with some of the women who are turning organic beauty into a lifestyle in the Midwest.

MARIC: Organic beauty shops have become a trend that has officially reached the Midwest. These products are what the companies Root and Olga’s Organics strive to produce for their customers. Both companies are located in Iowa and have seen a substantial growth in indie beauty in the past few years. The skin care a nd wellness brand Eve Hansen defines indie beauty as “a lifestyle and an active community that allows consumers to experience a companies’ interests, passions, heart, and morality though voice and products.” All of their products are always vegan, gluten-free, and made in the United States. Non-organic makeup products include parabens, lead, artificaial fragrance, and many more chemicals. Some of these chemicals have been shown to affect your nervous system, harm human development, reduce fertility, and can even be found in breast cancer issue.

Owner, Krista Dolash, founded Root which is located in Waverly, Iowa, in 2013. When she was pregnant with her third child she became hyper-aware of the cleaning and beauty products she was using along with what she was putting on her body. So she decided to recreate her own products by stripping all the harmful chemicals so that all that was left were pure minerals. She started making custom foundations for her friends, then started taking customer requests, and went on from there.

Similar to Krista, Olga Reding began making makeup products for her family and friends. She founded Olga’s Organics in 2016 after being sparked by a conversation with her husband who is a radiation therapist that treats cancer patients. She read an article that discussed aluminum which happens to be an ingredient in deodorant and also happens to be found in the tissue of patients with breast cancer. She referred to this discussion as a light bulb moment because she saw how the products she was putting on her skin could affect her in the long run. Through trial and error, she created a face powder which is the first USDA organic certified powder in the country.

INTERVIEWEE REDING (Timestamp 20:24-20:54): The skin is our biggest organ of our body up to up to 70% of everything we’ll put on our skin gets absorbed into our internal system, to our bloodstream. And it does affect us eventually.  You know, it takes time, but it does. So like if you can have an and take an approach where you are kind of more safe and more, um, um, it’s like preventative medicine, you know, it’s like if you can do things in a better  way, then why not, you know, choose that option.

MARIC: Root took on a similar approach. They state on their website that they were (quote) “founded on the belief that what you put on your face should be natural, safe, & enhance your body at a price anyone can afford.” (unquote) There are no harsh toxins or artificial dyes in any of the products therefore making it safe for all skin types. Krista started out making foundation, but since the company has grown, it now produces a full line of makeup, skincare, haircare, body care, and even cleaning products. And as the company has grown, they’ve had to keep up with changing trends in commerce. When talking to Haylee Westendorf, Root’s marketing director, she said even though there is a store open in Waverly  95% of their sales are online.

INTERVIEWEE WESTENDORF (Timestamp 2:27-3:06): We had 3 stores at one time. We had one in Iowa City, Cedar Falls, and Waverly and, I mean, the stores and  managing the staff were not worth it you know when we were getting 95% of our sales out of our online revenue. So we just decided to focus on that. We only have our Waverly location right now. We have a small team that works here, it’s kind of like our headquarters. We have our “pretty lab” where everything is made right there at our Waverly retail location as well in the back. All the magic happens right there in Waverly.

MARIC: Root’s team is made up of 12-15 members. Those include the beauty managers who manage all the shipping and customer service and also the beauty assistants who create all the products. When asking who Root’s top competition was in the Midwest, Westendorf said that since 95% of sales are online, they focus on nationwide competition. She stated that there is a trend now where small town shops out of peoples houses are popping up more frequently since indie make up is a big trend. So competition is growing because everyone is trying to jump on the bandwagon. Sales in the store are really only for the locals who are their regular customers.

INTERVIEWEE WESTENDORF (Timestamp 5:48): In store you have the locals that are running around grabbing something really really quick because you can just stop in and grab one thing and online you get those larger orders. We also do a lot of color matches so someone will just send us a photo of themselves online and we’ll try our best to match our foundations where as in-store you have the ability to put it on right there and find their perfect match so that’s kind of a struggle between online make-up sales. So we do offer free samples of the foundation so they can try it out and then purchase the full size so just trying to find ways for people to feel comfortable in purchasing makeup not knowing what it will look like on them.

MARIC:  Even though these products are made from pure minerals, the price is still made affordable.    

INTERVIEWEE WESTENDORF (Timestamp 6:59):  We do not price any of our products for wholesale so that is a huge benefit to our customers because we’re not marking up our products you know 5, 6 times for someone else to go and sell it and make a profit. So because we’re not in large stores like that we’re not marking them up insane so they’re really getting the benefits of what the true products cost and then what it cost us to make.

MARIC: Both Root and Olga’s create products that are designed for sensitive skin so the only ingredients being used are the best certified organics. The two companies pride themselves in affordable products made from pure minerals that still obtain professional results for all of their customers. The widespread success of these businesses show that organic beauty is more than just a fad.

MORGAN: Organic beauty shops like Root and Olga’s are working to make their products natural and accessible. Unfortunately, accessibility in beauty isn’t exactly the norm.

Beauty has long been an industry marked by exclusivity. The pressures of beauty standards and constantly changing trends can take a toll on an individual’s mental and physical well-being.

So Ellie Hilscher is here to talk to us about eating disorders and how the Midwest is lacking when it comes to addressing them.

ELLIE: Eating disorders are a prevalent issue in today’s society. Many people aren’t aware of the serious impacts they are having on young adults and kids. According to Eatingdisorderhope.com, 10 million females and 1 million males struggle with an eating disorder in the Midwest. But treatment facilities for those with an eating disorder are lacking in the region. In general, education surrounding eating disorders, what they are, and how they affect people is also lacking. So that’s where we need to start. Gabby Carlson, a student at Cornell college, described her experience.

GABBY: [1:05] So I work in an eating disorder research laboratory at my college um, eating disorders are a set of different disorders based around fears of eating, um, fears in relation to eating as well as a lot of body image concerns and other factors there. Biopsychosocial diseases meaning that they’re biologically, socially, and psychologically influenced and that all of those factors are important to um recovering, etc.

ELLIE: It’s important to talk about the types of eating disorders as many are different and stem from mental health illnesses. The top two are Bulimia and Anorexia Nervosa which both have different impacts on the body. College student, Kaitlyn Menz, spoke about her experience with common stereotypes associated with eating disorders.

KAITLYN: [1:23] My experiences with eating disorders I’ve seen first-hand in myself and also um, in friends and other people and I think to the outside it looks a lot like it’s a physical disease where people lose weight and get malnourished and all of those side effects but in my opinion I think in a lot of opinions of people who struggle with eating disorders that it is a mental illness and some of the side effects are the weight loss and the physical stuff that other people see. [1:59]

ELLIE: Kaitlyn is correct, that eating disorders aren’t just the physical sides that we see. There are many reasons they manifest, and many of them deal with mental health. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Eating disorders run in families. Researchers are working to identify DNA variations that are linked to the increased risk of developing eating disorders.” It’s also crucial to understand the differences between the types of eating disorders so people can understand and be educated over why the stereotype of Anorexia being the most prevalent eating disorder isn’t necessarily true. According to health-line the differences between Anorexia and Bulimia are, “people who have anorexia severely reduce their food intake to lose weight. People who have bulimia eat an excessive amount of food in a short period of time, then purge or use other methods to prevent weight gain.” It’s important for treatment to be available because any category of an eating disorder (bulimia or anorexia or others) can be dangerous and deadly. While the Midwest has hospitals, they severely lack inpatient programs where the patient stays and works through a program. Eating Disorder Hope states, “the chances for full recovery are higher for men and women who undergo treatment at an inpatient or residential eating disorder treatment program.” Gabby Carlson speaks about the only eating disorder treatment in Iowa.

GABBY: [2:05] “There is only one inpatient treatment center in Iowa, it’s at the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics. It’s basically um, they have two general psych wards, one for adolescents and one for adults.” [2:22]

ELLIE: Because the Midwest is lacking facilities, many families have to drive far away for treatment. Gabby has to do just this as she traveled from Ackworth, Iowa to Iowa City, Iowa.

GABBY: [3:00] “I had to travel about three hours, um, and so it was really hard for my parents cause they’d wanna be there with me as much as possible but it was that three hour drive there and back. I had a friend while I was in treatment who was from further west in Iowa and it was like a 6 hour drive for her family.” [3:22]

ELLIE: Kaitlyn Menz also has experience with having to travel from Des Moines, IA to get treatment at an inpatient facility.

KAITLYN: [3:08] I traveled 4 hours and 30 minutes to um Illinois for my eating disorder. [3:14]

ELLIE: Many eating disorder clinics and treatment centers are way out in the East, so how come the Midwest doesn’t have them?

KAITLYN:  [3:30] I do definitely think that the Midwest needs better treatment centers. I have quite a few friends on the East Coast that struggle with eating disorders and from the sound of it they have amazing treatment centers and a lot of different options but when you talk to people in the Midwest I don’t think there are a whole lot of options. [3:54]

ELLIE: But this doesn’t mean that there’s no hope for change. Gabby talks about how she thinks we can help create better facilities in the Midwest.

GABBY: [5:12]  I think that there needs to be a lot of psychoeducation of the general public so people understand how prevalent eating disorders are and as well as how dangerous they are. [5:22]

ELLIE: Part of the reason the Midwest lacks in treatment centers is the mere fact that our mental health facility care systems are expensive. Washington Post comments, “The mental health-care system in the United States is a multibillion-dollar industry that is still not big enough to serve all those who need it. Costs are a big barrier to treatments — but so are attitudes about mental health.” Gabby agrees that the education over mental health needs to change and that change needs to come from people with power.

GABBY: [5:34] I think that educating people about that would be important and I also think that there needs to be a lot of advocacy on a governmental level for mental health in general but especially eating disorders because they’re so underfunded and undertreated especially in Iowa.

ELLIE: Iowa is one of the Midwestern states that severely lacks in care because of the poor funding to mental health institutions and treatment centers. Michelle Roling, a co-founder of Eating Disorders Coalition of Iowa writes in a Des Moines Register story that, “With only the University of Iowa offering inpatient services, Iowa lacks treatment options and many families travel out of state for care. There’s also a need for partial hospitalization programs as a transition step.” Kaitlyn agrees that there needs to be more attention on these programs.

KAITLYN:  [5:12 ] I do think that like just continuing to show and starting to show the amount of eating disorders that is prevalent especially in young adolescents starting in high school and just making people realize that it’s not only depression and anxiety and all of that stuff that adolescents struggle with but there’s also an eating component of it and I know a lot of families have concerns about sending their children farway for a treatment facility, they don’t wanna drive 4 hours to see them on the weekend. I think it’s just bringing a lot of that stuff and awareness to more of it could be a place to start.

ELLIE: Whether it be Iowa, or another Midwestern state, eating disorder treatment facilities need to become more readily available for those who need it. Both Gabby and Kaitlyn have seen progress in their journey battling their eating disorder—but this may not have been the case if they didn’t have the means to travel to treatment centers. Ending the stigma and presumptions around eating disorders as well as mental illnesses needs to be our first step.

Everywhere in Between graphic produced by Mia Tirado.


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