11/15/2010 11:53 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Plus Size Model are Living Large

At 5'9" and a size 6, Katie Halchishick was deemed "plus sized" by the modeling industry and asked to "just shave two inches" off her bony hips. At size 14, she was earning six figures but didn't feel healthy. In reality, the only thing that's plus-sized about this 25-year-old Hollywood-based bombshell is her effervescent personality and take charge attitude. She recently co-founded Natural Model Management, an LA-based modeling created by models for models, with a laser focus on encouraging health and embracing models at their "happy" size. Read on for our Q & A:

How did you get your start in modeling?

As a high school volleyball player (in Spokane, WA), everyone always said "Oh, you should be a model!" I said, "No way! I'm too big." I was 5'9:", a size 10 or 12, really fit, solid as can be, but that was before plus-sized modeling. So I went to an open call once and they said, "You'd be perfect for our plus sized division!" At first, I was offended -- when you're a teenager, you don't want to hear that. But after I booked my first job (for was intimidating but fun, and you get paid an amazing amount of money, so as a 17-year-old, I was like, "I don't care what you call me -- give me more!"

After signing with a top modeling agency, Halchishick started booking fewer jobs. Advised to gain weight because she was "too small," she put on 20 pounds in two months. At 200 pounds and a size 14, she became the face of Torrid. But she wasn't happy.

One minute, I wouldn't feel fulfilled or happy and felt gross. But them I'm getting checks for thousands of dollars so I thought, "Well, I must be pretty." I was getting my self worth from booking jobs, not from within myself.

After moving from NY to LA, you met your current boyfriend, Bradford Wilcox, also a model. How did he help your body image?

He told me I was the most stunning girl he'd ever seen -- and this was at my biggest. He had been a trainer and said he was sick of seeing so many skinny girls. I told him I wanted help getting in shape. He helped me learn how to be active and eat right. Over two years, I lost 50 pounds. And I lost almost all my clients.

And that, in a sense, led to disordered eating, right?

That was really hard to handle. I didn't want to gain it back so I thought, "Maybe I'll try and workout MORE and lose some weight and model on the straight side. I was taking three workout classes a day and using a 1200 calorie/day meal delivery system. It was so small that if a tomato rolls off your plate, you need to get it. I became really obsessed. I lost my boobs, my face was gaunt, I lost my sparkle. (Check out pictures of Halchishick's ups and downs here .) I got down to a small six. The only thing keeping me from a size four was my hip bones. My booker said, "If you could just lose 2 more inches off your hips..." I'd go for castings and would be the biggest girl there. I'd only get weight loss commercials. And I was a size 6."

Her turning point came when she found herself hovered over a toilet after a Fourth of July BBQ, contemplating purging.

I asked myself, "Am I going to do this? Is this who I'm about?" I didn't. I made the choice to not do it. Bradford said, "This is not your natural state. Let's learn from this and share it." [And we started Natural Model Management]

How is your agency different?

We build models up instead of intimidating them and tearing them down. We're trying to create a new division called Natural Plus. That supermodel figure from the 90s, which has totally disappeared. We think it's beautiful and healthy and an actual female body. We won't tell models what size to be. We're showing them respect and asking, "Where do you feel your best? What size? Let's find you work at THAT size." Our models are taking on the responsibility of not just modeling but actively participating in projects where they will be role models to thousands of girls. For example, in December, we'll launch, where our models will blog about their experiences, give their favorite recipes, high school memories. They'll have emails so girls can contact them.

And you're bring models into schools to help change young girls' and boys' perceptions of beauty...

We developed a program to help girls change how they view themselves, called Perfectly Unperfected. We go to high school and college campuses and speak with both boys and girls. We surveyed one high school, asking them what they considered the "perfect" size. They felt a size 0 or 2 was perfect. The majority of girls thought they were fat, have tried starving themselves repeatedly, and said they would be willing to starve themselves to be a model. We asked what "model" means to them. They wrote, "Skinny with big boobs, perfect hair and perfect makeup." They don't understand how easy they are to market to because they don't know any better. We want them to start to think for themselves, challenge them.

What do you think about the rise in "bigger" models in magazines?

Women are starting to call bullshit. People were appalled by the Ralph Lauren photoshop disaster. Women spend the money so if we're not happy with how we're being advertised to, we can voice our opinions and make a change. We're not saying only use big models. But the industry's perception of "big" is wrong. They're 5'10" and a size 6. In the real world, you would consider them thin. Our mission is to change that.

*Thanks to Angela Jones, co-founder of Plus-Size Models Unite, who tipped me off to her new agency!