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Penn State Alumna and Plus-Size Model Iman McDonnaugh

Iman McDonnaugh graduated from Penn State with a degree in broadcast journalism but pursued her passion for fashion and is now a full-time plus-size model in New York City. Yep, she’s living the dream. She took some time out of her busy schedule to answer some of our questions.


HC: What made you decide to pursue a career in modeling?

IM: Modeling caught my attention early. As I flipped through magazines, I fell in love with editorials and the process of making something out of nothing that evokes a certain reaction from its viewers. The art behind the details of a pose that would make you stop on the page and wonder how it happened. The way you could look at a photograph and interpret it a million different ways. I saw modeling as an art, a way to express myself in a way that people would normally never get to see, and I fell more and more in love with it the more I researched it and watched behind-the-scenes videos. I had this burning passion and I thought, “This is something I will be great at. I can do this.”


HC: How did you get started in this career? How did you get your foot in the door?

IM: Growing up, I didn’t know plus-size modeling really existed. I thought I had to be typical model size, so I was constantly measuring myself and comparing my measurements to the likes of Gemma Ward, Coco Rocha, Lily Donaldson and all the others. After a while of super clean eating and constant exercising, I thought, “Well, I like the way I am, and if I can’t get that small the healthy way, then this is just how it will be.” But that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to model. I was still going to make it happen. So right before my last semester at State, I decided I had to put myself out there however I could and just see what happens. I contacted a professional fashion photographer in NYC, got professional pictures taken, made my own website, and put my pictures online on my website and Facebook, etc. Very quickly, within a few weeks of doing that, I was contacted by a management company. We talked, and they told me that I would be plus and how successful the plus modeling world was. They’re such great, genuine people I easily fell in love with them. I flew to Miami, they shot my book, set me up with agency meetings in NY and the rest is history. It was a dream come true. I’ve been with my managers and Wilhelmina Models ever since and have expanded to Models1 in London. 


HC: Is the experience different for plus-size models?

IM: Plus modeling is different because you have a longer career and your size is celebrated. It’s not often that a plus model is told to change her body or lose weight. Modeling is an interesting world to be in, and I think I’ve been blessed to have had such exceptional experiences. You still have to work out and maintain your body, of course, but your goal should be health because, at the end of the day, if you’re not trying to keep yourself in good health you are limiting the possibilities for your life. As plus models, we get in this position to be able to have a real voice to say to other women, “Hey, you don’t have to be a size four to be healthy and sexy,” and that makes my job even better because that’s something I truly believe and know to be true. That’s something I think that women really need to understand. 


HC: What is it like living in NYC?

IM: I live just outside the city and I love it because I get a break from all the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. I find NYC to be the most inspiring and energetic city; I get a burst of energy every time I’m there. Ask any New Yorker and they’ll tell you that after a while you just need to catch a break from the extremely crowded and busy environment. So it’s nice to be able to go to work and then come home to a quieter space. 


HC: Do you plan on continuing your modeling for a while?

IM: Ha! I plan on modeling until my legs give out in five-inch stilettos. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon ;). 


HC: What experiences at Penn State prepared you for your career as a plus-size model in NYC?

IM: Well, Penn State is a huge school, and I’ve had a ton of experiences with people from all different walks of life there. I think learning people skills alone is a big help. You have to be a really savvy business woman to be a successful model. I also purposely studied broadcast journalism because I knew that learning how to broadcast, enhance my writing, and how to edit video would help me be well-rounded in the industry I planned on jumping into. How do you think I knew how to create my own website that helped get me noticed? I learned that at State! I even took advantage of drama classes to help with on-camera presence. I was always very active in TV clubs, writing for the school paper and filming. Those types of extracurricular activities are what I made sure to be a part of. Everything I did was for a reason – to help me go farther. 


HC: What advice would you give to students at PSU who are also looking to become professional models?

IM: Be smart, do your research and put yourself out there as soon as you can. If someone really wants to work with you, they will develop you. Use everything to your advantage, including your school subjects, learn your trade and be professional. No one wants to work with a diva! 


HC: What do you miss most about PSU?

IM: I miss how easy it was at State to walk to your friend’s apartment or dorm to hang out or have dinner. I also miss my family in my service org APhiO and participating in the largest student-run philanthropy, THON! 

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