Despite childhood bullying, model makes mark on town
When Claire Collins started modeling, she refused makeup.
In fairness, she was nine years old at the time, but even then she wanted to reach for authenticity -- even if it was for the cover of a 1997 Drysdales magazine.
"I was bullied starting in fifth grade," she said. "I was sort of really an outcast ... I dressed weird." She added that she came out as queer when she was only 14, which hardly helped matters at an American high school. Due to the bullying, she dropped out of school after ninth grade, getting her GED and going to Tulsa Community College soon after.
Collins said modeling helped her overcome the difficulties associated with childhood bullying.
"I kept modeling ... Because of modeling and acting, I had that confidence already built up," Collins said.
That confidence shows as Collins, now 24, has become one of the hottest models in town. Indeed, from the way she carries herself to her obvious zest for her life and her work, Collins could be a spokesperson for the It Gets Better Project.
Though she now deigns to wear makeup, Collins has gone from a child model who got into it because her "grandma used to be an agent" to part of an exclusive community of professionals in Tulsa. With 15 years of experience under her belt, both here and in other cities, she's already had a long career despite her young years.
"Thank God I liked it," she said.
One hopes that she does given all that she has accomplished. Collins currently models for several photographers and artists around town.
Lately she's even been a model for paintings. "I model for Tracy Harris," Collins said. Harris is a photo-realist painter who paints breathtakingly lifelike pictures based on photographs. Some of Harris' paintings of Collins went on display at MA Doran on Brookside. Collins said -- somewhat astonished -- that one even sold to a buyer in Boston.
Not that Collins has limited her career to Tulsa. She has been back and forth to Los Angeles for several years, modeling at various times along the way. "I've had the pleasure of working for a lot of photographers," she said.
She said her most exciting shoot in LA was for that city's pride parade. "It was for Dykes on Bikes and I modeled on a Harley," she said. Part of what made it fun was the fact that LA police were around to watch the photo shoot take place.
But something about Tulsa keeps pulling her back. "There's like that sort of small town ... Once you're known, you're known," she said.
The informality of Tulsa modeling is a big plus for Collins. She said photographers are less stodgy here than they are in California, which gives her more creative license. Basically, Oklahoma photographers just want to have fun. "That gives me more freedom to do conceptual stuff," she said.
That "conceptual stuff" includes, for example, a semi-nude painting in which she wears boxing gloves. What might be too controversial in a small town or too strange on the coast fits in pretty well for the Tulsa art scene.
Because Collins has modeled for so long, she understands how difficult it can be to get a photograph just right. "It's definitely something that's learned ... learning your body," she said of posing at the best possible angles. She certainly has an eye for photography despite the fact that she is not a photographer. At a recent shoot for UTW, Collins collaborated wonderfully with the photographer, suggesting locations and knowing how to position herself just so.
As evidence of how much she has accomplished, she did work for Ida Red Boutique, the clothing company perhaps most famous for its "Don't Hate the 918" and "I (heart) Tulsa" apparel. "For two years, I was their main spokesperson," she said.
The most fun she has had modeling in Tulsa, though, occurred this past May, when she was involved with a music video for retailer Green House Clothing. "It was shot in an actual green house so that was really neat," she said.
"Fun" came up several times while talking to Collins. She clearly loves what she does. But she has a great deal of business sense as well. "The worst part [about modeling] is people thinking I'm dumb," Collins said. A five-minute conversation with her will dissuade anyone of that notion. Though Collins originally signed up with the Linda Layman agency, modeling requires a certain entrepreneurial style. Because it's not a 9-to-5 kind of career, Collins must balance shoots in difference locations, as well as a day job. It can be hectic.
Still, it has its advantages -- especially in Tulsa. Collins said the local modeling community is small. She estimated that there are maybe half a dozen models like her in T-Town, with 20 or so up-and-comers. That makes them a tight knit group.
"It's of course not as cutthroat," she said, comparing Tulsa to Los Angeles. "There's an element of competition, but there's a familial element for your fellow models." Tulsa models are expected to be there for each other in a pinch.
"The best part, I think, is being glamorous," Collins said with just a hint of girlishness. That's certainly a long way to have come from getting beaten up for being different. Even though Collins is still young, quite a bit has changed since she was a girl. The advent of iPhones and Facebook has perhaps increased pressure for children to conform their actions -- and their looks -- to those of their peers. Collins stands out as one who refuses to do that. Far from changing who she is, Collins has embraced it, showing that it does indeed get better.
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