I worked retail much of my life. Looking back on it, I have many fond memories. I even met my husband working at one of those places. A perk to working retail is trying products the retailer sells without buying it. There was even a program at the bookstore I worked at where we could "borrow" books and not have to pay a thing. For a person obsessed with reading - it was like a library on steroids. I also worked at a Las Vegas lingerie store that is only available online now. What a great group of women I met at my time there! I still keep in touch with most of them and it's insane to think back on the times we had and realize that I lived them and they weren't just a movie I'm recalling. We tried on new items all the time. It was actually encouraged by corporate because they believed it would enhance our selling skills. Our discount was generous and a lot of us bought a LOT of it. (Thinking back - that may also be why corporate encouraged us to try everything on). It became the norm to try on teddies and sexy bras. It was also the norm to spend 8 hours a day in dressing rooms with tourists, Middle Eastern millionaires, strippers, call girls, and new moms trying to get their groove back.
I have gained 80 pounds over the last 6 years. I have also gained two beautiful children and a husband better than any partner I could have ever fantasized about. My life is NOTHING like the one I envisioned while I was in those dressing rooms in Vegas 6 years ago.
When I first moved from Wisconsin back in 2003, I vowed I would never move back. I wanted city life and not just Milwaukee size city – I wanted it big and dirty and fast. My first stop was Chicago. It was there that I realized that the daydreams I had when flipping through the pages of Vogue and Zink could actually be reality. I took a leap and went to a private art college in the city and quickly realized I needed to be in New York if I wanted to be a REAL editorial fashion photographer. So – with a thin portfolio and crossed fingers – I applied to the Fashion Institute of Technology in the heart of New York City. It’s literally on 7th avenue - which is also named “Fashion Avenue”. Shit got real real fast when that big envelope arrived in the mail.
I spent the next two years living in Manhattan and attending one of the best fashion schools in the nation. I interned at a top agency and assisted an Aussie photographer that was actually booking gigs for Vogue. Privacy was non-existent, if you wanted to get somewhere efficiently – you walked miles, everything was insanely expensive, filthy, and at your fingertips. I loved every minute of it. Well – I didn’t – but looking back, I only linger on the memories that make me want to go back. As much as New York was all that I had wanted and a bag of Dunkin Donuts, the guy I was seriously dating was not up for relocating -EVER- to the city and my Midwestern roots may have been a bit too deep. If my pockets were that deep – I may have considered staying but I moved briefly back to Wisconsin when I graduated.
I was back in the state long enough to belt out some “WE’RE HALFWAY THERE……..”, drink Miller Lite, eat some Conjitos, and be drunk-in-public. (Wow – those are all essentially the same thing).This is when I moved to Las Vegas. Yeah – it’s not “big city” like Chicago and NYC, but it was dirty and fast and bigger than life. I instantly fell in love with the warm air and waking up to the mountains. Depression is pretty much my middle name and living in the mountains turned every frown upside down. And why did I not mention people watching first? That may have been the best part. I moved with the guy that refused New York. Things with that guy soured about 2 years in and again – I was back in the Dairy State.
My next move was undetermined but priority number one was getting the heck outta Dodge (well, Milwaukee). I didn’t want to stay long and I didn’t know what to do. There wasn’t a huge need for fashion photographers in the Midwest and I started researching places outside of New York and L.A. that had a thriving fashion scene. This time, my drinking arm started to get a little weak and I fell HARD for a guy I had known since I was a teenager (and worked retail with). Apparently, a decade changes people (mostly me) and it was like I found out the true meaning of “home” .
Fast forward 6 years and I am still in Wisconsin and the happiest I have ever been – living a life I swore I would never live. I’m squishy, drive a mini-van, live in a rural suburb, and dress for comfort instead of style. Who knew? Bonus – Milwaukee DOES have a thriving creative community – including fashion. I have been able to create some of my favorite editorials in the past 6 years with the talent right in my back yard. I have learned how to translate aspects of editorial photography and apply it to portraiture and weddings as well. I’ve learned to expect nothing and welcome change. So while this 80 pounds was unwelcomed and visiting a dressing room is something I dread now instead of love – I am choosing to lean into the positives that have come out of staying put in Wisconsin - don’t cha know?