From Awkward to a Model at 50+

By on January 1, 2012

By Sandra Wilson –

I have never really thought about my age. I have always done whatever I have wanted to do. Lately, however, there have been some eye opening moments. Recently, I asked my students to write in their journal about 9-11. They just sat there with blank stares. Finally, I asked, “Why aren’t you writing?” One brave little soul spoke up, “We weren’t born yet.” Or the time I asked them if they knew who The Beatles or The Rolling Stones were? I got nothing. If we are lucky we will all reach the point where we realize that we are on the rear slope of life. It is kind of a wake-up call. However, it is what you do with that awakening that determines your happiness and success.

I was born in California to an Irish mother and an Italian father. What a combination. I am the middle child of three sisters, and the only one that bears the mark of the Irish, red hair and freckles. I was very sickly growing up. In fact, my mother would pull me around in a little red wagon. She said I looked too frail to make it on my own. My mother and father divorced when I was ten, so my mom moved us back to Virginia. I was at that awkward stage where I thought I was different and wondering where I would fit in. I was over-weight and very shy and I was struggling at school. I walked around with my shoulders slumped because I was taller than most kids my age. I never wanted to be the center of attention, but it was inevitable when I walked into a room. Here I am tall, redheaded, and slumped over, desperately trying to be like everyone else. As a confidence builder my mother put me in charm school where they taught me how to stand erect and model. I developed an interest in cosmetology and fashion and dreamed of being on the runway or in a magazine. I was still struggling in school though. At age 16, I decided, much to the dismay of my mother, to quit school and become a hair stylist. It sure beat the repeated agony of wrestling with schoolwork.

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So, at seventeen I found my place, so I thought. At nineteen I was married, and by twenty-one, I had two beautiful girls. Of course they were redheads! By the age of twenty-five I was a single mom. My dreams were on the backburner. I was raising my daughters and just surviving.

It wasn’t until my girls were in high school and I was in my mid-thirties that I decided to go back to school. I got my GED, went to community college, and on to Averett University. In college, I learned I had dyslexia. It all made sense. I knew what was holding me back and now could work on ways of coping with my disability. It was always difficult for me to read and write, and spelling…Oh Lord…that was the hardest. I was working on my major in theater when my advisor told me that I needed to add another major to my degree so that I could teach in high school. English, was she serious? I thought there would be no way that I could teach English, not with my disability. Somehow, I persevered and grew to love the subject. Literature and Poetry opened up a new world for me. It was an awesome feeling to graduate from college the same year my youngest earned her high school diploma. There are those that say the things that don’t kill you make you stronger. I am a believer.

So, at the age of forty I started my teaching career and became a grandmother. Oh, I forgot to mention that? Even with the new grandchild, I finally had time to do something for myself. Things were going well. I was teaching and doing local theater. I had been enriching my mind, so why not work on my body? I was training and participating in triathlons when the good old Arthur (itis) came calling. My formerly strong body was turning on me. I was spending weekends in bed and felt as if I were walking on base-balls; my hair was falling out, and every joint in my body hurt.  Initially, I thought I had MS. Ultimately, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I was devastated at first, I told the doctor that I was too young and did not want to ever be old, and demanded that he fix me. He laughed and said, “I can only give you something to fight the symptoms, but it is up to you to fight it mentally.” That is just what I did. I couldn’t run anymore due to the impact on my bones and joints. I had been cycling as part my training and it didn’t hurt at all. So, that is what I did and still do. I cycle long distance, 40-100 miles a ride. It helps me to stay limber and reduce the swelling around my joints. You can take my car, but don’t you touch my bike! It is a great stress reliever. I do my best planning on my bike! I do my best thinking right there on that seat. It was while riding that I thought about getting back into modeling and acting.

I must say I talked myself out of it about a thousand times. I thought, who am I to even attempt to do this while going on fifty? Then I thought, if I can conquer all of those other challenges in my life, why not this? Soon, I found myself sitting in front of a young woman at a local modeling agency with headshot and portfolio in hand. She informed me that there was indeed a demand for models my age. As I began my journey into modeling and acting once again, I was encouraged by the feedback I was getting from the photographers. All of them have told me that as a mature model, I bring an air of relaxed confidence to their shoots. Furthermore, I am real. I like my curves and muscles. Those young size 2 girls may dominate the runway, but for me, being a size 4-6 works great for commercial, editorial, and concept modeling. I was pleased and flattered when Lili Forest of Deviations told me that I look like the women that she was trying to reach, mature and fit.

The industry has also allowed me to meet contacts in the area. I am in the process of collaborating with the school district I work in and the Richmond Virginia Fashion Week to introduce students to fashion and modeling. This night will feature student designers, models, and photographers. Perhaps there is a talented young student that will be motivated by the experience and ultimately pursue a career in the industry? I am so excited to be a part of this wonderful collaboration. Modeling has spawned some acting opportunities. I have been in commercials and extras on movie sets. I am presently working with a talent agency in Richmond, Virginia.

The awkward kid who struggled in school is now a teacher of gifted and talented kids outside of Richmond, and a model. I have a wonderful family, two grandchildren, and a heck of a handsome man. It’s OK to be a late bloomer. It may be the very thing that makes being a grownup worth it. I will see you in Act II.


Sandra resides in Richmond, VA and is a middle school teacher, who works with gifted and advanced students. She graduated from Averrett University with a degree in English and Theater. Sandra models for local designers in Richmond and helps coordinate the Richmond Virginia Fashion Week show for the Henrico County student designers. She’s also a avid Cyclist and spends many hours on the road peddling her time away. Sandra can be reached at: [email protected],,

About Sandra Wilson

Sandra Wilson is currently living in Richmond Virginia. She works as a middle school teacher and works with Gifted and advanced students. She has graduated from Averrett University and has a degree in English and Theater. Sandra models for local designers in Richmond and helps coordinate the Richmond Virginia Fashion Week show for the Henrico County student designers. She also is an avid Cyclist and spend many hours on the road peddling here time away. Sandra can be reached at: [email protected],,


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From Awkward to a Model at 50+