Model Monday: Meet Jo-Ann Winter (SuriGracielle)
Congratulations on all of your success as a Plus Size Model. How did you get started modeling? I started doing some modeling when I was at Murry Bergtraum High School pursuing my Degree in Computer Science and Italian. Back then, I was extremely slim, was an avid America’s Next Top Model Viewer and just decided to give my High School Prom Auditions a try. After doing a great job of impressing the designers at the Casting Call, I walked my first runway show when I was 17 years of age. I continued going to Casting Calls at City University of New York (CUNY) Herbert H. Lehman College, while pursuing my Degree in Accounting, Information Systems and Spanish. I was chosen by different designers to walk runway shows once again, but unlike in High School, I was now far from slim and could be classified as a Full Figured Model. My body experienced a lot of changes from being a teenager, to now a young woman who was also on the Lehman Lightning Track and Field team. On the track team, I specialized in Sprinting and All Field Events such as the Shot Put, the Javelin, Weight Throw, Discus and Hammer. I helped my Track and Field team to win 3 very competitive CUNY Athletic Conference Championships with the NCAA. During this time as a Track and Field athlete, I realized the importance of consistent exercise in order to maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle. I underwent rigorous 5-6 days per week of strength training, cardio and sprinting sessions with my teammates and also working out independently. I gained at least 20 lbs worth of muscle during my time as an athlete for approximately 3 years. It was rewarding, refreshing and simply amazing to not only competitively challenge other colleges and universities, but to eventually end up with 3 championships was a great feeling.
What has been your favorite experience thus far – the one you are most proud of? I’m currently most proud of my 4 Years as a CUNY Herbert H. Lehman College Undergraduate student, earning my Bachelor of Science Degree in Accounting, Information Systems and also Spanish. I literally loved every single moment of my College Years, because it made me realize the importance of balancing out life’s duties and responsibilities. As previously mentioned, I was not only a student, I was a 3 Time CUNY Athletic Conference Track and Field Champion, I was the President of my Lehman NABA (National Association of Black Accountants) Chapter for 3+ Years and I also successfully pursued a career in the Accounting, Finance and Investigations Industry for the past 10+ Years. It’s been extremely rewarding and refreshing to be able to successfully balance a full course schedule, an rigorous and demanding Athletic life, to lead an Executive Board as the President for various years. I strongly believe and know that my Undergraduate Studies at Lehman College prepared me for my Professional Career now as a Forensic Accountant (Investigative Auditor).
Just like any craft there is a learning curve – how did you learn how to model – both print and runway if applicable? I learned how to model quite simply by being an avid America’s Next Top Model viewer. I learned so much from Tyra Banks on how to “smile with your eyes,” which angles to pose for certain looks, casting calls, how to present yourself in front of a panel of judges, and so much more. I applied all skills gained from that show to my first Murry Bergtraum High School Prom showcase, to my various runway shows at CUNY Lehman College and now as a freelance Model. I currently do independent photoshoots with various photographers, because I strongly believe that I can learn from everyone and am flexible to continue growing in the Modeling world. From the plethora of photoshoots I’ve completed since March 2015, I independently style my own clothing, accessories and makeup. I have the following interests: Athletic Fusion of Strong, Durable and Colorful Brands such as Under Armor, Puma, Adidas and Nike. I love to pay homage to and celebrate my African heritage by wearing beautifully luxurious, richly colored fabrics that are both unique and stylish! I’ve also been a natural girl all of my life by never relaxing my hair, therefore, I wear cornrow three strand braids, two strand twists, afros and natural buns.
Did you have mentors or role models who helped and inspired you along the way? In terms of the modeling world, I do not have any mentors or role models at the moment. In terms of life in general, I do have my deceased grandparents as my role models. They were fearless, one of a kind, trailblazers for their generation and those who followed after them, including myself, my parents, and the rest of my extended family! My Grandparents were Maroons, the runaway slaves found in a South American country named Suriname. Suriname was formerly a Dutch colony and gained its independence on November 25, 1975 from The Netherlands (Holland). I was born and raised there in its capital named Paramaribo until I was 12 years of age, and then migrated with my parents to New York and have resided here ever since. My Model name is SuriGracielle: the Suri is a short abbreviation of my beloved country Suriname, and the Gracielle is my Middle Name given to me by my parents. Together, SuriGracielle represents my life as a Surinamese American Model who hasn’t forgotten about her South American roots.
The Plus Size Industry has changed and continues to evolve – how do you think as a model you are able to help make an impact in how the world sees plus size women? The Plus Size Industry has evolved over the years, and as a Plus Size Full Figured Model, I can help impact how the world sees women who are my size. The beauty of being an independent freelance model, is that I am the one in control of setting the tone of my photoshoots, coming up with the outfits, accessories, makeup color palettes, and so much more. I am the one who decides which fashion shows I would be honored to participate in, which designers and photographers to work with, and also, which magazines I’d like to be featured in. I’m grateful to have the ability to use the Modeling world to bring awareness to the social, political and socioeconomic issues happening in my country Suriname.
You exude confidence with every step you take, were you always this confident? Tell us a little bit about the journey to confidence. Growing up, I was mostly always the tallest, heaviest and just the quirkiest girl in my classes. Despite being bullied at the young tender age of 12 in Brooklyn, New York by classmates, I always used that to propel me to the next level academically. A lot of people don’t know this about me, but English is my 3rd Language. I was assigned to an ESL (English as a Second Language) Class in order to learn English right away while attending Intermediate Middle School 292 in East New York, Brooklyn. I learned English in a few weeks by taking my studies very seriously, using that bullying to make me fluent in the English language so I could verbally defend myself, and prove to those classmates that I wasn’t the dumb “African” girl with the year round tan. So needless to say, I was very insecure growing up, unsure of myself and lacked confidence. The only confidence I had was in my academic abilities, not in anything else. But my journey to confidence started at Murry Bergtraum High School. My Mom received a job offer, saved up some money, and opened my first Savings Bank Account at the age of 14. Once I had some money saved up, I started to experiment with fashion, and started buying exotic, colorful, and different pieces to add to my wardrobe. This is where my confidence started to arise because I was now in control of what I was wearing. I was always very aware of being bottom heavy, so I always wore dresses that complimented my figure, which are the mermaid style ones who hugged my waist, but flared out towards the bottom. I also wore pants that were skinny and curvy in style, instead of boot cut. Once I became much more aware of my clothing, accessories and began to develop a unique style, that’s when my confidence rose.
For our readers who are interested in starting a plus model career, what would you suggest are some top tips to get started? Some top tips to get started in the Plus Size Modeling Industry, is to know your brand and what you stand for. I always enjoyed being Surinamese due to its unique position in the world. We are South American in terms of where we’re located geographically speaking, but our cultures are a conglomerate of African, Asian, European, and Caribbean influences. Every single time someone asks me where I’m from, and I tell them Suriname, they either know it or they don’t. And 95% of the time, people are clueless as to where it is located. 90% think it is an African country, 5% think it is in Asia, and the remaining 5% think it is in The Caribbean.
So for me, my brand stands for being a proud Surinamese American Model with South American Roots. I stand for Academic Excellence, Athletic Fusion, African Heritage, and Stylish Clothing. I am also a Leader, who plans to be a trailblazer in the Fashion World. I command, not just demand, respect when I am at a photoshoot, I have the utmost respect for my body, and I represent women who are at healthy weights. I exercise 4-5 times a week, depending on my work schedule. Working out via cardiovascular activities, strength and weight training, plyometrics and calisthenics are very important exercises that I’ve incorporated in my daily lifestyle. I also love to eat healthy food, with a focus on protein, healthy fats, vegetables and fruits that are high in antioxidants.
As a model you’ve had the opportunity to wear a variety of different styles, but what would we catch you in on an ‘off duty’ day? What would you call your fashion sense and how has this evolved through your modeling career? I love to wear dresses that compliment my figure, accessories that highlight my outfit and also makeup that is not only natural, but fun and makes the whole look become complete. But on my ‘off duty’ days you will catch me in Athletic Gear that is very vibrant in terms of colors, cut and design. I love to mix my Under Armor, Puma, Adidas & Nike gear together to create a different look. I feel the most comfortable in my athletic tights, and thermal shirts and love to work out in them. I advocate women’s health over anything else, so exercising is key to staying on top of our health, increasing our confidence and motivating those around us as well.
What are you some of your favorite places to shop your style?
I love to shop at stores that have great return policies, offer discounts, and have sales year-round. My top two (2) stores to shop for Athletic Gear such as Under Armour, Puma, Adidas and Nike are Modell’s Sporting Goods and Century 21. For dresses, skirts, and tops that compliment my shape, my top 3 Stores are definitely Fashion to Figure, Ashley Stewart and Lane Bryant. For accessories, I highly recommend Swarovski Outlets and Forever 21.
What does life look for you outside of the modeling world? Outside of the Modeling world, I am a full time Forensic Accountant (Investigative Auditor) currently employed at the New York City Department of Finance (NYC DOF). There, I am in charge of investigating Tax Fraud. I use my knowledge in the Accounting, Finance, Economics and to help bring awareness to those who don’t know about the Tax rules and regulations. At the end of the day, I want everyone to be in compliance with Tax Laws on the City, State and Federal Levels in order to prevent criminal repercussions.
Thank you for taking time to chat with us today! What is one message you would like to leave with our readers today? One message I want to leave with everyone reading this article is for you, whoever you are, to celebrate your heritage and ancestry. Do not forget where you’ve come from, because your roots are fundamental to your every day life, your growth, and the rest of your life. Even when we pass away, our roots will either wither, or they will be carried on as a legacy to our future generations. I plan to use my South America roots as a Surinamese American Model to continue bringing awareness to issues near and dear to my heart.
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