5th Annual Festival PEOPLE En Espanol - Day 1 - Arrivals

(Photo by Matthew Eisman/Getty Images for PEOPLE En Espanol )

Name: Christina Mendez

IG: @modelchristinamendez

Agency: Reinhard Agency

We’ve all heard the story. A teenager was reaching for yet another greasy fry from a shared basket at the mall’s food court when she was spotted by the agent that would change her life. It’s a popular couture themed spin on the traditional Cinderella story and it’s oft repeated in cover stories and documentaries. But it’s rarer than it seems. And for models like Christina Mendez waiting to be discovered was never an option.

In an exclusive interview with HelloBeautiful the former Full-Figured Fashion Week Model Of The Year and mother of two explained how her path to the runway differed from the storybook version.

“I started later than most of the models that are in the industry. I had a son and he was diagnosed with autism, so I was more engulfed with that situation than I was with fashion or even caring about how I looked,” explained Mendez.

Though her son’s journey presented her family with significant difficulties his challenges also inspired her to live her dreams. Watching her child navigate through situations that were tougher than him than most kids filled with faith that anything was possible with the right amount of fortitude.

“His journey taught me that I should go ahead and do something that people thought I wouldn’t be able to do so I started modeling. Modeling just meant to me like achieving a goal that I thought I would never be able to achieve and doing something that people assumed that I was never it was never gonna happen,” she said.

Once her son was set into a regular routine Mendez sought out castings where she could start getting her face known around the industry. She had limited experiences before that she drew on. “I used to do fashion shows in high school like little high school things nothing major,” she revealed.

“It was very difficult because some of those girls are like, even now, some of those girls are my son’s age but that’s beside the point,” she continued.

She acted as if it was besides the point in the moment showing up like she had as much of a chance as anyone else to be the one who ended up ripping the runway.

“I went for the casting from craigslist. I met one designer that designer booked me for a job that job became a campaign and then it just triggered down into amazing stuff,” she shared.

“I think it’s very important for me to speak up about that experience because coming into the industry you’re set up to think like around 16, 17 they’re gonna pick you up while you’re eating at McDonalds casually and some agent is gonna say ‘You look amazing! Your look is amazing you should fly to Paris! And that’s not really the reality. Not all journeys start that way.”

She wants to combat the narrative that there is only way to make it as a model because she wants to prevent people from getting in their own way due to fear of failure.

“You could kind of get discouraged and not continue with your dreams,” she warns.

“I feel like my faith and journey helps other ladies and women say there’s no limit to it. Like Christina she started super late, her son was seven years old, not the typical model situation, look what happened with her.”

Shortly after she secured that first gig, she became booked and busy. “For me the story was fast, shocking, and like I felt groundbreaking,” said Mendez. She broke ground in more ways than one.

“There was a lot of stuff I had to bring to the table that I had experienced like having a child with a disability and being vocal about that, so I was more vocal about that than I was about fashion for a long time,” she said. She found ways to slip vital information into the content she was pushing on social media and conversations that took place during the panels she was invited to speak on as her career shifted to higher levels.

“I speak about it in the Hispanic world because I feel that Hispanic and also Black people, we do this a lot, we tend to diagnose our children later than the other races. Culturally we’re like ‘nothing is wrong with our kid’ ‘don’t talk to him’ it’s like we get really defensive and that really affects the outcome of our children. Even with mental health, we just try to sweep it under the rug and if we don’t talk about it, we can’t help our kids. So I feel super obligated to talk about it and fashion just gave me that platform.”

She is also diligent about creating transparency around the images in the modeling industry. She uses her work with QVC to emphasize the importance of age and size diversity to her seven year old daughter.

“I like to discuss you know, ‘This is an older model, This is a young model.’ No matter how different we look we are all models and beauty means something different to everyone.”

But while the rise to creating change through her success was swift and strong there were definite roadblocks.

“It was very difficult, it was times that I felt that I missed out on great opportunities just because I needed to be there or there was something going on with him or his therapy. There were a couple of agents that dropped me because I couldn’t attend every casting.  I wasn’t that type of model that could fly to Paris for one day and come back for three days my life had to be planned because of him.”

Never for a second did she doubt the decision to commit to those plans fully.

“I always choose my kids first! What is for you is gonna be for you!”

She recognized this when she was able to recover from missing a huge opportunity.

“There was a huge campaign. I will never forget this. It was Rocawear and they were sending models to Africa for this amazing shoot, one plus size girl one skinny girl. It was gonna be an amazing opportunity and I couldn’t make it because my son had a therapy appointment and I couldn’t find a sitter and I cried for days.”

She did not let the misfortune stop her and soon she was seeing it as a blessing.

“I figured out that everything comes around full circle so I didn’t get Rocawear but that person happened to have work at Ashley Stewart and afterwards and I ended up doing something with them. So, it wasn’t meant to be at that time, but everything comes around full circle and if you could just kind of express yourself to these agents and clients some of them will understand and others wont and that was just not your time and not your opportunity.”

Today as she works with brands like BET, Ashley Stewart, Kmart, Kohl’s, Qristyl Fraizer Designs, and Rue107 she is an example of what can happen when you refuse to set limits on your potential.

“My motto is you’re never too old. You’re never too big or small to achieve your dreams just go for it,” she stated.

If you would like more information about Autism please visit AustimSpeaks.org.

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MODEL MONDAY: Christina Mendez Kept Her Children First On Her Climb To The Top  was originally published on hellobeautiful.com