Fashion model

Getting to know you: Kristen Symbula, model

Kristen Symbula is a model from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania who found her footing in the modeling industry from a young age.

She was first recruited at age fourteen, beginning her career at the John Robert Powers Modeling School. Her early experiences in modeling gave her the context to regain her self-esteem and body image, which had suffered from childhood bullying.

Despite being recruited early, Kristen still saw education as an important part of her future. This led her to enroll in religious studies and philosophy at Temple University in Philadelphia. She fought hard for her success throughout a modeling career that spanned fifteen years, going through long odds and brushing aside rejections in pursuit of success.

In her thirties, Kristen gave up modeling to focus on her career as a fitness and wellness coach, as well as a professional dancer. She is now busy pursuing these vocations, while working to complete her Masters in Anthropology. Her passion for dancing extends into her free time, which she spends reading and volunteering at a local animal shelter, as well as dancing.

Thank you very much for joining us in this series of interviews. Before diving into our discussion, our readers would like to get to know you better. Can you share with us the backstory of what brought you to your specific career path?

Well, to be honest, it started with how I was bullied when I was young. I was really tall and really skinny, and for some reason the other kids hung on to that. At one point it got so bad that I had to change schools. I was first recruited into modeling at the age of fourteen, and surprisingly, it was just a natural choice for me. Modeling helped me re-contextualize my appearance, and it gave me a lot more meaning to my appearance. It gave me a place where I could fit in, which I had never really had before.

In your opinion, what are the qualities that have allowed you to succeed as a model?

I think I was just resilient, you know? No matter how many times I was rejected, I kept moving forward. Instead of focusing on the rejections I encountered, I instead focused on what my next job opportunity might be and when. As a model, actress, or anyone else working in the entertainment industry, it’s very easy to get discouraged when you realize you’re not going to be what everyone wants. But you have to stay the course and work through it if a successful career in show business is something you really want.

The road to success is difficult and requires tremendous dedication. This is obviously a big question, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

Make sure you are willing to give up everything in pursuit of your success. If you’re not ready to give up everything to become a model, it’s unlikely to work out. Understand that this has nothing to do with a regular 9 to 5 job or a corporate job. You don’t just go to college and enter the workforce. There are no guarantees even if and when you have the qualifications. So you must be ready and willing to fight hard and not give up because there are millions of other budding beautiful models who are in exactly the same situation as you.

Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they have received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about some advice you’ve received that you wish you’d never followed?

At one point I was told by a track coach that I needed to lose 25 pounds and that I would never be successful if I didn’t. At that time, I weighed only 120 pounds. It was a tough pill to swallow, and especially with the current trend of body acceptance in the modeling industry, I really wonder if following and internalizing this trainer’s advice was the right decision.

What is the most striking difference between your current job and how you thought the job would be?

Since I went to modeling school, I was fully prepared for what I would do, so I thought I knew what to expect from the start. I was taught everything from what to expect from a runway show, how to make a good impression and what to put in my travel bag.

But I think the one thing I didn’t know is that when you go to a casting call to audition for a show, they decide within seconds whether they want you or not – and there’s a very high probability that you’re not going to be booked. You have to get used to rejection, and that’s something I wasn’t prepared for. As a young model, I just thought I would go and be booked for such and such a show, but that’s not the case for most models. It works that way for models, but certainly not for everyone, or even most. I had to work through this on the fly and understand that rejections are not personal.

In your opinion, what are the three character traits that have contributed the most to your success?

First of all, I think my personality really shines through in this career, because I’m really likeable and have a lot of interests. Second, my diligence. If and when I want to go after something, I go after it. Third, my willingness to make sacrifices and put work first. I had to put a lot of things on hold, including my master’s degree, to pursue the career I wanted for myself.

What myths would you like to dispel about being a model? Can you explain what you mean?

There is a parcel common and hurtful myths about role models. There’s this idea that we don’t have a brain or skills outside of modeling. There is also the myth that we all use drugs and all suffer from anorexia. I’m not going to pretend that these problems don’t exist at all within this profession – they certainly do. There are models who use their fair share of drugs and models who suffer from body dysmorphia. But these issues aren’t as common as people like to think, and they’re certainly not common enough to justify painting all models with the same brush.

If you had to limit yourself to one thing, what do you think would improve your industry?

I think modeling is already changing for the better, in that there’s a lot more body acceptance and a much stronger push for body positivity than there has been during most of my career. It’s a wonderful development, and I hope things will continue even further in this direction.

What successes do you foresee for yourself, whether professional or personal, in the next 5 years?

Well, I’m in my late thirties now. Over the past few years, I have largely moved away from modeling to work as a wellness coordinator and dancer. Over time, I see myself getting married, having children and finally finishing my studies. These are my goals.