PILSEN — As a plus-size model in New York, Nikki Muffoletto would often walk away from a shoot with a check for $10,000 in hand.
But four years ago, after losing almost 40 pounds to become a personal trainer, the redheaded print model found herself caught in a predicament: Standing 5-foot-10 and weighing 160 pounds, she could no longer work in the plus-size industry where a 12/14 dress size was the standard.
But to work as a "straight-sized" model the 30-year-old would need to lose far more weight — and fit into a size 2 dress.
Caught between the two worlds but worried about her health, Muffoletto — who now lives in Pilsen — decided to take action against what she believes is an impossible standard for most women to fulfill.
She hopes to film a documentary that will follow her as she attempts to lose 40 pounds in three months — a drastic action she said other woman regularly take in her industry. Muffoletto has taken to Kickstarter, seeking $25,000 to fund the project.
“When you’re looking at a magazine, you’re looking at someone that’s probably had to starve themselves or do extreme things to get to where they’re at,” she said. “Why do we have that standard?”
Muffoletto wants the film — Model DIEt — to illustrate just how difficult it is to shed that kind of weight in a healthy manner, especially in such a short period of time. Like “Supersize Me” — Morgan Spurlock’s startling documentary about McDonald’s — Muffoletto hopes the film will act as an alarm for the fashion industry as a whole.
In Muffoletto’s Kickstarter proposal, she says she has "personally seen in my 12 years of modeling girl after girl come in at a size 6 and leave at a size 0 with an eating disorder." She references Crystal Renn, a size 2 runway model who struggled with anorexia before re-emerging as a plus-size model and writing a book about her experience in 2009.
Plus-size model Randi Graves, who lives in New Jersey and has worked in the industry for more than 15 years, has known Muffoletto since 2008.
Graves, who's trying to lose weight now, said she thinks Muffoletto’s film will illustrate just how difficult weight loss can be for so many women.
“Modeling at the end of the day is a fantasy whether you’re big girl or a really skinny girl. Somehow there’s also this farce behind it that people are supposed to be perfect, and no one is,” Graves said.
“She’s shining a light on something you just don’t talk about,” said a straight-size Chicago Ford model who wished to remain anonymous. “Mentally and physically, it can be very stressful and taxing on your body. But at the end of the day, it’s a business, and they’re looking at the bottom line. It’s not right, but that’s just the way it is, basically.”
As a plus-size model, Muffoletto appeared on the cover of magazines and modeled for Carson Pirie Scott, Lane Bryant and Kohl's.
"When I got to the modeling world, they really accepted me," she said in her Kickstarter video. "They said when I got to a size 14 I was perfect."
After becoming a personal trainer and getting down to a size 8, she lost 90 percent of her plus-size modeling clients, even though she said she was the healthiest she'd ever been. But she's "still too big" to be a straight-sized model.
"So in order to work as a model, I have to either gain 40 pounds or lose 40 pounds," she said.
Muffoletto said she feels physically better and more energetic and has no plans to put the weight back on. Last year, she fulfilled one of her life’s dreams by participating in a three-month professional women’s basketball league in Australia.
At her Pilsen home, Muffoletto smiled as she watched a video of herself shooting layups Down Under.
“You would never think that girl does modeling,” she said pointing to herself. “I think it’s good though. It’s like, there are two sides of somebody.”
Muffoletto's hopes to raise funds for "Model DIEt" on Kickstarter by Oct. 13. She's also taking to Michigan Avenue to spread the word about her documentary.
For the film, Muffoletto said she "will be monitored by doctors and nutritionists to ensure I'm eating healthy, and I will be working out. I will interview industry models and hit the streets and interview everyday people to get their take on the fashion industry and today's modeling standards."
She acknowledges she is taking a risk, considering she is "healthy" now.
"I am scared, but in order to provoke change, you have to be willing to do the things that people think are crazy," she said.