In junior high, she was known as Overweight Kate. Today, Kate Dillon is known as one of the most influential women in high-fashion modeling.
Currently represented by New York City's Wilhelmina Models, Dillon was the first plus-size model to appear in Vogue, was named one of People Magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People in 2001, and has been photographed by industry icons Richard Avedon and Helmut Newton.
But there is more to Dillon than just a pretty face. The 5-foot-11 36-year-old also holds a master's degree in public administration in international development from the Harvard Kennedy School and has been involved in numerous philanthropic projects.
Discovered by a photographer while hanging out at Del Mar's Pannikin, Dillon is on a mission to redefine beauty, proving to the world that true beauty really does come from the inside.
What was it like growing up in North County?
My family moved from Washington, D.C., to San Diego when I was 10. My father worked for Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) in La Jolla and my mother was a kindergarten teacher at La Jolla Country Day, which I attended from eighth to 12th grade. We lived first in Carlsbad, then we moved to Carmel Del Mar. I loved going to the beach at sunset and seeing the dolphins swimming by, hiking at Torrey Pines Reserve and Sunset Cliffs, and the tacos at Roberto's.
How did you get started in modeling?
It is ironic that I ended up modeling; in grade school, I was ridiculed mercilessly for being fat. But when I was 12, I saw a movie about eating disorders on TV, and I learned that if I starved myself, I could get skinny. It made less of an impression on me that the anorexic girl in the movie died than the fact that I had a solution to my problem at school. So I got very skinny and ultimately became a model.
One night when I was 17, I was hanging out at the Pannikin in Del Mar, and a photographer told me I should be a model. I gave it a try and soon signed with an agency in Los Angeles, working part time while finishing up high school.
You are now billed as a plus-size model, but that isn't how you started out, is it?
When I was a "skinny" model, I got very ill with a stomach virus. I had hardly eaten in 10 days when a fashion editor came up to and told me how fabulous I looked. I remember thinking, "Wow, that is what it takes to look fabulous in fashion."
I did very well, working with all the best photographers, the best designers and the best magazines. Yet something nagged inside of me: Why was I starving myself to perpetuate this ideal illusion for other women to torture themselves? I asked myself if this was the impact I wanted to have on the world, and had to answer no.
After two years of modeling full time, I left the industry in search of health and a more meaningful direction for my life. I moved back to San Diego and worked at Barnes & Noble and Cafe Lulu downtown. I spent two years doing a lot of soul-searching and then decided finally to go to college.