Chelsea Bonner, makes no bones about it. She thinks big.
As the founder of Bella Management, a model agency for plus-size, or larger, models, she has been a trailblazer from the start of her career.
Today her agency is world-renowned for its “stable” of plus size models from all over Australia as she continues to argue that you don’t have to be thin to be beautiful.
“We should not be telling women that they need to be skinny in order to be considered attractive,” says Bonner, who was born into a the world of fashion.
Her mother Nola Bonner was a top model and cover girl in the 1960s and ’70s.
Her father Tony Bonner was briefly a model and then an actor, catapulted to stardom for his role as the heartthrob chopper pilot in hit television series, Skippy. Her sister Skye was also briefly a model.
When Chelsea wanted to become a model like her mum and Skye she was told she was too “big”, which eventually led to her founding Bella Management as a way of proving the fashion industry wrong.
“I guess I feel like I’m doing as much as I can to change things from the inside but if every women was more vocal about diversity it would be a real help,” says Chelsea.
“Rather than waste comments online use them to create conversation with your favourite fashion labels and retailers to ask for a variety of models. Not just sizes but ethnicity and ages.”
Asked what advice she would give to aspiring models, Chelsea said:
“There are all kinds of modelling, from fashion to commercial, so be flexible in your thinking especially in a small market like Australia.
“Agents are often looking for a particular type of model so if one agency says no don’t give up.
Learn as much as you can about your angles and movements. Practice in front of a mirror or get your mum or bestie to take photos of you so you can see how you work to camera and where you can improve.”
Other questions put to Chelsea by SheBrisbane included:
Talk us through a typical day in your life…
That’s the thing I love about my job, there are no typical days really. It’s a very fast-paced environment. We think fast, talk fast and move fast! The goal is always the same though which is to maximise the potential for our models to book shoots and TV commercials.
The way we do it is individual to each person we represent. They all have unique goals and different wants and needs from their careers.
What has been the highlight of your career?
There are too many to have just one. I’m proud of everyone for all different reasons. From a model who books his or her first shoot to signing a national campaign or booking a magazine editorial or cover shoot. Each of these moments is a different highlight in my job.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
Early on I wanted to work with horses in some way. I was an avid and competitive horse rider. Then I wanted to be a surgeon in the army because I loved MASH! But I knew in my teens that I wanted to be an agent as our lives revolved around my parents agents and it seemed like such a fascinating job.
What do you think the key to success is?
Not worrying about success! I think it’s important to do what you love and give it everything you have. If you do that I think success in material terms catches up with you. I can’t imagine doing a well paying job that you hate everyday just to buy a nice car. That would be emotional death for me. I was offered them many times, but I knew I’d hate it.
What have you learned about leadership, entrepreneurship and mentoring others?
I’ve always tried to lead by example. I’ve taken many risks and failed many times. So I like to be honest about the down sides as well as the benefits of owning a business. I haven’t had a holiday without having to work while away for 20 years. On the upside I’ve also travelled the world. So it’s a compromise you have to be ready for.
What’s the biggest lesson you have learnt?
Do your best, leave it all on the mat, fight hard and then release it to the universe. All you can do is your best, the rest is out of your hands.
What’s next for you?
I’ve just opened my newest location in Melbourne and I’m finishing my book which will be out next year which is so exciting!
SheSociety is a site for the women of Australia to share our stories, our experiences, shared learnings and opportunities to connect.