When model Kelli Maida walks into a restaurant for an interview, she's not wearing high heels or flashy high-fashion attire. Nor is her makeup done up as if a photo shoot is her next stop.
Instead, she dresses conservatively in flat, trendy boots, a mustard-colored blazer and black pants with light, pretty makeup and black-rimmed glasses to top it off. In fact, she looks as if she'd just stepped off of Wall Street.
As she walks over to a two-person table, multiple customers recognize her and approach her, and she greets and hugs them with a huge, picture-perfect smile, asking about their well-being and their families. This goes on intermittently throughout the evening, and her composure doesn’t portray a tad of annoyance. It’s as if she’d initiated the conversation with her greeters in the first place.
The international model and former East Lake resident has appeared in modeling campaigns and a slew of magazine advertisements distributed around the world. But Maida's friendly disposition, humble personality and rational frame of mind toward the industry and her career don't show the slightest hint of arrogance for someone who has some amazing accomplishments under her belt.
Maida’s modeling work has been featured in Cosmopolitan, Teen Vogue, Marie Claire, SELF Magazine and BRIDES magazine, to name a few, as well as in numerous women’s clothing catalogues. She’s even modeled for campaigns for Mary Kay Cosmetics and Ed Hardy in the past. She’s currently working as a model for an Olay skin care campaign that includes commercials, one of which was featured during the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.
However Maida, 24, says she doesn't even tell people the truth when they ask her what she does for a career. While in high school, she said she didn’t tell anyone except her close friends that she modeled because she was concerned about what people would think of her. She added that a lot of people have the wrong impression of the industry.
“I tell people I work for advertising,” said Maida, laughing. “Technically I do. I’m just the advertisement.”
An East Lake Girl at Heart
Born in Staten Island, NY, Maida and her family moved to East Lake when she was 2 years old. She says she grew up being a tomboy and hating being photographed. But Maida’s blooming model-like features didn’t go unnoticed for long.
Maida was watching a local football game when a youth cheerleading coach, who happened to also be a talent agent, asked her if she wanted to get involved with modeling. Maida was 14.
“I wanted nothing to do with it,” said Maida. “I wanted to be playing football.”
But she soon started getting involved with small modeling jobs, like advertisements for Tyrone Square Mall’s Dillard's and for Beall’s department stores. She said she did these types of jobs while she attended East Lake High School and worked simultaneously as a hostess/waitress at her father’s restaurant, Vetture’s Restaurant & Pizzeria, located on East Lake Road in Brooker Creek Shopping Center.
“It was all right,” said Maida. “It was fun.”
Upon graduating from East Lake High School in 2007, Maida had thoughts of attending the University of Florida or Florida State University (she was accepted to both, she said) to become an elementary or a special education teacher. Instead, she decided to pursue modeling a little bit more by moving to Miami that August.
The rest is history.
“I didn’t want to do it,” said Maida, who is 5-foot-10 and half-Italian, half-Irish. “I wanted to go to UF or Florida State, but my parents were like, ‘Just try it for a year. You can always go back to school.’ And I loved it. So I’m so glad I did it.”
'I Do Have a Booty' and What the Future Holds
Maida lived in Miami for three years before she “got tired of that and wanted something different,” she said.
So she moved to New York, where she's currently living until the end of November. She says she’ll be working in Florida until March, and then she’ll be working in New York through June until September. She’s been living in both cities since 2010.
Maida has been able to travel to Columbia, Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and multiple cities throughout the United States for various jobs, something she says she never had the opportunity to do before getting involved with modeling.
“The traveling is the most rewarding, I think,” said Maida. "Granted, the money is amazing, but you can make money doing anything. So the money is just kind of like a plus. But I think the traveling is my favorite part.”
Without going into figures, Maida said every job pays differently — some jobs pay a day rate, and some pay hourly, but campaigns normally pay the most because the companies can “buy out” models, meaning they can’t work for any of their competitors’ companies while working for them.
Though she’s enjoyed her career so far, she said the modeling industry is also tough and competitive, adding that almost every day she’s getting criticized and critiqued.
“I get told to lose weight all the time,” said Maida. “Oh, all the time. I can’t. I mean, I like to eat.”
She says she’s not naturally a twig and that she works out at a gym to stay in shape.
“I’m not a size zero, so it’s hard,” said Maida.
She added that she thinks it’s sad what a lot of girls do to their bodies in order to be successful.
“I can see how a lot of girls get lost in the industry — the drinking and smoking and that kind of stuff,” said Maida, adding that models can make amazing money if they have the extremely thin look that some people in the industry look for.
Maida said she’s met models who smoke cigarettes instead of having meals, models who do drugs and some who are anorexic or bulimic.
“It’s scary sometimes,” said Maida. “There’s girls who come in who are 14 years old, and they’re into drugs, and their families aren’t around. And it’s sad.”
She said even photographers, stylists and makeup artists are the same way, as if they felt a need to be as thin and camera ready as their models are. But Maida says she would rather never be involved with modeling again if she had to make herself terribly thin for the camera.
“I’d rather be a little bit thicker and get to do the hair stuff and the makeup stuff,” said Maida. “Just because I do have a booty. It’s not going anywhere. No matter how much I run, it stays with me.”
Maida said Glamour magazine has started to show girls over a size eight on the cover of their magazines, which she says she thinks is really great. She also said that Europe is starting to implement rules where models have to be over a size two in order to walk on runways.
Though Maida is doing very well so far in her modeling career, she still has a goal of one day becoming an elementary or special education teacher. She’s currently taking classes part time and online through St. Petersburg College to earn a degree in secondary education, which she started pursing in 2010.
“Just to have a back-up plan,” said Maida. “In case I can’t do this forever, I want to be able to have something to fall back on.”
She says she thinks she’ll eventually move back to the Tampa/St. Petersburg area and get married and start a family. Maida’s been dating her boyfriend, an East Lake resident, for about eight years, and she says she really wants to live close to her family. She added that she’d also be able to pursue a modeling career based in the Tampa area if she wanted to.
“I want to work enough so that I can save money and get to go places and do things,” said Maida. “I don’t care if anybody recognizes me ever. Not at all. I’d rather people not recognize me ever.”
Maida attributes her down-to-earthness to her friends and family, though she says she doesn’t consider herself to be humble — as any person who was truly humble would probably say.
“Not all models are stuck up,” said Maida. “Not all models are rude or, you know, disrespectful. There’s a lot of really, really intelligent, bright, funny, sweet models, too.”
Maida is a classic example.