It says a lot that Kate Upton first became known for her dancing. In 2011, as a rookie Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, she posted a video of herself lip-synching to Cali Swag District’s “Teach Me How to Dougie” at an L.A. Clippers game. It quickly went viral.
Author: Meredith Bryan | Photography: Carter Smith | Modeling: Kate Upton | Styling: Jillian Davison | Fashion Editor: Jillian Davison | Hair: Harry Josh | Makeup: Christian Mcculloch | Nails: Gina Vivianowww.glamour.com
Upton was blond, leggy, and buxom, a millennial Marilyn Monroe or Brigitte Bardot, but she was also ebullient and game, a show-off and a ham. She’d soon spin her mass credentials—she got her start as a catalog model in Florida—into appearances on the Louis Vuitton runway and the cover of Vogue. The crux of her appeal, though, is that she always looks like she’s having fun. And she is. After a short hiatus from modeling to focus on acting (in Nick Cassavetes’ 2014 rom com, The Other Woman, and in three upcoming films, including William H. Macy’s The Layover), she’s back to mugging for the camera, with a stronger physique, a famous fiancé (Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander), and, as ever, a lot to say.
GLAMOUR: Tell us—did you always want to be a model?
KATE UPTON: I knew nothing about fashion growing up, because in Florida you just wear bikinis and flip-flops. But kids can be cruel, and they used to make fun of me for having long legs and bushy eyebrows. My mom would flip through magazines and say, “Look, all these models have that too.” I decided I wanted to be a model.
GLAMOUR: What was your first gig?
KU: I think it was for a local Miami magazine; we shot at a Crunch gym. We had to be there at three in the morning, and it went until three in the afternoon, and they never fed us. I was like, No wonder models are so skinny!
Maison Margiela cape.
GLAMOUR: When you first became famous, you were called out for not having a typical model body type. Did anyone ever tell you to lose weight?
KU: All. The. Time. At first I tried to diet to become their image, but eventually I realized that it wasn’t realistic—that this is just the shape of my body. So I had to block them out. I think that the people who are the loudest about wanting to change you are the people with the least amount of vision and creativity.
GLAMOUR: You have to have confidence in yourself to see that. Where does your confidence come from?
KU: Where I grew up, it was considered a great thing to have a curvy body to fill out a bathing suit. For that to be a negative was so confusing to me. And besides, when I started working, I was booked constantly, mostly for catalog work. So when people were saying, “Oh, she doesn’t have the right look for a model,” I thought, Then why am I working every single day? There are so many different directions you can take in the modeling industry, so many ways to be successful.
Max Mara coat. Ryan Roche skirt. Maria Black earrings. Valentino Garavani necklace.
GLAMOUR: You have been successful in so many ways at the same time; in 2013 you were on the cover of both Vogue and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
KU: That was a really cool moment. The fact that people were having a conversation about whether I should conform to fashion or not gave me a great platform, because I wanted to show that you shouldn’t conform, you should be the best you, the healthiest you. You shouldn’t always try to change yourself, because then how are we going to tell anybody apart? It’s like L.A.—how do I know who’s who? You all look like sisters.
GLAMOUR: You were one of the first models to harness the power of social media with the Dougie video. It helped make you a household name. How do you use social media now?
KU: I really try to use it in a way that doesn’t affect my entire day so that I can have a conversation or be with people without constantly thinking about it. I don’t preplan anything. Sometimes I lose cool moments to post about, but as long as I’m enjoying my life, that’s more important.
GLAMOUR: Your feed is a lot of dogs and baseball games. Is that intentional?
KU: Yes. People will sometimes give me advice like, “You should post more selfies. That’s what gets likes.” But I really just post what I think is funny or random. What keeps it authentic is not focusing on what people want to see but posting you. I try to use very few filters—unless I have a breakout. Then I’m brightening it. [Laughs.]
McQ jacket. Jill Stuart briefs.
GLAMOUR: What about the haters? Do the negative comments get to you?
KU: In the beginning it was so hurtful. But I have to say, the other day I was reading some negative comments, and I was thinking they were really funny. So I guess they don’t anymore.
GLAMOUR: You’re posting a lot of workout videos lately. What’s your motivation?
KU: My trainer [Ben Bruno] is fun and hard-core. We do weight training with cardio in the circuit, and he gets you competitive with yourself and with the other girls who work out with him. A couple of years ago, there was a switch for me. I used to work out to have my hips be a certain size. Now I do it for myself, because I want to be strong. I want to have energy. In my mind I feel like I can beat someone up—I really want to be able to do it! Oh, and I want a nice butt, and if it’s a quarter inch bigger than the modeling-world standard, that’s fine.
GLAMOUR: OK. So a focus on cardio-weight workouts…what else works for you?
KU: You mean diet? Well, eating really works for me! [Laughs.] No, I try to do a sugar-controlled diet and eat lots of protein and veggies. But if I’m craving something, I’ll just have it.
GLAMOUR: Has living with a pro athlete motivated you to work out?
KU: This is probably bad to say, but I’m going to say it anyway: I always thought that baseball players were kind of fat and not athletic. I was really surprised by how athletic Justin was. I wanted to learn tennis, and he goes out and he’s never played before and just beats me. I’m thinking, This is the worst. Who invited you?
GLAMOUR: So you’re competitive. What else keeps you going?
KU: I love what I do—I love fashion. Whatever you wear, it really sets the tone for the day. If I’m in sweatpants, I fully become that person—I’m lazy and kind of a mess. The opposite is also true; fashion can give you confidence. And things have definitely changed in the industry, mostly for the positive. We’re more accepting now. For me, someone like Ashley Graham, who loves her body and is always talking about it, is inspiring.
Meredith Bryan is a writer and editor living in Brooklyn.