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How Sports Illustrated Swim Star Kayla Fitzgerald Uses Her Platform To Advocate for Petite Models

Florida native Kayla Fitzgerald discusses her career path and opens up about mental wellness, fitness, and inclusivity in the industry for models of all shapes and sizes.

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Courtesy of Kayla Fitzgerald
Courtesy of Kayla Fitzgerald

Known for her beauty, style, and grace, Florida-born Kayla Fitzgerald rose to fame after placing top 15 in Sports Illustrated’s SI Swimsearch’s first-ever open casting call, and walking in their debut fashion show at Miami Swim Week. She has since been featured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, Maxim, and has been profiled by the likes of TMZ, Parade, CBS, Yahoo, and more. 

Kayla has sought to use her platform in the industry to raise awareness about the struggles petite models experience, and help shorter and smaller women embrace their natural beauty. As a 5’3” model, Kayla has been discriminated against for her height, and she feels empowered to create more inclusive opportunities for models of all heights and sizes. She is passionate about motivating everyone to embrace health and wellness, and feel their best selves both on the inside and outside. 

In addition to modeling, Kayla is also an accomplished actress and television personality, who competed on The Amazing Race season 30. When she’s not modeling or traveling the world, Kayla can be spotted cooking, boating, working out, or completing sudoku puzzles! She’s a creative and passionate professional who is truly making an impact.

We sat down with Kayla to get an exclusive inside look at her experience in the modeling industry, the struggles she has faced being a petite model, as well as how she maintains her mental health and stays on top of her health and wellness. Kayla has made a major name for herself within the industry, and we can’t wait to see what amazing things she has in store next and how she will continue to raise awareness about the struggles of petite models, and use her platform for a purpose.

How did you get involved with modeling? 


I did a little bit of modeling as a child, but never followed through with it or thought of it as a career option. I grew up in Florida, and when I was 18 I entered into a bikini contest in Daytona Beach. From there, I was contacted by someone from Hawaiin Tropic and they wanted me to compete in their Swimsuit pageant in Miami, Florida where I ended up winning. After that, I started modeling for local swimwear companies shooting catalog, commercials and working promotional jobs here and there for various companies. When I was 21, I competed in the Hawaiin Tropic Swimwear Pageant in Vegas and placed in the top 5, and also won multiple modeling contracts with different companies varying from beauty to TV shows.  I fell in love with being in front of the camera, and at 22, I decided to pack up and moved to Los Angeles to pursue modeling full time. I was immediately signed with a print and commercial agency and booked jobs with brands such as Skechers and Benefit Cosmetics. I have been consistently working as a full-time model since 🙂

Has it been difficult being 5’3 in the modeling agency?

Being 5’3 in the modeling industry has been EXTREMELY tough. It actually blows my mind that even now with social media and this era of inclusivity, that petite models are still not given even an ounce of the same opportunity. There have been massive waves of acceptance for plus-size models, tall models, and even “middle size” models who feel they do not have a size, but there’s still this weird mindset when it comes to petite models. I have been told I need to transition into being a fitness model because I am too short. I have been turned away time and time again by various companies because they say I am too short. However,  the companies who do take a chance on me have become recurring clients who have continued to book me for years because they see that I can actually model and I am a professional. I am sure models who are my size probably feel the same way but walking into castings and jobs never seems like a fair experience because as soon as they see how tall we are, I feel as though it automatically goes against us. You do not have to be tall to model. I think we have proven time and time again in the industry, that being different and not fitting a mold of what is considered to be “model material” isn’t needed in order to be successful. I have always felt like I have to work 3 times as hard just to get looked at and considered for jobs. I think more now than ever, it’s so important to show more diversity and acceptance for petite models.

What is some advice you can have for someone who wants to become a model but is insecure about their image?


I think someone who wants to be a model, but struggles with their image, should definitely do some self-searching and learn how to love themselves fully before entering this industry. It’s such a cut-throat industry where you are constantly told no, no, no, until you finally get a yes, and that can certainly mess with your mental health. Every company is looking for something different, so you have to be able to learn to love yourself and know that it’s nothing against you as an individual, but you just weren’t what they envisioned for that particular role or job. Being mentally stable and having a strong body image and love for your body is very important prior to getting into the modeling industry!

How do you prioritize your mental health while working in the modeling industry? 

I think mental health is the most important thing to be aware of and to make a priority. The biggest thing I do currently is journal and work out. I wake up every morning and I write down 3 things I am grateful for, as well as writing down different daily affirmations. You would be so surprised how big of a difference it makes over time when you train yourself to be grateful for different things. I also love working out, and I feel like moving your body can definitely change your mental state almost instantly. The releasing of endorphins can take me from a “meh” mood to a good mood right away….sometimes I even just turn on some music and have a dance party by myself haha.

What is your greatest weakness as a model? What are you doing to improve on it?
I usually tend to focus on the positives and am always trying to learn and grow as a model, but if I had to choose a weakness I would say my biggest weakness is when I get into my own head and talk myself out of putting myself out there in fear of not booking something.

What is your eating and nutrition routine like when being a model? Do you have a strict diet?

I do not have a strict diet, I LOVE FOOD. I think everything in moderation is good…but right before a shoot I usually try to stay away from a lot of carbs and I tend to eat pretty clean. I will mostly have high protein kale salads with hemp hearts seeds, soups, and lots of veggies and water.

What are your health and fitness tips?


I love health and fitness and I think it’s important to figure out what works best for your body and mind because honestly, everyone is different. It truly depends on what your goals are and that should dictate what you should work on and how you should go about doing it. For instance, my body can build muscle pretty easily which can make me look bulky, so I usually do HIIT training with low weights and resistance bands to work on burning fat and toning. My advice would be to try different kinds of fitness routines and see what works best for you. There are a bunch of free workouts you can find online and even fitness trainers who provide free virtual workouts on social media that you can follow along to. One of my biggest health tips, and I know everyone has heard this a million times, is to drink a ton of water, It really is so important. I also take vitamin D daily because I am deficient, which most people actually are. I also take turmeric and ginger in a droplet form every single day as well and it helps with my digestive system and inflammation, so I always recommend that to people too!

What is one of your biggest struggles you’ve had to deal with regarding health and fitness?


I keep a pretty consistent regimen which I feel like is key for staying healthy, but my biggest struggle would just be needing to remain a certain size so that I can look taller in pictures. The skinnier I am, the taller I look.

How do you feel confident on a day to day basis?


I think being a woman, every day is different. Sometimes I wake up and I feel great about myself and think I can rule the world haha and other days I wake up and feel the complete opposite. I have just learned to accept that some days are better than others and that is ok and totally normal. On days where I wake up and am not feeling super confident or the best version of myself, I will write down certain affirmations in my journal that will give me a little pep in my step! Seeing positive affirmations visually on paper is a game-changer!

What’s something people may not know about you? 


Some people may not know that I was on the Amazing Race and I traversed over a massive ice glacier that was like 300 ft or something crazy like that!

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