By Adrienne Mand Lewin, TODAY contributor
When Cassandra Bankson was in middle school, she developed a bad case of acne on her face that progressively got worse. By high school, she was also the tallest girl.
"I was awkward – I didn’t fit in,” Cassandra told TODAY.com. The teen opted for private study away from her schoolmates' relentless teasing, and graduated two years ahead of her class.
On Sept. 12, the 19-year-old walked the runway under the glare of attention at New York Fashion Week, modeling the latest clothing line from Boy Meets Girl by Stacy Igel and presented by Lockerz. Boy Meets Girl clothes have been featured on television shows like “Gossip Girl” and “New Girl” and worn by such celebrities as Eva Mendes, Rachel Bilson and Kristen Bell. Music at the show will be performed by Wyclef Jean.
Cassandra said she used her time at home after leaving school to do Internet research, learning about makeup, concealer and foundation, and which products worked best. “I could put those on and look like another person,” she said. “All of a sudden I felt confident.”
Two years ago she met the guy who would become her boyfriend. They were together for several months before Cassandra finally allowed him to see her without makeup. His support was so solid that he convinced her to make a YouTube video about applying her makeup to help others in similar situations.
“I was so scared,” she recalled. “I would go to the store and little kids would point at me and say, ‘Mom, what’s wrong with that girl’s face?’ That’s what I expected. All of a sudden I had 5,000 ‘thumbs up’ and two ‘thumbs down' [on YouTube].”
The tutorial has been viewed more than 11.5 million times since December 2010.
A friend’s head shots of Cassandra led to work with other photographers and eventually to agency Explore Modeling, which is providing all the models for the Boy Meets Girl show. All the models were cast online.
Designer Stacy Igel said she immediately liked how Cassandra’s look and walk jibed with the show’s bohemian style and its theme, “Forever Young,” inspired by a Bob Dylan song. Cassandra's “long hair fit the style of what we’re doing," Igel said. "Natural, carefree, she definitely had the vibe of what I was casting for the show.”
As an ambassador for anti-bullying group BullyBust, Igel also was impressed with Cassandra’s experiences at school. “I really liked Cassandra more for what she had gone through,” she said, adding that she combines “everything Boy Meets Girl stands for: young, fresh, innovative, out-of-the-box and girls who make a stand and are able to be influencers in the marketplace.”
Bankson’s success comes during a Fashion Week when other unconventional models are having their moments as well. On Monday, 81-year-old Carmen Dell’Orefice walked the Norisol Ferrari Spring/Summer 2013 show. And model Angela Rockwood, a quadriplegic featured on Sundance Channel’s “Push Girls,” recently was cast for a national campaign for Nordstrom featuring models with disabilities.
Cassandra is pursuing modeling while also taking college courses. She plans to take four to six years to get a bachelor’s degree, and would like to work for a dermatologist before attending medical school and becoming one herself.
Grateful for what she’s overcome, Bankson said she hopes to help others reach their full potential. “When I was younger, I was told by teachers that I should be a model – ‘You’re so tall,’” she said. “But all I saw was I was ugly.
"You can’t appreciate feeling amazing and loving life until you’ve actually been at the lowest of low. So when everything turned around and I was able to feel this, I want everyone to be able to feel this.”
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