Model Behavior with Izzy Rocha

Few models enter the industry by way of dentistry, but then again, few models are like Izzy Rocha. Fed up with her accidental stint as a dental assistant at a shady practice, she decided to throw caution to the wind and move to LA, initially intending to establish herself as a dancer.  “I visited some friends that were here for a week and I felt this insane pull of needing to live here. I felt I needed to be here. I was a dancer, dancing very, very seriously at the time, and I thought that was what I would do when I was here. And then I sort of fell into modeling. Literally, I tripped and fell into the first photographer that worked with me. I fell into modeling and when I got here, I realized maybe that was actually what I was going to be doing. Because by the time that I made it here, I was far too old to be in the dancing scene with the technique I had. I had injured myself and didn’t have the passion for it that I once did. Auditions for modeling and acting were much less intense compared to dance auditions.” Her creative passion for going with the flow came as an amusing shock to the family. “”My mom jokes that I’m the only continuation of the artists in our family, because the majority of my family is either diabolically logical, scientific to a fault, or just hard working people like farm boys. My grandma on my dad’s side is actually very into piano and music, but it’s almost done in a logical route. She teaches it and it’s not beautifully whimsically done. It’s done very structurally.  So my mom jokes that I’m the black sheep, because I’m the only person who has done art in a whimsical sense. I just do art to do art. I’m not learning anything.” Art remained a calming presence in her life as her modeling became more financially driven out of necessity. “Especially when I came to LA, art became a way to ground myself. Modeling became my job and was no longer a creative escape. Even when I did collaborations or I would do shoots that I‘d think would be good, they were always to build my book. I stopped doing really cool or ‘out there’ shoots because in my mind, all I could think was, ‘I’m doing my job for free and I’m getting no benefit from it.’ Even if the shoot is really cool, I can’t do anything with it. If it goes on Instagram, it may or may not do well. If I couldn’t use it for my portfolio, if I couldn’t use it to book something, then I didn’t see the value in it. So I leaned on physical drawing as my escape to allow my brain to not have to think, ‘How can I make money off of this?’

Now that she has the luxury of career stability, she can once again view modeling through a joyful lens. “As of late, I feel like I have some form of notoriety in the modeling scene. I don’t have to actively hunt for shoots as much as I used to. I don’t have to actively hunt for jobs. I’m signed to two different agencies (STETTS and Modern Artist). I have some form of prestige to where I can do shoots for fun again. It’s so hard wired into me now that I still go, ‘Why would I do this?’ I’m getting back into doing shoots because I think it would look cool or I really want to work with a photographer. I don’t care what the fee is. I’m getting back into that. But it’s a very slow process.” She tries to take the fickle trends of the industry in stride. “The modeling scene plays favorites a lot and you have no idea who’s going to be the next favorite and there’s no way to really guide around it. Right now, body wise, physically speaking, boobs are really in. I know that sounds weird, but if you pay attention to the people and the ads that you’re getting, no matter how skinny or big or whatever, most of them are going to be somewhat on the curvier side in terms of boobs. Boobs are really in right now. I don’t have boobs. It’s something that’ll eventually phase out. And then who knows what else is gonna be in.” Much to her frustration, she can’t help but notice the recent push for diversity is often hollow and performative. “If there’s a protest about a specific group of people, like when Black Lives Matter was happening, the amount of castings I saw for African Americans shot up. When Stop Asian Hate happened, the requests for Asian models shot up. Unfortunately they’ve gone down since, which is really sad to see, but it’s still on a higher level than it was. And that’s amazing. But I’ve been at a few shoots where it felt tokenizing – where I was asked to do a majority of the shots and the Asian model that was there was thrown in with me almost as an accessory. And I felt so uncomfortable. I said, ‘Hey, you should get some singles of her and her, like what she’s wearing.’ And they said, ‘Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, we will.’ That’s the one thing about a model. If you’re not a Bella Hadid or a Kendall Jenner, you don’t have a lot to say. You’re there to be a clothing rack basically.’ 

Even as progress fights to take hold, tired standards around the ideal woman’s body disappointingly persist, as Izzy knows from first-hand experience. “I have a lot of muscle tone to me and that’s not good. I walked into an agency when I was smaller than I am now. The first thing they said to me was, ‘We love your look, but are your measurements correct? Have you considered losing five pounds?’ At the time, I weighed 114 pounds. I believe I was at 12% body fat, 11% body fat, something like that. I thought, ‘Where would I be able to lose any weight?’ And then I realized – they mean my muscles. They mean I have to lose my muscles. Muscularity and strength is one of the only things that got me out of an eating disorder. I did not trust that if I lost that, then I would lose myself and I wasn’t willing to do that. They also said I should get lip filler and maybe consider a nose job. So then I realized maybe the issue isn’t in my muscles. And then I walked out! Welcome to modeling.”  She has had to look internally at times to address her own sense of entitlement. “I used to think, ‘There’s so many jobs for plus size people. I love that for them. I feel like I’m not getting any jobs anymore. And I feel like, like all of these jobs are focused on plus size and blah, blah, blah, blah. Now I realize, yeah, that’s a good thing! It’s not that I’m not getting enough castings or I’m not booking. There are so many models that are thin and that kind of look like me, but there’s not a lot of plus size models. There’s not a lot of disabled models. There’s not a lot of women with beautifully dark skin or women who have albinism. There’s these people with vitiligo or really, really intense freckles or a facial deformity. There aren’t many models that look like that. Of course they’re gonna get booked more. That just makes sense. There’s a million models that look like me and that’s not a good thing or a bad thing. That’s just the reality of the situation. It’s a bad thing considering I have to fight more to get a spot, but those people deserve the spot just as much as anybody else. I had a big check yourself moment of me telling myself that I was being incredibly problematic. What I was saying was problematic – that thought process that I deserved the job. It’s making it an individual issue instead of a systemic issue as a whole. Plus size models have to go through and do so much more and have it so much worse.” 

She believes there should be enough space at the table for everyone and has no time for jealousy or envy. “A lot of models will complain that it just doesn’t feel fair because random people are being pulled from TikTok or YouTube or whatever because of their appearance. They’re being catapulted to a modeling career. These more conventional models are asking, ‘Where’s my fame? Where’s my Ford contract?’ There’s a million models that look like you. I hope that every person that’s gotten signed in that way, or every person that got signed because they look different, has an abundant long lasting career. I so genuinely hope they do. And not just having them there as the token person who gets thrown into a campaign here and there. I want them to have a long lasting career as long as they want it. That’s my worry now as someone who’s been in this industry and has had it chew to ’em up and spit ’em out multiple times, I’m terrified that that’s what’s gonna happen to a lot of the models who are being signed because they look different. And that is a huge mental toll.” 

Her idea of success in the industry has evolved, too.”When I started modeling, I thought I would be traveling all the time for shoots. I have been flown out quite a few times. Like there’s nothing wrong with that. Being flown out for shoots internationally is not an unheard of thing. Well, now with COVID it is. It didn’t used to be, but now you have to be really, really lucky to get to that point. And no one tells you how lucky you have to be. I’m insanely lucky that I get to say that I can do modeling full time and pay for my life and be comfortable and fine. That is a massive luxury. That is a massive thing that I’m incredibly grateful for. But I am nowhere near the caliber that a lot of people would assume things would be happening.”  Brand collaborations haven’t always panned out the way that she imagined. “I don’t work with big brands often. It’s usually smaller boutique stuff or mid to high level boutique stuff. It’s rare that I can say, ‘Look at me in this Adidas campaign.’ I haven’t worked with Adidas yet – for Puma and Nike, but I haven’t worked with Adidas yet. I have those brands that I can throw out. I’ve worked with Guess and Sephora. I can throw those names out there, but I thought that that’s what I would be constantly doing. I thought that I would constantly be doing those kinds of campaigns working with big names, but that’s not the case.“ Part of that realism stems from the need to acknowledge a changing landscape. “I think the nineties supermodel aesthetic has long since died. It’s good and bad because I feel like modeling has opened its doors wider to more people, so more people can absolutely get into it, do it and survive off of it. Once upon a time, there were only about 15 models in the world or 15 models in America that could sustain themselves off of it. They made it to higher levels, but it was far more specified. It was a smaller pool at a higher level and now it’s a bigger pool and at a lower level. When I say lower level, I do mean people are getting paid less by a significant margin. And that’s what I’ve noticed. The rates are getting lowered by a significant margin.”

Like modeling, acting was another lucky happenstance that only recently fell into Izzy’s lap. “That’s a story that’s still unfolding. I have a friend who owns an agency that is primarily commercial and acting. He said to me, ‘Why aren’t you acting? You have such a loud personality. I feel like you would do amazing at acting.” I’ve been in a few short films cause that’s just the nature of living in LA. You do what sounds cool and pays money. So I’ve been in a few short films and he decided to sign me.” Still, she considers the craft less of her raison d’être and more of a delightful side quest. At the same time, she recognizes her privilege in being able to walk through a door that many folks in the acting industry toil for years to open. “I don’t want this to sound ungrateful because I am grateful for everything that I’ve ever gotten and that I’m ever going to get, but I’ve never looked at acting as the end all be all. There are so many actors who are like, this is it. This is what I want. This is all that I’ve ever needed. And so I feel incredibly selfish going into it and booking a job that would make someone’s life when to me, this is just a really fun paycheck.” Nonetheless, she’s carving a cozy niche via her infectiously boisterous mannerisms. “I guess the story of acting is I am learning to fall in love with it. I do a lot of user generated content (UGC) and social media commercials because companies love the way I talk about their stuff.” 

It’s important to her not to allow acting to have the same grip on her life that modeling has had in the past. “Any industry – music, modeling, acting, voice acting, YouTube, social media – it consumes you because it almost needs to. I was at a point where modeling just became what I did. I didn’t do anything else. My personality wasn’t anything else. Anytime someone would talk to me, I would talk about modeling because I was very proud of what I was doing, but I would just constantly talk about it to try and manifest it. That’s when I started delving deeper into my nerdy hobbies and just going out and choosing different things. I always pick up something new when I feel like I am stagnant. So I think acting is the thing that I’m picking up.” Izzy is hoping to embrace the comical and outlandish with any future roles. “Honestly, I love horror movies. I’m obsessed with them. I think it would be really, really fun to be in a horror movie, like a bad bitch that kills shit, a Resident Evil type energy. I was obsessed with Tomb Raider growing up, so I would love to do a Tomb Raider situation, even though I don’t have the tits for it, but that’s neither here nor there. The two short films that I have been in were all very dramatic, emotional pieces. I was an abused wife with a child and there was a child actor and everything. And I cried and it was a very dramatic thing. It would be pretty neat to do something maybe a bit more lighthearted. I would also honestly love to play a bitch. That would be so, so fun.”

Beyond her blossoming career, Izzy settled into a safe harbor of self discovery within the queer community, buoyed by the encouragement of deeply cherished friends. “I identify as queer. Queerness was shown to me on my very first pride by one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met in my entire life. You know who you are. They taught me that queerness is fluidity in your sexuality. It’s an umbrella term. It’s all encompassing. It’s a culture. It’s an energy that you feel, it’s the way that you act. It’s not only who you love, it’s just who you are. It can be femme queer culture. I was obsessed with femme queer culture. Or you can be masc. And most importantly, they said, “Basically, when I say I’m queer, gender just doesn’t matter to me in choosing a partner. That part just never really clicks in.’ I was like, yeah. Cause I called myself as bisexual for a really long time. If someone calls me bisexual, that doesn’t bother me in any way, shape or form, but it never felt right. Queerness felt right because the only reason why I need to know your gender or your pronouns is so that I can respect them. Beyond that, I don’t need to know. I don’t care. It doesn’t really mix into my brain when I think about my partner.” To Izzy, queerness embodies far more than dating preferences. Being queer represents her North Star, guiding every aspect of how she understands herself and society at large. “My queerness has honestly been a gate to myself. Personality wise, I’ve always been the same. I’ve always had people describe me as loud. Funny has always been something people call me. Those are the two pillars of who I am. Finding queerness and finding the community has multiplied those two things into funny but witty, funny but protective funny or comical. It’s opened up a rainbow of those two pillars into so much more that I would have not found without accepting that part of myself and without accepting that community into myself. I’ve always surrounded myself with queer people on accident, never an active search. It’s just I’ve always found myself in queer spaces and I never quite understood why until I was realized, ‘Oh, it’s cause you are the gay.’ Queerness has just been home and it still continues to be. I always feel the safest in spaces that are either very queer or queer accepting.”

 She continues to advocate for better and more nuanced LGBTQ2S+ representation in modeling campaigns. “I joke that June is my busiest month because of Pride month and I haven’t been wrong. My  income usually doubles for that month. Go team! As a model, I don’t feel like I have a strong say in it, but I hope that I can create more space where I don’t want there to be as much pushback to get to where I am, but that I can also create more space so that there are enough people here. I feel like I’m not really afraid to call things out. That’s not something that bothers me. Whenever they’re talking about LGBTQ+ representation and I don’t see a trans person or I don’t see a nonbinary person or all I see is a lesbian and a gay person, I’m like, ‘Quick Q, where is that? Where’s the gender fluidity in things?’ If they aren’t the ones to physically bring someone, then I will bring it up. I will try to raise the voices of those people.”

The constant pressure to achieve in your career can prevent you from savoring even the most glowing of victories – a habit that Izzy is determined to consciously let go. “I just want to genuinely feel proud of myself and the successes that I have done because even when I got a billboard in New York – Times Square, twice! – and my immediate instinct was okay, what’s next? I didn’t even have time to be proud of myself or happy about it. My immediate instinct was ‘what’s next’ and that’s great. I do love that I’m driven like that, but it has buried my self confidence and my joy of this job into the dirt because I didn’t let myself celebrate. And I think that’s important for everybody. Even if it’s a small victory of making enough money this month to cover all of my bills and then I have a little extra, that’s a win. When you do something like freelancing, that’s a huge win. So I want to get to a point where I’m allowing myself to feel my successes, feeling gratitude for it all. Personally, that’s where I would like to be.” She has a bevy of other interests that she would want to explore.”I would love to see myself more in the gaming sphere because I adore video games. People jokingly say I should be a voice actor. I wouldn’t mind taking that step because I would love to voice an anime.  I would love to do something in those spheres. In my career, I have such a hard time knowing where I wanna be, because I want to do so much.” The typical short shelf life characteristic of the modeling world doesn’t phase her. “Would I still be wanting to model in five years? Yeah. If they let me, if I still can find the jobs, why not? I find modeling to be an incredibly fun job. Do I wanna be acting at that time? Sure. Why not? I’ll do what I can. I do YouTube stuff. Do I still wanna be doing YouTube stuff? Of course. Because it’s fun. And I like doing it. I just wanna keep finding stuff, leveling up, growing and I wanna be at a successful level where I can still do what I do. I can still have fun and I would love to have a platform. Like I would love to be able to have cultural shifts happen because that’d be helpful. But if that’s not meant for me, that’s not meant for me.” True to form, she will follow life wherever it takes her.

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Model Behavior with Izzy Rocha. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Izzy Rocha.