Sandra Wilson embodies the word “reinvention,” in more ways than one.
She went from being a cosmetologist to a middle school English teacher, and then added “pin-up” model and magazine owner to her resume when she was almost fifty. Between everything, she raised two daughters, trained for and participated in a triathlon and didn’t let a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis stop her. Sandra tells FOF about her motivations and accomplishments.
How old are you?
I just turned 53.
Where do you live?
Richmond, VA, for the past six years.
I am divorced, have two daughters, 32
and 33, and three grandchildren.
What do you do?
I teach advanced English in middle school and the gifted and talented program. I’m also a “pin-up” model and the editor-in-chief and owner of Dames, Planes & Automobiles, a two-year old magazine that features models wearing vintage clothes; photography and articles on planes from WWII, Vietnam, and other wars or military endeavors, as well as on classic automobiles. Most of all, it’s about what veterans are doing to make a difference in their communities. We are dedicated to giving a portion of our sales to veterans’ organizations. I organize and gather all submissions and articles and do all the networking and promotion.
Tell us a little about your childhood.
I was born in California to an Irish mother and an Italian father, the middle child of three sisters, and the only one with red hair and freckles. My parents divorced when I was 10 years old, so my mom moved us back to Virginia. I was overweight and very shy and struggled at school. Taller than most kids my age, I walked around with my shoulders slumped because I didn’t want to be the center of attention.
My mother put me in charm school to help build my confidence. There, I developed an interest in cosmetology and fashion and dreamed of being on the runway or in a magazine. When I was 16, I quit school to become a hair stylist. At 19, I was married, and by 21, I had two beautiful daughters, both redheads. By 25 I was a single and put my dreams on the back-burner to raise my daughters and just survive. I supported my family as a cosmetologist.
When did you decide to return to school?
When my girls were in high school and I was in my mid-thirties, I went back to school and earned my GED. Then I went to community college and Averett University where I majored in theatre and English and minored in education. I have been teaching for 15 years.
I learned I had dyslexia in college but I persevered and grew to love English, literature and poetry. It was an awesome feeling to graduate from college the same year that my youngest daughter earned her high school diploma.
What led you from teaching to modeling?
Teaching helped me enrich my mind, so I started working on my body by training and participating in triathlons. After I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, I gave up running but continued cycling, which didn’t hurt at all. I cycle 40 to 100 miles a ride today. It helps me to stay limber and reduce the swelling around my joints. It’s also great stress reliever. I do my best planning on my bike and it was while riding that I thought about getting back into modeling and acting. I was approaching 50.
Although I had talked myself out of it about a thousand times I realized that if I could conquer these other challenges in my life, why not this?
Soon, I found myself sitting in front of a young woman at a local modeling agency, with headshot and portfolio in hand, who told me that there was indeed a demand for models my age. Photographers now say that as a mature model I bring an air of relaxed confidence to their shoots.
I actually think my age helped me because it inspired many to see a mature woman determined to make a place for herself in an industry obsessed with youth and perfect bodies. I’ve been published in several online magazines that wanted me to tell my story.
For whom do you model fashion now?
I’ve modeled for designers, department stores and bridal shows, but most of my modeling is done by commissioned photographers for publications. I’ve been in local commercials for Kroger and a realty company and have been signed with three local talent and modeling agencies.
Tell us about Dames, Planes & Automobiles, the magazine you own.
I love the retro life and connecting with others who adore the fashion, history, and the icons of the 40s and the 50s. I always was inspired by the classic 40s movies and remember watching and wishing I had lived during the period when women wore gloves, net hats, and circle dresses. I would watch in awe as they danced in the streets with their lovers.
I collect vintage clothing from shops and thrift stores, including Pussycat Alice on Etsy, and design my own wardrobe for shoots and promotional events. I came in second in the pin-up contest when I modeled for my first classic car show.
We created the magazine to inspire others and give them a chance to showcase their talents. It’s published five times a year. I also train models who want to know more about posing in front of the camera. They can contact me through Facebook, where I have personal and pinup pages (my pinup name is Vivian Rouge), or through the magazine’s website.