HAPPY IN HER SKIN
Small-town girl defies modeling conventions, lands Sports Illustrated’s coveted swimsuit issue
KILLINGWORTH — It has been a whirlwind seven months for 2010 Haddam-Killingworth High School grad and former New Englands Patriots cheerleader Camille Kostek, 25.
Kostek, a former dancer and lacrosse team captain, landed her dream job last month after competing against 8,000 other young women vying for a spot in the next Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue — among such luminaries as Kate Upton.
“I couldn’t even cry because I couldn’t even believe it,” Kostek said when she learned the news on the set of a talk show interview last week in New York at the Time & Life building, where SI is headquartered.
Kostek was in Manhattan on Oct 4. — she thought — for a casual conversation talking about her experiences as an NFL football cheerleader, the Patriots’ season, the Super Bowl and the sports she plays. She was make-up less, wearing a white T-shirt knotted at the waist, black jeans and boots when the interviewer asked her to go on camera, under the premise of seeing how Kostek was on film.
The interview was interrupted, she said, by a man dressed as “this big, pink twerking telegram that they ordered.” That’s when she learned she was among the six women chosen to be in SI’s
February 2018 issue.
Her journey has taken her from small town Connecticut to one of the biggest modeling platforms in the world.
Kostek said she has wanted one thing since she was 15: to be in the SI swimsuit edition. At a curvy 5-feet, 8-inches tall, she is far from the “typical supermodel” look, she said. “I’ve always been told ‘you’re never going to do runway’ because runway is high fashion, or typically 5 feet 10 inches tall.
“I know what weight I am when I’m happy, and there’s always room for improvement,” said Kostek, who graduated from Eastern Connecticut State University in 2014 with a degree in communications.
She remembers the first time she opened an SI magazine in her teens and saw one of the women posing. “‘Oh my gosh, she doesn’t look like your typical supermodel. That’s kind of how I look in a swimsuit,’” Kostek said at the time. “Everything wasn’t pin-straight, just so.”
That became her biggest goal. “If I were to do modeling, how could I get into the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue?”
But this self-proclaimed chatterbox is practical at heart. “Realistically, looking at my body, even growing up as a young woman, I didn’t see myself taking that career path, so I continued to be a dancer and a student,” said Kostek, who has always been a healthful eater and prefers exercising to dieting.
Kostek is the oldest of four children, three girls and a boy, born to Alan and Christina Kostek, of Killingworth. While still in college, she was hired as a Patriots cheerleader and was with the team from 2013 to 2015. Her last game was Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks.
In April, Kostek saw the SI swimsuit model search on Instagram and knew right away she was going to enter the video contest. “It was an open casting call. They said post a video and tell us why you wanted to be in it,” Kostek said.
“I’m a motivated person, but I’ve never moved so quickly. I was nervous if I even sat any longer to think about it, (the contest) would be over,” Kostek said.
She said she thought, “I have to make this video stand out,” so she called up her old classmate, H-K 2008 grad Thijs Stoop, 27, a Westbrook videographer. The two had reconnected about eight months prior to the Instagram video, and had spent time shooting videos around New York City together, Stoop said.
Kostek contacted him and two days later Stoop got on a plane and met her in Malibu.
“We were there three or four days, shooting for the first two, editing the second two, and probably didn’t sleep that entire time,” he said. “She’s nerdy, she’s funny, she’s super genuine and I think that’s what got her past all this — her personality. She’s very natural on camera.
The two have formed a fast friendship, said Stoop, who is delighted to showcase her goofy side.
“The whole time she carried around the Sports Illustrated cover with Kate Upton on it, but with a picture of her posted on it. She does totally funny little things like that that nobody knows,” he said.
In the video, Kostek is so down-to-earth and comfortable on film, even Stoop marvels at how little he had to do. “I just filmed it,” he said. “Sometimes I have to direct, but Camille wanted this so badly. Everything that she said was done in one take.
“She has been thinking about this her entire life, so when it came time to do it, she didn’t need to think twice about it,” Stoop said.
Kostek started modeling in 2015 when she signed to Maggie Inc. in Boston. Living in Connecticut made it easy to hop on the train to New York or Boston. She’d do the rounds, meeting with agency staff who loved her look but had one caveat.
“There was a certain time limit. They’d want me to lose a certain
“It was an open casting call. They said post a video and tell us why you wanted to be in it . ... I’m a motivated person, but I’ve never moved so quickly. I was nervous if I even sat any longer to think about it, (the contest) would be over.” Camille Kostek
amount of weight in three weeks or so to be booked a job. I was a dancer, I felt good about myself, but they told me I need to take 1¼ inches off my thighs in three weeks,” Kostek said.
That went against her principles, she said. “I knew it’s not impossible to get your measurements down. I just knew I didn’t want to do that. It kind of prolonged my breakout moment for modeling because I didn’t want to conform to those standards,” Kostek said.
In February, Kostek moved to Los Angeles, hoping to round out her portfolio there, where the market, home to companies like Reebok, Puma, New Balance and Converse, is plumb for her athletic build.
“I became so in love with it because every time I would go into a fitting, the clothes would fit me,” Kostek said. “That’s what fit for my body type.”
In mid-May, Kostek woke up in LA, the “best day of my life,” to learn that she was among the semifinalists. She flew to Brooklyn on May 19 for a casting call with 35 women from all over world — the majority of whom had never modeled before.
At the end of July, Kostek found out she was in the top 15 — and would walk at Miami Swim Week. “There were curvy women, plus-size women. That was life-changing in the modeling industry — to have women of all different sizes and colors walking the runway,” Kostek said from home in Killingworth on Thursday, while packing for her flight back to LA.
It’s a far cry from Kostek’s early days of modeling, when she would explain to people in the modeling industry her big dreams for the future.
“I remembered meeting with them with ripped-out pictures of Sports Illustrated models and I was so happy, saying, ‘I want to look like this. I want to be seen in this light,’” she said.
In January, Kostek will be the face on the glossy magazine page torn out of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, inspiring a whole new generation of young women herself.
During this May 2010 match, Haddam-Killingworth High school lacrosse captain Camille Kostek wins possession of a loose ball against Morgan High School’s Mackenzie Taylor during a home game.
Patriots cheerleader’s Brittany Dickie, left, and Camille Kostek, right, an H-K grad of 2010.
Camille Kostek, 25, of Killingworth, is among the models in the February 2018 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue.