Maria Montgomery started with pageantry when she was 15 years old but she had always dreamed of being a model. When she was younger, her sister would take photos of her pretend modeling. After watching her sister win Miss Teen Boyle County Maria knew she wanted to do pageants but it took her two years to build up the courage to enter one.
She found herself being first runner up for quite some time until she finally got the hang of things and started winning some titles and scholarships. Before long, she won three big state titles in one year – the last one being Miss Kentucky USA. But while many people know her as a former Miss Kentucky, Maria Montgomery’s journey was only just beginning when she won that title in 2009.
Gown, Heidi Elnora; Photographer, Cathrine Taylor; Stylist, Brittany Massey
After placing as a runner up at Miss USA, Maria signed with an agency in Nashville, Tennessee called Advantage. The agency took her to a convention called AMTC (Actors, Models & Talent for Christ) in Orlando, Florida and that is where FORD Models scouted her.
FORD Modeling Agency is an international modeling agency based in New York City with other locations being in Chicago, L.A. and Paris. Maria moved to Chicago for the summer with the agency and modeling quickly became her full-time job. But, while being Miss Kentucky USA and modeling full-time were both dreams of Maria’s, they involve a lot more work than most people realize.
“Many people assume that models and pageant girls think of themselves as perfect but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” she explains. “We are constantly being told what is wrong with us so we’re keenly aware of those things.”
Maria is essentially her own small business and admits that while it’s completely worth the effort, it’s also really hard at times.
“People often tell me I just get to ‘play dress up’ but they don’t realize how much I’ve had to study the art of modeling and how I’m constantly learning more about myself and how to best present myself on TV or in photos,” she says.
On days when she isn’t on set she’s still busy studying, practicing modeling and public speaking, watching film of previous jobs, balancing her books, working on her portfolio, networking or even just working out to be physically fit for her shoots. In fact, fitness plays a huge role in her day-to-day life.
Gown, Heidi Elnora; Photographer, Cathrine Taylor; Stylist, Brittany Massey
“Living a healthy life is huge for me. Of course it’s important for my job but when I’m eating well and being physically active I simply feel more alive,” she explains.
Since she exercises so often, she’s learned what type of fitness routines work best for her. She loves kettle bell classes as well as CycleBar at Fritz Farm but she also finds that having a plan to follow is helpful.
“Val Smorel creates a custom workout plan and eating guidelines for me, which helps a lot because it’s simply a checklist and changes each day. I think if people hate working out, they just haven’t found what they love yet. It should be an outlet, not a chore,” she explains.
Still, even with working out regularly, it’s understandably easy to feel self-conscious and intimidated in a line of work where women are constantly being judged by their physical appearance.
Photo by Alessandra Fiorini
“Modeling can bring about a lot of anxiety about physical fitness because I’m often measured by my agent for jobs. With my body type, I’m often the ‘biggest’ on set in regards to my build,” she says of her athletic body. She believes that modeling is only negative when girls take their body image too far so she has learned to accept herself for the way she is – a lesson she actually picked up during her Miss Kentucky days.
“While I was competing at Miss USA I tried to act older because I was the youngest contestant. My director sat me down and said, ‘Where did the bubbly, door-next-door Maria go? That’s what got you this far! Why would you change that?’ And then it clicked – everyone being themselves is really the best choice,” she says.
Even though this conversation with her director happened many years ago, she still tries to remember that lesson when she gets insecure.
“I try to embrace who God made me to uniquely be – flaws and all,” she explains.
But like most teenage girls Maria, who is 5’10”, wasn’t always so accepting of her body. Even though everyone always told her she’d love being so tall one day, she never listened.
“I was always a foot taller than my friends and I was very self conscious about it because I was a cheerleader so I was surrounded by tiny girls,” she says. “I hated being the one that stuck out like a sore thumb on the sidelines because of my height.”
If she could go back in time she would’ve listened to those people because they were right. Although it’s easier said then done, she encourages everyone to own their differences saying, “Being you makes you stand out, so why try to be anyone else?”
However, like you may have guessed, being a full-time model while living in Kentucky isn’t always easy. Unlike models that are based in NYC or L.A., for example, Maria has to leave her home fairly often for jobs.
“Getting work within Kentucky is extremely hard. I did things a bit backwards with my career in that I did very few local jobs before going national. I mostly worked out of state before I did local bookings,” she explains. Working as a model in the bluegrass state means Maria has to be versatile.
“If you limit yourself to fashion modeling you won’t have a lot of luck here due to the lack of consistent paying fashion shoots but if you’re willing to do other things like TV, then there is hope,” she says. But, like most things, it took time to get to a point where she was working regularly. In fact, she did a lot of free jobs when she was younger just to get her name out there.
So, why exactly is she based in Kentucky if it makes her job that much harder? It’s simple – she absolutely loves it with all of her heart. She’s lived in Chicago and Miami on and off for the past 8 years but always returns home against her agent’s wishes. Today, however, she’s got plenty of work to do in her home state. Most recently, she’s been working at the University of Kentucky basketball games as a co-host with Ravi Moss, a job that’s quite different from what she’s used to doing.
“When I first started I did get nervous. It was hard to understand that we only have one take at each timeout because I’m used to doing commercials where we do one shot for 10 takes,” she explains. This year will be her third year in the role, something she appreciates because it keeps her home more often.
“Sometimes I’m gone five days a week and sometimes it’s just two days out of state each week,” she says of her ever-changing schedule. Her agents give her a game plan one week in advance so on Thursday or Friday she finds out what she’ll be up to for the next seven days.
Maria Montgomery’s career has certainly come a long way since her days as Miss Kentucky USA and I think it’s safe to say that she won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
Keep reading for a quick Q&A with Maria!
What projects are you most proud of?
When it comes to shoots, the Remington Curling Iron boxes and product videos on Amazon is something I’m very proud of. That was my first job that required a teleprompter and it was tough but now I still shoot for them and I’m much more comfortable in front of the camera. Plus, I love running into the curling boxes in stores across the country to remind myself that hard work pays off. I also loved starring in Tim McGraw’s ‘Truck Yeah‘ music video and being the Trophy Model on stage at the County Music Awards.
Finally, I’m super proud of all the Kentucky jobs I’ve booked. Working as the on-court entertainment host for UK, the Bob Allen Commercials and the various shows I’ve done for the local news outlets I have just absolutely loved. I’m very passionate about all things Kentucky so these hold a special place in my heart. [You can see more of her work on her YouTube channel]
3 beauty products you can’t live without?
Origins Drink Up Intensive Overnight Moisturizing Mask (I use it as a daily moisturizer), black charcoal soap (it keeps my skin from drying out too much), and my lash extensions from Hourglass Lash and Skin Spa. I love how they make me look more awake and put together even when I go without makeup.
Can’t-miss places in Lexington?
I love everything at the Summit at Fritz Farm including CycleBar (my obsession), Whole Foods, great shopping and more. Fayette Mall is also amazing and my go-to when I just need to run in for a quick grab. Lastly, Rupp Arena. I know I’m biased but there is just so much history behind Rupp and it’s a huge Lexington staple. You can’t go to Rupp Arena without seeing the beauty that downtown has to offer!
3 items every girl should have in their closet?
Nude heels (I’m ashamed to admit I probably have 15 pairs or so), a good pair of leggings (my favorite are from MiraRae.com or Fitness Collective in Lexington) and a good pair of seamless underwear because underwear lines are the worst, haha!
If you want to see what else Maria has been up to, follow her here or search her name on Twitter & Facebook.
She regularly posts beauty and health tips on all of her social media platforms.
Want to ask Maria a question or congratulate her on all of her success?
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