KANSAS CITY, Missouri ― Playboy model hopefuls from as far as Florida and Canada line the halls of a Kansas City, Mo., studio, fanning themselves, trembling in their silk robes and waiting for their moment with Jodi Vander Woude.
“I promise this will be painless,” Vander Woude assures them.
Vander Woude is a photographer for Playboy Enterprises. Every month, she travels across the country doing casting calls, this month at the StagePort KC soundstage. She shoots preliminary photos for the magazine’s bigwigs, helping to find Playboy’s next generation of models.
Originally from Topeka, she earned her bachelor’s degree in graphic design with an emphasis in photography from the University of Kansas. In 1992, one week after graduation, an acquaintance called and told her Playboy was hiring in Chicago. She landed an art assistant position.
“I made coffee and copies,” she says of her first month on the job. “I really did start at the bottom by getting my foot in the door.”
Jodi VanderWoude of Playboy photographs Alisha Keeling during a casting call on June 15 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Kansas City Star/MCT)
She has lived in Chicago, Las Vegas and northern California working as a senior designer and a producer, which has included directing shoots and applying the models’ makeup. She’s now based in Kansas City.
At the casting calls, her biggest challenge is the art of relaxation.
A woman walks in. The first thing that needs to go is self-consciousness, but usually it’s the robe.
“You look fabulous,” Vander Woude says, “You really do.”
“Great butt ... great smile ... great legs. ... Do you run?”
From behind her Canon lens, she searches for the most beautiful feature on every model. But don’t they all look the same: thin, leggy and well-endowed?
“Not at all,” she says. “That’s the beauty of Playboy. We’ve had 5- to 6-foot Playmates, from boy body types to voluptuous. There isn’t one type, other than beautiful.”
There is, however, a philosophy in play. Playboy’s theory behind what makes a woman attractive is simple, she says: “It all goes back to the girl next door. You want them to be soft, you want them to be pretty, and it’s always classy.”
Vander Woude does her best to bring out these qualities by asking ordinary questions while she’s shooting. She asks a model at the Kansas City casting call where she’s from, about her tattoo and her hobbies. This one likes roller derby.
After 15 minutes of small talk, background music and a little ego-padding, Vander Woude finishes the session with a simple request: “Say ‘yes.’” A shy, flattered “yes” tumbles out, and she gets the final shot with a sincere smile.
Vander Woude is one of only two female photographers working for Playboy. She makes light of being surrounded by male colleagues, but she also considers it an advantage.
“They tend to send the extremely nervous girls to me,” she says. “I think they like that I’m a woman.”
At work, she’s warm and talkative. She eases models through the shoot, even showing them how to pose.
Afterward, it’s time for the computer editing wand. Vander Woude insists, though, that heavy retouching is a misconception. She says her goal isn’t to change the models’ bodies but to “perfect” them by removing bruises, veins and other blemishes.
And yes, she has been to the Playboy mansion and met the man behind the empire, Hugh Hefner.
“He has a true presence, and he always has an entourage,” she says with a grin. Although she hasn’t met Hef’s most recent ex, Crystal Harris, she has worked with another ex, Holly Madison. She has also worked with Jenny McCarthy and several Playmates of the Year.
Vander Woude will continue to hit the road for Playboy’s casting calls, but these days she’s spending most of her time in Kansas City.
“I’ve traveled all over,” she says, “but I love that I have a base now and a studio. I’m just so happy to be here.”
By Jackie Hoermann
(McClatchy-Tribune Information Services)