MIDDLETOWN, Conn. — When people think of pinup girls, they likely conjure up images of Veronica Lake, Jayne Mansfield and Bettie Paige — women with the stereotypical model figure — slim, but with an hourglass shape.
Middletown-based All American Productions, an event planning agency that focuses on model management and charity benefits, as well as raises money for veterans, is intent on changing that cliché — one fashion show and calendar at a time.
These ladies range in size from 0 to 26 and are age 2 to 50.
“We’re all body-image friendly: from big to tall, short, blonde, brown, red — everything,” said Jennifer Sequenzia, owner of All American Productions.
These are real women of all types. “We’re really body positive,” said Sequenzia, who lives in Middletown. “We really aim to show women you are beautiful regardless of your size, shape, age.
“We’re also very serious about abilities, disabilities: We welcome everybody. We want women to love their body size, love the body that they’re in, and know it’s never too late to reinvent yourself,” she said.
The All American Angels, a group of women who donate their time visiting vets, going to veterans events throughout New England, modeling, taking part in fashion shows and boot and coat drives, just wrapped up shooting a 2018 calendar, which will be released right before Veterans Day.
All proceeds will go to veterans’ causes.
The group has donated to several veterans organizations, including the Major Steven Roy Andrews Fishing Outreach Program, Honor Flight New England, Connecticut Trees of Honor Memorial, Operation Homefront, the National Iwo Jima Memorial and Boston Wounded Vets.
They also bring calendars into the Veterans Home & Hospital in Rocky Hill for the vets, who — not surprisingly — love them.
Sequenzia and her team are setting about to break the mold of what traditional models are expected to look like.
“It is a sisterhood: We all support each other, we’re all professional women of all walks of life — everything from military personnel, nutritionists, personal trainers, business owners, nurses, emergency medical technicians and dental hygienists,” Sequenzia said.
Dena Morello, 43, an administrative assistant at the city’s Water & Sewer Department, has been friends with Sequenzia for years and joined the group two years ago. She has family in the military, “so this meant a lot to me. It’s been quite a ride.”
Her office mates appreciate her volunteer efforts, too.
“They get a kick out of it,” Morello said. “It sets a really good example.”
At first Morello was hesitant to model because she felt like she didn’t have a good enough figure to do so, she said. “It’s actually brought me confidence. I didn’t think I could pull it off. ‘It’s not me, I don’t have a body of 20-year-old,’ she said she thought.
“I didn’t have confidence in my body for a long time. So many people think models have to be that perfect height” and weight,” Morello said.
“I’ve said from the beginning that I want to redefine what models look like in Connecticut,” Sequenzia said.
Angel Amy Gentile, 50, a former body builder, runs Amy’s Pampered Pawler dog and cat grooming in Plainville, met Sequenzia in 2004 at a restaurant well-known for its line dancing in Southington.
“She was the hottest girl dancer at the Cadillac Ranch. I knew nothing about line dancing. I was dating a guy she knew who introduced us. He said, ‘teach her how to dance,'” Gentile recalled.
“She said, ‘stand behind me and follow.’ We’ve been friends ever since.”
Gentile’s father, a military man, was diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer in 2013 and given one to two years to live, she said. “He passed in three months. I do this in honor of him and all the soldiers who passed,” she said. “It’s my passion to help others.”
Taylor Kelsey, an Orangetheory Fitness personal trainer and former Cadillac Ranch girl, said “I grew up always wanting to be a model.”
“My friend was a model who was going for Miss Connecticut and she said, ‘You should (become a Cadillac Ranch dancer),” she said.
So Kelsey did.
U.S. Army Pfc. Jessica Tepper, who joined the military last year, is home after being stationed at a combat support hospital. Her son Cameron, 9, came with her to Advanced Individual Training. Army spouses helped watch him while she worked.
She met Sequenzia at a bike night and soon after began modeling. The next year, her mother joined the crew.
“Girls approach me and we talk, find out if there’s a connection,” Sequenzia said. “We want to have girls that are in it for the right reason, that care about the cause.”
And Tepper did.
“She obviously fell in love with it so much that she enlisted after,” Sequenzia said.
“It had big influence on it — that, and just bettering your life,” Tepper said. “It does a lot for you and changes your life.”
When Sequenzia settled on a theme last year for the angels calendar, she was nervous about using wings. “I was concerned I’d be sued by Victoria’s Secret for the use of the word ‘angels’ and putting girls in angel wings,” she said.
But after she contacted Victoria’s Secret corporate, she was given the go-ahead — as long as she didn’t have the girls in lingerie, Sequenzia said.
“The calendar features everything from bikinis to regular dresses to gowns. We shot it almost entirely at Wadsworth Mansion and Wadsworth Falls and down at Hammonasset (State Park),” Sequenzia said.
For all the events, the models mostly purchase their wardrobe themselves, such as for the recent Motorcycle Mania and Car Cruise on Main Street.
A couple of shows, including one for Cabela’s and another for Harley Davidson, had supplied clothing. “The girls actually dip into their own pockets and they have to purchase clothing appropriate for the era, which could be a challenge,” Sequenzia said.
For fashion shows, she will be the master of ceremonies and the girls come out dressed in period attire. The car cruise had a patriotic pinup show. “It was conservative family-friendly — we went with the edgier side of things,” Sequenzia said. “The way we described it is Sandy at the beginning of ‘Grease’ versus Sandra Dee at the end of ‘Grease.’ We had patriotic rockabilly: leather and fun stuff in that show.”
Although Sequenzia doesn’t want to reveal too much about the calendar so its unveiling is a surprise, she did say the girls will be clad in a range of outfits, accessorized with black, white and other colored feathers. One elaborate one is handmade out of fishing net and adorned with seashells and stones, others are hot glued with inventive decorations: ivy, moss and everything in between. “One has a pair made out of wire that flows all the way to the ground,” Sequenzia said.
These angels will be fantastic, she said, and the theme also aligns with Sequenzia’s goal for her business.
“I want put out something beautiful that you can hang on a wall and we try to be angels to veterans the best we can.”
She also put out a call on Facebook for people to nominate a female veteran to be a guest angel, then chose from among those finalists who were encouraged to write a letter explaining why they’d like to take part, she said. “I got responses from beautiful female veterans with incredible stories. It was hard to pick one.”
But Sequenzia did — National Guard soldier Alyssa Brenner.
“She overcame a lot,” said Sequenzia, after being injured in a convoy accident and being hospitalized with serious injuries. “She’s doing great” now and recovering well, she said.
Sequenzia also purchased two Connecticut Trees of Honor at the Veterans Park memorial. “The (Trees of Honor) committee felt, because we were a group of women coming together, it would be right for us to sponsor female veterans,” she said.
Army Spc. Tyanna Avery-Felder of Bridgeport was the first woman from Connecticut killed during the war in Iraq. She died in June 2004 at 22, when the truck she was in hit a handmade bomb.
The way she met Gary Hobart, the father of her other sponsored soldier, whose plaque sits in front of her tree, was serendipitous.
At one of the Trees of Honor events, she was looking for her tree and happened upon a man trying to find his daughter’s name. Turns out it was Melissa J. Hobart, Sequenzia’s soldier. Hobart, who grew up in East Haven, collapsed while on guard duty and died in April 2004 in Baghdad. She was 22.
“We’re now bonded forever. He said Melissa was his angel and now I am hers — and her middle name is Jennifer. The bond we have now is unbelievable,” she said.
For more information: The Middletown Press, www.middletownpress.com