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Going Beyond the Bikini: A Q&A With SI Rookie of the Year Bianca Balti

Just last week, supermodel Bianca Balti was named Sports Illustrated‘s Rookie of the Year — but there’s really not anything “rookie” about her. Starting her climb to the top of the modeling industry at 20 years old, it’s taken Balti 12 years to become a household name, but she has a lot more to offer than lustworthy abs (seriously, I’d die for those) and a long résumé with a bunch of high-profile brands and names.

We chatted with Balti to go a bit beyond the bikini and get to know the brain behind the beauty.

SheKnows: Bianca! Thanks so much for talking to us. We really want to help our readers get to know you better… the official SI Rookie of the Year! Tell us a little bit about yourself, your culture and your upbringing.

Bianca Balti: Wow, that’s a lot. I’ll start with my upbringing. I was born in Lodi, a lovely town in the countryside of Italy. Very close by to the city, but it still is a town… I loved it, you know, I have a great family, I have a big family, a lot of cousins. I grew up having the childhood of everybody’s dreams, you know? (Laughs) And then, when I was a teenager, I decided I was angry with everybody, I rebelled. I moved to Milan for University and a new chapter of my life that started when I was 20. And I started to be a model, and then everything changed. My whole family made me feel stuck in this little town in Italy, and now I’m all over the world, you know? So everybody’s always so curious when I go back for Christmas, they’re like, “Oh, where have you been, what have you done?!” And I do realize I have a life of dreams.

SK: You said you went to university — what were you interested in pursuing when you went to University?

BB: Well, I’ve always been very creative, so I went to University to study graphic design, which was very in line with what my family wanted me to do. But actually, when I started — you know, I moved to Milan, and my modeling career started, so I didn’t really go for University much.

SK: If you had to change careers now, would you still want to go into graphic design? Is that still something that interests you?

BB: No, but for sure something creative. Just not graphic design.

SK: What are some other hobbies or interests that you do have?

BB: Well, my No. 1 hobby and interest is being a mom. It’s something that makes me passionate, you know? I love babies. I could take care of them for all the days of my life and I’d be happy. It is for sure passion No. 1. And passion No. 2 has to do with creating — I have plans for the future that have realized themselves, but I’m not going to share them. It’s just creativity, you know?

SK: OK. Plans for the future that you won’t share — that’s quite a teaser there.

BB: But you know what? As soon as you talk about something that hasn’t happened yet, it’s bad luck. So I’m not going to say that.

SK: I get it. You don’t want to jinx yourself. Are there any causes or movements that you’re passionate about?

BB: Well, you know, I’m very passionate about every cause, I would say. Sometimes too passionate. I learn to be kind of balanced, because when I was a teenager and in my early 20s, I would get very involved with political issues and stuff like that. And now, I still have an opinion on everything, but I try to balance staying informed and having a positive attitude. Because I feel like having a positive attitude in life is going to change the world. If we could all have a good attitude, we could really make a change. What I do also is collaborate with U.N. Refugee Agency. Last year, I sold all my clothes, all my shoes — you have no idea how much stuff I had. And I made almost €30,000 for Syrian refugees in Jordan. It is something I really care about and try to stay focused on.

More: The 100′s Lindsey Morgan on How All Girls Can Help Save the World IRL

SK: That’s really amazing. I agree with keeping a positive attitude and focusing on doing good. Now, changing gears — I want to talk about the different experiences you’ve had in your modeling career. What are some of the differences you’ve experienced working in Europe and working in America?

BB: Well, first of all, I’m Italian, and you don’t really work that much in Italy. It’s very different — the European way of working and the American way of working. There are two sides for each of them. In Italy, or France, we take it very slow. For example, we would have a lunch break of an hour or more. Just sitting down at the table, chitchatting. In America, it’s like, “Grab your sandwich, we’re ready to shoot in 10 minutes.” But at the same time, everything works so much better in America. It’s more efficient, so it’s easier to bring the results home faster. It’s nice because, as a model, you really get to work everywhere in the world. You get a little bit of this, a little bit of that.

SK: What was your first experience going to a casting call in America? Do you remember?

BB: Oh, my goodness. I don’t remember, but I probably removed it from my mind. Those first memories of my modeling career are not my favorite. At the beginning, it was tough. I was very lucky, my career took off very quickly, but still. All the memories I have about first casting in general — they’re not nice. Just because there’s so many girls, so much competition. I don’t blame those casting directors, they see so many girls and they can’t be nice to everybody. But you don’t feel like a person, you feel like a number.

SK: You have had such a successful career already. I mean, there are so many huge milestones you’ve achieved in your 12-year career so far. I imagine it must get tough sometimes, though. Have you ever had self-doubts about your body or your appearance while trying to go through this journey?

BB: Oh, yes, all the time. You know, I don’t walk around thinking, “Oh, I’m so amazing. I look so hot.” I feel like I’m just a woman like every woman. We have our doubts, which is better, because I always prefer to stay humble about everything. The hardest time was when I had my second baby two years ago, just because I was so happy about everything that was happening in my life. This baby was a dream come true, and then I gave birth, and I felt so beautiful, but then my agencies were like, “Yeah, we have a shooting in a month, but I don’t think you’re ready.” And I said, “Why? What are you talking about?” And it was just like a reality call, like, “Oh, shit. Maybe I do need to lose some weight.” So I just got back into it, exercised a lot, and made it so that I could go back into the modeling career. But it was hard. It was hard work.

More: Lilly Singh on Silencing Self-Doubt, Influencing Fans and Loving the “Rock”

SK: We saw on your Instagram that you went to a Women’s March, which being a women’s site, we loved. What did you march for?

BB: Well, I marched because it’s amazing for me to be around so many people, not only women but people, that believe in something better and believe in making the world a better place. I went there to share this moment with a lot of people that I love, and just seeing tons of different people that seem like my kind of people. But I went also with my baby girl, because I do feel it’s a historical moment where it’s important to send a message that in 2017, it shouldn’t be doing these. Women should have the same rights and respect and paychecks and everything, you know, they’re human beings. For me, it was not only about the rights of women, but the rights of every human being. Every religion you are, every ethnicity you are, every sex you are, if you’re gay or straight. You should be considered as equal as anybody else. That’s super-simple, but apparently we have to still march for it.

SK: It’s a simple message, but it’s an important one. The media right now is kind of under fire a little bit for diversity and not showing women of all colors and shapes and sizes. What’s your take on that? Do you think there’s enough diversity in the media or do you think we need more?

BB: Well, it might sound a little egocentric, but I am 32-years-old, and diversity is working for me. I see a lot of change. You can’t deny the revolution that is happening about body sizes. With social media and everything, everyone can get their voice out more. It puts a lot of pressure on the industry to do, give more spaces to different ethnicities or ages or sizes. I do feel like the change is happening. It might have just started, but I believe it’s not going to end. It’s just the beginning.

More: Karla Souza on Being Mexican-American and Celebrating Her Immigrant Culture

SK: What do you feel is most beautiful about diversity and showing different women from different walks of life?

BB: It’s beautiful because it is. I think every little girl — like me, when I was a little girl, and I was watching magazines — I had dreams of one day becoming one of those girls. But not even that. It breaks my heart to imagine a little black or Asian girl not seeing herself. I don’t even want to imagine being a mother and having to answer questions like, “Why doesn’t anyone have my afro hair?” or something like that. It’s just not fair. The media should be a mirror of society, and the world is diverse. So I mean, why shouldn’t the fashion industry be diverse? It’s just so simple. To me it’s ABC, you know? It should not even be explained. It should just be the way it is.

SK: Well, thank you so much, and congratulations on being Rookie of the Year!

Before you go, check out our slideshow below.

celebs as models slideshow
Image: Versace

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