By definition, someone like Heather Kuzmich exists outside the mainstream. Diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome at 15 – a mild form of Autism that impacts social interaction and verbal communication –Kuzmich isn’t one for being held back by arbitrary boundaries. Through my research of Autism I have come across many people living with Asperger’s, and I was blown away by Heather’s story.
Kuzmich is best known for making it to the top five contestants on Cycle 9 of TV’s “America's Next Top Model.” While on the show, Kuzmich won nine CoverGirl of the Week awards – the highest amount any contestant has won on the program.
But she’s so much more than a pretty face. A true creative at heart, Kuzmich is currently enrolled at the Illinois Institute of Art where she majors in Video Game-Art design. And when she’s not playing video games or checking out the latest in fashion, she’s living her life as a role model for people with Asperger’s Syndrome.
It is amazing that someone can turn a situation most people would look as a negative, and not only turn it into something positive -- but totally blow away all expectations. In the process Heather cold crushed the bullies of her past. This is why we selected Heather Kuzmich for this instalment in our People of Envy series.
Rahul Sood: What have been some of the biggest challenges for you and how did you overcome them?
Heather Kuzmich: It depends, really. My life has been pretty normal, but of course normal by no means equals easy. I think the hardest challenge is to live up to my own expectations. I am probably my biggest critic and I’ve got to catch myself or else I'll beat myself up and get psyched out before I even do anything.
RS: What drives you to do what you do?
HK: What drives me is probably curiosity, boredom, and to prove my inner critic or a peer, wrong. I am an extremely stubborn person and hate to be told that I can’t do something (unless it’s flying, and I’m working on that!). My mother has many grey hairs with my name on them.
RS: How did you go from modeling into game design?
HK: Actually it’s more "How did you go from game design to modeling." To be honest, I always wanted to do something that included art and creating stuff with my hands. At first I wanted to get into costume design, but that soon changed to game design, especially since I frigging love games and love doing weird designs for characters.
RS: What kinds of games do you like to play? What’s your favorite?
HK: Oh God, what games don’t I play? My favorites are the Resident Evil series, Silent Hill, Prince of Persia, Final Fantasy 7, Knights of the Old Republic, Tetris, Katamari Damashi, and many more. I cannot think of all of them because there’s just too many.
RS: Do you play games on a PC or just on a console? Or do you play on both?
HK: I play both.
RS: What do you think separates you from the crowd?
HK: What sets me apart is that no matter how hard one tries, there is really no way to define or label me in three words or less.
RS: What is your proudest accomplishment?
HK: That I was able to prove all my bullies were wrong. It wasn’t really needed—I could have lived a happy life without it. But it sure is an awesome plus!
RS: Who or what inspires you and why?
HK: Well everything inspires me: history, fairy tales, sci-fi, myths, culture (pop and world), nature, technology, human behavior and feelings, as well as those around me to scratch the surface. I also believe that multiple heads are better then one—my friends and I bounce ideas and ideals off of each other. For example, when I think of a story idea [for a video game], I discuss the characters and their personalities with my friends, as well as how a certain in-story society would work and how they would react to some situations.
RS: What are some of your biggest influences and why?
HK: I take my influence from those who love me. The ones who influenced me to even think of modeling were my sister who had done it since she was 16, and my friends since high school, Sam and V, who used me as their oversized Barbie and kicked my ass to actually do it.
RS: How do you personally define success?
HS: Heathers definition of success (suhk-ses)
The result of a job well done
To become something better
The opposite of epic fail
RS: If you could change any ONE thing, what would it be and why?
HK: That the idea of beauty in the fashion world is more realistic. I’ve dealt with weight problems as a kid (being too thin) and it wasn’t fun.
RS: What advice would you offer to others looking to accomplish goals or defy definition?
HK: My advice for accomplishing your goals: DON’T GIVE UP; stay calm and say little because it portrays confidence; take “no/cannot/can’t” as a challenge. As for how to defy definition: be human and follow yourself. It’s an oxymoron if you’re defying definition if you’re trying to be someone else.
RS: How important is technology to you?
HK: Let me put it this way: I’m the reason why after I was on ANTM they added “no game consoles what so ever” to the long list of not allowed inside the Next Top model house. They now know that there are no makeup lines named Nintendo DS.
RS: How are you using technology to accomplish your goals?
HK: I've always had a PC. I use technology everyday for multiple tasks (except for getting food, basic hygiene, and sleep, I go all natural for that).
I use a Wacom Tablet for everything from art to games (such as Amateur Surgeon), a HP OfficeJet J4550 All-In-One for scanning rough drafts and printing pictures naturally, a old Samsung A940 for taking pictures (which it’s quite good at for a phone), a digital mirror, and... well, a cell phone.
And I have both a PS3 (for games, as well as movies), a DS and a Wii (which I use for keeping myself fit as well as entertained). I use my laptops (an HP Pavilion dv6000 laptop for home and of course a Voodoo Envy 133 for everywhere else) to stay connected to my agency, teachers, friends, and fans, as well as to stay connected with what’s going on in the world in general. It my infinite canvas, my private mall, and my portable entertainment system. I could go for hours.
RS: So how are you specifically using your Envy?
HK: I usually check up on what’s going on in Chicago (parties, events, and boutique openings), see what’s on the edge on both fashion and technology, and check my emails from the agency on the go—I love that there are fewer cords and less bulk to weigh me down.