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Tess Holliday, Size-22 Model, Is First to Score a Major Modeling Contract

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Plus-size model Tess Holliday is the first woman of her size and height to score a contract with a prominent modeling agency.

“SOOO excited to announce we now represent #TessHolliday, plus-size model/blogger,” the U.K.-based MiLK Management announced on Twitter.

Holliday, who wears a size 22 and is 5’5″, calls what has happened a dream come true.

“It’s something that I’ve wanted my whole life, so to even think that it’s happened, it feels like an out-of-body experience,” the 29-year-old tells PEOPLE.

Holliday has already had success in the modeling world. She’s shot a campaign for Benefit Cosmetics, has worked with David LaChapelle on an upcoming project, and was featured in Vogue Italia. Some of her past projects can be seen on her Instagram.

“I’ve just kept doing this stuff recently, thinking, ‘Thank God I didn’t give up,’ ” says the Los Angeles-based Holliday, who had to overcome many detractors to get where she is today.

“I found out about plus-size modeling when I was 15, and I went to an audition in Atlanta. They told me that I was too short and I was too big, and I would never model. But I’m very hardheaded!”

She decided to post photos of herself on Model Mayhem, and things took off from there. It’s quite a leap from her beginnings in the small town of Laurel, Mississippi, where she says she was bullied relentlessly.

“I was getting shoved into lockers, I was being called names,” says Holliday, who is a mom to son Rilee, 9. “Modeling really helped my confidence because I started seeing myself in a different light. I started seeing myself like, ‘Wow, I’m actually pretty.’ “