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Cynthia Bailey: From runways to 'Real Housewives'

By Cynthia Bailey, Special to CNN
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CNN Red Chair: Cynthia Bailey
  • Cynthia Bailey is a cast member of "The Real Housewives of Atlanta"
  • She left Alabama for a modeling career in New York at age 18
  • She signed with Wilhelmina Models and did magazine covers, ads and runways

Editor's note: The CNN Red Chair Interview weekly franchise strives to look at people's past to see what made them who they are today. We also want to know the biggest pivotal and "aha" moments in their lives.
Tune in to HLN's "Nancy Grace" at 8 p.m. ET for an exclusive interview with Christine Vienna, Russell Armstrong's friend of 20 years, who spoke with Armstrong about his marriage just before his suicide.

(CNN) -- As a Alabama native, I packed my bags and moved to New York City in pursuit of a modeling career at 18 years old. Even though I will always be a small-town girl at heart, I always dreamed of all the adventures of living in a big city.

After signing with the Wilhelmina Models agency, it wasn't long before I landed my first Essence cover. Soon after that I was on a plane to Paris to do the couture shows. Macy's commercials, OiI of Olay ads and Maybelline campaigns were soon to follow.

I knew I had arrived when Iman asked me to shoot a spread for Vanity Fair alongside supermodels Naomi Campbell, Tyra Banks and Beverly Johnson. This was the first time that I was photographed by famous photographer Annie Leibovitz.

My career has taken me all over the world from Australia to Anguilla as a top model, and the education that I received is priceless. I live by the words "follow your dreams," and "be fearless." This attitude has landed me right where I am today.

I am 43, and I reside in Atlanta with my husband Peter Thomas and my 11-year-old daughter Noelle Robinson.

I am a cast member on Bravo's hit reality TV show "The Real Housewives of Atlanta." Outside of the instant celebrity that came with the show, the platform has been amazing. I have so many great opportunities coming my way, and I want to use my celebrity to change the world.

I recently opened The Bailey Agency School of Fashion in Atlanta. The school offers classes on modeling, photography, makeup, hair styling, fashion styling and fashion designing.

Sharing all that I have learned from being in the fashion industry for the past 25 years is one of the ways that I want to inspire young people to follow their dreams and give back to the community. There is a lack of education available at affordable prices for young, aspiring, talented people who are interested in a career in fashion.

Before I set on my journey to New York to become a fashion model, I was very shy and lacked self-confidence. Then, I never would have believed that I would be the independent, successful, confident woman that I am today. I believe that this industry encourages high self-esteem and confidence which is invaluable in any career choice.