Tech Sgt. Alia “Cookie” Ward may sport a bullet proof vest and carry a firearm at work most days, but she’s just as comfortable posing for the camera in a sports bra as she is standing guard on a base.
The Air Force reservist, who works full-time as a hospital security officer, recently launched a side career as a fitness model for SELF Magazine, which specializes in women’s health, beauty and style.
Ward will be the first to say that, as proud as she is to serve her country, she is more than a uniform, and her service does not define her.
As a full-time hospital security officer, nursing student and airman, Ward has big goals and is no stranger to balancing a multi-faceted career. She is currently preparing to take her nursing exam and pursue a full-time medical career.
“I wanted to help people,” she said.
She also has a natural hunger for new experiences and appreciates that her military service has exposed her to a wealth of adventures.
“I’ve done a lot of things,” she said. “I was a 50 cal gunner, at 249, mark 19. All the machine guns you can think of – I was qualified in the state of Missouri.”
‘She opened my eyes’
Ward has long been fascinated by the modeling industry and its sister institutions, like the beauty pageant circuit, but wryly acknowledged that a short, tattooed, armed woman in uniform wasn’t likely to be crowned Miss America any time soon.
But her perspective changed when she saw other women in uniform celebrating their feminine side in the national spotlight. In 2017, Ward was watching the Miss USA competition and rooting for her friend Bayleigh Dayton, who had recently become the first Black Miss Missouri, when she saw Capt. Deshauna Barber come on stage.
One year prior, Barber, an Army reservist, became the first soldier crowned Miss USA, opening a door for other accomplished, driven women leaders in uniform.
“I thought that was amazing. She opened my eyes. I’ve always wanted to do that, but I’m 5’4” and have tattoos. I’m not skinny at all,” Ward said with a laugh.
Despite not fitting the mold of a pageant queen, Ward realized that her rank and uniform shouldn’t – and doesn’t – prevent her from expressing her individuality or her femininity. And even if she didn’t consider the stage-and-sash fanfare of Miss USA to be in her future, she took a shot at modeling to advocate for broader definitions of beauty and womanhood, particularly women with tattoo art.
SELF offered the perfect platform for her goals.
“SELF was trying to get models with tattoos, plus size models …” Ward said. “They were adamant that they didn’t want the typical 5’7” skinny model.”
‘SELF’ love focuses on wellness
As a high school track, kickboxing, and grappling star, Ward has cultivated a lifestyle built on fitness and wellness. She regularly trains in weightlifting using workouts designed for her by Missouri fitness trainer Adam Franklin.
After submitting her application to SELF, Ward was invited to try out for the modeling gig in New York, where the audition panel had her execute a series of bodyweight exercises that would be featured in one of their upcoming workout articles.
The casting team loved her, and she flew up to New York several times to shoot workout photos and videos alongside models from a variety of fitness backgrounds – a powerlifter, a martial artist, an aerial yoga teacher, a trans bodybuilder and several other athletes. Her images have appeared in multiple online articles, from 20-minute upper-body workouts to 7-minute ab routines.
Ward’s first modeling experience was hugely body-positive, and the photographers even chose to feature her half sleeve in the shoot.
“My sleeve tattoo is a memorial for my brother,” said Ward, whose twin brother, a second lieutenant in the Army, died in a motorcycle accident. “It tells a story, and every time I look at my arm, I have a memory of my brother.”
Having the opportunity to showcase her tattoo as a piece of meaningful art – and not a mark of shame – gave Ward yet another way to promote individuality in an industry that often glamorizes conformity.
From auditioning to shooting, the entire modeling experience has been hugely rewarding for Ward, and she plans to continue modeling alongside her nursing and military career.Read comments