I met Elise one dreary Friday afternoon in a cafe in Chinatown in Washington D.C. As I perched at a high top table I noticed her sitting at the table across from me. To an untrained eye she would present as just another pulchritudinous brunette, but as someone who has studied fashion and models for the better part of two decades, I immediately recognized her. I waited until she was preparing to leave before satiating my curiosity and confirming my suspicions. As beautiful in person as she is in print, the Meisel muse entertained me either out of politeness, curiosity, or a mixture of the two. Now residing in New York, what follows is a glimpse into the life of the woman behind the model.

As a model you are defined by your looks. How did you reconcile your image with Elise the person?

I was lucky to have a strong foundation of family and friends while working. Going home to Belgium on a regular basis helped me balance out the demands of my job. But in the end, it was a gradual process of getting used to my ‘natural’ looks again after working with such great hair and make-up teams. I’m just really lucky to be seen and loved for who I am, and that is all I strive for. From the beginning, I have always looked up to women who age truthfully, fearlessly, and thus gracefully.

In fashion you have very little autonomy. What was that experience like for you, how did you cope, and in retrospect what have you discovered about yourself through this experience?

I agree that we are being told where to go and what to wear, although the reality is that most models move abroad, learn a new language, and make a life for themselves at a very early age in a business full of sharks. When I started, there were no smartphones or Wi-Fi, so we had to be much more responsible and self-sufficient. Most models become businesswomen in their early twenties. So I can proudly say that modeling has made me more independent than I could have ever dreamed to be.

You previously expressed an interest in film. Is that something that still holds your interest?

I love artistic self-expression. Modeling fed my passion to a certain extent but I felt at home in the acting lessons in New York and Los Angeles. I joined the Conservatory of Dramatic Arts in Ghent, Belgium for a year before moving back to LA. This might seem strange to some, but exposing my vulnerability and truths creatively (through a character in a play, a movie, or my own writing), hoping to connect with the audience, is what I feel I’m meant to do.

What does success look like to you and do you think of yourself as successful?

I’m a Leo, so I’m very demanding of myself. Success felt like a threatening word for a long time because I feared it would change my beliefs and values. Today, I feel successful in the sense that I try to be a good person and have never compromised my core beliefs.

Do you feel you’ve achieved balance in your life?

I’m in this challenge right now. I find it very hard to sit still and be patient. Even though I sat in hair and make-up chairs for hours and had to wait for my turn at castings and fittings, I was still doing it for work. Work horses love to work. I’m trying my hardest to enjoy the free space I have without feeling guilty or forgetting I have sacrificed a lot when I left Belgium at 17.

If you think of your life in chapters what do you want to achieve next?

Creative risk-taking.

Where would you like to see your life in the future?

Healthy, honest, harmonious. Nothing great gets accomplished when you want to be happy and comfy. I realized that wanting to be HAPPY all the time is not conducive to what I feel my life’s purpose is, which is to show honesty on a stage, on the screen or in my writing.

What do you think people would be surprised to discover about you?

I turn into a kid when I’m at the beach, I’m obsessed with Jeopardy, and my dad jokes are relentless.

Follow her on Instagram