I have worked as a model for the past five years or so, albeit rather casually at times and perhaps not in the same capacity as the extremely thin, disastrously cool models that you may encounter on the Internet but I certainly make enough to get by. Aided in large part by my fringe, my career seems to swing rather wildly between high-fashion scrapes and more commercial campaigns. I have never taken the job seriously and to be honest, I believe that referring to myself as a model does me a rather distinct disservice at this point in my life (it tends, unfortunately, to detract from my time and perceived ability in departments that I have a greater passion for). I am, however, currently living in London for the summer and – for the first and likely, the last time in my life – committing my efforts to the fantastical and deeply naive universe of fashion. I figured I had some time to waste.
Feeling distinctly as though I am on the precipice of abandoning this madness, I am confident, old, and incensed enough to comment on the modelling universe with some genuine fucking clarity. Mostly, I believe it would be valuable to discuss those aspects of being a model that are not actively discussed by other models because it would not be financially or socially prudent to do so. People who exist within the industry and rely so heavily on reputation to carry their weekly budget are not the sort of individuals who are willing to discuss systemic issues in modelling. This is not a place to ruffle feathers. However, as I grow older and my value system begins to increasingly override both my ego and my bank account, I feel both more entitled and experienced to be forthright about the reality.
I acknowledge that I am deeply privileged for the fact that I have been able to support my tertiary education and (rather modest) lifestyle on the back of some fickle genetic characteristics, it has been useful and it has been marvellously exciting at times (read: that one time I got to aggressively smack Guy Sebastian for a music video). I also do not want this piece to be construed as a dismissal of the fashion industry altogether; it is artistic and valuable and the role of the model in constructing beautiful, expressive shoots and runways should not be undermined.
I intend for this post to read more as an authentic guide for those who believe they would enjoy the modelling industry, those who aspire to lead a life that hinges purely on their aesthetics and body type (I have a question for you: Jesus fucking why?) From the widespread adoration that celebrity models receive to the brilliant and careful architecture of their social media presences, we assign an absurd amount of importance to the lives of beautiful people and it is one of the greatest failures of our generation that we seem to spend so much time observing these figures rather than people who, you know, matter. Consequently, there are hordes of young women who believe that they would love to assume the position of the model and I direct this message to you because I want you to understand on a fundamental level how silly and dangerous and remarkably pointless this whole business is.
Here's what you need to know:
People are shady and untrustworthy
By mid-2016, I had been signed to a boutique modelling agency run by one of Australia's most distinguished agents for approximately one year. I worked more frequently in this year than I had in any year prior and I felt profoundly as though I was a model, in the truest sense of the term for the very first time. I had an on-going contract for e-comm work with a sports clothing company and I was working at least once or twice a week, with opportunities for large campaigns cropping up every few weeks or so.
Heres the thing: I never saw most of that money. By the time the agency collapsed due to mismanagement, neglect, and fraudulent dealings with its models, I had lost AU$10,000. The sheer incompetence of the agents and accountants involved in that collapse makes me apoplectic to this day and I have absolutely no problem discussing this publicly (you can read more about the case here).
While the magnitude of this case was extreme, the story itself is not rare. I have spoken with countless people in the fashion industry (models, photographers, makeup artists, and stylists amongst them) who have been signed to an agency and subsequently lost out when the company goes bankrupt. You place a terrifying degree of trust in an agency when you sign your name and image over to them. While there are certainly reputable agencies (I have since signed with two of these after a large amount of research) it is worth noting that you will never know what is going on behind the scenes of a business such as this and may never know until it is too late; agencies operate on the illusion of success.
Having experienced the sickening helplessness of losing months of earnings, I can only recommend that models enter the business with a savvy attitude towards contracts, local laws regarding payment brackets, and tax law. Oh yes, I bet this i exactly the sort of glamorous shit you imagined you'd have to handle when you wear dresses for a living. Hiring the right professionals independently can be worth the financial investment in this case and never be afraid to get assertive; I know this is a difficult prospect because you never want to alienate your agent but for the love of God if you're not seeing the money that you have earned, start to fight.
It is also probably worth maintaining an accurate record of the money owed to you with a personal time-log of jobs; relying on the source of your payment to tell you when a cheque is due is painfully naive. Do not be afraid to get aggressive either; in the aftermath of that agency's collapse, I rescued thousands of dollars by speaking directly to clients and bullying them into redirecting the cash flow (which is probably a libellous thing to admit but I have unfortunately run out of fucks to give). It also doesn't cost a great deal to get a lawyer to draft letters and read contracts for you if you should need to call in the cavalry.
I believe now that a number of agencies exploit the youth and relative under-confidence of their models in order to siphon as much money as possible from them.
The concept of body image issues is very, very real
My God, did you know that the modelling industry requires you to be somewhat slim? Yes, you did and that's because fucking everybody knows and this is a story that has dreadfully over-saturated the media for decades.
It is worth noting that the pressure to conform to certain body types changes from market to market but even in the relatively lax environment of Australian fashion, I have heard that two major Sydney agencies (that I shall not mention by name because I do not have enough money to be sued) will weigh their models in the middle of the office and declare weight loss loudly to other agents in celebration. The fact that these deluded moron adults are happy to look at a young woman and dehumanise her, reduce her success to the number on a set of scales, and manipulate her into believing that dramatic weight loss is both healthy and glorious makes me unspeakably furious. Again, this entire process rests on the lack of assertiveness that comes with youth but it also relies on the ignorance and an explicit lack of empathy from the agents complicit in these activities and to those people, I can only say a sincere and loathing "Fuck You".
I have never encountered these procedures with agents personally – perhaps in part due to my general aesthetic and the fact that I would run at them like an angry bull if they tried. I will say, however, that crisis of body image in the modelling industry is near-inevitable. It lies in the fact that clients strip you down to your underwear in offices, it drips in insidious moments where a photographer directs you to suck in what remains of your gut, and it's a vulnerability that pierces you when you are forced to stand amongst other models whose hips and vertebrae emerge in ways that yours simply do not.
None of this is okay, none of it is excusable but to enter the industry is to accept this aspect of life as part of the deal. I do not recommend it.
I would also note that this is an industry where you feel that you can not satisfactorily attend to your job if you have a pimple or baggy 6am eyes, which is both seriously laughable and completely awful.
Everybody is broke
This is an element of fashion that is directed entirely by the value that you place in it but here goes: you are supposed to work for free. A lot. From test shoots to editorials, it is industry standard to participate in unpaid work. If you are willing to invest the time and feel so passionately for your career aspirations in modelling that this is a worthwhile pursuit, I respect that entirely and you should go for broke (literally, haha yay!) However, the fact that this is such a widespread expectation for people in fashion still floors me, it consistently suggests that your time isn't worth anything, which is a ruinous lie.
While expectations exist for going overtime on a shoot, the sheer time and money investment involved in casting processes and fittings is astounding. No regulation exists here because, again, individuals are unwilling to stand up for their rights in an industry where success is predicated on reputation. We are also discussing an industry designed and curated by self-described creatives, organisation and regulation are not terms that you will encounter often.
I also wholly expect that 90% of models that you see on Instagram parading Louis Vuitton bags and Miu Miu shoes are either tapping their parents' bank accounts or spending the money they would otherwise spend procuring wildly unnecessary items such as groceries on designer leather goods. Wealthy models are like black swans.
The boredom is unimaginable
An astounding amount of time in modelling is spent waiting. Waiting for your turn in front of the camera, waiting for clients to meet with you, waiting in backstage areas, waiting by the fucking phone. You can utilise this time spent waiting to either read books or reflect on the precious hours of your life slipping beneath your fingertips as you traipse closer and closer to death. Either is fine.
Models are powerless
As a model, you are unwaveringly at the beck and call of clients and you are almost entirely powerless in influencing the decisions that they will make about you and your career behind closed doors. Your failures and successes are exclusively determined by perceptions of you, dictated by strangers and informed by commercial tides and trends that you have no influence over whatsoever. The model is a categorically disempowered person.
There's this one line in Bright Eyes' First Day of My Life that I think about a lot and, yes, he is in fact discussing the trials of romance and what it means to invest in loving relationships but I think it sums this notion up rather tidily: "I'd rather be working for a paycheck than waiting to win the lottery". I believe that the basic failures of rational cognition that drive us to invest time in activities such as say, gambling, are the very same premises that drive people to continue devoting money and years of their life to the fashion industry: the magnitude of the pay-off is incredible but it is wholly unpredictable when, if ever, that pay-off will arrive.
I suppose this gripe comes down to the intrinsic value that we perceive in working but I am inclined to believe these days that building your own career as an intellectual, creative, and emotional pursuit is far more valuable in the long-term than sitting around waiting for somebody to hand you the keys. Modelling is unique in the spectrum of job choices in that you are denied the agency to develop or propel your own career success.
Time is so goddamn important
For most, the window for modelling coincides with late high school and initial opportunities for tertiary education and ultimately, personal priorities direct the route that we choose to take. I have met countless models that have satisfactorily explored both and I am lucky for the fact that my parents impressed upon me the importance of academia before I gave myself time to pursue the avenue of modelling more thoroughly. I simply resent that so often, one aspect of life must be sacrificed in order to see the other thrive. I managed to scrape through a science degree whilst modelling but the balance of this was by no means easy and there were a lot of stressful phone calls made at the eleventh hour to keep people happy.
I love modelling for the fact that it has allowed me to explore a dimension of work that is relatively inaccessible to most. It is enthralling and creative and sure, nurtures the ego rather nicely but I will say that inexorably, education and meaningful pursuits should rightly come first. We are dazzled by the glamorous, surface-level aspects of modelling such as travelling on somebody else's dollar, dripping in expensive clothing, and spending perhaps more time on boats than the average human but these are fickle, ephemeral hours that could be better spent attending to your genuine, deep-seated passions or, you know, making the world a better place or some shit like that.
Never, ever underestimate the importance of your time.
P.S. This draft has been sitting unpublished in my blog for several weeks but I was inspired to share it after reading this article from Lucinda Chambers, the former fashion director of British Vogue. It is wild, revealing, and full of angst concerning the fashion industry. I think it captures the same sentiment that I wish to convey here: the beating optimism of a creative industry drowning in institutional failures and propelled only by self-importance and naivety.