I wanna be a model but …  I don’t know if I’m beautiful enough / thin enough / how to go about it…

Modeling didn’t make me rich or famous, but it allow me to live in Paris, Vienna and Tokyo, meet inspiring people, discover my creative side through photography, fashion, and have a lot of fun. Those experiences have given me some understanding of the modelling world, and tips that might be useful to offer those aspiring to that dream.

From time to time I get calls and emails from young girls, generally friends of my younger sisters or cousins, asking me for advice on how to get started in the modeling world. This is recently email captures the position that I shared almost a decade ago…

Hi gorgeous

I’m not quite at my goal weight yet but my boyfriend and family seem to think that when i do i might have a chance at being good at modelling…

I was wondering if you could help me figure out how the HECK I go about getting into such a thing?!

I’ve got a photographer friend who was going to take photos with me anyway as I asked her to for when I lost all the weight so I’m hoping that might be enough for a small portfolio but I’m not sure whats needed.

I don’t think I’m “runway”material – clothing and bikinis type modelling is more my style. Photographic modelling?

Anyway, I know its totally out of the blue but if you could at least tell me what process I need to go through I would be super grateful!

Oh and please don’t tell anyone I’m looking into this – I have no idea whether I’m attractive enough for this so I don’t want to get laughed at.

By the way your photos are AMAZIIIINNNGGG… just quietly…

Thanks so much,

To answer Jessica and anyone in a similar position, let’s start with a few questions that will have a strong bearing on the advice to follow:

1. Why do you want to be a model? For money, for fame, for fun, for an archive of hot pics? The answer to this will have a strong bearing on the advice to follow.

a) for money?

If you want to model for money, then my first instinct is to say “forget it.” But just because I didn’t get rich from it but that doesn’t mean you won’t! There is money to be made in modelling, but in fashion modelling the good money is made by those at the top. From memory, agencies take 20% of your money, as well as the 20% they add on to charge the client. Other forms of modelling may be more lucrative, I’m not sure. Here’s the thing, fashion editorials, even magazine covers, often pay very little – from zilch to $1000, the latter if you’re Gwyneth Paltrow. People do this for the recognition and prestige. Runways pay big if you’re at the top, but anywhere between nuda and $500 if you’re not.

It takes an investment of at least a couple of years to get a working portfolio and start catching the well-paid jobs. After I got this far, with a few magazine tears and what-not, I quit to go back to uni. I do have friends that found a niche, for example hand modelling believe it or not, and make good money from it (although it’s still supplemented with other part-time work). I made enough to cover rent in Paris and Vienna, to repay my portfolio costs, and supplement a few holidays in Europe not to mention a free trip to Mallorca for a commercial job. If you are lucky the money you make from modelling will be enough to pay your rent and bills, but you do get lots of freebies and perks from living like a local in foreign countries to free travel, clothes, dinners, VIP parties etc. etc. it’s great but not a life-long career kinda thing.

b) for career?

In general modelling is a short career – girls start as young as 14, and so your competition keeps getting younger as you grow older and less employable. My stint somewhat started at 22 when I started building my portfolio in Japan and doing hair jobs (I arrived with long blonde hair), TV commercials and a lingerie show that was my dream come true. I was 23 when I went to Paris and started what I’d classify as “the real deal” ie fashion shows and test shoots with semi-famous photographers.

Just when my portfolio was filing up with tearsheets I stopped. I was 24 and a half. It was time to “get a real job” (said my Dad) and I after some time caring for my Opa I went back to uni in fear of getting to 30 and with forced retirement being left with a bunch of photos and memories but no sense of self outside of modelling. Now I’m almost 30 and have done a lot more with the last five years than I would have had I returned to Europe to keep on. It would have been a fun half-decade though!!! I digress.

The important thing for you to know is that when I was in the industry I heard whispers of models getting to 30 then turning to stripping or marrying someone rich – neither appealed to me so I thought better to quit while I was ahead. I’d gotten out of it what I wanted to, which was more about personal growth and a great way to travel than anything else.

c) for travel? fun?

Then for the reasons above, I highly recommend it! And definitely read the tips under the heading “Thinking outside the square” in my next post…

2. What kind of model do you think you could become? Look at magazines, TV, billboards etc, and then look at the type of modelling involved, for example:

1.    Fashion modelling (very skinny (approx stats of bust 88cm, waist 60cm, hips 90cm), tall (173cm+) – runway + fashion magazine editorials, fashion advertising, look books (showing the designer’s ranges) and show room (often week-long shifts modelling for a designer’s clients) – pay varies depending how well-known you are

2.    Swimwear/lingerie modelling – more toned/fit/sexy body, boobs and height are a plus; more smiles, not as much of this work around but pays better

3.    Catalogue modelling – pays better, more “pretty” girls than high fashion, think Target, Kmart

4.    FHM/Ralph/Sports Illustrated type modelling – more sexed up/raunchy – no idea how it pays

5.    Commercial – TVs and every day people kinda billboard ads; height and body weight not important – more important is your personality and charisma being captured on camera; uniqueness in appeal to broad audiences. Pays VERY well

6.    Plus-size modelling – bigger bodies but with striking features; no idea about pay

7.    Hair modelling; parts modelling – eg legs, hands, body, etc. more regular income can be good.

3. How much time, money and energy are you willing to invest? Starting out in modelling can be expensive. Expensive in time, money, self-esteem, and the opportunity costs of what other more long-term careers will be better for your pocket.

The more passionate you are about it, the more time and money you’ll be willing to invest, and the more likely you’ll get out of it what you want. Some girls are lucky: they’re 14, at a shopping mall and an agency approaches them, and they become the highest paid model for the next 20 years (Kate Moss).

It depends how much you want it. Imagine it happening, but be flexible about the way it happens.

Remember: there are exceptions to every rule. I like to think of life as a game – you can play by the rules, but someone made up those rules and they are always changing. Figure out what you want, go after it and have fun along the way otherwise it’s not worth it.

Now let’s consider the next step you might take… depending on the above answers. Click here for Part 2: Tips on Modelling and Where to Begin