According to my family I’m going to be rich, according to my friends I’ll be famous. I look at them and smile as they say “Oh Jen, what a wonderful career,” if only I dared to correct them. I have spent the last few years hiding the truth about my job, where the glitz and the glam ain’t all that. As a model, I only tell the world of the positive things; the exciting international adventures and of course the dazzling glossy magazine publications, but never the secrets of the other side.
Ahh yes, the life of a model, the best job in the world…or is it?
1. They don’t actually get paid very much.
Ok, £200 plus for a day sounds better than your average shelf-stacker doesn’t it? But the truth is that these bookings aren’t all that regular at all. In fact they’re sometimes only once, maybe twice a week and over the hours spent organising, emailing, networking, referencing. location scouting and bookwork, it often works out below minimum wage. The admin side of the job is often more demanding than the physical, with rates based on the knowledge and experience of the model.
2. Models talk to other models for private references, so reputation really is everything.
If you speak poorly of fellow creatives on shoots, it almost always gets back to them eventually. They’re quite often a close network of people who talk, despite not always meeting face to face. This applies to photographers as well as models and makeup artists.
3. Having agency representation won’t necessarily mean a model has signed up for success or wealth.
Agencies often have over 300 faces on their books and only 10% of those will really get regular work. Freelancing is ordinarily the only way to fill up a model’s diary with things like TV extra work as a sideline. Many models who appear to be living the high life, actually spend much of their week in part time jobs like waitressing or in retail.
4. Many models are super self conscious.
After all, their appearance is their front leg and they’re openly scrutinised as part of the job. However a lot of the models fall into the industry by accident and have never even considered themselves attractive. In fact it is often said that the best fashion models are the ones you wouldn’t look twice at on the street, so it’s no wonder that they’re not the vain plastics that so many Joe Publics label them as.
5. They don’t all snort drugs and eat tissue paper for lunch.
Yes, the celebrities who make the newspaper headlines will tell you all about their lifestyle on the runway, where there was no time to eat and the pressure to be thin was intense. But like any job, if you let stress get to you, then any hard worker would fall wayward. Drugs are not fashion related; they’re stress and money related. Addiction can happen to anyone at any time, it’s up to each individual to manage themselves and take responsibility for their actions.
6. Models don’t clock off at 5pm.
Shoots vary from anything before sunrise to way after sunset. I’ve set my alarm clock for as early as 3am to start hair and make up on a dark beach, much like I have also been working until 1am underground in a cave. Even when a shoot is a straightforward eight hour day, the travel, networking, social media upkeep and admin side of emails continues into their free time. The term ‘TGIF’ does not exist if you’re a freelancer, weekends are the same as weekdays!
7. It’s not glamourous.
Getting changed in the back of a van, or worse still a grotty public toilet, is not the idealistic model life you’d expect. There is a lot of standing around in the cold stroking the egos of some horrible (and some much nicer) people, whilst dragging heavy equipment to difficult locations in not too comfortable clothing. As a team, you’re all expected to muck in and it’s not quite the pamper session a makeover is often presumed to be. Life on the road itself is more about couch surfing and hostel hopping than the 5* luxury hotels most expect.
8. A model’s health is at risk all the time.
Your skin is regularly caked in thick makeup and your hair is often back combed and bleached without care – as long as it looks good for that day on set, the long term effects are regularly ignored. There is nothing worse than the fear of disease when a MUA is coming at you with brushes she’s just used on the girl before you, waving a mascara wand pulled straight out of the bottle. Oh and I’d hate to tell you how many times I’ve been asked to give the false eyelashes back for reuse at the end. Of course, most will find a way to sterilise them, but who’s to know if they’re clean.
9. Drama follows models around every corner.
Be it an upset family member who doesn’t understand the art in revealing a nipple or a team member on set who apparently isn’t aware of what’s socially acceptable. Pervy comments and snidey remarks are sadly almost part of the job description. It seems using your body for work puts models in the same bracket as prostitutes to some, a disappointing and extremely old fashioned opinion of the general public. Touching models without asking is also a controversial topic, with many in the fashion industry considering it their right to grope clotheshorses when dressing.
10. You ache like crazy afterwards!
Bending your bones into bizarre contortions and holding them for more than a few minutes, takes its toll on your muscles the next day, no matter how much you warm up before. Cold locations where shoots are often nine hours long, especially cripple the bones! Once the heat leaves your body – there’s no getting it back and no amount of hot drinks and blankets will loosen up your shoulders, neck and back tomorrow. Oh and popping that infamous ‘S’ curve comes at a cost of its own, with terrible pain from dislocating your hip bone one too many times.
This is the first part of a two-part story. Stay tuned for more true confessions of being a model.