Modeling is a notoriously tough industry to break into, given the outrageous standards and tough competition involved, and it’s not much easier once your foot’s in the door. Unhealthy expectations, biased casting and low wages can make it an unpleasant experience for anyone without the recognition of a Karlie Kloss or Gigi Hadid.
For our latest installment of confessions, in which we grant anonymity for honesty, we talk to a model who’s worked in the industry for 11 years — shooting with the likes of Sports Illustrated, Glamour and Love Magazine — about the struggles of being an “average-size” model, the overwhelming pressure of social media and the often-despicable treatment she endures from men on set.
On starting out in the industry as a curvier model:
It was tough, because I’m a size eight, so I never fit into either category. When I was scouted, my agent wanted me to be straight-size, so I was encouraged to lose weight, which was very challenging for me, because I’m just not naturally that size. In the process of trying to [get down there], I adopted a lot of unhealthy habits that were very difficult to break.
My model scout sent me into agencies on the plus board because, at that point, the plus board was the only option for any girls over size four or six. I’d be going to plus-size castings, even though I wasn’t plus-size, and I had to wear padding. It felt so strange and wrong — I don’t want to take jobs away from someone who actually deserves them. It’s not nearly the same, but it has similar overtones to the “black-facing” that goes on, where they hire white girls and spend all this time giving them a tan, instead of just hiring an island girl or an African-American.
On the lack of representation for most women in fashion:
It took a long time to get [my career] moving, because there wasn’t really a spot for a girl my size in the industry — and there still isn’t. I was talking to a contact at a Condé Nast magazine this week about my decision to be a normal-size girl working in fashion, and it was as if they had never thought about it before.
There are so many women who are average-size — not shopping in plus-size stores — who are still not seeing themselves represented. Plus-size women are seeing themselves on a much grander scale than they used to, but these women who are, like, a size eight are going into regular stores and seeing size-zero girls instead.
On how she has been treated as a curvier model:
I was, 100 percent, treated differently for being a “plus-size model,” and I still am. So much has changed, but you can tell: It’s still different. At the beginning, it felt like we were second-class. We wouldn’t even get paid the same rates as other girls.
It’s hard to speak [totally] objectively, because I’m fucked up from years of thinking I was fat, so when I’m in a room of straight-size models, I feel inferior to them, which is my own issue. But there are definitely still companies that don’t think it’s cool to use diverse sizes. I mean, look at Victoria’s Secret. I can’t believe that, in 2017, they still can’t get with the picture.
On how the type of model you are affects what you’re paid:
There’s so much that factors into what makes a rate for someone, and I’ve never completely understood the “science” behind where they come from. There’s systemic racism in fashion: For black women, it’s harder to find opportunities — their rate may be lower because they’re not given the same exposure or chances that a generic white woman is.
On the industry’s warped body standards:
[Health problems] are definitely still a widespread issue. I still hear about girls who go into their agencies where their agents are downright cruel to them about their bodies. I have a friend who’s in recovery from an eating disorder, and she is thin and looks great. She went into her agency recently, and they pulled up a photo of her from two years ago with a photo from today and started comparing the old photo to the new one, saying things like, “Do you see how you were skinnier here?” or “Do you see how you can see more muscle definition here?” To go through a photo of someone and point out all the things you think are wrong with them, like, that is torture.
On the pressure to have a robust social media presence:
It’s terrible. You go to any casting now, and they want your Instagram handle and how many followers you have. Since I did Sports Illustrated, the conversation has kind of died down — because my numbers went up after that — but before that, the conversation was always like, “How will we get your numbers up?” I was having constant anxiety about it. It’s like a puzzle you can’t figure out; there’s no surefire way to get followers.
It’s so much pressure on something so meaningless, and as an intelligent, rational human being, it feels even more challenging. You have to invest so much time, energy and thought into this platform that feels so vapid and ridiculous. It’s the dumbest game, and one that makes you feel bad about yourself. Spending a lot of time on Instagram means looking at a lot of girls who are your competition and making [negative comparisons]. It’s so unhealthy.
On the relationships amongst models:
At its most essential level, there’s no way that it can’t be competitive — and sometimes, it’s even more challenging when you are really good friends with the girls you’re working with, because then any feelings of jealousy are compounded with feelings of guilt. You want to be happy for your friend, but you’re also like, “Damn, I wish I could be doing that job.” Oftentimes, I think women are intimidated by each other, and they sometimes fight back against that sense of intimidation by being bitches or [adopting] this cold attitude.
On not being respected by men on set:
I do a lot of lingerie, swimsuit and nude shoots, and I’ve never had a creepy experience with a woman — but I can tell you about a lot of bad experiences I’ve had with men.
I was shooting with a famous photographer who’s well-known for shooting sexy stuff. We were shooting this editorial that was supposed to be in an apartment, and he suggested we go to his hotel instead. He held my hand on the way there, even though I kept mentioning my boyfriend, which was strange. Then, when we got to the hotel, he walked me all around the lobby, as if he was showing me off. He needed the people in the hotel to understand that we were together. When we finally got to his room, there was nothing in it except for the hotel furniture and a huge box of Magnum condoms.
When you’re shooting nudes of a woman, you should be as respectful of her as you can possibly be, but the whole time, this guy was saying things like, “Oh, baby!” and fanning himself, making me so uncomfortable. Of course, he’s a famous photographer, so you just bite your tongue. But [after we shot], I ran out of there.
I find [this phenomenon] to be one of the most frustrating and scary parts of the industry. We had that whole hubbub about Terry Richardson a while ago, but since, then no one has talked about it. I’ve heard clients say, “The girls like [sexual attention] because it gets them in the mood,” and I’m like, “Maybe some girls like that, but I sure as hell don’t.” You know what gets me in the mood? Being respected!
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