Glamorous models wearing expensive clothes in magazines—yes, that was what caught my attention when I was a young teenager. At just shy of 5’9”, I was definitely tall enough to join the ranks of these beautiful women who were faces of magazines and billboards nearly everywhere one went. But was I “model” enough? Would the fashion world even open up its doors to let me in, or would they laugh at me and leave me wishing I had never gone to an open-call in the first place?
Like many young women, I liked to browse at fashion magazines. I compared myself with them, whether consciously or unconsciously, for years. It is hard not to want to be Angelina Jolie, or Adriana Lima, or Heidi Klum when one sees the glamor of their lifestyles plastered all over the web. Sure, there’s heartache and predators and paparazzi, but who cares?! They are style icons of the millennium, money, fame, beauty, and more! The idea of being a model made me curious for years growing up, but fear and insecurity held me back. I wasn’t known as a pretty girl in high school, and no one ever really paid attention to me. So when I was 22, just having graduated from university, and an agency test photographer in Chicago contacted me about modeling, I said, “who, me?” and then after a couple hours of talking, “yes, how do I get started?”
Of course, saying yes to a profession, especially one in entertainment, and becoming successful are two utterly separate things. Being in the right location is extremely important, as is having the “right look” for the job (which varies from job to job). Regardless, fashion models have two main requirements: be tall and be skinny. Everyone knows that! The third, mostly unspoken requirement, is that you have to start relatively young--age 13 to 24 is about the range most agencies will accept girls just starting out.
In the United States, New York is undoubtedly the fashion capital of modeling. If you can make it into an agency in NYC, it’s like playing a Grand Slam in tennis. You have somehow “made it.” Chicago, LA, Miami, and Atlanta are other big markets models have opportunity to get a lot of work in, as well, so going to my first test shoot in Chicago in late November, 2012, was highly nerve-wracking for me. I was terrified of bombing the shoot. Yet the photos turned out well, and I got signed the next week to The Rock Agency, a mother agency who represents national and international talent.
As much as I was excited at the idea that my dream of being a fashion model was finally coming true, I balked at how expensive it seemed to get a head start in the fashion world. I was being advised to spend a lot of money on professional photos and travel to a major market to build my book. It was the first time I’d ever splurged and spent a couple thousand dollars on anything as seemingly impractical as photos. I hadn’t even paid for senior photos in high school or prom pictures. I’d never really seen the appeal. So this was a major shock, for me.
I expected things to pick up quickly for me since I was investing so much time and energy into being on the road, going from my college town to Chicago, four hours away. A visit to my mother agency was a whole day trip, 7 hours on a Megabus one-way. I didn’t mind all the time spent on the highway, though. The freedom of the open road appealed to my inner nature, which longed to have the freedom to travel the world and explore new things.
But, one thing no one is keen to tell you, be it an agent, a photographer, or fellow models, is that for most agency-represented models, success takes time. Some girls “break into the industry” quicker than others, and get picked up by agencies in other markets (agency slang for “location”) in a matter of weeks. Others, like me, take more time, because factors like age, strength of portfolio, and even the darkness of your hair or skin affects your chances of being signed. Fair-skinned girls with blue or green eyes still rule the markets in most international markets, with most agency boards filled with names that sound Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, or some other Eastern European country.
I almost quit a few times because I wasn’t seeing any progress in my career at all the first year. Test shoot after test shoot (I’d figured out how to shoot TF, so I wasn’t spending hundreds of dollars on photos if the agency didn’t like them), I struggled to learn what made the other girl’s portfolios so good compared to mine. Was it the lighting? The pose? The hair? The make-up? The styling? In reality, it was all of it. It’s a highly skilled art that requires a highly-trained eye in order to make the photograph a stunning work of art that showcases one’s talent. A photoshoot is a crucial team effort, like a typical rock band ensemble. I liken the model to being the lead-singer, because that’s who everyone sees when they view the photo, but the model is definitely not the only one who determines a shoot’s success.
Every time I contemplated giving it all up, however, something would happen to make me say, “let’s give it another shot.” An editorial would get published, or I’d get a booking for a commercial job, and my hope would be renewed. And, my goal of traveling internationally as a model finally came true when I was 24, when I got my first international contract in Hamburg for three months. After that finished, I spent 5 months in LA, and then in October, 2015, I got a two-month contract to Istanbul. I’ve come a long way since I was 16, flipping through Vogue, Elle, Harpar’s Bazaar, and other fashion magazines. Have I made the six-figures my agent said was possible when she first signed me? No. But, did I achieve my goals? Yes. And that was has what made it worth it, when it is all said and done.
I am glad I didn’t let my fear of not-being-good-enough prevent me from traveling the world this way. While I don’t recommend modeling to every tall and slim teenage girl, I do recommend anyone aspiring for an artistic career that they pursue it if at all passionate about it. The next time you doubt yourself, remember, you are doing what you love, and that is worth far more than you will ever appreciate at the time. Does it make you nervous? Good. That means you care.
Just ask yourself the age-old question: what would you do, if you had nothing in the world to fear?
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