So You Want to Become a Fashion Model...

Until the seventies many pretty girls in small towns dreamed of becoming movie stars. Today, it seems, if they don't want to become a software engineer, CEO of a multinational company, or a stay-at-home mother (the toughest job of them all), they dream of becoming super-models. I don't work in the business, but I've been around models for years, have met a lot of their agents, and I'm also a mom, so here's some advice to those who would like to enter the business.

First of all, like so many glamorous jobs, being a model also means a lot of hard, exhausting work, with long hours, jet-lag caused by frequent changes in time zones, and being away from family and friends. It also means being prepared for a lot of rejection, having people around you discussing your body and looks (and often being very ciritical) as if you couldn't hear them, and trying not to become obsessed about your looks. You need the hide of an elephant, especially in the beginning, because you risk model agents and photographers giving you fifty reasons why you'll never make it, mercilessly listing your defects. This is where you have to remember the entire speech that Winston Churchill is said to have made to a graduating class: "Never, never, never, never give up!" Later, if you become successful, beware of getting a swelled head, and remember who your REAL friends are.

Obviously if you're 5'2" tall and weigh 150 pounds you're never going to make it as a runway model. But there are endless stories of models who had problems that supposedly precluded them ever finding work. Lauren Hutton has a gap between her teeth and is slightly cross-eyed: she not only became a top model but a successful movie actress as well. Dorothea McGowan had piano legs and one front tooth overlapping the other, as well as a face covered with freckles: heavy makeup covered the freckles (which would probably be OK today), her smile became her trademark, and she had such class that nobody noticed her thick ankles. Isabella Rossellini was close to 40 when she began her career as a model, she's short, buxom, and has thick knees, but did anybody notice that in her ads for L'Oreal or when she did a runway show for Dolce e Gabbana? Janice Dickinson, top top of the eighties, was told her lips were too large and her looks too "ethnic." Who ever dreamed that Kate Moss would make it? A fashion editor from Glamour once told me: "You wouldn't believe how many times I've had to slit skirts up the back, even for Suzy Parker (one of the very first super-models) so the dress would fit over her hips!"

You need to believe in youself, have self-confidence, but also be realistic. Assuming you have a beautiful face and body, they are still not enough to ensure success. There are certain things you need to succeed in any field, and here are some of them:

  1. Attitude. You can't afford it. Being polite and pleasant to everybody, no matter what their position, can't be stressed enough. This doesn't mean you have to become a rug and let everybody walk over you, but it means treating people with respect and expecting them to treat you with the same respect. If an art director has to choose between two equally beautiful models the job will go to the good-natured girl. When going on location nobody wants to spend days or weeks with a whiny, complaining, neurotic woman. There's so much rudeness and bad manners in our lives today that people won't forget you when you are polite and considerate and say THANK YOU!
  2. Punctuality. Making people wait for you indicates that you dont have respect for them or their time. Get in the habit of arriving 10 minutes early for every appointment, even if it's for a go-see. ESPECIALLY when it's a go-see. You won't have to do that when you hit the top, but then, you won't last long at the top if you start giving yourself airs.
  3. Passion. Yes, passion, but not so much for the male sex as for your work. People who really care about their work, who read up on the subject, who find out everything they possibly can, who never pass up the chance to learn from somebody in the business, are people who succeed. Remember, KNOWLEDGE IS POWER! Don't limit yourself to fashion per se, visit museums, art exhibits, galleries, and train your eye. If there's time on location shoots visit the points of interest as well as the discos.
  4. Future. Modelling is not usually a life-time career. Take advantage of your exposure to people and get to know as many as you possibly can. You never know when somebody you've met could be the key to your future.
  5. Professionalism. Modelling is one of those jobs that require on-the-job training, nobody and no school can really teach you how to be a model. You have to get in front of the camera, or hit the runway, and gain experience. The name of the game is selling clothes, and some of the most successful models have been those who had a feeling for the garment they were wearing, who took special care to show it off in the best possible way. Let's face it, it's all about SELLING THE PRODUCT and models are used to help sell the product. When you have the chance, watch other models work with photographers, there's always something to learn, about lighting, about makeup, about movement, about attitude (the right kind).
  6. Take Care of Yourself. It's your body, and your life. Most models have to watch their diet, but avoid using legal and illegal drugs to help. That includes cigarettes. They will show up on your face sooner than you think. Keep active, eat healthy, and get plenty of sleep. Have fun, but use your common sense.
  7. Sense of Humor. Having a sense of humor and keeping your perspective are important, as well as having your priorities straight. Sexual harrassment exists, and a sense of self-worth and humor can usually defuse unwelcome situations. It says somewhere that people who can laugh at themselves live longer.
  8. Know When to Leave the Party. As my daddy used to say, "Always leave the party at its height." Being a model exposes you to all kinds of people and opportunities: it's up to you to take advantage of the right ones. But it doesn't last forever, and it's better to switch jobs when you're at the height of your career rather than face the disappointment and depression that comes with sliding down the other side of the slope.

If you've read this far, it means you're really interested. Don't waste your money on modelling school. Get a job on Saturday. It's helpful to work, at least for a while, in a boutique or department store to learn something about clothes, especially the more expensive ones. Save your money for a trip to New York with your mom or a friend. Call first and find out which days the reputable agencies see new models. Some of the top agencies are Ford Models, Elite, Wilhelmina, Pauline's Model Management, and IMG.

You don't need to spend money for photographs: good color snapshots closeup and full figure are more than enough. The agencies see thousands of young women every year and can usually tell even without looking at your photos if you have possibilities. Don't be discouraged if the first agency turns you down, not every top model got accepted the first time. But if ten agencies turn you down perhaps you should look elsewhere. If you love fashion there are many other jobs to consider: stylist, designer, photographer, makeup artist, hair stylist, fashion editor.

Finally, don't send your "book" or photographs to the agencies. There's no guarantee you'll get them back. You must go in person. So good luck, and remember what my grandmother Ethel used to tell me: "Beauty is as beauty does!"


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