So You Want To Be A Model

The successful ones are fted, fussed over and flown to exotic locations. But there are downsides, too.

With jet-set appointments in their diaries, Manolo Blahniks on their feet, Louis Vuittons on their arms, big hair and even bigger bank balances, Kate, Gisele, Tyra and co are the last word in glamour. No wonder lots of young women would like to sashay in their footsteps.

But while it’s true that modelling is a lot more fun than many a nine-to-five job, it’s still a job – and, like any job, it has its downs as well as ups. We spoke to some models and former models to find out what it’s really like.

Is it difficult to remain modest when you’re making money off your looks?

At first, l found modelling a lot of fun because everyone’s constantly giving you compliments. But being judged on your looks continuously in such a competitive environment soon starts to erode your self-esteem. You become very self-critical and feel you should be thinner and prettier.
But it’s fun as well, right?
Sure! Last year I did a commercial for a Dutch suit company that entailed me being hoisted nine storeys high with Batman and The Joker both trying to reach me. People looking out of their office windows were amazed!
What’s your advice to aspiring models?
Be true to yourself, because it’s easy to get lost in such a shallow world. And do something outside modelling that brings you pleasure – beading, yoga, dancing, it doesn’t matter what, as long as it keeps you from becoming completely immersed in the industry.


What’s been your best job?
I starred in a music video for an Indian singer, Himesh Reshammiya, and I’m going on a Bollywood tour of the United States with him.
Does it ever get uncomfortable when stylists are dressing you?
Definitely! You basically have to stand there while people pinch you, tug you, pull you and touch you in places where only your man should touch you. And then there are other people around who are constantly gawking and making comments.
Do you ever feel seriously insecure?
When l was working in Japan, I’d constantly be told that l was too fat – by my agency and by clients. Once they told me I needed to lose 4cm around my bum and thighs in two weeks. It was virtually impossible for me – I have an athletic build and am not a naturally skinny kid. But they kept pushing me, so I stopped eating. For two weeks solid, I lived on coffee. I lost the centimetres and they let me stay. But then I gained the weight back and the complaints began again. This time, I made myself throw up to lose weight – until I decided it wasn’t worth it, and came home.
Do you still watch your weight?
Yes, but I’m not ridiculous about it anymore. I just try to eat sensibly. In Paris, you hear of girls as young as 14 being fed cotton wool dipped in orange juice by their agents, because the cotton wool makes them feel full without adding any kilojoules.
What advice would you give to aspiring models?
Know yourself and what you will and will not do. Don’t be easily swayed. And never give up, because if it works out, it’s really worth the ride!

What do you like least about modelling?

When you tell people you’re a model, they immediately assume you’re stupid and have nothing to say for yourself.
And what do you like most?
If you enjoy being pampered, this is the job for you – you get to have your nails and makeup done all the time!
Is the money good?
Too often agencies exploit models. I had a great three-year contract with a top brand of hair products but pulled out when I discovered my agency wasn’t passing on my fee. That agency is now closing down because it can’t pay its tax debt. Agencies often aren’t upfront about how much money you’re going to get from a job. A friend of mine was told she was being sent to New York, all expenses paid. But when she returned home, her agency deducted money from her fee for accommodation and meals, so she made much less than she’d expected.
What’s your advice to young models?
A clever girl realises that her modelling career won’t last forever and will use her contacts to get into other areas. I’m concentrating less on modelling now, and starting to set up a hair-and-beauty business.

How often do you work?

It varies. You can work for four days in a row and then not get another job for a week.
How long is a working day for a model?
A shoot often takes a full day, starting at 4am and not ending until 8.30pm.
What jobs have you enjoyed most?
I’ve been on a lot of trips that were fun, particularly the Sports Illustrated shoots. You get to know everyone well, you’re away for a week or so and although you work hard you also get to lie in the sun and have massages. I also enjoyed the Wonderbra campaign. Again, I got to know the team well, and that makes for a good working environment.
What do people generally not know about this industry?
It can be physically exhausting. An arched back may make for a sexy pose in a magazine, but you feel like a contortionist getting into that position and holding it for hours. It’s also not great to pose in a freezing sea or kneel on shells while showing off a bikini. Once, in the Caribbean, both my knees were bleeding by the time we’d finished shooting.

How often do you work?

On average about three days a week.
How does it feel knowing models have a short shelf life?
It doesn’t bother me. I’m about to study law and criminology, so I’II have another career to look forward to.
What’s been the best advice you’ve been given?
My dad told me that getting rejected doesn’t mean I’m worth any less. There’s always a second chance.
What is the competition like among the girls?
It can get quite stiff, especially if you’re a black girl in Cape Town. You’re all fighting for that one job…

Why did you stop modelling?

In 1994 I decided to leave New York, where I was living, to travel around the world on a motorbike. But my career was already slowing down then.
How did it feel to be a world-famous model?
When people paid me respect because l was a model, I feel a little embarrassed – I didn’t think I deserved respect for being just a face.
Did modelling ever make you feel insecure?
Definitely! I never thought I was beautiful and I was meeting some really beautiful people, such as Christy Turlington.
If you’re not a great beauty, why did the world treat you like one?
I think because I came from South Africa, and there was that whole political thing.
Has the industry changed much since you were a model?
I think it’s become more businesslike. I’m told, for instance, that an agency will now send a representative along with its models when they travel to try to stop them being poached by scouts from other agencies.
What advice would you give someone starting a modelling career?
Make as much money as you can while you can, but have something else to fall back on.

How often do you work?
As a model, you’re basically a freelancer so you don’t have a fixed routine with set hours. You can have one month of working five days a week and then a month with no work at all.
What do you do when you’re not working?
As little as possible! l catch up on sleep, spend time with my family and friends, and do some charity work.
How do you feel about being judged solely on your looks?
It can go to your head. But then I remind myself it’s largely just good makeup and that the real me is what’s left when that’s all washed off!
What assumptions do people tend to make when they discover you’re a model?
That I’m a bitch. And also that I live a perfect life and that I am perfect and wake up looking perfect. Which is all so not true!

• Submit photographs of yourself to modelling agencies. They don’t have to be professionally done but they do have to be recent. Choose photos of you with and without makeup, wearing clothes that show off your figure. Send in a variety of full-length and head-and-shoulders shots that show different poses and facial expressions.
• Visit the websites of different agencies. They often provide information on how to submit photos, as well as details of open days.
• Remember that agencies are only really interested in women 1,75m or taller.
• If an agency is interested, it will set up an interview with you, says model booker Wendy Brown of Outlaws Model Agency in Cape Town. At the meeting, the agency team will measure your height and take digital photographs of you. After that, the agency will decide whether it wants to put you on its books.