“There’s certain things you’re supposed to know, when you’re a girl who grows up in the south…”
All right, that’s an exaggeration. This is the opening lyric to Kacey Musgraves’ song ‘Pageant Material’. She’s a Texan, from the bona fide south, and I’m from the UK, so it’s not quite the sharp north/south divide but a much more friendly one. But listening to that song does really resonate with me, because I can compare it to a point in my life where everyone thought something was going to happen for me and I just sort of backed out of it with no explanation.
“If I had to walk a runway in high heels in front of the whole town I’d fall down…”
Background time – I was 16. From the age of 13 upwards, every girl in my school thought she had what it took to be a model. We all thought we had the potential to be the next Kate Moss. We plastered selfies over our Bebo pages and then sent each other MSN messages telling each other to please comment on it. It was a huge ego booster when one girl in my class complimented my posture and told me I should be a model. I was the skinniest girl in my class, and despite not being the tallest, everyone told me I could make it.
When I hit 16 and had a part time job, I started excitedly paying for my own haircuts and started going to a new salon. On my second visit they asked me to model for them in a hair colouring competition. After almost 48 hours spent in a salon having some interesting colour combinations put into my hair, I went back to college to be told my new, short, dark hair was amazing. Everyone kept asking me when I was going to start professionally modelling. A few months later I came back from work to some frantic voicemails from the salon – my stylist had gotten through to the second round of the competition and needed me to come back in to have the style constructed and dyed. Then we were off to London for the actual competition. To this day, it’s one of my favourite memories. The experience was a one off, but looking back, it made me realise why I didn’t want modelling to become my life.
“God bless the girls who smile and hug when they’re called out as a runner up on TV…”
I was the youngest model out of about 30 girls and although I never felt intimidated, it was the bitchiest experience ever. The stylists were taken to one area and the models were sent backstage. We were given instructions and then left to chat amongst ourselves. Some of the girls were so lovely, but a sharp divide occurred between the girls off the streets and the professional models. One girl kept saying “this is a mess, back when I did Fashion Week…” to the extent I wanted to ask her if she’d walked the catwalk at Fashion Week. Another one brought up her very expensive boob job with a top surgeon. The pro models formed a tight clique, and loudly began picking apart the other girls.
“Who’s to say I’m a 9.5 or a 4.0 if you don’t even know me?”
“I don’t know what she’s thinking trying to be a model; she’s not tall enough!”
“She does know you actually have to be pretty to be a model, right?”
“She’ll never make it, she’s too fat!”
“I wish I could, but I just can’t wear a smile when a smile ain’t what I’m feeling…”
I now see these girls were validating their existence by stepping on the girls who had a life outside of these competitions. I learned later that being a hair model is actually not that high up on the modelling ladder and is a rather hit and miss job, and certainly not one you can do full time. Once your hair is cut and coloured you’re kind of out of work until it grows back, and that can take months… I’m getting off topic.
The competition ended for my stylist that night and although I modelled again for the salon 4 years later, I did it for fun. One of the other girls modelling was a freelance model and tried to tell me how to get into it. She insisted I had the face for it and should put my pictures up on a website. I thanked her for her encouragement but never actually took the advice. I was working full time in a shift job and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life just yet. I was only 20 years old. It’s been almost five years since that day, and I know full well what I want to do and why I don’t want to be a model.
“It ain’t that I don’t care about world peace, but I don’t see how I can fix it in a swimsuit on a stage…”
I want to be a scientist. I want to be known for my brain and I want to find things out about the world no one else yet knows. I want to save the planet and the animals on it. I want to spend hours at sea counting birds and marine mammals for the sake of conservation. I want to find out how human activities are affecting the oceans. I know exactly what I want to do, I’m already doing some of it, and I know how to get there. Yes, I’m a blogger, but that’s a side hobby. I take a lot of selfies, but I’ve since gone up a dress size and stopped caring so much about my appearance. I’m not a model. And that’s fine.
“Sometime’s I talk before I think, I’ve tried to fake it but I can’t…”
These days, young girls are led to believe that being a model is validation for their existence. It means they’re pretty and can make a lot of money on looks alone. But it’s really not that simple. Outlander star Catriona Balfe once stated that making it as a model is more about being the fashionable name, and once you’re no longer fashionable you’ll find it hard to get work. Very few have been timeless models, as fashions in body shape and size change as often as clothes fashions change. The rules about height and dress size are as strict as they come; your genetics need to tick more boxes than your attitude and willingness to work. And then there’s finding an agency. I read so much advice on how to find a reputable agency, but there’s always people out there looking to make a quick buck. They’ll ask for downpayments and then promise you’ll make it back, only to never contact you again. Photo shoot companies will offer you a cheap deal and then charge you extortionate amounts for the photos, telling you that you need them for your portfolio (you don’t – no reputable agency will accept makeover shoots as a portfolio.). There’s very few opportunities to get into modelling, but there’s plenty of opportunities to take advantage of the people desperate to get there – I was severely ripped off by a photo shoot company, and the featured image is one of those shots – one of the 15 I got for over £300. If you actually get in, you start at the bottom and there’s a lot of rungs to that ladder, each with loads of others pulling each other off. It’s bitchy, and it’s soul destroying. You can be the most body confident women in the world, and they’ll be a hundred girls behind you telling you you’re not tall enough or your butt is unshapely, not in a jest – they want to crawl under your skin and destroy that confidence. It’s an industry based on appearance, and it’s dangerous. That just wasn’t me.
“I’d rather lose for what I am than win for what I ain’t…”
Going back to the song I mentioned in the beginning, the lyrics of which have been featured throughout – I can look back on my brief glimpse inside the modelling industry and smile, knowing I have no regrets deciding not to walk that path. I resonate with the song, because everyone thought I could do it. But I was an inch too short anyway, and it turns out it takes a complete lack of happiness and self esteem for me to stay skinny. The modelling lifestyle of having my food watched and having every decision dictated to me sounds awful. Whilst the song is written about the pageant system, I think Kacey hits the nail on the head:
“I ain’t pageant material, the only Crown is in my glass, they won’t be handing me a sash, and that’s okay, ’cause there’s no way, you’ll ever see me in a swimsuit on a stage…”
I look back happily on my experiences, knowing I made the right choice choosing a different path and smiling at every girl who tells me “I love modelling! I want to make it as a model more than anything!”. You do that, girl! I’m sure you have the drive. Just know it’s not easy, and I’ll admire you so much if you make it, and I salute you for trying. But be careful – it’s not the gold-paved street you think it is…