According to my family I’m going to be rich, according to my friends I’ll be famous. I look at them and smile as they say “Oh Loyiso, what a wonderful career,” if only I dared to correct them. I have spent the last 15 years modelling and the last few years hiding the other side of the truth about modelling, where the glitz and the glam ain’t all that. As a model, I only tell the world of the positive things; the exciting international adventures and of course the dazzling glossy magazine publications, but never the secrets of the other side. My motivation for revealing this side, is because a lot of aspiring models go into this industry short sighted and very quickly succumb to rejection and depression and that leads to a lot of complications emotionally and mentally and in extreme and upsetting cases: Suicide. Yes Suicide.
I remember chatting heartbroken over the phone to my fellow modelling sister. Over a model I knew that passed away last week. He died of pneumonia, but it still didn’t make it easy to cope with the fact that a 26-year-old lost his life. We reflected on how many models this year we lost, and most of them due to depression, leading to suicide or depression leading them to making stupid decisions that end their lives.
After much reflection and discussion, it became very clear how lucky we were to have had and have such long careers and the support we had going into modelling, and how many aspiring models in this country don’t have that and fall into the cracks. Therefore, I am writing about this truth, for all the aspiring models out there. This article serves as a warning and guideline to prepare yourself for the industry ahead. I am not discouraging you at all from pursuing your dream of being a model, I am simply also trying to help you prepare yourself for the worst and hopefully give you enough time and patience to plan and be more meticulous with your modelling career.
Ahh yes, the life of a model, the best job in the world…or is it?
We don’t actually get paid very much.
Yes We don’t actually get paid very much.
Ok, R3500-R5000 plus for a day sounds better than your average shelf-stacker doesn’t it? But the truth is that these bookings aren’t all that regular at all. In fact, they’re sometimes only once, maybe twice a week and over the hours spent organizing, emailing, networking, referencing. location scouting and bookwork, it often works out below minimum wage. The admin side of the job is often more demanding than the physical, with rates based on the knowledge and experience of the model, and you only see these kinds of daily numbers when you are either and exciting new face or a tried and proven veteran, and even at that the experienced models have a long list of income sources from brands, boutiques, stores etc, which is where the real money is and it actually pay the bills outside of regular agency bookings.
Models talk to other models for private references, so reputation really is everything.
If you speak poorly of fellow creatives on shoots, it almost always gets back to them eventually. They’re quite often a close network of people who talk, despite not always meeting face to face. This applies to photographers as well as models and makeup artists. So always watch what you say around others and about others.
Having agency representation won’t necessarily mean a model has signed up for success or wealth.
Agencies often have over 300 faces on their books and only 10% of those will really get regular work. Freelancing is ordinarily the only way to fill up a model’s diary with things like TV extra work as a sideline. Many models who appear to be living the high life, actually spend much of their week in part time jobs like waitressing or in retail, the more prepared models like myself, have studied have a qualification like a degree or diploma and are working full time jobs or running a business or are actively doing a ton of work with brands through influencing attending events and premieres, running blog websites like this one making money off sponsors advertisers etc. The “Pro’s” even on a global scale don’t just model! They do more and work hard every day.
Many Models Are Super Self-Conscious
No Secret there: Many models are super self conscious
After all, our appearance is our front leg and we are openly scrutinised as part of the job. However a lot of the models fall into the industry by accident and have never even considered themselves attractive. In fact it is often said that the best fashion models are the ones you wouldn’t look twice at on the street, so it’s no wonder that they’re not the vain plastics that so many Joe Publics label them as.
We don’t all snort drugs and eat tissue paper for lunch.
Yes, the celebrities who make the newspaper headlines will tell you all about their lifestyle on the runway, where there was no time to eat and the pressure to be thin was intense. But like any job, if you let stress get to you, then any hard worker would fall wayward. Drugs are not fashion related; they’re stress and money related. Addiction can happen to anyone at any time, it’s up to each individual to manage themselves and take responsibility for their actions.
Models don’t clock off at 5pm.
Shoots vary from anything before sunrise to way after sunset. I’ve set my alarm clock for as early as 3am to start hair and make up on a dark beach, much like I have also been working until 1am underground in a cave. Even when a shoot is a straightforward eight hour day, the travel, networking, social media upkeep and admin side of emails continues into their free time. The term ‘TGIF’ does not exist if you’re an agency model or freelancer, weekends are the same as weekdays!
Its NOT All That Glamorous
I am serious: It’s not glamourous.
Getting changed in the back of a van, or worse still a grotty public toilet, is not the idealistic model life you’d expect. There is a lot of standing around in the cold stroking the egos of some horrible (and some much nicer) people, whilst dragging heavy equipment to difficult locations in not too comfortable clothing. As a team, you’re all expected to muck in and it’s not quite the pamper session a makeover is often presumed to be. Life on the road itself is more about couch surfing and hostel hopping than the 5* luxury hotels most expect.
A model’s health is at risk all the time.
Your skin is regularly caked in thick makeup and for ladies your hair is often back combed and bleached without care – as long as it looks good for that day on set, the long term effects are regularly ignored. There is nothing worse than the fear of disease when a MUA is coming at you with brushes she’s just used on the girl or guy before you, waving a mascara wand pulled straight out of the bottle. (and yes I have worn mascara before countless times some outfits and designs require the craziest and quirkiest of makeup selections)
Drama follows models around every corner.
Be it an upset family member who doesn’t understand the art in revealing a nipple or a team member on set who apparently isn’t aware of what’s socially acceptable. Pervy comments and snidey remarks are sadly almost part of the job description. It seems using your body for work puts models in the same bracket as prostitutes to some, a disappointing and extremely old fashioned opinion of the general public. Touching models without asking is also a controversial topic, with many in the fashion industry considering it their right to grope clotheshorses when dressing.
This is me at my first professional photo-shoot in 2012!!!
You Ache Like CRAZY Afterwards
You really do: ache like crazy afterwards!
Bending your bones into bizarre contortions and holding them for more than a few minutes, takes its toll on your muscles the next day, no matter how much you warm up before. Cold locations where shoots are often nine hours long, especially cripple the bones! Once the heat leaves your body – there’s no getting it back and no amount of hot drinks and blankets will loosen up your shoulders, neck and back tomorrow. Oh and popping that infamous ‘S’ curve comes at a cost of its own, with terrible pain from dislocating your hip bone one too many times.
This is the first part of a two-part story. Stay tuned for more true confessions of being a model.