Fashion Comments

Model Confessions: Things I Hated Most About My Career

Written by: Zanita Whittington

I officially retired from modelling in the classic sense around 7 years ago – but I don’t need to tell you, I haven’t yet stepped away from being in front of the lens, I just get to decide what I wear, who I work for and how I’m presented. I get to make creative decisions. Models today can harness a certain power over their careers by harnessing the way they are perceived through social media. They can brand themselves and take control through the style of imagery they use to present themselves – it’s why we’re seeing all shapes and sizes come to the forefront of the industry. It’s a beautiful thing. Models who use image curation and messaging to articulate a concise vision can divine their careers within a chosen niche.

I was a commercial model – aka, I did catalogues. The brands and clothing I wore was typically targeted to an older market, I’d often have a small child or a faux husband standing beside me, I wore floral blouses and elasticated slacks – I’d even wear the occasional fake pregnant stomach. It wasn’t ‘fashion’ – but the money is better on that side of the industry. I’d often take home anywhere between 800USD to 3000USD a day – working 5 to 10 days a month. Sometimes I’d go through dry spells but generally, I had what would probably be described as a median income – and that’s something I was very grateful for, because plenty of my friends would end up owing money to various agencies around the world for rent.  I missed being able to do the glamorous fashion shoots I saw in magazines but its one of the reasons I decided to start my blog, so I could take part in it all on my own terms, in some way.

What I hated the most:  Seeing these VERY beautiful women, striving to make careers as models and having their confidence beat down to a pulp. It’s a career where your entire self worth is centred around your physical looks – and it’s not like that’s a skill you can improve on. It’s why they’d starve themselves, not for having an eating disorder in the more commonly known sense, but just to get work – much like a ballerina or a jockey might do so. This is something that hampered my quality of life throughout periods of my career. It’s tough to socialise when you’re eating salad and water – don’t want to invite temptation when your hip pocket is at stake! I remember there were points where my friends and family would be concerned for my well being – and rightly so.

So these gorgeous ladies wouldn’t see themselves as beautiful, they picked apart their faces and bodies with fine analysis – and so did the agents, the stylists, the photographers, the designers – their flippant remarks having more weight than the manner in which they were thrown around. There are so many more models ‘working’ than the regular ones you see in magazines. When I was represented by bigger agencies, they would have hundreds of expendable women on their books – it’s a numbers game, you’re more likely to win if you place more horses in the race…. Racing horses being a uncannily apt analogy for the industry itself.

I remember once while I was working in London, a model friend of mine was measured with a 38inch hip. The max standard was around 36inches. Her agency – which is one of the biggest and very well known – told her to lose weight by eating one chocolate bar a day and drinking diet coke. It was pretty fucked up.

I get the appeal of becoming a model. It’s that initial validation – and outwardly it seems like such a thrill, yes, you’re beautiful enough to make a career simply for how extraordinary your looks are and the people you know find that super interesting and exciting. I often get parents or young girls asking me how to get into the industry.  I wrote another post about that HERE. To summarise, I would never want a daughter of mine to measure herself by that standard.

Another thing I hated – the creepers and vampires of the industry. There’s plenty of them. I experienced my share of totally unprofessional interactions but never thought much of it – fashion sets are so social and interchangeable that I always felt like I’d deal with guys or girls hitting on me like I would in a bar (‘Urrghh thanks – but no thanks!). Obviously I know enough today to not tolerate any of that shit – and I’m grateful that it never went further than the occasional amorous remark or being asked on a date. I was very young and still vulnerable to that kind of behaviour and I’m grateful that today we have an open dialogue that continues to prevent this from being perpetuated in the future. How can you both appreciate the attention, navigate the line between accepting what could just be a genuine compliment – and those statements that make you feel like an object – are most appropriately dealt with through a case by case analysis. It’s also true that what can be appreciated by one is repulsive and triggering for another. We swim through these grey waters everyday in an increasingly progressive and also divisive society.

So I’m maybe repeating myself or even contradicting my past statements here. Navigating this industry as both a passion and a conflict is a unique line to tread and I’m still learning the ways to create inspirational content morally and creatively. It’s only human to feel the duality of these two sides and my goal is to improve my message and take lessons along the way. As always, thanks for sticking around. Zanita x