How to Be a Model

what I am

I had a ton of castings this week.  On Wednesday, I was sent to a magazine whose cover I’d shot a year before.  When I walked in, there was a display of their recent issues. Mine was next to one featuring my best friend.  As I sat there waiting to see the client, I reflected that I’d accomplished a lot for myself. There I was, standing proudly on the cover of a magazine.  I remember my first cover and the excitement, shock, and disbelief I felt.  It was different and special to share that with my friend. It may seem silly to you, but the matching covers made me feel like there was a bond and an understanding of achievement between us. We may not be household names, but we’re out there working.

People often ask me what I do.  When I tell them I’m a model, they don’t believe it’s a real job.  This doesn’t bother me like it used to. I’ve realized that a lot of people are out there claiming to be models, even when they’re really referring to their hobby, not their career. In my case, modeling is too demanding to be something I do on the side. Like a doctor, I’m constantly on call and must be ready to pick up and go. Five years ago, I moved to Chicago.  I had just signed the lease on my apartment when my agency called, telling me to spend a few months in Milan. I left the next day. 

My friends realize that when we make plans, work comes first. I don’t take vacations or spend too much time away from the city, because I want to be available. I see this as an abundance of opportunity, not a sacrifice. I ride the waves as they come.  Yoga has taught me not to be afraid, but to make the most of my circumstances.  

If I hadn’t packed up and gone to Milan, I wouldn’t have learned valuable lessons. I didn’t know a word of Italian, but I learned that my work has no language. Mannequins work, and work well, without a voice. As terrifying as that might seem, realize that every detail of my pose communicates something. We have to learn how to convey a message while gazing up at you silently from your favorite magazine. When you open to my spread, I’m speaking to you. 

People don’t realize that the model isn’t the girl with the makeup and the haute couture gown; it’s the chick in the bathroom of a redeye flight struggling to get the product out of her hair before the next morning’s shoot. Or better, she’s the one dealing with all of that and loving it.

how I got there

Almost weekly, someone reaches out to me about starting a career as a model. I warn them against arranging shoots on their own.  They don’t need the help of amateurs on a modeling network website or some pays-as-you-go “agency.” Casting directors and reputable agencies want to see raw digital shots  (or more traditionally polaroids) that show the girl for who she is. The day I got signed, I was wearing skinny jeans and a v-neck tee shirt.  I had the slightest bit of mascara and lipgloss on.  My hair was down.  When the major agencies are holding open calls scouting for new faces, they mean it when they say come with little to no makeup and that no homemade portfolios are necessary.

Even when I’m working, raw shots are important. I’m even going into the agency tomorrow for new digitals, since clients are always asking for up-to-date, unadulterated images of their canvases. Whether you’re an aspiring model, or anything else, you have to be honest with yourself and authentic with those around you.

The most successful model isn’t the girl who takes prettiest pictures. She’s the girl who can smile like she means it on set after the art director chews her out for having a pimple; who has to take a deep breath (and a complete exhale) when the stylist can’t get the zipper done up; who can stay collected after catching a whiff of her hair burning on the curling iron.  She plans her route in the morning and puts her best face forward at every casting even when it’s below freezing out. She looks at the army of beautiful girls waiting outside, reminds herself that she’s got a fair shot, and walks into that room with confidence. She doesn’t have to deal with the stress of never knowing whether she’s already done her last shoot because she loves what she’s doing.  She holds on to it as long as she can and will be grateful to have had the opportunity. The most successful model convinces herself of none of these things. They are simply true of her. 

and the people who help me

Today I practiced at the yoga studio I always gravitate to. I took class with one of the newer teachers, a familiar face I hadn’t gotten a chance to know. It was great. Her whole approach and attitude blew me away. The entire class responded with warmth and humor. That down to earth, approachable vibe is hard to find, but easy to recognize. It’s what brings me back to that community. When I first started there, I was mesmerized by the confidence and strength of the teachers.  I thought that if I let these kinds of people teach me, I might find a shred of their confidence for myself.  Sure enough I began to feel it. These teachers that I admire don’t project themselves as a gurus. They don’t take on embellished titles. They don’t tell you that some diet, lifestyle, routine, or ritual is going to save you. They’re just brave enough to be themselves. The quirkiness of today’s teacher reminded me why I’m so happy to have a place like this.

When I told my boyfriend, another yoga teacher, about how important people like this are to me, he told me about satgurus. Sat could mean truth, the real, or the unchanging in sanskrit.  A guru moves you along a path, but a satguru moves you along the right path. A satguru does more than tell how you should be, but personifies how and what you should be. There are so many people—photographers, stylists, yoga teachers, and friends—who would never put themselves forward as teachers. They’re just themselves. But I recognize in them what I must be and that reminds me what I must do. 

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