Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault
I started modeling when I was 17.
I never dreamed of being a model, but when the opportunity presented itself, I accepted. From what I had heard, it paid well and I needed to save some money to leave my home country of Poland.
The first time I went to a meeting at a modeling agency, I had to strip down to my underwear in front of a group of strangers and listen to them point out all the things that were wrong with me. It was just a standard assessment, they told me.
Still, it made me feel like a piece of meat.
And unsurprisingly, I was told to lose weight.
If you’re not a walking skeleton, you’re too fat
Contrary to popular belief, modeling is not an easy job. And that’s not because posing is particularly difficult – it does require some skill, but let’s not pretend it’s rocket science. It’s because of unrealistic expectations for models and the ugly nature of the industry itself. There’s more going on behind the scenes than people usually realize.
I was already underweight when I first signed with a modeling agency, but the 2010s were brutal when it came to beauty standards. We were still stuck in the era of “nothing tastes like the skinny feeling”. And I feel like we haven’t completely let it go yet.
The obligation for me to lose and maintain a certain amount of weight was even included in my contract (how legal that was, I’m not sure). And so, eventually, I lost more weight.
At the lowest I weighed about 100 pounds. I am 5’8″ tall.
But despite being underweight, I was still often rated as a “taller” girl during castings. I have often been told that my hips were too wide, my ass too big, my legs not skinny enough, etc.
Most of the girls who worked with me survived on an apple or two a day. During the photo shoots — which often lasted 12 to 14 hours — the alone the food provided to us was a small salad, a piece of fruit or, if we were lucky, a slice of pizza. Without toppings, of course.
Welcome to the dark side
Although I didn’t like going to castings and hearing how fat I was from complete strangers, it was an unavoidable part of the job. We had to deal with it.
I’ve been blessed with a steady stream of jobs throughout my modeling years, mostly as a commercial model – that means appearing in advertisements, product packaging, catalogs, and more. It was definitely a “safer” space than working in high fashion or lingerie, as many of my model friends did.
But the difficulty with the modeling industry is that it is neither fair nor predictable, even when you are already signed with one or more agencies. There is no guarantee that you will find gainful employment. For every Kate Moss or Karlie Kloss, there are thousands upon thousands of models trying to succeed and often failing miserably.
This is why there are role models who, at some point, turn to prostitution. It often starts naively, working as an escort or offering the “girlfriend experience”, but then it evolves into something more.
Some of my model friends who were sent under contract to Taiwan, China or Japan and faced countless rejections at castings decided to try another way to earn money. Which wasn’t difficult since they were already introduced to people working in the fashion industry who were more than willing to take advantage of the young, pretty girls.
This behavior was not encouraged by our agency, but neither was it condemned. It was a gray area.
If you wanted to make a lot of money but didn’t succeed in castings, you had to get “creative”.
Models are more than just hangers
In addition to unrealistic standards and shady practices, it was not uncommon for models to be groped, drugged or sexually assaulted at work. During some photoshoots, the models were even openly offered medication to take. I also had unpleasant encounters during my modeling years.
And I think a lot of that behavior stems from the perception that models aren’t “human.”
We are glorified hangers.
We are things to be undressed, touched, admired and eventually discarded when our beauty fades.
And sure, there’s a certain level of “prestige” that comes with being a model, but that doesn’t exactly mean people treat you better. If anything, I always felt men treated me worse when I was a model. They seemed to like the idea of me, not me as a person. I wasn’t even seen as a person – more like a fancy thing or accessory that you can brag about to your friends.
And don’t even get me started on the classic “models are stupid” stereotype.
Many models, like me, had other dreams and aspirations than being hangers. Many of us have put aside money earned while modeling to study abroad or were already studying while working (which I ended up doing).
No, I wouldn’t do it again
After I “retired” from modeling at the age of 23, I began to gain weight. And I was ultimately healthy. However, all these years when people told me I was fat when I wasn’t really marked me. When I look in the mirror, I’m usually not too happy with what I see. I remember all the negative comments I heard about different parts of my body or my face.
But it took me a while to realize that I regretted working as a model. Yes, it was a lot of money and it helped me to move and study abroad, which has always been my dream. Would I do it again? I do not think so. I’m sure I could have found a better way to make my dreams come true.
And there are a lot of things that I have come to feel about the modeling industry. How he preys on vulnerable, often underage girls who don’t know exactly what they’re getting into. How he turns a blind eye to all the shady things going on. How it encourages eating disorders and pushes mental health issues out of patterns.
I’m not sure the industry has changed much since I worked there.
It doesn’t look like it.
The one big difference between now and then is that it’s not just looks that matter, but also social media fame. Most major modeling agencies post an Instagram follower count alongside the model’s photos.
And it’s true that with the rise of the body positive movement, there are more and more plus size models. But that doesn’t mean that skeletal models are no longer in demand. Unfortunately, most mainstream brands and high fashion houses still value bones over women of all shapes and sizes.
I don’t think we talk enough about the toxicity of the fashion and modeling industry. And we should.
We use maidens for their beauty, often destroy them in the process, and cast them aside as the beauty wears off.
There are nothing agree on this.