Though most people would never guess it nowadays, I used to be a freelance model when I was in my early twenties. When I tell people what I used to do, I almost always get one of three reactions.
Either they begin asking me how I got in it and start talking about how they "always wanted to be a model," or they try to hit on me, or they don't believe me and cast me aside with an eye-roll.
I can't blame them, really; I've gained about 60 pounds from my modeling days and have become way more well-known for being a writer than a looker.
To a point, I do miss looking the way I used to, but I'm not sure I actually miss what life used to be like for me. This is what it's like to be a former model looking back at their old career.
Sometimes, you will look back at those photos with pride.
I'm not going to lie; I do love looking at photos of myself in my modeling days because I looked so damned good at the time. I don't regret it doing it, and to a point, it's nice to know that those photos will be around as a reminder of what I once looked like - even when I'm 70 years old.
Of course, for me, there's an additional reason I get proud looking at those pictures. Modeling was something I did as a way to prove people who called me ugly wrong, and it was something I did despite my parents disagreeing with it to the point of blowout arguments.
For me, seeing those old photos makes me realize that I can prove people wrong and be whatever I want to be, even if it's something controversial. Maybe it's the fact that I can also say with honesty that I'm a former model, but those photos do elicit some kind of pride in me.
When I modeled, I wasn't discovered by an agent.
Truth be told, most models don't just have people pick them out from a crowd. Movies you see about that are totally wrong. When I first started out, I was referred by friends who were freelance models to sites like OneModelPlace - and I began to just ask photographers to shoot me for free.
In the industry, this is called Time For Portfolio, or TFP for short. When I first started out, I was a size 6 and was a full-time student at my college. So, it wasn't like I was getting paid. I was just getting my things together.
After enough practice, I started to get paid.
There was a lot of investment that I had to do.
Reading up, I realized that getting photographs of myself shouldn't take thousands of dollars - and if people were asking me to pay, they were only looking to make a buck off of me. I'd also asked other former model managers what to watch out for, and they warned me against doing things like Glamour Shots or those "child talent scouting" agencies in malls.
However, this doesn't mean that there wasn't investing involved. I did invest time. Usually, the investments I made were in the form of time.
Most of the investment came in reading up on what I should do, and reading up on the photographers I worked with. As a freelance model, safety is not guaranteed, and most photographers refuse to work with models who require chaperones.
I can't fault photographers for banning chaperones considering how bad some chaperones can be. Moreover, I also felt that refusing to work with photographers who barred chaperones would put me at a disadvantage. So, I would always have to do some background research to ensure the guy I was going to a shoot with wasn't going to put me in a body bag.
Other investments involved going on shoots that were done without pay, going to networking events, spending hours on every single forum looking for shoots, and also spending hours of every week dieting and exercising at the gym.
Of course, I also had to update my wardrobe and makeup very regularly. It was kind of hard to keep up with at times, but I enjoyed shopping. It's a perk of the job, right?
As a former model, I do miss being able to explain away major tabs on clothing like that. It's harder to excuse away your shopping these days.
Safety is not guaranteed as a freelance model.
Safety was definitely a concern, and the problem with freelancing is that you can easily end up in the hands of predators. Though I did ask for references and did background checks, there were a couple of instances where I was assaulted or almost assaulted on set.
What people don't realize is how much pressure models face to agree to shoots they don't want to do - especially nude ones. I've had photographers insinuate that I was a "whore" for wanting to be paid for shoots and also had photographers who wouldn't stop badgering me until I left the shoot.
Though we don't have to say yes, the pressure definitely makes you think otherwise at times - and yes, it makes you develop a very thick skin. But, one thing I've learned is that word does get out about model mistreatment in the community sooner or later.
It's a weird world; not much is real in it. You're expected to be flirty and jobs can hinge on it. People who claim to be friends aren't, and the entire industry makes a point of saying that models are replaceable. You learn to put on a "character" and work that character to get jobs. You, as a person, are expected to be someone you're not.
Your patience gets tested every day. You may have to pay bills by posing for photographers who aren't even professionals at photography workshops, you will get criticized on every little flaw, and you're expected to maintain your cool throughout every insane hurdle you face. The money isn't even that good most of the time.
Despite it all, you'll never see a shortage of women who want to be in your situation.
With some photographers that mistreated me, word got out and they were banned from sites they used to procure models on grounds of being predatorial. It ends up I wasn't the only one they did that to; another former model had come out to speak out against them, too.
Karma is a very real thing, and I only wish I was more vocal about some of the people who were outed.
Eventually, I did get management opportunities, and I took them. Those folks turned into coaches and friends, and I ended up acting as a booker for them in certain situations as well. Oddly enough, most of the gigs I got were through my own work.
The pressure to be thin is also very real.
At the height of my modeling career, I was a size 00 - and both my managers and photographers were still telling me to lose weight. Skeletal as I was, I was still considered to be "curvy," and my managers just shrugged and said, "Well, you look healthy."
By the time I was a 00, I was 115 pounds and pretty darn tall. The only problems holding me back were my facial structure, my height, and unhealthy, vitamin-deprived pallid skin.
It was an uphill battle, and I was never quite perfect enough to break to the next level of modeling. There's absolutely no way to win there, and that's actually why I stopped modeling. When I realized that it was a game I couldn't win, the transition from "model" to "former model" quickly became way more appealing.
No, I don't miss modeling.
I do miss the way I used to look, though, but I'm losing the weight I gained during my illness. So, it's only a matter of time until I look like that again. Looks aren't my main focus, though.
Even though I dealt with a lot of crap during my time as a model, I am not regretful of my time modeling. It helped me turn into a tougher person and helped me realize that looks aren't everything - and that you can't please everyone.