When I was fifteen, I started modelling. I was so sure I wanted to do it. Now, as I’m twenty-one and studying, I’m not so sure it was the right career for teenage-me to pursue.
The reality of being a working model, the kind that you don’t see on Instagram, is far from the dream job social media makes it out to be.
I should probably note that I’m not going to describe my personal style in three words, or name my favourite labels or brunch spots. I’m going to share my experiences of modelling in Milan and how it really felt to be an ‘international model’.
When I try to explain what living in a model house is like I usually tell people to picture Australia’s Next Top Model without the money. I slept in a bunk bed and shared a room with three other girls. There were usually about eight girls living in our house, which was on the outskirts of town.
I spent most of the day underground, riding the metro to get to castings. On a normal day I would go to anywhere between two and eight castings, sometimes waiting around for hours in queues of hundreds of models before meeting the clients.
Don’t get me wrong; I do have some very fond memories of the friends I made over there. I made friends with people from all around the world. We would wander the cobblestone streets, sinking café americanos by day and innumerable glasses of (cheap) Italian wine by night. But for me, the perks of travelling did not outweigh the stress of living the life of a model.
Cara Delevingne recently spoke about her experiences working as a model before she was famous at the Women In The World Summit.
'It’s not nice. You are constantly told that you are not pretty enough and not skinny enough and not tall enough.'
When you hear that four, five, six times a day a strange thing happens: you start telling yourself that too. I never even came close to the kind of success Cara Delevingne achieved but I can identify with the way she felt.
When I was modelling full-time I found myself trolling Instagram, comparing myself to every girl in every image.
Sometimes I would look at my own highly produced and edited photos and think 'I wish I looked like her.'
It is strange to have your face manipulated to look different from how it usually does. Especially when you’ve been hired on the basis of your appearance in the first place.
On my composite card, the card that you give to prospective clients, the shape of my nose, ears and lips are all edited. My skin is photoshopped to look darker, my hairline smoother. I could go on. And this was the card I was giving to clients to show what I looked like. The confusion was real.
Social media also added to the confusion: all these happy hot girls on Instagram with big smiles and white teeth, wearing new clothes and staying in exotic locations. Apparently, I was doing it all wrong.
How come I was sleeping in a bunk bed in an overcrowded share house in the back blocks of Milan?
One of my roommates was a Russian girl with thousands of followers on Instagram. She was straight-up beautiful and could take a mean selfie. But that’s pretty much all she did.
One day she came into our room wearing gym gear and asked me to take a photo of her doing a yoga pose. I did, and she got back into her pyjamas and sat on the couch playing on her iPad for the rest of the day. I lived with that girl for three months and never once did I see her speak to family or friends.
Inside and outside the model house, reality wasn’t matching up with how it looked on Instagram.
I was bored, living away from my family and friends and constantly stressing about how much I was eating and how much exercise I did. I think that behind the grid of perfectly lit, filtered and edited photographs, this is how a lot of models feel: insecure.
Cameron Russell gave a Ted Talk in 2013 about her experiences as a model.
'Models are some of the most insecure people you will ever meet.'
She included herself in that statement: 'I’m insecure because I have to think about what I look like everyday.'
As a society, we’re always so shocked that people who fit our socially-constructed ideals of beauty are unhappy with how they look. But really, why wouldn’t they be?
Cara Delevingne, the queen of social media, the girl who started the fashion industry’s obsession with Instagram, quit modelling this year. She cited body image and mental health issues as the main reasons for her decision.
'I was, like, fight and flight for months. Just constantly on edge. It is a mental thing as well because if you hate yourself and your body and the way you look it just gets worse and worse.'
So why does it matter? Why should anyone care about my experience or anyone else’s?
It matters because adolescent girls aspire to look and live like the models they follow on Instagram. I know I did when I was fifteen. Young girls spend an alarming amount of time soaking in all of these images, aspiring to have the perfect body and the perfect life.
But what you see on Instagram isn’t like the reality I, or anyone I know, experienced. The odds of becoming a successful model are incredibly low and the pressure to look and be perfect can have damaging effects on a person’s mental health and confidence.
I look exactly the same as I did when I was modelling overseas but I feel very differently about myself. Now that I have other things to focus on, like uni and work and friends, I don’t equate how I look with what I am worth.
When I go to a photo shoot now, it kind of feels like I’m playing a role for a day and then I go back to being me. When I go to the odd casting here and there, I’m in and I’m out. If a client makes a comment about the way I look, it won’t send me into a spiral of feeling like I’m not good enough; it just means my image is not what they want to use to sell their product.
I don’t think my experience modelling overseas was particularly unique; I think that people rarely talk about what it can actually be like. But it’s important for aspiring models to know what they’re getting into before they choose that life, and for people in general to know that it’s often not really as Instagram would have you believe.