Thanks to stars like Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid, and Karlie Kloss, the modeling industry looks as glamorous as ever. Jetting around the world, trying on beautiful clothes, and lounging poolside sounds like a pretty great job to us, but you only get to live that lifestyle once you make it to the top. For the models struggling to book a casting or pay rent, it’s a whole different story.
Read on to see what life is like for aspiring models. From pressures to pose nude to the corrupt fashion industry, this is the side of modeling that no one tells you about.
They Start As Young As 13
The young age of models has long been a controversial topic. In some countries, there is no age limit, while some require girls to at least be 15 or 16. In America, a modeling agency isn’t allowed to recruit anyone under 16, but younger girls can still freelance. The Department of Labor didn’t even start protecting child models until 2013.
Even now, you can model at any age as long as you have a working permit and get a mandatory break every four hours.
Required Plastic Surgery Isn’t Uncommon
While plastic surgery is usually the choice of the model in America, in other countries it has practically become a requirement. In particular, it’s almost impossible to be a celebrity or model in South Korea without getting double eyelid surgery. This plastic surgery gives South Korean women more Western-looking eyes.
In America, most models keep their nose jobs and tummy tucks secret. Many girls even get them done at a young age before they even enter the industry.
The Average Salary Is Lower Than You Think
First of all, most models don’t even get to a point in their career where they’re making an actual salary. Most live week to week on money from their agency, which requires them to eventually pay it back.
If a model does manage to climb out of debt from their agency and book gigs consistently, the average salary is only $48,000 a year. Of course, mega models can make much more than that, but they’re one in a million.
Many Live In Poverty
Don’t expect to move to Los Angeles or New York and live in a cute studio loft while you’re trying to make it in the modeling industry. Most models live in communal apartments owned by their agency. The apartments usually have four to six girls crammed into a one bedroom apartment.
On top of that, the agencies still charge you rent so it’s likely you don’t get most of your paycheck back.
Underage Models Are Encouraged To Push Their Boundaries
While you might think that exposed modeling would be the model’s decision and disallowed until she was of age, many are pressured into posing scandalously while still underage. One ex-model, Kylie Bisutti, admitted that she was so desperate to make it in the industry that she posed uncovered when she was only 16.
Some countries have cracked down on this, but others let it slide in the modeling industry.
Eating Disorders Are Way Too Common
It’s no surprise that the ultra-thin models of today suffer from high rates of eating disorders. People attribute this change in body shape to the ’90s when bone-thin models like Kate Moss replaced curvier, more athletic models like Cindy Crawford.
Body dysmorphia can add to this pressure. Many models have reported having completely skewed ideas of what they look like because they’re constantly told they’re “too fat” or “too curvy.”
The Cotton Ball Diet Is The Most Dangerous
Thanks to all these body issues, models have begun taking up the strangest—and scariest—diets. The scariest of all is the cotton ball diet that has a model only eating cotton balls instead of any food to feel full. Some will soak them in orange juice to trick their body into thinking it’s real food.
Other diets include drinking only liquids, using laxatives, and smoking cigarettes, all in an effort to look thin and curb their appetite.
Models Try To Get Rid Of “That Time Of The Month”
When you stop and think about all the things that happen to a woman’s body during “that time of the month” it makes sense why models have started trying to stop it entirely. Being bloated, breaking out with acne, and gaining a few pounds once a month just doesn’t work for many models in the industry.
Nowadays, you can use certain forms of birth control, but others use more harmful “natural” methods. Sometimes, these actions when they’re young can ruin a woman’s reproductive system for life.
Drugs Have A Long History In The Modeling Industry
The fashion industry has always been notorious for the partying lifestyle that goes hand-in-hand with drug abuse. One exposé done by Vice showed that many New York City drug dealers know they can make a fortune if they hang around certain areas during Fashion Week.
’80s model Gia Carangi was known for being a party girl. Her addiction to heroin ended up ruining her successful modeling career and she sadly died when she was only 26.
Often Times, The Drugs Are Free
If you’re wondering just how seedy the modeling industry is, behind the scenes drugs and alcohol are often provided for free by agents and at photoshoots to keep the girls “happy” and thin.
Former supermodel Janice Dickinson readily admitted that nearly every photoshoot she booked had plenty of drugs at the craft services table. For a new model trying to stay clean, showing up to your job and seeing drugs can make it easy to feel “left out.”
Social Media Can Be More Powerful Than An Agent
Today, companies aren’t just looking for the perfect body or the sharpest cheekbones. Many have turned to hiring models who also have a big social media following. If you can gain a couple hundred thousand followers on Instagram, brands want you and your influence even more.
It’s not uncommon for models to arrive at auditions and be grilled on their social media exposure. If you can’t sell to teenagers on Instagram, they don’t want you.
Side Gigs As Escorts Aren’t Uncommon
With so many models struggling to earn a living wage, it makes sense they turn to other lucrative jobs. Models will work as high-end escorts while traveling for work. This is especially common in France and overseas.
Chrissy Teigen exposed the secret dealings of model in an interview with Du Jour magazine. She said that some girls would slip away after a runway show and make as much as $30,000 a night.
The Bigger The Model, The Bigger The Diva
Those girls who have managed to break into the industry and achieve supermodel status often develop a pretty big attitude. These models know that big brands will pay them millions for a photograph so they can get away with a lot more than a new model.
Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell are both famous for their arrests and diva meltdowns on the runway. Even Gisele Bündchen has some diva behavior and refuses to be paid in anything but euros.
Abuse Is Sadly An Ongoing Issue
With all the other accounts of exploitation and pressure, sexual abuse is sadly an all-too-common occurrence in the modeling industry. Often this happens with people in powerful positions like photographers and casting agents. Young models feel that if they resist or report, they won’t stand a chance in the industry.
There have also been many reports of fake casting calls online that models will arrive at only to be attacked, abused, and sometimes even kidnapped.
More Than 70% Suffer From Depression
It’s a staggering fact, but more than 70% of models of all ages have suffered from depression at one point in their career. Everyone from an unknown, unsigned model to the most famous have reported feeling depresses.
Cara Delevingne made headlines for ending her modeling career after telling The Times that she “wanted the world to swallow me up, and nothing seemed better to me than death.” Luckily, Cara had the ability to leave the industry but many other girls do not.
Tastes Change Constantly In The Industry
Sometimes it doesn’t matter how hard a model works if they just don’t look trendy at the moment. Recent trends in the industry today have been hiring androgynous models with a “unique” appearance.
In the 1970s, models with tan skin, an athletic figure, and blonde hair were all the rage. In the 1980s, curvier models with assets were preferred. Then again, in the 1990s, the grunge “Heroin Chic” look became all the rage.
Most Careers Only Last A Few Years
The modeling industry is obsessed with always having a fresh, young face, so only a select few models have enough longevity to stay relevant for more than a few years. The average career is only three years. That’s why you’ll rarely see the same girls walking the runways for more than two or three seasons.
Of course, there have been a few notable supermodels who have had decade-long careers, but it’s not as common anymore.
There Isn’t Exactly An HR Department
Thanks to the changing standards country to country, and even state to state, a lot of modeling agencies can get away with unethical business practices. It’s common for models to just not get paid. Some won’t receive a paycheck for a photoshoot until months later once they’re already in debt to the agency.
The agencies don’t have a governing board, so unless the model feels comfortable asking for their earnings, most let it slide so they aren’t blacklisted.
The Diversity Problem Is Getting Better But It’s Got A Long Way To Go
It’s no secret that the modeling industry favors white women with Western features. Slowly, they’ve begun to change, but it’s been a long road. J. Beverly Johnson was the first black model to get a Vogue cover, but other black models like Iman, Tyra Banks, and Naomi Campbell still had to fight hard to get their spot.
There’s now even a modeling agency called Lorde that only employs non-white models in an effort to increase casting diversity.
Body Positivity Has Begun To Change The Industry
It’s only been in recent years that “plus-size” models have begun to gain more press and recognition. Some, like Ashley Graham, have even managed to establish themselves on the same runways and magazine covers as traditionally thin models.
Still, there’s been rumors of pushback within the industry. It’s rare to see the big designers embrace this new trend in body positivity. Many feel like the more average-sized women won’t sell their clothes.
Unsurprisingly The Girls Can Get Catty
In a competitive industry filled with women, it isn’t very shocking to hear that the girls tend to get catty and bully each other. Veteran models will often try to sabotage new up and coming models.
Even someone with a huge name like Kendall Jenner has opened up about the pranks girls would play on her to discourage her from entering the industry. Allegedly, some girls would tell Kendall someone important was looking for her in her dressing room right before she was supposed to walk the runway.
The “Ideal Measurements” Are Shocking
While different models and bodies are slowly breaking into the industry, there is still a scary and precise standard that most models have to hit. If you even want a chance in the industry, you have to be 5 feet, 9 inches or taller. Then you need a maximum 34-inch chest, 24-inch waist, and 34-inch hips.
For most women, that means having a BMI of less than 18% which is technically classified as anorexic.
They Expect You To Drop Everything At Any Time
Most models have a days per year commitment in their contract. For example, Victoria’s Secret Angels have to legally commit a minimum of 50 days each year to modeling for the brand. Those days aren’t set in advance though, so you have to be ready to drop your plans and get on a plane at any moment.
Models in the industry have reported having to leave in the middle of birthdays, graduations, and weddings in order to catch a taxi or plane to a photoshoot.
Models Are Technically Considered “Contractors”
The modeling agencies have found a simple but effective loophole for when they sign someone new. A model is classified as an “independent contractor” under the agency, which means the agency dictates what they do, but that technically, the model works for themselves.
That means since the model isn’t an “employee” the agency doesn’t have to pay them a minimum wage, give them breaks or benefits, and there’s no overseeing body.
Male Models Don’t Have It Much Easier
We can’t forget about the struggles male models also face. Not only are they taken less seriously, but the guys have significantly fewer opportunities. There is also a wider range of body types and trends that men have to adjust to. Some years the ultra-thin male body is trendy, other years it’s the tall and muscular one.
Thanks to this, most male models suffer the same body insecurities as women. Radical diets and working out close to three times a day is common for male models.
Men Actually Make Less Than Women In The Modeling Industry
In many other jobs, men are paid more than women, but modeling is the exact opposite. According to Payscale, that’s because men don’t sell the same huge brands that women do. Plus, women are more likely to spend money on clothes than the average man.
That means for male models the money is in ad campaigns for alcohol, cigarettes, and fragrance. Unfortunately, there are only so many ad campaigns like that to go around.
Get Used To Being Touched By Others
Being a model means taking a hands-off approach when it comes to hair, makeup, and the runway. Often times you’ll have to change in just a few seconds so other people will peel and place the outfits on you.
Sadly, that leaves a lot of room for assault. Many models report being touched inappropriately at photo shoots and runway shows while they’re undressing and redressing. For a long time, it was just an accepted part of the industry, but women are finally speaking out against it.
Even If You Get Cast, You’re Still Criticized
A model might think the worst is over once they land a gig but it’s almost the exact opposite. The modeling industry still uses photoshop to great extent. Most models have said looking at their published photos after can make them just as insecure as not landing the gig in the first place.
Also, they will use tricks on set to change your looks. One model, Rachel Woods, explained one time her ears were superglued back in the middle of a shoot. You have to have a thick skin throughout the entire process.
Be On Your Guard From More Than Paparazzi
High-end models have to worry about paparazzi, but any model now has to worry about the average Joe with a camera phone. Many models have to worry about having exposing photos taken of them at any time backstage.
There have even been incidents of people using hidden cameras to film and photograph models while they change backstage or at a photo shoot. As a result, models have to be constantly on guard and on their best behavior.
Waiting For Casting Can Take A Toll
Even just going to a casting call can be a terrible experience. There have been notable allegations of abuse. One story reported a casting call for Balenciaga that made more than 300 girls wait in a crowded staircase for hours.
Another horror story includes a model who lost feeling in her toes after being forced to wait in heels that were too small for her feet. Since the girls are at the casting call on their own, there’s no one to stand up for them.