“Society has no idea of the pressures models are under,” a MTF Reader Shares Her Story.
Charli Howard’s open letter to her agency has compelled many other models to come forward and share their stories, like this MTF reader. She has requested to stay anonymous, which I totally respect – I’m just thankful for her honesty and passion.
After Charli Howard’s recent open letter to her model agency regarding them dropping her for her being ‘fat’, I feel compelled to share my story as well. The problem is that society has no idea of the pressures models are under as well as the reality of their daily lives. The models themselves have got no idea of what is ‘normal’ and what is not, thinking it is ‘normal’ to be told to effectively starve themselves because that is all they have experienced. This is definitely not normal and definitely not okay.
When I started modelling in London, as a naïve 18 year old, I was scouted on the street and the agency told me I needed to lose a few inches off my hips (AKA the widest part of your bum) before they could take me on. As I had just started at University, losing weight was the last thing on my mind so I politely declined their offer and went on with my life. Then I received a few phone calls asking me to reconsider and telling me that they actually meant a few ‘centimetres’ and it would be really easy to do, taking me no time. I reluctantly agreed because I felt bad – noting this wasn’t even something I wanted to do at that point, I had literally been picked up off the street and told to lose weight by a group of strangers who were promising me great things.
From that point on, I received daily messages and phone calls from the agency asking me how my ‘toning up’ was going. I had to travel an hour each way in to the office at least once a week to be measured in front of eight people who patronised me with ‘healthy’ weight loss tips such as not eating carbohydrates and running. Obviously I knew how to lose weight, but with the added pressures of university, constant harassment and the very short time in which I had been given this was very difficult and led to me not eating for days at a time in order to be a centimetre less. I was completely terrified of the agency and would burst in to tears every time I left the office.
Picture taken from here
Why would anyone put themselves through that? As people have responded to Charli, why be a model at all? I mainly did it at the time because I felt guilty and now as I can see, manipulated. The main problem that we are facing as a society isn’t that models are being told to lose weight – as others have rightly commented, it is our job to look good and we are in essence similar to athletes. The problem is agencies like this manipulating girls and women to the degree that they feel worthless because they are not the ‘correct’ size. The larger problem is that society demands this of models as a state of ‘ideals’ and ‘fantasy perfection’.
You might think that the above doesn’t sound much like manipulation. In addition to the constant measuring, I was also made to dye my hair a different colour (which I had to pay for, costing roughly £400 and which I completely hated), be taken clothes shopping (also at my expense) and pay for a personal trainer. An agency representative came with me to all of the above to ensure it was exactly what they wanted. The nutritionist the agency’s other girls were seeing, I could see when I had ‘earned a bit of money’ – seeing as I effectively earned £0 over this period of four months. I was sent to do ‘test shoots’ – completely unpaid shoots – every week which conflicted with my university schedules often in random men’s flats where I felt unsafe because they were ‘really important for my career’. The pictures were hardly ever used. I was bizarrely told to ‘air kiss everyone in the agency’ when I came in for my ‘quick chats’ – meaning to be measured. Essentially I was being moulded into a completely different person. When I finally lost the weight they supposedly wanted me to lose after four months of unhealthy crash dieting and going to the gym every day I was then told ‘now you just need to lose another two centimetres and you can be on our main board’.
That was the point when luckily, I was hit with the realisation that they did not care about me in the slightest and I was doing something that made me utterly miserable for no reason at all. I wrongly believed that no other agency would take me because of my ‘weight problem’ – at size 8 and 5’11 tall – but luckily was in university and had a degree to fall back on (which I had completely messed up that first year). Other girls do not have these opportunities because as I have heard from many models, the agencies pressure them to drop out of school before or during their A levels (with the promise of lucrative work) and then place this manipulating pressure on them. These girls have got no other career options at all and are in a much more vulnerable position.
Models are paid to look good – which means that we should take care of ourselves. What shouldn’t happen is what happened to Charli Howard and so many others – agencies not getting the girls work because of their own failings and then blaming this on the girls themselves, usually in the form of weight. It reduces your self-worth to a number on a measuring tape and in most cases, the models are unable to get to the ‘ideal’ measurements because as Charli so eloquently put it, they cannot ‘miraculously shave down their hip bones’.
I joined a new agency a year later and the difference was astronomical. They never told me to lose weight of their own accord, and supported me through my studies and general life. The only time they ever told me to lose weight was when a major UK retailer requested it. This retailer pays an incredible amount of money for their jobs, so I was able to lose the weight healthily and easily in a month because I was motivated for an actual cause. I wasn’t being pressured and manipulated pointlessly; I was doing it because I wanted to work for this client and was happy to look how they wanted me to look. My agency at the time supported me through that and never once pressured me in to doing it quickly or unhealthily.
This isn’t a new occurrence. The reason that stories such as Charli’s haven’t been publicised much before is that getting paid as a model is hard enough, with most agencies imposing a three month waiting period before you can be paid, as is getting work as a model generally. You are competing against a worldwide market, and if you upset the wrong people in this industry, you are just one of thousands who can be easily quietened with financial or legal pressure.
If you speak to any UK model, they will most likely tell you that they have experienced agencies telling them to lose weight. Then again, if you speak to any girl in the UK they will probably tell you that they have insecurities about their bodies too. The larger issue we have here is that society generally places thinness as something to be desired – just look at the front cover of any magazine. The good news is that it is changing; with girls like Gigi Hadid we are seeing finally a more representative and realistic body shape to aspire to, one which is actually healthy and toned rather than fragile, weak and unattainable. Also, with social media and the fact that Charli Howard was able to make headline news with her Facebook post, it shows that something good is changing in society.
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