Modeling on a runway or in photoshoots has always been viewed as the epitome of glamour and status. Today, in particular, the life of the model is envied by millions who closely follow super-famous it-girls like Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner, and Cara Delavigne on social media, craving their beauty, popularity, and expensive lifestyles.
While there is no doubt a select few models right at the top who are having the time of their lives, the sad reality behind the industry is that for most models, life is brutal. Contrary to what you might have believed, this is a career that is dangerous and morally compromising, often leaving its victims with emotional, psychological and physical scars. The price to pay in the modeling world is very steep, and in truth, the rewards aren’t always as magical as you thought they’d be. Read on to find out what really goes down in the dark depths of the modeling world.
15. Quiet On Set
Sadly, models recounting tales of abuse on set aren’t few and far between. Especially for those models who aren’t established in their careers yet and feel like they have to do what it takes to get their foot in the door, manipulation, lies, and attacks are very common. Photographer Terry Richardson has notoriously been accused of acting like a predator on set with models, only now starting to see some consequences for his actions.
One model stated that she would never work with Richardson again, not even if it was a “zillion dollar contract with security guards” and her own mother could watch over her on set. This was after he did a shoot with her in 2014, in which he asked her to get completely naked and pretend to perform an explicit act on one of Richardson’s naked friends. The photographer also reportedly told a model that if she didn’t want to sell her body for fame, she should “work at McDonald’s.”
14. Skinny Obsession
It’s common knowledge that the fashion and modeling industries have a total preoccupation with being unhealthily thin, but we didn’t realize just how strong the obsession was until we heard some confessions from industry insiders. There have been underweight models who were told that their size-zero frames were “too fat”, and others who regularly read pro-anorexia blogs in order to stay motivated to starve themselves.
Models have also told of the extreme measures they go to for lean figures, including eating cotton balls dipped in orange juice to feel full. Others rely on illegal substances to ward off hunger and have even been known to turn to vomiting and laxatives to help shed extra weight. When they lose weight and become thinner, they are often met with praise from photographers and agents, encouraging them to keep malnourishing their bodies instead of helping them break out of the cycle and get their health back.
13. Healthy Regime?
There have been countless magazine features where supermodels “reveal” all they eat in a day, and their diet usually appears to consist of fruit, grilled chicken, salad, and vegetables. Former-model Carre Otis has claimed that she used to give a similar sort of answer when asked about her diet and health regime, but it was all a lie.
“The heavily guarded truth was that I exercised a minimum of two hours a day, seven days a week,” she confessed. “… in reality, my big diet staple was four to six cups of black coffee per day, avoiding even a splash of skim milk since I was terrified of extra calories. And to stave off hunger, I went through a few packs of cigarettes daily.” Since Otis has admitted to lying to fans, is it really crazy to wonder if the models of today, who claim they eat burgers like every other girl, are lying as well?
12. Beyond the Law
In addition to the abuse that many models are exposed to on set, there are also the secret illegal activities that go on within the industry. Austrian-born model Jazz Egger claims that once she’d been spotted by agents in London, she was invited to a job where she would have to party on a yacht alongside young, handsome millionaires. Feeling off about the proposition, she declined, but was later invited to dine with a famous actor, and then to engage in “intimacy” with a rich Iranian man. When she declined, her agent explained to her, “That is how the fashion industry works…most models get to where they were through something like this.”
Chrissy Teigen has also opened up about how many of her old model friends used to make money on the side by doing this in places like the south of France, where they’d earn thousands of dollars a night.
11. Unnatural Highs
Models have been using illegal substances for decades, in some cases spending their hard-earned pay on them, and in other cases, tapping into the infinite sources available to them on set. Janice Dickinson admitted that at every job she had booked, there were free “party favors” available to her. And after a long day’s work, the managers and promoters would take her out partying.
Pat Cleveland, who was a successful model in the 1970s, revealed what she thinks draws so many models to this lifestyle. “People needed more energy. They wanted to work and they wanted to play and [this] gave people more energy… It depends on where you are, like in Europe, people drink wine but, over here [in the US], if you drank that much wine, you would be considered an alcoholic. [Drugs] were not considered bad at that time. It was considered chic.” Frequent use can often lead to addiction, which is a harsh reality for many models and former-models.
10. Turning Yellow
We often think of models as the epitome of beauty, but professionals like Otis have opened up about what they really look like behind all that airbrushing. For Otis, she wasn’t so much conventionally beautiful as she was yellow. “My teeth gradually yellowed from all the coffee, nicotine, and worn enamel caused by bile (from stomach acidity due to all the starvation and even vomiting). But thanks to the brightening whitening power of airbrushing, in every shot my fake smile revealed sparkling teeth,” she confessed. It wasn’t just her teeth that were straying from a healthy color, but also her nails, which served as another testament to the state of her health. “Without my on-set manicures and pedicures, you’d have seen that, just like my teeth, my nails were breaking and yellow.”
9. Serious Health Issues
There are obviously short-term health issues that arise from starvation and party-girl habits. Models have revealed that a lot of the time, they experience fatigue or stomach-related issues. However, those bad habits can also manifest into serious, and potentially life-threatening issues for the models, if they’re allowed to carry on for long enough.
Otis admitted that she saw the effects of her lifestyle firsthand when she was rushed to the hospital. “One morning, I was sent to the emergency room with heart palpitations and an irregular heartbeat—a culmination of twenty years of starvation. Turns out I’d created three holes in my heart and I needed an emergency ablation surgery. In your letter, you said you’d ‘die to look like [me]’. Well, that’s almost what I did. What did it feel like to look like that, you ask? It felt, quite literally, like heartbreak.”
8. Real Danger
When we think of dangers in the modeling world, our minds tend to go straight to predators like photographers and seedy agents, drug-related risks and health issues. But even if everything goes as planned, the actual work of a model can be physically dangerous and life-threatening. The photoshoots they’re booked for might be located in a comfortable studio, but they also might involve a flimsy harness and hanging off the edge of a building.
Kate Upton posed for Sports Illustrated in 2013. In the shoot, which took place in Antarctica, she wore a bikini. Later, she told the Today Show that she experienced frostbite after that, which she was lucky only came with a temporary loss of vision and hearing, and not anything more permanent. Model Sara Ziff is another example of horrendous working conditions for models—once when she posed for Air France, the UV flashbulbs were so strong that they burnt six layers of cells in her eyes.
7. Lacking in Glamour
To the public, a model is glamorous if nothing else. It’s easy to think that when you look at the Instagram pages of top models like the Hadids and Hailey Baldwin, but the truth is that model life is anything but glamorous unless you’re among the elite. Otis explained that she often flew coach to various locations, and then lost the job because she ended up being too red-eyed and bloated after the flight. She revealed that the hotels she stayed in weren’t five star, but questionable and cramped, and on set, she would have to release loads of energy that she didn’t have. “So leap like a fawn I did, even though I was really just a tired, homesick, hungry girl who wished she could go to the Eiffel Tower or enjoy a croissant at the cafe without calculating calories.”
Other models have disclosed what model accommodation organized by agents is really like. Many of them house up to twelve girls, who all sleep in bunks in the same room, and aren’t chaperoned when they’re underage.
6. The Surprising Pay
The supermodels of the world might be raking in that cash, but the majority definitely aren’t making enough to pay for those amazing clothes they wear. According to Otis, the pay was infrequent and definitely not life-changing. “Here’s the deal on my so-called “glamorous lifestyle”: I never owned a yacht. Or a house even. In fact, some months I couldn’t pay the rent on my apartment…”
Otis went on to say that in the beginning, she was worked like a slave for free. “In the earlier days, I’d often give my all on a shoot—20 hours with no break—but wouldn’t see a dime. If the client didn’t like my performance then, oh well, my agent didn’t hold the client responsible. I was told to suck it up and take it as a learning lesson.” Other models have claimed that at times they wait for up to three months for their pay. If they want it in advance, they have to pay interest rates on it.
5. The Façade
To model the world’s most stylish fashion for millions of people and get up on runways in front of thousands, sometimes barely in your underwear, it would probably take quite a bit of confidence. When we think of professional models, we picture people with Naomi Campbell-like self-assurance, who couldn’t care less what anybody thinks of them. But according to Otis, that’s all just a façade. Models are humans just like the rest of us, so they have regular insecurities. Unlike the rest of us, however, they have to cover theirs up.
“I just stared at the camera and pretended I was confident and happy,” she revealed. “But right beneath the surface, I was overwhelmed by opposite feelings: scared and very, very sad. I knew how to smolder for the camera but it was all a defense, a performance covering up the shame and insecurity…” Faking it is a huge part of the game, so don’t be so sure the next time you envy a model’s confidence that she isn’t battling demons below the surface.
4. The Ugly Side
So we know that models aren’t bionic super-humans who are immune to the opinions of others. And unfortunately, their career is virtually carved out by such opinions. We might look at photos of models and think they’re unbelievable, but on a daily basis they experience an inflow of criticism of how they look, some of it constructive, and some of it cruel.
“I don’t think there is any 15-year-old girl who will turn down the chance to be called beautiful,” said former-model Paulina Porizkova. “You don’t realize at that point that you’re [also] going to get called ugly. They [the editors] would open my portfolio and start discussing me. ‘Good nose, but what are we going to do about those teeth?’ ‘Don’t worry, don’t make her open her mouth’. ‘I don’t like the color of her hair!’” For every person who praises a model’s beauty, another fifty tear them down for the parts of themselves that they should be proud of.
3. “Luscious” Hair
There are quite a few things that people envy of models, including their bodies, their wardrobes, and their glamorous lifestyles. Since we’ve weighed in on the realities of all those things, it’s time to get real about the other asset that all models seem to have: really good hair. Whether they’re flying down the Victoria’s Secret runway or with a wind machine on the set of a shoot, their locks always look luscious and shiny. But like a lot of other things, Otis insists that a lot of the time, it’s just an illusion.
“…It was actually very dry and brittle from being teased and blown out every day at shoots where I’d pose for hours under blazing hot lights.” She admitted that the effects of her lifestyle didn’t exactly lend themselves to healthy hair. “Since I wasn’t eating enough I’d lose lots of my hair in my brush and in the shower. In fact, sometimes the hairstylists had to…give me wigs just to compensate for what wasn’t on my head.”
2. No Time for Beauty Sleep
Though the needs of each individual may vary, sleep is vital. Aside from just giving us a natural glow (that’s when we call it beauty sleep!), rest allows our bodies to heal and rejuvenate. Many models love to talk about how important beauty sleep is in their routines when lying their regimens bare on the table, but according to some models, that’s not true either. Not only do they not have time for beauty sleep, but they don’t have the time or the means for the minimum sleep they need to function properly.
“Due to the stimulants of nicotine and caffeine, and the gnawing hunger pains, I rarely slept,” said Otis. “Even when I tried to lie down I was jacked up and restless, barely able to shut my eyes. So I took pills to sleep. What a gnarly existence…I slept about an hour a night. But sometimes I was so tired from partying, jet lag and an utter lack of nutrition, that I’d stay asleep for 15 hours straight.”
1. The Pressures of Age
We could have guessed that age was a big deal in the modeling world. But because we see people like Naomi Campbell, Elle McPherson, and Heidi Klum, whose reigns never seem to lessen, we tend to forget that for most models, age is such a big deal that it ends your career. Former-model Beverly Johnson spoke about being conditioned to fear the natural process of aging, thanks to what she was exposed to at work.
“When I was modeling, the career lasted between three and five years. That was your entire career. And it was frightening,” she said. “Here I was, in fear, supposedly living this glamorous life [yet] I’m crippled with the idea of: ‘I’m growing old and where do I go next?’ The whole age thing in [the modeling] industry, it’s everything.”
Ex-model Isabella Rossellini also opened up about what happens when most models age, explaining that she stopped getting invited to A-list events and was made to feel like she didn’t “count” anymore.
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