This made me typical of
millions of teenage girls before and since. Especially the part where
it was never going to happen. Ever. There were several reasons for
this. One? Not tall enough. Two? Not thin enough. Three? Not pretty
Those irreversible handicaps didn’t kill my dreams, though. More fool
me. There was a girl at my school called Sarah Nursey* who was on the
cover of Dolly every couple of months and I was in awe. How could life
get any better than that, I wondered. Fame, fortune and unspeakable
When a friend did a deportment course at Chadwicks model agency, I
eagerly went to see her graduation parade. I knew this could be my
chance to be discovered so I took extra special care with my make-up,
outfit and hair. It was the eighties and I was sixteen so you can guess
how well I accomplished this.
Nevertheless, a scout did ask me to come into the agency for a chat. “Bring some snapshots” she said. The chat lasted about 30 seconds. “You have some potential but your height is a problem” she told me after flicking a practiced, dismissive eye over me and my crappy photos. “Maybe try an agency that specialises in commercials instead of modelling.” Brushed off like dandruff on a black jacket.
It wasn’t until I finished school that I found myself signing up with a midget model agency. Well, not technically for midgets but for short models. The premise was patently ridiculous because no fashion editor has ever declared, “You know what type of girl I want for this denim shoot? A short one!”
Not knowing this, I forked out cash for some ‘professional’ photos which were ghastly and involved a fedora and a swimsuit – worn at the same time. Then I went to a handful of castings and never got a single modelling job.
A few years later, the tables turned and I was the one holding the castings and booking models for magazine shoots. At first, I felt intimidated by these beautiful girls but it quickly turned to sympathy because even staggering beauty couldn’t protect them from inevitable rejection.
Instead of jealousy, I soon felt grateful that my salary wasn’t indexed to my thighs and cheekbones. I felt relief that my professional worth didn’t depreciate with every passing year and every emerging wrinkle.
Did you tune in to the debate about Australia’s Next Top Model? Not the one about the host, the one about the winner, a pretty 16-year-old called Demelza who was branded a bitch and a bully by the judges, viewers, media and her fellow contestants.
In the final, one judge even used this as a reason not to vote for her. When she won anyway, chat rooms and media coverage exploded with outrage that such bad behaviour could be rewarded.
I watched and listened to the fuss with my jaw on the floor. Because here’s the thing. It’s A MODEL CONTEST. Not Australian of the Year. Not the Nobel Peace Prize. Let me throw two names at you: Kate Moss & Naomi Campbell. Bad behaviour has not impinged one iota on their careers because the camera and the catwalk don’t give a rat’s ass about what a model does, just how she looks.
The rules of modelling are mind-numbingly simple: the most gorgeous girl gets the gig. Not the nicest. Or the smartest. Or the most sober. It’s purely about tall, thin and ‘gorgeous’ – the definition of which is randomly decided by a bunch of industry professionals who have been pushing the same limited idea of ‘gorgeous’ onto catwalks and magazines for decades. That’s their job.
There’s no occupation on the planet where success is measured in a more superficial way than modelling. Even Miss Universe has to speak. Even Big Brother contestants are judged by what comes out of their mouths. But models? It’s 100% how you look.
And for 99.9% of models, 99.9% of the time, you look wrong. So wrong as to be unemployable. You know this because you spend your days schlepping yourself to castings where you show your photos to strangers who look you up and down and ask you to try on a swimsuit so they can inspect you in more detail. Then they say, “thanks, goodbye” and you hear from your agent that you didn’t get the job. You’ll never know what they said about you when you left the room but you’ll always wonder and you’ll always feel inadequate and insecure.
Even if you do get the job, a magazine will pay you less than $300 a day and that’s before your agency takes their commission. Fun for the bank account and the self-esteem! A terrific life for girls to aspire to1
Unusually, last year’s winner of Top Model has carved a successful career – the first in any season of the show anywhere in the world. The winner before her? Disappeared without a trace. One of her prizes was to star as the ‘face of Napoleon Perdis cosmetics”. The only part of her visible in the campaign I saw was her legs. I wonder how she felt about that?
No matter. Modelling is a disposable industry and there are thousands of other young hopeful girls queuing up for the opportunity to have their dreams and self-esteem smashed into smithereens.
What a relief there’s a new TV model contest – Make Me A Supermodel – underway to gobble up their confidence and feed the myth that modelling is glamorous and lucrative.
*One of the best-known Australian models of the eighties, Sarah stopped modelling before she left school. The last I heard, she was a police officer. Smart girl.