The Measure of a Model – From Tyra to Tokyo

In ART & FASHION, Commentary, HOME by Sam Prance

I was first scouted at age 15, on Oxford Street with my mum. It’s a fairly common place for scouts to find models. My idea of what it would be like to be a model then was different to the reality. I grew up in Portsmouth which is hardly a fashion hub. My whole outlook on modelling then derived from what I had seen in magazines or from watching reality TV shows such as America’s Next Top Model. ‘Two beautiful ladies stand before me, but I only have two photos in my hands’, smile with your eyes etc. etc. In short, it all seemed very glamourous.

However – to my naïve/ignorant surprise – I wasn’t immediately jetted off to Paris or Milan. To begin with I was sent all around London, attending go-sees at photographer’s flats in the likes of Whitechapel and Hackney.  Not exactly what I’d imagined. In fact when I began, six years ago now, my mum chaperoned me everywhere. She was rather dubious about it all – sending her baby off to work in a very adult environment. Similarly to most teenagers, I would have preferred to do everything without my mum but looking back now it was great for her to come with me. 

01As a young model you have to become very independent early on. I started a couple of years before I owned a smart phone, so I would have to print off my list of castings for the day and find all these places using a London A-Z. It was all a bit daunting. Then once I arrived at castings, if and when I found them, I’d stand in line to be seen by the client, surrounded by other models all going for the same job. Again, very daunting for a 15 year old. As a model, you begin to face rejection daily from a very young age and at first it can have a huge knock on your confidence. I remember one of the first castings I went to for a major label – the client looked me up and down and simply said ‘no’. You quickly learn to grow a thick skin.

Once you’ve booked a job, however, all the rejection seems worthwhile. The pay alone is far greater than that of other teenagers and, with some exceptions, you are treated very well. It’s also an amazing experience to see your face on the front of a magazine or in a shop window.

Pictures2Amidst all the rejection and excitement though, there is a darker side to the profession. Due to many models being extremely young and impressionable, the industry can swallow you up quickly. Many girls and boys alike who model refer to themselves simply by their profession. It’s almost as though being a model can take priority over being a child or a young adult for some. And, as it is an industry based primarily on looks, you experience a lot of vanity. When entering a promoter club, for example, which offers models free entry, drinks etc. – there is a huge air of superiority. Being told over and over again how attractive you are can give your ego a boost in a very ugly way.

After completing a BTEC at college, I began to model full time for three years straight. The first year of this was very lonely and boring. I would travel to London by myself on a near daily basis and due to both shyness and intimidation, spend the whole day hardly speaking to anyone other than answering clients questions. It wasn’t until I began travelling that I began to actually properly enjoy it. I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited around 15 different countries due to my job.

Pictures4I recently got sent to Japan, where I spent 3 months working in Tokyo. I absolutely loved living in Tokyo, however, it was interesting to see that the Japanese modelling industry is very different to that in England. You are made to work more or less as soon as you step off the plane.

On my first day in Tokyo, I arrived at the airport at around 8am incredibly jet lagged and tired after 14 hours of travelling and was in castings by 1pm. In the interim, I was driven to my agency where I was met/approved by the model bookers, handed my portfolio and driven to my apartment to have a quick shower and drop off my suitcase before catching one of the agency cars to begin work.

Inside the car were several other models who had been flown in from various countries, mainly Eastern Europe. There were some models inside the car who were as young as 13. This was a few of the girl’s first trips away from family and they were here, no chaperones, just working. We then began to be driven to various clients around Tokyo where we were presented to them by a translator. It’s a very odd experience knowing people talk about you without a clue as to what they are saying. On this day we didn’t finish castings until 1am.

Pictures5Most of the days within the first week in Tokyo would be like this. Beginning at mid-day and finally being dropped home after midnight. Fortunately within the second week the other girls and I were booked on photo shoots which we’d gone to castings for and the work for the most part was really enjoyable. They tend to treat you very nicely on jobs in Japan. No matter how pressed for time they seem to be, they always make sure you are fed properly and even, oddly, given a face massage.

A negative factor about the Japanese market, however, is how obsessed with measurements they are. Typically your agency will measure you weekly to make sure you haven’t gained or lost a cm and are exactly as they believe you should be. There is a documentary called Girl Model which I feel very accurately depicts the Japanese modelling industry and its flaws.

In spite of this though, I’m very grateful for everything modelling has allowed me to do and see and for the friends I have met along the way. It is a tough industry but a rewarding one too and although, I have now decided to go back to education, I still model part time and I still enjoy it. It’s a very fascinating thing for young people to do. Although, having experienced it firsthand, I’d advise aspiring models to treat modelling as a job, not an entirety.

Consume the industry. Don’t let the industry consume you.

Anna Tatton

Anna Tatton is currently studying Journalism at the London College of Communication, while also working part time as a model. Her main passions in life include reading, climbing trees, espressos and sushi.

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