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Month: February 2010

“Could I Be a Model?”

Over the past couple of weeks, guest blogger and Enlighten Education presenter Nikki Davis has shared thought-provoking insights into the world of modelling. For young girls, the decision about whether to try to model needs to be made jointly with her parents, and I hope that Nikki’s posts will help you talk with your daughter if the topic comes up. 

I have to admit that when a young girl tells me she wants to be a model, it triggers all sorts of concerns for me. I am sure I’m not alone and that similar questions spring up for you: Will someone try to ply her with alcohol or drugs? What if she gets rejected by all the modelling agencies? And a question that resonates strongly here at Enlighten Education: What if she is asked to pose in a raunchy, adult way?

There is ample evidence that children are being sexualised at too young an age by exposure to a relentless barrage of hypersexual images in the media, advertising and popular culture. We can only guess at the damage it does to the young models who are actually posing for those images.  People were rightly outraged by the sexy makeup, clothes and poses that Australian model Morgan Featherstone was put in for a photo shoot . . . at the age of 8. She and her mother appeared on this 60 Minutes story on which I and other experts spoke about why it is so wrong to portray girls as sexy women.
womens-forum

Click on the image above or here to go to the URL to view Little Women

Let’s say your young daughter is one of the handful of hopefuls who get signed up by a modelling agency. There is every chance that she may be asked to pose in a way that is too adult or too sexy for her age, and you will need to agree on how to respond to situations like that. I urge all parents of young models to teach their daughter to ask questions before she goes on a job, about what she’ll be wearing and the image she’ll be portraying. Until she has developed those skills herself, go along with her and do the asking. If a modelling agency makes you feel prudish or “difficult” for wanting to be informed about how your daughter will be portrayed, then maybe they’re not the right agency for your daughter. 

Until at least the age of 16 girls need a trustworthy chaperone. The ideal situation is that the chaperone, usually a parent or another trusted guardian, sits quietly in the background — but quickly steps in if a girl is asked to do something that is not age appropriate or she feels uncomfortable about. As shoots can run for 12 hours, the chaperone issue needs to be considered when your daughter says she wants to be a model. Chaperones are especially important for the small percentage of models who break into the high-fashion stratosphere, where champagne and pills may be on offer. In recent years there have been some pretty depressing stories about young, inadequately chaperoned models going off the rails.

Given how highly competitive the industry is, I guess it’s no wonder that there are scammers out there who capitalise on girls’ intense desire to break into modelling, plus their lack of knowledge about how to actually go about it. If an agency flatters your daughter and tells her they want to represent her, and then they ask for a fee — that is not a legitimate modelling agency. If a photographer says your daughter must have an expensive portfolio of shots before approaching an agency, they are not legitimate. Same goes for modelling schools that make overblown guarantees of a career at the end of their course.

The big reputable modelling agencies do not require girls to have gone to modelling school. Nor do they require them to have a portfolio already. On their websites, they give clear instructions on how to begin the process — usually by sending in a few snapshots, her age and measurements. If a legitimate agency is interested in signing up a girl, then they will give a range of options for photographers who can put together a portfolio. If you’re suspicious about a company, contact your local Consumer Affairs or Fair Trading department.

Young models have the potential to earn far more than their peers — who might, as I did, work at McDonald’s. Too much money too young can be a toxic recipe, so it’s vital for parents to keep a judicious grip on the financial reins. If you find yourself needing to help your daughter manage a substantial income, a starting point for financial advice is the Australian government’s financial literacy website. In New Zealand, there is the excellent independent financial advice website Sorted. Sound financial management (and getting a good education!) is vital for young models because, as noted in the Australian government’s job guide, a model usually retires at the ripe old age of 25. 

For me, the most difficult issue is knowing what to say when a girl of 13 or 14 looks at me and asks, “Do you think I could be a model?”  It’s insane to try to answer the question factually. There are only a couple of requirements you can be certain of at the big modelling agencies: that she needs to be at least 173 cm tall and a size 8 to 10. Beyond that, ideas about what makes a girl attractive are subjective, and what the fashion industry finds attractive can be mystifying to us ordinary folk. Really, the only person who can answer the question is someone at a modelling agency.

What it is important for us to try to answer is the real question that lies beneath it. “Do you think I could be a model?” is not just a question about career choices. It’s also shorthand for “Do you think I’m beautiful? Do you think I’m special?” And the answer to that should be easy. All girls are beautiful. And special.

Be honest. Tell her that you are not in a position to know whether she could be a model. But that most importantly, modelling is not the only — or even the best — way to feel beautiful and special. Praise all of her achievements and wonderful qualities, not just her appearance. Talk about all the talents and skills she has if modelling turns out to not be the right thing for her.

And make sure she knows that no matter what she chooses to be when she grows up, you’ll be there to support her all the way.

Model Obsession — Part 2: Career reality check

Last week Enlighten Education presenter Nikki Davis shared stories from her time as a young model dealing with the body-image pressures of the fashion world. This week, to help inform the many girls who want to be models, and their families, Nikki gives us an insider’s look at the positives, the negatives and some of the practicalities of life as a model.

Girls who love clothes and makeup will enjoy many aspects of modelling, such as wearing new fashions before their friends do, having expert makeup artists working on them using top-of-the-range products, getting invited to launch parties, and receiving free products and goodie bags. When girls think about the positives of being a model they immediately think of these perks, plus all the attention. But there are also long-term and substantial benefits a girl can get from modelling if she handles it well.

Modelling is a chance to meet and learn from a wide range of different people. I have worked with artists in their own right such as fashion designers Alannah Hill and Akira Isagowa, choreographers Jason Coleman (from “So You Think You Can Dance”) and John “Cha Cha” O’Connell (who worked on “Moulin Rouge”), and many brilliantly talented photographers and hair and makeup artists. Some of these contacts have led me toward other opportunities such as acting, writing for dance publications and mentoring young performers. Modelling also brings some girls the opportunity to travel overseas, and that can be great learning experience.

A model has to develop good interpersonal skills. She needs to be able to walk into a room full of strangers, put her card or portfolio down, confidently say “Hi” and present herself. A lot of clients only want to work with girls who are nice, bubbly and easy to be with on a long shoot. My agent says to me: “Sometimes, Nikki, I think you get booked because they know they can stand to spend 12 hours with you!”

Being a model has helped me gain confidence and become the presenter I am today with Enlighten — and I am more passionate about this job than anything else I have ever done before. Modelling has been part of my journey, for it has taught me exceptional presentation skills. I might go to a casting for something like a yogurt commercial and not have any actual props to hold. They just turn the camera on, and I’ve got to pretend to get out of my car, open the boot, get the dog out, walk the dog, then eat a pretend yogurt. And I’m just making an absolute fool of myself! Then I walk out and think, “Okay, if I can do that, then I can stand up in front of 90 girls at an Enlighten workshop and put myself out there!”
Fourth from left - modelling "Mother of the Bride" outfits at 29! Noqw that i am 30, I am usually ionly considered for shoots as a mother  M
The fashion industry is obsessed with youth: me, second from right, modelling "Mother of the Bride" outfits at just 29!

Modelling can also be an inroad to related careers such as acting, television presenting, or working as an agent, booker, makeup artist or photographer. The key is for a model to always be planning for the future, even at the height of her career. The fashion industry is obsessed with youth, so models as they head towards 30 start to get panicky if they haven’t trained for any other role and perhaps left school at 15 or 16. As a girl, my primary focus was always to finish school and go to university.  

A lot has been said about the photoshopping trend in magazines and advertising. I once got a total shock when I saw a magazine picture and didn’t even recognise myself. When Sarah Murdoch appeared on the cover of Women’s Weekly free of airbrushing, she said, “I think when I’m retouched in photographs it’s worse, because when people see me in real life they go, ‘Oh God! Isn’t she old!'” But the fact is: once a model is past a certain age, clients don’t bother to hire and then retouch her unless she has a big name. Indeed, only the big names such as Sarah Murdoch ever have much chance of getting the high-paying, glamorous jobs. 

For the vast majority, modelling won’t pay the rent on its own. The hard reality in Australia is that only the top 5% of models are doing the amazing jobs — the fashion magazine editorials, the sides of buses, Australian Fashion Week. The rest are doing the type of jobs that I have mostly done — the mall and department store catwalk shows, catalogues, That’s Life magazine. The pay for those jobs is not all that high, and there is rarely enough work available for girls to model full-time. All the more reason why they need to acquire additional skills.

The financial pressure is heightened by the fact that as a model you are expected to be ready for castings on short notice, and that means spending big dollars (and hours) on being manicured, pedicured, fake tanned, fashionably dressed, and having good hair and teeth — all the time. 
 
Another thing girls should be aware of is that modelling can change the way people see you. Others sometimes make an immediate assumption that I’m not particularly bright, and that is incredibly frustrating. Guys might assume that all models are party girls and I must be out all night at bars. Women automatically think that life must be easy for me and I have never worried about my body or appearance (if only!). Or they transport me right back to the schoolyard by picking my flaws — “I can’t believe she models with a bum that size” and so on. When you’re on a catwalk or in a magazine, you are putting yourself out there to be judged, and that judgment won’t always be favourable.

Similarly, models need to get used to being rejected at castings. There will be times when you are not what the client needs — maybe they needed a petite blonde and you’re a tall brunette — and models need to learn not to take it personally.

Ironically, all these negatives I’ve raised do have the potential to be positive, if they help a girl develop resilience. If she can learn to deal with the inevitable self-esteem jolts of modelling, she can draw on that inner strength for the rest of her life, in any situation.

The key to becoming resilient rather than being crushed is to do what we talk about with girls through Enlighten: remember the real reasons why you’re special. Perhaps you fit into society’s idea of what is good-looking, and you can model, make some money and have some experiences — that’s fine. But remember why your friends like to spend time with you. Stay focused on all the other achievements and activities you’ve got going on in your life.

They are words for us all to live by.

I know that it can be a real source of anxiety for parents when their daughter announces that she wants to try to break into modelling, so next week Dannielle Miller will conclude this three-part series of blog posts by looking at ethics in the industry, hypersexual images of girls in advertising and how to talk with your daughter about her desire to model. 

 

With Enlighten Education CEO, Dannielle Miller, at the launch of her book "The Butterfly Effect".
With Enlighten Education CEO, Dannielle Miller, at the launch of her book "The Butterfly Effect".

Nikki Davis, BA (Communications), is an Enlighten Education presenter based in Sydney. She has worked as a model, dancer, dance teacher, scriptwriter, magazine editor, and video and special events producer. Training to be a volunteer telephone counsellor with Lifeline gave Nikki the opportunity to explore her interest in counselling and psychotherapy, which she continues to study. She has a special interest in social issues related to girls and women. (Nikki also just happens to have been one of my favourite and most talented students when I was a high school English teacher. I adored her so much, I just had to keep her! — Danni)

Model Obsession — Part 1: Body image

Huge numbers of girls dream of becoming a model. It really is almost an obsession. But a girl’s choice to pursue that dream can bring a mixture of pride, uncertainty and downright anxiety to her parents. I wanted to know more about why modelling is so very appealing to teen girls, and how the reality compares to the dream. So for insight, I turned to Enlighten Education presenter Nikki Davis, who spent a number of years dancing and modelling professionally after completing her BA Communications degree, and continues to do some modelling work. She writes my guest blog this week, looking at what makes modelling attractive to so many girls, and the self-esteem and body image issues that arise in the modelling world. At Enlighten we strive to help girls and their parents make informed decisions about the future, so in following weeks Nikki will talk about the positive aspects of being a model, along with the practicalities and the challenges. 

When girls I’m presenting to for Enlighten find out I have done modelling, there is this sense of awe. “What kind of modelling have you done?” “Are you on any television commercials?” “What magazines have you been in?” “What clothes, what designers?” They want to know everything!

Professional shots Nikki uses to promote herself with prospective clients.
Professional shots I use to promote myself to prospective clients.

When I was 14, I started at a new dance school that also had a modelling agency, and I began getting my first serious offers of work. The fact that people were approaching me to do modelling was very exciting to me. If someone said to Mum, “Can we do photos of your daughter?” my little ears pricked up. The thing that frustrated me about my mum as a child — but that I’m thankful for now — is that she didn’t really allow me to do any professional work until I was about 16. That was when I did a Channel 7 ad, and I was absolutely blown away by the glamour of it all.

The main reason that I was drawn to modelling, and why I think girls are now, was the simple pleasure of having confirmation that I was special. It validates that you have the “right” look. You think breaking into modelling will cancel out any of your self-esteem issues and doubts because it means that you are what society thinks is beautiful and special.

But of course the reality is far more complicated than that.

Me to Vin Diesel's right - complete with fake tatoo!
Me to Vin Diesel's right (complete with fake tattoo)

In some ways modelling does make you feel special, and in some ways the glamour does come through. I remember once I was in the newspaper after being hired to walk the red carpet with Vin Diesel. I’d had a totally glamorous makeover, and I thought I looked pretty amazing — I loved it! The next day, I had all these people I went to school with — funnily enough some of whom had teased me at school — texting and emailing me. And that kind of thing is fun.

Then sometimes it all comes crashing down.

You’ve been feeling pretty special sitting in the hair and makeup chair for 3 hours before a shoot or a catwalk show, and you go over to the rack of clothes . . . and you don’t fit the pair of jeans they’ve given you. All of a sudden you land with a thud back on Earth. So at each job, you would walk in feeling nervous. It was a panicky feeling; your heart would beat quickly. If you didn’t fit something, you’d have to put your hand up in the crowded fitting room and say, “I don’t fit this, and a dresser needs to go and get me the next size up,” and someone would shout across, “Aw, Nikki doesn’t fit the size 10; you have to get her a 12.” On one occasion, I had a photographer who was used to working with very thin high-fashion models say out loud, “I can’t position her in a way that doesn’t make her legs look fat!”

When these things were happening to me, I was around 19 to 21, and like most women that age, my body was changing a lot. I tried a low-carb diet and lost a bit of weight, and the other models and the dressers started praising me, saying, “Oh! Oh, you’ve lost weight. Oh, you need a smaller size in this!” Many unhealthy relationships with food and exercise have been started this way. I was given so much positive feedback that I became quite obsessed with not putting the weight back on — which is of course exactly what I did, because I became so concerned with weighing my food and denying myself that when no one was looking I’d eat four blocks of chocolate.

It was also around this time that fashion swung from the Cindy Crawford look to Kate Moss, and clients wanted the quite skinny girls. It blew my mind that my figure was out of fashion. I thought if I lost weight and I was smaller, everything would be good because I’d be making more money and I’d have a better career. The pressure that your income relies on how much food you put in your mouth is really overwhelming.

At that stage of my life I had just finished uni and wasn’t focusing on much else than modelling and dancing, and that was a big part of the problem. I think that’s when modelling gets a bit dangerous: when it’s all you’ve got going on. All you’re thinking about is your body all the time, and your looks all the time, with nothing else to distract you.

My advice to young models is to always have something else going on in your life as well. To be studying, to be learning another language, to be writing or producing art, to be training as an actor or TV presenter — something else that’s not pure modelling. It is important not to get so hung up on looks that you lose perspective. I have met models who won’t go out with their friends because they have to stay home and put four coats of fake tan on. You can get so caught up in looks that you forget to live.

Finally, I relaxed into the idea: “This is who I am. Book me or don’t book me. Don’t book me and then torture me when I get there because I don’t fit something.” It’s so hard for young girls, because they don’t have that maturity. I didn’t have that attitude until I was 27. I’d had time by then to develop the other parts of me. I’d been writing for a dance magazine, and I’d been working in production and events, so I knew I had a lot more to offer than just my looks. That self-confidence takes time to develop, which is why if you skip uni and go straight into modelling when you’re 17 and you do put on weight or your look goes out of fashion, it can seriously affect you.

I am grateful that my parents always made me feel as though my appearance and success at modelling weren’t the most important achievements in my life. How well I did at school and how I treated other people were more valued. I don’t want to give the impression that modelling is only full of negatives for girls, because there is good stuff to be had from modelling — but it is crucial that we put a girl’s looks into perspective, stressing that the kind of validation modelling brings is not the be-all and end-all, and prettiness is not the most important value a girl has to offer.

The good stuff to be had from modelling? Increased confidence, interpersonal skills, resilience — these are a few of the qualities it can help girls develop. Next week, I’ll get into those positives, along with some hard practical realities of making a living out of modelling. Until then, we would love to hear about your experiences with girls and modelling.

Nikki Davis,  BA (Communications), is an Enlighten Education presenter based in Sydney. She has worked as a model, dancer, dance teacher, scriptwriter, magazine editor, and video and special events producer. Training to be a volunteer telephone counsellor with Lifeline gave Nikki the opportunity to explore her interest in counselling and psychotherapy, which she continues to study. She has a special interest in social issues related to girls and women. (Nikki also just happens to have been one of my favourite and most talented students when I was a high school English teacher. I adored her so much, I just had to keep her! — Danni)

Weight Prejudice – Myths and Facts

Given that Channel 10’s “The Biggest Loser” has just kicked off for the year, I wanted to draw attention to the unhealthy preoccupation with excessive weight loss that we see all too often, and to the injustice of labelling those who are overweight in a negative way. You may recall a piece I wrote on this that was published in The Sydney Morning Herald  in 2009: ‘The burden of treating girls’ bodies as the enemy.”

This year, to again provoke discussion on this topic, I am sharing two excellent videos. The first was produced by Yale University and is introduced as follows:

Overweight and obese youth are frequently teased, tormented, and victimized because of their weight. Weight-based teasing and stigma (also called ‘weight bias’) can have a detrimental impact on both emotional well-being and physical health. The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University has released this new video to increase youth awareness about weight bias, and to highlight strategies to help combat this rapidly growing problem for overweight adolescents. This video shows the story of Bene, a girl who is teased and victimized about her weight at school. In response to the daily teasing she confronts, Bene decides to educate her classmates about weight bias by making her own under-cover video to address the stigma that overweight youth encounter. Presented by Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Marlene Schwartz, PhD and Karen Dorsey, MD.

Well worth showing, and discussing, with the young people you care about. As is this video from the US National Eating Disorders Association, which highlights the absurd and distressing situation of young girls obsessing about their weight.

Stop Press – you may also find this excellent Opinion Piece by Noelle Graham thought provoking reading: Big Girls Do Cry

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