What People Don't Understand About My Job: The Fashion Model

"Here it is, plain and simple - some girls eat, some don't."

Reading and re-reading common misconceptions about other professions, I scrape up as much as I can to cohesively explain the backward-ology that exists in the professional modeling industry.  I personally, being signed to a few different agencies in my short, three-year career, have seen the group mentality about the fashion industry and how the media propagates the information it receives. Which, isn't much - all for proper reason. You can ask any Joe or Jane Schmo on the street about what they know about the modeling industry itself, not the fashion industry, and they are probably 70 percent likely to explain what they have previously seen on television in shows like America's Next Top Model or any of those design-based model-offs.

These are the questions I am most likely to be asked by someone in Anywheretown, USA.

Number 1: Do you have aspirations to be on America's Next Top Model?

I already have an agency. They found me, they instilled some belief that I will make them money. They gave me a contract, now they send me out on castings that will (fingers crossed) get me work. I go to my castings, I give clients my book and comp(osite) card, I leave. There is a 99 percent chance I will not get it. I move on to the next. Reality show be damned, this is a business.

Number 2: Wait, so you must make a ton of money, right?

Well, you can. And people do. I know models and commercial actors who can go for 10,000 dollar days - and then get residuals. It's madness. It changes by the person, the 'look', the size, how you looked at someone wrong or right, or if the casting director was hung-over or not that day. It also depends on how your agency is promoting your specific look to a client. If you are more of a commercial model, you won't be submitted for a fashion editorial and vice versa - once again, all depending on the client and the requirements.

The large markets (New York, Paris, Milan, Los Angeles) are very model-saturated and it's harder and harder to get clients to book new people when they have used a lot of the same models for years. This is especially so in the commercial industry, (Target, Old Navy, Payless, Amazon, etc). So, just as anyone in the freelance world knows - it's trial by fire. You live on an everlasting roller coaster ride that takes you wherever it pleases.

Number 3: But it's okay when you book a job, right? Because they pay you right away and you just move on to the next job?

I wish it were that easy. By agency/client relations, they have 60-90 days to pay their till. That in itself is not binding, let alone enforced. Some of the biggest money jobs I've had have taken almost six months to pay, while the smaller jobs (think in the 300-500 dollar range, editorial rate - if there is one), pay within the bracket. You would think those massive clients would be more than happy to shed off a grand for your time within those three months? [Insert sad jalopy horn sound here] They are more likely to take their time, knowing that they are a huge company who books continuously through your agency - and they will.

Number 4: Well, when you do get your money finally, it must be pretty rewarding?

It is, it really is. It's even more so rewarding when you see those images/commercials that you are in and were actually paid for. It keeps you in it and keeps you working hard.

But, don't forget that as an agency-signed model, you are contract bound. They do find you the work, send your book to clients, print your comp-cards, host your digital book on their website - so they will take a percentage and charge where necessary, as they should. Though, it is in your own self (business) interest to check and recheck where the money is going and how often it's going out with every paycheck you're dolled out.

Number 5: So, you're a model. You don't eat then, right? None of you eat, that's just what you do.

I cannot tell you how much this is asked of me, it's even more of a stigma propagated within my own work environment. It is also something that gives me the most anxiety about the way that my industry is viewed. Here it is, plain and simple - some girls eat, some don't. Some work for the measurements on the back of their comp-card, some don't at all. Some are forced to lose weight by their agencies; some are dropped from their contracts for it. It's a variant situation with a lot of sad outcomes. As an appearance-only based profession, no one cares how you can deliver a line or cry on cue like an actor - it's solely based in the way you appear on camera and how a piece of clothing looks on you. This is a topic I can go on about forever, but I will spare you.

When I tell people what I do, and receive such questions, I always say, "It is about a bottom line, and you are it." All you can do is enjoy your time, go to your castings and give it your best - all without losing yourself. It's possible.

I'm sure it is.

We're asking readers to tell us what the public doesn't understand or appreciate about their jobs. Learn about the project here

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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