An Artist’s Address : My Model Mindset

My friends think modelling is a fantastic profession, and it certainly can be, as long as you don’t believe the images are really you. I recall seeing the lookbook of a friend who had dropped out of that world and moved into law. It was exceptional, and I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy leafing through the images with her, it’s just that I preferred her to the images, to all of them actually, and I could sense from how she was showing them to me that I was deep in the minority – if not entirely alone – in feeling this.

I am a model. Currently I am a commercial model, which is what it sounds like; think of the girls in L’Oréal adverts on billboards advertising the brand with their smiles and playful nature. We aren’t haute couture, nor are we expected to try to be, and I like that. Throughout the short time from being scouted at a bar aged 16, signed, represented by two different agents in Ireland, and finally coming to London and getting to do a few shoots, I always felt it reduced me – inside and out. I am not even blaming the profession, because let’s face it: there are models who can run every day, keep to strict diets and not feel demeaned, because they have healthy mindsets and can take an objective view of the requirements of the fashion industry.

Equally, many of the people I meet in the industry are naturally very slender, or adore things (some of them illegal) that contribute to their waif-like physiques. I am an advocate of whatever floats your boat, although my tastes currently differ to those of my former selves (of which there are many, each with their own needs and indulgences). It is not exactly the requirements of the fashion industry that caused this sense of unease within me. It is partly my own desire for perfection, my need to compete with myself; it is also those people you meet who enjoy watching you squirm. But let me make it clear: although these folk have no power without your agreement, that does not make them any less responsible for their behavioural choices, nor does it make the effects of those choices any less brutal and demoralising.

Let me give an example. About a year ago, amidst a sea of castings and auditions, (and intensively seeking these out), I was excited to receive a call inviting me to try out as a model for a national tv show. As it was not the usual modelling gig, I felt certain it would be fun, more like acting, and kind of expected the experience to be as joyful as going to an audition. When I arrived, filled with jubilation, I was immediately made to feel like a queen. The gent who ushered me in smiled, a twinkle in his eye, offering me water and waving towards a suave leather couch to wait for my call. By the time I went to the toilets to freshen up, my head was so large it hardly fit through the doorway, and I fancied myself silly for ever having left this kind of experience, to the extent that I seriously couldn’t come up with one reason why! I was grinning when I returned to the waiting room to be met by two ladies.

Once inside the room they asked me questions about myself. I was asked to stand up as my measurements were taken by one, while the other read from a clipboard and jotted down my answers, occasionally flashing her green eyes in my direction over the top of her glasses. “What dress size are you?” “Size ten”, I said confidently, my answer met by her eyes slicing their way up my body, from my feet to my flushing face, “Well… I guess it depends on where I’m shopping”. There was a lump in my throat now, a familiar feeling rising from within me. “What size shoe are you?” My response was met with a grimace, “Oh, must be quite hard finding that size!” I thought, what the heck are you talking about, we live in London! But I was already standing in front of them naked and bleeding all the wrong numbers for her ink, her tiny little mind and the bile my throat spat back at me every time I spoke.

When she asked if I had catwalk experience, I had no need to lie; I had plenty and used to love fashion shows at home in Ireland. Yet when she asked me to walk, I felt unhappier than ever; I have never felt so fat, so ugly, so absolutely without elegance and grace. By the time she asked me to do a 360 degree turn, my mind was numb, and I accidentally did a 180. She clicked her tongue, glancing at her sidekick, “No, no darling, three-hundred-and-sixty-degrees!”

When I left I was so grateful to be out of there. I called my friend away from her desk at work and spent quite a while complaining about it, declaring my love of acting over modelling, to the extent that she had to cut me off for fear of getting fired! I walked around Holborn looking at other models, taller, more obviously immaculate, and I understood how high the bar was set, and I also felt that I didn’t like bars created by the outside world. I have never been any good at conforming; I always do things I like, because I want to. Whether it is going to a job that isn’t going to facilitate my training or attending auditions, I always strive to be in good, healthy environments that support me in my crazy drive to create, be vulnerable, and grow.

Back then, I didn’t grasp that perhaps the problem wasn’t that modelling was wrong for me. Maybe I was with the wrong agency, going to castings that simply didn’t suit who I was. Honestly, although pressure to stay slim is an inherent aspect of the catwalk, at home in Ireland, I was never met with this level of hostility and plain meanness. At the same time, the world of commercial modelling, to which I am new, is actually much softer than both, and I am glad. I see no reason to feel anything less than wonderful while starting a new career path and feel with the fullness of my being that one ought to be excited and joyful about the challenge – no matter how arduous! Do you know what I mean?

I guess sometimes you can find yourself on the right path, heading in the right direction, with the wrong people, and that’s alright. You can learn more from the wrong behaviours than from when someone treats you with kindness and respect, and you can address more of the issues within yourself based on the reactions you have to them. I have learnt that it is better not to react at all, and rather to see another person’s way of being for exactly what it is – their own issue. If it doesn’t feel good being around a person, a group of people or a whole industry, if you are sick, uncomfortable, hurting, or angered, then it is because you are not facing the reality of what is happening within you – and you have let yourself go. It is an art, allowing yourself to hear your own truth, and be moved by it. Honestly, I am more committed to that as life advances, and I realise that, often, this is the most valuable thing we have. It doesn’t necessarily make anyone within the experience right or wrong – such determinations are entirely redundant in my opinion – but your truth and how you feel, what drives you or repels you, these are important to identify.

From there, you can understand what it may take to bring yourself back into a place of joy, happiness, excitement and peace, all that is required to fulfil your basic promise to yourself (as I understand it), which is that you live. It doesn’t necessarily mean you must leave where you are. Sometimes all that is required is addressing your own attitude and approach, but it also means being open to doing whatever is necessary in order to heal and to live well. We are not here for long enough to struggle and flail about, and if we have any power and control over how we feel, and where we are in our lives, then we best use it to our advantage.

Our unhappiness serves no one and benefits nothing, and only we can change it. Being in all the wrong places has had its benefits, because now I understand how great it is to be here, right where I belong, and I shall never stop feeling grateful for the awareness I’ve gained from previous experiences, because those experiences got me here! My current agency is wonderfully warm and supportive, and I am excited that tomorrow morning I am going to work having booked the job from the first casting they sent me for! Given that result, I have to advocate the benefits of finding your place, and filling it entirely, over and over again.

Johanna Thea
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