Photo: PatrickPhotosUK. Model: me
I recently had an opportunity to chat with Lucy Hooker, from BBC News, whose piece "How easy is it to make a living as a model" has just been published. It is a short but to the point article, very enlightening. I have witnessed quite a few changes in the industry since I became involved with it and it's time to talk about the unpleasant side of modelling, always depicted as glamorous, but in reality a difficult job that is not at all valued.
The piece by Lucy Hooker is focused on younger models, who are often the casualty of the industry. When I spoke with Lucy I made it clear that older models are in a relatively new and special category and they are rarely subjected to the same harassment that for example "Lauren" talks about - that constant pressure to lose weight or change look which many girls have to put up with.
However, come to think of it, way back a booker from an agency I am no longer with, insisted on me cutting my hair in an 'Anna Wintour' style bob or, she maintained, I would never get booked for commercial work. That was in 2008, my hair was to my mid back and I had very little experience of the industry, being a newbie. I wanted to please and thus I complied.
With long hair in 2008, prior to the haircut. Photo: David Nuttall
That was the last time I cut my hair in any serious way. I realised that I had made a mistake soon after cutting it and I actually lost, rather than gained, work, because with a bob I looked just like any other mature model, also sporting a bob.
These days I would not have a haircut because someone is asking me to, though I know that many clients do think my hair is way too long and at some castings I have been asked pointblank 'how much hair can we trim?'
I am saying this because "Lauren" talks about being pressurised to change her looks and yes, even older models can, on occasion, be put under a similar pressure, though they can be more assertive than younger women and thus can refuse.
Soon after my haircut in 2008. Photo by Neil Huxtable
It is a very competitive job and the mature model sector is doubly competitive because there are fewer jobs and too many models, all invested with the task of representing "the glamorous, mature woman" (and what this glamorous, aspirational look should be is subject to interpretation). You may be very lucky to have a supportive agency and bookers that really understand your potential and your capabilities and put you forward for interesting jobs - as indeed I am fortunate to have now - but at the end of the day agencies are businesses and if you do not make them enough money, bookers will push whoever is likely to bring them a profit.
You go to a casting and you spot someone similar to you in look - it happens, even though at castings people are given a time slot, precisely to avoid awkward meetings with other models, often from your same agency - and you know it is an either/or situation, it's either you or the other model. There are not that many jobs really, and yes you do end up being pitched against each other, it's the way it works. Eighty seven year old model Daphne Selfe (who started when there were hardly any mature models) says that when this occurs you just feel happy for your friends who get the job rather than you and must never fear, for something else will definitely turn up. It's a very Zen attitude. Not everyone is able to take it in their stride.
The issues concerning money are also applicable to the mature model sector. It is absolutely true that a lot of the work is unpaid and some people are even surprised you should be asking for money, apparently you should count yourself lucky if you have been picked for a prestigious job, you are asking to be what? Paid?
At a recent shoot the artistic director told me that they had spent most of the budget on props so the models would have to be working for nothing. And there are people who ask you to 'test' when in fact they need images for their business!
A recent shoot for Florencia Martinez, photographer: Alexis NegrinIt is also very true that invoices are often settled very late and sometimes you have to keep on asking for your money, emailing account departments and that can feel utterly humiliating.
Not too long ago I had a problem with a major brand who for some reason forgot to include me in the batch of payments that went out a few months after the filming. To cut a long story short - and it was a long story, as this matter dragged on for months - I ended up contacting myself the production company, in a most polite and conciliatory tone, and after several emails that went back and forth, and almost a year later, they "reissued" the payment (but in fact the payment had not been made at all before then) to the agency who then issued it to me minus the usual commission.
Everyone can set themselves up as a model these days, with Instagram and Facebook pages. The social media thing is changing the industry, brands increasingly want models with a following. More followers= more customers. And modelling agencies often undercut each other.
The news that FM London has been put into receivership is quite worrying as it means that many models will not see their money at all. It has happened before, with another agency that worked in the mature sector but was not as well known as FM. Its models 'migrated' to other agencies and some of these models will tell you stories of payments that were never made and the sense of sheer frustration it generated, not to mention their considerable financial losses.
However, there is something models of all ages can do. There is Equity. Joining the union can definitely help. Actors worked this out for themselves a long time ago, models seem to be very reluctant to join a union.
You can get more information here. There is also a Facebook page here.
Models have rights and should be able to discuss their problems freely. The union can help with a great many issues and in confidence if so required. It is not expensive to join and it is definitely money well spent.