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Mental Health

Childhood Modeling: The Good, the Bad, and Just Plain Ugly

I’ve been thinking about for ages how I could possibly write an article giving the inside scoop on something that played such an important role in my life for nine years, half of my life. I wondered how I could go about writing about the good parts, but wondered even more about how I would explain all of the bad parts. My biggest worry was that by writing this, I would be saying goodbye to a part of my life that truly made me into who I am today, and I wasn’t entirely sure I was ready to do that yet. But like they say, when you close one door, another one opens, or so I’m hoping.

At the age of 9, I became a child model. In fact, it was on accident. I had gone to a scouting event with the hopes of being launched into the acting world, maybe to be Disney Channel’s next big thing, who knows. However, I had been scouted by two Boston modeling agencies, and found myself in a life I never expected to lead. Suddenly, I was getting emails from my then-agency saying that I had booked jobs with companies like Hasbro, L.L. Bean, and more. According to The Model Alliance, approximately 1.3% of models get their start around the age that I was, while about 54.7% of models get their start from ages 13 to 16. I fell in love with it all. I mean, what 9-year-old girl wouldn’t love all of the hair and makeup and excitement of the whole process? It was crazy to me, I was missing school and travelling all over New England for something that no ordinary kid was doing, and that was when I realized I wasn’t an ordinary kid anymore. My dad was always suggesting that I keep it all a big secret so other kids wouldn’t think that I was bragging, but once word got out, it travelled fast.

The first time I noticed eyes on me as I walked down the hall was in middle school. I could hear their whispers, their eyes darting up and down my body. I was now “the model girl”, not anything else. It sucked at first, knowing that my peers would fail to recognize who I truly was, that I was more than just my label. I then remembered how incredibly lucky I was to have such an amazing opportunity like this one. I was making friends from all around New England and getting to see my face pop up in stores, on toy boxes, and in magazines. I was putting money into my college fund, even though I was essentially just making back what I had paid to get into this industry. That’s one thing they don’t tell you until your name is already signed on the X at the bottom of a contract; how expensive the whole thing is. You’re paying agency fees, test shoot fees, in addition to a percentage of your earnings going into the pockets of your agency.

The years passed, and I was having the time of my life, but unfortunately there comes a time when you grow up a little bit, and those toy companies and children’s clothing companies that you used to frequent working for stopped coming around. At around age 15, I was introduced to the world of runway. My frame had always been relatively lean, and I had always been a little bit taller than the average girl. My agency rushed me into runway training, and I had to outgrow my clumsy and wobbly ways and learn to walk in sky-high heels. They expressed the importance of keeping a slimmer frame, but in the controversial model world that has marched its way into the limelight, they treaded on thin ice. More and more stories had been coming out of girls being pressured into eating disorders and the desire to be skinny due to agencies and the influence of the people you see gracing the covers of magazines across the globe. It was always “we want you to be healthy, but maybe lose a little here and a little there.”

I always tried to never let that get to me. I saw it eat away at some of the girls and guys, that I met. I had done a couple of runway shows and was a couple of months into my runway career when I had the opportunity to walk in a series of shows in a fashion week in Providence, Rhode Island called StyleWeek Northeast. Little did I know then, but these people that were involved in StyleWeek would ultimately become familiar faces, almost like a family. I participated in StyleWeek a total of three times, meaning I got to know some of the designers, the heads of the hair and makeup team, and the crew, including Rosanna M. Ortiz, the creator of StyleWeek. These people were without a doubt the most amazing people I met throughout my whole nine years of immersion in the modeling world. They were kind, considerate, funny, and best of all, they truly cared about everything they were doing, from the models to the details to the clothes; everything. They made me feel like family every time I walked through the doors and every time I hit the runway.

About a year into doing runway, I had been scouted through by Boston agency by a boutique New York City agency. To me, this was a big deal, it was an opportunity that I couldn’t turn down. You think about New York and it is the place to be as an up and coming model because that’s where so many now-famous models got their start. At this point, money was flying out of the pockets of my parents, who graciously were funding a rather expensive hobby. They were hesitant about me signing a contract in New York, but after plenty of begging and convincing, I was represented by a new agency in addition to my old one. My first test shoot was with photographer Robert Whitman, who is well known for his photoshoot with a young, pre-fame Prince. It was a dream to me, and then five months later, I was going to castings for New York Fashion Week.

At this point in my life, I was in my junior year of high school, an incredibly significant time in my education. Junior year is the year that colleges pay the most attention to grades and students start to investigate all the colleges they could apply to. Essentially, it was the hardest year yet for me. And how was I spending the first two weeks of my junior year? Living in New York City with five other girls around my age. The youngest girl there was 14-almost-15 years old. I was newly 16, and this was a life-changing experience, for better and for worse. When I look back at that time in my life, I’m not entirely sure how to feel. While it was one of the greatest times of my life career-wise, mentally I was struggling. I had dived head first into an empty swimming pool, I was falling into the pressure. Girls around me were stick thin, and still desperate to lose more weight. I didn’t understand, because that was never a lifestyle I wanted or intended to have. The Model Alliance states that approximately 48.7% of models have fasted or done cleanses in order to lose weight, and 31.2% of models have an eating disorder.

Myself and all the girls living with me were attending castings and were reduced to the food that was in our kitchen, which realistically wasn’t much. Our fridge had yogurt, occasionally some orange juice, lettuce, and other things that we weren’t allowed to eat. Our cupboard had granola bars and a box of Special K. I was eating when I was hungry, but it wasn’t sustainable. I was walking several blocks a day, going to hot yoga, and at this point, I was exerting more calories than I was intaking. The same thing was happening where I was told indirectly, despite my already too-slim body, that I needed to somehow shed pounds. You were never told to lose weight, only inches. In a study done by The Model Alliance, 64.1% of models have been told by their agency that they needed to lose weight. I was 5 feet and 8 inches and weighing in at 105 pounds. I was happy with my appearance, but looking back on it now, I was on my way to becoming skin and bones, fading into the model stereotype. I never got that far, thankfully. I was able to recognize my bad habits and correct them. Other girls weren’t as lucky.

I had booked three shows that weren’t New York Fashion Week branded, but were during that time. I didn’t make a dime. I was being paid for the shows, but I was in debt to my agency for living expenses and photoshoots that while it was a great experience, I earned no money for college like I had planned on. I was left penniless, mentally struggling, and behind in school. My education was always the most important thing to me, and now I was playing catch-up. After fashion week, I wasn’t booking jobs anymore and I had left my Boston agency. In May of my senior year of high school, I had run into contractual disagreements with my New York agency and ended up leaving them, too. I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t have any unhealthy eating patterns or any kind of desire to be skinnier after going through modeling. Throughout high school, I always wanted to be looked at than more than just my appearances, but how could that happen if that was how I looked at myself?

Once I got to college, it was like everything had changed. I was only known as Hannah, no longer “the model girl” because I had left that part of my life in high school. I wanted to feel like I could be myself without having to retain some title that I earned for myself when I was 9. I encountered the infamous freshman-fifteen (we haven’t quite made it past freshmen-ten yet, but some progress is still progress) and I finally became a healthy weight after being underweight nearly my whole life. My education is back to being my priority and the road to happiness is a good one. People often ask me, if you could go back to being in that industry, would you? It’s a question I never know how to answer. It was an amazing time of my life, even with all of the bad things that came along with it. It was a glamorized world, a façade. But quite honestly, I think it’s time to close the door on that world, because like they say, when you close one door, another one opens.



source: http://modelalliance.org/industry-analysis

U. of NH 2022
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