As a person, I am awkward, clumsy and have a long-lasting love for Ben & Jerry’s, so I may not instantly be deemed model material. However, on paper, I fulfil the necessary criteria as a trim size 10 who stands fairly tall at 5 foot 9, and so have pursued many an opportunity to get involved in the industry. Of course I’m no Tyra Banks, but I have had some modelling experiences and I would like to share them with you. If you would so care to indulge in the babble of a naïve and initially clueless model, that is.
Dance like no-one’s watching…
One of my most notable and thrilling modelling experiences was for IAmAfroBeauty, a modelling event which promotes local businesses in connection with multicultural hair and beauty. The contact who so generously offered me this opportunity failed to inform me of just how intense and challenging the experience would be…
Stepping through the doors of glitzy Bliss nightclub where we had been told to meet for a catwalk tutorial, I felt annoyed with myself. I had gone out partying the night before and lack of sleep and the bloated after-effect of cider consumption had left me feeling rough and fatigued.
I turned up in my old black leggings and a slightly creased baggy white top with my hair scraped back into a messy bun –not exactly top model style. Yawning, stomach rumbling and feeling ready to fall asleep at any moment, I sat on a stool in a room containing a gaggle of girls (each of whom looked perfectly preened and polished), wondering how I had managed to forget to bring a bottle of water with me, when SLAM! The door opened and in stepped a tall, striking woman.
Known as Zizi, the long-limbed figure was tall, dark and incredibly intimidating. Her shiny black hair was scraped back into an effortlessly straight, smooth ponytail which dangled down the length of her back and she donned tight, skinny jeans and a crisp black vest, taut against her slender physique. Her large, round, black eyes had the power to stare right through you in a frighteningly superior manner, and when she spoke, you listened. As a model for London Fashion Week, she was respectable, influential and very scary…and we were all desperate to impress her.
She barked at us to get in line and show her our walks. She cast sideways glances, slipped slight smirks and exhaled exaggerated sighs as each wannabe model shuffled, wobbled and trundled across the room, but took an instant liking to a petite afro-haired beauty that had natural bounce in her springy, attitude-abundant walk.
The rest of us hustled to get Zizi’s attention as we continued to practice our walks. Under her watchful, judgemental eye we had to do timely steps in rhythm to different songs. Zizi humiliatingly pinpointed me as one of the weaker walkers, summoning me to the back of the room with the other failures to watch the rest show us how to do it properly. Rejected and insulted, I leaned against the wall sulkily with tears in my eyes wishing the ground would swallow me up, as she mimicked our lacklustre walks and forced us to watch the other girls strut towards us with conceited confidence and annoying allure.
To make matters worse, we were then instructed to dance. Yes, dance. “Dance like no-one is watching!” Zizi bellowed, as the hip-hop beats of Beyoncé pumped through the speaker. Call me shy, reluctant, introvert…but how exactly can you dance like no-one is watching when there are a mass of critical girls as well as a successful model staring directly at you, openly inspecting your desperate bopping and secretly criticising your rigid movements?
As if that wasn’t humiliating enough, we then had to act like ‘beasts’ – aggressively stomping down the makeshift runway trying to look as ugly as possible, whilst also coming across as appealing – kind of seems impossible. Flailing around with awkward gnarled fingers and gritted teeth in a frantic effort to look fierce only resulted in me feeling highly unattractive and laughably ridiculous.
For the actual event we had to open the show with a choreographed dance. After hours of rehearsal time, we had the energetic and effective routine perfected. Unfortunately, on the day of the event we had to change the sequence considerably due to restrictions of venue space, and this meant we hadn’t managed to completely practice the new dance. As a result, our performance was slightly frantic – girls crashed into one another, trod on toes, forgot moves and our timing was all over the place. All things said and done, I had fun, and it was undoubtedly entertaining for the audience!
Catty comments on the catwalk…
Probably the most intimidating modelling experience I’ve had was at Fashion Rox, a fashion show in connection with Harvey Nichols at the swanky Chameleon Bar in Birmingham. Upon arrival I was assigned to a couple of designers and then summoned to the back of the bar where all of the crazy preparation was taking place.
Talking to one of the designers about outfit allocation with my twin sister, one other model was standing nearby listening in. Obviously a conceited and overly confident individual with more experience than the average wannabe, she said “that dress is a size 8, so I think she should wear it,” pointing to my sister Grace. “No offence.” she added quickly to me. I said “Oh its fine,” even though inside I was highly irritated with this random girl who somehow thought it was okay to make weight-related comments about me even though we hadn’t even been introduced.
Resisting the urge to slap her smug face, I took my black leather dress and marched into the toilet to get dressed. Comforting myself with the fact that this girl was no Elle Macpherson, I swiped her rudeness from my mind and promised to make the most of the fantastic experience.
After outfit selection we were sent to a tiny, bustling room where we had to have our faces dolled up. I felt like a star as I was preened by a makeup artist and my hair was scraped into a glossy and impeccably neat ponytail by an Umberto Gianni hairstylist, and my self-conscious self had fizzled away with my new transformation.
My stomach filled with butterflies as l lined up with the other models, ready for the show. The walk involved going up a couple of stairs (not as easy as it sounds when wearing high heels!), strutting around a bend, going downstairs and then stopping for photographs, whilst pausing and posing throughout.
During my walk, I remembered that you weren’t supposed to look at the audience – just a moment too late – and my gaze fell on someone in the crowd. Off put, I quickly looked upwards and stared intensely at the walls, and in the process of concentrating hard my eyes began to water, which wasn’t desirable as I had to pose for a picture. Afterwards I hurried off to dry my eyes, desperately hoping it didn’t look like I was welling up in my pictures!
Modelling is about being openly insulted, publicly upstaged and greatly humiliated. You have to form a thick skin so you aren’t affected by any bitchy comments, and you have to be highly confident in yourself.
My experiences were nerve-wracking, cringe worthy and utterly terrifying, but you know what? I would do it all over again. You get a massive adrenaline rush, as well as being centre of attention whilst wearing incredible clothes and meeting new people. Being photographed, videoed, interviewed and complemented are hardly unwelcoming prospects, and it makes you feel a little like a celebrity.
It is a tough industry – competition is rife, and you will be asked to do some pretty ridiculous things (as I exemplified earlier), but hey, it’s fair to say that you certainly can’t accuse the modelling industry of being boring!