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SoYouWanna be a model?

Maybe you've dreamed of gliding down the catwalk in Milan, flashbulbs popping all around, hundreds of people focusing their attention on your grace and beauty. The closets of your Paris apartment are stuffed full of expensive designer clothing, and tomorrow you fly back to New York just in time to catch a party attended by your good friends, Kate Moss, Keanu Reeves, and Ben Affleck. Nice dream. Now wake up.

First things first: you've taken the trouble to do a little research, so you're not a moron. That's good. Regardless of prevailing stereotypes, you need smarts to break into modeling. Those same smarts will also help you realize that your chances of becoming the sort of supermodel who lands multimillion-dollar endorsements are only a little better than your chances of being killed by a charging rhinoceros - even if you're beautiful. The success stories are few; even models represented by the best agencies in the world often take other work to supplement their income. Now, if you're still reading, congratulations. You aren't easily discouraged, and you're gonna need that kind of pluck to endure the rejection which is part of every model's stock and trade. There are several different types and levels of modeling, and if your expectations are realistic, you needn't feel discouraged.

1. Learn about the industry

There are many different kinds of models, including child models, plus-size models, and parts models (whose hands you see in all those diamond ring ads). Fashion models must usually conform to rather rigid physical criteria, but there are others models called "real-life models," who are often also actors. They are just what the name suggests: ordinary looking people used in catalogues and commercials to represent someone the average consumer can identify with. The white-haired guy with the potbelly on the Golf Resorts billboard is a real-life model. If it turns out that you aren't quite what they're looking for in a fashion model, consider this sort of work (or consider becoming a character actor). There are other paths to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
 

For the purposes of this SYW, though, we're focusing on the model that gets all the attention: the cat-walking high-fashion model.

What it takes to be a fashion-model

If you're female . . .

  • You should be somewhere between 15 and 22 years old, though probably closer to fifteen. Models don't have careers that last as long as say, doctors, so agencies tend to want to invest their time in someone young.

  • You should be tall, long-legged, and lean. The minimum height is usually about 5'8", and average weight for a model is 108-125 lbs. These characteristics are partly aesthetic and partly practical: this type of frame looks good on the runway and in front of the camera (which, they say, adds 15 pounds); and a somewhat scrawny build drapes clothing nicely and ensures a good fit in the standard wardrobe. There are always exceptions to the rule, of course - Kate Moss is 5'7" and Gabrielle Reece is a giant 6'3" - but, in general, the closer you are to the industry norm, the better your chances.

If you're male . . .

  • You can start out a little later, roughly between the ages of 18 and 25. They won't want you to look too childish. The good news is that a man's modeling career usually lasts longer than a woman's, and since ten-year-old boys more often dream of blowing things up rather than strutting the Hugo Boss runway, this side of the biz tends to be less competitive as well.

  • Average dimensions for a male model are a height of 5'11"- 6'2" and a weight of 140-165 lbs. You should also be fit (not bulging with muscles, but definitely healthy).

All right, so let's assume you've got all of these qualifications. You are, for example, a willowy 16-year-old girl who's on the basketball team, could squeeze her body through a set of prison bars, and causes old men who shouldn't be ogling you to stumble over their walkers. That's great. On top of that you have clear skin, perfect teeth, and your own brand of je ne sais quoi. Fantastic. It's time for the next step.