Modeling: An Exposé

By Anna Robertson

If someone had told me three years ago that I would be missing the first three weeks of my senior year to model in New York Fashion Week, I would have laughed. Missing two days on account of illness was enough to send me off into an anxiety-ridden state; missing almost a month would have given me a stroke. However, having just completed my first season at NYFW, it’s clear that I did not have much foresight as a freshman. In fact, it seems I still can’t see very far into the future because when I set out in August to participate in one of the most well-known fashion events in the world, I didn’t expect what I witnessed.

Prior to leaving, I had booked a room in a model apartment, a typical housing solution for New York models. This particular apartment, nicknamed by the other residents as the “model penthouse”, was located in Brooklyn, a subway ride away from the main city. Overall, it sounded like a pretty decent place to live. In addition to its proximity from Manhattan, I was to be with a roommate and several other housemates, so I would never be alone. However, having heard horror stories about overcrowded, drug-ridden apartments, I was still a bit apprehensive as I made my way to the location.

My stay in the “model penthouse” lasted a week and a half. Though most of the people in the particular apartment I was staying in were nice, mature, and responsible, the apartment wasn’t limited to just residents. One night, just as I was about to fall asleep, someone came into my room. Not all of the beds in the room were full, so I knew that new models would be arriving soon. However, the girl that came into the room and crashed for the night was not a model. In fact, she was a well-known former resident who had been caught stealing people’s things on several occasions as I later found out. Clearly security was an issue, so my parents began looking for an alternative living situation.

My mom ultimately decided to join me in the city, figuring that another model apartment would be only be more of what I’d already experienced.  Soon after she arrived, castings for fashion week began. During this time, my days were completely booked. I spent most of my day on subways racing from casting to casting, the term for “audition” in the modeling world. While some went quickly, others dragged on. I spent this downtime talking to other models about their experience in the industry. Many were from Eastern Europe, South America, and Asia. It was so interesting to hear how these women had traveled to America to pursue modeling. Most amazing to me was that it was impossible to get a sense of these women simply from looking at an ad, yet American consumers do it all too frequently.

The modeling industry has recently received a lot of criticism about its influential role in the media, mainly concerning the unrealistic body image models portray. As someone who is often deemed “too thin”, I admit I was shocked to see the number of women who were even smaller than I was. Since I have too regularly been on the receiving end of this body-shaming criticism, I was careful not to assume that any of these girls weren’t naturally shaped the way they were. And from what I gathered, most were naturally thin. In fact, a common complaint amongst models is the lack of food on set, part of another issue entirely that I’ll address later. However, with that being said, pressure to be thin and remain thin is still a huge problem facing the industry. Though most of the models I met were like me, some models did voice that they felt like they had to lose weight in order to be successful.

I went into modeling knowing little what it would be like. When my plans quickly began to fall apart, however, I had my parents to help me out. After having seen what kinds of pressures that arise from living in New York City and the environment most models live in, I couldn’t see how some of these girls were getting by. So as fashion week unraveled, I decided to ask.  (see Part Two)