“Could I Be a Model?”

Over the past couple of weeks, guest blogger and Enlighten Education presenter Nikki Davis has shared thought-provoking insights into the world of modelling. For young girls, the decision about whether to try to model needs to be made jointly with her parents, and I hope that Nikki’s posts will help you talk with your daughter if the topic comes up. 

I have to admit that when a young girl tells me she wants to be a model, it triggers all sorts of concerns for me. I am sure I’m not alone and that similar questions spring up for you: Will someone try to ply her with alcohol or drugs? What if she gets rejected by all the modelling agencies? And a question that resonates strongly here at Enlighten Education: What if she is asked to pose in a raunchy, adult way?

There is ample evidence that children are being sexualised at too young an age by exposure to a relentless barrage of hypersexual images in the media, advertising and popular culture. We can only guess at the damage it does to the young models who are actually posing for those images.  People were rightly outraged by the sexy makeup, clothes and poses that Australian model Morgan Featherstone was put in for a photo shoot . . . at the age of 8. She and her mother appeared on this 60 Minutes story on which I and other experts spoke about why it is so wrong to portray girls as sexy women.

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Let’s say your young daughter is one of the handful of hopefuls who get signed up by a modelling agency. There is every chance that she may be asked to pose in a way that is too adult or too sexy for her age, and you will need to agree on how to respond to situations like that. I urge all parents of young models to teach their daughter to ask questions before she goes on a job, about what she’ll be wearing and the image she’ll be portraying. Until she has developed those skills herself, go along with her and do the asking. If a modelling agency makes you feel prudish or “difficult” for wanting to be informed about how your daughter will be portrayed, then maybe they’re not the right agency for your daughter. 

Until at least the age of 16 girls need a trustworthy chaperone. The ideal situation is that the chaperone, usually a parent or another trusted guardian, sits quietly in the background — but quickly steps in if a girl is asked to do something that is not age appropriate or she feels uncomfortable about. As shoots can run for 12 hours, the chaperone issue needs to be considered when your daughter says she wants to be a model. Chaperones are especially important for the small percentage of models who break into the high-fashion stratosphere, where champagne and pills may be on offer. In recent years there have been some pretty depressing stories about young, inadequately chaperoned models going off the rails.

Given how highly competitive the industry is, I guess it’s no wonder that there are scammers out there who capitalise on girls’ intense desire to break into modelling, plus their lack of knowledge about how to actually go about it. If an agency flatters your daughter and tells her they want to represent her, and then they ask for a fee — that is not a legitimate modelling agency. If a photographer says your daughter must have an expensive portfolio of shots before approaching an agency, they are not legitimate. Same goes for modelling schools that make overblown guarantees of a career at the end of their course.

The big reputable modelling agencies do not require girls to have gone to modelling school. Nor do they require them to have a portfolio already. On their websites, they give clear instructions on how to begin the process — usually by sending in a few snapshots, her age and measurements. If a legitimate agency is interested in signing up a girl, then they will give a range of options for photographers who can put together a portfolio. If you’re suspicious about a company, contact your local Consumer Affairs or Fair Trading department.

Young models have the potential to earn far more than their peers — who might, as I did, work at McDonald’s. Too much money too young can be a toxic recipe, so it’s vital for parents to keep a judicious grip on the financial reins. If you find yourself needing to help your daughter manage a substantial income, a starting point for financial advice is the Australian government’s financial literacy website. In New Zealand, there is the excellent independent financial advice website Sorted. Sound financial management (and getting a good education!) is vital for young models because, as noted in the Australian government’s job guide, a model usually retires at the ripe old age of 25. 

For me, the most difficult issue is knowing what to say when a girl of 13 or 14 looks at me and asks, “Do you think I could be a model?”  It’s insane to try to answer the question factually. There are only a couple of requirements you can be certain of at the big modelling agencies: that she needs to be at least 173 cm tall and a size 8 to 10. Beyond that, ideas about what makes a girl attractive are subjective, and what the fashion industry finds attractive can be mystifying to us ordinary folk. Really, the only person who can answer the question is someone at a modelling agency.

What it is important for us to try to answer is the real question that lies beneath it. “Do you think I could be a model?” is not just a question about career choices. It’s also shorthand for “Do you think I’m beautiful? Do you think I’m special?” And the answer to that should be easy. All girls are beautiful. And special.

Be honest. Tell her that you are not in a position to know whether she could be a model. But that most importantly, modelling is not the only — or even the best — way to feel beautiful and special. Praise all of her achievements and wonderful qualities, not just her appearance. Talk about all the talents and skills she has if modelling turns out to not be the right thing for her.

And make sure she knows that no matter what she chooses to be when she grows up, you’ll be there to support her all the way.