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Yesterday evening, I watched the documentary "Picture Me" on Netflix. It's an insider's view of the modeling industry, directed by ex-model Sara Ziff. She is also known for having started The Model Alliance, an organization battling the rights and work conditions of models.
I had wanted to watch that documentary for a while, but I kept changing my mind, because I know very well that I don't need the insight of a former model to understand what the modeling industry is like: I worked as a model agent for two years, for one of Canada's best-known modeling agencies.
I quit this "dream job" a year ago, and I absolutely have no regrets. Every single day spent at the agency had become a real hassle for me, and I was growing increasingly bitter and angry at everyone.
I have to make it clear from the start that the main reason why I quit mainly resides within myself. I honestly don't think I had the perfect personality to be a booker. I did my job, and I did it very well; I was organized, friendly, great at making human connections, a good public relations manager.
But I had something more; I was striving for creativity, fun, and recognition for my hard work. You can blame this on my generation, or on the fact that I am an only child, but I love (to be the center of) attention. Let's put it in a more respectable way -- I like when my actions have an impact on my surroundings, and I enjoy when people acknowledge or thank me for my work.
I also consider myself a feminist, and I refuse to shut up about issues that I think need to be addressed. As forward thinking as fashion can seem, it often goes off-limits (think cultural appropriation, or even more recently, the Vice editorial glamorizing the suicides of famous female writers).
There was no place in this job to grow as a person. Hell, there wasn't even room to grow as a professional. Model agents are poorly paid, and there was no potential for advancement. Keep in mind that my opinions are based on my experience in Montreal, which is a secondary market. It's very different from New York, Milan, London, or Paris, but we still deal on a daily basis with those primary markets.
All of this to say that I don't want to entirely blame my departure on the flaws of the industry; it comes mostly from my personal interests. However, the greediness and insensitivity of the modeling world pushed me faster through the exit door.Getting this job was a big deal for me. Surprisingly enough, I grew up without any interest in fashion. I had always loved clothing and costumes, but more because I was very involved in theatre and ballet classes. As a kid and teenager, I always valued originality over trendiness.
My interest in the fashion industry first came from a TV show that aired during the late '90s/early 2000s, about a fictional model agency based in Montreal. Looking back now, it's still hard for me to understand what I found so enticing in this show, but it made me fall love with the fashion industry -- more precisely, the modeling world.
I was completely obsessed with it; I would tape every episode and craft VHS cases for my growing collection. I would plaster the walls of my room with pictures of these models (actresses?) and dream that I was working as their agent.
After high school, I went on to college to study fashion design, a three-year degree, and then another year-long degree in communications. I got a job as a social media manager, but I quickly became bored of it. Throughout my college education and even after graduating, I kept sending resumes to this one agency that I dreamed of working for. One day, completely out of the blue, I received a call from them; they were asking for an interview.
I got hired as a junior booker and I quickly left my boring job. I was absolutely thrilled to finally work for this agency. I thought I had finally achieved my lifetime goal. I met really nice and interesting people while working as a model agent. Some of them were clients, but most were models. I genuinely admire the work of good models. It's too easy to dismiss it as “being pretty in front of the camera.” Models endure really shitty situations and they must always be patient and responsible -- something that is apparently not given to all of them (or any human being for that matter).
The parts of my job that I didn't like mostly had to do with pleasing insane requests from clients. I am polite and can take shit up to a certain point. Yelling on the phone is not OK, being harsh and blaming everyone except yourself is not OK, not respecting the terms of a contract is not OK.
Sadly, I was expected to be the ever-smiling and ass-kissing employee stuck between the agency and the clients. I quickly realized that my position was, in fact, the worst I could get in this industry: absolutely zero creativity, no recognition, no money, no thank-yous.
After a while, I couldn't see anything positive about being a booker. Photographers and clients hate you because you want to charge them money, and your boss and the models hate you because you're not getting them enough money. There is darker side of modeling, it's true. There are crappy photographers with a lack of ethics, there is sexual abuse, there are eating disorders. I have had to tell girls to lose weight. I took countless hips measurements. I lied a lot in order to book the "right" model. I lied a lot in order to cover my sorry ass when something that was not even in my power went wrong.
I cried at my desk. I cried in the bathroom. I cried in front of models. I partied in New York. I visited models' apartments with 15-year-old Russian girls. I paid for dinners with a company credit card and I was invited to have dinner on other people's credit cards. I got shit from clients because girls had pimples, scars, cellulite, nails too short, hair too long, noses too wide. I asked people to Photoshop pictures that were supposed to be natural.
I booked plane tickets and hotel rooms around the world, only to cancel them last minute. I picked up lost teenagers at the airport. I received a call from a model arrested at the borders because I had failed to fill the right form, out of 856 kinds of governmental forms. I got yelled at over the phone in French, English, Italian.
We, the agents, used to joke that we could write a book with the stuff that happened to us on a daily basis. That was only a paragraph. But back to Sara Ziff and her documentary, "Picture Me." There is something she says that struck me as the perfect way to explain why I left my job as an agent: “Why be a prop in someone else's story when you can create your own?”
That's exactly how I feel. Although some people are OK with being props, I wasn't. In the end, it's not my face that was on these billboards. It's not me who got to enjoy posing for the cameras. It's not me who would receive the $50,000 checks. Not that I wanted these things -- but that just goes to show you how pointless I thought my job was.
I had nothing to lose, so I just quit.
The way I left is actually a whole other story. I left on a whim, the same day that I announced my decision. I had been unhappy long enough to know that quitting was the right thing to do. I decided to go back to university (yes, at 26), and I got accepted in a program that I had always looked at with envy: Creative Writing & English Literature.
Before working for the model agency, I was also working freelance as a writer for magazines and websites. While working full-time as an agent, I had completely stopped doing anything creative. My job was so stressful and time-consuming that I've had to ignore my passions.
Since I left, I got back on the freelance train (hi, xoJane/xoVain readers!) and I am so, so, so, so, happy. I started a vintage shop on Etsy, I write for magazines and websites, I participate in readings of poetry.
I refuse to be a prop in someone else's story ever again; I want to create my own stories and I hope that the future has a lot of fun adventures in store for me.