When I was young, I always thought: to be a model, you would have to start at the age of fourteen, have legs up to your ears, be perfectly proportionate yet skinny as a rope; or as a man, have permanent six-pack, chiseled jawline and eyes not too far apart.
All those strict physical requirements are probably closer to reality for the very few top fashion models who get to pose on the covers of magazines like Vogue and Men’s Health, and trot the exclusive runways of the fashion weeks in London, Paris and Milan.
However, if you slide downward the industry hierarchy closer to the bottom, you can discover masses of average and ordinary-looking people in all shapes, sizes and ages that are needed for different sorts of assignments also surprisingly called: modelling.
These entry level tasks can be anything from a photo shoot for a discount store catalogue to stock library shoot producing generic images with anonymous models used for marketing purposes, wedding brochures and random websites; or artistic modelling (often nude or semi-nude) for a university or open college drawing classes; or just any unfocused background work, where authenticity, brand message and sharing information about a specific product or service are more important than the human esthetics and ground-breaking beauty.
The background of people involved in this so-called lifestyle modelling often vary from aging professional models to entertainers and other freelancers from all walks of life seeking that flexible and easy supplementary income. Temping in the office, promotional work and event hosting are commonly known alternatives, but sometimes too engaging and demanding compared to just standing and smiling in front of a camera.
Since the birth of the Internet and social media, self-promotional tools have developed enormously and become available for these type of part-time models to present their portfolio - whether paid or unpaid - to a wider audience in the most recent platforms like Instagram.
If you happen to know a photographer personally who understands the basics of lighting set-ups, or you can afford to pay for one, or at least, to buy a decent camera for yourself and know someone who can operate that, Bob’s your uncle. Photoshop and filters will do the rest.
Embellishment and deceit can take anyone up to a certain point, yet getting into runway modelling and high-end fashion catalogues are still harder to fake. In that exclusive world, a true-life physical requirements and realities cannot be erased or altered away. A successful plastic surgery and other body manipulation can help too, but as far as I am aware, the scientists haven’t yet discovered how to make someone substantially taller or how to bring someone’s eyes closer together.
Personally, I have never invested on any external aid to make myself appear more like a model, apart from a few pieces of fairly well-fit clothing I usually buy from the most popular high street retailers; regular haircuts at any salon available as long as there is a hairdresser who can deal with men’s longer hairstyle (not an easy task for many professionals out there); and an occasional sunbed session three to four times a year, also to help with my dry skin condition during those long winter months.
I do admit to using photo filters, but not to extreme lengths I know some people will go like enlarging their eyeballs or slimming down their cheeks. I may only change the overall colouring, brightness and contrast to hide a few wrinkles around the eyes and forehead. I also have just about enough retouching skills for covering spots, whenever I have them – usually there is one that mystically appears on the tip of the nose right before a big shoot.
Since I don’t represent the selfie-generation either, it has taken me years to learn how to improve my pose in portrait shots, and what the most forgiving angles are that show those best features. Keeping the chin down is fundamental so that the jawline adapts more sharper shape and the face doesn’t look like a potato.
Finding any decent photographer to take photos of me for free so that I could expand my portfolio, however, has turned out to be an impossible task. Trying to enter this highly competitive industry as a heterosexual male after turning thirty and not owning an obvious six-pack or connections, I have gathered, I am not the primary target for anyone with above-average camera skills. Hence, I have to rely on apps, good camera angles, or just simply paying decent fees whenever I need quality profile photos taken of me. Even in this supposedly equal world we live in, a poor (man) seems to pay a little bit more.
Despite my struggles to book any free photo sessions, I must admit I have been somewhat employable by stock photographers. One of the key factors to this relevant success may have been the fact that blond men with a Fenno-Scandi heritage have always been under-represented ethnic minority not only in the world population but also in the modelling industry; hence there is less competition.
Though it seems like blond men in general have been a bit niche in the advertising since the 1970s and ‘80s. I don’t think I have ever seen them for example in a razor commercial. And I’m talking about proper goldilocks - not those white, Anglo-Saxon male models with an obvious light brown hair who pretend the colour is dark blond, just so they can steal work from their German and Scandinavian colleagues.
In regards to shaving promotions, I understand that dark stubble shows better on screen, whereas a commercial advertising mouth refreshing mints for example was allowed to have a proper blond lead actor all the way until the early ‘90s - before the political correctness started kicking in and someone perhaps deemed that discriminating against the others being left out.
Yet, exactly this PC world we live in has also served me well, at least, to score those few jobs where my Nordic presence has contributed to the versatile colour and ethnicity palette required in the 21st century.
Interestingly though, the jobs with the most glamorous flair I have been involved in - when presented in the right light to anyone less familiar with all the weird quirks in the industry - happened behind the scenes. For instance, my body shape has been used to create two popular things: the costume of Doctor Strange for Marvel superhero film of the same name; and also to form a wax figure of David Beckham. I even got to fit model the suit eventually worn by the footballer’s wax creation.
In these both cases, no specific skill set was required, apart from a bit of patience to stay still while the creative artists experimented with my body. Most importantly, I must have had close to identical measurements with these two famous figures, and rather than wasting the celebrities valuable time, I may have been slightly cheaper alternative and more available to do the job.
I cannot complain though. It was not hard work as such compared to many other things I have done in my life - except that I had to say no to lots of sweets and unhealthy stuff and I had to keep hitting that gym and treadmill regularly a couple of weeks before and during these assignments to maintain my body’s critical measurements. I couldn’t simply go and try “bend it” if my gut was hanging out!
Soon after finishing these cool-sounding tasks, there may have been a brief moment of disillusion when I thought I had “made it”. Only the big paycheck and paparazzis outside were missing once I left the studios.
But none of that mattered, because how much better than this could it get? I had been in the pants of two megastars. Unfortunately though, I was there before they got to wear them, not after.