I’ve been modeling for more than a third of my life. Sitting here — typing that — makes it feel like a very long time. I've given myself enough time to ruminate on what I’ve learned in the process and what life lessons I can share with others — regardless of their professions or careers.
My takeaways from the industry have undoubtedly helped me in all situations — from socializing with strangers all the way to building businesses. I hope, in some small way, they can help you, too.
1. What you do shouldn’t become your sole identity.
Society often insists on giving people titles. Go to a conference and your badge has your name and a title. Do an interview and you’re immediately defined (or shall I say confined) by your profession. I’ve never felt fully comfortable being identified solely as a “model” and yet wordy, over-hyphenated titles also seem overbearing. Just because titles are ubiquitous, it doesn’t mean that you have to psychologically identify with them. You are a human being first and what defines you are your words, actions, and those qualities that make you you.
2. You can’t please everyone — nor should you try to.
I recall coming back from a casting call when a girl turned to me and said she wished she were blond. “Why?” I asked. “Well, they were looking for blond girls with blue eyes,” she said. “And tomorrow they might be looking for brunettes with hazel eyes,” I pointed out. It’s these little salient moments that I distinctly remember — largely because they are hitched to bigger life lessons. It’s impossible to please everyone, so who you are has got to feel right for you first.
3. Use what others think is a “handicap” as an asset.
The day I met with my first agent, he immediately gave me the standard speech: “Lose 10 pounds” and “80 percent of the jobs won’t be available to you because your hips are 2 inches too big.” Instead of letting the statement discourage me, I saw it as empowerment to chart my own course. What some people look at as a handicap can easily be turned into an asset that differentiates you from all the rest. I’m proud to say that I’ve maintained my weight — a healthy one at that — since I started modeling.
4. When people ask for the least common denominator, insist on giving them more.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into meetings in which the people on the other side of the table expect the “standard”— or the minimum amount of effort that one could give. That’s fine if that’s all you want or care to give, but if you’re proud of your work and what makes you different, give more — especially if it means being truer to yourself in the process. If you're an intelligent, inquisitive, bright person, you need to have the confidence to share this with others. Don’t be afraid to show your passion and talents beyond what people expect.
5. You have a voice and you need to use it ... wisely.
One of the benefits modeling affords people is a platform. This platform is often abused, but it can be a potent catalyst for change when used well. Many models have had the courage to use their voices to elevate causes that they are passionate about. Though we don't all have lives that play out on such a public stage, each of us has a voice — to our family, friends, and community — and we can make it heard if we’re willing to stand for something.
6. Have a larger, more meaningful life goal in sight.
Part of living a healthy, whole life means being interested in something bigger than you. I approached the fashion industry as an environmental scientist flirting with the idea of using modeling as a platform for spreading awareness on environmental issues. Could it be possible? I hadn’t a clue. All I knew is that I wanted to give it a shot, and it proved to be the right kind of gamble. It’s this larger vision that has kept me centered and true to myself over the years. The journey, and what you learn from it, is the best experience of them all.
Photo courtesy of summerrayne.net