Apparently, the real cost of beauty starts around the £600 mark!
So last month I was scrolling through Instagram when an advertisement popped up to “become a model” The advert stated they were looking for models of all shapes and sizes for a large number of campaigns. Become a model now for free, sign up for your test shoot.
So I signed up, not because I wanted to be a model but because this was an advert telling me that anyone could be a model on a platform which frankly has a warped sense of what beauty is, causing men and women of all ages and backgrounds to alter the way they look in pursuit of that “insta life” Whether that is altering images to look slimmer, taller, curvier, whiter teeth, adding brands to clothing or smoothing the skin. We have become obsessed with portraying ourselves in an over-edited way and whether or not we want to admit it, it will damage our self-esteem in the long run. The last few dates I have been on have been actually surprised that I look the same in real life, which is worrying to me as a woman. We have become obsessed with selfies, lighting and angles that when someone actually takes a picture of us we don’t recognise the person staring back.
So back to the post within 30 minutes of signing up, I received a phone call asking me to book my free appointment for the test shoot, explaining that I worked Monday – Friday which wasn’t a problem they were doing shoots 7 days a week, so I booked to do the following Sunday. Now I popped it in my diary and wouldn’t have thought about it again until the day of the shoot, however in the next 7 days I received 21 emails and 4 phone calls from them. Four phone calls to confirm I was still coming to the shoot. However, the emails were more aggressive, they were telling me if I didn’t turn up to the shoot I could be charged and would be put on a register for unreliable models, some emails went on to tell me that being put on this register would damage my career in the future.
Now I grew up during the 90’s heroin chic movement of modelling and the boom of the supermodel, a time when boobs were in and hip bones could cut glass as easily as a diamond. I would have sold my sister to be a London “it girl” Kate Moss was life and Pamela Anderson had her slow mo run on! Along with thousands of hormonal teens sticking a toothbrush down her throat between maths and geography to get the body of the moment emerged 100’s of horror stories of modelling agencies stealing peoples money offering them the dream. Watchdog seemed to almost have a weekly segment devoted to these scams. Not to be cynical but hell I am not a model so I went into this eyes open and with high self-esteem!
“Right, Mr Deville I am ready for my close up”
Fast forward to the day of the shoot, I was told to take three outfit choices, feel free for the choices to be underwear. Come made up ready to go, hair and makeup to be done before arriving. If this isn’t possible we have hair and makeup artists.
They had a website with the address on, pretty bog standard site which could have been populated with stock images found online. but there was a matching address and phone number, they even had a location in London. The site is enough to impress but little more.
The next two hours made me feel sick, how is this even still a thing and why is aren’t social media platforms held more accountable for their who and what can be advertised with them!
So I pulled up at a warehouse/unit building in an area of Salford, Manchester that I would not have visited after the sun had gone down. I didn’t feel safe getting out of my car let alone leaving it there. There was no signage on the building, no one was answering the front door. I walked around the building, found a back door propped open with an A4 piece of paper sellotaped to it with the studio name on and an arrow pointing inwards. When I later questioned this “we have just spent a lot of money on new signage, they are coming tomorrow to fit it”
The walk through the door, up the stairs, down several long corridors (all looking identical) was very scary, I realised everywhere looked the same and I was left wishing I had left a trail of breadcrumbs to help me make a quick exit. The whole building felt abandoned, I felt alone and if I am honest I felt unsafe, I hadn’t even heard another soul let alone seen one! I eventually got to the door I needed, again with a makeshift a4 piece of paper stuck on serving as signage. It took all my energy to go through the door and not run away which is what I wanted to it. I took a deep breath and walked in, I am greeted by a man in his late 20’s wearing an outfit which I definitely saw for sale on a local market stall circa 1994, the room looks unfinished and slightly dirty. The first thing I think about is the lucky lucky men you see on holiday who lay everything out on a white sheet, ready to grab as soon as the police show up. There is four canvas on the wall all pictures of children, the kind you see in the window of your local Max Spielman shop, in fact, I am 99% sure I recognise one of the images. There are about 3 back fold away chairs set out in rows, the painting is unfinished and not a single mirror in the room.
Circa 1994 guy hands me a clipboard with of a list of questions to fill in, including what kind of modelling I am interested in, weight, body measurements etc nothing seemed out of place in regards to the questions. The 21 emails I received prior to the day all stated I could not take any pictures while there, not that there was anything picture worthy to photograph. The most alarming part of the room was the fact I was the only one sat there whose first language was English. I was sat with four other “hopefuls”. I felt vulnerable being sat there and I had a full understanding of what was being said to me and I was able to read the questions for myself. After being sat there for 10 minutes with what I can only describe as vulnerable adults I was taken into the next room. It looked slightly more professional, there were studio lights and nice cameras, two photographers again who’s first language wasn’t English.
I was instructed to go behind a card partition in the corner to get changed, hair and makeup was some used make up left on the floor next to a mirror propped up against the wall. I purposely chose unflattering outfits, no makeup and messy hair for the day, the photographer didn’t comment on my appearance, she just snapped away for about 20 minutes before instructing me to go back to the other room and wait. Now I am sat back in the dirty room with an older Spanish man who spoke no English and a man in his late 30’s from Poland who spoke some English. A woman appeared from behind a door I had not even noticed, I would say she was mid-thirties, bleached white blonde hair, a tan at least six shades darker then her actual skin tone with the strongest Wigan accent I had ever heard. Up first was the spainish guy, he was with her for 30 minutes. Polish guy next, only lasting 4 minutes and before I knew it, it was my turn!
Blonde lady starts by telling me how beautiful I am, my pictures are the best she has ever seen at this point she turns her computer monitor around to me and holy shit I look like crap, possibly the worst pictures ever taken of me and puberty was hard on me! What was she talking about, god even she must have cringed while she said “the best she’s ever seen” I respect her for the straight face she managed to keep during this lie!
And then the hard sell!
Apparently my pictures had been already uploaded to a national model database and companies already wanted to work with me, in fact, eight companies had already emailed to try and book me. All I need to do is provide them with my portfolio, so I questioned this with blonde lady “if they already love me and want to work with me, why do they need to see more pictures?” questions did not go down well. Like a true sales woman though, she was ready “they need to see your full beautiful potential just like I am seeing sat in front of me right now (smoother than my bikini area) with a wider portfolio you will be able to make so much money, you are so beautiful you will end up on TV, you will definitely be up for parties in Ibiza”
“Look because you are so beautiful and there is no way I want to see you lost off our books, I will do this special offer, just for you. Don’t tell anyone (sorry, blonde lady) I can do you a whole portfolio for £450, I am doing this so cheap for you because I believe in you Emma” Before she had even finished her sentence the card machine was shoved in my face, I politely told her I had forgotten my purse with all my cards in, she quickly grabbed my right arm that was holding onto my phone and said, “you have your phone, do a bank transfer”
Again I declined at which point she was becoming agitated and in a more urgent way said if I walked out of the door without paying I would be throwing great opportunities away, I would be throwing my dream away. Again I declined at which point she was much more aggressive and clearly wanting to get some money off me, not feeling safe now I stood up and walked out. In the 7 days that followed I received 14 phone calls and in excessive of 60 emails from them. Phone calls asking for money for a portfolio because my images on the national model database are doing so well, emails telling me to act now!
60 emails in 7 days is harassment if it had been an individual rather then a company it would be considered harassment so there is absolutely no reason for this not to be. I went into this knowing it was bullshit and all I have been able to think about since are those people who could not speak English, who may have panicked with having a card machine shoved in their faces, for all those people who have had modelling as their dream. It’s such a disgusting practise and social media platforms need to put a stop to it, they should be held accountable for harm to vulnerable adults as well as children.