What It’s Like Auditioning For A Modeling Agency at 16
Why do we let kids do this?
There’s a deeply ingrained part of our culture that’s made attractiveness synonymous with all that is pre-pubescent. The most attractive qualities in women are being small, soft, “innocent” and hairless. Essentially, we’re at our best when we’re children. When we’re sixteen. Being judged on your body before it’s finished growing has its own individual, but expected, effects on your sense of self. What I didn’t anticipate is how long they’d last.
We’ve tied the fantasy of women’s beauty so closely to youth, that the prime age for models is sixteen. So, that’s when I went to my first modeling audition. At sixteen.
Am I still allowed to eat Chinese food?
My cousin encouraged me to audition for an agency after she had. She’d been selected and thought it’d be a good thing for us to do together. She had about three inches on me, height-wise, and was at least ten pounds lighter. At the time, I never considered that she’d have no concept of what my audition process would be like. I didn't know my weight or measurements before the audition. I’d never done anything like this outside of a doctor’s office before.
“I hope you brought your swimsuit,” a woman called to all of us sitting in the waiting room. The requirements for this cattle viewing were a bikini and five-inch heels. Why the heel length mattered was odd to me.
I decided not to eat that day. While I sat in the waiting area, I focused heavily on everything else going on around me to avoid thinking about how hungry I was. I was really craving Chinese food. Am I even allowed to eat Chinese food anymore? I looked outside the window next to me. The sun shone in the afternoon sky, bright, but not overbearing. Weather-wise, it was the perfect day. Really, all I could think about was how much I’d rather be at a park or a beach. Or frankly, at home doing nothing at all.
The girl ahead of me exited the changing room, and I went in. The air conditioning blew far too aggressively, considering all of us were barely clothed. I got dressed, stepped out, and waited for everyone else to finish changing. I was the shortest one there.
I’d never been this hyperaware of my, or anyone’s, body before. This was the first time in my life I’d sat around thinking about my body in relation to everyone else's. How much more of me there was than everyone else.
An older woman ushered us into the audition room one at a time. There were twelve of us. By the time we’d all entered the room we were placed in the model version of a police lineup. The idea made me smile. A room full of girls in bikinis and heels lined up in front of adults ready to capture us. That would have probably been a more interesting experience. Instead, we were being lined up to be told who’s physically more appealing than who.
It’s less a matter of if the industry will ruin you and more a matter of when it’ll ruin you.
The wind from the air conditioning made me shiver. A row of softbox lights was placed in front of us, making it impossible to see the people behind them. The longer I stood there the more it felt like a police lineup. Like I was guilty of something. How safe the judges must feel hidden in the shadows. We could only make out enough of a silhouette to see who was pointed at, and who wasn’t. Those were the ones who’d been “chosen” for whatever happened next.
They chose about four people before they began eyeing me. They were obvious choices. Tall and slender with symmetrical faces. People who you’d expect to be models.
When the silhouette’s body turned towards me, they paused. They eyed me up and down for what felt like two minutes. Which doesn’t sound long, until you’re being stared at in an ice-cold room, under bright white lights in a bikini at sixteen. They looked to the woman next to them, and she whispered.
“Go to the right,” they said.
I’d been chosen.
After me, they chose one other girl and sent the rest out. There weren’t any words of encouragement exchanged. They were just ushered out in the same cattle-like fashion we’d been ushered in. Then they separated the selected into two groups. Two very distinct groups. They started to measure and weigh us and write the information on a form.
We were meant to have done this prior to arriving, but I’m assuming they didn’t take those metrics too seriously. How many teenage girls know their exact height, weight, bust, hip, arm, and weight measurements? I’d hope none.
None of my measurements were out of the ordinary, which is why they weren’t model-worthy. At the time, I was 5"4.5" and around 125-130 lbs. I had a 28" bust, 27" waist, and 40" hips.
That last measurement caused a major problem.
I’m not overweight, but too heavy to model
The woman doing my measurements said, “Wow. Do you know your hip measurements?”
I told her no.
“You really should do something about this. It’s not healthy. You need to lose around ten inches off your bum.”
That stung. I didn’t have a concept of exactly how much weight loss ten inches translated to. I’d never dieted before. I’d only just found out about these metrics.
“You’re bottom-heavy.” she continued. Obviously, I thought to myself. I may not know my exact dimensions but I’ve been living in this body my entire life. I know I’m shaped like a pear.
“How old are you dear?”
“Sixteen,” I replied
“Okay well, we’re going to need a parent or guardian to sign these forms for you then. Are they here?”
I nodded and told her I’d bring them down on my way out. I stayed for a bit longer, and they told us more information and what next steps to take. Admittedly, this was over ten years ago, so I don’t remember the details of what was said. I only remember ruminating on my new weight complex.
Modeling fails both younger and older women in so many ways. It’s cyclical. It teaches self-hate. It’s so cyclical, none of the women involved in this model audition realized the damage they’re doing. They’re all victims of the same system that was about to ruin me. It’s less a matter of if the industry will ruin you and more a matter of when it’ll ruin you.
I told my cousin about the experience and that I was chosen, under the condition I lost weight. She asked how much, and I really didn’t know. I’d just been told to lose “inches on my hips”. At the time, I didn’t know spot fat reduction was a myth, so losing “inches on my hips” was just losing overall weight. And, neither did she. She agreed to help me.
Thankfully, by divine intervention, I ended up getting into a university out of town and pursued that instead. Modeling is an aggressive space for young women. Especially in a culture so hellbent on teaching young women thinner is better.
Only now do I realize my height and weight were already on the thinner side. I didn’t need to lose weight, but at the time was entirely prepared to do it. Modeling is a deadly industry for a girl’s sense of self. They disguised the “weight loss” as something I needed to do for my health, rather than just an extreme body standard.
The effects of my short-lived modeling career never really left me. Once the door is open to body image issues, it never really closes. Sure, I didn’t stay in it long enough to completely break, but I was in it long enough to get some bruises.
I think a lot about the girls who were chosen, and went the entire way. I think a lot about my cousin. I think of all the damage they took and passed on unknowingly. And I hope they’re all okay.