By Rebecca Wicks
‘You need to work on your thighs love’.
A greying man with stubble stares at me over a jumble of photographic equipment. I am 23, 5’4 and 98lb.
After being spotted by the photographer at my brother’s wedding at 22, I fell into amateur modelling, pulled in by sites disguised cleverly as social media, and the image modelling portrayed to me. And that’s the thing right there isn’t it – it’s the image; the image they imagine you will give them, the image produced, and the glamorous image of the modelling industry.
Now, at 25, I have become disillusioned completely by the industry. A male driven and frankly sexist environment that claims to help women to be strong and powerful, but really does nothing more than turn us into commodities, objects to sell.
I was unable to get work unless I was under 100lb, I was constantly told by male photographers that I was flawed in this way and that way, that if only I would have a smaller waist, better hair or longer nails then I would be just perfect. Having had an eating disorder as a teenager, the aesthetics driven modelling world soon drove me back into my old behaviours. I began to skip meals, lie about what I ate, and abuse stimulants – the weight dropped off quickly, I got more work but I was quickly diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa.
One point sticks out in my mind clearly, a shoot I’d prepared so well for, a well renowned local photographer – I’d eaten so little for the past few days I was half fainting on set, trying to ensure that I was in prime condition. The shoot went through like so many others, following a script of poses, barely veiled insults, and a women covered in face paint in front of flashing lights. He then called me over and proceeded to pull up the photos on his editing suite, circling the areas that needed ‘improvement’.
‘You see how your waist has a small crease? That shouldn’t be there.’
‘Your neck needs slimming down.’ (Until then I wasn’t aware that you needed to be conscious of the width of your neck as well as every other part of your figure).
‘Your skin needs editing unfortunately, you aren’t quite flawless.’
It’s not only the constant battering on my self worth and personal image that has brought on this decision, but also the casual and everyday sexism that I witnessed constantly during my brief (albeit amateur) career. I’ve been asked to take off knickers underneath a tight skirt to ‘create a better line’ for the photograph, encouraged to remove more and more items to ‘really show off who you are’, and have been addressed as ‘girl’, ‘you’ (with a pointed finger), and the wrong name more times than I can count.
At times, the behaviour I was subjected to was wildly inappropriate, but I was told by one photographer that the local area had a ‘close-knit’ group of male photographers, and ‘anything I did wrong’ would get round the group very quickly – alluding to my work offers dropping if I rocked the boat at all.
In the 3 years I’ve modelled part time, I’ve only had shoots with 2 female photographers, and the experience was unbelievably different – the only comments made on my appearance were practical ones, could I please take off the red bracelet, could the make up artist touch up my eyeliner, can we try this without the shoes – nothing relating to my figure, my face, my personal aesthetics at all. The shoots with women were laid back, calm, and produced better results than the intense male ones – perhaps because I wasn’t being insulted or sexually commented on at all.
So I’ve made the decision to walk away. To take the high heels off, wipe the make up away and concentrate on being known for my writing not my to be an item displayed in front of a camera. Personally, I think I’ve had a lucky escape, but some damage remains – I find myself staring critically in the mirror constantly, checking that my waist is still the same size as it used to be, I’m still judging myself through a photographers eyes and I’m angry at both the industry and myself.