Heidi Isern

writer. thinker. whiskey drinker.

So You Wanna Be a Model? A Few Tricks of the Trade…..

My fascination with models started at 14. My hair had just outgrown its tightly wound perm and my mother finally allowed me to get contact lenses to replace the hot pink coke bottle glasses that earned me the name ‘four eyed poodle’ in junior high.

“Mom if I cannot get contacts I am going to DIE,” I had stated.

And then-through Acuvue tinted lenses, my world changed.

“I think you are pretty,” said Brian Engels* at a school dance.

At first, I didn’t believe him, sure this was part of another prank where I was the punch line.

But Brian was serious. My destiny, once assumed to end up in a celibate nunnery, transformed. Not only did I believe him, but I embellished his sentence to epic proportions. Now I could become a Bond girl and save the world from sinister nuclear plots. IF I wasn’t first swooped up by high fashion to strut the catwalk in Dior. Yes, with Brian’s one sentence, I was convinced I was going to be a model.

I hastily read up on models; Niki Taylor, Claudia Schiffer, even Twiggy, determined to know everything about their path to fame. I refused to pierce my ears (I heard a rumor that it made earlobes sag) and took acting classes. After all, most models were really aspiring actresses.

Then my family moved to Washington and I was told that ‘pretty’ and ‘model pretty’ were two different things and who was I kidding…Brian Engels played Dungeons and Dragons and had weird taste.

I didn’t think about models again until 2010 when I embarked cross-country to interview different sorts of women. One was a model.

Lesson 1: It’s never too late.

Vicki* was a 38 year old Ford Model with vermillion eyes and sparkling white teeth. Before I met her, I assumed top models were sent to dog food factories after they turned 25. I was wrong. There was a whole 30 plus model business out there.

Vicki had posed as a career woman and as a (hot) mom in big brand advertising.

“Maybe you could be one too,” she told me when I admitted that I was in the dog food age grouping.

“Really?” I asked. My inner ‘poodle four eyes’ panted.

“How tall are you?” she asked.

“5’7,” I said, rounding up half an inch.

“Hm. You have to be at least 5’8” for Ford. Remember Kate Moss?  She barely squeezed by at 5’8” and starved herself to look proportionally taller.”

“Oh.” I said.

“But maybe there is a lesser agency in San Francisco.  You know-one that needs more ‘real people’ looks.  Lesser agencies aren’t as picky on height.”

A lesser agency?

Real people? (Short people?)

I was hooked. As those Dove commercials proved, a ‘real person’ model was still a model. I would soon be on my way to an international life of glamour and serve as an inspiration to all the other ‘real people.’

2. Like dating, it’s really a numbers game.  Someone is bound to find you attractive.

I hunted down the second tier agencies on the west coast, sent in my photos (only slightly enhanced), and glowing essays on my model ability including a new look I perfected called “Green Steel”.

I got a call from one of the second tiers and went in for an interview with a skinny, bronzed man named Slick.

“You have the look we need,” he said.

I didn’t bother to ask what ‘look’ that was, and signed the contract.

3.    Models should come with cash, free time, and patient friends

‘Second tier’ agencies sign contracts with LOTS of people; they never know what ‘look’ their clients may need—tall, short, pretty, not pretty, dwarfs. They also make YOU pay for your first photo shoot as well as upkeep of your digital assets.  From these ‘assets’ a client chooses 8-10 ‘models’ to come in for a (mute) casting call. These calls never happen with advance notice and usually are at a really inconvenient time like 11am on Tuesday. However I wasn’t daunted.  I knew this was a small price to pay for fame.

I was so excited with my new life that I worked the word “model” into every sentence I could.  “Oh you know, I shouldn’t eat that now that I’m modeling….”   “Oh yes, I WAS a strategist, but now, you know, I found another path as a MODEL” My friends rolled their eyes and stopped inviting me out to places where I would have to interact with people.

4.    Sometimes it matters what you look like

My first call was for a ‘mom’ representing a new cleaning supply.

“But I’m too young to be a mom,” I protested.

“Think of it as a young hot mom, you know, a MILF,” said Slick.

I entered the studio dressed in classic mom attire-a mid calf dress and easy makeup. There were eight other women in the room waiting. Eight women dressed in skin-tight leopard prints, stripper heels, and necklines designed to showcase silicon. Mascara was so thick it took them a full minute to blink, their eyelids struggling with the weight of Maybelline’s Great Lash.

Was I in the wrong room?  Had I accidentally been called for a shoot with aging prostitutes (maybe Slick was doing a documentary?). If these were real moms I should probably call CPS.

I called Slick first.

“No you are in the right place,” he said.  “I said MILF.  That doesn’t mean “Mother I’d Like to Forget…”

I sighed and left the room, happily forgettable.

5. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what you look like

My second call was for a Harley rider.  This was IT. My father had a Harley. This was going to be my big break of adrenaline and adventure. I spent hours putting on my edgiest makeup—I would look fierce and beautiful.

As soon as I came in they asked me to put on a jacket and helmet and turn around.

“Helmet? You don’t want to see my face?” I asked.

“No,” they said.

“Not even my eyes?  I have on edgy eyeliner.”

“Just put on the helmet.”

I spun around for critique in a stuffed jacket and helmet large enough for a 300 pound man. For their purposes I could have been a 300 pound man….

“Can you ride a motorcycle?” they asked. “This needs to look real”


I stalled the engine, fell, and got my helmet stuck.

I didn’t get called back.

6. Remember: All models are aspiring actresses!

The third call was for a commercial

“Do you have acting experience?” they asked.

Acting? THIS was going to be it. I wasn’t going to be some two bit mute model but rather an actress that SPOKE WORDS. It would start with a commercial, then a few indie films. In less than four years I’d be nominated for an Academy Award.

“I really want to thank Slick for giving me a start…”

“Excuse me, Ma’m-I asked if you had acting experience.”

“Oh yeah. Sorry.  I was a lead in High School-Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite, oh and in Hamlet.  You know—Shakespeare “To be or not to be….”

“I know who Shakespeare is. Anything outside of High School?”

“Um.” My mind spun.

“I was recorded dancing the Lambada at a wedding in Brazil…it’s on Youtube.”

“Okay-uh, that’s fine.  Just read the script.”

I looked over the piece of paper the assistant passed me. The lines were words of appreciation for a chicken tender.  I was going to be a chicken tender actress?

After a terrible attempt feigning interest for processed poultry innards, I gave up and told Slick I should quit. ‘Green Steel’ was being underutilized.

7. Scars are fine as long as the bones are good

Slick said he had a new avenue for me.

“You have really nice hands—great bone structure.  Maybe you are better suited to be a hand model.”

“Hand model?” George Constanza on Seinfeld was a hand model.

I looked at my hands. There were both freckled (or were those AGE SPOTS?) and my left hand sported a jagged knife scar from a cooking accident.

What about these marks?” I asked

“Oh that doesn’t matter.  We can photoshop those out.”

“So it doesn’t really matter what hands look like to be a hand model?”

“Nope. As long as you have long fingers.”

I felt disillusioned. And ugly. I decided to formally resign from the world of second tier modeling and go back to strategy. Soon, my friends started calling me again. And that in itself made me feel beautiful. I celebrated by buying a new pair of glasses.

However, don’t let that daunt you. As you can see, modeling can really be for anyone.


ugly heidi

*names are changed to protect the range of innocent people that never wanted to appear on my blog, even if someday it makes them famous.

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