Modelling is exciting until you experience it yourself. There are many hidden agendas that made me question the industry itself. I realised it was an emotional roller coaster and as a young girl not having any guidance led to me being thrown in the deep end.
I am currently a BSc Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience student doing a placement year with King’s College London, working as a research assistant on a clinical trial. I am also a part-time carer on the weekends, caring for patients who need palliative care. In this blog, I will be exploring the good and bad aspects of my personal experience in the modelling world and some ways I found to cope with the negatives.
How I got into modelling
Funnily enough, it all started when one day, while casually shopping for some clothes in Top Shop on Oxford Street, I was approached by a man who looked to be in his late forties. I thought to myself, oh no, what could I have possibly done. Unsurprisingly, a total stranger just walking right up to me made me feel really frightened.
He informed me that he was from a modelling agency called Career Models and asked me whether I had done any modelling before, seemingly shocked when I told him no, I hadn’t.
Previously, I had been told by many family members to try out modelling as they believed I had the right body type and look for it but I’d never really given it much thought. Not until that man showed up.
He gave me his business card, took my number, and told me to get in touch if I was interested in starting a modelling career.
I went home that day, sat down at my computer, and began researching what modelling was like.
I found out that the industry has a wide range of models (different shapes, sizes, and complexions). I then realised modest fashion and commercial modelling would be where I would best fit in the industry. People never failed to realise that I had an enthusiastic, bold, and passionate personality which made me think maybe my attitude could be perfect for modelling. I always loved taking pictures and dressing up, using different looks and colours to always stand out from the crowd.
This is where it all began…
My first shoot
Tuesday 7th July 2020. I would never forget the great excitement and nervousness I felt on that day.
It was the very first shoot that I was asked to model in, and from this, the directors would decide which of these potential future models were good enough to sign.
I did four different looks: winter, summer, sports, and classy. I felt like a celebrity; bright lights, cameras flashing. It was all eyes on me, I had to prove myself and show them my different styling techniques whilst posing in various ways at a quick pace to maintain a look and adapt to the niche of the shoot. I was in my true element.
Witnessing so many beautiful young women of all colours, shapes, and sizes were so empowering. Despite this, there was a sense of competition in the air since they could only pick a limited number of people for the various modelling categories and thousands of us were at the shoot. I had a little feeling of uncertainty but decided to ignore it and just enjoy the moment.
Almost immediately after an 8-hour-long shoot, I was told the news that I was short-listed and have been successfully signed to becoming a commercial model and that many different agencies wanted to work with me. I was ecstatic and could not believe what I had accomplished.
My second shoot
A few weeks later, during the pandemic, I got a call from a friend I met at a networking event called Make a Difference. She had asked me to model for a new dresses collection from a well-known company. Of course, I was delighted to be part of it!
I wore a total of four traditional Somali dresses called ‘Baati’. I got dressed each time in a tent which was really uncomfortable but still worth the experience. My modelling career was taking off in such a short period of time and it was shocking.
Modelling in front of civilians walking by really built my confidence up; the ability to shut out the outside world whilst you are the centre of attention, trying to look your best was really tricky but it was an environment where you had to adapt and get used to uncomfortable situations really quickly.
Modelling for a YouTuber
When a very well-known YouTuber directly messaged me on Instagram asking me to model for her new hijab (headscarf) line — someone who has nearly 80 thousand followers on Instagram, and over 500 thousand subscribers on YouTube, chose me to model for her! — I couldn’t believe it, I thought I was dreaming.
However, this experience also was the turning point for me.
It was brought to my attention that the power of everything, from head to toe, was given to the director of the shoot. And I started to hate the fact that I had no say in what I was wearing or how my makeup was done — for example, I felt as though I looked awful with the smokey eye look (and the reason I knew so much about makeup was that my other passion was makeup, hoping I would be a makeup artist one day).
It started to dawn on me how the team on set disregarded my feelings, leading me to have really negative thoughts:
‘I do not look beautiful’
‘Other girls’ makeup look better than mine’
‘I have the worst outfit selection’
Despite modelling for someone I looked up to, I agreed to follow directions because I was scared to disappoint others — and from that shoot, things went downhill.
Why things turned difficult
There were many factors that eventually led me to quit, the main one being that it destroyed my mental health.
The modelling industry is very competitive, and on top of that other women look down on each other because they believe their beauty is better than yours and there is a sense of jealousy if one model is on set longer than another.
Automatically making the other one feel very less of herself, and comparing her beauty to another woman.
I got thrown in the deep end with no guidance and proper management, and this led me to feel really insecure about myself. The girl who once was the most confident outspoken girl became the quiet girl that wanted to go unnoticed, the girl who hid behind everyone else’s shadows, that no longer wanted to be the centre of attention.
I started to get sick of people touching me, and having no control over what I did on set scared me.
I did not want to be given a schedule that told me what I was going to do; I enjoyed my independence.
To add, people were not witnessing different types of beauty because the people who were in control of the publications and the designers in power are not making it happen.
Having a ‘hijabi’ model was something very new to the industry and I have experienced feeling oppressed and not having any say in what I wore. The hijab is a religious garment that is meant to be worn with empowerment, but eventually, I drifted away and got into the confusing grey area of letting the team on-set to style my hijab.
I thought: Why don’t I have a voice anymore?
How I coped with these negative experiences
One way I learned to deal with all these issues I was facing was to research every shoot I was taking part in, and knowing what it was for before I accept attending any shoots. Also, I researched my rights as a model and what is acceptable and what was not. This helped me be assertive about what I was going to tolerate, and I pushed myself to make my opinion known.
However, speaking out and taking control enabled me to protect my mental health, but the industry has an opinionated model, and this is what I had become.
Eventually, the team did not like my opinion and say so they reduced my shoots and it led me to terminate my contract.
Since then I worked on my mental health and I am glad I walked away from not being able to take control or being appreciated.
This was the best decision I have made and since then I have been the happiest.