‘Of Course I’d Overhear People Saying I Was Fat’. The Reality Of Being A Fashion Week Model

Also: being told you have a wonky face. And not getting paid.


by Pandora Sykes |
Published on

I’ve been modelling since I was 14 and have walked in eight seasons of London Fashion Week. But I had to stop doing LFW when I was 21, because I started when I had a boy’s body and then I grew boobs and an arse and I couldn’t walk anymore... That was two years ago.

The most tiring thing about London Fashion Week is the castings. They’d be a few days beforehand, or sometimes even just three hours before a show. They can’t really do them in advance, as models would be flying in from New York Fashion Week. I would do up to 15 castings a day and you are traipsing all over London. I would feel really sorry for the foreign girls who had never been to the city before, so I’d try to babysit them! There are literally 500 girls for 30 places in the catwalk show. It’s brutal. I would get told that they weren’t going to book me because I didn’t fit the clothes. I overheard people call me fat, or talking about my ‘wonky face’. I used to get upset, everyone does. It’s kind of impossible not to be upset about being called fat and wonky! You line up and queue for fucking hours and then you get that shit thrown at you.

It would depend on the look of a season, but I’d normally get booked for about seven to 12 shows during London Fashion Week. I’d arrive about an hour and a half before the show started for hair and make-up, but the really big girls will come in just before the show starts. On a shoot, you can be in hair and make-up for five hours, but for a catwalk show everything is so quick. For an on-schedule show (the bigger shows happen on the official schedule; the smaller ones happen all over London and are classified as ‘off schedule’) I’d get paid around £300 a show and for an off-schedule one, it was meant to be about £100 – but to be honest the designers often end up bankrupting themselves and I rarely got paid. I used to get really uspet when I didn’t get booked for an on-schedule show, but I learned to harden myself against it.

I overheard people call me fat, or talking about my 'wonky face' and I used to get upset. It's kind of impossible not to be upset about being called fat and wonky!

The thing is, you are still so young and it’s so full on. You can’t walk on the catwalk under the age of 16 in the UK, but that's still really young. There would be girls literally breaking down, blaming the way they look and it would be like watching little girls crying because nobody likes them. Really heart-breaking.

I would see a lot of girls with eating disorders. No-one did anything about it. I just had to ignore it. No-one was on the edge of being hospitalised, but only just. They put so much make-up on their bodies for the shows, that you don't really see the skininess. I have always been really lucky with my bookers, they looked after me, but a lot of girls are pressured to do things that they don’t wanna do. They would get pressured to leave school, do more castings, be told that they HAVE TO DO THIS or they would get in trouble. I didn’t have much confidence when I started, but by the end I got pretty bolshy.

It’s such a cliché that models are bitches. It’s a very supportive environment. You have got your own little groups, but it’s still a real sisterhood. You have to look after each other, because the environment is just crazy. The only time there is bitchiness is when people don’t get many shows and other girls might get loads. Girls don’t fight over male models, though. We are friends with them, but all my friends just thought the male models were silly! Definitely not cool guys we wanted to date. As for the argument about male models getting paid less than girls... we do more work than male models, so it’s right that we get paid more. They just get a tiny bit of hair and make-up and they’re done, quite frankly.

I would see a lot of girls with eating disorders. No-one did anything about it. I just had to ignore it

I quit the catwalk for commercial modelling when I was 21, because I didn’t fit the clothes and I wasn’t getting booked. I didn’t want to lose weight because it didn‘t pay well and it’s just not worth it. If you are really young and into fashion then it’s fascinating as it’s brand new and lures you in, but you do go off it. I’m just not very interested in fashion any more. It’s not ‘cool’ to be a commercial model, but I don’t care – you get paid more and your career lasts longer. Most catwalk models, unless they become supermodels, quit high fashion by the age of 22. With commercial modelling, I can do this for life; I can be the mum, or the older lady. I think I will always do it part-time, as it’s great money.

I don’t miss the catwalk AT ALL. I was glad I did it, because everything shapes who you are. I saw a lot of things, experienced a lot of parties and, er, partied very hard! My advice to young models would be to try a season and have a real ‘fuck ’em’ attitude about it, if you don't get booked. It’s not about you. It’s a business.

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Illustration: Hisashi Okawa

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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