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How I Became a Model

by Gabrielle Taber

Model Gabrielle Taber If you had asked me five years ago what I would be doing now, I would not have been lacking for an ambitious dream to share with you. I would have told you that I would be making movies, acting in a Broadway musical, performing at the Metropolitan Opera, recording my first album, writing a novel or a book of poems. But I never would have guessed that I would be a model, or that the modeling industry would play such a large role in my life.

Don’t get me wrong – I love being a model. I love getting my picture taken. I enjoy wearing interesting fashions. I love feeling beautiful. I like the fact that, at its best, modeling can be a form of art. I am thankful for the opportunity to travel so often and to meet so many fascinating people. Overall, it’s been a wonderful experience. I just couldn’t foresee it happening to me.

I’m an actor and a singer by training, and have been so since I was two years old. Performance art has always played a central part of my life. My appearance had always been an asset to me, but always as an accent to my performance abilities rather than the primary focal point of my audience. Being attractive may have broken some ties in competitive auditions, but I am confident that my skills and talent were the main reasons I was called back in the first place.

Although I do not feel that my weight was a fatal flaw for me at theater and movie auditions, I have developed suspicions that it may have limited the sort of parts I was considered for.

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I remember a high-ranking administrator at a conservatory I had attended commenting once that if only I’d lose twenty pounds, I’d be the perfect ingenue. I was shocked to hear him say that. I felt that I was ingenue material right then, and had always felt comfortable in that category. I had never considered the possibility that I could be discriminated against because of my weight.

I personally feel that people are at their most beautiful when they are healthy looking. There are no exceptions to this. Not all people are supposed to be rail thin. Not all people look healthy when their ribs are showing. In fact, I think it is safe to say that most people do not. I think bodies look better when they have some curves on them. I think they are more interesting, and feel nicer to the touch. I don’t think eating a healthy amount of food is a sin, or that obsessive marathon workouts are ethical obligations. That doesn’t make me right, but that’s just the way I feel.

This brings me, in a roundabout way, to the story of how I became a model. I have had people tell me I should be a model on several occasions. Half of them were freelance photographers who would have been more than happy to do the first test shoot for my portfolio, so I took those compliments with a grain of salt. The other people made me think, “I bet I could be a model. Why not?” So one summer a couple of years back I threw some snapshots of myself in the suitcase when I went to visit my brother in New York City, and took the subway over to the biggest agency I could think of one day while he was at work.

I knew absolutely nothing about “modeling protocol.” I didn’t know that most agencies held open calls on a semi-regular basis, and that people weren’t necessarily welcome to drop by an agency with a couple of pics any time they were in town. Nevertheless, the receptionist was very cordial to me, looked at my pictures, and buzzed an agent. The agent came out, looked at me, glanced at my pictures, told me that I was beautiful, but they couldn’t use me because they already had a redhead they were pushing and it wouldn’t be fair to me to take me on just to put me in competition with her. I said thanks, and could they think of any other agencies that they could refer me to?

The agent suggested that I try another major agency, that they may need a redhead. So I got the address from the receptionist and went on over there. I walked in, and the receptionist greeted me. I told him I was thinking about doing some modeling and wanted to see if they were interested in representing me. It didn’t occur to me at the time that I was doing anything plucky or brazen, so I said it with a straight face.

The receptionist looked kind of taken aback, but quickly regained his composure and asked to see my pictures. He fell in love with what he saw (he told me later) and rang up their plus size agent. I didn’t get to see the agent, though. Instead, her assistant came out. She looked at my snapshots, told me I was beautiful, could she keep these for a while, and she’d have the agent call me. I said sure, thinking that I didn’t feel like going to anymore agencies, so why not let them keep the pictures. I went out for a late lunch and thought no more of it.

The next morning I get a call from this lady who is extremely enthusiastic about my modeling career. I’m thinking, “what modeling career?” She told me that she wanted me to come down and meet her that afternoon, and if things worked out, sign a contract for her to represent me.

I get up, take a shower, get ready, and navigate my way back from the Lower East Side to Upper West Side. The agent came out and greeted me, and we went back to her office. She told me that she really saw potential in me, and that she felt confident that I would be a very successful plus-size model.

What? What do you mean? What’s a “plus-size” model?

She stopped for a moment, then explained to me that there were two markets for models: straight size and plus size. Straight size was the larger of the two markets, which was somewhat ironic because straight size was such a tiny (no pun intended) fraction of the actual female population, particularly in America. Plus size modeling was a relatively recent phenomenon, but was picking up momentum quickly because of the hugely positive response of female consumers. Whereas straight size modeling tapers off at between sizes 4 and 6, plus size modeling was for sizes 12 and up.

Personally, I run the gamut between sizes 8 and 12, which I later found out placed me in a sort of modeling vortex. I was just a little too large for straight size modeling, but unfortunately I wasn’t quite big enough to qualify for a lot of plus size modeling jobs. But I didn’t find this out until later, and didn’t bother mentioning at the time that I was right in the middle of straight and plus, in “no-models land.”

I told her I was definitely interested, but that I’d need to go home and discuss it with my parents because I value their input very much. My parents were very positive about the idea, but they had a lot of good questions that I hadn’t thought to ask. Would I have to move to New York? How much would I get paid? How much would I have to spend? How long before I could support myself without a second job? They were all important issues, and at that moment I realized how much work it would take to turn one afternoon’s flight of fancy into a reality.

The next day I went back and met with the agent again. Yes, I’d need to move to New York because I’d need to be available to go on “go-sees;” in other words, to meet with potential clients so they could decide if they wanted to book me. I’d get paid on commission for the work that I booked. I’d have to make some initial investments in test shoots, developing and printing; a portfolio for me to take on go-sees as well as one for the agency to send out to clients who requested it, as well as the design and printing of my “comp cards,” (a.k.a. composite cards), which are like 5” X 8” business cards with my pictures and measurements on each side along with the agency’s logo and contact information. As for how long before I get to be just a model, and not a model and a waitress, I found out what I’d kind of anticipated: No on knows. It could be a year before your first five-figure contract, or it could be two years before you even get your first job. It all depended on marketing, personal ambition, professional skill, and a little bit of luck.

Having tended to always be a fairly lucky person, and having faith in the thick skin, commitment, and perseverance I had developed from years and years of acting auditions, I decided to go for it. I signed my contract, and started thinking about all the things I’d need to do to get my stuff out of North Carolina and up to Manhattan.

That is how I started modeling.

Gabrielle - http://www.super-model.net

Copyright Gabrielle Taber. Reprinted at www.beautyworlds.com with permission

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