Bullish Life Fashion Week Edition: What Modeling Taught Me About Men, Money, and Life

Your Desire to Be Thought of As Very Pretty Can and Will Be Used Against You

It is very hard to get paid as a model because so very many girls want to be able to call themselves models that they will happily work for free.

I am reminded of a friend of mine who teaches writing workshops. Once, her class got very excited when she simply said, “You are all writers.” She said that sometimes what people want is not so much the writing lessons as to be dubbed “writers” (here, she made a gesture like a king knighting someone), to have some authority’s permission to call themselves that. You could do a photoshoot in Central Park at no cost to yourself and advertise on Craigslist for “models,” and girls will show up because, dear god, now they’re real models!

I am also reminded of a “modeling conference” associated with OneModelPlace that I attended in 2005 or so. Somehow, I’d gotten hooked up with a free invite, so I stopped in, only to see a lot of frankly delusional teenagers walking around with their mothers, and a few tall, attractive young women being photographed by people who have absolutely no power in the fashion industry. There was also a seminar on makeup being given by a makeup saleslady.

Narcissists make very good customers. You can sell people an infinity of things by feeding their narcissism.

On the other side of the equation, really, really needing other people’s approval — or constantly wishing inside that your moment onstage will come even though you are in no way involved in the performing arts — makes you vulnerable to exploitation.

For instance: the wedding-industrial complex in the United States. Why does the average American wedding cost $25,000? In some part, because lots of women really, really want to be pretty, pretty princesses. I’ve long noted that women who perform for a living often no longer have this impulse. If you’re onstage all the time, you don’t need to use your marriage as an opportunity to play princess. Musician Amanda Palmer married Neil Gaiman in a spur-of-the-moment ceremony in someone’s living room, despite the fact that at least one of them is a multimillionaire.

In her post about the wedding, Palmer wrote, “I think part of the attraction of having a giant wedding is that, as a bride, you get to be a total rock star for a day, The focus is pretty much on you for a collection of hours, and you can spend months and months planning how you want to shine in that spotlight. As Amanda Palmer, for better or worse, I already do this every day.”

I wrote a column here about overcoming narcissism. I am definitely formerly guilty, and I hope I’ve grown out of it. In my opinion, the opposite of narcissism isn’t self-effacement. It’s something more like citizenship. (See Bullish Life: When Achievements Just Leave You Feeling Empty.)

No One Has a Future Plan for You (But You)

I wrote in Bullish: What to Do About Being (Temporarily) Pretty about women getting by on their looks needing to transition to a “brain-based economy.”

Modeling is definitely one of those careers with no plan for the future. Anything you’re propping up with youth and beauty is a losing game; you’ll have to work harder and harder over time just to get the same results. It is the exact opposite of passive income, wherein you build something useful to others and profit from it for years to come.

Certainly, some models (Heidi Klum! Kathy Ireland!) have parlayed their modeling careers into other, modeling-related careers. Excellent. Beautiful. I have nothing bad to say about this. But these women’s modeling agencies certainly didn’t set that up for them.

I wrote in Bullish: How Business Is Like Dating that, while you may be monogamous to the company you work for, it is not monogamous to you; your company is totally seeing other employees. It certainly does not have a grand plan for your career.

I wrote in Bullish Life: 3 Romantic Mistakes That Young Women Make That Cause Weeping Among The Angels And Kittens that men in general certainly are not looking out for you or curating your romantic experience to work out in some satisfying story arc, and any individual man should not be assumed to be doing any such advance planning on your behalf unless he (very) explicitly says so.

In other words, the universe will totally let you spend all of your twenties on something that’s going nowhere. No one’s going to stop you. There’s no magic point in time wherein you will suddenly have a different, more adult life. Nope, you’ll just end up in your thirties with pretty much the same stagnant life you had in your twenties, except it’ll look a lot less adorable on you.

See Bullish: Extreme Advance Planning For Very Smart Women and Bullish: Screw New Year’s Resolutions Try Designing Your Career for more on creating a strategic plan.

In sum…

Of course looks are important. Simply looking healthy is always a plus for a career; employers like to feel that you won’t get out of breath on the way to a sales call and won’t die of consumption right after the training period. I wrote in Bullish Life: Gentlewomen Don’t Crash Diet that looking about 80% of your best is usually the optimal solution for people who aren’t models.

In fact, I’m pretty sure the optimal situation is to look pretty good, pretend you don’t know that you’re attractive, and go do something difficult and useful to others that also doesn’t happen to have very many attractive people doing it.

And by the way, if you don’t think you’re that conventionally attractive and you felt that this mostly didn’t apply to you, here’s something I’ve noticed: beauty democratizes with age. If you take care of yourself really well and basically just look the same as you always have, but with updated hair and clothes, somewhere around decade after college, people start complimenting you for how amazing you look. That is, since entropy and mortality are the natural way of things, merely looking the same as before passes for looking good as your cohort ages. So just exercise a lot, buy things that look expensive, and wait for everyone else to fall apart due to their own laziness. (See Bullish Life: What To Do When You’re Surrounded By Lazy Idiots (and Sweet, Fragile Simpletons).”

Oh, and check in to The Grindstone on Friday for “Bullish Fashion Week Edition: What I Learned About Business from Being a Low-Rent Model.”

Send in your questions to bullish@thegloss.com. See a Bullish archive here.

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    • Bitsy Pamperton

      This is an excellent article. Did you read Erotic Capital yet? If you present yourself well (make-up, hair, jewelry, sharp outfits, pleasant figure) at work and school, you do not have fairy tale wedding desires since you are accustomed to daily compliments- unless you have Narcissistic PD or Histrionic PD.

    • Amy

      I have to say, when you said that being pretty doesn’t get you far, I immediately was taken aback. Being pretty doesn’t get you that far? Are you kidding me? Pretty people get better grades, better jobs, better everything. Honestly, there is a sort of reward system for being pretty. There is a friendly Jesus who gives you better opportunities in every facet of your life. Maybe you just haven’t seen it from the other side.

      • Lizzie

        What she means is model-beautiful, not average-person-pretty. I think that after a certain threshold of attractiveness, the rules of the game change. That’s what this writer is saying. It’s the same thing with intelligence. You hear about so many brilliant people in the news who have higher IQs than Einstein, but in general they tend not to do anything really outstanding with their lives. You need a certain level of attractiveness, but after a certain point on the bell curve, the correlation between beauty and success seems to lessen. If you read the whole article, and the “in sum” in particular, she basically spells out this idea.

    • Fabel

      Well, I’m one of those people who’s “noticed I’m kind of pretty” & this article also took me back. In a good way, because it’s all very true & good advice.

    • Georgie

      Amy – I think you missed the point a bit…yes being pretty gives you a step up, but relying on beauty to give you a fulfilling job and a roof over your head is ultimately not going to work as well as putting in the hard yards

    • Jennifer Dziura

      Thanks Georgie, Fabel, and Bitsy!

      Amy — I certainly agree that being attractive gives you an added boost in most things. The evidence is overwhelming: even babies prefer conventionally attractive people.

      However, being pretty *without doing something else well* is kind of like taking steroids without exercising. This will get a person nowhere.

      Plenty of ridiculously attractive women are eating ramen and contemplating become escorts (fine if you want to, but very sad if you don’t) because they thought being pretty, all by itself, would get them further (and a paycheck).


    • Eileen

      If there’s anything I’ve learned from being best friends with a professional model (yes, she does support herself by it, and yes, she does make a ton of money over fashion week), it’s that while being very tall, very thin, and generally attractive are prerequisites for being a working model, they’re prerequisites in the way that having completed eighth grade is a prerequisite for medical school – you have to bust your ass working for yourself if you want to get there.

      • Jennifer Dziura

        “they’re prerequisites in the way that having completed eighth grade is a prerequisite for medical school” — Loved this!

    • Andrea

      My friend was a size 2 and she was told that she would make a good plus-sized model. Being pretty is not enough, true; because you have to be emaciated to be successful.

      p.s. I read GIRLS GONE MILD and it wasn’t about no sex; it was about new role models for girls. Is Jen talking about the same book, by Wendy Shalit?

      • Jennifer Dziura

        Hi Andrea,

        A Return to Modesty certainly does advocate no sex before marriage, and Girls Gone Mild is in line with that philosophy, but yes, that book is about new role models for girls. It’s easy to get two books by the same author, plus many blog posts and conversations, a bit blurred in one’s head.


    • jimmie chew

      being pretty is better than being ugly. be glad for what you got!