Kate Moss was walking through an airport. Giselle was chowing down on a hamburger in a Brazilian fast food joint. Natalia Vodianova was slinging flowers at a street-side stand in Russia. Yes, for every supermodel, there is an accompanying “How-I-Got-Discovered” super story. The stars aligned and these young women happened to walk in front of the right person at the right time and — bam! — overnight success. Imagine that! Eating a hamburger?! The truth is, it’s likely 103 models have been discovered eating hamburgers over the last four decades. It’s just that Giselle became famous. Her hamburger is the only one that gets talked about.
All of these stories are of the distinctively American Dream varietal, tales of extraordinary ordinariness that make you think it could happen to you.
Well, could it?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2009 only 1,660 men and women are considered “professional models” and each year, only 80 spots open up for high-profile careers – these are the girls you see on runways, in magazines, plastered on billboards. They date rock stars and marry rich, and in ten years, you likely won’t hear from any of them ever again. In terms of barrier of entry, this type of modeling career ranks up there with becoming an astronaut or the President of the United States of America. Landing a Lanvin campaign is about as difficult as landing on the moon. Literally.
What the statistics don’t show are the thousands who try to get into the industry and fail, or the ones who are granted entrance but never end up making any money, or the ones who do. For every Kate Moss, there are fistfuls of nameless, faceless hopefuls. In many respects, it is an impossible career.
So why do so many young people want desperately to be models when the odds are clearly against them? I could tell you. I’ve done the agency rounds, walked on runways, traveled to Paris. I’m one of those “lucky” 1,660 that gets to fill in “model” in the occupation box on my tax returns and insurance paperwork.
Meet your new Model-in-Residence, Jenny Bahn.
I’ve been modeling lucratively, though not necessarily successfully, for ten years. You’ve probably never heard of me. I never managed to score one of those 80 “high-profile” spots. I never landed a spread in Elle or flew business class to the Maldives for a Victoria’s Secret shoot. And I’m definitely not Giselle.
Still, we’ve all got stories to tell. We’ve all got our hamburgers. I’m going to share mine. —Jenny Bahn
photo by: Jenny Bahn