Don’t Call Me a Model
Photo by Shaun Simpson
As a teen one of my first jobs was working at a local grocery store cleaning washrooms and pushing carts. Finally, one day I got promoted to put out the magazines on the racks every month. I definitely spent more time looking at the magazines than I did actually putting them out on display. I could not afford to buy fashion magazines for myself, so it was the first time that I could flip through the glossy pages and not feel judged. I thought somehow these magazines would have an answer to all of the questions I had about who I was as a person. To my surprise, all of the males represented were these buff men getting out of the ocean with abs I could basically exfoliate myself on. I did not see myself reflected on those pages. I really questioned if there were other men out there that looked like me. I was a tall, very skinny man who got mistaken for a woman on the daily because of my light voice and long hair. The more months that passed, the more frustrated I got with these magazines. I was looking for someone to validate the self-expression that I was feeling an urge to unlock but there were no traces of hope in mainstream media that I could find. From that day forward, I realized that I must leave my dreams of being an archaeologist behind. If there were no men like me on the pages of magazines, then I would put myself there - why shouldn’t I have representation too? I wanted to send a message to someone in a small town like myself that it’s ok to be yourself and that they were enough. I wanted to change the way mainstream media preached what it was to be considered male. If i wanted to wear makeup and embrace my body type, why could that not be considered masculine?
Now having a clear sight of the stars I needed to reach for, I sent some images to a local modelling agency and got signed. With my newfound confidence, I thought this agency was going to embrace who I was and that that was why they wanted to represent me. To my surprise, I was met with a laundry list of demands of all the things that I needed to change about myself. I was not allowed to wear makeup, I needed to learn how to walk like a “man”, I could not wear women's or fitted clothing, I must have short hair, and I needed to gain more muscle. I guess in my mind I wanted to model so badly at that point that I never questioned the agent’s demands, I could not understand why the more and more I changed myself, the less healthy I became emotionally. A year passed, I didn't book any paid work and could hardly get a photoshoot to build my portfolio. I became so frustrated and suppressed that there reached a point where I simply said NO! I needed the power back that I had a taste of in high school. I felt like I had been forced back into the closet and needed to break back out.
I walked away from that agency and started to manage myself. Shooting self portraits once again of myself wearing my editorial makeup creations and embracing gender fluid silhouettes. The internet soon became my PR. Slowly, photographers and designers started to take notice and they celebrated what made me unique. A confidence I once knew started to come back to me step by step. I moved to Toronto at 19 to try and further my career. Pouring my soul into everything I did, I strutted down runways and showcased something new to the Toronto Fashion Industry. I grew into a genderless platinum blonde model in sky high heels that people were slightly confused by, but intrigued. Landing ad campaigns with Project Runway winner Evan Biddell and shooting with photographers that got me featured by Vogue Italia, I was collecting all the stars that I had set out to find. With every season of fashion week that passed, it excited me to see more and more different gender identities bring their heels to the runway. With this growing success in Toronto, I wanted to push myself further and work internationally. I was making an impact and I needed to keep building on it. I was 22 at the time and Paris fashion week was calling me, but I had no idea that it would change my perspective of the industry forever.
As a model getting to walk in Paris fashion week, you believe it’s going to change your career. I was flown from Toronto to open and close a show for fashion week and it seriously was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. While I was in Paris, I wanted to make the most of my trip and my agent sent me to many castings. I couldn’t believe how blunt the casting directors were compared to the ones in Canada. I know that I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, but you don't need to be flat out cruel about it. I will never forget the last go-see I ever went on where a condescending casting director asked me in a baby voice if I wanted to be a "real model" and gave me another list of everything I would need to change about myself to make that happen. I looked him in the eyes and said, “Thank you for your time, but I will not change who I am to be considered a model by you”. From that moment forward, I no longer wanted to be called a model. I wanted to celebrate all that makes me unique. Here are all of my flaws, take them as they are! The things that make me different are not a weakness but my strengths and I am beautiful.
Photo by Jonathan Hooper
Social media became even more important for me. I felt the need to share my story and life experiences with all of you. I know that there are many young people out there who dream to be a model but I feel like no one ever talks about the negative part of the industry. Many start at such a young age and it can be such a psychological mindfuck with so many opinions coming at you left right and center. My best advice to anyone who wants to get into modelling is that you need to make a choice. Do you want to be a clothes hanger or do you want to have a voice? Don't think that you need a modelling agent to be successful. Social media is so powerful it can change your career overnight, look at supermodel Winnie Harlow. Maybe becoming an influencer or blogger is a better fit for you if you’re interested in being more than ornamental. Don't be fooled by the glitz and glamour you see in advertising. Modelling is one of the least glamorous jobs out there. I am so grateful for all the designers, models, stylist and photographer that I have worked with over the years. Creating with all of you was the best part of this entire journey I went on. As special thanks to Jonathan Hooper & Fashion Art Toronto for being so influential to my career. Thank you for never asking me to change and letting us celebrate individuality together.
Oh and PS, don't call me a model…..
Photo by Nick Merzetti
This article is by no means meant to offend anyone associated with the modelling industry. I have a great deal of respect for all models, and this post is just my opinion based on personal experiences as someone with a non traditional look.