Looking back on the history of fashion there was always a need for good looking male and female “models” who would represent the work of tailors, designers, brands and shops selling clothes, shoes and accessories. The human figure was an inspiration for painters and sculptors from the Ancient times, and the perception of “a perfect body“ and facial features varied between certain eras and cultures alike. However, “full figured” women that were once considered the ultimate ideal of the female body slowly disbanded in favour of slim and tall bodies. The perception of female beauty did not, however; change overnight. It took centuries, and the ideals known as Michelangelo’s Venus and Marilyn Monroe are today Kate Moss or Gisele Bundchen.
The fashion industry today is indeed a huge machinery. The latest trends are brought to us by designers, hair-stylists, makeup artists and models, naturally. But what is “a model”? Is it just any girl or does she have to fit some standards to be accepted in the commercial fashion world? Those models are represented by agencies and chosen during castings, and besides natural beauty they need to satisfy some other standards as well. Those are the girls who are getting payed for walking down the runways or posing for editorials or catalogues. The girl doesn´t get to choose what to wear or how to look, she is merely a blank canvas, willing to put just anything on her body, feet or face, accepting her whole appearance to be altered according to the vision of a designer. She will let her long hair be cut or wear a wig, giving up all of her personal style for the job she must do, and her job is exactly that, the job that pays her bills. Those girls must be of a certain age and body shape, even her cheek bones matter.
But there is one segment of fashion that still accepts bodies of all shape and sizes and that is alternative fashion. Being an alternative model, you don’t have to fit to size XXS or be 178cm tall. You don’t need to diet or exercise, you don’t even have to fit a contemporary standard of beauty. And there is a growing demand for those models and quite an explosion of alternative modeling. However, even though it seems everyone can do it, it is not quite so!
Girls do struggle for their breakthrough even in the market that doesn’t require much training, skills or physical standards needed in commercial modeling.
So if there is a need for unusual looking ladies who dye their hair pink or green or don’t have hair at all and are covered in tattoos and piercings, where does the need for such models come from? Usually from designers, brands and shops specialized in “alternative fashion” for various subcultures. There are not so many fashion shows where those models are needed, and in time of internet and social networking, those models turned to online promotion where their photography portfolio is of great importance.
Today we can witness a great online boom of alternative models, and because of all the reasons mentioned above. It could be summed up to “anyone can do it”. Having that as a guideline, everyone can really try doing it. But is everyone equally good at it?
I have worked with quite a lot of girls that can fit into the description of an alternative model. The girls usually have no professional training and are mostly older than a commercial model. They rarely or if ever are willing to step out of their personal style or comfort zone to do anything but present themselves just the way they are. Try suggesting an alternative model to wear something they don’t personally like, they would very often decline. So how much of the word “model” can even apply to them?
Since the market is much smaller, there is usually less money involved or if any, and neither models nor photographers usually get any fees. And for that reason alternative models have less chance to get to professional photographers so their portfolios may suffer. Exceptions always exist, and good quality photo and modeling collaborations are being made. However, the majority of alternative models struggle to find a good collaboration when it comes to photography. Models usually collaborate with shops, brands and designers in exchange for clothing or accessories. The photographers receive even less, and it is not a secret that the scene is very poor in bank notes. Again, there are exceptions, but taking a step back to the big picture, this is what alternative modeling really looks like at this very moment. Even if there are makeup artists and hair-stylist involved, when it comes to alternative modeling, again, almost noone is getting payed. That is why most of those models are also their own hair-stylists and makeup artists.
There are many online pages where models can turn for help to get more promotion but statistically the majority of the audience on those pages are people who are not a part of the fashion business nor can they help alternative models get payed assignments no matter how good their portfolios are. A handful of the audience is really interested in the photos or can even distinguish a good model or good photo work from a less quality one. Being popular in the alternative modeling world doesn’t mean you will ever be able to live on it.
The trap one can easily fall into is neglecting one’s other values such as their educations, professions and skills thus submitting everything to a virtual life and non-payed assignments, sacrificing a lot for a couple of shots that can maybe lead them to some better chance of work and recognition. Another trap is sadly the number of likes and “you are so gorgeous” comments on facebook but which in reality means little if coming from someone who isn’t a manager, agent or publisher that can actually do something for a girl.
But I don´t only want to mention the obvious disadvantage of alternative modeling, I will move on to some brighter moments of my numerous experiences. I have worked with some extremely talented ladies and I didn’t even care how they got their talents, whether it was natural or trained. What mattered was who obviously put a lot of effort in their modeling and even went beyond, evolving into a real artist. Because I don’t consider modeling as something just everyone can do. I am the first one to admit I could never do it. It is hard, it requires skills and dedication if you want to be the one who stands out and has a chance to work with good photographers and reach the covers of some magazines and even earn a buck. I greatly admire those alternative models who even do their own photowork, who took the time to learn a bit about photography and photoshop and who can do some excellent artwork themselves. Those models who put effort and time into learning about the whole process and even legal matters that are of a great importance as well, they do stand out of the crowd and have really good quality portfolios. So all my respect for those. And those models are the first ones to admit there is no money in what they do or very little of it, while some others are reluctant to admit they are mostly doing it only out of love for their hobbies and some garment. What really does concern me as a photographer and a retoucher is the ever growing need for altering the visual appearance so much to the point when a girl doesn’t present her true looks. I agree, some minor corrections are welcome and in some cases a necessity but if a person is beyond recognition, why even bother?
Don’t mistake any of this for the commercial fashion industry where real models and real photographers do earn money and not a dress and facebook likes. The truth about alternative modeling is mainly this and this article is in fact maybe not even for everyone to read. Rather take this as a guideline if you are considering alternative modeling as an option for paying your bills, it simply won’t do. Many alternative models have steady jobs or have other skills that feed them, being performers, dancers, designers, writers, makeup artists, musicians, even photographers themselves, combining their modeling with some of their other interests and are usually creative girls attracted to fashion and visual aethetics. However, if one thinks of living solely on alternative modeling, maybe some open hearted talk with other alternative models can help clear a few things up.
Article by Marija Buljeta
All photo work by Marija Buljeta
Models: Morgana Le Fay, VenusMantrap, Natasha, Willa Valo, Eri Coco, Sandra, Anni