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Wilhelmina Guide to Modeling

About The Book

Every year, thousands of young men and women descend on America's largest cities to make it big in the world of modeling. Unfortunately, most of them end up disappointed because they lack the knowledge they need to work in this exciting industry.
A few do make it, though, and you can be one of those who do. In The Wilhelmina Guide to Modeling, Natasha Esch reveals all her secrets to give you the edge you need.

    In this informative and illustrated manual, you'll learn about:
  • How to get started and find the right agency.
  • The modeling opportunities in domestic and foreign markets, including new opportunities in the plus-size, male, and ethnic segments.
  • The people who make it happen, including interviews with models, photographers, and stylists.
  • And much, much more.


Chapter 1


Physical Requirements

Generally, your chances of becoming successful as a female print model are best if you are between 5'9" and 5'11 ", a dress size 6-8, with long slender limbs, a long graceful neck and a beautiful face with even features.

Most models maintain a disciplined exercise routine. There are some notable exceptions among the female ranks, however. A few girls with unbelievable figures claim never to have exercised at all! Procedures such as breast enlargement, tummy and thigh liposuction and even calf implants can dramatically alter the shape of a woman's body. Some models have even gone so far as to have ribs removed to make their waists smaller. But some of these "jobs" are rather obvious looking. I'm sure examples come to mind. Plastic surgery is not recommended for models, male or female. The results are unpredictable and often permanent. Many of the procedures are expensive and dangerous. There is always risk involved: the risk of infection and scarring. Even the risks posed by general anesthesia must be considered. No career is worth risking your life -- if you don't have the prerequisites, don't try to create them.

A model, male or female, with the right proportions, who is healthy, exercises and maintains a balanced diet will be in ideal form for assignments. There are few figure problems that can't be corrected by diet and exercise if the basic body proportions are within the range required for modeling. Even when a girl is shorter than 5'9", with measurements less than the typical bust 34, waist 24, hips 34, she may find work as a beauty model, as a petite model, in the smaller markets, or in Japan. We've already noted that a few exceptionally beautiful girls have done well as models in the major markets even though they are smaller in stature than the usual requisite. Bigger girls can explore the growing plus size market. A number of major New York agencies have divisions for larger size models, including Wilhelmina Models and Ford Models.

Of course, there's work for all shapes and sizes in commercial print and television. All the major American markets have agencies that handle talented professionals interested in pursuing careers in these areas.

A minimum exercise routine for the busy model consists of twenty minutes of sustained aerobic exercise (dance, step classes, bicycling, in-line skating, swimming) three times a week. This will maintain the all-round healthy, toned look that is most in demand in all markets.

Always consult your physician before beginning any new exercise routine.

Schools and Contests

While modeling schools are not a necessary step for the beginning model, some of them do bring in agents of reputation to review their graduating students. Occasionally, a promising student is invited to New York to test with a prominent agency. But that same individual would likely attract an agent's attention by simply sending in a snapshot or by entering one of the contests sponsored each year by the major agencies -- and at considerably less expense than the cost of attending a modeling school.

The contests sponsored by legitimate agencies are certainly a good way to get noticed. Every year, the winners and finalists in model searches are groomed by major agencies and find themselves in great demand as new faces in the industry. Some of them, like Cindy Crawford and Stephanie Seymour, have gone on to become supermodels. Wilhelmina Models sponsors a nationwide model search every year. The grand prize is a $100,000 modeling contract. If you would like to enter this year's contest just fill out the application at the back of the book and mail it to us at Wilhelmina Models in New York.

Model Beware

The importance of securing legitimate, responsible representation cannot be emphasized enough. Agents who ask you for money up front -- whether it be for a photo session, composite, head sheet or any other promotional tool -- should be avoided. A reputable agent will not ask you for money until you are making money -- booking work as a result of contacts the agency has made for you. That is the time to invest in a composite and in the agency book and head sheet. Even then you will probably not be asked for funds up front. These promotional expenses will be deducted from future paychecks.

Sean Patterson, an agent in the Wilhelmina Men's Division, offers some additional words of caution for the aspiring model.

"If there was one thing I could change about the industry it would be to institute a more rigid policing of the model conventions that are being held all over the country. You see, the people who run these hotel conventions charge registration and attendance fees anywhere from $300 to $1500 to young guys and girls who want to be models. And what they do is, they invite one agent from this agency and one agent from that agency, and they offer these agents an all-expenses-paid trip to the host city -- give them a stipend of $150-$200 for the day. It's a free trip for these agents. Now the advertisements go up -- ads luring aspiring models by saying that there will be in attendance agents from Wilhelmina, Elite, Ford -- European agencies too. So these young people, mostly girls, pay these fees to the conventioneers, who clean up. And there is usually no process of preselection. Anybody, regardless of ability or potential, can attend, if they pay the fee."

As somebody who grew up not having a lot of money, I know what it feels like to put pressure on your parents to come up with the money for something that they really can't afford. So I bet that at most of these conventions at least a segment of the group attending are spending money they don't have to spend, money that could be invested, say, in school tuition. At the same time, many of these young people don't have a chance of ever becoming a successful model or a model at all. So it becomes a total waste. Furthermore, contacts made at conventions can lead to further rip-offs -- out-of-work photographers flock to these conventions and approach young hopefuls: "Let's do a test on you. Let's spend $300 to $500 to start you off with a portfolio of professional pictures!" And it is generating huge amounts of cash for people who aren't going to do anything for these young women's and men's careers. This sort of setup does not belong in the modeling industry. It serves no purpose to the industry. Rather, it is an industry unto itself, one that preys on teenagers hoping to become models and parents who want to please them. I guess I'm asking for a little more care, a little more honesty.

If you really want to be a model and give it a shot, contact an agency in your hometown, or a major agency in a larger city, and send snapshots.

A Model's First Photographs

Take Sean's advice. Don't waste money on so-called professional photographs. Usually they will not be of a standard acceptable to a reputable agency. The quality of pictures in model portfolios is extremely high. Even basic test shots are the result of carefully planned sessions. The photographer is usually an experienced professional who has worked in editorial print. Expert makeup artists, hairstylists and clothing stylists are brought in to make every element of the test work. The photographs resulting from a test shoot are only as strong as their weakest link. Competitive industry professionals cannot afford to waste time and money by leaving any element of the shoot to chance. Furthermore, when a test is arranged by an agency, you will usually not be asked to contribute any photo fee. At most, you may be asked to help cover the cost of film and processing (less than $100 at most sittings).

It is unlikely that a photographer who is asking you to pay for pictures will be capable of bringing the best of these elements together. So your pictures will appear semiprofessional, and that will make you look bad to a prospective agency. In their view, it is better for you not to have worked at all -- to be a fresh discovery -- than to have worked with less than exceptional people. So just send us a couple of snap-shots. They really do afford you your best chance. I must emphasize that under no circumstances should you be convinced that getting expensive photos will heighten your chances of being noticed by an agent. Agents have a terrific eye for determining potential from a snapshot. After all, it's their job.

Agents want to see sharp snapshots of you looking as natural as possible. A close-in photograph of your face, without makeup, and a full-length shot, preferably in a bathing suit, are ideal. Natural light is the most flattering. Have a parent or friend take your picture outside, early in the morning or just before the sun sets. At these times, when the sun is low in the sky, the light creates soft, flattering skin tones.

Once you have two sharp snaps of yourself, you're ready to contact the agencies.

Contacting the Agencies

In a notebook, make a list of the agencies in your area that you wish to contact. Many models begin their careers in their hometown markets. Compile a second list of the agencies you wish to contact in the major markets: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami. Telephone the agents in your area and ask if they hold open calls for new models. You may be asked your age, height and weight. Most agencies will see young women between the ages of fifteen and twenty, with a minimum height of 5'9". If you do not meet the requirements for the open call, send snapshots. Open calls are held each week, giving aspiring models the chance to interview with an agency. If you arrive at an open call and are too short or too old, you will be dismissed immediately. If you do meet the requirements and plan to attend an open call, bring snapshots with you. Print your name, date of birth and phone number, along with your height and measurements, on a sticker and place it on the back of each photograph. Don't wear makeup. Wear your hair in a simple style, away from your face, and dress in simple form-fitting clothing. When you do talk to an agent, be yourself. Indicate that you want to model and plan to make a serious commitment to your work -- that you are cooperative, energetic and determined to work hard.

How is a model chosen by an agent? Judy Linton, director of the Women's Division at Wilhelmina, explains what happens when the "right" girl walks into the agency. "It's like falling in love," she says. "You can't pinpoint when it's going to happen. It just happens. You get a feeling. The girl will be beautiful, and her expression will portray a sense of openness and responsibility. It doesn't matter the color of the eyes as long as they're expressive, evenly spaced. Fuller lips are preferred to thinner but, again, it's an overall experience. I can see a blond girl with big blue eyes, but then the nose is not quite right with the rest of the face. But when everything comes together, you know it."

Kevin Jones, agent in Wilhelmina's W2 Division, elaborates. "There's a connection. We look for beautiful eyes, beautiful skin, a great attitude. There are some girls who tend to be very beautiful but are very dead behind it all. Being a little more extroverted helps. This is not a business for anybody who wants to be shy. It's just not that kind of business. You have to go after what you want. The modeling game is all about knowing, being social, being out there."

If an agency does not see models on open calls. you will probably be asked to send snap-shots of yourself. Send one head shot and one full length photo with a simple covering letter and a self-addressed stamped envelope for the agent's reply and the return of your photographs. Study the following sample covering letter.

Your name

Street address

City, State, Zip code


Name of Contact at Agency

Agency name

Street address

City, State, Zip code

Dear Mr./Ms.

Enclosed are several snapshots and an SASE for your reply and for the return of the pictures. I am prepared to make the necessary arrangements to meet with you at your convenience should you show interest in representing me. Thank you very much for your consideration.

My personal statistics are as follows:

Age and date of birth:



Hair color:

Eye color:

Special Talents: (i.e., sports, dance, musical instruments, swimming, etc.)


Your name

Phone number

The Agency Response

You may be one of the lucky few who are "discovered" at an open call. If an agent is interested in you, they will ask you to work with them for a trial period, during which your potential as a model will be assessed. You will meet photographers and participate in test photo sessions.

If an agency is interested in the pictures you've sent, they will telephone or write to arrange a personal interview. These interviews usually take place at the agency, but occasionally agency scouts are sent to meet prospective clients in their home cities.

An agent who does not request a meeting may wish to see more photographs or may suggest that you explore opportunities locally to gain some experience before applying again. It's a good idea to apply to several agencies. You may not fit the "look" of a particular agency but may be right for another. Remember that the choice of models is a subjective one. Many famous models were rejected on their first rounds of the agencies. Don't be afraid to reapply to the same agency every six months or so. An agency may send a letter of rejection because they currently represent a model with a look similar to yours. Agency rosters are always changing, and there may be a place for you in six months or a year -- you never know.

About The Author

Product Details

  • Publisher: Touchstone (June 4, 1996)
  • Length: 192 pages
  • ISBN13: 9780684814919

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Dominique Palombo Photographer for Seventeen and Mademoiselle If you want to know about reality -- not glamour and gossip -- read this. This guide will definitely give a head start to anyone thinking of becoming a model.

Top Model Magazine Natasha Esch shares the experience and insight of her own success in the exciting but competitive world of modeling. A must-read for any aspiring model looking for inspiration.

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