We’ve always thought that hometown mall model searches and their big-city, high-production counterparts were kind of unnecessary. As it turns out, the modeling industry hosts these events mostly so that its agents can network, riding on the coattails of young girls’ dreams and insecurities all the way to the bank.
Ashley Mears, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Boston University, followed a modeling agent (named “Allie”) around and wrote a story based on the experience for Jezebel. Mears found that of the hundreds of girls who pay of thousands of dollars to attend model search contests, a very small percentage get callbacks (either because the agents present are playing with their BlackBerries and not paying attention, or because the contestants themselves have been deluded into thinking they have what it takes). The lucky girls who do get callbacks are scrutinized afresh from head to toe, and told to lose weight or that, sorry, they aren’t right for modeling after all.
On Day One:
After a solid two hours, Allie has seen over 300 contestants. She’s recorded just eight numbers for callbacks.
Given the slim pickings and what looks like a big parody of their industry, why do agents bother coming to a model search?
Because another kind of search is in full swing downstairs in the hotel bar, where agents from around the world convene to gossip, network, and commence the delicate work of negotiating the global trade in models, essentially making deals across regional and overseas markets.
On Day Two:
Some agents are even apologetic for what they see is the exploitation of vulnerable, if foolish, kids and their parents. But they need to be at the event’s cocktail party to network, and in exchange for the complimentary cocktails and hotel room, agents participate in the official events. It’s not that the Model Search never works for a lucky few — one in a million like Jessica Alba have passed through similar doors — but this is a poor way of finding an agent. For $5,000 cheaper, any hopeful can walk into an agency’s “Open Call” for an evaluation.
On Day Three:
“I feel creepy telling you this,” Allie [says to a thin teenaged callback], “But we are scouts so we notice these things, and I did see you in swimsuit yesterday. Now I can typically tell if a girl is at the bone and can’t lose anymore, and you have a little, um, bit of tush you can shed.” The girl politely agrees, “I’ve got some flesh, I know,” and promises to work out and send new pictures.
A pound of flesh for a business card from overseas? We knew the modeling industry was cutthroat, but we didn’t know it could be quite so careless. Read the full story at Jezebel.