Stress, criticism and aggression – the real life of a top model

As Fashion Week kicks off in London, a Camden model tells us just what her ‘dream job’ is really like

�It’s a dream that many a teenage girl has had: go shopping on the high street, get spotted by a model scout, become a supermodel and live the rest of your life in a glamorous and beautiful cocoon. It didn’t happen like that for Julia. “It wasn’t like those stories where they say, ‘There came this man, to this little market where I was working and discovered me.’ There’s loads of those amazing stories. But most girls I know just walked into an agency one day and asked to be a model or had a friend who said, ‘Why don’t you try.’”

Julia has been a model for 10 years. Her model name is Julia S, which sounds very model-like. She’s originally from Switzerland but now lives in Camden. We’re sat in modelling agency M&P Models – the office sits behind a large door and up a red staircase off a Soho street. Inside, around 15 people sit in a room frantically typing into computers and answering phones, topped up by energy drinks from a zippy mini-fridge in the corner. On the walls are hundreds of beautiful faces, watching over their work. The people at the desks are busy trying to get the people on the walls modelling jobs for the forthcoming Fashion Week (which descends on London tomorrow) and for the myriad other spaces in the world that only a beautiful face can fit.

Julia is one of those faces – and to many she has a dream job. Being a model, like being a ballerina, is one of those jobs that almost every woman has wanted at some point in their lives. It’s possibly a job that many men have wanted too. Who doesn’t want to walk down the catwalk, flashbulbs blaring, feeling good – it sounds like such fun. “The catwalk is the fun part,” agrees Julia. “But the rest is extremely stressful. You are on your feet all day and it’s cold. I never liked Fashion Week because you end up in a room full of stressed out people and everyone is at point zero of their energy because preparation for the fashion weeks are so crazy. There’s a lot of aggression.”

Julia has done around six Fashion Weeks in her career and has stories to make your hair curl. She remembers when she did a show for Alexander McQueen. “It was all a size 2 so none of us were big. They would put us into these corsets before lunch. I have quite big ribs so I sometimes have a size 2 on my hips, but blouses and stuff are hard because my ribcage is quite big. The main stylist came over as I closed the shirt I was wearing and he was like, ‘Oh my god, you are massive!’ He screamed it out loud in front of everyone. I thought a) it’s embarrassing and b) we’re all there just bones and he thinks he can tell people they are massive. I said, ‘Touch it, it’s just ribs.’ I grabbed his belly and said, ‘What’s this?’” she laughs.

Julia is one of thousands of models working today. Away from the lofty heights of Kate Moss and Agyness Deyn, it is almost comforting to know that modelling is an industry with its all the usual gripes – and beauty is not recession-proof. “It’s hard to get work now, there are way too many girls, way too many agencies.” confirms Julia. “There are girls who are not so good but they still manage to get into castings. There used to be certain standards and now it seems that every girl between 13 and 18 is a model if she is a certain height, looks a bit weird and is a bit skinny. Some girls become big for a season and then they are gone. There’s no such thing anymore as the 80s supermodels.”

A bit weird, a bit young and a bit skinny seem to be the credentials to be a model. For some, models are a bit too young and a bit too skinny, and the whole thing is, well, a bit weird. “There’s both extremes: there’s the extreme of the girl who is 16 years old and has grown to 6ft 2 already, so she’s just going to eat like a lion and not put it on because she’s 16. By the time she’s 20, it will be a different story,” says Julia. “Then there’s the other ones who just don’t eat. People don’t like to talk about it but it is a fact – many girls don’t eat or throw up. I do eat but I have to watch what I eat – my body seems to not change so much. The people who don’t eat don’t last very long because you can see it: their skin goes crap, their hair falls out, their nails get bad.” Julia puts her own longevity down to the fact that she doesn’t seem to age (no smoking, no drinking, of course). “I turned 20 a long time ago and my body just doesn’t want to change.”

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Fashion Week is one of the busiest periods of the year for a model. In TV shows like Britain’s Next Top Model and The Model Agency, it’s an excuse for high drama and hysterical portrayals of the fashion world. “If you watch all these TV shows about it, you can easily get the wrong impression of what it is like. They try to show the bitchy side by showing the girls arguing with each other. But the girls are usually supportive. You may end up living with people who steal from you but that is rare – it happens all the time on those shows. Also, their apartment is always amazing. In real life, you end up sharing a s**thole with five other people.” says Julia.

Soon Julia says, she will want to have a family – a body if not life-changing event. Would she let her daughter be a model? “I’d do it the way my parents did and let her do it when she was older, once she’d left school. It’s a tough industry to be in when you are so young.”