Every time I speak with new and aspiring models, It never fails. I inevitably get the question, Why are models so mean? As a general observation, I don't think the label mean fits the behavior. However, with that said, the behavior could easily be mistaken for what most would describe as mean. So let us dive deeper into the subject and see what drives this so-called behavior. Research shows that being insulted makes people more likely to demean others. Freud argued that people cope with negative views of themselves by perceiving others as having those same traits. Researchers have also discovered that threatened self-esteem drives a lot of aggression. I also emphasize the difference between unintentional and malicious meanness. The two are totally different, and because of the difference, they should not carry the same weight when assessing the quality of someone's character.
Keeping in line with what the research says, insulted people are more likely to offend and insult others. Models spend a significant amount of time being insulted. Yes, I do understand that, as a general principle, models are considered to be the ideal specimens
of our society. The mistake in that train of thought is ignoring that, just like the rest of us, we are rarely compared to culture. As a general rule, we are compared to those within the subset of the society we identify with. Meaning models are not compared or held to the standard of the broader society. They are held to the standard of the subset of other models. Think in these terms. Plus-size, as a general rule, is size 12 and up. In the modeling/fashion world, plus-size models are defined as anyone larger than a size 6. Unrealistic expectations can be found throughout the fashion and modeling world. So those outside the fashion culture may find it difficult to understand how models could be referred to as insulted people. Yet, the reality of the subset of the society that they belong to makes them just that.
Another point to make as we get a deeper understanding of why models are high on the tree for insults from the culture they belong to is coming to a consensus that rejection is a form of insult. Rejection is a constant in the life of a model. They are told in casting they are too "fat." Yes, just like that! No sugar coating, just blunt and raw. The industry is cruel and harsh, and as a matter of survival, the people in the industry are very likely to take on that same persona. If we accept the research that states that insulted people tend to insult others, it becomes easy to see why models at the end of the totem pole of the industry turn their insults on each other. There is no place else to go with it.
It can be easy to assume that models don't suffer from diminished self-esteem because of photo shoots, lights, attention, and DM requests. With these things on your mind, it could be easy to overlook that acceptance from outside your peer group does not build strong self-esteem. Strong self-esteem is built from self-confidence. Self-confidence is generally a by-product of acceptance within one's desired peer group. Note your peer group is not necessarily your preferred peer group. And acceptance from a peer group that is not your preferred peer group will do little to build self-confidence. As a result of the harsh reality of a constant fight for acceptance that often ends in rejection, most models get out of the field as fast as they come into it. Those that remain often become hardened and insensitive to others' journeys.
For this article, I had the opportunity to interview Imani McZeal. Imani grew up right here in the Capital Region and was trained at age 13 at the Barbizon School of Modeling. I chose Imani for this interview because of her training, excellent insight into this industry, and
what makes it tick. Perhaps the biggest reason I chose her is her candidness and ability, to be frank yet pleasant.
Q: As a 13-year-old getting into modeling, did you experience mean girl attacks or attitude?
A: No, Not at all. We were all just trying to learn; it was not like America's Next Top Model. It was not a competition at all. There were about 12 of us in the class, and everyone was very respectful. We were there to learn. Not just from the instructors but from one another. One of the things that we learned and was emphasized was proper etiquette.
Q: So, when was your first modeling gig?
A: That was at age 15. It was a casting call for an advertising company. Everyone was very friendly, there were lots and lots of people there, and although we all knew we were auditioning for limited positions, it still didn't feel like a competition.
Q: So why did you fall back from the modeling scene?
A: Over the years, the scene has changed. It has spiraled into a competition where everyone is so mean to one another. With the popularity of social media and the troves of photographers, you don't have to put in any real work to get in front of a camera. Back when I started, it was an honor to be photographed by a photographer. You had to develop your skills and know your craft.
Q: Do you think the amount of photographers and social media has hurt the modeling craft?
A: With any advancements in a field comes negatives. So the answer is not so concrete. The fact that there are photographers at every turn and social media has made less skilled people stars is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, models get seen, have more significant fan bases, and can literally be international as soon as they upload a viral image. That's great!! However, the flip side is that people have begun to mistake popularity for being a model. Likes and shares have replaced real skill and knowledge of the craft as determining how much you grow as a brand. The skill needed to grow in the field has eroded, and everyone is running around calling themselves "a model." No. You are not "a model"; you are "the model."
Q: That's an interesting distinction. Can you break that down further?
A: "Taking a picture makes you the model. That should not be mistaken to mean that you are a model." Anyone can be worked into a pose and get a shot or two. But can you work yourself into a pose? Do you understand the difference between selling yourself and selling an item? Can you create characters and feelings based on the garment you are wearing? Can you walk in heels? Can you walk in heels with people staring at you in a dress loosely stitched on you? Can you get the shot under time constraints? This is what a model does. You are not a model in my book just because you might take a pretty picture.
Q: Why do you think models seem so mean to one another?
A: It's the competition aspect of it all. We are constantly being pitted against one another. I checked out of social media recently because someone started some shit asking who the best model in the 518 was. Of course, everyone fed into it. Everyone chimed in, and it seems nobody even once thought just how demeaning it was to actual models. There is a very short list of actual models in this area. A lot of them won't appear in popularity posts. So that is the real issue. When your label models mean, are you talking about models? Or are you talking about people taking pictures to be social media famous? I don't think models are mean as a whole. However, people competing for social media attention can appear mean for obvious reasons. They compete for attention in the same space for an audience entertained by pitting them against each other.