BEYOND THE RUNWAY

Taylor Wynn, 23, has been in the aesthetics business for a year. A master aesthetician by trade, she doesn’t model as much as she did in the glory days: a career of being poked, prodded, and solicited was not among her life goals. Now a few years removed from the runways of RVA Fashion Week and the VCU Fashion Show, she primarily accepts direct requests from creative photographers. Last week, she sat down with me to recount some of the harrowing stories of the modeling underworld.

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DHR: For how long have you been modeling?

TW: Since eighth grade— about ten years.

How did you get into modeling in the first place?

My sister modeled before me. When she moved to New York City, she basically told her friends, “Hey, if you really need me around, my sister looks just like me.” I was like, “Excuse me, I’m a child, I have no rights.” Little did I know, I literally had no rights.

Was it a wild adjustment to enter that world as an eighth grader?

Yeah. It didn’t feel real. It felt like I was on some stupid CW sitcom.

For the most part I was doing local fashion shows, bridal shows, hair shows. It really depended on what the person needed, but usually it was because they were looking for my sister.

What’s a day in the life of a model when you’re on the job?

It’s a really early wakeup, like 5 or 6 am. I make sure I’m showered, my hair is dried and styled. I pack a bunch of underwear and cozy clothes, things to do because there’s a ton of down time. Then, hope they have someone who can style my hair and have makeup my skin color.

Has there been a time when they didn’t–?

Many. I have had to do my own hair many, many times. Even in recent years, they tried to use a flat iron that incorporated steam, and my hair curled back up after being blow-dried. They were like, “It will work! Steam infusion!” I was like, hold on, this is white people science. They kept trying it on me until they ruined my hair, and I was like, “I’m gonna wear a wig— never mind.”

Now I show up with human hair wigs, which is the same as my hair, but straight every time. They usually put waves in it or put it in an updo. It’s fine— I just had to get used to it.

Anyway, once you show up in the venue, you basically wait in a queue for someone to do your hair and makeup. The event could be at 6 pm, but you have to be there in the early morning. It’s kind of ridiculous.

Sometimes dresses change. You could fall in love with a dress, and then it’s like, skrtt, it looks better on this model.

Is it competitive between models like that?

You would think so, but ultimately, it’s not us that make decisions. There might be favorites— model coordinators have favorites, and you can tell by their shows, by who’s doing the finale pieces, by whose outfits are fit for them.

Is there skill involved in wearing the piece?

Yes. You have to be a good clothes hanger. You have to be a good salesman, and you have to be able to move your body in a specific way.

We had one workshop that took hours on how to walk, so that everyone was walking the same way. It’s like going to ettiquite school with books on your head.

There’s a lot of training your body. And no matter what, you’re going to get critiqued anyway.

That sounds…unhealthy.

A little bit.

After doing runway for a while, I kind of shied away from it. While it was really inclusive and I loved it, it’s a lot of people looking at you and prodding at you. “Your boobs are too big, your waist is too wide, your legs are too long.”

So I gave up for a bit and decided to just be a runway assistant and do creative photography on the side with people who wanted to create a specific image. Of course, you run into a lot of creeps that way. My Model Mayhem DMs are stupid. I have people soliciting the weirdest things from me. Someone wanted me to join their harem. They were trying to get a harem! I was like, “Uh, good luck with that.”

A lot of people think they’re entitled to you because you have “being pretty” listed as a service.

There are a lot of people that try to get nudes this way too. They’ll say, “Oh, I’m a casting director— I need you to wear a bikini and pose like this, and send in pictures.” And they get a lot of people with that— especially a lot of younger models, they get tricked on the Internet a lot. It’s pretty gross.

Commercial modeling is safer. Anyone who is starting out in the industry, I would recommend going with an agency. That’s where I messed up— I just do freelance, things I’m asked because I’m friends with certain people. I’ve done stuff for Apple. I do artistic things, like if someone wants me to pose for a painting. There are tons of different kinds of modeling, and I think I’ve done it all at this point, except pose completely nude. I don’t have that kind of confidence. (Laughs).

I was just thinking that you’d have to be very aware of your body in a way that is healthy—

—and unhealthy at the same time.

Well, in a way that’s honest. Just in order to survive. To a certain extent, you have to know what you’ve got—

—and you have to know what angles it looks good, which is your good side, your bad side, the side that looks skinniest, the side that looks prettiest.

Do models make money?

A lot of people don’t.

At a certain point, you should know your skillset, and that’s when you start saying, “Hey, this is what I charge.”

I know girls that charge $500 an hour, and make that money. You make more money if you freelance, because it’s all going directly to you.

Do you have any creative control at all?

Yeah. If they respect you, yes.

What is appealing about being a model?

If you like attention, you’re going to get it.

People are nitpicking over you, making sure the creases of your eyes are in the right spot. I’ve had people adjust my eyebrow, a piece of hair in front of my head.

Also, sometimes you get free shit. People want you to wear their stuff. If you’re an Instagram model or an influencer, you’ll get a ton of free shit. I never really went that route— I have one professional Instagram for modeling and aesthetics, and I never did the whole social media modeling thing, which is very lucrative. I know people who pay bills with that money.

Twitch model is a thing, too— being a cute girl on streaming services. It’s called “personality modeling.”

Is it hard to work in an industry that is so focused on appearance?

If you’re new and you go in with confidence, they’re going to tear you down and it is not going to be fun. If you’re modest, it’s a lot more fun, because they hype you up. You have to go in knowing what you have, and they’re going to tell you how it is.

What’s the biggest struggle you’ve faced modeling?

Size. Even when I was a size 2, I was technically “too curvy,” and that got me either the creepiest people and the worst attention, or I couldn’t wear a dress, because my boobs didn’t fit. So I tried bikini modeling, and I think I did that maybe twice. I’m not comfortable in it— they don’t fit right. They don’t feel good. And it really, really fucked with my confidence.

There are numerous outfits that I didn’t fit into that I’ve worn. Like straight up, boob out the side, somehow hiding under my armpit.

Also, wearing shoes that don’t fit. I hate it, and everyone that makes you do it. It’s awful.

Does the confidence come in waves? There’s got to be times where you’re like, “Bitch, I’m a model.”

Sometimes. It turns on and off. I’m not very serious, I’m pretty goofy, so I used to have to do this thing where I’d turn on the model personality.

I ask very direct questions, I talk very little, I give no input unless I think something’s terrible. I’m very cut and dry, and it has to do with the confidence I need to walk down the runway or pose in front of the camera— I have to have this bitchiness about me in order to get the pictures they’re paying it for.

Of course, I don’t have to turn it on when I’m doing commercials. Like I modeled for Sears, and they want you as goofy as possible— I was just jumping up and down, and they were like, “Yeah, great, here’s $500.”

What kind of work are you doing now?

I only do 1-on-1 with photographers who specifically request me. I charge a rate for them, because now I have a full-time job working in the beauty industry.

The last time I did runway, it was for VCU’s Fashion Show, and that was exhausting. I don’t think I’ll do runway again for a while. It was basically one big cramp. A lot of girls won’t be eating or drinking water, because they want to look the thinnest.

It sounds like there are some people for whom modeling can just wreck their world.

It does, especially when they dedicate all their time to it and try to go full-time. I know a few full-time models, but they all travel, because Richmond isn’t a big modeling scene.

We talked about creepy strangers online, but do you ever deal with that noise from photographers?

All the time. A dude will pick up a DSLR just to try and get girls. He’ll be like, “Alright, I’m a photographer now, let’s shoot.” You can kind of fish them out: their photos are awful, they have no experience, they don’t know lighting, they’ve never studied any of it, and they have no intention to.

The worst is when these kinds of people have the nerve not to pay. They’re like, “Oh, I’ll pay you with exposure.” Exposure doesn’t pay bills.

Of course, it goes both ways. There are a lot of models who think they shouldn’t be charged for working with a photographer, even if he’s really good. Generally, whoever has the most established portfolio will be the one making money.

We’ve talked about how easy it is to get sucked into the modeling world. Did you ever get lost in the sauce, so to speak?

Yep. I ended up dating a model— two models.

Never again. Two dudes, one after the other.

When your life is intertwined with someone in the community, your connection to reality starts to break. When I broke up with the first dude and started dating the second, the first dude had a real dramatic ass breakdown in public— crying and screaming to my friends about random physical characteristics, like, “Am I not buff enough?” As if that would really even matter. And I felt so guilty the whole time. He cried out all his makeup.

I’ve been lost in the sauce, and I’ve cried at night about not being skinny enough, but I got over it.

In high school, I was kind of sickly, and I didn’t eat a lot. Eating disorders are very common in the modeling world. My friend Sophie got me out of it by forcing me to eat three meals a day— my biological food clock was broken, and my stomach just wouldn’t growl. So she would say “Okay, it’s noon, we’re eating lunch now.” She did that for a week, and she just set me straight and sent me on my way.

Damn, shout out to Sophie.

What do you see for your own future in modeling?

Just working for fun. I’m an aesthetician— a master aesthetician by trade. I have a nice pretty certificate that says I can touch your face.

I kind of want to use it in the modeling industry— a lot of models do struggle with their skin, and I want to see if there’s a way to be an in-house aesthetician for an agency.

That sounds reasonable.

It sounds fun. Especially for teenage models— they can’t really control their skin. There’s hormones everywhere, and they’re just tired. And older models, too– you can model commercially until you’re older, but you still have to look good.

I hate wearing makeup with a passion. I hate foundation. Every time I had to wear it for fashion shows, I would want to claw it off my face. I’d like to make it so that models don’t have to.

Where do you see the industry going in the future?

When they take likes away from Instagram, it’s going to be bad for influencers. I feel bad that they’re doing it— it’s good for individual self-esteem, but for people who do this as a business, it’s going to totally wreck it. The bubble is going to pop, big time.

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