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How To Become a Model

image for jacoblund / Getty Images
jacoblund / Getty Images

Models are living, breathing advertisements for any number of products and services. Though people tend to think of models as just the pretty faces seen in magazines, there’s a lot more to the job than just standing around and waiting for someone to take your picture.

Here’s a breakdown of what a model’s job really entails, including what models can expect of their work environment and schedule, how they can advance their careers and how much money they typically earn. Keep reading to find out if you have what it takes to make it in the modeling business.

Most work that models do is for printed or electronic publications such as magazines, catalogs, newspapers or websites. Models participate regularly in photo shoots, in which they seek to highlight the features of a particular product, such as clothing or cosmetics. Models also participate in runway shows and other live events.

When models are not in front of the camera, they are responsible for promoting their work to clients and keeping their portfolios and composite cards, which highlight their best photos and report their measurements. Most models work with agents who put them in touch with clients, offer some training and give career advice in return for a portion of the model’s earnings.

Many models choose to specialize in a particular area to attract advertisers who cater to specific demographics. For example, depending on a model’s stature, he or she may choose to work as a petite or plus-sized model. “Parts” models specialize in modeling shoes, nail polish or other items that require just one part of the body to be displayed.

Models spend much of their time meeting and interviewing with prospective clients, which may entail traveling to different cities around the world. Most models work for an agency or a modeling school, but some work for particular retail establishments or do work on a freelance basis.

A model’s workplace is fairly unpredictable, as photo shoots and fashion shows can take place anywhere in the world and even outdoors. Many models find that their schedules are also highly unpredictable and very demanding, as they must travel to different locations for each job, and are rarely given much notice before a job begins.

In 2010, the median hourly wage for models was $15.83, and most models worked part-time only, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. Most models also experience periods of unemployment. 

The most successful models, of course, make much more. According to Forbes.com, Gisele Bundchen was the highest-paid model in 2012, earning $45 million between May 2011 and May 2012.

There is no required training or education for models, but designers, photographers and clients typically require that a model be a particular height and weight for their desired look.

Some models do attend school for training in posing, walking, applying makeup and other tasks of the trade, but going to such a school does not guarantee employment. Other models attend open calls, contests or model searches to find an agency to represent them.

The best way for models to advance their careers is to work regularly and have their work run in widely distributed or reputable publications. The agency that a model works for and the quality of a model’s portfolio are the main factors in determining how successful a model will become.

Models.com ranks some of the best modeling agencies for men and women by city. Top cities for modeling agencies include New York, Paris, Milan, London, Tokyo, Shanghai, Sao Paulo, Hamburg, Copenhagen and Stockholm.

Most agencies' Web sites will give you very specific instructions on how to apply to work with them. Ford Models, for example, offers a form and advice on how to take and submit photos of yourself.