What It Feels Like
Updated: Jul 30, 2018
I was able to catch up with the dazzling model, Katya Zharkova in South Beach. Katya moved to America because she saw me win America’s Next Top Model. It’s crazy because I think of my past work with reality tv as something to sweep under the rug, but then I remember the fan mail I received from mothers who's daughters were battling eating disorders, girls who wore a bathing suit to the beach for the first time because of me, and then there’s Katya, who left her country, moved to America, marched into Elite Model Management (my agency at the time), and told them to sign her. I love this woman! It’s always great to feel like your life has made a positive impact in some way.
Elite did not have a plus division, which was kind of a career killer for me after the show as well. I moved to Wilhelmina Models and so did Katya. Her first modeling job in America was shooting for Target in Los Angeles and I was the other model on set. How insane is that?! She is stunningly beautiful. She looks like Heidi Klum if Heidi ever ate anything. Katya has gone on to book amazing campaigns and we worked for many of the same companies over the past ten years. About a year and a half ago, she and her husband found out that they were expecting a baby girl. She’s 37 years old and this was amazing news. Obviously, she had to take some time off of modeling to grow and give birth to her daughter. 6 months after giving birth, one of her biggest clients reached out to book her. She had been working with this client for 10 years. The client saw her polaroid pictures and the agency told Katya she would no longer be working with them because she was too big. Initially, Katya didn’t believe the agent, so the agency forwarded her the email. Yes, the client that she had worked with for a decade decided she was now too fat to model for them and wanted someone new. They didn’t tell the agent that she needed to tone up, or drop 10 pounds. They just cut her off. When she told me this, I was shocked. I was shocked, because I thought that I was the only person that could have happened to. The more we talked, the more we realized we had in common. My agency dropped me when I became a size 14, 2 sizes smaller than the average American woman, because I was now too fat for them. We talked about the clothes we modeled. They never fit! They were always falling off of us because plus size models start at a size 6. That’s 10 sizes smaller than the average American woman. And keep in mind that a plus model is 5’10” or taller. It’s so unrealistic! To combat the clothes not fitting, the clients would use industrial clamps and clamp the clothing down the back, making the product look much better than it actually was. It was a lie, but we played a hand in it too.
As a model, no matter how successful you are, you are always walking on eggshells. One tiny problem could set off the client, who would tell your agent, and your agent would punish you by not booking you and forcing you to “test”, which is when you take photos with a new photographer and have to pay them with your money. Now you are not making money, and being forced to spend money. The agency of course, gets a cut of the test money.
Once, I shot with a client in London and two months later in New York. I brought my husband with me to London and at every shoot, dinner, press event, etc. the PR team would ask where my husband was. They made it very clear that he was absolutely invited to all of these events and I did eventually allow him to accompany me to a runway show and dinner. Two months later in New York, working with the same team, I brought him to the photo shoot. Now, keep in mind that my husband is an introvert and an artist. He came in, sat down, and wrote in his journal. I received an urgent phone call from my agency in London. My agent was furious that I had done something so unprofessional as bringing my husband with me to set. I was completely shocked! First of all, why wake my agent up in London when you could have just told me that you didn’t want him there? And also, why was it a problem for him to be there, off to the side, out of everyone’s way? I never worked with that client again. I’m talking about a $60,000/year client who froze me out because of this. It makes you desperate. You never know where you stand with anyone. If we said anything publicly about the low quality of clothes, we would be out. As a model, you must keep your mouth shut and do as you’re told.
Thankfully, now we are veterans and we aren't dependent on modeling jobs alone. We work with clients that we want to work with because we like them. Most models are not in this position. We are speaking openly and candidly to you so that you know what this industry is really all about and what it feels like to have your entire career teetering on someone else's emotions. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments! As always, thank you for tuning in to Whitney's Wanders! Xx
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