By: Merrell Readman
Fashion is timeless. Ever since there have been clothes to wear, there have been people to model them. But something has crept into the background, changing the name of the game and even how the game is played: Social media. The desire to get likes, get noticed and influence. For some, gone are the days of casting calls and hoping to be discovered on the street. It’s as easy as taking a photo and posting it to Instagram. The elite club that the modelling industry once was is now more equal opportunity. If you have social media, you too could be discovered. But time has changed the industry to an almost unrecognizable point. Gone are the days of trying and failing, trying and failing. Social media is King.
Today we live in a world that expects each and every person to sell themselves. It’s easy to fall into the sand trap of the internet, making your life appear better than it is, and idealizing the photos you look at. Instagram models, daughters of important people—influencers. And somewhere along the way, that became a career. In a world measured in follower counts and likes, it raises the question: how do you define a model? What creates the distinction between a pretty girl with thousands of likes on a photo and a girl who has gone to casting after casting, working tirelessly to not only get her foot in the door, but even open it?
I don’t mean to say that social media is the devil in disguise. It entertains, it connects, it inspires. It allows for diversity and it allows for exposure. But it also rewards people for simply looking a certain way, not even necessarily for their hard work. It would be a gross judgement to assume that all Instagram models don’t work to get to where they are. But it is also an undeniable fact that due to the nature of the platform, it is easier for some to get somewhere that others had to fight tooth and nail to reach just a few years ago.
Harper’s Bazaar recently did an article on the benefits of social media for model casting calls. They profile a woman who had, for years, been searching for an agency to take her in, when finally, after carefully crafting her Instagram as a portfolio, she was discovered and now models for big names such as Tommy Hilfiger and Michael Kors. This is an instance of a woman using the tools she had at her disposal as an entrepreneurial base. She went through the time and the struggle to get where she is now. This I admire; I only wish I could use social media to my advantage to this extent. And this kind of person is not the point I wish to make. I merely question the people validated by their masses of followers, who then turn a profit as a “model” based solely on their beauty and not on their work ethic.
Another issue lies in the fact that because of social media, modelling has become more about the reaction to the product than the product itself. A measure of a model’s success is their social media standing—how many followers, how many likes on their photos, how many comments. We have entered a time where social buzz is the moneymaker—post what you know will get the most likes and you’ve tapped into the algorithm of success. At some point, the art became minimized by the attempt to impress and make a dent on the Instagram discover feed.
Modelling and social media cannot be discussed without acknowledging the obvious: Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid. Although their careers were not launched by social media, their family ties allowed for their success, and social media only catapulted them from there. Would it be misguided to state that social media permits the rich to get richer? Women that already have the standing, tactfully, I must admit, utilizing social media only perpetuates the idea that if you’re born into success, you are more inclined to receive success. And yes, they may be hardworking once they get the jobs, but Kendall even said herself that she had the luxury of being picky at the beginning of her career. Not every young model can say that. And social media undoubtedly makes it easier for some.
Is breaking into the modelling industry now solely based on social media standing? Because if it is, it’s all the more reason to fear the monster we have created in the internet, laying a person’s value and possibility for success on their standing in the eyes of other people. I leave you with this: for all the benefits that social media has brought us, has it minimized the importance of hard work in the modelling industry?