INTERVIEW PART 1: Rebecca of Modeltypeface
Rebecca Pearson is part of the reason The Model Manifesto exists today, by sharing her experiences on her blog, Modeltypeface and inspiring other models to use their voice. One of the main reasons that there is so much exploitation of models is because the industry is so transient. A supposedly short career life (depending on how much you can handle!), where you can be sent across the world to live in a new country for 3 months with no notice to live with models who may not speak your language, no consistent routine and lack of active community means that models can often be very lonely.
Rebecca has always maintained a positive, humorous and honest outlook on modelling and herself which is so needed in this industry. Sharing everything from how to model with children to book reviews, she has provided a friendly face to so many models, which is refreshing in an industry that can be focused on ego. Rebecca has been incredibly successful throughout her career and has managed to somehow keep building on this year on year - booking everything from shoots in Mexico to TV commercials - busting the age-old myth that models have to be under 21 to have any chance of success!
In this interview we’ve largely let Rebecca do the talking, as she is so good at it. Part 1 is about her experiences as a model and Part 2 is about her life outside of modelling - Modeltypeface, journalism, beauty and dance!
It feels like you have been modelling forever. How did you get into it?
I got scouted a lot when I was around 15/16, then rejected, then scouted again...I had really bad skin and a super awkward teenage vibe. I mainly dressed in enormous flares (that you can now buy again in Urban Outfitters, a sure sign that I'm getting old...) and my brothers’ jumpers. I had been scouted to do hair modelling for Vidal Sassoon and was stomping down Oxford Street on my way to the salon, doing my best impression of Richard Ashcroft, about to get paid £25 for a haircut (which turned out to be an awful mullet-bowl hybrid that they dyed red, orange and yellow, to match my acne perhaps).
Outside Topshop, I got scouted by a woman called Karima who worked for Premier. By this time, I was pretty over all that 'getting excitedly picked up and then brought into an agency, stared at for an hour and then told, "You're very pretty but you're just not right for us,"' - as if it was me who was foolishly chasing a dream of modelling, rather than them picking me up on the street while I went about my teenage London business of buying obscure albums and legwarmers to wear on my arms! I guess it’s a good intro into modelling - 'We love you! You’re the best thing ever! Oh no we don’t want you! WE want you! You’re AMAZING! But sort out your skin first! Oh no we don’t want you actually.' Etc...
Modelling was absolutely not on the radar. I was never the ‘pretty’ girl at school and modelling seemed to be for graceful, delicate, beautiful people. Not teenagers from Lower Morden who idolised Ian Brown!
You’ve been signed to a few different agencies over the years - from supermodel powerhouses to friendly, small teams. What have you found to be the biggest differences?
I’d say I’ve been at big agencies (Premier, Select), a small agency (First) and I’m now at a medium agency: Bookings. Being at a huge agency is exciting! You know you’re in an elite circle and I’d hold my portfolio with pride. The clients and fees were on another level and I booked some really big jobs. Many people would moan of feeling ‘lost’ among the other models and ever-changing bookers and I didn’t know what they meant, as I always got on with everyone. However that changed as I got older and more insecure: I was no longer fresh and I was gaining a little weight and didn’t feel like I had a strong identity anymore. It’s like going out with a charismatic man who lavishes you with attention and then slowly bores of you: you start out feeling like you’re simply amazing and then gradually, helplessly wonder what you can do to impress him again. Big agencies are also incredibly stressful: they are dealing with so many phone calls and emails that I felt apologetic for taking up time and space, even when I had legitimate worries and questions.
When Select dropped me I went to a smaller agency, or ‘boutique’ as they liked to call it. I felt safe and loved: I’d gone from insecure and unimportant to one of the best models at the agency (which is less a compliment to me and more an indictment of their board at the time). I don’t know how much I can reveal without a libel case against me but let’s just say I wasn’t paid in a timely manner and accounts were largely incomprehensible. I wouldn’t be paid the right amounts at the right time and at one point, one of the bookers, who didn’t even have a maths GCSE, TOOK CHARGE OF ACCOUNTS!!! She made an enormous mess, said I was 6k in debt and put me through so much stress (I was actually 2k in the plus). Imagine: I had just done one of the biggest jobs of my career: an alcohol campaign for over 6k, and she said airily, "Well don't worry, when that job comes in you'll break even again and we can start afresh." Er no! That's my rent and some blessed savings, not a random amount for you to essentially steal due to your own incompetence! I had been trapped there by the bad money situation but I left soon after this as it caused me constant stress and acute anxiety, never knowing when and what I'd been paid despite knowing I was getting great jobs. Eventually I rang up the clients myself, asking to be directed to the accounts department, and asked when they'd been paid, and most of the jobs had transferred that money months - even years - before. Once I started doing this, I got (most of) my money, but who knows what buyouts I wasn't notified of. I wish I'd been able to join Equity at that time.
The one good thing was that I followed my booker, Igor, to Bookings. I wasn’t sure at the time as they had a bit of a ‘staid’ image in my eyes but it was a great decision - they are the furthest thing from staid. They have established clients, they are incredibly fair and transparent with money and I can chat with them and go into the agency without fear.
For ‘New Faces’, something they will spend a lot of time doing is working on their portfolio by doing unpaid photoshoots called Tests. Do you think that they should be paying for these?
No, especially at the start of their career, because everyone is doing them to get experience and most of them are - let’s be real here - absolute crap! However, I’m happy to pay when a photographer deals entirely in making pictures that are guaranteed new card & book fodder, and I have seen the benefit in these in reviving my portfolio. Once you’re a commercial model, it’s very hard to get pictures as it’s all e-commerce and gazing out of windows in white linen, chuckling gently. However I am always asked by my agency and the final decision is down to me, and I pay directly with my own cash. I think other agencies treat it as a bit of a racket.
I do think it's worth paying when you know you're going to get the perfect pictures for your book, as it's a service: you pay, and then you receive great shots that will score you work. Usually though, tests are largely about everyone on that team gaining experience and, sadly for us, trying out the most experimental lenses/make up palettes/hair crimpers - usually on a weekend - so we should never pay for those! All we should do is pray that they never see the light of day! *Quietly untags from pictures on Insta a day after photographer has posted*.
What are your favourite things about the job?
I just LOVE being on a shoot! I love the people, chatting, laughing about, making images. I get really buoyed up and excitable. I also love the free food!
My favourite experiences have been any time I modelled with animals. I shot with a thoroughbred horse called Diamond recently, and even had to ride without a saddle or helmet (potentially lethal) but I really bonded with the horse and felt like I was crying inward happy tears the whole time!
I also shot with an owl recently and again, really bonded and the owl (Manushka) snuggled into me. Modelling gives you experiences no other job ever could.
Have you gone ‘on stay’ as a model? How did you find it?
I enjoyed going to Paris and Athens, even though I didn’t get work. But Tokyo was AWFUL. I went out with a 28k contract and obviously thought I’d be making 28k but I was then told the agency deducts half (what? This makes no sense! Why not just give me a 14k contract then?!) and I was only assured money if I got three jobs in the first week. I didn’t get those jobs and everything was deducted from my contract, like the shitty accommodation and the car we were driven to castings in. They said I was too big and measured me every day, head to toe (literally: they even measured my individual fingers) until I lost the weight (somehow, because I couldn't cook and lived on bread). I was out there alone and other girls had come out from Russia or South Africa with their friends, so the car was full of the sounds of Russian and Afrikaans - no offence, but not such a melodious mix in a small car - and incredibly isolating to constantly hear other girls talking and giggling and not know what they were saying. It’s hard to imagine but the internet wasn’t a ‘thing’ then and I’d ring my parents from a pay phone once a week.
Lastly, I had my first ever sexual experience out there and it was a pretty negative one - I’d got drunk on the free booze a club gave to models. Tokyo was shit! I came home with £800 for 6 weeks I think, not 28k. I had glandular fever, acne, weight gain and was terrified I was pregnant (to be fair, unless it was with Jesus, this was highly unlikely) or had AIDs. I had to take months off modelling because I looked such a state and definitely regret going.
You went for a pretty dramatic hair chop last year - how have you found this affecting your work?
I have ALWAYS wanted a bob, but bookers always said I should keep it long, for versatility. I loved my long thick hair but it was KINDA ageing and - CLICHÉ KLAXON - I went through the break up of a 6 year relationship. Igor saw a pic of me where my hair had been tucked into a collar and said I should go for a long bob. I was so up for it but I found the long bob boring and inbetweeny so I got it shorter and shorter.
I didn’t re-shoot my portfolio because I was working non-stop, but the agency sent updated Polaroids of me with the packages, and the new pics slowly crept in.
My career deffo changed. I lose a LOT of work from it because long hair is popular, but I also get booked specifically because of it. A bit like how most guys don't check me out when I'm wearing my glasses, but some REALLY stare! A few clients starting re-booking me because they’d overused me with long hair but the new hair meant they could get me in again.
We are constantly bombarded with fears about being ‘too old’ to model. How have you found the process of ageing and modelling?
I was SO nervous about ageing. I remember sitting in the dining room and thinking, “After I do my A-Levels, if I take a gap year, I’ll be NEARLY 22 WHEN I GRADUATE! I'll be past it!”
I also remember a booker telling me that every model has 4 years. Maybe in terms of ‘making it big’ but I’m coming on for 2 decades now so HAHA to him!
I do think the industry is different. There was an unofficial cut-off of 27. Now, a lot of clients say they, "Just don’t want anyone too young-looking,” which suits me. I think people have realised that it’s older women who have the money. A couple of photographers have said that they prefer me now to my mid-20s, because I look like a more interesting person. That probably sounds like shade but it isn't: it's just that as you get older you do have a face that reflects a varied experience and a bit more wisdom. And if you don't smoke or drink a lot, you get that look just through your eyes and movement, without too many wrinkles!
It's quite freeing in my career, in that every job feels like a bonus job now. I don't expect modelling to last or to still get great jobs, whereas before I was constantly striving and hoping for them. I'm just pleasantly surprised anyone wants me and I generally just enjoy myself.
However I do hate ageing. I’m not going to lie. I lost a lot of weight in my face from dance and also had a stressful couple of years and I couldn’t help but note that it took its toll somewhat. Sometimes a picture is taken in bad lighting and it makes me feel a bit sicky like...is that my face now? And my lips used to be massive: I miss them! Just being honest.