How I Became a Fitness Model
Thanks for reading this article. As a once aspiring model and current newbie, I feel that there is a lack of stories and transparency around the modeling industry, especially lifestyle and fitness modeling. Most models share the results of their work (stunning photos and billboards) but, don’t talk about the nitty gritty. In an effort to create more openness, I’ll be sharing my story of how I got into modeling.
As many of you know, I am primarily a Pilates Instructor, not a model. I model part time, probably about once or twice a month. I would not consider myself a “success” model or a “stereotypical” model due to my size but, I hope this helps you see that the modeling industry is not limited to just fashion models.
How I Became a Fitness Model
As a teenager (probably from ages 12-16), I was fascinated with America’s Next Top Model (Tyra Banks was ICONIC) and the modeling industry. As someone who was naturally very petite (probably 5’0” - 5’2” at the time), I was pretty sure I’d never become a model - which is why it held so much allure. Around the same time, I started a beauty and fashion Youtube channel, where I would take pictures and make beauty and fashion videos of myself and post them on YouTube. It was a lot of selfies, self timed cameras and stacks of books. Even though I knew I would never make it as a fashion model, I loved being in front of the camera and “transforming” into someone else (at this time it was attempting to make myself look like Selena Gomez etc).
Around my senior year of high school, Seventeen Magazine reached out to me to become a “Beauty Smartie.” This was a feature they created to highlight the rise of beauty and fashion gurus (at the time - Bethany Mota, Michelle Phan etc). My channel wasn’t huge but, they somehow found me! As a result, I was in a book and a few beauty articles for them. I was given the model treatment - HMU, professional photographer and more. It was fun but nerve wracking every time! I had basically ZERO idea about what I was doing and was probably incredibly awkward and uptight. Thankfully, it was the same photographer every time and he was incredibly kind and helpful with posing and angles. In my mind, this doesn’t count as real experience but, in some ways it does! As a result of this, I knew what to expect from a professional shoot. I learned that hair and makeup takes FOREVER, and if you change looks (which I did multiple times per shoot), the shoot will take all day. I learned that modeling was TIRING but, meeting all the different people was fun. Seeing yourself in the magazine was also such an incredible feeling! I continued modeling for Seventeen until my Sophomore year of college.
After this, there was quite a gap. I didn’t really do any modeling and moved away from that world. I started to pursue marketing (the other side of the world), and eventually entered the advertising agency world as a project manager.
With Maggie Inc in Boston
After I left college and my full time marketing job, I had a lot more flexibility in my schedule and decided I wanted to consider modeling again - in some ways fulfilling my dreams as a child. As a full time Pilates instructor who has a lot of ownership over my schedule, modeling has become more feasible. I can not even imagine being in my corporate job and trying to model- it’d be impossible. Even now, there have been some hiccups with schedule; it is truly hard to balance part time. As some of you may know, modeling is a LAST MINUTE industry like night before <24 hrs before a shoot, you can be called in. As I entered the fitness and wellness world, I became more and more interested in doing fitness modeling. I grew up struggling with the fact that there weren’t any faces that looked like me. I turned to Youtube because there were Asian American and Asian women who were sharing makeup tips and fashion tips. I could see how makeup actually looked on them. It was more realistic. I feel like representation has changed since 2008 but, even still, it is lacking. I’ve noticed that particularly in the fitness industry, featuring Asian women as strong, powerful and fast is rare. They are usually flexible, demure and thin. Part of my goal in pursuing modeling is to help represent and change the stereotypes of female Asian body types.
In Feb of 2018, I applied online to one local Boston agency, Maggie Inc and was called in for a meeting pretty quickly where the agency’s owner offered me a spot with the agency. I submitted 2-3 photos of myself from past fitness photoshoots/my Instagram and also my measurements (which I knew from when I got my wedding dress fitted!). It was a rather painless meeting - we just covered availability, expectations, “my look” and what vertical I’d be under. I told him I had flexibility in my schedule. I was totally cool being a “lifestyle” gal (aka because I am not 5’7” - which is really the minimum here for a lot of major gigs and I am larger chested than average). This is another misconception I wanted to talk about. You do not have to be 5’7” to model. You don’t have to be particularly spectacular looking either. Plenty of agencies, especially in smaller markets - aka not NY or LA, are looking for lifestyle and commercial talent (think Target ads, Uppababy, etc) who look like real people. As long as you are 1) comfortable in front of the camera 2) photogenic/know your angles 3) in good physical shape 4) easy to work with, you are likely bookable as a model.
Because of them, I’ve been able to do some modeling work for local Boston brands and companies - Bright Horizons, CVS, Foxwoods, TB12, NBC and more! And as of now, that’s the last chapter in my modeling journey. It’s really not glamorous (lot of hustling and working to improve) but it’s been fun, fulfilling and has made me felt authentic.
If you’d like my top tips on starting out in the industry, leave a comment below and I will post another blog post!
Koo Chung, Anya Tabakova, Josh Campbell, Tiffany Von Noronha