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Michele Waagaard on: The ugly side of modeling
Too fat, too thin, earning loads, being ignored ... Bangkok model Michele Waagaard reveals the fickle nature of the industry she loves to hate
"In fashion, one day you're in. And the next day you're out."
Supermodel Heidi Klum was spot on when she coined that phrase, and Bangkok is no exception. As tasty as it looks from the outside, there is no sugar coating things when it comes to the world of modeling and fashion.
It’s harsh but brutally honest, painfully superficial but financially rewarding. You have to be thick-skinned. Your whole body is put under a microscope, your flaws enhanced for everyone to criticize. And I mean everyone.
After 15 years in the Thai entertainment industry as a model, singer, MTV VJ and radio DJ I have seen the dark side as well as the glorious perks and opportunities that come with it.
Thailand is a gold mine once you have your foot in the door, which is why so many Thai kids are desperate to become a part of it. There are no limits to where it can take you.
But the sad thing is that there is little individuality in this city because nowadays so many just become carbon copies of one another. Just take a look at any Thai teen-oriented magazine. With their hair extensions, fake lashes, contact lenses and plastic surgery to look more Korean, it’s not easy to find uniqueness.
In Bangkok, when your look matches the ideal of the moment, modeling usually leads to spinoff singing, acting, hosting, DJing and VJing careers. You’ve become an official “dara,” a brand that is for sale on the market.
That is, until they don’t want you anymore.
I have experienced the thrill of being a hot commodity on the catwalk and the disappointment of not getting any phone calls at all.
Even today, at the age of 30, I am told I’m either a little bit too chunky or a little too skinny. You are frozen out, then one day welcomed back in, which can drive any slightly insecure girl into dementia.
There is a myth that models have no self-image problems. The truth is we can be the most insecure of all, myself included. I often compare it to being in a psychologically abusive relationship, as you constantly try to please the decision makers and eventually lose sight of yourself.
I have been told that my name doesn’t sell any more. I need more scandal. People have suggested maybe I "accidentally" let my nipple slip out on the catwalk. Or maybe I should create a public rift with someone.
To be a success in this world you have to cut in front to get yourself noticed. But is it worth it?
You want it to be about the clothes but a tabloid scandal that takes place while you’re wearing the clothes sells so much better. It is a business, after all.
There is also the common misperception that modeling is easy. All you have to do is look hot, walk up and down a catwalk and put out your hand to receive lumps of money. It is so much more than that.
Take the recent Bangkok Fashion Week as an example. Thailand is renowned for creating amazing stage productions to complement and enhance the statement of the clothes, resulting in majestic runway shows.
But what happens behind the scenes does not match the show the audience sees.
Models show up at 6 a.m. and are choreographed through each show to fit in with the designer's overall concept. They’re then put though vigorous rehearsals, to the point it no longer becomes just about fashion. You feel like you are a component of a multi-part piece of art.
There is no playing around. If you do not pay attention in rehearsals you will be made an example of in front of everyone. People are stressed during fashion week and those who fall short of expectations will often find themselves the victims of a very loud public lashing. You should always expect at least one temper tantrum prior to a show.
But when you are on that stage and feel the focus is on you, it feeds the ego and for just a few moments you feel indestructible. The high after a show is truly amazing, never mind that big wad of cash you get to take home as well.
As much as this business has left me in despair, there is no place I’d rather be.
The opinions of this commentary are solely those of Michele Waagaard.
In addition to modeling, Michele is a DJ at English-language radio station Wave FM 88. Half-Norwegian half-Thai, her career in the entertainment industry goes way back. She was a VJ on MTV Thailand and in Norway, following a stint in a successful all-girl Thai pop band. She's also an amateur chef and posts her recipes online at her cooking blog. Click here to follow Michele on Twitter.