What I Learnt From Being a Swimsuit Model
This isn’t something I’ve really spoken a lot about. Mainly because for a long time, I was very conscious about how I was perceived in the industry as an actress. And for me, it’s still a little terrifying now putting this all out there. For those of you who don’t know – I was a swimsuit model. I appeared in swimsuit calendars, magazines and parades – I did the modelling comp circuit – the whole shebang.
It started when I was living in Brisbane with my then boyfriend, and working at a pub where I met a girl called Roxy – yes that was her real name. She suggested I enter a model competition. It wasn’t something I had really considered or knew much about, but I decided to give it a crack anyway. So from the time I was about 20 to 22 I competed in many model comps, did many photo shoots and won my fair share of finals. I did pretty well considering I never really thought people would be interested in seeing a girl like me appear in their calendars!
It was all amazing. I had so many great experiences, I got to travel and shoot in some great locations. I met a lot of really lovely girls. And I also met a lot of not so lovely girls. I also got to see the ugly side of modeling and what being in that environment can do to some people.
To people on the outside, it may seem like a really glamorous job, however the down side is that a lot of what modelling does is make you fixate on how you look, because of course, that is the main determinate of you being successful in the industry. In the fashion industry, a model must fit the standard size measurements which are 34 – 24 – 34 inches and be at least 5’7 in height. In the swimsuit modelling arena, the standards are a bit different. You generally have to have big boobs (at least a C cup), small waist and some hips. I’ve never really heard of any specific measurements being thrown around but I would say it was an average of a size 6-8 (Australian) in my time.
Now that’s all great and fine – I can say, of course I am grateful for being blessed with those qualities that the industry happens to have decided upon as being desirable. But that’s just it. I’m just lucky – I just happen to meet the standards that have been set. And those standards are just a collective idea that we as a society have bought into as an idea of what beauty means. I’ve seen many girls try to look like this ‘idea of beauty’ by getting boob jobs, botox and all that.
Whilst being a swimsuit model of course makes you feel accepted and desired and sexy from the outside world, that doesn’t mean a thing if you can’t accept yourself for who you are. For me, after about a year or so of modelling, it wasn’t quite doing it for me. Why? Because, once I’d done a few calendars and appeared in a few magazines and swimsuit parades, I thought what else is there for me to do? What I wasn’t getting out of being a model was the outlet to express myself beyond my outward appearance. I am so much more than what I look like. And on top of that, I have so much more to offer the world than boobs and booty. I wanted to grow and learn and expand as a human.
I noticed that I would shy away from showing any of my pictures to anyone in the film and TV industry because I knew that casting directors would immediately have a preconceived idea about my acting ability based on my appearance. (P.S – I became an actress long before I began modelling). And I resisted this predicament for a long long time. An agent friend of mine once said to me, ‘Rachel, this is a visual industry. Of course people are going to judge you on your appearance.’ I wasn’t really going to be cast as the girl-next-door, but rather, I got the usual girl-who-steals-that-girl’s-boyfriend – I’ve played this role several times. Or sometimes even the girl-who-looks-pretty-and-doesn’t-say-much.
I have finally accepted that in some cases I am going to be stereotyped because that is the nature of show business and these days for me it’s more about embracing those qualities that other people seem to pick out in me and allow them to shine, rather than shy away from them. But my point really is that although modelling is a great profession for some, I found it kept me focused too much on the outer, too much on my appearance. What I’m looking for is to able to allow my WHOLE self to be seen. Not just what I look like in a photo, in a bikini, which by the way girls – if you see pics in a magazine, instagram or whatever, more often than not those images have been touched up and altered to look more ‘perfect’ – if that’s even possible. (And yes, filters count as photoshopping!!).
Don’t get me wrong I LOVE BIKINIS! I love being at the beach and I like showing off my body when I feel called to it. But it doesn’t define me as a person. It doesn’t determine how much I like myself. My self-worth and value do not depend on it. And the best part is, having this attitude means I can allow myself to be all sorts of amazing – not just because of my body.
I’m definitely labelled in the pin-up category. I haven’t given people a reason to take my work seriously yet, which is my responsibility. I think the expectation for me, as far as my ability as an actress goes, is very low. I feel like that means I can only ever be an over-achiever when people expect so little from me ~ Megan Fox
To this day, my favourite achievement during those times was a Miss Congeniality Award which I won at a national final of a major competition. Erin McNaught won the overall title that year (the next year she went on to win Miss Universe Australia). It reminded me that despite how I looked on the outside, I was still valued for who I was on the inside. And that was amazing!
Being a swimsuit model was an amazing experience – I just want people to know that focusing on your body and how it looks in a bikini or outfit or whatever, does not make you who you are. It’s just the body you happen to have been given to live in for this lifetime. Love it and cherish it as your temple, but remember that you are so much more than just your body – allow all of those other qualities to shine too!
Image Source: Michelle Grace Hunder Photography