[By: Janelle Okwodu] [Vogue] [Read More]
You can’t talk about the current state of modeling without mentioning social media. The most discussed models in existence—Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid, and the other members of the Insta-girl squad—owe a large degree of their fame to their enormous social-media followings. Tools like Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter have reignited public interest in models and created a lucrative new income source that several stars have tapped into, and the advantages of social media are clear: It offers models the chance to become personalities, instead of mere clothes hangers, while simultaneously providing fans and brands with a direct connection.
But what about the drawbacks?
Let’s be real: There is no direct correlation between being able to take a good selfie and being able to deliver in front of the camera for an actual photographer. Even as the images used online become increasingly staged, a high-fashion editorial or campaign shoot has different demands than an Instagram. Though great models can be found via social media—Nadja Bender and Sean O’Pry to name two—there is something disconcerting about the amount of importance placed on data, much of which can be fudged. Given that figures for followers, views, and likes can all be fabricated (thanks to companies which exist solely to pad the numbers of Instagram and Twitter users), hotly followed accounts may not be all they’re cracked up to be. Put another way, we have yet to see whether big name Insta-stars add up into the actual engagement that brands are pursuing.
There is also the matter that as the number of followers a model has increased in importance, the focus shifted from the quality of a model’s work to their ability to produce likes, clicks, and online buzz. It is becoming increasingly standard procedure for castings to ask for social statistics in addition to the standard measurements (despite the fact of most backstages being social media–free zones), which leads to cases where an individual’s audience trumps all else. When the objective is generating attention—and hopefully getting those millions of fans to open their wallets—basic modeling skills like posing and having a great walk can fall by the wayside, to the detriment of the show, or shoot, and ultimately the industry at large. How many talented new faces have a built-in fanbase?
Selling things has always been a part of the job for models, but rarely has it been so necessary for them to constantly sell themselves. It’s one thing to network, and to build key relationships with photographers and stylists, and it’s another to be good at the kind of self-promotion that generates results online. These days if you aren’t snapping, tweeting, Instagram-ing or blogging, you run the risk of becoming invisible—or worse, missing out on the opportunities offered to those willing to play the game. While there have always been models with distinct advantages—connections, wealth, celebrity parentage—that have helped to advance their careers, the playing field has never been as uneven. A newer model might snag a prestigious exclusive, or work with a cool magazine, but it’s becoming rarer for a model to achieve the next stage of work—beauty contracts, endorsements, and top-tier magazine covers—without having a following.
It may seem alarmist to decry the same tools that have given models their renewed relevance, but throughout all of the modeling industry’s changes the constant has been the merger of art and commerce. Shift too much in one direction, and things go awry—turning modeling into a numbers game takes the joy out of something that, at its best, is creative. What a model has to offer shouldn’t be tied solely to the bottom line. The success of the Insta-girls shouldn’t make social media mandatory; it should open the door for a variety of talents.
After all, there can be too much of a good thing. The continued nostalgia for the ’90s supermodel era, coupled with the online outcry regarding the success of some Insta-famous stars shows that audiences still crave a time when modeling was just about the creation of a timeless image. Casting directors in search of a damn good model can still call on social-shy icons like Daria Werbowy and Raquel Zimmermann (neither of whom show any signs of slowing down), but their successors are out there waiting for an opportunity to show their skills. The next catwalk star may very well have the ability to live-stream every minute of their life, apply the perfect filter to every photo, and dole out 140 character bon mots with the best of them—or she might want to simply turn off her phone. We’re going to need both types of model in order for things to remain relevant and interesting.