what is it like to be a male model?

Let me begin by saying that I am not at all opposed to the idea of modeling or to the industry as a whole. I do, however, believe that we can do a better job at creating a safe environment for these men and women and abolish unrealistic expectations that oftentimes push models to engage in destructive and dangerous behaviors in order to meet expectations and, quite frankly, to make a living. Sara Ziff addressed some of these issues in 2011 by founding The Model Alliance, an organization that looks out for the safety and wellbeing of models. My hope is that the industry continues to gain momentum towards empowerment.

Photo by Mathius Brandt

Photo by Mathius Brandt
(courtesy of Ryan Murray)

In a recent conversation with my friend, Ryan Murray, he matter-of-factly mentioned something about being asked to stay “bulked up.” It made me wonder what it must be like to be a male model. I recall sparks of concern for male models after an emaciated YSL male model walked the runway this past January. We hear so much about what it is like for women to be in the modeling world but times when I’ve heard about the experiences of male models don’t come to mind as easily.

Ryan agreed to answer some questions about his experience in the world of modeling. Thank you so much, Ry, for sharing your experience!

How did you become interested in modeling? How old were you when you began?
My family entered my brother and I into a Modeling runway show when I was about 12 or 13 for Neiman Marcus and we both walked the runway, modeling Neiman’s hot fashion of the 90’s for youngsters!  I guess you could say that is where my interest began.  Then a few years later, in High School, I auditioned in a line of about 1,000 people at a cattle call for a Ralph Lauren runway show sponsored by Bloomingdale’s and Seventeen Magazine.  I was shocked when I was one of the 7 that were chosen from the crowd.  They said they liked my walk and that I had a stand out confidence!  I also had long-ish surfer hair and a pimpley sophmorish face… guess confidence really does shine thru!

under ladder

Photo by Gian Andrea Di Stefano
(courtesy of Ryan Murray)

What do you like about your modeling career? Is there anything that you don’t like?
I like the different experiences it brings to my life, when the jobs do come around.  They are few and far between sometimes because the supply of “good looking male models” is WAY above the demand of jobs!
Things I don’t like:  I wish I worked MORE! 🙂

What do you like/hate about the modeling industry?
I like the opportunity it provides and the trends it sets!
I don’t like how the industry is so narrow minded. It is very hard for some to think outside the box and many models get the short end of the stick because we don’t “look” a certain way, weigh a certain amount, stand a certain height… beauty is subjective and when you do not get jobs because of one person’s idea of the “beauty” they are looking for, it can be hard to swallow.

We’ve all heard about the tireless scrutiny and pressures for women in the modeling world. What pressures do you encounter as a male model?
There are definitely pressures as a male model.  Staying in a specific weight class depending on the “type” of modeling jobs you want to get; underwear, sportswear, bathing suit, lifestyle, runway, etc.
Body image is a very HUGE part of the job and I find that I am always comparing myself to other male models and thinking that I must need to look like “that” in order to book more jobs.

Photo by Mathius Brandt

Photo by Mathius Brandt
(courtesy of Ryan Murray)

What pressures do male models encounter to alter their appearance? Bulking up, slimming down, losing body fat, etc.?
ALL OF THE ABOVE!  Before many photo shoots I will not eat, or not drink water in order to “shrink wrap” my skin and muscle per se.
Oftentimes, if a job listing calls for rock hard abs or something of that sort, I know there will be a handful of other male models that will have more or better abs than me so I make sure to work out even harder… then it will all come down to the type of look they want as well. “Ethnically ambiguous” is VERY popular right now!  So there are so many factors but when it all comes down to it, if you don’t look a certain way, whether beauty is a factor or not, you don’t get the job.
I always feel if I can just get bigger biceps or a bigger chest or a harder butt, maybe THEN I will be what they want. It’s a lot of pressure, self-inflicted some of the time I will admit, but pressure nonetheless!

Many female models have shared the experience of having to compromise their principles in order to get jobs. Do you encounter this same pressure as a male model?
Well there is definitely a “sex sells” mentality and it is NOT just with regard to women!  There are times I have been on a casting or even a job and advances are made and the thought goes through your head, “if I say no will I get the job?”  More often than not though this happens when models are trying to update their books and looking for good photographers to shoot them. Many times they will make advances or want you to be a bit more suggestive than you had planned on!  You never quite know, in the beginning, what is acceptable, a true threat, if it will get you hired, or if it’s just the “way of the biz.”

How does not succumbing to these pressures impact your career?
It puts you on the slow track, a more moral track, a more freed conscience sort of track!  Good things come to those who wait, or at least to those who stay true to who they are.  There is such a need to feel wanted, to feel talented, to feel like you have an equal chance, and it is hard not to do “whatever it takes” to obtain those things.

Modeling is one of the most objectifying and sexualized careers out there. Has this ever impacted your self-esteem?
Constantly!  Even today, I woke up feeling puny, untalented, out of the loop, all because I have not been able to muster up the energy to lift weights after all of the spinning I teach.  I sometimes feel like I will never get a job again!  “Bulky muscles” are the key to being attractive and getting noticed, the voices in my head tell me. It is a constant battle I face because my body is my package and I am constantly having to “reinvent” in order to feel relevant, attractive, etc.

What advice would you give to someone who was interested in a modeling career?
Be happy with who you are and remember, confidence and self worth REALLY DO SHINE THRU!
Even though I had a horribly red and pimple ridden face and long hair when I went to stand in a line of 1,000+ people for that Seventeen Magazine/Ralph Lauren runway show, it didn’t matter to me because I believed in myself and KNEW I could do it!  (I should take my own advice!)

Photo by Charles Victor

Photo by Charles Victor
(courtesy of Ryan Murray)

About Jodi Rubin, ACSW, LCSW, CEDS

Jodi graduated with a B.A. in Psychology from SUNY at New Paltz and earned her Master’s degree in Social Work from New York University. In addition to over a decade of work as an LCSW and Certified Eating Disorder Specialist with individuals, families and groups in her private practice, Jodi is a NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) Certified Personal Trainer and created Destructively Fit®, a training that addresses eating disorders within the fitness industry. She is a former director of Day Treatment at The Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders and a founding member of Metropolitan Psychotherapy and Family Counseling Practice. Jodi also specializes in infertility and has served on the Clinical Advisory Board of Seleni Institute since its inception. Jodi is the creator of a curriculum on eating disorders for the Graduate School of Social Work at New York University and has been teaching this course, as well as guest lecturing in the NYU Post-Master’s Program, since 2007. Jodi actively lectures and teaches students, families and professionals throughout the metropolitan area about the etiology, prevention, treatment, assessment and work with eating disorders. Through psychotherapy and supportive work with adolescents, adults and families, Jodi works to create a secure sense of self, increased self-esteem and a healthy relationship with self and others. She works with an eclectic person-centered approach and tailors her practice techniques to the unique needs of each individual. Please feel free to contact Jodi directly in her Greenwich Village office, 212.529.5811. View all posts by Jodi Rubin, ACSW, LCSW, CEDS

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