Cindy Nell

Former Miss South Africa Cindy Nell has published a handbook for aspiring beauty queens and models.

There are different ways to go about starting a modelling career and entering competitions. Below are 10 basic steps:

1. Do your homework: Research modelling agencies, top models, competitions and fashion weeks. Find out which agencies are where, who represents the top models and what kind of models each agency has on its books. The internet is powerful - use it.

Go to the South African Fashion Week and watch the shows to see how each model carries herself, the different expressions and ramp styles, how they show off garments, and what they look like.

2. Start small: Don’t expect to join a modelling agency and become famous overnight. Because of the limited success rate, you must have a career alternative. While you’re getting an education, you can start small with a local modelling agency or school that can help you do fashion shows, shoots, competitions or promotional work.

A little bit of local work will be good experience if you don’t live near a big agency, but if you seriously want to pursue modelling, you will eventually have to relocate to where the agencies are.

A fraction of models actually become overnight successes; the majority work their way up.

3. Practise: look at pictures of already successful and listed models on the internet and in magazines and campaigns.

Study their appearance - what they wear, their hairstyles, skin and height - know what you are up against. Know what will be expected of you. You can be different, but the essentials remain the same.

Have photographs taken that look like the pictures of the professionals, pose like them, have your hair and make-up styled in similar ways, use the right photographers and stylists, and go to the modelling schools that are run by successful models or have produced successful models.

Wear the right clothing - your clothes do not always have to be expensive, they can be simple. Save money by getting your look right the first time and not spending over and over again until you get it right. In front of the mirror, practise the pose and techniques that you see on television or in magazines.

4. Get involved: If you need more confidence or would feel more comfortable being taught, seek professional help. Go for lessons in ramp and photographic work, styling and grooming. All you need is a workshop or two.

Make sure you learn the same styles and techniques you see on television and in magazines, as there many modelling schools that teach girls all the wrong things, such as walking with funny, lifted knee movements or strange hand techniques that ruin your natural style completely.

Don’t stagnate: always move forward. If you have attended a finishing, modelling or grooming school for longer than a year, you have been there too long, unless you are there because you enjoy it. There are only a few things you can learn that will help you to become a good model, most of which you can teach yourself, but if you prefer to go to a school, make sure you go to a good one.

5. Groom yourself: You must not be anorexic, but (I won’t lie to you, writes Nell) you have to be thin and well groomed when you go to see agencies.

If you are not naturally all the things that a model should be, you can work at it, but you will be at a huge disadvantage, because it is a lifetime commitment and can be draining. You can beat genes, but you will have to work harder than those who are naturally beautiful and thin.

Look out for opportunities to get noticed - enter modelling competitions and attend open casting calls. Look out for dates and details on websites, in newspapers and in other media. There are a few big modelling competitions held in South Africa each year in which new talent is scouted.

Offer your services to designers or organisers who are arranging shows on their own. Perhaps do one or two shoots and shows for free to gain experience and see if they will book you in future, but be clear that you only want to work for free for the first time. You may get noticed.

6. Pictures: Take a few good pictures - these can be “happy snaps” or professional photographs, but local agencies require very basic pictures from first-time applicants. Take along one or two good head shots to show your face clearly, and one or two full body shots, with no obstructions, funny outfits or poses, to show your figure. Look at model z-cards on the agency’s website for references.

7. Get an agent: Send your pictures to an agency - most of them prefer pictures to be e-mailed to them, but others have open days. Call the agency and ask if you should send your pictures or if you can come in to see them. Try all agencies - some might like you, others may not.

Keep trying until you have a breakthrough, but try all the best agencies first. Once you are signed with an agent, you must discuss a way forward with them. They should send you for a test shoot for a portfolio and you should start attending casting immediately.

8. Be diligent and consistent: Attend as many castings as you can, work hard, and be well prepared and on time. Trust your agent to advise you on what kind of work to do.

9. Build on it: As with most things in life, the more you do, the more you will accomplish. The more money you make, the more you will keep earning. It’s a perpetuating cycle.

So start getting tear sheets and doing fashion shows or jobs, however small, and build up a CV and an attitude. (Attitude is not arrogance, but confidence - the right approach, an aura and energy that resonate when you walk into a casting.)

10. Stay focused: Keep your eyes open and your ears on the ground, stay in touch with the industry and maintain a good reputation. The modelling industry is very small, and the last thing you want is a bad reputation. I repeat: don’t do drugs, don’t be arrogant, don’t be late, don’t gossip and don’t work with other companies behind your agency’s back. Work hard, make contacts, move forward all the time and respect others in the industry.

If you can’t get an agent, do what you can on your own and try to get help from a smaller model-management institute or from your modelling teacher. Alternatively, sign up with a promotional company or a scout (South Africa has very few scouts who could really enhance your career, so be wary of them).

Getting an agency can be hard. Some successful models have just walked in and got signed up, but walking into an agency without an appointment can be risky, and you should always prepare yourself for rejection. Agencies are very busy and unless you blow them away within two minutes, you run the risk of them saying “no thank you”. And believe me they will.

Agencies see hundreds of girls who want to be models - you only get one chance.

Don’t let your mother call - call them yourself. They figure that if you cannot call them yourself, you are exhibiting low self-esteem and lack of experience. If you decide to e-mail, send some brief details with your pictures; state your age, height and clothing size, and hair, skin and eye colours.

Don’t give them a long, sad story.

Don’t expect to be accepted by the first, or even the 10th, agency. There are many agencies, and they all have very specific requirements. Be persistent, positive and polite.

Expect to work hard. Don’t for one second think that you are going to get accepted by an agency and then sit back and become rich and famous. You have to take the initiative, get involved, look after your body, help your agent, get out there and assist in getting work. Continue entering competitions and manage your own career.

Modelling criteria:

Contrary to popular belief, height is not the most important factor for a successful modelling career, but it is important. Other important criteria are: good skin, your measurements, a well-proportioned body, loose and natural-looking hair, and a body free of tattoos and piercings.

- The Mercury