Society assumes that a glamorous career corresponds to the peak of female happiness. But what if your experience doesn’t live up to the hype? One woman shares her story…
Nasrin Leahy, 26, from Dublin, was a successful model before switching to a career in art curation.
‘Modelling was never a dream of mine, but because I was always tall and skinny, I felt like I should pursue it. There’s definitely a societal outlook, particularly when you’re young, that women will get some kind of validation from being part of that world. At the time I thought I wanted that too; I wanted to be accepted.
‘I was signed to an agency in Dublin when I was 14. It was crazy – I would be at home in my school uniform and I’d get told a brand wanted to book me for a shoot in somewhere like Malibu. The money was obscene: I could earn £15,000 in the space of a week. By the time I was 17, I was living alone in London and had worked with brands like Levi’s, Topshop and Urban Outfitters.
‘Older models had prepared me for endless castings and living in overpriced apartments with lots of other girls. But still, the one thing I didn’t expect was being asked to lose weight. I was 5ft 9in with a 24” waist, so I’d spent my teenage years being called a stick insect. But when I moved to New York aged 19, I was immediately told to lose 10lb. My agency sent me to see a personal trainer a few times a week and I would exercise until I nearly passed out. Meanwhile, hopping from city to city was isolating. I would go from one casting to the next and sit in a room for a maximum of 30 minutes before travelling to the next one. It was lonely, and never-ending.
‘You can easily make six figures in your first year of modelling, but then you can also make next to nothing because there are no guarantees. Girls would often be taken in by an agency, put up in rented accommodation and also charged for all these other services, like a chauffeur to take them to castings. Some paid well over £1,000 just for their flights to New York, but as well as not finding work, they ended up owing money to the agency, too.
‘It was only when I took a break to study that I realised I could have a career in something I actually loved. I’d taken an art-history module, and it was so interesting. For the first time in years, I felt stimulated and excited. I left the agency and started over. Working at an art gallery in Dublin might not be as glamorous or well paid as modelling, but I’m utilising what I would consider to be the best parts of myself. And that’s what everybody should do.’