I recently interviewed Jessica Homami, a plus-size model based in Los Angeles. Jessica is a close family friend I have known for many years so she was happy to tell me more about the ins and outs of the modeling industry.
Jessica never thought she would be a model when she was growing up, or that she even wanted to be one. Her mother had always told her and her brother that they could be whatever they wanted to be, and Jessica wanted to be a doctor despite her love of acting and singing. Jessica’s mother had been a model in her twenties without much success and had approached Jessica with the idea of trying it many times. It wasn’t until Jessica was 17 and her mother pointed out that modeling could be used to pay for college that Jessica agreed, and on October 15th, 2015, she had a contract with an agency.
I asked Jessica how the process of booking works and she explained that there are generally two ways to land a job; the agency can send out photos of their models to clients who can then schedule interviews/auditions to meet with the model before saying yes or no, or the clients can peruse the agency’s website and reach out about a specific model. Jessica’s first year of work was slow as her name and face began circulating, and as she got used to being in front of a camera. It was a month until Jessica got her first job, and then she was booked more and more. Eventually, Jessica was working an average of three times a week.
As a plus-size model, Jessica’s work isn’t very different from “regular” models. I asked about any distinctions and she said the work is generally the same, but, “Plus-size models refer to regular models as ‘straight-size’ models, but I’ve talked to lots of straight-size models and . . . we feel like there is that distinction and they don’t.” What the two differ in is attitude and community. Plus-size is still fairly new, so it is far less competitive than straight-size as there aren’t as many plus models. It is also mostly female, with only a few plus-size male models. Even with the wider range of body-types included in plus-size, “There still is usually a specific kind of curvy-hourglass that they are looking for for plus,” Jessica explained. Once a plus model “makes it,” she doesn’t have to worry as much. Straight-size models have so much more pressure to maintain their size. Jessica told me about a straight-size friend who recently ended her modeling career because it was so stressful for her, telling me that “People would tell [my friend] she looks sick and she would take it as a compliment.” There is less of a demand on a plus model to maintain her body shape, and if her body weight fluctuates, she is simply hired by different clients (for example, when Jessica was training for the LA marathon Nordstrom stopped booking her because she got too small). It is never a question of whether or not a plus-size model will lose her job, unlike straight-size. Jessica confessed, “I’d definitely rather be plus-size than straight-size.”
Modeling isn’t like other jobs where you are working towards promotion after promotion. It’s different for every model; some begin working constantly almost as soon as they are signed and others have a slower beginning. “There isn’t really a ladder to climb,” Jessica said, “sometimes you’ll have really good seasons where you’re working a lot and sometimes you’ll have really slow seasons where you’re not really working and it fluctuates all throughout your career and it doesn’t really matter how good you are at your job, it’s more about what the client wants and what’s in style for the season.” The trend for the past few years has been “ethnically ambiguous” and since Jessica “could be Hispanic, [she] could be Persian, [she] could be all sorts of things,” she can be used in many ways, and when clients want that, she works a lot. “I’m lucky that I’ve been in style,” she remarked.
Jessica gave me all the details on a typical work-day for a model, which is actually quite similar to most 9-5 jobs, even though it is freelance. It differs depending on the client, but her work-day generally begins at 8 a.m., she sits in hair and makeup for an hour, and shoots until 5 or 6 p.m. with a lunch break in the middle of the day. She usually models around 80 looks a day, mostly clothing but sometimes swimwear, accessories, skincare, and beauty products. In her five-year career she has modeled for businesses big and small, including Target, Kohl’s, Nordstrom, Fabletics, and Forever 21.
With such a physical job, I had to ask about how it has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic began. In the beginning work stopped completely since modeling is difficult to do with social distancing. “People are constantly touching you,” Jessica explained, “that’s something that you have to become comfortable with in the [modeling] industry . . . people had to figure out how to get a person to look the way we want them to look without being as hands-on.” Now that work is picking back up, there are much less people on set, everyone wears masks, and there is as little touching as possible. Sometimes Jessica does her own hair and makeup to eliminate the need for another person touching her, and she’s even had clothes mailed to her for her to try on and take pictures through a video call. It has been a very different experience, and Jessica said, “I feel like even once COVID is all over, I’m still going to request that things be a little more separated, because I think that . . . I’m just so cautious about it.”
When I asked Jessica about any misconceptions people have about the modeling industry, she said that it’s not as wondrous as most people think: “It’s a great job and you do make money, but . . . it’s not that glamorous, it’s tiring.” Clients aren’t always interested in making friends with models since the likelihood of seeing them again isn’t high, so Jessica isn’t always treated like a coworker and the client just wants to get the job done and send Jessica on her way. Modeling also comes with pain from being on your feet all day, forgetting to eat, and being poked and prodded with scissors and pins. Jessica put it bluntly: “I have been in more pain than I think most jobs you would be in . . I’m constantly in shoes that don’t fit me and would come home with my legs shaking from a day of standing in heels that are two sizes too small.” Models must exercise, monitor their food, and refrain from drinking too much: “It’s really a lifestyle . . . you have to get accustomed to . . . looking the part because you never know when someone is going to need you.” A model’s product is themself, they are their own brand, their own business, so they have to be ready at any moment and can even become a public figure.
That aspect is what introduced Jessica to the opportunities for promoting self-love and body positivity through social media. She has become a public figure because “[she] has to keep up [her] social media for [her] work.” Her online presence has become a secondary source of income for her because people hire her for it or pay her to post on her social media. Even though it is such a big factor in her work, it has also sparked a love for self-acceptance, self-care, and public speaking. Jessica has never envisioned modeling forever, but now she has opened her eyes to a new possibility for her future.
I asked Jessica about her life goals and thoughts about the future. Long-term, she sees herself going back to school to be an occupational or physical therapist, something she’s always thought about. She wants to continue exploring public speaking and self-love to see where she can go with that, but while she’s still a model, “I think we all want to be on a billboard someday.”
Besides the self-love, I asked what Jessica’s favorite parts about being a model are and she said meeting new people, expressing herself creatively, and traveling constantly. She loves the newness of her job: “Whether I’m shooting with the same company or not, it’s always new clothing, I’m usually meeting new people, I’m doing new things every time . . . No two days are ever the same.”
When I asked Jessica to sum up her experience as a model in one word, she gave two: “a journey.” Modeling has done so much more for her than she ever thought it would and opened herself up to more opportunities than ever before. “More than anything else, I have learned to be comfortable with myself . . . my body and what I look like and who I am as a person,” she summarized.
For those interested in becoming a model, Jessica has this advice to give: “Put yourself out there . . . be comfortable meeting people . . . Get comfortable with rejection, get comfortable with the word ‘no.’” Modeling is all about branding yourself and being comfortable in your own body. Your product is yourself, it’s personal, so you have to be prepared for difficult or less-than-ideal situations and letdowns. It is a hard profession, but rewarding.