A professional model is someone who gets paid for having photos taken, participating in runway shows, or doing commercials for a client. The industry is client-driven, and while a person's look is important, not all models are size two and tall. Some have a certain look, like “mom,” “soccer coach,” or “grandpa” that a client wants to capture. This means you don’t necessarily have to be a certain size, body type, or “beauty ideal” in order to be a model, but you do have to have a look that will somehow appeal to an audience that would be most interested in buying the product your “look” sells.
High fashion modeling is the most exclusive field, and few people attain the goal of walking the runways of Paris and New York. Commercial modeling has a much looser definition. Certain body types may not be required, but you do have to fit what the client wants. People who have one fantastic feature, like their hands, can get a lot of work modeling just that body part.
Every professional model needs an agent. This means you will need to have both a headshot and a portfolio of pictures. Pictures will cost anywhere from $800 to several thousand US Dollars (USD), and it helps to get your pictures done by a photographer who is known in the fashion or commercial industry.
Agents typically charge 10% of what you are paid, and they should not charge upfront fees for representing you. They should also not be associated with modeling schools, which are usually scam operations. You can also try getting jobs by going to open calls with your portfolio, but these calls are few and far between. Some are not even legitimate, but attempt to get you to take classes at a school. Representation is the best bet toward getting actual work.
Having an agent doesn’t guarantee work as a model. As you meet clients, you need to exhibit a good personality, good modeling skills, and willingness to change your look; you need to sell yourself as a product advocate. You will also meet with a lot of criticism, so high self-esteem is needed. You can’t necessarily change every detail of what you look like, which will not appeal to all clients, so you can't take rejection personally. Clients have an idea in mind of what they want, and you will usually not be able to change their mind.
You should be comfortable with meeting lots of people, have a good personality, and have some acting training if you want to be a commercial model, since part of your work might be making television commercials. In all cases, when you have to meet clients, present yourself as a blank slate. Don’t wear excessive makeup or jewelry, keep the hair simply groomed, and wear very simple clothing. While your personality should be good and your attitude excellent, personal style can interfere with the client’s ability to see you as what he or she needs for a shoot.
Practicing can also help you. When you’re on set, you need to give the client what he or she wants. This means you should be familiar with poses, looks, and body positions. Scrutinize all types of modeling representing the area in which you want to work. Study and copy these poses in front of a mirror.
Move to a major city and think locally. Most major cities have small, reputable agencies for work within that city. Unless you are one of the very few who appeals to the high fashion crowd, you will probably not be paid to travel. Large cities like Chicago, San Francisco, and Austin regularly have clients that need local models. You will also encounter less competition if you are in a city other than New York.
In all, there are many more people who want to be a model than those who can attain it. It can be difficult work that involves discomfort, long hours, and lots of time in between jobs. Be prepared for a lot of rejection, as you will likely get it. Perseverance can assist you, but also help yourself by deciding on a fallback career that keeps you financially stable while you pursue your goals.