Modeling: Throwing a Wrench in the Industry Standard
Updated: Jan 27, 2021
Lightning strikes- that's how God has been "talking" to me lately. Earlier in my life, His words would come as gentle nudges, but for whatever reason, that's not the case anymore. Maybe it's because I haven't been listening well, or maybe He is just trying to tell me that these things are really important and He can't risk me not paying attention or listening.
These sudden bursts of ideas started happening two years ago. I was getting ready for work and was sitting on the bathroom counter putting on my makeup. All of a sudden, I had the strongest feeling that I needed to write a book. It just seemed to come out of nowhere. Then, a couple months ago, He hit me with another crazy idea in the same exact way: modeling! I'd never even considered the idea until God practically hit me over the head with it.
I'd like to say I complied right away, but that would be a lie. Instead, I went back and forth with Him, questioning everything!
"Are you sure you picked the right person? I have NO experience."
"I'm an amputee and don't fit the typical 'standard' for the industry."
"Is this the right time? I have so much going on with my book and family right now."
"Are any clients really going to give me the time of day? Won't I just waste my time going to castings?"
If I could have thought of more excuses, I would have! However, no matter how hard I protested, I kept feeling God telling me to move forward in the process in order to change people's perspective of those of us who are "different" in society.
I finally got the courage to submit an application to a local agency and was surprised to hear back from them so quickly. Due to Covid-19, I had to do an e-audition and record myself walking and stating why I wanted to become a model. I was a nervous wreck and began questioning what I had gotten myself into. I didn't know what a model's walk was or what clothes to wear... nothing! Thankfully, I have a friend who models in New York City who gave me some great advise and coached me on what to do. I got these really cute burgundy, stiletto heels that I was excited to wear with my high-waisted black jeans. But when I tried them on, the heels were higher than my foot would allow me to wear; 2 inches is all my foot will adjust. The narrow heel also made my foot unstable, and the rolling from side-to-side threw me off balance. Do you know how hard it is to find cute, low, chunky heels?? That sent me into a panic because I didn't have time to go out and get another pair. I had to settle for some black, opened-toed wedges, which isn't standard in the industry.
I think I recorded both the walk and the introduction video about 50+ times. I know we're our own worst critics, but I sounded and looked like a complete moron. It was so clear that I wasn't practiced and had no idea what I was doing. Walking with a natural gait is hard enough for amputees, so you can imagine how difficult doing a runway walk in heels might be.
Unsurprisingly, I got the rejection email not too long after submitting the audition materials. At that point, I wanted to rub it in God's face and say, "See, I told you so!" He wasn't done with me yet, though. He gave me a gentle nudge and said, "Try again. I can use you just as you are." Trying to be obedient, I did just that. I sought out NV Models and Talent and filled out their online submission. Thankfully, they were doing face-to-face auditions. I didn't have time to panic or overthink my responses and walk that way.
When I got to the audition, I was put in a room by myself. The co-owner of the agency gave me a script to memorize. I looked at him in a panic said, "Wait, there must have been some miscommunication. I'm not here to audition for talent. I want to be a model."
He said reassuringly, "I'd like you to try anyway because some clients only need you to say one line for commercials."
I tried to rehearse the lines but kept getting distracted by the other models who walked into the waiting room-- my competition. And let me tell you they. were. beautiful...and younger. I know I shouldn't have started the comparison game, but it was hard not to fall victim to that. Who was I compared to these girls?! At that moment I felt like a 35-year-old dinosaur.
As all of this was going through my mind, I got a text message. It said, "Hi Kendra. This is _____ from NV Models and Talent. You were referred by ______ /Miss KY USA... and we were just making sure you were still coming to your interview today." WHAT?! I knew they had sent the text to the wrong person, but that right there let me know what I was up against. I wanted to type back, "I'm sorry, you have the wrong person. This is Kendra Herber. I wasn't referred by anyone, I've never done anything like this before, and I'm in way over my head!"
When they called me into the studio room, I completely butchered the lines and went straight into blubbering idiot mode. I fumbled on some of the words and completely forgot others. Feeling totally inadequate and out of my comfort zone, I figured the rest of the audition would be just as much of a train wreck.
However, when the camera came out, I instantly relaxed. I actually enjoyed the photoshoot and getting into various poses. Then the co-owner, Ron, took me into his office and we started talking. He asked, "Why do you want to be a model?"
"I want people who have physical impairments like me to be represented in the media," I told him. "When we aren't pictured, we don't give people a chance to get comfortable with viewing atypical people. The modeling industry should reflect all types of people because that is a realistic depiction of how our world actually looks."
"I love that answer, but I'm not sure I understand," Ron admitted.
"I have a prosthetic leg," I explained as I rolled up my pant leg a bit. "I thought the New Faces Director would have told you."
"Oh, I actually had no idea. You walk so well. I don't see why that would be an issue or get in the way of you being a part of the agency. In fact, I really like that. However, I can't promise you that clients would hire you for the sole reason of you being an amputee. I don't even know if they would show your leg in the pictures."
"Well, there's only one way to find out," I said.
I told Ron that I would tell him an answer within the next week after talking to my husband, praying about it, and reading over the contract. The fact that Ron was so open to representing someone different than the norm made me think very highly of NV. My disability certainly didn't seem to bother them, and they appeared to give everyone a fair and equal chance without discriminating.
However, the fact that Ron couldn't guarantee that my leg would even be visible in the jobs that I booked made me leery of modeling. I didn't want to model just to be a model. I had a specific purpose and goal in mind. What was the point in putting so much time and effort into this if no one would even see my leg? Don't get me wrong, I didn't want NV to choose me to be their token disabled model exactly (and I don't believe they did), but I was conflicted because I kind of did want them to choose me because I am an amputee.
It wasn't until I reached out to a good friend and former student of mine named Brie that I really started to find some clarity with the whole conundrum. She told me, "It might even empower and encourage other amputees more if your leg wasn't always shown. That way they begin to realize that they're more than their disability." The wisdom that she shared made me proud; the student had become the teacher... and a very wise one at that.
Just to add even more reassurance that I was making the right choice, I woke up a couple mornings later with these words in my mind: "I've been preparing you for this." I took that as God telling me that publishing my book, networking with a bunch of new people, growing a bigger following on social media, etc... was all a part of His plan to prepare me for this venture. It helped me gain confidence and purpose.
However, there is still one big unknown: will clients book me for jobs? I hope they get excited when they see me and think of the possibilities that could come out of hiring me. They are booking more plus sized, racially diverse, and disabled models than ever, so I am hopeful that clients will be open minded and willing to take a chance with me. Clients and photographers have the power to change people's perception. For instance, photographing an amputee in an athletic pose would help people associate amputees with power and strength.
Take the other day for example. I was getting out of the pool after swimming laps at the YMCA. A girl who was about 7 or 8 looked at her mom and said louder than she probably intended, "Mom, did you see her leg? I feel so bad for her." What if that little girl had been exposed to hundreds of pictures and videos of capable amputees in magazines, commercials, etc...? Would she still pity me? What if that little girl told her mom, "Look at her leg. Isn't it cool? I wish I had a leg like that. I bet she can run so fast."
I might be fighting an uphill battle, but I'm hopeful that, with God's help, more people with disabilities can be positively represented, and society can learn more about who we really are and what we have to offer. And no matter how this whole venture turns out for me, I am a huge believer in embracing the discomfort and uncertainty that we feel when embarking on a new journey or opportunity. I attribute that feeling to growing pains, and it's typically that exact process that leaves us better than when we started. Even if I don't land one single job, I will not have failed.