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For Petite Women, Modeling Is a Tall Order

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For Petite Women, Modeling Is a Tall Order
Photo Source: Getty Images
Kate Moss is short. Well, not short. At 5 feet 7 inches, she is still taller than 80 percent of women. She is, however, short for a model. In an industry where most major agencies will turn you away if you're under 5 feet 9, Moss has given hope to the 95 percent of women who do not meet the industry height requirement but still dream of a career in modeling. And because that hope exists, Moss-through no fault of her own-has probably done more than any other person on earth to line the pockets of modeling schools, photo mills, and unscrupulous modeling "agencies." These questionable entities can point to Moss as proof of the malleability of modeling's "high" barrier of entry. The truth is, if you're under 5 feet 8, the chances of your becoming a runway model are only slightly better than your getting drafted into the NFL. If an agent-or anyone, really-tells you otherwise, be wary.

"Five-eight is just on the borderline," says Sarah Whicker, a booker for Boss Models, a boutique agency in NYC. "It's really when you get into five-seven, five-six, that things start to become unrealistic. If you're absolutely gorgeous and you have a face that could do beauty contracts, then five-eight is OK. But if not, we're really looking for five-nine and above." What's true for America's biggest market is true for secondary markets as well, says Tim Ayers, agency director at Model Club in Boston. "For the most part, five-nine would be the absolute minimum," says Ayers. "Ideally, [clients] want five-ten, five-eleven. We have had a phenomenal five-eight model doing runway, but that's really an exception. If someone comes through the door that's five-five and says, 'I want to do runway,' we're going to tell them, 'No, you can't. We don't have a client for that.' Certainly in Boston-and probably around the country-[nobody] that's legitimate is going to be working with someone who's that height."

Unlike Boss, Model Club also reps actors and models for commercial print, so when girls 5 feet 8 or under walk in to see Ayers, they're not completely out of luck. However, young girls with modeling ambitions generally dream of walking the runways in Paris, or appearing on the cover of Vogue wearing a couture gown, not appearing in a mail circular for CVS Pharmacy wearing a nametag. But even if they did want to appear in print ads, the opportunities for young girls in that field are few as well. "The age range where people are really desperate to get into modeling-14 to 15 through early 20s-we have basically no modeling opportunities for people who are under five-six," says Ayers. For older women, those opportunities become much more widely available, as Ayers says some of Model Club's most successful models are women in their late 20s and 30s who play moms, doctors, and the like in commercial print. But for younger girls, not so much.

So if runway is out of the question and commercial print work is scarce, what is a girl of average height to do? Whicker and Ayers have the same advice: Take that money you might throw away on a runway class and take an acting class. Says Whicker: "What you're shooting for [trying to be a runway model] is against all the odds. You can be Kate Moss and be five-seven, but that happens-what?-one in a million?" You don't have to hit the genetic lottery to be an actor, and the earning potential is higher anyhow. And you might still wind up on the cover of Vogue one day.

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