So you want to be a fitness model?
People who follow my stuff know that I usually write about nutrition, supplements, training, and other topics that are more science-based than subjective topics like the one covered in this article. I decided to let go of my scientist persona and write about a topic that I believe will benefit thousands of people who would like to become fitness models.
Also, as a known “hard-core” science writer, why am I writing what some will perceive as “fluff” writing? Over the years, I’ve had hundreds, maybe thousands, of girls ask me in emails, letters, or in person, “How can I become a fitness model, Willa? You’ve been in this business a long time, and are pissed off of all people. You know. ” I get it from beginners, and I get it from women who have been at it for a while but haven’t been able to “break in” effectively.
The fact is that I have been in the fitness, health, and bodybuilding business for a long time and although I am known as a science and nutrition based “guru” type, I have trained many fitness athletes and judged fitness and figure/bikini shows for NPC, Fitness America, Fitness USA, and other federations, as well as providing marketing and business advice to all types of athletes, including fitness models. So, it’s not as far-fetched as it might seem that I’m going to use this space to cover the non-scientific topic of how one can become a fitness model.
This article will be useful for both experienced and novice types who want to “break into” the business. If you are already a professional and successful fitness model, I am sure you can still get some useful information from this article.
First, the bad news: There is no one way to become a successful fitness model. There is no single path or magic secret. However, there are some key things a person can do to greatly improve their chances of “making it” in the fitness business as a model and possibly use that success as a launching pad for bigger things like movies, TV, etc.
Several of the top fitness models (Trish Stratus and Vicki Pratt come to mind, but there are many others) have gone on to have careers in all forms of entertainment. Basically, while there is no magic secret to success as a fitness model, this article will be as close to a blueprint for success as you’ll find.
“Do I have to compete?”
This is a question I get asked all the time, and it’s not an easy one to answer. Actually, the answer is (drum roll) yes and no. To answer this question, a person must first decide why they are competing. For example, do you have to compete if your goal is to be a successful fitness model?
The answer is no. Many of today’s well-known fitness models have never competed or appeared in a few small shows, and this was clearly not part of their success as fitness models. However, competition has its potential uses.
One of them is exposure. Top-tier shows will often feature editors, publishers, photographers, spin-off business owners, and other entrepreneurs. Thus, the competition can improve your exposure. Competing can also make sense if you are trying to build a business that is related to your competition or will benefit from winning the show.
For example, let’s say you have a private gym you’re trying to build. Of course, the title of Ms. Fitness America or winning NPC Nationals and IFBB Pro status will enhance your reputation and your company’s notoriety. There are many scenarios where winning a show for a business or other endeavour would be beneficial.
On the other hand, it must be understood that winning the show in no way guarantees success in the business (and it really is a business) of being a fitness model. The phone will not ring with big contract offers. Also, it is very important to realise that the 4th, 6th, or 8th place finisher in a fitness or figure show will be under more pressure than the winner. Why? While the winner might have what it takes to win the show, often the editor, publishers, supplement companies, etc., believe it is more marketable.
I’ve seen it many times where the winner was shocked to find she didn’t get nearly the attention she expected, and other girls who ranked lower have gotten attention in photoshoots, magazines, etc. What to keep in mind when you ask yourself the important question “should I compete and if so, why should I compete?” Answer this question and you will know the answer to the title of this section. Having some sort of title can be a stepping stone, but it does not in and of itself guarantee success in the fitness industry. It’s like a college degree; it’s what you do with it.
Now, If you’re competing for fun, then by all means, but the above is focused on competition as it relates to the business side of the fitness model.
Right structure, wrong federation?
Okay, so after reading the above, you’ve decided you’re going to compete or will compete again. If you don’t plan to compete, you can skip this section. The biggest mistake I see here is that so many girls have the right body for the wrong federation. Each federation has their own judging criteria, and a competitor will do poorly simply because they didn’t bother to research which show would be the best fit for them.
I will give you a perfect real-world example of this. I recently judged a show whose criteria for the figure round was that the women should be more curvaceous, softer with some tone, versus the more muscular and athletic with less body fat that other federations could afford. One of the most beautiful women I have ever seen came out of this show. She was well proportioned with great muscle tone, slim and athletic with narrow hips and waist and broader shoulders. How did she do on this show? She didn’t even make the top ten!
Why? Because she wasn’t what we were told to look for and didn’t fit the criteria. After the show, I informed her that she looked great, but this might not be the federation for her. I told her that she has a much more NPC-type body where a little more muscle, an athletic build and less body fat are rewarded.
The next week, I was judging the NPC Fitness, Figure, and Bodybuilding Show and there she was. How was she? She won the entire show, and all the judges unanimously voted her number one.
Conversely, if your body type tends to be more rounded and toned, but with a little more body fat and wider (but not fatter!) hips, you may be better off competing in competitions like the Fitness America Pageants. If you plan to participate in the competition, please
(1) Determine the exact evaluation criteria of this federation and
(2) Attend these shows as a spectator for a variety of federations to determine which one best suits your body type, style, and so on.
(3) You must determine whether you have the athletic ability to compete in a fitness competition (which requires a routine) or a figure/bikini contest.
I often see women who would be fine with a pageant but really lack the athletic ability to do the routines necessary to be competitive with the other athletes in the show. Some shows will allow you to both compete, and some won’t.
Networking 101: Dos and Don’ts…
In so many ways, this is the area that will make or break you in any business, and yet people in the fitness industry do an amazingly bad job. If you don’t properly network and market yourself, you can forget about real success as a fitness model or success in virtually any business. For the sake of space, let’s stick to fitness.
When I first started out, I was a self-marketing machine. I could be found at every show I could think of as an opportunity, walking the isles, bodybuilding shows, fitness shows and more. I handed out a zillion cards, took home a million, and kept track of each one. I went to as many industry-related meetings, outings, parties, etc. as I could. I have such a reputation and experience in the industry that I don’t have to go to a show like this unless I feel like it or there’s an appointment, but they were very helpful in the beginning.
I am always amazed at the number of fitness models who contact me who have never been to the Arnold Classic Fitness Weekend or Mr. Olympia, or at exhibitions such as NNFA Expo West and others. If you want to be successful in the fitness business, make sure you treat it like a business.
I have seen many beautiful girls who want to be fitness models and think that if they stand there looking long enough, someone will offer to put their face on the cover of a magazine. The news flashes: there are millions of beautiful women out there, and to get noticed, you have to work hard to get this business like everyone else, either by networking or using a good agent (if you can afford one) who does. It’s for you.
Pick a few key industry trade shows to attend (some of which were mentioned above) and go to them each year. Create a plan of attack for exactly how you plan to market yourself and network. Many fitness models, bodybuilders, etc., perceive the show as one big party. If that’s you, have fun at the party, but don’t think you’re really promoting yourself as a serious business person or athlete.
Another thing that always amazes me is the number of fitness models who either don’t have business cards or have a few that they have printed on their bubble printer at home! They ask me to help them or something, and I say “give me your card,” and they look at me like “I’m so pretty I don’t need a card, you fool.” This attitude turns editors, photographers, writers, and industry people off faster than if they find out you’re actually a transvestite. Do not do that. For every pretty girl who thinks the world owes her, there are 100 ready to act like a pro.
Have you ever wondered why a fitness model you know is doing better than you, even though you know you’re prettier than her? This may be why you should never go to a show to network without good cards, bios, and professionally done head and body shots that you can provide to said editors, publishers, photographers, industry people, etc. Don’t stand and look. I am pretty much assuming they will find you, so find them first and introduce yourself. And of course, it goes without saying that you need to be in good shape and have a tan to look your best.
Do you want to go to shows and party? Fine, but do it in private after the job is done and don’t make a fool of yourself at some industry sponsored meeting. Heck, last year’s Arnold Classic practically put me in the booth after going to a sushi place with some well-known industry types and business owners (you know who you are!), but at least no one saw me! We had our own little private gathering after the show to let loose.
Let me give you one final real-world example of how NOT to sell yourself. Last year, I worked as a consultant for a mid-sized nutritional supplement company. The owner of the company asked me if I knew of a couple of types of fitness models that would be useful for his booth at the show. In fact, he requested “some unknowns, some new faces that people hadn’t seen before but had real potential to grow with the company.” I went and found him two girls that I thought fit the bill.
He offered to pay for their flights, room and board, and a thousand dollars each for days of work. Both girls were told to be at the stand at 9 a.m. The night before, at the hotel, I saw two girls get into a cab around 11pm, dressed to kill, obviously going to a party. The next day, they arrived at the booth an hour and a half late and stayed over! What was the result of this? This confused me to no end because I had recommended them to the business owner. (2) they would never get work from that company again. (3) they would never get work from me again. (4) they would never get a reference from us for other jobs.
I see this type of thing all the time in the fitness business, and it’s not just for fitness models. Amazingly, a few weeks after the show, they emailed me and the business owner wanting to know when their next job would be! Amazing..
Who loves you, baby?
If there’s one universal truth, it’s that the camera either loves you or it doesn’t. Any professional photographer will tell you that. For some unknown reason, some people are very photogenic and some are not. Truth be told, there are some well-known fitness models (who shall remain nameless because they might see me next) who are less attractive. It’s just that the camera loves them and they’re very photogenic but not terribly pretty.
Conversely, I have seen the reverse many times; a girl who looks much better in person than in photos. Such is the fate of a person who wants to be a model of any kind, including a fitness model. If you think you’re not very photogenic, keep working with different photographers until you find one that captures you really well, and pay that photographer well!
Now, to be fair, there are also some aspiring fitness models who aren’t “unphotogenic,” they’re just “blurry”! There are some people who have no business trying to be fitness models. That doesn’t make them bad people; it just means they need to let go of their illusions and find a better-suited profession, such as radio personality…
“How do I get into the magazines?”
This section covers everything I’ve covered above and adds some additional strategies. For example, as I mentioned earlier, competing in fitness shows and/or figure or bikini shows can increase your exposure, thereby attracting the attention of a magazine publisher or photographer. Networking properly at various trade shows can also have the same effect, and of course, having a photographer build a good portfolio that really reflects your look, a good website, etc. will all increase your potential to get into magazines, or get advertising work, etc.
However, all of these strategies are still somewhat passive versus active in my opinion. It is still a fitness model waiting to be “discovered”. As far as I’m concerned, waiting is for bus stops and pregnancy tests. Success waits for no man… or woman, like me. So, once all the above tips are taken into account as they have an added impact on magazine coverage, what else can be done?
First, you should read and familiarise yourself with all the magazines you want to be in, so you know what’s what and what the style of the different magazines is. I can tell you right away if the editor-in-chief of a good-sized fitness or bodybuilding publication says, “Hi, I’m Bob Smith. What’s your name?” and a fitness model has no idea who Bob Smith is, Bob won’t take it. Why should he? You should know who the major players are in the publications you want to be featured in. He is doing you good, not the other way around. You need to know who the key players are and actively seek them out. Don’t wait for them to “discover” you.
If you look at the title of any journal, it will tell you who the publisher is, who the editor-in-chief is, and so on. A mailing address and often a website and email for that magazine can also be found. What’s stopping you from searching for those words and sending them your pictures and resume directly? Nothing, that’s what. If you see a photo spread that you think is really well done, what’s to stop you from finding out who the photographer is, contacting them directly and sending them your images? Nothing, that’s what.
My point is, if you want a break in the business, take a break. Don’t sit around and think it’s looking for you because it’s not. Be proactive, not reactive! Success is a design residue. be successful by design. As my older brother used to say when I was a kid when I told him I was too scared to ask a pretty girl, “What’s the worst that can happen, Will? All she can say is “no.” It is also the worst thing that can happen to you.
Beware of web idiots, schlubs, morons, perverts, scum, and slackers!
This part goes without saying, but it’s worth mentioning. As with all entertainment-based media industries (such as television, theater, modeling, etc.), the fitness industry attracts most of the web’s idiots, schlubs, morons, perverts, dirtbags, and slackers. Not much
There is also a class of people known as schmoes, but we will leave that for another place and time. The point is, you want to meet the right people while not getting involved with a group of worthless people who will only drag you down, delay you, or just plain screw you up.
For example, a guy comes up and says he wants to “shoot” you for magazines, but what do you really know about this guy? He has a camera and some business cards, so he’s a photographer, right? Wrong! If someone wants to shoot you and isn’t a household name (and you should know who the household photographers are because you’ve already researched it!), find out who they are. Do they have references you can call? You can relate to them. He has filmed before and was happy with the work. What journals has he published in? Is he doing it professionally or as a hobby? That kind of stuff
Another thing I see is the big web scam. I’m amazed at how many girls get scammed by these web idiots. The lesson here is that you get what you pay for, so if someone wants to build you a website for free, you get what you pay for. Yes, you can make good money online, and the network can be great for marketing yourself and making contacts, but most of it is a scam.
It’s better to pay a good web designer and webmaster who has experience with other types of fitness models and references you can talk to. I can’t tell you the number of girls who have been taken by some internet things gone to hell, like “fans” who volunteer to create a free website and either run away with the money earned from the site or put it on porn sites of their choice, and many other things that make them regret agreeing to this site.
Obviously, I can’t go through a list of all the possible web idiots, schlubs, morons, perverts, shitheads, and scumbags found in the entertainment business, but you get the idea. Beware!
That pretty much wraps up my down-and-dirty guide to the basics of “building” a fitness model. Of course, there are many business-related issues I could cover and tricks I could give, but the above is the best advice you’re going to find in a small space, and it will do more for you than you might realize.