Lifestyle Tobi Talks

10 Things I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me When I Started Modeling

I have been modeling for 6 years, but if I had it my way it would be closer to 13. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember, despite being a four-eyed, brace-faced, short-but-somehow-gangly teenager. I had the idea though, the ambition, and I’m a firm believer that that’s enough to get you where you want to be. That being said, there are things I wish someone would have told me when I made up my mind that modeling is what I wanted to do. Part of my day job is managing models for a clothing brand, and much of that time is spent talking with people who “want to get into modeling, but don’t know where to start”. Once you are a model you inevitably make other model friends who share tips, tricks and lesson-filled anecdotes, but before you get to that point it’s every model for themselves. Here are a few things I wish someone told me when I decided to start modeling.

From one of my first shoots of many, with Jason McNeil


  1. Whether you are a Hobbyist or Career Model, act as though you’re a Career Model. Some shoots will be paid, some will be “trade” – Treat both kinds of shoots the exact same way. Show up to every gig you agree to, have an idea of what you’re shooting, where, with whom, and what will be expected of you when you show up. Arrive on time, with your hair and makeup done (unless you are certain those services will be provided) and bring plenty of wardrobe items to shoot in. Being flakey/unprepared is the #1 way to get a bad rep in the industry.
  2. Cultivate a jaw-dropping portfolio.This goes for both models and photographers. If possible, pay for to work with people who have experience when you’re starting out. You’ll not only get incredible images, you’ll also the advice of someone who knows the industry and understands lighting, posing, and facial expressions. No matter how much experience you have, you’re never going to get anywhere if you only work with amateurs. There’s an unspoken rule in the industry that works for both models & photographers: Pay for shoots when you’re a novice, get paid for shoots when you have experience, shoot what you love for free.
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    Doing what I love with Kyle Danley
  4. Your boy/girlfriend may not be around in 5 years, but your desire to be a model still will be. This is obviously not the case for every person, but it was the case for me and several people I know. Remember in the first sentence where I said “…if I had my way it’d be closer to 13 [years of modeling]”? I knew what I wanted by the time I was 18. In college I met a guy, and the guy wasn’t comfortable with me being a SuicideGirl, so I never did a shoot. And then we broke up, and I met another guy. He was embarrassed by the idea that I would even consider applying for SG, so I didn’t. That relationship didn’t work out either. At that point, I was 26. Eight years that I could have been building my brand, networking, learning and creating went down the drain for people I don’t talk to anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I built an unforgettable hairdressing career in that time, which eventually helped give me an ‘in’ to the modeling industry, but if I would have allowed myself to put time into my own dreams rather than being a background dancer in someone else’s show, who knows where I’d be.
  5. It’s not too late to start. Despite wishing I would have gotten an earlier start, there are definite advantages to entering the industry at a later age. First, I knew what I wanted and what I was/was not willing to do to get it. Secondly, I was mature enough to take it seriously and respect others time/vision. Third, I was more comfortable with myself by then, and was able to throw myself into modeling without insecurities holding me back. (Fun Fact: Betty Page started pin-up modeling when she was 26, and she’s an infamous international sex icon. If it wasn’t too late for her…)
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    My first SG submission shot by Mike Buseda
  7. People will be uncomfortable with what you do, but that’s their business. It will boggle my mind forever that our culture as a whole is both uncomfortable and obsessed with the human body. I mean, we all have one, right? What’s the big deal? But to a lot of people, being comfy in your own skin is a sin, and they don’t want you to forget it. Those people are dealing with an inner struggle that they may not even know about on the surface, and it is not your job to appease them. This is often easier said than done because many times those are the people closest to you. I find it helps if you can explain your reasons behind wanting to put yourself out there, and that the industry is a professional one if you treat it as such.
  8. Unholy with Lili shot by Lori Mar
  9. Know why you’re doing what you’re doing. When I set out to model, I had a few specific goals in mind: I wanted to become a SuicideGirl, get published in specific publications, make my way into a coffee table book, work with specific photographers, etc. It became almost immediately apparent, however, that my main driving force didn’t actually have anything to do with any of those things. The thing that’s kept me modeling more than anything else (even after reaching all of those goals) is the social study behind it, and my ability to know myself better through images and interactions. Once I realized that, every hateful trolling comment on IG, every random dick pic, that time paypal banned me for life (they don’t take kindly to naked ladies) became opportunities to observe social stigmas and my personal reactions to them. (Fun Fact: You get far fewer dick pics if you ignore them and block the person, than if you engage them and throw a fit on social media about how grossed out you are.)
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    Contemplating with Lyra Photography
  11. Respect your following, and they’ll respect you (Commanding respect is different than demanding it). It bums me out that I feel like I have to say this, but the people who follow you, who like and comment on your photos and pay for your Patreon/IsMyGirl/Snapchat/Etsy prints/SG subscriptions etc, they are your tribe; it pays to respect them. Get to know your fanbase, ask them questions, pay attention to their answers. If someone asks you a silly question in your DM’s, answer them kindly, without condescension. You wouldn’t believe the number of people who have told me that the reason they follow me is because I took the time to say “hello” back to them, and that most models blow them off. Being beautiful doesn’t give you a free pass to be unkind.
  12. 70% of the job is networking.In general, alternative models don’t have agents or representation, which means we do everything ourselves. For every hour I spend on set, I spend 5 hours networking.That is  not an exaggeration (in fact is probably a low estimate and I could definitely do more if I didn’t need to sleep or eat). Between emailing with current and potential sponsors, planning meetups and shootouts with other models/photographers, posting to IG/FB/Twitter/Tumblr/Patreon/SG (and now a blog and vlog) some several times a day, answering DMs and replying to comments, writing blogs with different content on 3 different platforms, shooting promo content, brainstorming with photogs, sharing, liking, commenting… I always say that saying “I’m a model” sounds glamorous, but independent alt-models know that means half your life is spent in sweatpants with your laptop in your lap and your phone in your hand.
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    How I spend most of my time
  14. Pick up a camera. The single most valuable thing I’ve done since starting down my modeling path is learning to take self portraits. I started a Patreon last summer because I wanted a place I could put content that was smaller than a typical 40-60 photo SG set, and that I had full creative control over. The problem was, I didn’t have immediate or continuous access to a photographer, and I needed to be posting a set per week. My solution? Self portraits. I started in my shower with my cellphone self-timer, using the window as my light source and my white shower curtain as a clean backdrop, and have since graduated to a Sony A6300 that I can link to my phone, which helps me to make sure I’m in focus and doubles as a remote. I know I won’t be modeling forever but want to remain in the industry, so transitioning to the other side of the lens is a different but equally creatively fulfilling way to go.
  15. Be down for anything, except the things you’re not. Just last night I did a photo shoot where I was painted from my bust up in black light reactive paint. It was messy, uncomfortable, took a long time, I’ll be pulling bits of paint out of my hair for days, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I’ve stood naked in the freezing cold, ridden in a car to a set wearing nothing but a fez hat, pants, and tiny fez pasties, climbed a tree in lingerie, gotten in a pond with tadpoles and crawfish, gotten eaten alive by mosquitos, hiked through a forest in my undies, and laid naked in more of nature than many people have seen in their lifetimes for “the shot” & I’ve loved every minute of it. I’m down to do whatever it takes to get a great shot, have experiences and get results. What I won’t do is shoot with someone who makes me uncomfortable for any reason including just getting a bad vibe. I won’t continue working with someone who is disrespectful or insulting, not just to me, but to my peers or people in general. I won’t recommend models who I know are flakey when photographers ask. I won’t work with people who get wasted while they’re shooting, or that make advances on the people they’re working with. It’s incredibly important to know your boundaries, and know the people you’ll be sharing your space and image with. Every photo is a dance; a collaboration that bears the name of everyone involved. It’s crucial to bring your best, every time, and fair to demand the same of your collaborators.

Do you have words of advice? Questions? Agree or disagree with things I said here? Let me know. I always appreciate feedback!


  1. Took a peek out of curiosity to see how similar one art, modeling, is with my favored art, writing. Just on the surfave, it might seem that getting into the writing business and the modeling business probably isn’t that similar – but it was in the ways I expected – the specifics might be different (duh) but getting into any art industry is the same. You have to network, you have to work hard, you can’t let other people keep you from your passions, be confident, you have to start and you’re never too old (and never too young, probably).

    I particularly appreciate the advice not to keep yourself from your passions because of an SO. I mean, to me, if your SO is uncomfortable or otherwise disapproving of YOUR DREAM PASSION….that’s a big red flag that they’re not for you anyway. So go for your passion and don’t let yourself be a background dancer (that was a great analogy).

  2. These are all so good, and I especially love #7 and #10. I think one of the big reasons you have such a loyal following is because of your empathy, friendliness, and adventurousness. I can’t wait to see more self-portraits. <3

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