Surprisingly, I hadn’t always wanted to be a Glamour model. For a good chunk of my childhood I wanted to be a pop star. God I loved singing. Problem was, I’m bloody awful. I could do a whole blog post on the embarrassing mishaps my cursed voice has brought upon me. Getting laughed off stage at my 10th birthday party when I attempted an Sclub 7 classic on the Karaoke. Being ordered to mime in the school choir. And my personal favourite, being told by my teacher at 9 years old that “If I was a good friend”, I would let my best mate (who could actually sing) duet with someone else at the Eisteddfod. HEARTBREAKING. Anyway, it soon became apparent after constantly (honestly, could people not just lie to protect my feelings?) being told that I couldn’t sing, that I needed to find another way to “make it”.
Then it came to me. I was going to be a model. God bless my teenage confidence, I don’t know where it came from, I didn’t exactly look like Cindy Crawford at 13 years old. But I was pretty damn certain I could do it. I was scouted” at the Clothes Show in Birmingham for one of those Teen Queen competitions when I was about 14. I was seriously excited at the time, but it soon turned out to be one of those happenings where you pay £500 for the photos (chrz Dad) to then be told “you didn’t get through this time”. But nonetheless, having my first real photoshoot only stimulated my desire to be a model even more. THIS WAS MY PATH. There was only three things standing in my way. My height (obvious). And these two huge things that had grown on my chest (even more obvious).
I applied to agency after agency, and even took part in some beauty pageants (come through Miss Wales Finalist 2010), but I kept getting the same response:
“You should try Glamour modelling”.
They all enthusiastically pushed my eager, just-turned 18years old self towards the world of Glamour. And I wasn’t mad about it. I loved Jordan in her Peter Andre, braided hair days. Maybe they were right, maybe this was my calling. I sent a few amateur pictures off that I’d taken on self-timer to a Glamour model agency in London, and after getting a call back I dragged my friend down on the train and I met who was soon to become my agent. The wheels were finally rolling.
My first real breakthrough in Glamour modelling came a few weeks later when I was on the train from Cardiff to London for a casting with Nuts magazine. I hadn’t even reached London yet when my agent called “Nuts want to shoot you today!” What! I couldn’t believe it. “They’re not going to bother casting you, they want to shoot you right now for their Next Top Model feature. There’s going to be a car waiting for you at the station to take you to the location. Have fun!”. Fuck. This was it. It’s happening! I’d never had a driver pick me up before. I don’t even think they have those kind of services in West Wales. I was so excited. I had a boyfriend at the time. He was less excited. In fact, he was fuming. He thought I’d lied and that I knew I had a shoot all along. I hadn’t of course, but I didn’t even care, I’d wanted to be a model for so long and it was finally coming true.
I spotted the driver in Paddington station holding up a sign with my name on it- (SO cool) – and he drove me to a huge townhouse in London. “We’re here, Miss!”. Erm, yeah thank you. Did I have to pay this guy? I couldn’t afford too. I just shuffled off quickly and hoped he didn’t follow. I remember what seemed to be a hidden garage doorway opening, and being greeted by a few guys who worked for Nuts. “Come in! We’re just having pizza.” I will never forget the site that I was met with that day when I walked in- all bushy tailed and bright-eyed. There in the kitchen were three, maybe four, beautiful models eating pizza in just a thong. This was every teen boys fantasy. I COULD SEE NIPPLES. I don’t think I’d ever seen another woman’s nipples. I didn’t know where to look. Am I supposed to make eye contact? God, keep cool Jess. It was like being the new kid at school, but luckily everyone was so friendly and welcoming. I barely said a word. I think there was a mutter of how I’d come all the way from Wales. Welsh girls very rarely leave the valleys you see. I was sent straight upstairs into hair and make-up. I’d never had my make-up done before. I felt like Béyonce. This world was so new to me. It was all so g l a m o r o u s. The house was spread across three floors and everything was painted white. How very minimalistic. These Londoners knew how to decorate. The photographer was a woman, phew, that eased my nerves a bit. I was decked out by the stylist (honestly, it just gets fancier) in black lingerie- suspenders n’ all, and thrust, quite literally, into the spotlight.
God, I loved it. I felt so sexy, so confident, so beautiful. That feeling that comes over you when you’ve had your hair and make-up done, outfits chosen for you and been pampered and primped to an inch of your life whilst being told how great you look by a whole team of people is indescribable.
At that moment, you really believe your hype, and it shows through the lens. I guess that’s how they get great pictures. But then all of a sudden the hype came crashing down. “Okay, can you take the bra off now please?” What? Fuck. I hadn’t agreed to go topless. I hadn’t really discussed anything, it was such a whirlwind morning of excitement that I hadn’t even asked what the shoot would entail. Naive as it may have been, I was only eighteen and new to this whole world and didn’t know what to expect. I’d told my agent when I first signed with the agency that I wasn’t going to do topless, and I naively assumed that they would have relayed this slightly important detail onto the client.
“Um, erm, I, um don’t do topless sorry” I mumbled. Awkward silence. I continued to tell them how I couldn’t do topless as I was scheduled to take part in another beauty pageant in a couple months, and they had banned anyone who had posed nude or topless. Power to all females, right? *eyeroll*. The team let me take a break to call my agent who assured me that this was a huge opportunity for me, that they’d booked me without even seeing me, that I should just do it. But I stood my ground- Rule #1.
I learnt very early on that if you were going to survive in this industry, you needed to be strong and assertive when it came to marking out your line of what you will and won’t do. I think this is where some girls went wrong and ended up having bad experiences. I know of a few who were too shy or embarrassed to say that they were uncomfortable doing a certain shot or pose on set, and then would contact the photographer or client afterwards asking them not to use those shots of them. This would piss the client off because they’ve just wasted their time getting pictures they can’t use, and have to sift through thousands of shots picking out the ones you don’t approve. It was much easier, however awkward it may feel at the time (and it really does feel awkward standing their practically naked trying to explain yourself to a group of strangers), for you to just to say “Sorry, I’m not comfortable doing that” and then you could all move on and find a different solution together. This is what me and the team at Nuts did. We met at a compromise of implied topless, so bra off, nipples covered. This reluctancy to show everything right away actually proved to be a positive and became my main selling point in the industry, leading to me being offered lucrative deals from mags for my “first big reveal”.
I have to point out that the level of mutual respect between everyone on set, not just of this particular shoot, but every professional lads mag shoot I’ve worked on, was unquestionable. This is one of the reasons why I think the loss of Nuts and Zoo is such a shame and a danger to aspiring models who don’t have that support network or safety net around them. I still shoot with this same female photographer six years on, which is testament enough to how comfortable and respected I felt on that day.
So that’s it. I was now a fully fledged Glamour model. I was so pleased with how my images came out, although there was one issue. The main pull quote on the article read “GETTING MY CLOTHES OFF IS NOTHING NEW TO ME” WHAT. I hadn’t said that. This is where I learnt Rule #2 of the Glamour modelling world. Never say anything in your post-shoot interview that could be twisted into something suggestive. What I’d actually said was that I had done a swimwear round in a pageant before, but of course that wasn’t juicy enough for the male readers. From that day on my interviews were as boring as I could make them. I remember Zoo mag once asking me what I wore to bed. “Pyjamas”, “Well what kind of pyjamas?, “Fluffy ones”. I wasn’t giving anything away.
After a couple of shoots and losing out on one of Zoo mags’ new girl contracts because I wouldn’t go topless, I soon realised if I wanted to try and make a career in this industry, that I would have to free the nipples. By now my relationship had fell apart and I was being promised big bucks and opportunities if I would just throw caution to the wind and bare all. Everything came to a head when an uncensored aka nipples out image of me in a pink mesh swimsuit was published in a Nuts Summer Special Issue. I had been promised by my agent that my nipples would be photoshopped out- and I again, naively assumed this would happen. I remember seeing the image circulate online and I cried for hours. What have I done. But my family and friends were hugely supportive. To this day it’s actually my mums favourite picture of me (she’s not a regular mom, she’s a cool mom). So instead of wallowing in my own titty-pity party, I decided to take control and own my title as a topless model. I signed an exclusive retainer contract with Zoo magazine for my “big reveal” and claimed it as a big F U to any comments or judgements that I’d been on the other end of.
Obviously it wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies, the professionalism and fond memories I talk about are directly in reference to the main lad mags that I shot with. Outside of that, I’ve had some dodgy experiences, bad advice and done things that I regret. But I’ll delve into that another time.
Of course, the big bucks never came and all the amazing opportunities I’d been promised never materialised. Truth is, I started my journey at a time when the industry had already started to decline. Protests had began against Page 3 and a new-wave of feminists began speaking out about how Glamour models were bad role models for women. I was angry. They were wrong. This wasn’t my industry, my peers, my employers that they were describing. I could think of nothing that encapsulated feminism less than telling me what I can and couldn’t do, how I should and shouldn’t feel. These individuals were taking away our dreams because how they thought we felt, instead of actually engaging in conversation and celebrating our sexuality alongside us.
Fast forward six years from where it all began, and all the lad mags have died. Big Brothers been cancelled. Donald Trump is President. Boris Johnson fucked us over. Toblerone’s have bigger gaps. Oh, and we’re now living through a movement where women are being encouraged to be more open, embrace and own their sexuality, and to free the nipple. I’m all for it, anyone that follows me will know that. However, I wish it wasn’t such a selective celebration of womanhood; but a unity of women supporting women in finding empowerment through which ever form they see fit. Whether that is in the pages of a glossy magazine, or at a political protest.