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Think Your Kid Could Model?

I frequently get questions from moms about getting their kids into modeling, and frequently those moms are confused about a few things. They often believe:

1. Clients in New York will fly in a kid from Iowa for a modeling job cuz she’s just so cute.

REALITY: Most kids are cute. Clients aren’t going to look farther than New York agencies (who rep children from the Greater New York area, including kids whose moms are nuts enough to haul them to castings in the city from New Jersey, Long Island, and Connecticut. Brooke Shields, one of the most famous child models, was born in New York and grew up in New Jersey).

Brooke Shields, Age 14

Brooke Shields, Age 14

2. Their l’il darling will make oodles of money and mom and dad will be able to retire.

REALITY: Most child models make very little money. You’re lucky to recoup train fare for an editorial (magazine) job. The most my son earned on a catalog job was $600. (I think. I have to look it up, because he’s eight now and wants to know where the money went. Uh, diapers?). Once you take out agency commission (usually 20 percent) and figure in all the castings you schlep to for jobs that your mini model does not book (and perhaps a sitter to watch siblings at home), money-wise you’d be better off answering one of those “Work From Home” ads in the classifieds.

3. Your child’s cuteness will totally make up for the fact that he is a shy kid.

REALITY: Personality is just as important as looks. A child model needs to be extroverted, bubbly, smiley, enthusiastic, patient, obedient, and independent, in addition to adorable.

So as not to imply that my kids all fit this near-impossible bill, let me explain why each of them has dabbled in modeling.

My oldest started modeling at a few months of age because he actually is many of those things and being in the fashion scene again, even if just kiddie shoots, made me feel ever so slightly cool—a feeling new moms wearing curdled milk on their sweaters crave with a vengeance. He got by without patience and obedience because he was fascinated by the lights, music, and crew, and genuinely enjoyed dancing, bouncing beach balls, playing instruments, and other fun stuff he was directed to do on set. He never wanted to leave any shoot he went on. We both enjoyed the paid playdates.

The twins were born in Madrid, where fair-haired models have an edge (regardless of age, those who look most exotic to the locals are often in highest demand; e.g. Giselle here, and tow-heads in Spain). There was an agency right down the street from where we lived, and I was lonely. Shoots seemed like a good place to meet people who spoke English. My daughter was a great little model until she turned two and decided she only wanted to wear pink. That’s when her career ended. Her twin brother and I had our best day ever—perhaps our only day ever without other siblings along—when he was three and posed for a catalog shoot in the mountains outside Madrid. He was tasked with: running up and down a hill over and over again, jumping in mud puddles, and riding a tricycle in the house. Suffice it to say, keeping a smile on his face wasn’t an issue.

My fourth—well, she’s adorable and has the perfect personality for mini modeling but she’s big for her age (not a plus for child models; read why here) and, come on, I have four kids; a career; somehow I ended up co-chair of the school’s literary magazine; and my postman hates me because I ignore my mailbox in hopes that its contents will just go away. In other words, no way do I have time to be running a toddler to New York (a one-hour train ride) for castings!

Stay tuned to find out why I ended up doing just that and how my eight-year-old wound up with an acting agent. PLUS, what to suggest to your kid who wants to model, if the superficial values of the industry conflict with those you are trying to instill.