Aspiring journalists from The Singapore Daily’s youth team have embarked on a challenging new project: Gather short, interesting interviews from a range of Singaporeans from all walks of life, all job types and any environment they could conceive of.
The result is an ongoing series exposing a raw side to Singapore and Singaporeans that only a select few have seen.
Today’s interviewee is Carrie (her name has been changed to protect her identity), a 46 year-old former model who has since given up walking on catwalks in favour of staying home and being a doting, full-time mother and wife to her husband.
She gives a glimpse into her life as a former fashion run-way model, reminisces about the thrill of being a jet-setting model in her prime, but warns about the destablising price of fame and living life from hotel room to runway. To top it all off, she gives some sagely advice to the girls still struggling to make it big in this highly competitive industry.
Thank you for agreeing to this short interview. Let’s get started from the beginning. You were a former fashion runway model, and your CV includes working for top European and local modelling agencies. You started out as a small time model for the local fashion scene, but you were scouted and sent to work in locations all over Europe. That sounds like a very exciting career, doesn’t it?
Carrie (C): Yes, yes it was a very… how should I put it… a very interesting career. I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent working as a model, but it was not for the reasons you imagine.
The modelling industry was very different back then. I was, back then, a young girl still in secondary school [Editor: in 1985]. It was a very different time, before internet, smartphones, YouTube.
In those days, parents were strict. You would go to school, not dabble in anything else… not even boys! Then there I was, trying to get myself into this whole modelling business.
It must have been a very challenging experience.
C: It was. Especially when I first started. At first, I joined for fun because I was told by my girlfriends that this was a source of easy pocket money. That way I could spend more on myself, treat myself to the latest cosmetics, that kind of thinking… but as soon as I took my first job, and I decided to go full-time into it, it became a real challenge to put myself out there and get scouted by the top talent agencies.
This was the time before Internet like I sa[id]… It didn’t help that I was trying very hard to hide from my parents all the time. I would lie that I was going for ECA [Extra Curricular Activities, now known as Co-Curricular Activities] and then sneak off to work!
Did they [parents] ever find out?
Of course they did. Eventually someone saw my picture in an advertisement in a local paper. It was something silly. I can’t remember what it was about. But my father beat me so hard and chased me out for a month. I had to stay in a girlfriend’s house during that time.
When and how did you get your first break?
I got spotted by a talent manager from a European agency. I cannot name the agency because I want to protect my children and family.
I remember a Chinese man approaching me after one of my photo shoots and telling me I was very beautiful and had the perfect look for his employer. He gave me his card and told me to turn up at his HDB flat!
I was so afraid it was going to be a scam and I brought a male friend and a girlfriend and told them to wait downstairs for me, just in case, so I could scream and shout if anything happened.
In the end it turned out okay, the man simply asked me a few questions. He wanted to know if I was okay with working overseas, what kind of shoots I was able to do, whether I was okay with this and that.
Was there anything that you were uncomfortable with doing?
No! [laughter] I was a very different sort of girl then. I would do anything and everything because I felt it was my right to decide what to do with my body. My father hated that side of me.
What happened after that?
Being the silly girl I was, I was sent to Europe in about two weeks. I remember being so afraid to tell my parents that I hid the truth from them the two whole weeks and only told them in a note I left behind. Today I regret that very much. My mother became so upset, and my father too, the whole house was turned upside down. I only learnt about how much my parents suffered many years later when I finally came home… I reconciled with my parents after being disowned for almost five years… then my elder brother sat me down and told me everything.
What was life like as a fashion model?
It was surprisingly good. We stayed in hotels, rode around in cars chauffeured by a minder. She would ensure we got to events on time, keep us in check really.
There were tough times, like when we had to work so many shifts, so many nights non-stop. I was young, that gave me an advantage. There were some older girls, they worked so hard they aged so fast.
That was one of the reasons why I eventually decided to stop.
Because it was tough?
Not because it was tough. Every job is tough. I saw these girls, maybe in their early 20s, and they looked like they were in their 30s. They smoked, drank, took ice and marijuana. I did too. On some nights, I would sit by myself and think about whether I wanted to keep doing this and then I would cry for nothing.
My friends, and they are the best part of my modelling life, they were there and we would all cry together sometimes.
Were there any incidents that really stuck out for you?
I’m someone who really loves my hair. I’m very protective of it. So one day I was tasked to model for a hair treatment company.
They brought us to their studio before the show, and then they started. The woman who did my hair, she did a bad job. She bleached my hair once, realised that my hair was too dark, so she did it again and again.
At the end of the show, my hair was in a really bad shape. I had to shave it all off and felt depressed. I had no work for weeks and really missed home then.
Is that what made you stop modelling?
No, I continued because there was no where else for me to go. My agency kept me on. I went to other jobs which allowed me to work with short hair.
I only stopped when I met my husband in London. He was also a Singaporean and he was studying law in Oxford. When I married him, he told me to come back to Singapore with him and I did.
What happened after you stopped?
Nothing exciting, I’m afraid. [laughter] I had my children, took care of them, now they are working or almost done with school.
What words do you have for young models today?
Be prepared to work hard, do what your mentors and bosses tell you to with a smile. Be smart, don’t just do everything blindly without thinking. There are things a girl needs to do to protect herself. Make good friends, people you can trust to save you from trouble, and you protect them also.
Interview by Ellie Hu, a youth journalist with The Singapore Daily.