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By Eden Strong for YourTango
"Great, perfect, beautiful! Oh so beautiful! That is exactly what I want to see gorgeous, work it for the camera, lean in baby, lean in! What a natural you are, so BEAUTIFUL!"
Those are the words that every model wants to hear, words that made me absolutely sick to my stomach because this model, this beautiful model working it for the camera, was my 3-year-old daughter.
She was eleven months old when she was scouted at a playground by a woman who handed me a business card, told me that my daughter was gorgeous and said she would love it if I would send a few pictures of her into the agency.
Obviously I was skeptical at first. A playground? A random woman handing me her business card after apparently singling out my child? It had “strange” written all over it, but I won’t lie: I was also intrigued. I looked the company up online and realized that it was one of the largest talent agencies in the city that represented a few big names.
I took a few weeks to think about it and decided, what could it hurt? It would be a fun experience for my daughter to talk about when she is older and we might get a few good pictures out of it. Not to mention all the things she would learn: self-confidence! How to interact with adults! Poise and grace! And I figured: it’s not something she has to do forever.
I sent a few pictures of her into the agency and two weeks later I got a call asking if I could bring her in for a test shoot.
We went in for the test shoot and then a week later for a follow up “interview,” where they put her in front of a video camera and taped her reaction to strangers, loud noises, flashing lights, and watched how she followed directions.
My husband and I signed the contract the next day.
What proceeded was a flurry of head shots, measurements, fittings, and small bookings. I was totally unprepared for how much work it would actually be. The agency made it sound like it would be a wonderful family experience. “Your daughter will love it! She will fit right in here! Look how happy she is playing with our director!”
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Castings were the worst. What typically happened is that a booking agent would choose her photo from the agency’s look book and then the agency would call us, along with the other potentials, for a test shoot.
A test shoot basically included a bunch of hopeful mothers and their dressed-up, overtired children cramming into a small room where no one is allowed to to eat with their clothes on, touch their hair, touch each other, move from their chairs, or act like the children that they were.
Fun times. Not.
To make matters worse, the other mothers didn’t view you as a potential friend whose child was in the same activity as theirs, they viewed you as competition. They didn’t want to like you. They wanted to see your child fail so that theirs could succeed. So not only was I trapped in a small room with a bunch of grouchy children, I was trapped in a small room with a bunch of grouchy children and their glaring mothers.
Not long after joining the agency, my daughter won an award, and suddenly we weren’t just being sent on small mom and pop photo shoots—child modeling became an actual job.
My three year old had an actual job.
Now I know it seems ridiculous that I would sign my child to a modeling agency and not expect it to be a real job, but let’s be honest: most models don’t really ever get very far. I’ve known quite a few mothers with child models who have never done anything more than a test shot or two. I naïvely and stupidly believed that this would be a novelty experience that would be over as soon as it had started. Now all of a sudden, because of my ignorance, my child had an actual job in a very adult world.
While there were a few photographers who were professional, most of them made my skin crawl.
One day, I found myself standing against the wall of a studio, in the shadows. I was listening to a photographer talk to my four year daughter. “Beautiful! I love the way you are looking at me! Keep doing just that, love those eyes, love that smile, love the beautiful girl! Work it for me, work it baby!”
That night as I packed up our belongings and loaded her into the car, I knew it was over. I buckled her into her car seat, pulled out of the lot, and knew I was never taking her back.
This was not the life that I wanted for her. I think every mother looks at their daughter and envisions the entire life ahead of them, a life built on the wonderful attributes that are them. A life based on the respect we teach them to demand and the qualities that they portray to the world.
What was my daughter learning? That people fawned all over her because of her looks? That it was good to be admired by significantly older men? That she was supposed to just sit there, not talk, take directions and look pretty? That she was only allowed to be who someone else wanted her to be?
This was not what I wanted for her, and as her mother, this is not what I wanted to teach her.
I want to raise a daughter that knows she has a voice. I want to raise a daughter that knows her most important features aren’t physical. I want to raise my daughter in a world where the peers around her want her to succeed, not fail. Most of all, I want to raise her in a world where she demands self-respect.
My daughter is more than just a pretty girl to be molded into what people want to see and as her mother it is my job to teach her that.
Signing my daughter with a child talent agency was one of the worst decisions that I have made in my parenting career. I signed her because I thought it would teach her the skills she would need to portray herself as a confident young woman, but instead she was taught to be anybody but herself.
I thought I was doing what was best for my daughter but in reality, I signed away the opportunity to let her discover who she is on her own terms.
I signed away her rights to be herself.
This was the worst parenting decision I have ever made.
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