My daughter, Sydney, was just 6 months old when she landed her first modeling job: a jewelry catalog for Tiffany & Co. I took the day off from work to go to the shoot. Sydney and I arrived at the studio to find renowned fashion photographer Mario Testino—he does a lot of Vogue covers—and top model Anouk. Wow, we were in the big leagues!
For the first photo, Sydney, naked, was placed on a luxurious pink-silk couch next to Anouk, who was sporting a sparkling Tiffany watch. Right away I'm thinking, "A baby on silk? Not a good idea." Then the stylist decided to drape a white-satin blanket over the couch, and she rearranged Sydney on top. She turned to me for reassurance that Sydney wouldn't "go" while lying there.
"I can't promise you. That's what babies do," I said. Well, within moments, tinkle, tinkle! It quickly became obvious that she'd "gone," as a dark puddle spread across the blanket. Pandemonium broke out as people rushed forward to snatch her off the pricey goods. The couch, though slightly damp, was salvaged, so the stylist put a diaper in between the urine-soaked blanket and the cushion and plopped Sydney back down while they finished the shot.
As I learned that day, baby modeling isn't as glamorous as most people think. Sure, there's that first high when you discover that someone other than you and your husband thinks your baby is totally adorable. But then you quickly find out that posing for photos is, well, just a job. And it's actually hard work. Lucky for us, my husband's sister, Rachel, had been in the biz—she was a child-model scout—so we had some help navigating this world.
It was Rachel who encouraged us to submit Sydney's pictures to modeling agencies. I wasn't eager at first. After all, a lot of babies are cute. I also knew that modeling is filled with rejection, and who wants to be told that their little princess isn't good enough?
But strangers continued to stop me on the street to coo over Sydney, so I figured, "Why not give it a try?" I sent pictures to seven agencies in New York City and was thrilled when six wanted to sign her exclusively. We chose Cunningham, Escott, Dipene, a top firm whose agents we liked best.
In the meantime, Rachel gave me a crash course in modelspeak. To get chosen for a job, first we'd need to attend a "go-see"—essentially an audition. Well, more of a cattle call, really. Your baby might be one of a hundred who show up to meet with a magazine editor or casting agent. And as you can imagine, it can be pure chaos—a hundred screaming, hyper, or crying kids all in one room. When your number is called, you get about 30 seconds during which the agent or editor decides whether your baby has whatever it is the company is looking for. This is where all the rejection comes in—not fun.
If you do get the job and it's for some kind of baby product or baby-magazine story, they'll usually have a "baby wrangler" on hand. This person is responsible for entertaining the kids and keeping them smiling while they're on set. Sometimes, there is no such savior (like on the Tiffany shoot) so you're on your own. And, yes, labor laws do apply. Two hours is the maximum that a child can work, and even if your baby's only needed for 30 minutes, they'll often hire and pay you for the full time; they never know how long it will take to get the perfect shot.
When Sydney first started modeling, I was working as an executive assistant, but I soon quit to manage her crazy schedule. What kind of 6-month-old needs a PDA? Mine! We're literally at the beck and call of her agents, who give us only one day's notice—sometimes less!—before a go-see. The job, even though it's technically hers, can be exhausting.
And sometimes—dare I say?—boring. The shoots can be painfully slow. Lighting often takes forever to set up, during which baby wranglers or moms attempt to amuse the kids with toys, funny faces, and songs. And if a baby is getting sick or just doesn't feel like cooperating, the entire day is a bust.
Sydney has been modeling for more than a year now, and she's had about 30 jobs to date—everything from Macy's and Tommy Hilfiger ads to a Lowe's home-store commercial to covers of several baby magazines. Honestly, we're not doing this for the money. Sydney can make anywhere from $50 to $1,000 per hour depending on the client. The $13,000 she earned her first year has been set aside in a trust to go toward her college tuition. Not exactly the multimillions you tend to think about when you hear the word model. And my husband and I are not doing this for our own fulfillment, either; it's simply a fun hobby Sydney seems to enjoy that gives her a little cash for the future.
I know some parents are skeptical about putting kids in front of the cameras, but I don't see this as Sydney's career. I know she's having fun. Even when she was a newborn, she always lit up when she saw a flashbulb. The moment I sense that she's no longer enjoying herself, we're done.
Until then, we're having an incredible ride. Even if we decide to quit and she never goes in front of the cameras professionally again, we'll have the most amazing photo album.
Copyright © 2005. Reprinted with permission from the February 2005 issue of Parents magazine.