At BCIT, you really never can judge a book by its cover.
Ask a BCIT student what brought them to the school and the answer will almost inevitably be the same: “I came here to get a job.” But while most of us share that common goal, it can be a shockingly different route for everyone to get here. I’ve been on a few campuses in my ripe old age, and I can tell you that this one truly stands out for the diversity of stories among its student body.
Did you know that the guy you just got off the bus with is a prolific painter who’s shown his work in galleries all over town? Or that you’re in line at The Stand with a former MLB draft prospect? These are only a few of the faces of BCIT.
Each month in Link Magazine, we’re profiling one of your classmates with an interesting backstory or awesome side project. The constraints of print mean that we can only give you a slice of those interviews – but thanks to the magic of the web, we can also give you the whole story.
This month we sat down with Lauren Sundstrom, broadcast journalism student and former full time fashion model. Lauren has worked internationally in Beijing and Istanbul, and now models part time with the agency Nobasura Rad Kids. Lauren took us behind the lens and lights of the fashion world, and even broke out the ol’ blue steel like it was no big thing.
Oh- it’s so competitive. It’s less so like in a Vancouver market – well, actually maybe more so in Vancouver because it is a tiny market and it’s saturated with models. So if you want to actually earn money, you have to travel. If you want to earn it as a living you’re encouraged to travel. And even then it’s very difficult to make it as a model. And it’s kind of true of the old adage, the thinner you are the better. Especially for a market like Paris, you have to be very, very thin. And so there is a lot of competition among girls to be the smallest, have the best skin, have the best hair – it can be pretty brutal sometimes.”
“You have to keep in mind that these models, this is their livelihood. So when people say I want a body like a model, they don’t realize that this is all models do. All they do is count calories and go to the gym.”
You touch on something important there- just how much pressure is there to maintain a particular body type?
“There’s huge pressure. The ideal – the largest you can be is a size four, and the largest measurements you can have are 34-25-35. Speaking on an international market – locally they’re a little bit more lenient, but if you’re traveling you definitely have to have very tiny measurements, and smaller than that is better. That is the largest you can be. So it can be really difficult. My agent specifically told me, you’re not allowed to eat carbs anymore. You have to eat vegetables, do cardio. Just all of these things I really hated, because I’m a lazy person, admittedly, and I like to eat – and so it was difficult. And to me that didn’t really promote healthy habits. And I definitely started counting every calorie. And if I needed to drop some weight before I took off for another market I would be eating around 1000 calories a day or less, and it was… it’s not good for you. You have to keep in mind that these models, this is their livelihood. So when people say I want a body like a model, they don’t realize that this is all models do. All they do is count calories and go to the gym. Because their next paycheck is coming from the way they look. So the fact is that somebody can’t be doing that while working a regular job. It’s just not going to work. You’re never going to have the body of a supermodel unless you have it naturally, which for sure there are some girls who are a size 2, 5’11,” 110 pounds and eat Whoppers every day. But that’s not how it is for the majority! That’s the exception, not the rule.
What about drugs?
Well, I can say from personal experience that I have seen some hard partying.
But in terms of drugs to stay thin?
I wouldn’t say that I had seen a lot of that. I definitely saw girls that liked laxative teas a lot. But I never saw that kind of drug use for sure. But… there was definitely some hard partying going on.
What do you wish someone had told you before you got in?
I wish that I had taken it a little more seriously. I think that it is possible to have a career in modeling, but you have to work hard and dedicate yourself to it. And I wish that I had known a little more about what kind of market Beijing was before I got involved. My agent told me, ‘its not an easy market to work in’ but I just thought oh yeah, yeah, whatever, she’s just… whatever. But I didn’t know just how difficult it would be to exist in China and how difficult it would be working on set. And affording to have groceries for the week because our pocket money was so little. Things like that. I wish that I had had a little more knowledge and been a little more worldly. I was quite young. I don’t know how some of these girls are able to travel when they’re 14 years old.
So what is the hardest part about working on set?
Well, the hardest part I would say is if you’re not into the clothes or not into the style that they’re looking for. So that can be difficult because sometimes you get these really great shoots where everybody has amazing creative minds and everybody sort of is cohesive in what they see and what they want produced. And so, when that vision isn’t always matching up, or you feel like this isn’t your style, it feels like work. And you’re like, ‘ugh- everything is ugly. I’m not enjoying myself.’ And sometimes the shoots can go on for hours if it happens to be a catalogue especially. Like, I remember my very first job in Beijing I worked 16 hours in shoes that made my feet bleed and towards the end I just burst into tears. And they couldn’t comprehend why I was crying because they were used to a certain way of working. And I wasn’t used to that. And all day they were telling me like, ‘suck in your stomach’ and like, barely anyone spoke English on set and it was just – rough, it was pretty rough that first job.
“When you’re working with a group of individuals who all are super creative and just love beauty and creating beautiful images – it can be a really magical thing.”
So those are all negatives, but what did you love about the job?
Creating cool things. And occasionally you would – your pictures would end up in a big publication, and that would be really – it’s just cool to see that. In China I did Marie Claire, which was pretty cool. Recently some photos I did ended up in the Telegraph. And then just creating art is the best. It’s the best. And when you’re working with a group of individuals who all are super creative and just love beauty and creating beautiful images – it can be a really magical thing. But that doesn’t happen as often as you would like. Especially on a paid gig. I think something that people need to realize is that when you see an image of these models in magazines, that is not the model. That is the creation by hair stylists, makeup artists, a photographer, lighting, creative art director … And then of course post production, photoshop, ect. So many things go into making this image, that when I look at an image of myself, that has this huge production value around it, I don’t see myself, I see it as a cool creation by a group of people. So you need to keep in mind that even the models in that photo don’t look like that. They don’t.
What would you say is the biggest myth about the modelling world?
That it’s super glamorous. People think that it’s super glamorous. It’s not glamorous. At all. I mean, living in a model apartment, there is nothing glamorous about that. In Istanbul, I lived in a two bedroom apartment, and it was shared by five girls. In Beijing, it was a three bedroom apartment with six people. So two to each bedroom. It gets dirty, it gets cramped. And you know, then going to castings, riding around in a hot van that didn’t have air conditioning in 40 degree weather in Beijing is not glamorous. It’s just not what people think it’s going to be.
Another misconception is that we make bucketloads of money. Both of the times I traveled I didn’t make any money at all. I came back – I didn’t have debts to pay to my agency, which was a good thing, I broke even both times, but I didn’t come home with anything in my pocket. And people just think that models make so much money. Especially models in Paris. But what they don’t know about working in Paris is that agencies take 70 percent of their wages, just for the honour and the privilege of being able to work in Paris as a model. Which is just so completely screwed up.
There’s no regulations what so ever in the modeling industry, so it’s – it can be really tough. There are very few, if any, child labour laws that apply to modelling, because it is so unregulated. So you have 13, 14 year old girls shooting for Allure magazine for, God knows how many hours. There’s definitely a darker side to it that does not denote glamour at all. Also on that note, a lot of times the models are very, very young girls from eastern Europe who are plucked from Eastern Europe, who are promised money to send home, who are promised so many things if they travel to Japan, or if they travel to China. And so these girls are largely taken advantage of, their families have a lot of hope for them. And like I said, the chances of making money are very slim, and they’re sort of fed these lies. And they’re so, so young – way too young to be living on their own.
I will say that with my agency – they’re super cool. Right now my measurements fall slightly outside of that – I have an extra inch on my waist and and extra inch on my hips and they were like ‘we don’t want you to lose any of that … we’re fine with how your weight is now.’
“And you could just see vans full of models speeding away with the cops chasing after them!”
What was the craziest thing you ever saw in the industry?
I remember – because, keep in mind all the models who are working overseas are working illegally, we don’t have visas – we have tourist visas, which was super shady. But, every time we came across police in Istanbul, we were told to duck down in the car. And one time one of our castings got totally raided. So we were just about to go into the casting and then our driver and booker just told us to run into this building, so we ran into the building, and were watching. And you could just see vans full of models speeding away with the cops chasing after them! And once it was clear we got back into the car and just drove off and went to a different casting. It was hilarious. It was a very strange thing to be working illegally in these countries – and it makes you feel like you have no protection at all. You feel oddly vulnerable. But, you know, I survived.
So what made you decide to switch to journalism?
Journalism is something that always was in my family. My aunt is a producer with CBC, my grandfather was a well known sportscaster in the seventies. So my family just always was encouraging me to do it. And I always had fairly proficient writing. So finally I just decided after a few years of doing a little of this and a little of that, a year of university, just working for a year here, decided I would just bite the bullet and go for it. And I applied not expecting to get in, and then I got in. And it’s been really great. Even though journalism itself isn’t exactly the direction I want to go in – there’s a million different directions you can go in with this program. So I’m super excited and I can have a cup of noodles and not have to worry about it – it’s a nice career change.
Have you noticed any parallels between modelling and journalism?
Broadcast specifically, there are some paralells, in that there are some beauty standards if you’;re going to be on television. Definitely different beauty standards, and definitely more inclusinve. But for sure the standards are still there and you’re probably more likely to get hired if you look a certain way. So I still see those biases. But what I like about it is that a lot of the time, it doesn’t matter – if you’re not on camera, it doesn’t matter what you look like. Its about what you put on the table, and your skills and your intelligence. So it’s been pretty refreshing – and intimidating … that the thing I’m being judged on now are my skills, rather than my looks. It’s been something new to navigate.
Final question: Can you do the Zoolander face?
Words by Simon Little
Photos by Yinan Shi
Before turning to journalism, Simon dabbled in many things.
He earned an honours degree in political science, and still treats elections as if they’re the playoffs.
He nearly started a brewery, and remains a committed beer geek with a well-stocked cellar of vintage brews.
He was a cycling activist, who co-founded East Van Bike Polo and once pedalled from Amsterdam to Istanbul.
He was (okay, still is) a big ol’ nerd who loves pulp film and science fiction.
Now, he writes about these things and others. And he’s committed to bringing you one fine magazine all year long.