Meet our Mindful muse and spirit of our Opal Eyes collection, Leanne Maskell.
She is changing the world of modeling by bringing mindfulness and self love to the forefront of the expression. We are so grateful for this beautiful soul, inside and out, and are honored to share our interview with her here.
In her newest book, Model Manifesto, Leanne explores the anti-exploitation guide for models, in an A to Z guide to understand and take issues such as contracts and visas and mental health - making them all more understandable to aspiring and current models. Having been in the modeling space since she was 13 years old, Leanne has seen some crazy exploitation, so after studying Law, she started writing policies after finishing the book in an aim to help models undreamt their rights. Her goal was to present an objective guide to understanding this industry.
1.) What initially drew you to start modeling?
I was never drawn to modelling myself, my mum just sent a picture in to the one model agency on the Greek island we were living on (Cyprus). I didn't want to model as I was already being bullied at school and didn't want to stand out further but this agency already found me a job which ended up being published in Vogue UK which was a bit bizarre, and so I just carried on from there. When I moved to London I was scouted in a shopping centre and again didn't really want to do it (and this agency asked me to lose weight!) but the woman who scouted me said she might lose her job if I didn't join so I gave it a go!
It's a hard job to leave once you are in it - the money is far more than other jobs would pay and the thrill of being booked on a job is exhilarating and every day is completely different. Unfortunately this up and down lifestyle can massively affect your lifestyle in general as modelling is more of an 'identity' than a job.
2.) what lessons has modeling taught you?
So many! Mainly that beauty is far more than outer-beauty and to look for what is on the inside of people - what drives their soul and who they are rather than what they look like. Also that being beautiful or rich or famous does NOT make you happy - I have come across so many people who look like they have it all but really are incredibly unhappy. It has given me a truly unique perspective on my life to chase what makes me happy rather than what I think society wants from me. I am so grateful to modelling to allow me that space and time to figure this lesson out!
It has also taught me the harsh lessons that not everyone has my best intentions at heart, and to look after and value myself because no one else is going to. Working as a model really teaches you to have a strong inner sense of self because without it you will quickly find yourself incredibly depressed as you chase acceptance from strangers on a daily basis. No amount of acceptance, money or success will ever be enough if you don't accept yourself first.
3.) how do you keep a body positive mindset in the harsh world of modeling?
It has been very hard for me, as I have been asked to lose weight from the age of 18. I was heavily pressured to get down to a size 6 at this age by my agency and obviously found it difficult as I was already very thin and exercising! I was measured weekly by my agency and constantly had this '90cm' hips target looming over me, which was very hard as I had suffered from eating disorders before then and they came back as a result of this pressure. I eventually left the agency when I had got down to the 90cm and they asked me to get down to 88cm! Since then, other agencies have asked me to lose weight at different times over the last 8 years. The weight issue comes down to knowing what kind of modelling you actually WANT to do (high fashion requires extremely thin models, something I only learned after becoming anorexic - I had no idea what high fashion was!) and balancing the amount of dedication you want to commit to modelling with how you actually want to look yourself.
I disassociated from the way my body looked at a very young age in order to cope with this pressure, and so have normally been able to brush off rejection because I didn't feel as though my body was my own anyway. Over the last couple of years as I have written the book and grown stronger in myself I have learned to accept my body and love it for how it is, getting over the insane body dysmorphia myself and most other models have that I was a 'curvy' model! I did this by journalling and making a conscious effort to acknowledge the great things about my body.
I am extremely passionate about empowering other women (and men!) to be body positive and share this message of extreme weight pressures / body dysmorphia amongst models, as we are normally the ones held up to society as an image of what we all 'should' look like - when in reality none of us actually look that way naturally anyway! All bodies are so beautiful and we are luckily in an age where the modelling industry is beginning to wake up to the fact that we are all different and deserve to be represented equally.
4.) what has been your favorite memory of modeling?
Definitely shooting wedding dresses in the Maldives! It was a literal dream week where I was taken to a little island in the Maldives and got to wear beautiful wedding dresses and eat amazing food all week. I am so grateful for the amazing opportunities I have had to travel with modelling, especially to Australia.
5.) modeling allows for incredible travel opportunities...where has been your favorite place to travel?
As above the Maldives was definitely the most incredible place I have ever been, and I doubt I'd ever have the chance to go if it wasn't for modelling! I also really loved shooting in Marrakech, as it was such a beautiful, different place to go and experience in a really unique way.
However coming to Australia has been my favourite place to travel to for modelling, as it is the one place I wanted to visit and was very lucky to be able to model in and start working straight away. Modelling allowed me to stay in Australia and work everywhere from Sydney to Byron Bay - it is an odd job that allows you to work anywhere you want to in the world, pretty much, as your business is sort of 'yourself'! I am so grateful to have been able to live in Byron and model here for the incredible brands with such beautiful back stories, such as Spell & Rowie - and Bahgsu Jewels (!) as I have been able to meet the people behind the companies and love how much slow fashion is celebrated in this part of this world. It was a huge contrast to working for fast-fashion power-house brands in London such as ASOS & Amazon!
6.) what makes working with a client truly enjoyable?
I love getting to know clients and understanding what the shoot means to them, learning the backstory of a brand and bringing that to life. It is amazing to be able to work with interesting, genuine and kind talented people who share their experiences with you.
It is also great when a client thinks about the model and creates a good working space for them - whether that is by providing lunch, drinks, breaks, heating / fans, music etc. and really involves the model as part of the process. Many clients simply see models as objects and speak about them as though they are not even there on jobs, which makes modelling hard if you aren't feeling comfortable!
7.) how do you see the shift of conscious modeling?
Conscious modelling is an interesting term - I haven't heard it before! I think there's several types of conscious modelling. Firstly, the consciousness to be aware of your own job, rights and responsibilities - acknowledging you are self-employed and deserve to be treated with respect. This is growing with social media as models have the opportunity to join together with brilliant concepts such as ModelMafia and The Model Manifest (my book!), to understand their own jobs properly and be able to support each other.
Secondly there is the consciousness to be able to understand as a model that you are representing a brand, and you have a voice. Models generally are given zero choice as to the jobs they do (unless you're a supermodel, maybe!) and are just sent an address and time to be at a job. I have modelled for brands that have made me feel extremely uncomfortable as I did not want to represent that to society - whether that was wearing £5 blazers as mini dresses, pretending to be pregnant or wearing fur - and I didn't know that I could say no. When I did say no for the first time last year, I was sent home at lunch! However I was so happy that I had stood up for myself and my beliefs and wouldn't be working with a client that didn't respect those again. With social media, this is changing also as models understand they have their own voices and can actually use them. They are being tagged in pictures and represent the brand more than ever - which works both ways as clients often seek out models on Instagram who's personality fits with their brand. With concepts such as ModelsOfCompassion on Instagram, models are understanding that they can use their influence for what they believe in to make a difference.
Finally I believe 'conscious' modelling can relate to generally being aware of what you are promoting in terms of sustainability and the impact fashion has on the environment we are living in. With so much fast fashion, it really is a responsibility of ours to ensure that people are learning about the true impact of buying new clothes every week as opposed to something that will last forever and has been crafted with sustainability in mind. I do my best to share this on my blog and know many models who are extremely passionate about the effect fashion is having on our world.
8.) if you could give your younger self one piece of wisdom, what would it be?
You can say no! I would definitely tell myself to stick to my guns and not actually do modelling, focus on my law degree and avoid the industry as it wasn't something I wanted to do in the first place - but then I wouldn't be here today, which I wouldn't change for the world. All of the negative experiences I have had have allowed me to put these into a book which will hopefully have a positive change on the modelling industry and allow models to understand their rights, ending exploitation.
I would probably tell myself to try and focus on building a strong sense of self outside of modelling that included different hobbies, friends and family instead of putting all of my self worth into this industry. I was extremely depressed which I was very lucky to emerge from but believe that if I had a stronger sense of identity and awareness this maybe wouldn't have happened.
Also - to trust people less! Especially those who seem extra-nice - they often tend to be the worst.
9.) what inspired you to write your book?
The last 13 years of modelling inspired me to write the book - I always knew I wanted to provide the information I was learning through my legal degree, modelling experiences and legal internships with modelling clients to models but wasn't really sure how as I lacked confidence in myself. I became extremely depressed and ended up moving to Byron Bay to save myself.
In Byron, without one model agency dictating my daily life, I began to detach myself from the industry a little, and understand the effect it had had on me I became determined to go through with the book. What solidified it was being told off by one of my agencies for having a waist that was 1 inch too big and being told by my client that the agency had called me 'overweight' to them - at a size 10! I decided I didn't care if they dropped me and carried on writing.
The immense exploitation of models is something that everyone should be aware of, because it affects every single one of us. We are constantly exposed to advertising and social media brainwashing that tells us we should look a certain way, without realising the immense exploitation that these people go through on a daily basis. Modelling is not a career to aspire to - there is no promotion at the end of it, no guarantee of success, no solid income - however if you want to do it or are already in it, you should know your rights and learn how to avoid the same exploitation I have encountered.
I didn't really intend to write the book, it started out as a blog post and grew until it turned into a 250 page book that has been published. At the same time, I think it was always meant to happen.
10.) what is your favorite mantra of the moment?
The universe has my back! I am learning to trust in the universe and know that although I may not understand where I am right now, every single experience is happening for a reason. I could never have imagined I would be here even 1 year ago, but everything makes sense today.
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