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Life of a Ghanaian model 3/30/2007
Modeling is becoming one of the fastest growing career options in Ghana today. It is not exactly what many people set out to do, but somehow, it has become a passion for a lot of young men and women to pursue on the side. So there are nurses, accountants, lawyers and teachers strutting their stuff on the runaway.
Modeling can be presented in many forms but the two main categories are Fashion/Editorial (magazines and runway) and Commercial Modeling. Modeling is similar to acting, as the models have to express an emotion and feeling in their photographs and on the runway since their very appearance is what is used to promote clothing, fashion accessories and cosmetics. The modeling age is pretty much undefined -- it is merely dependent on the purpose for which the modeling is intended. Toddlers as young as two can be paraded on the walkway to model clothing for their age group and you might see you octogenarian grandmother modeling outfits for the ‘colo’ generation. In western countries, models depend heavily on photo shoots for magazines for their livelihood. But the magazine world in Ghana is not exactly tiptop. So Ghanaian models do not have much to do -- until someone decides to put together a fashion show. Such engagements are few and far between and that’s why most of our models have to make sure that they have day jobs to put bread on their tables all year round.

While big has traditionally been beautiful in Africa, local models still look out for international appeal and with that you have to be a perfect size 6 or 8 to make it. Mimi Mensah, of Exopa Model Agency is an example. She put her aspirations of becoming a lawyer aside and has been into full time modeling since she was 14. Seven years down the line, she’s been through all the grooming and exposure she needs to become a model. Naturally, being a model in the typical Ghanaian family setting is not received with the same welcome as being a medical doctor.

But Mimi looks beyond that. She is one of the few Ghanaians who have broken that barrier and are making the modeling profession appear more attractive. Like many of the young ladies modeling currently, she started out in the spotlight with Model of the Universe pageant. Mimi, stands at 6 foot 1 and is your quintessential size 8 but she does not live on lettuce and lean meat/fish. Au contraire, fufu, banku, kenkey, and all the fatty, starchy foods imaginable are top on her daily diet. And she prefers to eat at least 4 times in a day. “I was born this way, so I do not have to do anything extraordinary to keep to this size,” she says. “I don’t work out or anything. I tried to do tummy exercises but it made my tummy look funny so I stopped.”

It must be a blessing to be born a perfect model size. Recently, due to the death of certain size zero models internationally, many of the model agencies have tried to put a ban on anorexic-looking models. To that effect, plus-size modeling is beginning to take shape especially in Africa where majority of our women are a couple of sizes bigger than your average Naomi Campbell or Tyra Banks.

A day in the life of a model can be as hectic as any and equally boring. “You have to get yourself in the mood even if you don’t want to,” says Mimi. “If you have to go for a photo shoot for instance, you have to be on time or you will delay everybody: the photographer, the make-up artists, the production team. Sometimes it takes the whole day. You have to go on different locations, depending on what you have to do; changing dresses, taking photos, doing make-up. It gets tiring.”

Despite all the challenges, Mimi wants to work as a model for as long as possible. “Here in Ghana, models are not really recognized unless you are a beauty queen or something. But I want to take it as far as I can. It is like any other profession, if you work hard at it, you’ll get to the top.” Freddy, a male model with Exopa, also started working the runway when he was just about 7. He does modeling only as a pastime and complains about the (lack of) money as one of modeling’s pitfalls. “Besides the fame you may get from it, there really isn’t much else”, he moans. “You even have to struggle for recognition and that can be difficult.” Freddy spends 4 days in the gym everyday to keep the upper body looking the way it does -- six-pack and all. “I have to watch what I eat so I don’t grow too big or develop a pot belly. But I don’t worry too much about it… I look up to people like Usher Raymond and Tyrese. They are not models but I like where they’ve gotten to in life.” Freddy says he is looking for international exposure and hopes that by signing up with a recognized model agency, those dreams will come to fruition.

Unlike Mimi and Freddy, Joycelyn Nketia is relatively new in the model world. She’s had only 3 years of experience. She started off with the Model of the Universe pageant in 2004 and has taken to the runway ever since. Fortunately for her, she was encouraged to go into modeling by her mother who believed she had the gift. She does only runway modeling presently and has put together a portfolio of her own like all professionals do. But it has not been easy for her. Life as a model can be very temperamental, she says. “You can either be very busy or very idle. It all depends on the activities going on.” When things do get busy, tempers tend to flare and sometimes things don’t go as planned: clothes might not fit as they should and there have been occasions when models have tumbled and taken a fall on the catwalk. “Before we get on stage, we have to get to know our environment,” Joycelyn says. “We walk on the stage, find out where all the bumps are and take our steps carefully. If you think about falling down, you will fall. So you have to think positively.”

Training to be a model is an extremely arduous process during which the wannabe model is taken through a series of grooming exercises: how to sit, walk and talk; how to act in public, answer questions, the essentials of body language etc. Plus, you need to keep your body in shape and make sure that your heart is in what you are doing.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of things that can take a models mind off what he/she is supposed to be doing. First, there are the prejudices. Many think that models are promiscuous and vain attention-seekers. For Mimi, who has catwalked on stages in Germany and Holland, and has had a lot more exposure than most Ghanaian models, being judged by her stage spunk piques her the most as a career model. “I put up that attitude only on the runway,” she says. “When I’m not on the runway, I’m a different person.” For Freddy, models don’t make enough money and Joycelyn merely wants respect as a model because “it is also a profession on its own.”

Possibly if these models keep at what they do, and as one of the models suggested, “if a model agency is instituted to protect models from imposters who take up positions that models should be given” we might churn out our very own Naomi Campbells (without the shoe-throwing tantrums, of course).


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