Growing up in the Modeling Industry
By: Britney Wittes
When I first tell people how long I’ve been in this industry, many of them are shocked and surprised to find out what I’ve been able to accomplish so young. Here’s my story, hoping it can help one of you chase your dreams!
I began modeling at the young age of 10. I had no clue what I was getting myself into. My mom took me and my older sister to a casting call for an acting studio. I ended up getting chosen to attend an acting intensive where they invited agencies to meet us. I auditioned for more agencies than I could count and was very lucky to have earned a callback from each.
After some research my mom did, she decided on moving forward with Lily’s Talent Agency in Chicago. I have been with them ever since! Forteen years of my life with this agency, and I have been so grateful for all of the jobs and opportunities they have sent my way.
When I signed with Lily’s,they told my mom that my look in this market would sell and we should get ready. I had no clue what that meant and neither did she, but they were right! A few days after signing my contract, I got my first job with Kohl’s. Going to the studio in Wisconsin was one of the greatest moments of my life, and little did I know it would become such a special place to me. I would end up going to Kohl’s at least once a week for the next 4 years. It became part of my education andsocial life, and I learned a lot of fundamentals that made me who I am today.
Since I was still technically a kid, I had something called a child wrangler. They were meant to watch the kids, make sure they get to and from set, back to the fitting rooms, and stayed entertained. I was a bit older and therefore knew how to behave, so my child wrangler asked me mostly school questions. I saw him more than my classmates!
The hair and makeup artist watched me grow up, noticed when I got a haircut, grew at all, and celebrated my birthdays with me. The photographers knew more about my life than my school friends and I felt increasingly isolated from my everyday life. When I would go to school, kids made comments that I thought I was better than them, always missing school. I struggled to connect with them, and I began to hate going to school. The highlight of my week was waking up at 5am to drive to Wisconsin to live a dream that I never knew I had.
On set, I was treated as an adult, learning how to hold a conversation and negotiate rates, while the other twelve years old at my school were in recess and learning long division.
It was also hard dealing with this coming at the age of puberty. Turning 14, about to enter high school, and all of a sudden hearing “no” all of the time when I would go on auditions. My ego definitely took a hit and so did my confidence.
I may have missed out on a lot of things as a kid, like birthday parties, sports games, and honestly creating friendships with those my age. But, what I got instead was much more valuable to me in the long run. Growing up I was able to model for brands such as Kohl’s, American Girl, Walgreens, Meijers, P&G, and so many more. I didn’t understand the word “no” (from jobs) very much at that age because I was very lucky. This was a blessing and a curse. I will always be more than grateful to have had all of those opportunities and to have a sellable look, but it didn’t help me learn how to handle when a “no” did end up coming.
They started once people realized I was not going to grow to the height that was expected of a child model. The calls stopped and all of my repeat jobs never came back. I stopped growing at 5’3” and I watched my friends who I had grown up with at the Kohl’s studio continue on to bigger and better jobs. All of a sudden, I was in school all the time and forced to adjust to my new reality.
Around the same time, I was told to focus on acting because modeling was not going to work out for me. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I did not want to accept it so admittedly I did not work as hard towards acting as I should have at that point of my life. I still had such a hunger for modeling and truly didn’t understand why I couldn’t continue to do the thing that not only made me feel so happy, but that I was good at. It was also hard dealing with this coming at the age of puberty. Turning 14, about to enter high school, and all of a sudden hearing “no” all of the time when I would go on auditions. My ego definitely took a hit and so did my confidence.
The first thing I was thinking was, what’s wrong with me? Why does no one want me now that I’m older? I didn’t understand the height discrimination that has been in the modeling industry since it began. It truly had nothing to do with me, but it was not something I was able to grasp at that age.
Trying to transition into acting was this whole other beast that I didn’t understand or know how to become good at. I didn’t know how to prepare sides or memorize lines, I was always hearing “no,” and it hurt because I knew it was something I didn’t understand yet.
I ended up taking a break from modeling and acting when I turned 17 and wanted to finish my senior year just figuring out what I wanted with my life and what life meant without modeling or acting. It had been a part of my fundamental years of growing up and after being told I was fat during an acting audition, I knew I needed time to figure out if I still fit into this world that once had been my safe haven, that I now felt had turned on me.
I started college feeling lost, and I knew it was because the thing that I knew the best and was a huge part of who I was, was missing. I began modeling and acting again, but this time taking acting more seriously. I took acting classes and workshops, learning little tips and tricks on how to learn lines and become a character. I started to actually practice, a shocker that changed things for me, and I finally started landing some jobs.
I was able to work on a few episodes of Chicago Med, do quite a few short films, and joined a feature films in Chicago. And despite what I thought about acting, I grew to really enjoy it, not only getting to play someone else for a short while, but the skills it took and the amount of work that went into building this person. I would feel proud of the job I did.
Growing up in this industry was difficult because I felt that I had missed the fundamental years of being a kid and having fun. On the other hand, I learned who I wanted to be at such an early age and had the opportunity to even begin this career. I am so grateful that today I still get to model and act and live the life I could only have dreamed of.