Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Model Moms

By Elizabeth Lemond

SEPTEMBER 8, 1997:  In December 26, 1996, eight hours after the discovery of a ransom note, JonBenet Ramsey was found murdered in the basement of her Colorado home. While some of the cryptic circumstances surrounding Ramsey's death have been slowly and painstakingly revealed throughout the past nine months, the implication of Ramsey's parents in her killing was the sensational feature of the gruesome homicide that captured the attention of the nation.

That, and the fact that she was a six-year-old beauty queen.

As police investigated John and Patsy Ramsey without charging them with the murder of their daughter, Americans watched CNN for updates on the case, wondering whether to be more appalled by the possibility that JonBenet might have been strangled by her own parents or by the photos of the innocent child in rhinestones and lipstick. To many, the video snippets of JonBenet performing like a trick pony at pageant after pageant were more perverse and sickening that the sight of a tiny body under white cloth being transported to the morgue.

America's fascination with the Ramsey case suggests a corresponding wonder at the relationship between a child pageant princess and her mother, also a former beauty queen. Whether JonBenet had the makings of a natural ham or was cruelly flung into the bizarre world of tiara-sporting tykes by her mother remains a matter of speculation, but the fact that pushy mothers exist at pageants hardly came as a surprising revelation.

The attention that the Ramsey case has recently focused on the pageant industry does not necessarily shed any light on the larger, more professional, and somewhat more sane, world of modeling. As many models from Memphis, their mothers, and their agents will attest, it takes more than a prodding mom and mascara to make it in the billion dollar fashion industry.

Those involved in the business seem to agree that when a child reaches a certain age and a certain level of professionalism in the modeling industry, an overeager mother would have more success throwing her child all the way to New York City with her bare hands than she would pushing her child in an uncomfortable direction.

"I think if a girl is not into it 100 percent, then it's not going to work," says Terry Robbins, of Robbins Models & Talent. "You can't make a child do something. If they don't want to do it, they don't."

Robbins says there may be room for aggressive mothers on the pageant circuit, but she does not encounter that kind of problem with the models she represents. If a mother is too pushy, Robbins avoids working with the girl.

"If I kind of get a hint that that's happening, I don't represent them. It's not worth it," she says. "It's too hard. You can't fulfill their expectations. That's really a pageant thing though. You don't run into it in modeling as much because you don't have any control over who gets jobs."

Jo Wagoner Bracey and Annette Amato Outlan, co-owners of Colors Talent Agency, also avoid representing models with overbearing mothers, but they also agree with Robbins that the problem is not as large as some might think.

"Everyone thinks their child is great," Bracey says. "At the same time you are deciding who is overbearing and pushy or whether they're just outgoing. A lot of times once you get over that initial hump, you really like the parent. You realize they're in the business world and they realize the importance of it. But sometimes you never get over that hump."

Outlan suggests that while mothers may tend to be aggressive when their children are younger, around five to eight years old, she believes that once the girls are more mature, their mothers may become more hesitant and cautious.

"When it's a 14-year-old daughter and there's a photographer telling her to look this certain way into the camera, you tend to be more protective of your child," she says, alluding to the sexual nature of many modeling jobs.

Outlan stresses the maturity and grace that a teen must have in order to keep getting booked for jobs; a pushy mother would jeopardize a girl's career far more than she could help it.

"We had a client recently who called me and said the child was very into it, but the mother was a stage mom," says Outlan, whispering the words `stage mom' like a four letter word. "They probably won't want to work with her again." In an industry where a young girl's career depends not only on how she looks and what she eats but also how nice, professional and easy to work with she is, there may not be room for an insufferable mother in the wings.

Agents also emphasize that a girl must have support from her parents in order to be successful. Though too much pressure can be fatal, not enough also spells disaster. If the career of Aja Evans, one of Memphis' most successful models, is any indication, a solid mother-daughter relationship directly affects a young woman's achievement in this highly competitive, unforgiving field.

"We're a team, all the way," says Evans of her mother, Wynoka Terry. "I wouldn't be able to do any of this without her."

"Any of this" refers of course, to Evans' flourishing modeling career which has most recently taken her abroad for more than a year, working in the lucrative European fashion market.

"I think at first neither of us had any idea how far it was going to go," says Evans. "I mean, of course it was a really exciting thing; we were both excited. She'll always support me in anything I do, so of course she was really supportive and gave me advice. But she always let me make the final decision."

It was through her mother that Evans got her first modeling job, but Terry explains that her daughter had always been interested in the world of fashion.

"She loved to play dress up; she loved dressing up and doing things in front of the mirror. But it wasn't like she said, `I want to be a model,'" Terry explains. "But a friend of mine, Pat Tigrett, was doing a fund raiser for the Salvation Army and she had some little debutante dresses, and she asked if Aja would like to wear one, and I said, `Sure! I'm sure she would.'"

Evans was spotted at the runway show by Robbins, who later called and suggested that Evans try her hand at modeling.

"I thought, `Well, alright. That sounds cool.' So I did it," says Evans. "The first thing I did was test with a photographer who comes in every year and tests with girls here in Memphis with Robbins. Terry Robbins was very worried because I was very short. I was 5'7". Especially then, kind of before the Kate Moss thing broke out, it was really important for girls to be 5'9"."

But the photographer was impressed with Evans, and didn't think her height would be a problem since she was so comfortable in front of the camera. So, Evans took the next step and went to New York, where she eventually signed with Next Modeling Agency who sent her to Europe.

"She graduated in May [1996] and left in June," says her mother. "She has been living abroad off and on; she has come home for holidays and stuff like that. She's travelled a lot. She spent quite a bit of time in New York when she was 15, and when she was 16, she lived in Japan for seven weeks."

According to Outlan and Bracey, time in Europe is essential for girls who wish to make a career in modeling. Not only are the jobs fairly profitable, with girls making an average of $1,200 to $1,500 for a day's work, but the models also have an opportunity to add photos to their "book" -- the ever-essential portfolio that is the resumé of the modeling world.

"If a daughter is 16 years old and does not have the support of her parents, she's not going to be able to go anywhere," says Outlan. "She needs their support, not only because she's young and she needs them emotionally, but financially she's going to need it."

The stress of going to a foreign country is one of the main reasons that Robbins believes that one simply cannot pressure a girl into the business against her wishes.

"They have to really want to go," she explains. "That's a hard life. It's not easy to go to a foreign country where you don't speak the language and you don't know the money and stuff like that, when you don't want to be there."

After closely attending to her daughter's career, Wynoka Terry attests to the fact that modeling isn't always a glamorous lifestyle choice:

"This is a dog's life. [Aja] is living out of a suitcase and being sent here and there," she says. "And the people in this business are not the most forthright and honest people. I see how hard she's worked."

"There are a lot of hard things," says Evans. "I had to grow up really fast. Being separated from my family and friends, being alone. It was hard for me to see my friends go away to college and make a lot of really good friends while I was off in Europe working and I wasn't making that many friends. It was really lonely at times. But overall, it was positive for me."

Her relationship with her mother has changed and matured while she has been away. "It's become less of the typical mother-daughter relationship. She's not protecting me anymore -- or grounding me," says Evans. "She's done her job and now she's letting me live with the values that she's instilled in me. She's still my mother, but it's not the same. She's my best friend and I tell her everything. And she knows everything about me so we're really close."

Evans insists that while her mother has always been supportive, she has never felt pressured by her mother.

"I don't tell her how to live her life. I trust her judgments," says Terry. "She's beautiful and she's smart -- she knows what's right for her. Whatever she wants to do is cool with me, because I know her and she makes good decisions."

But who would admit to pressuring or pushing their child, or to being prodded in a field where "stage mom" is a dirty word? Almost no one. Though it may be true that mothers do not have as much room to manipulate and push their children in the modeling industry because of various constraints and obstacles, what about mothers who "support" their children in what some might consider tasteless endeavors?

Sylvia Maharrey maintains that she never pushed her daughter, Kristen, when it came to modeling. And a few years ago when Kristen told her mother that she wanted to appear in Playboy magazine, it certainly wasn't something her mother had pressured her into.

"I had reservations," says Maharrey. "At first I tried to talk her out of it, but when she decided to do it, I was behind her 100 percent. I think her father was upset about it, but we're divorced " laughs Maharrey. "So I didn't consult him that much on it."

Kristen won a Hawaiian Tropic swimsuit contest, and was later one of several girls from the contest chosen by Playboy to appear in the magazine. She recalls the events surrounding this particularly memorable event in her modeling career:

"People didn't seem to make a big deal out of it -- maybe they didn't to me, maybe they did behind my back, I don't know," says Kristen Bailey, who recently married and now has a young daughter. "My family was kind of shocked. My mom was fine with it, just like, `Do whatever you want to do.' She's always been like that though."

Bailey got her start in the business when her mother signed her up for talent and beauty pageants when she was about 6 years old. But did her mother push her into the industry at too young an age?

"Of course a 6-year-old doesn't know if she wants to be in a pageant or not," says Maharrey. "But I didn't push her because I know a lot of mothers did. But she loved it. She's a ham."

Though clearly wary of using the word in a negative way, Bailey readily admits that her mother pushed her, and still continues to encourage her modeling, though Bailey says her present focus is on her daughter and on finishing college in Florida where she now lives.

"She always wants me to do it. Every time I quit something, she's always wanting me to do something else," says Bailey. "She's always trying to get me to do something. I guess because she knows there's only a few years in your life where you can do that kind of stuff. She's always trying to encourage me to do these pageants or try out for a commercial or something." Bailey adds, as if from memorization, "But she's right, I do know that. You know there's only so many years you can do it, and it's over. You should get what you can out of it and make some money and have some fun."

Bailey insists, however, that her mother pushed without being pushy.

"She was never pushy," says Bailey. "If I said, `No,' that was it. She was never a pushy mother, she just encouraged me."

Though most models are not asked to pose nude, the modeling business is laced with sexual suggestiveness. The dilemma for many girls and their mothers then becomes finding a happy medium between doing what it takes to keep your job and doing what it takes to keep a little dignity. Sometimes moms are the ones holding back.

"I think a girl, if they're trying to get into the modeling industry, they need to realize it's very sexual," says Outlan. "Bottom line: You rarely see a girl's book that doesn't have a lingerie shot or a body shot or just the look on their face with jeans and a T-shirt. It's very beautiful, sexy looking women, and if that's something you don't believe in, that's nothing but respectful, but you should take a different route."

Part of Outlan's job is finding a look that is appropriate to a specific girl's age and personality.

"We had a shoot a few weeks ago and they had put this bra top and this see through shirt on this little girl, and she had this little girl look about her, she wasn't her height yet, she was 14 years old and it looked stupid," says Outlan. "Before her mother even had the option to say anything, I looked at the stylist and said, `No.' There's a fine line where it doesn't look right."

What about when daughters and their mothers disagree?

"It's not our place to butt in," says Outlan, stressing that girls and their mothers must reach agreements about such matters on their own.

While Aja Evans certainly revealed a little skin during her time in Milan, she stresses that sticking to ones values is still important.

"Don't ever compromise yourself," she offers as advice. "Don't ever do it; it's not worth it. I don't think I've been pressured as much as other people have, but I've seen it."

"She's smart," her mother interjects. "She figures it out."

This harmony between mother and daughter seems to be essential to a young woman's early career as a model. Parents must contribute money as well as support to their children, while allowing their daughter to take her career in a self-fulfilling direction that still meets the family's morality requirements.

"My career would be 180 degrees different without my mom," says Ginger Williams, once a model -- now an aspiring actress. "She has been without a doubt the most supportive person in my career."

The Memphian admits she and her mother don't always agree. "Sometimes we definitely do fight, but mostly we have the same views on the career and the direction it's taking," Williams says.

Her mother Vicki adds, "To be perfectly honest, I was concerned and I still am. We do want to encourage her and support her. There are a lot of tough value decisions that she has to make. I'm not a stage mom in the sense that I don't try to manage Ginger's career, but we did, John and I, have lots of conversations with her manager so that she has a clear understanding of the type of work Ginger was interested in. She understood our concerns as parents."

"Mom was never pushy," says Williams. "She never pushed me into anything I didn't want to do, and she never pushed anyone else."

In The Money:

The high costs and lucrative potential of the world of fashion models.

Q: What assets does a 16-year-old model have, besides her beautiful face, slender bod, and long legs?

A: The potential to earn more money in a year than her parents.

When a young woman begins a career as a model, one of the first things her agent will want her to do is shoot with a professional photographer. According to Annette Amato Outlan of Colors Talent Agency, if a Memphis girl is building her portfolio, or "book," one session with a photographer and make-up artist will run between $300 and $400. The yield? Two rolls of film and, with any luck, some good shots.

Models must be prepared to pay their agents a percentage of all their earnings. At Colors, the agents get 20 percent of a model's paycheck for local shoots, and five to ten percent of what a girl makes overseas. This contract lasts for about five years and is known as a "mother agency agreement" -- the local agency is also responsible for placing girls with other agencies overseas.

While the up-front costs can be intimidating, the ultimate payoff is often worth the investment. But young Memphis models who want to make serious cash -- more than the $550 a day from infrequent local -- must relocate.

"What's so unfortunate is the girls who are spending so much money on their book and testing and makeup, there's hardly any work here for kids 13 to 18," says Outlan. "All we do with those girls is try to place them overseas or in the Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta markets. Usually they work in Japan and make money, or they'll go to Europe and start getting their book developed enough to work in New York."

Overseas trips offer young models experience, photos for their book, and often a considerable amount of money, which many girls stash away for college. How much money? It depends on the model, the city, and the type of shoot.

"The models overseas are booked at all different rates, it depends on what level they are within the agency," says Outlan. "A girl can feel comfortable to come home with anywhere between $15,000 and $30,000 in Japan after expenses, after two months. As far as rates, it depends on whether they get contracts or multiple bookings. But it's usually around $1,500 a day, which is basic here in Atlanta or Dallas."

Terry Robbins, of Robbins Models & Talent, though unwilling to disclose any particular model's going rate, cites a range of fees even more astronomical, explaining that models whom she represents command between $2,500 and $10,000 a day overseas and between $75 and $150 an hour locally, with a two hour minimum.

But high rates don't always trickle down to models, who must pay agents' commissions and housing expenses.

"For someone like me, money isn't that big. I'm sort of paying my dues," says Aja Evans. "I've got to travel, and you know, live in bad apartments. Paying commission and paying for my housing; living in Europe anyway is really expensive.

Evans explains the difference in pay for various jobs. "It depends on what the shoot is," she says. "Catalogues are more, editorial is less. A lot of people think that if you do a cover that you get a lot of money, but that's what pays the least. The best thing is a cosmetic campaign, like Revlon."

Modeling lingerie also increases the rate at which a model's meter runs. According Outlan and her Colors co-owner Jo Wagoner Bracey, doing a shoot involving more risque clothing items like lingerie or swimsuits will earn a model anywhere from 1 and a half to double her usual rate.

Veteran model Tiffany Baker, 27, warns girls getting into the industry to avoid being overwhelmed by their salaries and urges them to be business-like about handling money. "This business is not security," she says. "Invest your money and take care of it."

Of course, Robbins points out that a girl doesn't always have the chance to run amok in a mall with her earnings before they are tucked away. According to Robbins, International Models Group, one of the larger international agencies, has a entire division of their company devoted to investing their clients' earnings.

"[The models] pretty much sock it away," says Robbins. "Most modeling careers are very short. Most girls still live with their parents and have allowances."

A model lifestyle, no doubt. -- E.L.

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