I have been modeling for as long as I remember.
There are photos of me as a young girl with my hair in “space buns” wearing tie-dye in catalogs for H&M in the 90s. I did my first commercial when I was 5. When people ask me how I started modeling I tend to answer that I never really did. It was more my Mum’s decision than mine.
Don’t get me wrong, I did (and still do) absolutely love it.
I loved the idea of getting styled and made up into someone else for a day. I got to pretend to be all kinds of fun people. Running on beaches in Mallorca or jumping on trampolines in Hamburg. I got to go to loads of fun places and meet lots of nice people.
I have always felt really natural and at home in front of the camera. To be the center of attention might sound like a nightmare to some, but to me, who always had to share my parent’s attention with my 4 siblings. It was a massive treat. AND I got paid for it!
So when it came to “picking my profession” as a grown-up. It never really was a conscious choice. I automatically just kept doing what I always did. Just in different countries. I started off in New York as an 18-year old. This waiflike long-haired girl with huge hazel eyes. They still made me lose weight… it was right at the end of the heroin chic era. We were all constantly hungry.
I’m only 5’6, so I should actually be too small to model professionally. But for some reason, it just worked out.
At first, probably because I was naturally really skinny. 45 kg to 166 cm. So as long as no one stood next to me in the photo or the trouser legs were too long, I still looked tall. Later the petite industry boomed and I was one of the few models that cashed in.
When I moved to London in 2005 I hit jackpot with my agency MOT Models. They decided to take a chance on me and believed I would do well. And I did. I quickly became one of their most hired models and did everything from big beauty campaigns to worldwide tv-commercials. I traveled almost every week to new destinations for shoots and had the time of my life.
For 12 years this went on. All through my twenties and until I turned 34. I actually booked some of my best jobs over 30. If someone would have told me this as an 18-year old I would never have believed them.
Then at 34, I fell pregnant with Ace. A complete game changer. I did do a bit of pregnancy modeling. But as soon as my little boy was born I knew I life wasn’t going to be the same again.
I honestly wasn’t sure that I would want to get back into modeling again.
I felt too old, too broken and too removed from my old self. My family needed me and I didn’t want to have to leave my baby even for a day.
But then after a year, I got an email from one of my foreign agencies asking to book me for a shoot abroad. Body-wise I was almost back to normal (I have DR, so my abs were still separated by a couple of centimeters. But nothing no one except me would notice). And I thought why not? I went, did the job, came back and got a phone call from the agent telling me the client was unhappy.
Apparently, I was “fat”… I was 35, had a baby a year earlier, weighed 48 kg and was “fat”.
Of course, I dumped the agent straight away. The client was a cheek who was trying to get away with not paying. It happens quite often in certain countries. It’s the agent’s job to make sure they don’t get away with it. However, this particularly nasty one not only failed in that respect but also seemed to have been hiding behind the door the day manners and professionalism was handed out.
Having this experience as my first job “back” was not ideal. So I decided that no, modeling is not for me anymore. I can’t take the drama. I quit. So I ignored any casting calls, lost another foreign agency because of it and put all my focus on my family and the blogs.
Luckily MOT didn’t give up on me but kept sending me casting requests. They invited me to go and see them and finally suggested that I would at least do some test shots so I could update my model portfolio. Reluctantly I agreed.
I did the shoot, had an amazing photographer and team and got reminded of how much I have always enjoyed my job.
Because modeling is so much more than looking pretty in photos. It’s a super social job where you get to meet people from all over the world. We are also actors and chameleons transforming into anything the client needs. I like to see myself as a canvas who the team will paint their needs and expectations onto and then I get to pick the matching personality to go with it. Most of all it’s really fun and no day is the other alike. The variation is endless.
In my 20s I never thought I would model over 35. I always saw it as something that would eventually just end and something else would take over. And I thought that time came when I had a baby.
But I’m back.
I have moved from main board to 30s board, I do 4 castings a week instead of 8 a day. But the jobs are bigger and there are fewer of us competing for the work. Lots of models have moved on, so we who are still here are big fishes in a small pond.
It actually really suits me to model now. I get to spend my precious time with Ace. But I also get to go on great shoots where I have a day “off” being a mom and get to be Tess doing what Tess always have done best – stand in front of the camera.
It gives me a bit of breathing space in my otherwise busy schedule. It feels great to get to block off a day and just go with the flow. I have a newfound appreciation for my job. To call it something “transitional” is wrong. If I have been at something for this long, it’s a solid career. And I know I’m really good at it.
I have no idea how long it will last, but I’m hoping I got a good few years still in me. Maybe I will even make it to classics board?
For now, I’m just incredibly happy and lucky to have been booked by two of the world’s biggest brands in their respective fields this week. Tess is back!
Photos from my latest test shoot by Tomila Katsman.