Miu Miu's campaign featuring Elsa Brisinger.
Image © Alisdair McMellan for Miu Miu

I’m a model. Here’s how I feel about turning my body into a business

Part-time model full-time philosophy student Elsa Brisinger reflects on the wins, risks, and sacrifices of her career so far

International Women’s Day feels like the right time to sit back and reflect on my decision to turn my body into a business. From my first modelling job at 15, to my current role as face of Miu Miu’s summer campaign, it’s been a whirlwind of a ride.

There have been risks, losses, and huge payoffs – and above all, I’ve learnt a lot about my ‘economic’ worth, and how much I’m willing to sacrifice for my career.

When I was 15 years old I started working, and making my own money, as a ‘new face’ back in my hometown, Stockholm. The phrase is industry lingo and refers to all the youngsters who, each year, take a first step (or stumble) into the modelling industry. You know, that glorious world of champagne breakfasts, luxury traveling, tastefully nude black-and-white pictures of avatars leisurely posing with lion cubs in Vogue etc.? Money should be pouring in from day one, no? … Not really.

Don’t get me wrong. The money was there, and some of the jobs I did during that first year as a model payed for things I could have never before dreamt of doing. At that age and time, for example, being able to treat not just myself - but friends and family - to a movie or dinner out, with money that I’d made, was brilliant.


Vogue/Bvlgari 2.0

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But everything comes with a price. For instance, choosing work over social stuff, I had to let go of that familiar #FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) that haunts most teens pretty quickly – the 'opportunity cost' of having a career so young. My life quickly turned into a constant balancing act in which agents, friends, teachers and family all had to be kept up to date with how I’d chosen to structure my weeks. I no longer 'spent' time, I gave it.

Still, I knew that (a) I was fortunate enough to get a good amount of modelling jobs on a regular basis, and (b) that I could – albeit at the price of social sacrifice and the occasional let-down – use my job to build up economic stability.

So I decided to set up some goals. And some rules.

As a model, your body is your business. Your looks and personality become your 'Unique Selling Point – so keeping healthy is crucial.

Up until that point, questions of what it really meant to be healthy, and whether it was possible in line with the hip/waist/bust measurements that my job (supposedly) required, were things I’d never thought about. Being brought up as a Scandi kid, no-one ever really spoke about health in relation to specific body measurements.

Unfortunately, a 'healthy model’ - regardless how you/I/we feel about it - will still, ultimately, have to be somewhere between the sizes of 0 (32) and 6 (36) in order to be classified as a model in the first place.

I realized that the only way for me to keep sane and professional would be to distance my own conception of health from what the industry expected – drawing the line at the extent to which I'd allow the industry to determine my self-worth. The economics of being a model isn't just about the money – it's about your body, and I had to see to my non-model-self first.

Secondly, although some models see a full-time career in front of the camera or on the runway as their goals, others don’t. In my case, I have to admit that although my job can sometimes feel like a dream, it was never my dream to model. If it were to become a long-term occupation, I'd have to assess the sacrifices I'd have to make to my entire lifestyle – and whether the career was worth the cost.



Again, I was back at the sacrifices vs. gains board. Models never ‘clock off’. Your most valuable currency as a freelancer is availability. Even at 15, reconciling this with the other goals I didn’t want to let go of– university, and travel – was only possible by thinking of my modelling career as a stepping stone towards them, providing me with the funds I needed to make them happen. Defining what it is to be a successful model is hard, especially as it often gets muddled up with concepts of wealth or fame or visibility; giving myself a sense of direction helped me clarify what – to me – would count as success.

It took me a good few years of unpaid jobs, sleepless weeks of work, flight-studying and homesickness to eventually get there. The ‘money clients’, I was taught,  won’t call until they’ve seen your face in a sufficient amount of prestigious, non-paying editorials (i.e. magazines).

Then again, thanks to my job I know how to declare taxes in seven different countries, met some of my best friends, and managed to build up the courage and funds to pursue the two main goals I set out as a teenager. And although the fashion industry as such doesn’t necessarily give a damn about these things - “the show must go on” pretty much sums up the vibe – I know the fantastic people I’ve met in it, do.


And so I'm off to London; fish, chips and university awaits!

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I still need to remind myself to see to my own health, before adhering to any demands from work. And I still worry about missing lectures over jobs, and vice–versa. But I am lucky enough to call the industry that gave me a chance to grow tall enough to reach those initial goals of mine, a home away from home.


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