Models are Becoming Today’s Best Business-Women

$1.7 million. That’s how much Alexis Ren, a 21-year old model on Instagram made in one year.

An industry that got its start in glossy magazines, editorial spreads, and on the catwalks during frenetic fashion weeks, modeling has found a new home on Instagram.

The popular social media platform has proven to be a tool not just for showcasing a modeling portfolio, but a hub of business for Ren and her peers. Through monetization, brand deals, and company sponsorships, these young women are proving that they are far more than just beauty: they are forward thinking, savvy businesswomen.

Despite this evolution, most people are unable to see past the label of Instagram or Insta-model. Emily Sears, who boasts 4.6 million followers on her profile that feature countless shots of her dazzling modeling career, explained in an interview that she finds the usage of “Instagram model” demeaning and that it minimizes the work she puts into her profile. Instead Sears and many other models prefer “social media influencer” or “personality” as it more wholly represents the work pu

The lifestyle of social media influencers is as important as their modeling portraits. Models’ Instagrams feature shots in private jets over the volcanoes of Hawaii, in romantic cabanas with their stunning boyfriends in Bora Bora, or munching on sushi at a Noho restaurant which costs more than the iPhone used to snap a picture of it. But to what extent is this a reflection of their reality?

Sears explains that the glitzy lifestyle her and her fellow influencers present actually necessitates strenuous marketing. The influencers reach out to innumerable companies a day and must convince them that their profiles’ brands and follower demographics are on par with the companies’. Sears jokes that companies reject her around 98% of the time, while her followers only glimpse the glamorous 2% of the deals.

While successful influencers face career obstacles, like Sear’s companies rebuffals, for the Instagram influencers that do not boast millions of followers, this lavish lifestyle is even more arduous to attain, if not disastrous.

Twenty-seven-year-old Lissette Calveiro moved to New York City in 2013 for an internship with the hopes of displaying her Sex and the City-esque life all over Instagram. Instead she landed herself in over $100,00 of debt from “never-ending brunches, expensive outfits and travel, all [of which] was strictly for Instagram.”

Calveiro’s profile slowly gained a following, but not enough to support such a costly lifestyle. Eventually, she moved back to her home state of Florida, working in a demanding, full-time publicist job, and has been forced to develop ultra-strict spending habits — all to pay back her debt.

Even successful influencers face issues from maintaining their profile’s appeal. Ren, known for her slinky body exhibited in her many, many bikini photos, announced over a year ago that she had suffered from a debilitating eating disorder for most of her modeling career on Instagram. Ren also faced a highly publicized break up with her boyfriend Jay Alvarrez, a fellow Instagram model who has about 6 million followers. Ren explained that much of their relationship had been performative for their millions of followers and shippers — fangirl/boys with a strong affinity, or some of whom may call an obsession, with a fictional or real-life couple.

One may wonder, with all the struggles of balancing modeling and marketing on Instagram, is it really worth it? Through the influencers canny tactics, modeling via Instagram has proven its potential to be incredibly lucrative and sustainable.

Some Instagram models have launched product enterprises, like Danielle Bernstein’s fashion line We Wore What, or make-up artist Huda Kattan who, with a casual 27.7 million followers, launched a wildly successful line of Huda Beauty products.

And it is not just models jumping aboard the Instagram train. Leaving her high profile job at NEXT Model Management, talent agent Jennifer Powell has transitioned full time to Instagram. Powell explains the scope of work required of successful influencers including “holding meet and greets, entering licensing deals for capsule collections, being the face of a campaign video, appearing at events… and so on.”

Even when it comes to just the photos that the influencer’s post, the work is extensive. Powell scoffs at the misconception that “influencers are snapping pictures on their iPhones as they go about their day and throwing them up online whenever they feel like it.” Instead Powell’s clients “agonize over the content they create,” creating mood boards and dedicating days to meticulous planning.

Consider the next time you are scrolling on your popular feed and you see a beautiful young woman striking a pose for the camera, liking the image should not be just for the satisfying aesthetics of the picture, but for the rigorous business production that has generated it.

An image from Emily Sear’s Instagram with almost 25,000 likes.