Oliver baby

My model baby

Last year a few of my film industry colleagues commented that Baby O was rather pretty and maybe I should consider him modelling. They reasoned it would get me out a bit and any money could go into his savings account for the future. Or  even pay the rent.  Just Kidding.

I thought there wasn’t any harm in having a go so I emailed his picture to a major modelling agency and they seemed to like him. They soon scheduled in a test shoot to see if he was happy in front of the camera but before we’d even had the chance to attend, a casting came up and he was called in to test for a photo shoot for one of the market leaders’ swimming nappies.

If successful he would appear on their packaging internationally. I thought this would be a great way to assess whether O would enjoy modelling without the pressure of agency test shoots and joining fees as this would be a one off job where the agency would receive their cut irrespective of us joining them or not.

As we trotted off to the casting, the husband and I were consumed with a heady mix of excitement and pride.  We quickly  joined a queue of other ‘professional’ baby models and were relieved to find the horror stories we’d heard about pushy mothers and tantrumming toddlers were nowhere to be seen.

We were well looked after with areas for nursing mothers and drinks all round. The waiting time was brief and Baby O only had to sit for a few minutes as his picture was taken. The brief was a happy, smiling baby who loves water. Tick, tick and tick.

The photographer was a little arrogant and annoying, the kind of man if cast in a movie as himself, would be unconvincing and hammy. Barks of: ” Right Mum, over there Mum, no this way Mum, make him laugh Mum, great job Mum”.

I bit my tongue (many times) and hubby reasoned there were in fact a lot of ‘Mums’ there so I couldn’t possibly expect him to remember my name. ‘Mum’ is usually an empowering word but from him, it sounded insulting, derogative somehow. Maybe I was being too sensitive.

So off I went smiling and gently drawing out my baby’s performance. I was directing my child. Was this even right? I put my concerns to the back of my head. O was having great fun after all and all my friends had seemed so excited when I said he was doing a casting.

Furthermore, the day went well and to be honest, there were babies there who looked like mini George Clooneys’ and Angelinas’ so I wasn’t sure whether our little one, however cute, would make it through anyway.  A week later the call came in.  He’d got the job, Baby O had made it to final shoot. My baby was to appear on the packaging of swimming nappies at supermarkets the world over.

Well maybe, if the shoot went well. He still had the beat the other handful of finalists…. I was quickly turning into those Mums you read about and frown upon, those weirdly over excited mothers vicariously living out their unrealised dreams through their kids. Yes those Mums. I pushed that thought to the back of my head. I was getting good at that.

…We arrived at the famous Pinewood studios for the shoot, too excited for words. I’d been here for a meeting years before but Baby O was here for his own shoot. Hubby joked O had beaten me to Pinewood. It was true and I was proud. Once inside, we suddenly realised there were actually another 6 chosen models too (the agency failed to tell us this and said there might be a few more). A few!

It made sense though-that way the client had several babies to choose from and of course one baby, however beautiful might not perform on the day. I thought there might be 2 or 3 others but here he was, up against 6 other babies. 6. That’s a whole lot of pretty babies. Down pushy mum. Down.

Reluctantly they showed us to a baby pool situated next to the biggest pool I’d ever set my eyes upon. Worse still I had to don a swimming costume and get in with O. No easy thing with a hired size zero model posing as his ‘so called’ mother, well her hands at least- and me, in a body I didn’t recognise as my own, all rolls and no waist and thighs that had seen bettter days (years even)!

I entered with trepidation, the quicker I’m in I reasoned, the quicker no one sees me quivering in my cossie.  The model held Baby O in the water in his swimming nappy and my job as usual began making O laugh and smile.  Really not hard to achieve as he is one happy baby who loves nothing more than to laugh at his Mama. Hard-no, tiring yes and this time, in the water, under the bright lights I felt quesy, uncomfortable, even.

I didn’t feel like this at the test shoot. How did we get here? My baby is 5 months old (at the time), he shouldn’t be working.  What was I doing? Despite my overwhelming guilt, O had fun, he laughed the whole way through but what really got to me, was O thought he was enjoying a day out in a pool playing with Mummy, not having his photo taken for a job. He didn’t know what was going on, but I did.

I knew there was a flashing camera going off at every smile and chuckle. I knew I was manipulating him to laugh this way, to turn his head that way. But what could I do, the hammy photographer was barking orders. I couldn’t stop the shoot half way though although I wanted to. Could I?

I didn’t care O was being paid, once the agency took their mammoth 30%  cut, even if I did care, it was not a lot of money and certainly very little to pay a baby for his time. He was in the water for 15 minutes over a two hour period and was paid for 2 hours work as that’s how long the shoot took with waiting time/breaks/sleeps etc…I mean I couldn’t walk out, I felt bad about the crew, the agency, as a pro filmmaker I hate wasting people’s time… but the real reason, the real thing which held me back was confidence and  my sheer lack of it.

I wasn’t confident enough to walk out. I was in a maternity swimming costume in a huge studio, feeling fat and vulnerable.  Hubby was preoccupied that the James Bond underwater stunts had taken place in the massive pool beside us and I wanted to cry. Baby O got a clap at the end of his shoot and as everyone patted me on the back for having a model baby yet I felt more depressed than ever. After the shoot, we walked around the quintessentially British Pinewood gardens whiles O slept soundly in his pram. Right there,  I decided he wouldn’t model again. Not as a baby, anyway. When he’s old enough to decide, fine.

Of course, if he made it on the packaging from the final five, so be it, the contract had been signed before the shoot and the job had been completed.

So what do you think? Is baby modelling exploitative or a good way to make money for your child’s future? If the baby or child enjoy the shoots, is it really so bad? We tried it, got the swimming nappy to prove it and won’t be doing it again anytime soon….

Photograph ©Peter Broadbent.

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14 Responses

  1. Metropolitan Mum

    I used to work as a model (about 100 years ago). There’s no way I would put my daughter through any of that. Yes, some children might perceive this kind of work as fun, but I think it focusses on the wrong kind of values and ideas when children grow up.

  2. Sharcasm

    Great post V. I understand the dilemma because you don’t want to seem like you are exploiting O. The main thing is that he was enjoying himself so it’s definitely no harm done. You could still pursue it once in a while, and now that you have the experience you know what to go for and what not. Shame the experience at Pinewood was not completely positive but hopefully if you do another shoot it will go smoothly. x

  3. Kiki

    It sounded like a worthwhile experience Vee. Any kind of casting is hard, but I seriously think this was harder on you than on baby O. And if he was having fun, then no harm done. But like mentioned, it proved to be a worthwhile experience. You now know how it is to be on the other side of the camera in a way, and you got to figure out first hand if this is something you want to pursue for O or not. I always say, ‘don’t knock it until you try it’ -and that’s what you did, and I think even if it was a tough experience, it is still something that you learnt more about yourself through. And anything that you learn from is knowledge, and that’s never a waste 🙂
    So well written! Can’t wait to read more!

    • honestmum

      Thank you K, I totally agree, you have to try these things to know if they are for you. So glad you are enjoying my posts. Thank you for all your amazing support x

  4. VS-T

    Well, it’s a dilemma.

    Fact of the matter is that for a corporation selling product, you’re going to have to have the appropriate ‘subject’ to sell the ‘lifestyle’. So for child related products they’re always going to need to have baby/child models.

    But as you’ve found out… you have no control once you’re on the set. It all comes down to what the photographer and the corporation need. Some photographers are really good about it, but some have been doing it for so long that they can’t help but be brusque. They have a brief to fulfill, and by God, they’re going to meet it because their wife and kids depend on that paycheque and their reputation in the cut-throat business is cemented on being someone who can deliver what the client needs on a deadline.

    That is just the way it is.

    It’s a hard business. If you need to have the skin of a rhino to be in it as an adult model… you have to have an exterior made of granite if you’re chaperoning your baby/child and watching them being treated like the product the rest of the world will see.

    To any mother, their baby is the most beautiful baby in the world. Unique, special, and very much loved and appreciated for the tiny person that they are.

    To a corporation/advertising agency… it’s just another ‘pretty baby’. There’s loads more out there.

    If you can reconcile those two diametrically opposed points of view and be totally ok with it (and be really honest with yourself) and if the child is having fun, then I suppose it’s all right to put a baby/child into modelling.

    If you can’t… don’t do it.

    • admin

      Thanks V, great points and you have first hand experience modelling yourself. I do agree with you and totally understand where the photographer was coming from, that’s his job and he had lots of babies to get through-I suppose you can’t help taking it personally when it’s your own baby there and my biggest angst was feeling like I was kidding my child, he thought we were having fun, and actually he was working.

  5. Amancay Tapia

    Loving your blog Vicki!, and sorry to hear you felt this way on the Pinewood day, some directors believe they are so cool by being patronizing and bossy… hardly did he know you are a hell of a writer/director with loving and friendly skills not only to your family but to your friends and the people you work with. Rock on girl!

  6. Anita

    Congratulations Vicki. I loved the story. I don’t think it’s exploitative if the baby is enjoying it.

  7. Zena

    Looking forward to reading this blog. I love it already. Those baby feet are too cute!!! I want to bite them! Here I go again….I’m so excited for you. LOL Zxx


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