Baby Modelling. Would you want your child to model?
Like all new mums, I was bowled over by my baby son's gorgeousness. His big green eyes, rosebud lips and little snub nose reduced me to drooling mush every time I looked at him. I was certain no other baby was quite as beautiful. In fact, so convinced was I of my son's fabulousness, I felt the need to share it with a wider audience.
"I'm going to sign him up with a baby modelling agency," I told his dad one morning.
Choking slightly on his cornflakes, Andy looked aghast. "Baby modelling?" he said, "How can a baby model?"
I grabbed the catalogue I'd been poring over – comparing each and every gummy grin with my own infant's – and thrust it under Andy nose.
"He'd just have to sit there and play with toys or look cute in a pram," I said.
"Erm, great," he replied, "But he can't even sit up yet."
This was true. William was just ten weeks old, but he was sure packing in the cuteness - everywhere we went, people would comment on his huge eyes, chubby cheeks and mop of blonde hair.
I did some research and discovered baby modelling was big business. Dubious looking adverts in my local paper called out for 'babies and children' for 'TV and catalogue work', and websites promised lucrative jobs for children of 'all shapes and sizes'. I knew someone who had been stung by a dodgy agency, paying out hundreds of pounds for a ropey portfolio and promises of work which never materialised, so I was careful to do my homework.
I took some snaps and sent them off to one of the most respected agents in the business, and we were called in for an interview.
William, I was told, had all the right qualities to succeed – big eyes, wide smile, and, most importantly he looked like a baby. Which, apparently, a lot of babies don't. I was on cloud nine; it was official. My baby was gorgeous.
We were soon sent to our first casting. Being a new mum, getting anywhere before midday was a struggle. So getting to the other side of London for 9am was not going to be easy. With William strapped to my chest in a baby-carrier, I battled with rush-hour commuters in an airless tube carriage. William became red faced and angry, and so did I. He screamed his head off for the entire journey, and it took all my resolve not to do the same.
Once at the casting - in an old warehouse in the East End - he had calmed down. Unfortunately the other 50 shrieking babies in the stuffy room had not.
For the first time auditionee, the casting proved quite an eye-opener. William was dressed, as the agency advised, in a plain babygro. Around us, there were designer labels, newborns sporting the latest trainers, and a plethora of bald baby girls topped with elaborate Alice bands.
After two hours of waiting, and with the start of shriek induced tinnitus, William and I were ushered into another room.
Here, he was held by various people, made to smile and had a head-shot taken. All in approximately 60 seconds. "We'll let you know," we were told, and shown the door.
That was it. Two hours waiting for a minute's appraisal.
But William obviously had what it took – we got a call saying he'd got the job – he was booked for two days work for a catalogue shoot.
Full of excitement we drove from our Surrey home to the studio in decidedly unglamorous Basildon. There were three other babies on the shoot, and the mums were old hands.
"Scarlett has been modelling since she was a newborn," one of them told me, nodding towards a screeching toddler running amok around the studio. "But this is Daisy's first shoot." On her knee was a smiley baby, resplendent in a frilly dress, lacy tights and the obligatory headband.
But it was mum who was stealing the show; for if Daisy's ridiculous headband was a talking point, then mum's leopard print chiffon mini-dress was a conversation stopper. In fact, I was convinced it was a nightie. Albeit one teamed with towering platform shoes, Jordan-esque make up and an alarming tangle of back combed hair. I suddenly felt woefully inadequate in my breastfeeding top and jeans.
As the veteran model-mums huddled together over their kids' portfolios (making all the right noises despite barely concealing their fury at the good shots and smugness at the bad) William was called on set. After having his face wiped, a dot of moisturiser put on his crusty bits, and being thoroughly checked from all angles for bogies, he was handed to his new 'mummy' for the photos. This 'mum' was a reed thin Australian girl of about 18 who greeted me with a reassuring "I'm rubbish with babies! I'm always convinced I'll drop them!"
Lone shots of William in a car seat or playing with a toy I could cope with, but I hated every second of him posing with a screen 'mother'. As he happily snuggled up to her for the shots I wanted to rip him from her arms and hotfoot it out of the building. This I hadn't bargained on: there's something just not right about seeing someone else playing 'mummy' to your child.
I had mixed emotions after that first shoot; whether it was morally right to be sending a baby out to 'work'; whether I could be bothered with the endless travelling to castings, hours in studios, and, indeed the company of the other mums, most of whom seemed to be living vicariously through their children.
After just a few weeks with the agency William had landed several jobs and the money started coming in. Lovely as it was to pay those fat cheques into his account, I still didn't feel quite 'right' about it. He worked until he was two, when I decided enough was enough – he was old enough to know what was going on, and would only play ball if he felt like it. Retirement beckoned.
William is seven now, and I've gone from being somewhat embarrassed at having pimped him out for cash, to having a re-think. Enough time has passed to make me forget how awful aspects of it were, and it's very tempting to give it another go. Especially as, obviously, I have the most beautiful seven-year-old in the world...
Have you ever thought about getting your children in to modelling?
Or is your child a model already?
Do you think it's a bit of fun or exploitative?