Camera flashes light up the small Manhattan apartment. A rush of cold air sweeps through freshman Karly McNeil’s hair as she tries to make falling onto a zebra-print couch look graceful. Landing on her back, she closes her eyes and hopes that maybe this time she got it right.
Before she can move, her face is being splashed with water.
You look like a drag queen. Take that makeup off.
She does what the photographer says. Then it’s back to the couch. She feels completely lost. All the do’s that she thought she knew are now dont’s.
Don’t model! Don’t try to look pretty! Don’t try to pose!
She had always wanted to be the person in front of the camera; but, now that she finally was, she didn’t feel like it was meant to be.
Go back one year, and McNeil was a typical eighth-grader at Indian Hills Middle School, with no photo shoots or runway events clogging up her schedule. The removal of her braces and overcoming of her “middle school awkwardness” towards the end of the year allowed her to go out and begin her journey in the world of modeling.
As a child, McNeil had always been intrigued with modeling, but it was never something that she thought would become a reality. Then a family friend who worked at “Exposure Model and Talent” recommended she come in and see what the agency thought of her look, and after one meeting, the agency signed her as a model.
From the get-go, she was being booked for photo shoots and go-sees. Having never done any type of modeling before, McNeil taught herself how to pose and learned about control from looking at her shots.
“At first it was really hard trying to push myself to go outside of my boundaries, and let myself know that it was OK to make mistakes,” McNeil said. “The first couple things I did I was really unsure of what was OK and what wasn’t, but eventually I just had to let go.”
McNeil started off her modeling career in August with a trip to New York City. As she stepped out of the taxi for the first time, it hit her—the crowded sidewalks and mile-high buildings, the cacophony of car horns and street music, the aroma of smog and warm pretzels. This was “her place,” as she put it. This was where she belonged.
The trip was a four-day marathon of test photo shoots for different photographers and meetings with casting agents. Exposure arranged meetings for her with many well-known agencies, including Abercrombie and Fitch and Teen Vogue, but her favorite part of the trip was her meeting with Seventeen Magazine.
“It blew my mind, because I had no idea that any of it was going to happen,” McNeil said. “I walked up to the doors of Seventeen, and my eyes started fluttering. I remember thinking ‘What is going on?’”
Four days flew by and before she knew it, she was looking back at the city she loved as it grew smaller and smaller through her airplane window. She thought about the photo shoots that she posed for hours in front of a camera for, and the pressure that came with every possible opportunity. In her hand she held a stack of prints from the various shoots that she had done. The Karly in the pictures could have easily passed as 25, with her bold red lips and copious amounts of eye shadow. But the thing that she loves so much about modeling is the fact that she can still be a freshman in high school while pursuing it.
Through her initial modeling experiences, McNeil has come to realize that although she loves posing for the camera, she enjoys being a typical freshman girl even more.
She has been an avid piano player since she started playing at the age of four. She has also been in a Frequent Friday, and got a role in both A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the musical revue.
“I feel like modeling is really fun, but not necessarily my passion,” McNeil said. “Music is and will always be what I love to do.”
As for the future, McNeil wants to keep modeling as a side job, but her reason for modeling is more about having fun and less about succeeding in the industry. She plans to use it as a way to pay for college and see where it takes her. Her main goal is to get a good education and have a career to fall back on in the future.
For now, McNeil is just enjoying her experiences and taking advantage of all the opportunities that modeling has given her. Although the Karly in the pictures looks like an adult, she still feels like a child and wants to act as such.
“I’ve learned to be positive about myself, and never take myself too seriously,” McNeil said. “Because there’s some models who try so hard, but they are miserable. You can still goof off and have a good time, and that’s why I love it.”