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Kate Upton seems to be on (or in) every other fashion magazine these days.  And while her womanly curves and bubble blonde Barbie doll looks may be redefining what a fashion model is supposed to look like, her 5’10” tall frame definitely conforms to the old, tried and true modeling standards.

We use the term “agency standard” to describe what many think of as  the traditional model:  tall and thin and walking a runway.  And while the requirement may vary from one agency or city to the next, generally there is a minimum of 5’7” to 5’8”  in height for women.  Models under that height are considered “petite” and with that label  there often comes a certain stigma or set of limitations.

It is a paradox  that our  industry favors height when the average American woman (translation: wardrobe buyer) stands less than 5’5” tall.  But this is not unexpected, given that fashion and beauty idolize highly unrealistic ideals and expectations.  The height of the models seems to stretch in proportion to the price of the product or the lavishness of the look.

Shorter stature may be a speed bump on the road to modeling success, but it is not an insurmountable barrier.  Yes, the upper ranks of high fashion continue to be mostly off limits.  We encourage all petites out there to (gracefully) keep fighting the good fight and insert themselves into fashion every way possible.  Those barriers WILL come down over time.  But in the interim, focus on realistic goals and career building, and keep moving forward.

There are plenty of opportunities out there for petite models, if you know where to look and keep looking… even in the fashion industry.  Usually, the work is nowhere near as glamorous as a cover for Vogue or a New York Fashion Week runway walk.  But these are the same issues all models face daily, regardless of height.  Catalog fashion, trunk shows, look books, parts and fit modeling  –  all of these pay or result in publications, and height requirements are not as strict.  It’s entirely possible that you may need to travel to larger markets to book work, unless you happen to live in New York or Los Angeles.

On the glamour side of the industry, there seems to be little to no  barriers for petites.  Never have I heard a model complain she was rejected for any men’s magazine based on her height.   For Playboy, the average Playmate stands 5’6” or less.  This is not to say you need to get naked to succeed as a petite model.  But rather, there are plenty of options out there and whether you choose to take advantage of those opportunities is a personal decision.

Smaller agencies specializing in commercial print work, lifestyle and promotions are your best.  They are more likely to accept models of shorter stature, especially if you have proven yourself with a history of freelance modeling.  Sometimes this means booking paid shoots with amateur photographers, designers or beauty professionals who may not add  much value to your portfolio.  But the longer your resume becomes with freelance work, the more desirable you appear to agencies and clients.

When dealing with modeling agencies, keep in mind that rejection is a normal part of the process, especially at first.  The reasons for rejection may not always be as obvious as they seem:  sometimes agencies use height as a convenient excuse to politely dismiss a model who doesn’t interest them.  And sometimes they just need to meet the expectations of their paying clients who request  5’7” or taller.

The issue of height can be a self-imposed limitation as well.  Many models label themselves as “short” and approach modeling with the attitude that they can never succeed because of their height.  Some claim prejudice against petites as the basis for rejection when there are other, bigger issues holding them back.  Lack of experience or a quality portfolio, a bad reputation, body and skin issues… these are factors that can lead to rejection no matter one’s look or height.  Rarely do clients or agencies have time to spell out exactly WHY you have been passed over.  But if you are facing constant rejection, it’s time for a little honest self-assessment and to solicit feedback from unbiased industry professionals.  You may be simply overlooking something that is obvious to others.

From personal experience and having observed so many model’s career, I’ve learned the best attribute a model can possess is not a specific height, weight or look.  It is her personality and professionalism that makes or breaks her, every time.