Interview with model and ED educator, LENNIE (Part One)
Back in July, we met up with renowned model and eating disorder educator, L E N N I E, for an informal photoshoot and conversation in a tranquil woodland setting over in Camberley, Surrey. In part one of our write-up, we’re focusing on Lennie’s experiences in the modelling world, and talking about how she first got started, the challenges she’s faced, the toxic nature of the industry, her advice to those interested in pursuing this career, and more!
In an effort to make the most of the favourable summer weather, when Lennie reached out and volunteered to take part in an interview and photoshoot with us, we decided to venture into the great outdoors – ultimately opting for a casual stroll and conversation in a relatively lush woodland setting over in Camberley.
The quiet and spacious surrounds were the perfect environment for us to have a laid-back conversation, and the serene setting provided the opportunity for Lennie to reflect not only on her modelling career thus far, but also on some of her eating disorder experiences, which – as you can imagine – have had a significant impact on not only her livelihood, but on her private life away from the spotlight too.
This week, we’re focusing primarily on Lennie’s modelling work; but next week, in part two, we’ll be turning our attention more closely to her experiences with eating disorders, along with details on why greater education is needed to help avoid people falling prey to these debilitating illnesses. Lennie also explains how you might be able to spot someone suffering from a disorder and details the ways in which you could potentially help someone or intervene.
For now, we’re picking up the conversation whilst strolling through the woodland, shortly after taking our first set of photos and in search of our next location. This was Lennie’s first photoshoot back after a fairly long hiatus, and it was a pleasure being able to document the model’s career thus far whilst adding a brand new set of images to complement the story. Lennie was great company and provided so much excellent insight (not to mention some really great photos), so we hope you enjoy this special review that we’ve pieced together!
Britain Uncovered: So Lennie, you mentioned that you’ve been modelling since you were four years old?
Lennie: Yeah, so around about four.
Britain Uncovered: That’s early!
Lennie: Very early! So actually I fell into it. And when I say I’ve been modelling from four, there was a massive gap in-between four and when I was about 17 years old. It started when my Mum was shopping one day in a supermarket, and there was one of those ‘try before you buy’ stands. They were a tomato brand and had a camera there, and they said to my Mum, “Can we give her a tomato and take a couple of pictures of her eating it”? So naturally she said yes. They ended up sending her the photos and giving her some money because they actually published them, so my Mum thought, “Could probably make some money out of this child”!
I was also in Tesco magazine a couple of times when I was younger, but then it just fizzled out. I was always interested in modelling though, especially as a young teenager – most girls are, you want to be a singer, or model, or dancer, whatever – so I just started chasing my dream. I was trying to get signed by agencies and I realised how tough it was. And then I got involved in a show called Top Model.
Britain Uncovered: Was this the catwalk event you were involved in back in 2015?
Lennie: Yes! Not to be confused with Britain’s Next Top Model (it’s just called Top Model!), it’s a competition where you apply, they select some girls, put you in different categories, and essentially you do a catwalk at the end of all this training after about half a year. And you get various judges, people within the industry – with or without connections – who will decide who they think should win that category.
From then, they will take you on holiday and do a promo shoot for the company for the next year and the next contestants.
Britain Uncovered: Sounds nice – and all expenses paid?
Lennie: Yes, of course. And a lot of the girls and guys who have won it have gone on to have very successful careers – and even people that haven’t won, like me, have ended up going freelance. But being in it does help. It gives you a step up in the world and teaches you a lot.
A lot of people I think thought it might have been a scam, which is rife in the world at the minute. When you’ve got someone that’s starting out, they’ll get a studio say, “Oh, come and pay a grand and we’ll give you some photos.” I have to say to them, “That’s not an agency my love, they’re not going to represent you and you won’t get work. They’re just giving you photos.” It’s preying on hopes and dreams, which is awful. So I was quite lucky actually, because I didn’t fall under that category.
Britain Uncovered: So once the Top Model competition was over, what were your next steps, and how did you end up taking part in so many interesting photoshoots in the time since?
Lennie: Since then, I’ve just been doing freelance work, but it really, really took off about three or four years ago – all thanks to Instagram and networking on social media. I got contacted by a few photographers that I had wanted to work for for ages, and the rest is history. I just carried on shooting and then unfortunately Covid hit, so everything took a back seat for a year, but here we are now!
Britain Uncovered: Here we are now, post-lockdown and back at it! Before we officially started the interview, you mentioned that you had some eating disorder challenges over the years. How has that affected whether or not you wanted to model – and when you did start modelling again at 17, was that a big factor in your decision?
Lennie: Oh, massively. I’ve always been a pretty petite person anyhow, and have never really been big. My family are very big on health, so we weren’t really kids that had lots of sweets and things like that. We were always doing extra-curricular activities, as they loved us to be sporty and outdoorsy. That was always instilled to us from a very young age.
However, when I tried to get signed prior to being on Top Model and things like that, it became abundantly clear that I didn’t ‘fit the category’. So being 5’6 and weighing about seven stone (which is very, very small – but I was young), a couple of agencies brought me in for test shoots and I had an amazing time; but nine times out of ten I’d be told, “Look, you’re perfect, but if you just weighed five pounds less.”
But if I just weighed five pounds less, I’d be seriously ill – and that is where it all started. That’s where the self-loathing and trying to skip meals started, and eventually I was really bad at not being able to eat. So I found out that actually you could eat and then be sick, and that was easier. And so in a sense, I wanted to have that eating disorder, because I was so desperate to fit in and be signed that I didn’t even consider the mental or physical damage. To the point where I thought I didn’t have an eating disorder because it wasn’t working; to then years later finding out that actually, I was really, really anorexic. And you just don’t realise, it sort of grabs hold of you.
And no, it’s not entirely the modelling industry’s fault, but they definitely perpetuate the culture.
Britain Uncovered: And do you think they’re giving that weight-loss advice to most people who come through their doors?
Lennie: Oh, absolutely. I’m 28 now, so this was over 10 years ago and I’m sure things have changed. But to say that to a young adolescent girl that’s just hit puberty – when things are growing, things are changing, and emotions are all over the place – there’s just no accountability or responsibility, and I think the agencies should be held accountable.
It’s just become such a normalised idea to have this ‘one size fits all’ body type, and that’s never going to happen or work. But it’s been like that for such a long time, way before I even wanted to get into modelling. I’ve always been bombarded with images of women who are 5’7 and above, stick thin, and gorgeous.
Britain Uncovered: So now here we are, years later after that advice you were given, and you’ve almost made your own way back into modelling on your terms. After the first few shoots you took part in, did you end up finding them quite empowering? And did participation also help you to overcome some of your body image issues to an extent?
Lennie: Absolutely. Initially, as most people are, I was very nervous on shoots, and very worried about how I looked and how I would appear in pictures. I was very paranoid and very worried, so much so that I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing. I was just so worried about the outcome and that’s all I could think about.
So once I started to get a bit better – and actually, I was still very small at the time – I decided I wanted to do a topless shoot. I had always wanted to do a topless shoot; moreso implied, so that you wouldn’t be able to see anything, but I wanted to do it anyway. And I was really scared, and I put it off for years and years, and when I finally did it, I felt more comfortable with my clothes off than I did with my clothes on in front of a camera. I found it less demanding being completely naked. I don’t know if that’s because it’s less restrictive, or if it’s because I know my body. But I’m not trying to make clothes look good. It’s just me.
Britain Uncovered: And you have to accept yourself like that, as Jess was telling us in our interview a few weeks back – you just kind of have to go with it and embrace yourself as you are.
Lennie: You just get to the point where you think, “Well this is me.” I enjoy what I do and most of the work that comes out of it I love and I’m proud of, and other people like it. So I think you learn to not just accept yourself, but to start being really comfortable with yourself as well – which I think a lot of people can’t and don’t understand. But it’s sort of liberating in a way. The minute that my clothes were off, and I had photos taken and I thought, “I can’t hide behind anything. It doesn’t really matter how I pose, because it’s my body and this is how I look.”
Britain Uncovered: It’s more the act of doing it, isn’t it, rather than the end result?
Lennie: Yes, exactly.
Britain Uncovered: And that’s the opposite of how it was for you at the start of your modelling career by the sounds of it, when it was previously all about the final image.
Lennie: Yes, it was about the final outcome and how I looked – and not even so much selling the product that they wanted me to advertise. It was more, “Do I look okay” and, “Am I going to be mortified if anybody sees that photo”. And that’s not what modelling is about.
Britain Uncovered: Especially if you’re doing it “for fun”.
Lennie: Exactly. It’s supposed to be a happy and positive thing, not something you obsess over and turn into a negative thing in which you constantly second-guess yourself.
Britain Uncovered: What advice would you give to aspiring models who are looking to get into the industry?
Lennie: Just be yourself, that’s the most important thing. My biggest piece of advice for anyone getting into modelling, especially freelance, is be yourself, always be polite, and always be kind. Modelling works on recommendations, it’s not just how you look in a picture. You can take an amazing photo but if you’re essentially an arsehole, nobody is going to want to work with you. And the modelling community, even though it’s big, they’re very close-knit. So if you piss off one photographer, they might not necessarily blacklist you, but if they know you’re working with another photographer they know, they will say, “That girl’s not very nice”. In the age of social media too, it’s impossible to get away from it.
And it’s not so much advice saying “Be fake and pretend to be someone you’re not”, absolutely not; if you’re in a situation that calls for you to be an arsehole, by all means, I’m probably the first person to tell you to do that. I hold my own, but within reason. It’s a job. Yes, it’s a fun job and a lot of people look at it as a hobby, but you have to remember that this is people’s livelihoods. So although you might want these pictures just for fun, for the photographer taking them, this is work, and you need to be respectful of that the same way they need to be respectful of you.
Britain Uncovered: Now that lockdown restrictions have eased, have you got more shoots on the horizon for the remainder of the year?
Lennie: Oh, absolutely! I think this is a new-found liberating freedom of not being anorexic and body dysmorphic – so I think now I’m probably going to start saying yes to everybody. So definitely more on the horizon, 100 percent. I’d like to get a bit healthier with regards to being in shape, more for my own mental health rather than how I appear. Being healthy effects everybody, but I don’t think people really take into account how being healthy also helps your mind.
Britain Uncovered: I think so, and that’s one of our main philosophies and beliefs here on the site. Embracing yourself physically can lead to mental health benefits, and once people have been modelling or even experienced being naked in public (including at events like Sophie Tea’s catwalk), that will give people confidence that they can take with them outside of that specific remit to use in everyday life.
Lennie: Yes, and a lot of people don’t realise that. I get some people who say to me, “Oh, why you do nude model, does it not embarrass you”? And I’m like, “Actually, it’s the exact opposite”. I could walk down a London high street naked if I wanted to. I’d be very aware that people are looking at me, and it might be a little bit embarrassing, but I wouldn’t stop. It doesn’t make me uncomfortable. Embarrassment and being uncomfortable, to me, are completely different things, and I think people confuse them. But no, I don’t find it uncomfortable at all.
I’m still learning to embrace myself. I’m a different person now to who I was last year, especially in terms of body size, and every day is a learning curve. But the more I do things like this photoshoot today, ultimately, the happier I will be. There’s no way it can negatively impact me.
Britain Uncovered: And how did you find this today? This was your first photoshoot in quite some time, and I know you were a little hesitant at the start of the day.
Lennie: I loved it actually. It was really nice coming out and shooting and just falling into poses without realising. It’s just like riding a bike.
In part two of our conversation, Lennie will be providing further insight into her time spent suffering from eating disorders, and we also discuss the ways in which greater education is needed on this important issue from a younger age.