Aishling O’Connell: Working in the Modelling Industry, Mental Health and Fast Fashion

Aishling O’Connell is an Irish model with Upfront Management, Currently models on ‘Today with Maura and Dáithí’ and has a degree in TV, Radio and New Media.

Aishling made her modelling debut in the RTÉ show Model Scouts where she came 2nd Runner Up at the age of 18. Since then Aisling has modelled both in Ireland and Internationally in Tokyo and Paris.

I first met Aishling when the show first aired in 2010 and have looked up to her since as she has never let the attention drawn to her affect how she treats people or acts towards others. I was interested to know how modelling for so long has impacted Aishling’s life and how she views the industry now so I was delighted when she agreed to do this Q&A.

You can find Aishling on Instagram @aishling_oconnell or on Youtube

  1. How did you get into the modeling industry? Did you always want to be a model?

I never really thought about being a model or thought it was even an option for me growing up in Kerry. It was all thanks to my aunt Kathleen. She lived in Dublin at the time and on one of my visits to see her, I brought along my friend Valerie and we decided to go up for a girlie couple of days in Dublin with some shopping, of course. Before we went off to Dundrum, my aunt told me there was an ‘audition’ of some sort at the shopping center where we were going. She wasn’t 100% sure herself what it was for but she made me promise I’d go and sign-up. I found out it was for a modeling TV show and simply thought this was going to be wasting time for more shopping, but I did, I promised I would. I was over 5ft7″ which was the requirement and was given a form to fill out.

The lady on the day, which turned out to be one of the producers Sarah, was so nice to all of us while we waited. It was my turn in the queue to meet Jenny and David, IMG model presidents, I sat down, we had a quick chat and they told me to go behind a makeshift screen in the middle of Dundrum shopping center, take off my makeup and wait. It was only after we realized they just wanted to see our skin as nearly all of us had a full face (this was well before contour and lashes, I don’t even think brows were being filled in, eyeliner was THE thing). I got a letter with information on the show, dates of the next meet up, gave them my contact details and it went from there. 

2. What was your relationship with food and your body like before you started modeling?

It was relatively normal. I was a good eater for a teenager, didn’t count calories, ate whatever I wanted when I wanted.  I was always slim growing up so I if anything I always thought I was ‘too skinny’. That was a major issue for me for years. I think that’s an issue with body shaming and living in the social media era. When you get to a certain age you care more about your appearance and your body.

There was a time when all I was trying to do was eat as much as possible during the day as I had an extremely fast metabolism and too much energy. I was always a small 8, even a 6 at times which I felt was way too skinny for me personally, given my height but I’m much happier and healthier now in my diet.

3. Did modelling ever lead to comparing yourself to others or change your opinion of yourself?

Of course, it’s only normal. I was usually the shortest one in the room, we couldn’t wear makeup on camera for the show or on castings in the modeling industry. I found it hardest at castings in Paris. Sometimes you would go in and all of us would be similar, but when you go to a general one and see statuesque 6ft Russian high fashion models at the same casting as you, you can’t help but want to quietly get up and leave.

One thing we were taught from the start while being on the show was the importance of being yourself. You have to realize you are, in some shape or form, a product. No one else can sell what you have so you just have to sell it the best you can and if they don’t choose you, it’s not personal, you’re just not the look they want for that particular job. I think we all compare ourselves to others in some way but you shouldn’t want to be someone else. Just try and be the best version of yourself you can if it’s getting up that bit earlier, eating better, even to be nicer to people and trying to be more positive. In a way, I have changed my opinion of myself through the years and modeling did play a part in shaping who I am now. Every day is a school day though.

4. Do you feel pressure in the industry to look a certain way? If so, how do you combat this?

I felt pressure to stay a ‘sample size’ and keep my skin in good condition. But that was part of the job and it was made clear to me in the beginning. You have to be realistic when it comes to modeling and what is going to be expected of you and you have to be ready for that. It also depends massively who your modeling agency is, where your based and what the industry wants. In Paris for fashion week, you need to be tall and slim. Here in Ireland, it isn’t as high fashion so sizes 8-12 more common model sizes, which in turn is more relaxed than having to fit into a tiny sample size as standard.

5. Who do you look up to in the media or modeling industry and why?

The people I admire are usually people that walk to the beat of their own drum. I’m always inspired by people that have a good attitude about life and have an aura of positivity about them. I have met many in the media and modeling industry that I look up to because of their work ethic and what they’ve accomplished. Of course, there are careers you can admire and people that have made waves in the industry which there are so many, it’s difficult to name a few. 

6. How do you look after your mental health in a world of ideals and pressure?

I’m all for mental health and I suppose the old quick fix of simply talking to someone you know and trust is what keeps me sane most days. Once my family is good, that is what’s most important. I try to keep looking at the bigger picture and not get caught up in small things, which can be very hard to do. Going for a walk is always one for me if talking won’t help. Sometimes just blowing off some steam by going to the movie you’ve wanted to see, catching up with friends or going out for a good session is genuinely what works for me. But I really don’t take things to heart as much as I once did, I’ve learned it’s a waste of time and energy. 

7. Do you see social media as being a positive or negative part of society?

Social media is both, in terms of having an impact on society. You have a plethora of reasons for it being a negative impact whether it be online bullying, illegal activities, giving the younger generation a fake and distorted version of reality while creating wild expectations which can lead to various mental health issues. The list goes on. But if you take it at face value for what it was meant for, I think it’s an amazing tool for people to connect and if anything, document moments in their lives they want to share with their friends. But that’s the thing, it’s a tool and people are going to use it the way they want. My only tip is to unfollow the people that annoy you or bring you bad vibes. Simple. 

8. If you could give your 18 year old self any advice what would it be?

Oh my God, so much! The best thing for me to hear at that age would have been to just enjoy the moment a bit more and not be so worried about what people think or what they say. Take every opportunity because everything works out in the end. And that’s a very general thing, it’s only normal to question things when you’re young, and that’s how you learn. 

9. What are your hopes for future generations in the industry?

The industry has already begun to become much more inclusive in recent years so I hope is that it keeps heading in that direction. I’d like to see future generations be smarter when it comes to issues like fast fashion and sustainable clothing. I think that’s a major topic for people to be talking about and it’s up to retailers to take responsibility for all of the waste and unnecessary packaging that they unleash into the world which is destroying the world. We can’t keep up with the demand and if this age of ordering clothes online every week with bad working conditions for warehouse workers and copious amounts of waste and plastic and it can’t continue. Workers need to be paid appropriately and have proper working hours and breaks and the industry of fashion and almost everything else which people can buy needs to be more thoughtful in the process of how its made, distributed and it’s effect on the environment.

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