Melissa Stetten’s reputation most definitely precedes her. She has carved a phenomenally successful career as a model and a candid writer. However, over the years she has also come under fire from the press and public alike for her brutal honesty. Some would even go as far as to say that she courts controversy. I was keen to discover more about the real Melissa.
I dialled Melissa’s number and within moments her face filled my screen. I was momentarily taken aback by how naturally beautiful she was. Her face was completely free from makeup, yet her alabaster skin glowed and her eyes were a piercing azure blue. She was dressed in a simple hoodie and her dark brown hair was pulled up into a messy knot on top of her head.
We exchanged anecdotes about our experiences in Los Angeles and London. It transpired that on Melissa’s last visit to London, she had visited a modelling agency, which was coincidentally right next to my office.
Melissa predominantly made a name for herself as a model. She attended an open casting call in Los Angeles and was immediately snapped up by an agency.
Suddenly a smile crept across her face, she said: “My friend was a model and he suggested that I go to an open call to try my luck. I had never considered it before as I had really terrible skin and didn’t exactly feel like model material.”
However, Melissa was an instant success. She began booking an array of jobs in Los Angeles before moving to New York to pursue modelling full-time.
At the time of her first open call, Melissa was 25-years-old. To begin a modelling career at that age is extremely rare. It is an industry where models are scouted from as young as 13-years-old and are working full-time by 16.
Suddenly, Melissa laughed long and hard. She confessed: “When I told the agencies I was 25, they didn’t give a shit because they thought I looked 22. So overnight I became 22 all over again, it was pretty ridiculous.”
She added: “It was so funny. If I looked like shit one day, I would say I was 24 and if my skin was behaving itself, I would say I was 22.”
Melissa admitted that a lot of her fellow models were significantly younger than her. She confessed that her age gave her a certain confidence, which she definitely wouldn’t have had in her teenage years.
She bit her lip and thought for a moment, then said: “I can’t imagine myself modelling at 17 or 18. I was an idiot, there’s no way I had the maturity or balls to handle the pressure or criticism.”
She knitted her eyebrows together, then said thoughtfully: “There were these creepy photographers that would ‘suggest’ you take your shirt off for a shot. I would always say no, but it was much easier for the younger girls to be taken advantage of. Looking back, it is fucking scary.”
She added: “There’s all these young girls being plucked from their tiny towns and cities and sent to New York or London. It can be very frightening and to be honest I don’t know how they do it.”
Melissa frowned, then said: “I would go to a casting and they would say ‘no, no, no, your hips are too big’. I had a pretty thick skin by then so I didn’t care so much, but the younger girls would take it to heart and believe that there was something wrong with them. It was infuriating, I just wanted to shake them and tell them how beautiful they were.”
She added: “Modelling can be scary. Being quite a lot older gave me a completely different perspective on the industry. When the younger girls would get upset, I would tell them to go to college and get a real job.”
An infectious laugh escaped Melissa’s lips. She said: “It’s crazy, 25-years-old is so late to start modelling, I could’ve been retired at that age.”
The modelling industry is notorious for being ruthless, all consuming and hypercritical.
Melissa has spoken openly about how she struggled with Body Dysmorphic Disorder and anxiety. She believes that modelling was instrumental in increasing the severity of these issues.
It was incredibly humbling and refreshing to hear her talk so frankly about her experiences.
She sighed softly, then said: “When I was younger I was always battling acne and it would get to a point where I felt like my skin was finally looking good. Then I would go to a casting and they would look at me like I was a monster and ask what was wrong with my skin. I’d be speechless because I had finally got some confidence back and they would knock it out of me with those words.”
Melissa has also revealed that there was always a pressure to lose weight and she never quite felt thin enough.
She said: “I thought that I had been skinny my whole life, but then I met all these models who were much thinner than me. So I instantly felt a pressue to be as skinny as they were.”
Melissa admitted that there were definitely a number of perks to modelling, especially financially if you are successful enough. She has also enjoyed the opportunity to travel and to meet people from all walks of life.
However, Melissa revealed that she is frustrated that the modelling world is being sold to the youth in an unrealistic fashion.
She sighed deeply, then said: “It is a hectic lifestyle and don’t get me wrong it can be a lot of fun but it can also be draining. In New York I was attending 10 castings per day and waiting around for hours, just for someone to look me up and down and thank me for coming.”
She added: “You can get paid incredibly well and that can allow you to almost forget all the stuff you went through prior. Then you have to do a shoot in the freezing cold in Central Park and you are told to go behind a building to change as there are no facilities.”
She threw her head back and laughed infectiously, then said: “I have found myself standing awkwardly in the park, in my underwear, in the middle of winter, it is depressing and demoralising.”
Melissa also revealed that she struggled when casting agents would treat her like she was just a mannequin. She rolled her large glittering blue eyes and said frankly: “Most people wouldn’t even bother talking to you unless you made the effort to speak to them first.”
Melissa recalled being at a casting for one of the world’s leading cosmetic brands whilst they disected every inch of her.
She recalled: “It was crazy! I was stood there and they were basically ripping me apart; critising my skin, bonestructure and hair.”
She added: “They just assume you don’t or can’t talk. I don’t know, it is like you are this Barbie doll with no feelings. It used to piss me off, I wanted to shout that I am human and I fucking think and feel.”
One particular highlight of Melissa’s modelling career was being asked to play the lead in Foster the People’s spectacular music video for ‘Best Friend’.
The video is revolutionary and it isn’t hard to see why Melissa was personally asked to feature in it. It is about a supermodel who is battling the ageing process, so she transforms into a monster and devours all these younger models in order to retain her youth and beauty.
A wide smile played on Melissa’s lips as she discussed the project. She revealed: “Funnily enough the director had been reading my blog for a while and knew that I was quite outspoken when it came to modelling and body issues.”
She added: “So when Foster the People got in touch with him about the video, he immediately reached out to me which was really nice. They told me the concept of it and I was blown away and jumped at the chance to be apart of it.”
Although Melissa is grateful for the opportunities that modelling has brought her, she admitted that she certainly doesn’t aspire to pursue it for the rest of her life.
She sighed: “To me it is a way of making money, I don’t want to feel the pressure of looking perfect all the time. I am incredibly lucky to be 30-years-old and still modelling. I know it isn’t going to last much longer, so I am going to take advantage of it whilst I can.”
When Melissa isn’t on the front cover of magazines, dominating the catwalk or featuring in music videos with some of the biggest bands in the world, she is writing articles for Esquire and Vice, and running her blog ‘Pretty Bored’.
Melissa’s writing style is witty and frank and she often writes about what some may deem controversial issues. Her outspokeness has caused some friction in the past, from being fired from website XoJane for the unearthing of a Tweet she had written years ago to coming under fire from press all over the world after that infamous Twitter debacle with a certain Hollywood actor.
After speaking with Melissa, her so-called notoriety as a ‘mean girl’ was comical. She was one of the most humble, entertaining, hilarious and honest people I have had the pleasure to speak to.
Melissa has a vast and loyal online following of almost 100,000 but she has also dealt with more than her fair share of negativity online. One brief look at the comment sections on some articles and there are people criticising her looks, questioning her intelligence and resputing her talent.
All of this is utterly ridiculous in my opinion and completely unfounded. Melissa speaks openly about many issues that people are afraid to talk about and this in itself makes her an easy target.
I was keen to discover how Melissa has dealt with less than favourable attention. She bit her lip and thought for a moment, then said frankly: “I have never gone out to be outrageous. I just try to be as honest as possible and write and say exactly how I feel.”
She added: “It’s like when I write or talk about the darker side of modelling, people don’t want to hear it. They write things like ‘fuck you, you skinny bitch. You don’t have problems, your life is perfect you cunt.’”
Melissa revealed that over time, she has learnt to ignore spiteful comments online. She sighed heavily, then said: “If I didn’t ignore it, I would probably go mad because it can be pretty relentless.”
She added: “Forget about me. Think about the younger generation of kids who post selfies on Instagram or whatever and have trolls call them ‘ugly’ or ‘gross’. I would have fallen to pieces if I had had to deal with the pressures of social media when I was that age. I would be rocking back and forth in my room wondering why no one liked me.”
Melissa frowned, she said: “When I was in high school, we didn’t really have the internet or cellphones. There wasn’t this added pressure to be seen at the right places or wearing the right thing.There wasn’t the pressure of getting a certain number of likes on your selfies or your nudes being leaked.”
She added: “It’s a scary world and it is sad that all these young people have so much to worry about. Having an online prescense can bring a lot of negativity and that increases low self esteem. Come on, being a teenager is hard enough as it is.”
I told Melissa about an artist I had recently met, who had an admirable intolerance to negativity online. He had said: “Unplug that shit, go the fuck outside and enjoy your life.”
Melissa laughed long and hard. She confessed: “It’s true, I am so much happier when I am not on the internet. I actually have this little project called ‘models on phones’. It all started in London actually, I just started putting pictures of models on their phones on Instagram as a joke. Suddenly I had over 100 photos from New York, London and Los Angeles.”
She added: “It was so crazy, every casting I went to there would be a row of girls all on their phones. It is so weird that no one talks to each other anymore. We used to talk to the person next to us, it’s like we’re scared to interact in real life now.”
Models on Phone’s proved so popular that Melissa has now produced a coffee table book of all her photographs, accompanied by witty captions. The minute I found this out, I demanded that she show me the finished copy.
Melissa flicked through a few pages, then suddenly her eyebrows shot up. She exclaimed: “God this is stupid but this is the stuff some people say. There’s a girl getting her makeup done and next to it, it says ‘the girl next to me has a bun in her hair, now I’m hungry for carbs’”.
We both burst into a fit of simultaneous laughter. Having both had experience in the fashion and entertainment industry, we were both aware of how true that statement could be.
Melissa has the winning formula; spectacular beauty and brains. She is an accomplished model and writer and quite literally has the world at her feet.
What impresses me most, is the way that she has shunned tradition and done things her way. She didn’t let her age stop her from pursuing a modelling career, even when most have retired by 25. She doesn’t take herself seriously and refuses to allow spiteful online comments to ruin her day.
She is witty, passionate and brutally honest. She is constantly smiling and you get the distinct feeling that she laughs in the face of adversity. As Sagan once said: “To jealousy, nothing is more frightful than laughter”.
I can tell you this, the world would be a better place if there were more people like Melissa Stetten.
Ten Questions We Ask Everyone
1. What did you want to be when you were younger?
I wanted to be a veterinarian. I have always loved animals but I was never allowed to have any when I was growing up. So, I kind of consoled myself with the plan of being a veterinarian when I was older.
2. If you could offer advice to your twelve-year-old self, what would it be?
Oh my god! Stop eating so much chocolate and wash your face more so that your skin doesn’t get so bad. My period of ‘teenage skin’ lasted until I was like 25. I thought it would never clear up but eventually it finally did.
3. You have 24 hours with no travel restrictions, how would you spend it?
I would spend it travelling the world. I’d go to Germany because I’ve never been there then I’d head to Berlin. Then I would go East to Tokyo and end up in Thailand.
4. What is the most exciting thing that has happened to you this year?
The music video I featured in for Foster the People was pretty cool.
5. The film you can watch over and over yet never tire of?
Wes Anderson’s Rushmore.
6. The song that always makes you emotional?
Someone Great by LCD Soundsystem.
7. If you could spend an entire day with anyone uninterrupted, who would it be?
My best friend Lizzie.
8. It is Friday night at midnight, where are you most likely to be?
There’s this arcade bar downtown that has games from the nineties, like mortal combat. I have been there way too much on a Friday night. I am pretty in love with fighting video games.
9. What is your biggest vice?
I would like to live on Cookie dough ice-cream for the rest of my life.
10. How would you like to be remembered?
I play for a basketball team in LA in my spare time, even though I am actually pretty shit at it. So it would be nice to be remembered as a badass basketball playing diva.