The Balanced Bite - an Interview with Alexa DaFonte on the Modeling Industry
As millennials and Gen Z-er's, many of us grew up binge-watching America's Next Top Model, but few actually make it into this industry. 24-year-old Alexa DaFonte however, did. While no longer modeling, Alexa shares her story about how it has shaped who she is today, including spurring a passion project that has taken off on Instagram with over 20,000 followers to foster healthy eating habits and overall self love.
How old were you when you knew you wanted to get into modeling?
My parents got me into modeling when I was about 4 years old for a year or so, but then I stopped as my parents didn’t want me in the industry at that young of an age. When I was 17, I started looking into it more as one of my good friends in the industry had urged me to meet her agent. I decided to meet with this local agent just to get a feel for what it would involve. I loved the agency and decided to sign with them to see where it could lead to.
What made you interested in the modeling industry?
I think my biggest draw to the modeling industry was the fashion aspects and the creativity. For most of high school and college, I took a lot of courses that had little to no creative elements involved. I always knew I was a bit creative, but could never really express that in my day to day life or in my studies, so an opportunity to be creative and interact with other creatives through modeling was really enticing and interesting to me!
Can you tell us a little bit about your career thus far? Where you began and where you are now?
In terms of my modeling career, I worked as a model for about 4 years and continued going to school completely online after my sophomore year of college. I started off my college career as a physician's assistant student at Drexel University but quickly decided it wasn’t for me. I transferred to MCPHS in Massachusetts and started studying pre-med and then nutrition, which I ended up completing at Umass Amherst.
Right now, after taking a step back from modeling, I got a job working full-time at a media agency based in LA. I work remotely and live in NYC, but I absolutely love it. I work in media marketing, helping manage email campaigns, growth across all platforms, graphic design, content curation, brand strategy, and brand storytelling. I really love the brands and clients I work on with this media agency and I am grateful for everything I have learned in this position so far!
During quarantine, I also started working on my own passion project, which is The Balanced Bite. It’s basically my food journal where I create recipes and share insights on health, wellness, and body neutrality. After struggling a lot in the modeling industry to maintain an unhealthy weight and measurements, I grew passionate about advocating for disordered eating patterns and the importance of fueling your body properly.
What qualifications does someone need to have to be in the industry? Do you have to have a certain “look”/weight?
In terms of the modeling industry, it is heavily based on your appearance. When I first started modeling seriously when I was 19, my mother agent (basically my main agent in charge of placing me around the world with agencies) urged me to “work on my measurements”. At this point I was placed on a strict diet, about 1,000 calories a day or less and with at least 50 minutes of cardio a day with limited emphasis on bulking exercises (so no long runs, strength training etc.)
I was measured and weighed every week for about 3 months until I reached “reasonable measurements” which meant I got to start seeing agencies. At this point, of course at my thinnest, sickest state, I was signed with a big manager in nyc who took over. She started finding placements for me in Korea, Japan, Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Mexico, Paris, and Greece.
I began traveling a lot and became extremely invested in every morsel of food I consumed. I was pressured to maintain this weight or else I would not be allowed to be in fashion month or see certain agencies. For background - I was pushed as a runway model, so being on the shorter end (only 5’ 9”) I had to compensate with lower measurements, which is extremely common in the industry.
Although I do believe the industry is changing to promote inclusivity, I think that for the average girl looking to get into modeling, they see you as a face and a body and which ”category” you can fit into (commercial versus runway) and you definitely have to maintain that appearance and physique.
Do you have to stick to a certain diet/workout plan as a model?
I touched on this above, but absolutely! Most agents right off the bat will make sure you are on some sort of diet - even if your size is perfect. You’re literally never good enough, they will always want to change something about you, and that is usually them prescribing a diet or workout regimen. For me, it was cutting my calories, for others it might be increasing them. Sometimes they want you to go vegan for your skin, other times they want you to eat more protein to help gain a little muscle.
The worst dietary struggle is always around fashion weeks. Sometimes water is even off limits leading up to castings as it can make you too bloated and make your measurements increase. I didn’t really buy into a lot of this extreme dieting fortunately, but I still knew many girls who got very sick and malnourished at fashion weeks.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
Right now, I work a full time 9-5 job. Fortunately, there’s a lot of crossover between my job and my passion project with food. I work with a lot of food brands in my agency and I have a lot of creative freedom in terms of content creation and management, which I love. I work pretty much all day, and during breaks I often like to create content on my own for my Balanced Bite Instagram and Tik Tok. It’s very different working in media and even in social media, but I really do enjoy the process and having so much creative freedom and expression abilities with these brands I work with, so I am really grateful.
This is very different from when I was a model. I used to spend days on end bored out of my mind. It honestly depended on where I was working at the time, but most days I would have 3-4 castings and then maybe one job a week. In LA and NY I had a lot more free time, whereas working in Greece and Mexico City I had around 7-12 castings a day and a job (all the while making around $300/job). I worked for a really big American clothing brand and I made only $700, which went towards paying my agency “fees”.
I honestly am grateful I did have some free time though when I traveled because I got to experience a lot of the places I was living in. I spent a lot of time in Mexico and Greece, which were both beautiful, and I loved living in LA for a while!
Can you tell us a little bit about the process of becoming a model?
So actually becoming a model can be easy, but it can also be very hard. I know SO many girls that were just walking one day at the mall and happened to get scouted at 15-years-old because they were tall and skinny. For me, I just began getting connections in the industry and was introduced to different agencies from other agencies etc. which is how I met my mother agent. I also have submitted to agencies before, which is common for girls wanting to get into the agency.
Usually you’ll meet with the agency and they will take digitals of you (unedited images) and show them to the team, then they decide if they want to sign you or not. It depends on where the agency is based, but it's a toss up! Sometimes they have a girl that looks too similar to you, other times they’re just not sure you’ll work in that market. It’s a business and these agencies are all about the money so they kind of look at you in terms of what you can bring to the table.
With international agencies, I always just FaceTimed with them and then they would decide, which is preferred so you don’t waste your time going to a place and have them pass on you when you get there.
Who is your role model?
My role model is absolutely my mom. Through literally everything, she’s right there by my side helping me through it, and I'm so grateful for that. There’s not even a chance I would have made it through the industry the way I did if I didn’t have her intervening and coaching me the whole way.
She has taught me everything I know, and shaped me to be hard working, caring, dedicated, passionate, and kind. She is the one person I know I can go to with anything and she’s right there to offer her two cents and advice (whether I like it or not). I definitely would not be the person I am today without her amazing help, inspiration, and care for me.
How has the modeling industry made an impact on you?
Modeling has definitely made a huge impact on my life. It has caused me to see my body and my diet in a very difficult, harsh way, which is something I am still working on. However, it also caused me to go through some of the biggest periods of growth in my life so far. Undoing so many of my eating habits and negative thoughts about my body took a lot of strength and effort, but it helped shape me into the person I am today.
While there were negative aspects, modeling also impacted my life in a positive way because it allowed me to meet a lot of amazing people. I made so many valuable connections in the industry, met so many brands, photographers, clients, designers, makeup artists, stylists etc. I also made some of my absolute best friends and I know that would have never happened if I hadn’t been in the industry.
I also got to travel so much that it made me feel so connected to so many parts of the world. I felt like I had traveled before, but when you’re actually living on your own in apartments by yourself in these cities and grocery shopping, getting taxis, working, exploring, it just feels so much different. I felt like I really got to experience all of these countries and travels more than I ever would have!
Do you feel as though the industry has an impact on body image? If so, how?
It absolutely does. It causes you to see your body as a way to make a name and career for yourself. You fit into a category and you have to maintain the requirements of that category in order to appeal to the client and your agents.
Even when I was my thinnest, I still didn’t feel it was good enough. This was because I would see a girl taller or thinner and felt I needed to be like them because they were having more success. Then I would be on social media and see the new “it” girl of the season walking Gucci and think, okay, I have to look like that in order to book that show or get that moment. So no matter what, I was always comparing myself to other girls and wanting to shape my body to match theirs.
The constant pressure to focus on your body in every way possible absolutely causes you to perceive your body in an entirely different way. You start seeing your body as something that can be changed and something that needs “work”. You also start seeing your body in such a dysmorphic way that you don’t even know what you really look like. I know this is the case with 90% of models, especially as we’re always told something different about our bodies.
What made you want to start your food instagram page? What is the main message you want to get across to those who follow this page?
I started my food Instagram as a way to create a more healthy relationship with food. I wanted to have fun with it, I wanted to experiment with it and start to see food in a different way. When I first started my page, I was definitely still in a rough place with my relationship with food, eating, and my body, but this page has been one of my biggest forms of support and therapy. I have met so many incredible friends that relate to my struggles in so many ways, and the support in the community is honestly unparalleled.
I think the main message I want to get across is the importance of creating a romance with food. That’s one of my biggest takeaways from my journey so far. We spend so much time resenting food, feeling guilt, feeling emotions entangled up with the food on our plates. It’s just not sustainable, healthy, or really worth it.
I started to see food as like a love language. I started to feel more empowered to enjoy what I was eating, try new foods, experiment with spices and recipes and ingredients and that’s what made me fall in love with food and see it as a romantic relationship I was trying to build and foster into something special.
Do you have a different relationship with food now than when you first began modeling?
Absolutely. My relationship with food is still growing and healing, but I look at food in such a healthier way now. I don’t resent it, I don’t try to manipulate it. For the most part, I just enjoy it. To be transparent, I do still struggle with this relationship because it is extremely complex and dynamic, but I have a support system that has also helped me so much throughout the process of healing this relationship.
What are some ways that you work to keep a healthy mindset?
I think the biggest factor in maintaining a healthy mindset is having a support team. I have so much support from my therapists, doctors, family, and friends that it helps hold me accountable. I think about this support and it makes me feel so connected to growing and healing, and helps remind me that all these people care so much for me, so why would I not show myself that same respect and care?
What piece of advice would you give to those who are looking to enter the modeling industry?
I think my biggest advice I have given to those looking to enter the industry is to take everything with a grain of salt. You’re going to hear a lot of no’s and you’re going to hear a lot about yourself that you might not like. But that is not a reflection of you as a person, it’s a business and these agencies and clients really are just looking to make money.
The second I started seeing modeling as more of a business rather than a life, my perspective changed a little bit. I started to see this industry as just a job and started to take everything everyone was saying to me about myself as just a part of the job and not as a reflection of me as a person.
What piece of advice would you give to young women in general?
Definitely to just be wholeheartedly yourself. So many times I have met people and tried to shape shift to the person I think they wanted me to be or that I felt best fit the dynamic and relationship. I always remind myself of how special it is to just be ourselves and how many unique attributes we all have. It’s so boring to try to be someone else, because that person already exists. I love how exciting it is to have these features about yourself, about your physique, about your personality that no one else has. Once I started seeing myself as me, and as no one else, I started to appreciate the little things about myself and spent less time resenting and disliking what was in front of me. Being you is and will always be the best thing you can bring to the table.