Ellen Hancock is an actress, model, and creative. She writes for her blog, A Not So Model Life, and is currently penning her first novel. Ellen has also taken up photography, working under the name Gypsy Revival Photography. She resides in Los Angeles. This article originally appeared here and is being republished with permission.

Editor’s Note: While the majority of 500px users are photographers, there’s no doubt that our world and the world of models intersect incredibly often. This editorial by model and photographer Ellen Hancock sheds light on a part of the modeling industry that you may know nothing about, and something we feel every photographer should be aware of.

A big thank you goes out to Ellen for both having the courage to write this, and allowing us to republish it here on 500px ISO.

Looking at the Instagram accounts of models can create a flume of confused thoughts. Trips all over the world, fancy clothes, perfect bodies, photoshoots. Yet… sometimes there seems to be very little in the realm of actual jobs. Or somehow a gals career can go from nothing… to parties… to success.

It all seems a little fantastical, a little strange. Girls are getting flown all over the world for parties or vacations. Their lives seem oh so lucky, as if they are the chosen few. Plucked from nothingness into lives that are fancy free, fascinating, and seemingly over-pouring with luxury. People follow these models on IG and they become a certain kind of celebrity.

Yet what I’m about to tell you is that a lot of what you’re seeing on these girls’ accounts can have very little to do with hard work, or even luck in their careers. You’d be surprised how much of their “success” comes from things not at all work related.

Often career success will come, but it is later — spring-boarded from a time in their life when other things were going on behind the scenes that got them to where they are today. Their Internet celebrity being first, the thing to bring them attention and the numbers of followers that build commercial success later on. The truth can be awfully shocking.

I guess the best way to verify these somewhat wild conclusions of mine is to tell you a little of my own story.


When I first moved to Los Angeles several years ago a vaguely close model friend of mine invited me on one of these Vegas trips she had recently started going on. A free flight to Vegas, free hotel suite at a swanky casino on the strip, free model dinners, drinks, and VIP access to clubs. Absolutely everything was pre-arranged by a club promoter she had somehow met. She told me I might even make a little money — that some of the girls would sometimes accompany clients to poker tables towards the end of the night, and occasionally would get handouts or have bets placed on their behalf.

Wow. Of course I wanted to go! In all of her pictures the trips looked amazing, and she assured me it was all legit, safe, and fun. She sent pictures of me to the club promoter who was putting the trip together and I got approved. We were off!

The trip was everything she promised it would be. We had an awesome time, with only a few minor downers. Everything was definitely pre-arranged and luxe, yet we were also expected to keep up the party. Wearing huge heels all night can only be pain-free for so long. On a couple occasions while trying to take a break and sit down one of the club promoters would come over to us and sternly tell us to get up. My friend told me that was normal and to just to try to keep it up. We were also told to always have a drink in our hands.

I was so excited to be there, we let it slide and had fun. The dinners were delicious, the hotel was cushy, and the novelty of being in VIP was legitimately exciting.

I wound up going on several Vegas trips, a club night in LA, and even a random party on Alcatraz island. They were all set up roughly the same, with everything provided. Though the more and more trips I went on, the more and more the novelty would wear off.

Things I hadn’t noticed before started to creep into my eyesight as I became wiser to everything that was going on. After a couple trips it became quite evident that our value as “atmosphere” was not very high. We were readily replaceable for the most part, and often we were treated with very little respect.

The promoters themselves were usually quite kind, but the club owners and clients were womanizers at best, and often spoke down to us, yelled at us, and shuffled us around like props. It didn’t matter how you were feeling, you were expected to keep up with the party schedule and look happy. Being treated that way gets old pretty quick when you’re a person with self-respect.

It also became quite clear that many of the girls who were being flown around were, to be brutally honest, high paid prostitutes. Or escorts. Or whatever you’d like to call them. They traveled the world in private jets to meet clients in whatever city they were hosting a party in. Not all the gals were, and I have made some dear friends on these trips too, but many were there for alternative reasons.


I was on one Vegas trip and was surprised to find out we would be partying with a well-known Hollywood actor and his entourage that weekend. One of the guys in his entourage, a club guy from New York, took a liking to me. The party went on as usual, but at the end of the night I was invited with the group to their private poker room. Curiosity killed the cat, and of course I went.

I watched the well known actor lose $250,000 on a single hand of cards… without a flinch. I felt like I was getting the craziest inside look into their lifestyle! Who wouldn’t tag along to see? While hanging out the guy who had taken a liking to me handed me a $1,000 chip. Seriously?? Thank you!! Though my excitement was short-lived, as it then became clear that he expected me to sleep with him. I didn’t, he became grumpy, and I never heard from him again.

On another Vegas trip I sat at a poker table with some of the promoters’ clients — the main one being an Asian billionaire at the other end of the table, surrounded by girls he had specifically flown in for himself. While watching them play with insane amounts of money, one of the other guys at the table who was playing with his wife handed me a $500 chip. I went to the cashier at the end of the night and was told the chip I was given was from the high stakes room and could only be cashed when the billionaire finished playing for the weekend. I went back to my room bummed, as I was leaving Vegas the next day and would be stuck with the chip.

But early in the morning I got a text message from one of the other girls saying that if I wanted to cash in the chip I had to do it right now — she had overheard that the cashier was finally allowing the chips to be traded in. So I hurried downstairs. To my surprise I got in line behind one of girls who had been specifically flown in by the billionaire — a model who, I’m not kidding you, was cashing out $120,000. My jaw dropped. While waiting to figure out how to get so much money back to her native country the promoters met up with her and another girl who had only scored $60,000 to figure out “their cut.” I was eavesdropping and heard that they were requiring a percentage for hooking her up with the client. I was stunned.

I also learned as time went on that the girlfriend who had introduced me to these trips had herself been sleeping around with one of the club owners and some of the clients. I didn’t think too much of it at first… she was a friend of mine and I didn’t want to judge. Things started to get to another level though. Like some of the other girls I had seen in Vegas she made other connections and was being flown around the world. She met a billionaire in Cannes and started dating him in Los Angeles. Over dinner one night she told me she knew how it looked being with a older unattractive looking man, but that she found the way he was financially helping her and a debt-ridden friend attractive.

The billionaire put them both up in an apartment for a year. Stopping by her home I saw the overwhelming results of the designer shopping trips his assistant would take her on, and I personally saw the assistant hand her a wad of hundred dollar bills at a cafe one day. On another occasion she told me about the strange sex demands he made, and how she was sure she wasn’t the only girl he was seeing. He had a connect in the modeling industry setting up agency meetings for her. She got a boob job. The girl who had previously insisted that women didn’t need to change their bodies… she herself got a boob job. She just… changed. Her life became surreal and she wasn’t the girl I used to know anymore.

One night at a club promoter excursion in Los Angeles I asked her not to leave me alone with a client who had taken an overbearing liking to me, and whom the promoters were insisting I go into Chateau Marmont with as we were dropping him off on the ride home. The promoters insisted that we go into his hotel party at least for a few minutes, and I agreed but made them assure me that they wouldn’t leave without me. I went to the restroom and next thing I know they were all gone. No one there to back me up, no ride.

I might have expected something like that from a promoter to try to get their client laid, but not from my friend. I had to argue with the “client” to let me leave and get a taxi. He was trying to grope me the whole time, and his friends told me I better sleep with him as it was my one chance to be with a celebrity. It was a horrible night and I was so relieved when I finally got home.

Despite these experiences I actually briefly dated a guy I had met on one of the trips. When I met the guy I had no idea he had any money, as he wasn’t one of the promoter’s clients. He was just a random guy I had met. He was nice and intelligent. He seemed classy and not at all like the other party guys I had met. I was so, so wrong.

In a strange coincidence it turned out later that my “friend” knew the guy, as they had been talking on the internet for a while. My friend and I talked about it and I was relieved to find out they had never actually met in person or dated. I talked to the guy about it too, and no harm no foul. It was indeed just an unfortunate and strange coincidence. But I guess by this time my “friend” was over screwing her old hairy fat billionaire. She set up a date with the guy I was seeing and flew to see him as well. I found out by accident, spotting his tell-tale bracelet on a cropped photo on her Instagram. I confronted her, and she told me that they had slept together.

It was like something out of a soap opera, except it was all too real. Who sleeps with a guy they’ve never met after finding out they are dating your friend? Both of them were crazy, and it threw me for a loop. But forget the guy, nothing hurts more than a friend stabbing you in the back. That was the worst part.


Though there had been many events leading into my disillusionment with what I can only call “that life,” this instance was the last straw. I was very hurt and lost — not so much because of the guy I’d barely started to know, but because I now knew what this lifestyle did to people. It turned them into shallow, selfish people. It had happened to my friend, and so many other people I had met. It seemed like a sickness, and I felt infected by it. I was scared for myself, scared that maybe I too had changed in some ways. I wanted to find my way back to where I started.

My journey past that time in my life was an emotional one. Watching this “friend’s” career take off with her fresh tits and Loubitans was interesting, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt me for a while.

Los Angeles photographers love testing with models with designer clothes, breasts, and lots of followers on Instagram — regardless of how they got them. And then clients love the same things too. Did she have to work at those test shoots and castings? Ya, of course she did, and I give her credit for that. But she would have never had a lot of those opportunities without turning tricks to get them.

Part of me had to think… what if I had just gone down that path, too, like so many of these girls? I’d probably be better off with my modeling career. It seemed to be true for all the girls I saw living their lives that way. The money, resources, and makeovers… the ability to give your modeling career a jump start. It can be very disheartening when you just want to follow your passions, and stay who you really are. When you want the dream and the simple life too. A lot of the enchantment of Hollywood just doesn’t exist for me anymore. I know now that it’s all a visage, often hiding quite an ugliness underneath.

After all this happened I had to leave LA for a while and take a break. I had to heal and convince myself that success when achieved at the expense of your self-worth will never taste as sweet as success earned through righteous means. Maybe that’s true, maybe it isn’t… but when you witness that kind of lifestyle and don’t choose it for yourself, it’s what you have to believe.

I moved back to LA a year ago, and It has been a blessing to find a community of genuine people this time around. Branching out into acting more has helped. I hate to say it… but just so many models have bought into the fake lifestyle in Los Angeles. It’s hard to find the ones who still have small town values in the big city.

I worry about models more now… about all the things that can lead to dark places. I’m less eager to influence people to join the business than I used to be. A well meaning young girl with dreams will have a lot to face. Moving from a small town to these big cities and seeing all of this for the first time is shocking. I know it all too well.

The recent incident with “The King of Instagram” Dan Bilzerian kicking a model in the face at LIV nightclub in Miami is a sharp reminder. It pisses me off, and is part of what’s spurring me to write this. I’m sadly not at all surprised by it. There are a lot of awful people all over the world who disrespect and take advantage of models. From these Vegas trips, to living in Miami and witnessing the club life there, to even meeting rich jerks during my working months in Greece… this is truly a common lifestyle little discussed by those it abuses and rewards.

I guess it just makes me want to speak out about my own experiences in this realm, something I’ve never really done before. Call it a warning, or a heads up, or whatever. It’s just what happened to me, and what I know, and I’m sure there are more stories out there… we’re just never encouraged to spill the beans. We models are replaceable, remember? I’m just at a place in my life where I’m really perfectly ok with never being asked on one of these trips again, if that be the case. These trips, or club nights, can be really fun. But they can be scary too. Especially when you’re still naive to the world.

If you’re a model, all I can recommend when these opportunities come up is that you be aware — and remember who you are and what you’re truly worth. Know that any friend who doesn’t make you feel good is not a friend at all, and it is ok to break up with those kinds of people. It’s ok to to say no to any kind of lifestyle that doesn’t make you feel good on the inside, and that doesn’t mean you’re saying no to your dreams. Outside appearances aren’t everything. The simple life is a wonderful thing, too. It just doesn’t get as much advertising.