Maria Gardner is a UK-based model with extensive industry experience, including fashion, commercial, swim and much more. Find her on Instagram at @mariaanng – and read on to hear her journey into modeling, the highs and lows of the industry, and her top tips for aspiring models.
First up, tell us how you got into the industry! How did it all begin?
I started modeling when I’d just turned 18. I was at a fashion event in the UK, and I was invited to enter a competition to be part of a make-up product shoot. Around 3,000 girls entered, and I was quite shy – at first, I didn’t want to. But my sister encouraged me, and I ended up making it through to the final round. They brought judges in to make the final selection, and I won (on my 18th birthday!). This was the start of my modeling career, and I was photographed for the cover. On the shoot, the make-up artist said that she thought I had something special – a good face for modeling! I joined an agency soon after that, and started getting my first jobs in London (and beyond).
Take us through a typical day in your life!
If I’m not modeling, I usually get up and walk my dog – I love taking the dog for long walks, and being outside in the countryside. And there’s so much to do around the house, too! modeling jobs can be exhausting, so typical days are quite relaxed – seeing friends, taking care of the home.
If you had to pick a favourite campaign, which one would you choose?
It’s so hard to choose a favourite! I’ve been lucky to do so many campaigns, across the UK and internationally, including New York Fashion Week, Miami, Florida, and more. One of my favourite shoots was in France, for a wedding dress company – really relaxing, with time to chill by the pool after work!
In general, I think it’s the people on the shoot that make campaigns great – when everyone is relaxed, having a laugh together. It’s really about relationships.
Modeling often sounds like a dream career! Are there any negatives?
It is an amazing career! But, like any career, there are challenges. The hours can be long – you often spend a lot of your time on your feet, in heels, getting in and out of outfits, often getting up early and travelling long distances to get to a location. It can be quite intimidating, especially as a young model, to turn up to an unknown location on your own (I remember calling my mum on the way to finding a shoot location and wanting to stay on the line with her, just for the reassurance!).
Of course, it also puts a lot of pressure on your appearance. Small things, that people wouldn’t normally think about – things like, if you get a rash or a bruise, it impacts your job. Most people could just turn up to work as normal! But as a model, you need to be showing up looking and feeling your best, to give the best performance.
If you weren’t a model, what would you be doing?
Maybe musical theatre – I was involved in performing arts back in the day! I do some acting as well – short films, short adverts – so maybe along those lines. And I previously studied photography, so maybe I would have carried on with that. Either way, I think I would have definitely been around a camera in some form!
How do you prepare for a shoot? What’s your go-to routine for the night before work?
I’m a big fan of staying super hydrated – everyone always comments on how much water I drink! But it’s so good for your skin – I love drinking teas as well: green tea, detox teas. And lots of rest: get into bed early! It’s really the simple things: skincare, eating well, surrounding yourself with people who love you and uplift you. The mental side is important as well as the physical side: staying positive, rested and happy – and finding an overall balance.
For the night before – or the days before a big job – I’ll often get my nails done, do a face mask and a hair mask, and try to stay extra well-rested. It’s not always possible though! Sometimes shoots are back-to-back, and it can be quite busy – but it’s really just about trying your best.
What is your top tip for models just starting out?
Keep going, be confident, be strong in yourself. You’ll often get faced with set-backs – not being picked for a casting, or losing out on a job to another model. But it’s not the case that you’re not good enough. It’s just that you weren’t the right fit for that brand, or for that job. Don’t get disheartened: keep taking test shoots, working with photographers for free and building up your portfolio. Think of yourself as a brand – something you’re trying to promote! Agencies are amazing, but you have a responsibility to promote yourself with social media, new images, collaborations, networking, reaching out to brands, and so on. And remember: there are lots of us in this together, so you’re never alone.
What has modeling taught you about life?
When I was a teenager, I had a medical emergency – I was rushed into hospital with a ruptured spleen. I was lucky to be alive, but the recovery was a low time. I was left with a scar on my stomach, and it was a big concern for me – because modeling is image-focused, and because I’d previously been doing underwear and swimwear, I was nervous that the scar would impact my career. But, in fact, it had the opposite effect – I ended up sharing the story as a Miss Great Britain / Miss Birmingham contestant, and the judges found it incredibly powerful (in the end, I won Miss Birmingham!). And, when it comes to modeling, companies don’t edit out my scar either. It’s become an important, positive part of my journey, and I’d love it to be a message of inspiration for other young models, that you don’t have to worry about things like this. Instead of being a barrier to success, it’s become a part of my success as a model, and a part of who I am.