A model among us

If you meet Cal junior Jayne Chen, you wouldn’t guess that this petite International Business major is a professional model, with magazine covers and high-fashion spreads to her name.

“I’ve always liked being in front of a camera, I was never shy,” Chen says. “Once in high school I was approached by a professional photographer, and I said, ‘Why not?’ Ever since then I loved it.”

At 5’4’’, Chen is too short to walk the runway, but ever since being spotted, she decided to pursue a print modeling career. Chen, who is Chinese, knew her best chance at professional modeling would be in Asia.

“Asians [in the United States] who want to model get stereotyped as import models, just selling their bodies,” she says. “American-born Chinese going to Asia have an advantage – they can market as both Caucasian and Asian.”

But Chen didn’t just leave this dream to chance, doing research on modeling agencies in Asia before sending her portfolio of pictures out. Last summer, an agency in Singapore was interested enough to ask Chen to fly out for two months and attend casting calls.

At this point, however, Chen faced more than just travel worries – she had to finally tell her parents about her newfound passion.

“I waited because I was unsure of their reaction,” she says. “Coming from a traditional family, I was afraid my parents would object. But I was surprised when they said to go ahead and do it.”

That summer, Chen lived in an apartment with three other models and went to casting calls on a daily basis. Though she was only just starting, she landed two covers for Maxim Singapore and Stuff.

“My first casting, I got it,” she says. “I came into this industry knowing it would be hard, there’d be a lot of competition, but I was surprised at how lucky I got.”

That was also the catalyst for her decision to continue modeling as a profession, not just a hobby.

“Ever since coming back I decided I wanted to go to Asia [to model],” Chen says. “After graduation I want to go to Japan, Taiwan or Hong Kong and pursue modeling there.”

Though she is set on this plan, and is “dying to graduate already,” Chen admits that modeling is not the most stable career.

“I’m a little scared to pursue modeling,” she says. “I see other students going to interviews, and modeling is more unpredictable. So it’s like, financial stability versus my passion.”

As an International Business major, she hopes to create a business in the entertainment, fashion or makeup industry, after modeling.

“I know I can’t model the rest of my life,” Chen says. “By the time I’m 30, I’d want to have networked and be able to start my own business. So going to Cal and taking business classes is definitely not a waste.”

Image at top: shoes from Charles David, $20 at unabUSED (2980 College Ave.). Dress is Collette Dinnigan, $400 at unabUSED. Above: shoes of Carlos by Carlos Santana, $30 at unabUSED. Black sequin dress from Cache, $80 at unabUSED.

Chen has managed to balance her modeling career with the demands of student life mostly by keeping the two separate. She doesn’t model during the school year, instead just working on her portfolio with photographers she contacts through modelmayhem.com.

“When I’m a student, I like to stay a student. I don’t tell many people I model,” Chen says. “Sometimes I feel like I don’t get taken seriously by colleagues because of what I do and how I look.”

This is particularly evident with other girls, Chen notes. Her professional spreads so far have mostly been shoots for men’s magazines, and risqué enough that she hasn’t shown her parents.

“I don’t do topless or implied [nudity], I have my limits,” Chen says. “But I’m very comfortable with my body, and posing in a bikini is fine.”

Despite her petite frame, even Chen has faced some of the harsh body critiques typical of modeling.

“Before Singapore I was 110 lbs, and the agency told me to lose weight. I wondered if that was even possible,” Chen says. “That’s a difference between American and Asia. Here they want toned and skinny, there they just want straight skinny.”

Yet, this was still a sacrifice she was willing to make.

“I watch what I eat, go to the gym a lot,” Chen says. “I believe if you want to be a professional model, you should act like one. If you want to model, you have to make sacrifices.”

Her advice for any Cal student aspiring to the pages of Vogue is simple.

“Start now,” she says. “Build a book and when you have pictures, go to agencies and try to get some time with them. When you’re 25 or 30, it’s too late, and you don’t want to look back and say, ‘What if?’”

Despite her amazing success so far, Chen is still modest and down-to-earth about the world of modeling.

“You get caught up with the camera and people looking at you, but you still need to know who you are,” she says. “In this industry, you get judged a lot – too fat, too skinny, too something. You need to have a strong sense of self and never give up, because you get a lot of no’s, but all it takes is one yes.”

Written by Elena Radicati, BARE magazine
Photography by Eric Leung
Styling by BARE staffers Nastia Voynovskaya and Fiona Mehta
Makeup and hair by Thy Dinh

Clothes from unabUSED on College Ave. in Berkeley. Open 12-6pm daily. Selling on consignment Diane Von Furstenberg, BCBG, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Bebe, James Perse, Michael Stars, 7 For All Mankind, Citizens of Humanity, Earl Jeans, and more.


  1. Her story is quite amazing many shorter girls do not realise that they can also have a shot a modeling so she is an inspiration to them. I can also relate to the passion v. financial stability thing i think it's a problem many young people are faced with today, at least she has it figured out to some extent.

  2. Completely agree. It just continues to show me also how amazing Berkeley students are there are so many talents here. I love that BARE uncovers these.

  3. I know. It's such a cool story!

  4. i love the dresses!

  5. Hey everyone!

    Thanks so much for your comments. We're really glad you like this feature, and because of its popularity, BARE staffers thought we should continue to feature more student models who go "undercover," if you will, at school.

    If you know of any student models at Cal who have a great story to tell (and we know they all do), please write to info@baremagazine.org and let us know of your nomination. And, keep those comments coming; we do listen.

    Doreen Bloch

    BARE magazine
    Founding Editor-in-Chief, Publisher