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Model Lynn Kelly on that controversial photo: 'You're about to do a show where your ass is a foot away from people's faces... That's the reality'

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Model Lynn Kelly pictured in the grounds of Howth Castle: Top, River Island; blanket, Penneys. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Model Lynn Kelly pictured in the grounds of Howth Castle: Top, River Island; blanket, Penneys. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Top, River Island. Shorts, Topshop. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Top, River Island. Shorts, Topshop. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Top; jacket; bikini bottoms; shoes, all River Island

Top; jacket; bikini bottoms; shoes, all River Island

Top; bikini bottoms, both River Island. Jacket, Penneys. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Top; bikini bottoms, both River Island. Jacket, Penneys. Photo: Kip Carroll.

The photograph that sparked debate earlier this year

The photograph that sparked debate earlier this year

Top; shorts; shoes, all River Island

Top; shorts; shoes, all River Island

/

Model Lynn Kelly pictured in the grounds of Howth Castle: Top, River Island; blanket, Penneys. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Last October, model Lynn Kelly posted a selfie online, wearing underwear. Nothing strange in that - you don't even need to be a model for that to be far from unusual or remarkable. However, Lynn's picture stirred up a mostly vicious reaction that she really hadn't anticipated.

In the most hateful possible terms, people posted that she was too skinny, that she looked ill, that you could see her ribcage and that her body-proud pose was warped and sick and illustrative of all that is wrong with modelling and modern body image.

"Honestly," Lynn says to me on a summer morning over a cup of herbal tea, "I thought I looked well. I mean, I wouldn't put up a picture where I thought I didn't look well. Nobody would. I just took the snap, like any normal day, and put it up, and I couldn't believe the reaction.

"I had a lingerie show about five days before I took the picture, so I suppose I had been extra, extra strict with myself for a while," she adds. "With my eating, and I was training twice a day. I'd still eat carbs: I'd probably die if I didn't eat carbs for a week, but that's because of all the training I do. But I'd be very careful before a show like that. I'd eat lots of vegetables and fish and eggs; I'd be very strict on myself.

"But, you know, people are strict with themselves before they go on holiday, so that they look good on the beach. So imagine what it's like when you're about to do a show where your ass is a foot away from people's faces? That's the reality of it. So if I can make myself feel better in any way, I will, and I don't care what anyone else thinks. Anyway, I like the picture and I would post it again. And, if you look, you can see my muscle definition, so it's not like I'm wasting away."

Muscle definition. It's not something you might have heard a model talking about 10 years ago. These days, though, it seems they are all about it, or in Ireland, anyway. In London and New York, androgyny and degrees of extreme thinness reign, but here, it has always been a bit different. The Irish Model has always been a little bit more healthy, but, latterly, healthy has come to mean something other than an old-fashioned notion of a fine figure of a girl, or even a Father Ted Lovely Girl.

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The photograph that sparked debate earlier this year

The photograph that sparked debate earlier this year

Model Lynn Kelly pictured in the grounds of Howth Castle: Top, River Island; blanket, Penneys. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Model Lynn Kelly pictured in the grounds of Howth Castle: Top, River Island; blanket, Penneys. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Top, River Island. Shorts, Topshop. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Top, River Island. Shorts, Topshop. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Top; jacket; bikini bottoms; shoes, all River Island

Top; jacket; bikini bottoms; shoes, all River Island

Top; bikini bottoms, both River Island. Jacket, Penneys. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Top; bikini bottoms, both River Island. Jacket, Penneys. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Top; shorts; shoes, all River Island

Top; shorts; shoes, all River Island

/

The photograph that sparked debate earlier this year

Today, the likes of Rosanna Davison and Rozanna Purcell have a growing online presence as healthy-eating gurus, promoting superfood-saturated recipes and sugar-free snacks. Any model you read about seems to have a trainer or, at least, a training regime, and some I have spoken to train and eat to such strict guidelines that they carry little alarm clocks around to remind them to consume some protein-rich snack every three hours.

Lynn, I hasten to add, does not carry an alarm clock with her, nor does she consider her healthy habits in any way extreme, but she is an Irish Model who has completely changed her attitude and approach to her body in the last year. She began boxing and high-intensity training about a year ago, and even before the attacks on her "skinny" selfie occurred, she had talked about how her training is sometimes so intense that it makes her sick. As in vomit. As in, not just once, but semi-regularly.

"It's not really a big deal," says this former Miss Universe Ireland with a laugh. "Anyone who trains will get sick. I don't get sick all the time! Only if I train really hard. But you get sick and then keep going. It sounds more extreme than it is."

Lynn began ratcheting up the intensity of her training about a year ago, when one of her closest modelling friends, Sarah Morrissey, suggested that she accompany her to the gym where she boxes.

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"Sarah warned me it would be hard," says Lynn, "but she said, 'You're fit, you'll be fine.' But it was just so hard."

Lynn laughs now to recall her first session at Beau Jack's gym on Dublin's Camden Street.

"It's not like you're sparring with anyone on the first day," Lynn assures me. "But it's in at the deep end, doing the same thing as everyone else. It's an hour straight - no breaks - of push-ups and sit-ups, press-ups and boxing, bike, skipping, running. No let-up and no easy or hard versions; everyone's lifting the same tyres, doing the same level."

The only difference between Lynn and the other boxers, however, is that she and the other Irish Model members don't get punched in the ring. They can't turn up at jobs covered in bruises, she says, sensibly, so often they'll spar with one another and hit the hand pads instead of each other.

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Top; shorts; shoes, all River Island

Top; shorts; shoes, all River Island

Model Lynn Kelly pictured in the grounds of Howth Castle: Top, River Island; blanket, Penneys. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Model Lynn Kelly pictured in the grounds of Howth Castle: Top, River Island; blanket, Penneys. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Top, River Island. Shorts, Topshop. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Top, River Island. Shorts, Topshop. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Top; jacket; bikini bottoms; shoes, all River Island

Top; jacket; bikini bottoms; shoes, all River Island

Top; bikini bottoms, both River Island. Jacket, Penneys. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Top; bikini bottoms, both River Island. Jacket, Penneys. Photo: Kip Carroll.

The photograph that sparked debate earlier this year

The photograph that sparked debate earlier this year

/

Top; shorts; shoes, all River Island

Did she know what she was letting herself in for that first day? "No!" Lynn exclaims. But she went back for more and keeps going back for more, as well as having a "roaming membership" in another Dublin gym, so she can pop in to one of their several locations each day, regardless of where she's working.

It seems that discovering this intensity of training and body work, if you want to call it that, was a turning point for Lynn.

"Probably about a year ago now I got really into my fitness," Lynn says. "I had always dabbled in and out of it, but just for maintenance. I tried every form of training - weights, cardio, every class from kettle bells to TRX, but it wasn't until the penny dropped about what works for me, which is this kind of training, that everything changed. It used to be a chore, but I enjoy it now. Or maybe I've learned to love it."

Growing up in Dublin's Jervis Street, Lynn didn't dream of being a model. On a night out in 2008, she was spotted by a photographer, who approached her and gave her his card and told her to ring Derek at Assets Model Agency the next day.

"I just dismissed it and thought he was just some creep," she says. "But I rang Derek the next day and he was expecting my call. I went to see him and had my first job the next day. So it escalated from there, and about two months later, I entered Miss Universe Ireland and won it, and that was probably the proper start of it all."

Certainly, winning Miss Universe Ireland and heading off to Vietnam for the international leg of the contest was an in-at-the-deep-end experience for Lynn.

"Within about a week of being crowned," she says, "I was sitting on my own in a hotel in Vietnam without a clue what I was doing. You grow up very quickly in that environment."

Lynn's family, though utterly unfamiliar with the modelling world, happily sent her off on the adventure, with full confidence in her ability to learn and flourish. Her boyfriend, Robert - now of 10 years standing - was also thrilled for her. And she learnt a lot, Lynn says, laughing a little at how naive she was in advance.

"I didn't understand that whole world," she explains. "It was so new to me and so strange. I thought I was going on this five-week holiday, but you aren't. It's work, hard work. You're up at five every morning doing your hair and make-up and then you have a breakfast meeting and then a lunch meeting and it's work.

"And a lot of the girls, especially the South American girls, they are raised to do it," Lynn continues. "Miss Venezuela, who won it my year, was basically shipped off to a Miss Venezuela house when she was 14, and she won when she was 23, so that was her life for nine years. That's definitely not for me.

"So I was OK with not winning," Lynn laughs.

On returning to Ireland, and in the seven years since, Lynn has worked steadily. She makes what she calls a "pretty comfortable" living from modelling and shares a city-centre apartment with Robert, who works in IT recruitment.

"Work has always been quite steady for me," she says. "Some seasons are better than others, but this past year has been busier than ever before. In summer, I'm always the tanned bohemian. But as I'm one of the smaller models, height-wise, I'm lucky that I get to do the shows, too. Not many girls my height do."

Though she has recently signed with a London modelling agency, Lynn reckons she's pretty fortunate to work in the industry in Ireland, where the market is very different.

Luckily, in Ireland, we don't have the super-slim models," she says, "and I hope we keep it that way. And I suppose I wouldn't be one of the naturally slim girls. Unfortunately - blame it on the genes. By regular standards, I'm slim, but maybe not by model standards.

"But I never thought that meant I couldn't do this," Lynn adds. "I just always knew I'd have to work that bit harder. Of course, you're going to compare yourself to someone else, when you're all standing there, in underwear, next to each other, competing for the same job. It's very hard not to. Any woman, even in a shop changing room, does that, so when it's your job, it's an extra pressure."

It's a pressurised world and, in some ways, Lynn's training regime works on the fitness of her body and her mind. The feel-good endorphins she gets after an intense workout are incredible, she says, and she has also decided to make health and fitness her future after modelling. It was Sarah Morrissey who introduced her to intense training and now, she and Sarah are studying health and fitness in DCU, with a view to setting up in business together. Lynn won't say specifically what their business plan is, but they plan to launch it by the year's end.

Sarah is among a small handful of friends Lynn has made in modelling. She recalls how, when she turned up for her first casting in full make-up, with her hair done immaculately, it was Sarah who set her straight and told her that you turn up barefaced, with clean but neutral hair.

Not everyone would tell you that, is the impression Lynn gives, and she and Sarah became firm friends fast. Nadia Forde is another model Lynn would count as a friend, but beyond that, she claims no closeness with her other colleagues.

"It's not an industry that you make friends in easily," Lynn says. "You're everyone's competition. It doesn't feel like that when you're working with the girls, because they're all lovely, but there are very few that I'd consider real friends.

"I'm friends with the other girls and I don't dislike anyone, but someone I could ring or text or be close to; that's different. The nature of the business is that you're in competition, so that's how it is. Maybe it stops you from letting your guard down. Sarah and I, we have a lot in common; we're quite similar."

Aware of how competitive the modelling world is in little Ireland, Lynn is realistic about what she wants out of signing to a London agency. She explains how you might be up against 50 girls for a job here, but there you are competing with hundreds, and a lot of them are a lot younger than she is, at 26. These days, though, thanks to her training, Lynn's lean and defined figure could see her do athletic-style shoots, and her agency have put her forward for Nike jobs and a show with the workout-gear brand Sweaty Betty. It's worth a go, is Lynn's attitude, though she doesn't entertain the idea of leaving Dublin entirely.

After she finishes college in November, Lynn plans to focus on her business venture with Sarah and she hopes that will be a new chapter in her career. Modelling is great, but it's not forever, and Lynn has no problem with that. Hard work, she has learned, is something for which she's more than able.

"I've never thought about anything, 'I can't do this'," Lynn says. "I've only ever thought that I might have to work that little bit harder."

American Apparel, 114-116 Grafton St, D2, tel: (01) 670-6936, or see american apparel.net

Photography by Kip Carroll

Styling by Liadan Hynes; Assisted by Jessica Gaffney and Georgia Stafford

Hair by James Coleman; make-up by Dearbhla Keenan, both Brown Sugar, 50 South William St, D2, tel: (01) 616-9967

Photographed in the grounds of Howth Castle, see howthcastle.com

Along with Howth Castle, the estate is home to the award-winning cookery school,

The Kitchen in the Castle, and is open for individual and group bookings throughout the year, see thekitcheninthecastle.com

Also on the estate is the popular Deer Park Golf and FootGolf courses. They are open to the public year round and run a Junior Golf Camp for kids during the summer holidays, see deerparkgolf.ie


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