This article was originally written to a pretty young model who wanted to understand how "commercial print" applied to her.
Commercial modeling is about role-playing and "types", which is another form of "stereotypes". The purpose of a model is to convey everything we believe about whatever type of person is being portrayed in one image. Any element of the shot that causes the viewer to be surprised by the person "not looking like" what they expect that type to look like detracts from the advertiser's message.
Let me give you an example: Suppose you got a referral and went to see a new doctor. You've probably been to several already, or at least seen several real doctors, and you know that they vary a lot in what they look like. Even so, you have formed some sort of image in your head of what "a doctor" looks like, and when this one comes into the exam room and you see them for the first time, you have a set of expectations. If the MD who opens that door "looks like" something quite different from what, in your head, "doctors look like", it will be a little mentally jarring.
You'll get used to it, especially if it turns out that you really like the doctor, and she cures you of whatever you have. But that purple hair and crossed eyes just kind of made it hard, at first, to accept that she was "a good doctor". Only with familiarity do you overcome your bias about "what doctor's look like".
And those biases, or stereotypes, are the foundation of what commercial modeling is all about. Unless some very unusual story line is being suggested in a print ad, the typical young female model can't be cast as a doctor in a print ad. She is too young, too pretty . . . she doesn't "look like a doctor". Even though she may be old enough to have children, it would be hard to cast her as a "young mother" (a common commercial "type") because, in commercial print modeling, "young mothers" are more early thirties types, and a little less glamorous than most aspiring fashion, commercial and glamour models are. You can downplay the glamorous part for the role, (and would need to at the go-see) but the age is going to be a problem. That role is for later.
Just as there are "type" roles by function or "place", so too there are types by ethnic category. "Ethnically ambiguous" is a popular "type". But just as with the other kinds of types, there is a stereotypical look that conveys the "I am a Latina" message in advertising, and if you don't have that look, you can't get hired as
"a Latina" or "a Hispanic".
Commercial modeling is not about who you are, but what you look like you are: how well you fit the stereotypical mold for a "type". I have sent Pakistanis to play Hispanics, and they have booked the jobs. Nobody cares that they are really Pakistani . . . just that when someone from a Hispanic culture opens up a magazine and sees that ad for McDonalds, they will identify the person in it as "someone like me". It's a foundation of commercial advertising.
Real Hispanics (which is the term more often used than "Latina" in commercial advertising) have brown hair, are blonde, have blue eyes . . . lots of them do. Doesn't matter. They can't play "Hispanic", because the "type" is somewhat dark skin and a particular feature set.
Same thing with "generic ethnic". Large lips are something to be desired. But they aren't "generic". Same with Asian eyes and epicanthic folds. They are fine if you happen to have the rest of the "Asian" feature set, but not fine for "generic ethnic" jobs.
I know that message can hurt your opportunities (and those of other people as well), but it's one that you need to understand. Modeling isn't just about being attractive, or pretty, it's about sending an advertiser's message. And if you don't look like the image in the head of the art director of whatever the role being cast looks like - if you aren't "the type", you won't get the job even if you are the prettiest girl on the East Coast. It's just the way the industry works.