Flora knows she wants to be a model. And she has achieved her goal.
Well, kind of.
Rather than appearing on the cover of a fashion magazine, her pictures appear on the blogs of many amateur photographers.
Flora is a waipai (outside photography, 外拍) model for the Web site i-photo, which links amateur photographers with aspiring models for photo shoots at scenic areas throughout Taiwan. The 23-year-old student of aquaculture at National Taiwan Ocean University has been modeling with i-photo (also called lovephoto, www.i-photo.com.tw) for two years and dreams of turning professional.
"I can earn more in three hours doing this job than I could modeling for a magazine, newspaper or television," says Flora, whose family and boyfriend both support her decision to become a waipai model.
"Besides, it's far less stressful."
Many would-be models sign up with waipai Web sites to earn extra cash, get free, professional-quality portraits for their modeling portfolios, and work on what they hope turns from a weekend gig into a professional career.
Mia Teng (鄧婷), is a talent scout at Unique Image (絕色光影, www.uniqueimage.com.tw), a modeling agency that operates waipai (外拍) activities throughout Taipei.
She says there are two kinds of waipai. The more common "fashion photography" (時裝) sees models dressed in everyday attire; the second, called "sexy photography" (性感), features models stripping down to the bare minimum.
"Of course one model's everyday fashion might be wearing practically nothing at all. So these distinctions are largely irrelevant," she says.
Teng spends her weekends chaperoning models at some of the agency's six monthly photo shoots in Taipei. The rest of the week finds the diminutive former Unique model scouring the Internet for photo albums of attractive young women who she then contacts with job offers.
"These girls love taking pictures of themselves or having others take pictures of them. With the proliferation of online photo albums and blogs, it's easy to find attractive … young girls willing to work weekends for extra money," she says.
That was how Teng found Doris. The 166cm-tall Chinese literature student at National Taiwan University (NTU) is at the university's front gates today - but she's not here for class. Dressed in hot-pink tights, pumps and a singlet, she strikes poses in front of a fountain. (Models interviewed for this story are referred to by English-language names to protect their privacy.)
The blog where Teng found Doris gets on average 1,000 hits per day, which is normal for an amateur model with her looks.
According to Teng, a model at Unique starts off earning NT$3,500 for a three-hour shoot and can make a maximum of NT$4,500, depending on her popularity. With Taiwan's minimum wage being NT$90 per hour or NT$15,840 per month, it's easy to imagine why many young women want to work for these companies. Most of the models are university students, but some are still in high school.
For those who hope to become professionals, waipai is good practice. And waipai allows them to avoid paying for costly studio portraits for their modeling portfolios, which can cost upwards of NT$30,000.
While waipai models can access the pictures taken by their waipai photographers, post them on their blogs and use them for their portfolios, waipai photographers are forbidden to sell their images - though they are free to post them on their own blogs.