Being a beautiful woman has its perks. Countless studies have shown that when you’re attractive, the world is generally a kinder place. Pretty privilege is indeed a privilege, not necessarily earned and unfairly distributed, but it can be an entirely unreliable, uncomfortable dynamic, too. Often, when women receive a bonus for being beautiful, it’s because someone else is expecting something else in return. Apps like Neon Coat, INTO and BeautyPass attempt to do away with the messiness of this dynamic by digitizing the world of model freebies.
On these apps, available to models, influencers and other women of aesthetic noteworthiness, being beautiful functions as currency toward restaurant meals, boutique pilates classes, high-end makeup and more without having to navigate any awkward interpersonal dynamics. In some cases, apps like Image Model even function as a hiring marketplace, wherein women can pick up quick gigs for party appearances at several hundred dollars a pop — all for being hot. While the digital centralization of pretty privilege may sound dystopic to some, creators of these apps and their loyal users assert that “beauty passes” give models some much-needed autonomy in navigating their own opportunities.
Recently, these apps gained viral popularity after numerous models on TikTok began discussing them. Some mentioned them as a dark benefit to being beautiful, while others simply enjoyed being able to get a free salad and told their fellow model followers to join. One of the apps more prominently discussed in the latter TikTok is Neon Coat, which caters exclusively to models signed with agencies. Currently, they have over 5,500 model members who use the app to receive complimentary experiences and gifts while leveraging their social brand.
“I started Neon Coat because there was an insatiable need for models to gain more control over their social, professional and financial lives,” says Larissa Drekonja, co-founder of Neon Coat. “The industry is built on a paradigm where a model arrives in New York City and is completely controlled by their agency and eventually a promoter. In my day, there was zero community and no support for models whatsoever. Even getting a lawyer was very difficult. With social media, that started to change and small online communities began to appear that were supporting models, each of which had a few hundred members.”
“But I had a vision of how to centralize the community through experiences, such as cultural events, restaurants, fitness studios and salons,” Drekonja continues. “There used to be a silent rule in the industry back in the day that if you went to a restaurant and asked and were nice, you got a freebie — now you don’t need to ask, you can just download Neon Coat.”
As such, Neon Coat simply leverages what was previously a “silent rule,” one that was likely unreliable and potentially even predatory toward the women involved. Neon Coat in particular cites themselves as a healthier alternative to the promoter scene that’s dominated nightlife.
“The ‘promoter scene’ is the whole ‘models and bottles’ world of nightclub promoters, where clubs pay promoters to bring models in order to entice a rich clientele,” says Drekonja. “It’s physically unhealthy to models because it entails staying out late, drinking and often doing drugs. But it’s also emotionally unhealthy because of the pressure promoters put on models to do everything from show up to a club on a night they want to stay in, to talk with a wealthy man they don’t want to talk with. Promoters often control models’ access to free meals at high-end restaurants, and some promoters are even models’ landlords — a dynamic they use as leverage to dictate where models must go and when. We feel that no man should control 10 to 15 women in a nightclub because he got them free dinner at a restaurant.”
Neon Coat, by contrast, is most popularly used for healthy meals, exercise classes and organic beauty treatments, Drekonja and co-founder Dan Berger tell me. Of course, these freebies aren’t given because businesses simply have a generous spot for beautiful women.
“The way it works is a restaurant offers a free meal, or a yoga studio offers a free class, or a hair salon offers a discounted haircut,” explain Drekonja and Berger. “Then the professional models in our community peruse the app and decide what they want to enjoy that day. If they claim, for example, the free yoga class, they typically then post a photo or video of themselves at the studio on Instagram. The model’s post not only raises awareness about the yoga studio among their many followers, it’s also likely to be beautiful, brand-elevating content that the studio will want to re-post on their own Instagram account. For brick-and-mortar businesses — many of whom have limited marketing teams — it’s a turnkey solution for their influencer marketing needs.”
As with nightclub promoters, there is indeed supposed to be a mutually beneficial relationship involved. But with Neon Coat, models ideally have far more control. In Drekonja’s experience, young models typically earn very little money, particularly in the context of New York City’s cost of living.
“For professional models, it’s an amazing resource that provides the necessities of urban life — from meals to workouts to beauty treatments to entertainment — for free or at a steep discount,” says Drekonja. “The average professional model is barely getting by on the income from their modeling work, and can really use the financial support. And beyond the basics, Neon Coat also connects models with a community, new friends, educational events, community service opportunities and even services like lawyers and accountants.”
Whether it’s through an app or through a seedy promoter, models have long been given free objects and experiences as part of the job. They’ve also always been used to sell things, whether it’s by transparently posing for an ad or more subtly name-dropping their favorite face cream in a magazine interview. Maybe it sounds like an episode of Black Mirror, but the consumerist cycle of companies wanting to see beautiful women engaging with their product in order for others to want to buy it certainly predates Neon Coat and apps like it. Now, the process is just more streamlined.
And maybe, at least for the models, it’s better this way.