So you want to be a fashion model? That's great! But do you have what it takes to succeed? I'm not just talking about being 5 feet 9 inches tall, weighing 120 pounds, having long legs and a beautiful complexion. I'm talking about being perceptive, wary and possessing a lot of savvy. Modeling is a risky business, especially for people who are unrealistic, gullible and naive. And if you're going to survive in this profession, you've got to have your eyes wide open.

For example, look in The Yellow Pages under "modeling agencies." This seems innocent enough. But be careful! Lurking among legitimate agencies are some less than desirable "escort services." They are registered with the state as "sexually oriented businesses." And they are a far cry from the legitimate modeling agencies and schools you are looking for. (Seldom is one of these escorts a dinner companion. She seldom listens to a lonely man bare his soul. Instead, she's the one who does the baring, and what clothes come off depend on how much the customer is willing to pay.)Once you have determined which modeling agencies are legitimate and which ones are not, you need to pick the fashion agency and/or school that will help you the most.

David Whitfield, of David and Lee Models in Chicago, says, "Some schools develop talent and are therefore good. But there are people who know nothing about the modeling business who open schools. They hire instructors who have never been models and who know nothing about the business either. There are schools and photographers who ask for a thousand dollars for pictures, and when the agencies see them, they throw them away because they are not suitable."

To make sure you enroll in a high-quality fashion school, ask the following questions:

1. How long has the agency been in business? Is it licensed as a modeling agency? As a school?

Call the Better Business Bureau. If they have no record, call the state business license department and find out how the company is licensed. If a school, check with the Board of Regents. The board does not register escort services but deals with education only.

2. What are the background and qualifications of the instructors?

3. What percent of attendees actually get to model?

4. What are the names and phone numbers of some of the people who are enrolled in the school?

Before signing with any agency, read the contract carefully. Pay particular attention to the small print. Realize that signing up with an agency and paying the tuition does not guarantee that you will recoup the money you invest through working as a model. In fact, it often does not guarantee that you will ever get a modeling job.

A typical school is Executive Model Shop in Sandy. When I visited this shop, I was greeted by manager Shar Leigh who graciously showed me around her self-contained school with its classrooms, photography studio, makeup room, modeling ramp and video equipment.

Leigh said that she has been in the model agency business for 20 years and is registered with the state as an agency and school, and also with the Board of Regents.

She handed me a list of the classes the school offers. There are 30 of them, many of which deal specifically with fashion and modeling. Other classes focus on career planning, makeup, hair styling, speech, personality, visual poise, social graces, salesmanship and psychology of color. There are even classes on diet and nutrition, yoga and self-defense.

"Students can take each class as many times as they like," Leigh added.

After each class, the students are asked to write down comments and grade the class as well as the teacher.

Classes for teenagers and adults are taught in the evenings by qualified instructors. Children's classes are held on Saturdays.

"With little people, our main objective is to develop self-confidence," Leigh said.

The Executive Model Shop works closely with the International Model and Talent Association, a highly respected national organization. Early this month, Leigh said that the association had just notified her that one of their talent scouts was flying in from New York to look for models between the ages of 14-22.

Leigh said that when she introduces a prospective student to the program, she "puts every single thing up front." She even points to the part of the contract which states, "I understand that there is no promise or guarantee of work as the result of attending EMS."

Over the years, Leigh has earned the reputation of being sincerely interested in her students as well as promulgating high moral principles.

Another reputable agency is McCarty in Foothill Village. During a telephone conversation, Susie McCarty said her agency has been in business since 1974. It is licensed as an agency but not a school, although it offers a training program.

McCarty said that when she opened the agency, "we opened the modeling market for lots of people."

She said that her agency has about 60 models, 45 of which are female.

"My models are working models. They model for ZCMI, Nordstrom and numerous other clients." In fact, she said her agency provides full service: "print, runway, TV commercials and film."

She said that very few agencies in the valley get work. They are not advancing anyone's career. As a result, some stoop to private modeling and escort services.

"And my agency does NOT provide escort services," she emphasized.

McCarty said if she had a daughter or son who wanted to get into modeling, she'd call the fashion offices in the big department stores and see where they hire their models.

"These stores hire models through good agencies," she added.

When someone contacts McCarty's by phone expressing interest in modeling, she (or he) is invited to come in to the agency during an open time.

"We are very honest with people," McCarty emphasized. She said that they can bring in photographs if they have some. But it's not necessary. She can tell within a minute or two whether or not the person has possibilities as a model.

These are two - but not the only two - legitimate agencies and/or schools operating in the valley. It's up to you to check out some of the others.

Just remember, before signing on any dotted line, do your homework. Make sure you won't be paying hundreds of dollars without getting any results. And make sure you are not getting involved in somthing that might compromise your principles.