In "Ella era modelo," why is this not ""Ella era modela"? Is model a masculine word regardless of who is the model?
The word "modelo" as model is invariable, as you guessed, so it will be modelo for a man and a woman, however we do need to use the appropriate article when it is needed:
"La modelo llevaba un vestido azul largo" (it refers to a girl/woman)
"El modelo llevaba una chaqueta vaquera" (it refers to a guy/man)
For the following example, could this also be translated as 'She was a model'?
Ella era modelo.
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Yes, as the imperfect tense is also used to express a repeated action in the past, you could also translate it as "she used to be a model". However if you want to emphasise the fact that she was and now she isn't we'd probably use verb "soler" for that, saying:
"Ella solía ser modelo"
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