It’s Monday evening, 6 p.m. I’ve just finished a Bikram yoga class, something I picked up during a bout of post-Sandy boredom, stuck on my couch in Brooklyn for the better part of ten days. “Hey, are you here?” my booker texts me, as if I’m always going somewhere fancy or distant or generally not wanting to be here to work. The model with trust fund kid tendencies.
“Yeah, I’m here.”
I call her on the phone and she tells me that a client I’ve had for the last year wants me to come in “right now” to try on clothes to see if they fit. Apparently, last time there were “problems.” Class ended five minutes ago; I’m still wiping sweat off of my forehead. I feel my cheeks burning red. When I walk outside, it’s pitch-black winter.
“No, I’m not going over there right now.”
Day’s over, guys.
When I first started modeling, I used to jump through hoops, go anywhere at any time. But you stop doing that when you realize it doesn’t make a difference. You stop being loyal to clients after you’ve been dropped enough to realize that there are no favors in fashion. Technically, I could run home, take a shower, pay for a $25 cab and be there in 30 minutes. But you know what? It wouldn’t matter; 99 out of a 100 times, it doesn’t matter.
My booker hums and haws on the other line, says she’ll see what she can do. I walk to my bike, unfasten the U-lock, ride in the dark back to my apartment. I cook dinner, watch The Daily Show. Two hours later she texts me saying that they’re not going to hire me.
No money, no work, no excruciating boredom.
Fine by me.
The next morning I get another text message: “Can you go in there today and try clothes on to fit tomorrow?”
And so I go.
And I say hi to the woman with the Swiss German accent who, in seasons past, has been one of my biggest champions. “Bond,” she called me the first time I ever worked for them, a nickname that stuck for two more seasons. “Bond-uh.” That’s what it sounded like. “Bond-uh, will you take a photo?”
Now it’s weird. There’s an elephant in the room. When a client and a model forge a relationship, it comes with finite limitations. There is always an end. That’s the nature of things. But sometimes clients are impulsive, finicky bitches, like a boyfriend who does not consider the long-term ramifications of his actions and, on a whim, dumps his loyal, beautiful girlfriend thinking he can surely do better – someone younger, thinner, prettier, a cheaper dinner date – only to find out that he didn’t mean it. Even if the girl takes him back, she’s still stuck with the knowledge that for some fleeting moments, she meant absolutely nothing to him.
But as a model, I’m not even in power enough to take them back: they decided when to dump me, and they decided when to pick me back up again. I am just this fish that keeps getting ripped from the sea, too scrawny and small to be useful, and then thrown back, battered and bloodied, only to get fished out once more.
I feel weird being here. The cord has been cut and this job already feels like a fashion killjoy. When she hugs me, I wonder if she’s trying to feel for ribs like the blind witch in Hansel & Gretel.
I walk over to a rolling rack and start pulling off my layers. There’s a new guy, Alan with one “L.” He looks at me through the lenses of his Grey Ant frames. I can already tell he doesn’t like me since he doesn’t bother introducing himself and when one of the dressers describes me as “an old friend,” he simply makes an “mmm hmmm” sound.
Karla comes up, and with her Swiss German accent, she says, “We just needed to make sure,” and pats my hips, “because of last time.”
“Okay,” I say, and I smile because that’s all you can do. Smile.
They hand me a pair of leather pants that are fine. Then hand me a pair of cotton pants that are fine. They make me try a cocktail dress and an evening gown. Fine. Fine. She and Alan with one “L” stand two feet away from me and stare at everything but my face. “I think this can verk,” Karla says, and then Alan tells me to come in tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. for work.
And then I leave, and have two writing meetings, and work from my friend’s office, and feel like a real person doing real things.
“Ugh,” my booker texts me. “So no booking.”
I can’t care anymore.
The realization that I am worth something — something more… more than a thing to photograph against a white wall, a body to shill pants or face to sell Italian gum — is a thing I have been working my way towards for the last four years, away from the emptiness of a career based on cheekbones and vanity.
This is a dangerous threshold to cross, because once you cross it, there’s no turning back. You must part with this thing you have become so identified by, associated with, provided for. It’s like suddenly, after ten years, you realize your husband really is the sack of shit you always thought he was, even though he bought you nice things and paid for your home, kept you in designer clothes.
“That’s it,” you slur, hunched over a wooden table and drunk on a bottle of wine. Your best girlfriend sits across from you, knowing just how much this person, this thing, has taken out of you, seen how it’s eaten away at the very heart of you. “I’m done,” you say. “I mean it.”
I’m quitting modeling.
Then you go home to divorce the mother fucker, confident in your new life — sitting ahead of you and totally unknown — doing something different, anything different, and he says “Hey, baby” the way he does, seductive nightmare that he is. “You want to go to St. Barths for the week?”
I’m not quitting modeling.
How can you say no to St. Barths? Just one week, you think. Just one more week. And maybe, after this trip, you get even more scared to leave him, and you think maybe you can ride this out another two years – listening to his bad jokes, ignoring him when he tells you you’re worthless, pretending not to care that he never says “I love you” — all before he leaves you for someone younger. Just so you can keep getting those handbags, keep traveling on yachts, eating nice dinners.
This is what modeling is like. Yes and no. Broke and bounty. I’ve wanted to quit for the last four years, but something always drags me back in: a trip, money, the terror of the next thing. But seemingly, each day, the no’s become more significant, more at odds with yourself as a person, not a product.
And I cannot wait until the day I tell modeling no.