In 2013, I was fresh out of college and having a hard time finding consistent work as a writer. After months of unemployment, I was ready to broaden my job search. I applied to work at a yogurt shop, a restaurant, and to be a model because, at that point, why the hell not?
I applied for a modeling gig on whim with the encouragement of my boyfriend (now husband). I had done some local modeling in Louisiana (super-fancy stuff, I know). This, however, was with an international brand that likes to use "real women" who still clean up nice.
I was 100 percent honest when it came to height, weight, measurements and dress size on my application, which is why I was surprised when I received a follow-up email that they were interested and that I should be prepared if I was asked to model lingerie. Be prepared? What does that even mean? I mean, I could guess. Thus ensued a week-long panic attack.
It was exactly seven days before the shoot and nine days before Thanksgiving. I totally rationally decided that I needed to lose five pounds. I also had to consider where I was going to draw the line when it comes to lingerie. So, I created the following rules:
- No see-through clothing of any kind.
- Under no circumstances will I be topless.
- Nothing that says something like "tasty" in a provocative area.
- And, for the love of God, no thongs.
Real models and fellow real women are capable of breaking these rules, of course. But I had to do what made me feel comfortable.
During the week leading up to the shoot, I was eating right, in healthy portions, and I was working out. Basically, I was having zero fun. I just wanted to eat a damn cookie, or really a sleeve of damn cookies. But we're talking lingerie shoot here. When I wasn't hungry, I was panicked about the possibility of getting pictures taken in my underwear.
It was all going smoothly, and I have to say, I looked good — like, staring at myself a few extra seconds in the mirror good. Maybe I was sort of a model, after all? (Laughing in my head as I typed that.) But this confidence was more a state of mind than a state of dress size.
The fuzzy feelings about my recent healthy choices changed when I went to an early Thanksgiving party. Suddenly, the tables had turned and I was the only girl not eating like it was a holiday. My friends (who are more into dieting than I usually am) were indulging. For the first time ever, I was the strict one. The night had been going well until I was tempted by a tray of homemade diablo cookies (aka dark chocolate and cayenne cookies). So, I asked for a Ziploc baggy and took some cookies home as a reward for after my shoot. The next day, a chocolate turkey was also acquired as a reward and so was a bag of chocolate Hanukkah coins. The day after my shoot was not shaping up to be a proud one, chocolate-wise.
I had to travel to another city for the photo shoot — the one where my boyfriend, Robert, was living at the time. I had taxis scheduled to and from the shoot. But when I woke up early, to ensure ultimate camera-readiness, the Thanksgiving Snowpocalypse of 2013 had arrived. But I was going to make this shoot. I had been hungry for a week and lost almost four pounds of wine and sugar weight! Robert's co-worker, angel that she is, drove Robert and to the photo shoot (I was so frazzled that he decided to come with me and sit in the lobby).
When Robert and I arrived at the headquarters (located in a hip, secluded and repurposed warehouse), the lobby was bustling enough for him to go unnoticed — he was just another hipster in a sea of flannel. After they called my name, things were a blur. I changed behind a curtain, someone brought their teacup dogs, who were wearing sweaters. I remember the unsettling feeling when I saw the girl who was leaving on my way into the shoot. She was 6'0" and blonde and rail-thin. I am 5'5" and curvy and Lebanese.
Overall, it was still a positive experience. I modeled a fun black outfit and had a good time doing so. The best part? No lingerie pictures were taken.
People said I did a good job, but on my way out of the building, something unnerving happened. When Robert and I passed the girl in the time slot after mine, she was even taller, blonder and thinner than the girl I saw before. In flats, she was taller than my 6'2" boyfriend. I was officially the least model-y of the "real women." Though, they were real in the sense that they existed.
But what the hell is a "real woman" anyway? The fact of the matter is that most companies boasting "real women" as models feature two very specific categories of women. They are either a) stereotypically thin and tall or b) plus-size. There is no in-between sizing, and not a lot of diversity. Where are the women of color? Where are the women who aren't conventionally feminine? Where are the differently abled women? Where are the fat rolls that even a size zero gets in an unflattering position and light? And, where are the size fours, sixes, eights and tens?
Glamour magazine recently included Amy Schumer in a plus-size issue, even though her size six/eight is not technically considered plus size. So, is anything past traditional model thinnness considered plus-size, now? And why is plus-size a separate genre that still excludes so many bodies? It seems that while some brands are finally showing plus-size women, we still have a long way to go in terms of inclusion, though some brands do this much better than others.
While I have these opinions based on my experience, I am humble enough to say that even in a world where girls my size are featured in mainstream campaigns, I'm sure I still wouldn't have what it takes to be a model.
After the photo shoot, Robert and I walked a mile uphill in five inches of snow through the most bizarre warehouse district on the outskirts of the city. We finally found the bus stop, and an hour later, we were in his neighborhood. We stopped at a coffee shop to warm up, and I had my first pastry in what felt like forever. I took one bite of the double chocolate chip piece of heaven and asked, "Is this a really good cookie, or have I just not eaten sugar in a week?"
"No, it's really good," he answered with a smile.
"Being a model just isn't worth it."