It was only April, but it was so hot that my blouse was starting to stick to my underarms. I was sitting in my car in a city that I had driven an hour to get to, gathering the courage to go inside before my makeup completely melted off my face.
As I usually do when forcing myself outside of my comfort zone, I started to wonder how I’d gotten myself into this--this being my embarrassing modeling story.
Between Carrie in "Sex and the City" and Jess in "New Girl," I’ve decided that an embarrassing modeling story is one of the trendier accessories that a girl can have. Here’s mine, confessed exclusively to xoJane (okay, my mom has heard it but that’s it). It might only be embarrassing to me -- there’s no falling over -- but it’s never fun to admit that you might have been taken advantage of because of your own vanity.
The whole thing started because I needed income over the summer and my best friend had commented “You should model!” on a Facebook picture. Yes. I am that susceptible.
When a local agency agreed to meet me, I immediately began my descent into delusions of grandeur. I bought foundation for the first time. I started running again, hard, every day. I stopped eating everything that I liked to eat. I made my sister spend hours taking pictures to show to the agency.
When I finally made it inside the agency that day, I sat down with my sweaty legs crossed and waited in the cavernous loft until the agency’s president arrived. She took five minutes to hear a bit about myself (“Umm... I was an English major?”) and to flip through the photos that had cost me $30 to print out at CVS. Then she told me they would like to represent me.
I was thrilled, but I kept my face neutral. It all seemed too fast and easy. There had to be a catch.
“We don’t charge any fees to represent you, but you will need to build a portfolio that we can show to clients,” she said as she showed me their photographer’s rates.
And there it was.
I struggled to keep my neutral expression but it was hard to keep my eyebrows from rising as I glanced over the paper. I confessed to her that $500 was a bit over my budget, but that I would think about it.
She said I should email her by the next day. Their photographer was going to be at the loft that Sunday, and wouldn’t be back again for shoots until May. I assured her that I would let her know.
On the drive home, I tried to justify the cost to myself. I could use my tax refund to pay for it, instead of putting it into my savings like I had planned. It would be a good investment; I could make hundreds of dollars at photo shoots -- and I really did need to find a job this summer.
I researched the agency online. They claimed to have discovered a famous blonde actress, whose Wikipedia page supported the story. The agency’s loft had had magazine covers with her face plastered all over the walls.
Images of the actress spun around my head. What if this was the beginning of my Wikipedia article? If I went through with this, maybe in a few years I too would be rubbing elbows with Hollywood elite on the red carpet (nevermind the fact that I can’t act to save my life... or model, in all honesty). I’m willing to admit that my imagination got carried away.
Real dreams are never achieved easily, and fake dreams that you acquired over the course of a week are particularly easy to give up on after the slightest roadblock. And to me, $500 was not slight.
So after a sleepless night, I emailed the agency’s president to tell her that I needed some more time. I couldn’t afford--literally -- to just jump into this. I would let her know my decision by May, which was when she had told me the photographer would be back.
I got a very terse email back days later: “Sorry -- we don’t have shoot dates for May -- please check back.”
She had specifically said May at our meeting. Feeling jilted, I replied asking if they had a list of other photographers in the area that I could use to build my portfolio; I had read online that most legit agencies are willing to do that. Her response was that they only work with their photographer. If I didn’t want to use him for my portfolio, then they couldn’t represent me.
That was it for me. I was done. I didn’t care whether they were a legit agency or if they had started the career of Miss Actress-Whose-Surname-I-Still-Can’t-Pronounce. If I was really being honest with myself, I didn’t care about modeling. I was doing it for a self esteem boost and some vague hopes of making easy money. But at that point I felt that if anyone was going to make easy money in this situation, it was going to be the agency, not me.
Maybe the agency was very fair; I’m sure most photographers charge much more. Maybe I would have made that money back and more after just a few shoots. Maybe it’s not them; maybe the whole business is rigged. I think the dozens of photos I already had were damn good, and should have been enough to draw in clients.
In the end I just felt like I was back in high school again, desperate to fork over my money so I could be one of the popular girls. Fuck that. It took me a few days but I got my sense of self back. I put my tax refund into my savings. I only run once a week now, if I feel like it. I have beer and frozen yogurt almost every night. (I kept the foundation though cause that shit was expensive, and it covers my rosacea like a champ.)
I’m not a model; I’m a writer. I should accept that I’ll never make a lot of money or be famous, but I will never stop forcing my sister to take pictures of me. More importantly, I will never stop forcing myself to try new things. I would run out of embarrassing stories to write about.